The Professional Doldrums: Cue Professional Development Programs

As a college student, no one tells you about the professional doldrums – those two years or so after graduating where you struggle in survival jobs while trying to get your career off the ground. You can also end up in the professional doldrums after you have been laid off,  have opted out of a job for maternity leave or have tried to switch careers.  Thankfully, there are programs out there that are designed to help you get through these tough times.

Whether you are a musician and need a Young Artists Program (YAP) or a professor wanna-be in need of a post-doc program, the process of getting into the right program for you is similar. First, you have to ask yourself what type of program do you need? Do you want an incubator program where you are less in the public eye while learning your trade, or are you ready to step onto the performing or teaching stage? Do you need to get paid or can you afford to participate in a program without pay?

Also, what can you bring to the program in terms of experience and skills? Most professional development programs are going to ask you to have experience and skills. You can still be accepted into a YAP or an adult internship without some of these prerequisites, but you must have references such as teachers, coaches and professional colleagues who can speak to your abilities.

Your resume is important because this is where you list your abilities, skills and experiences. Concentrate on describing how you are a soloist and a team player. If you are a singer, list your solos and recital pieces first. Save the choral works and coaching the children’s choir for the related skills section. If you are applying for an adult internship, highlight your transferable skills sets. Don’t pad your resume with extraneous “stuff.” Your real skills and abilities become hidden, and it is obvious when you are adding “stuff” to make your resume more impressive.  You resume will become bloated and a chore to read.

Once you are satisfied with your resume, take a look at the program application. Not clear on something? Ask before you submit the application. Most programs will have a contact email address or number. Follow the application directions. Do not get eliminated because you failed to clarify a section or wandered off on your own tangent instead of providing the required information.

Most important: Get someone else to read your application and resume before you submit them. Another set of eyes will find the mistakes you can’t. Many people skip this step because they are too self-conscious or over-confident in their proofreading abilities. However, it’s worth the extra discomfort to be able to submit a mistake-free application.

Some professional development programs may ask you to submit a video as proof of singing or presenting abilities. Get help if you do not know how to do a professional recording. You should dress professionally and eliminate fidgeting. I’ve seen a number of masterclasses and presentations where performers/presenters have clearly been doing this for a long time, yet they still clear their throats repeatedly, say um, twirl their hair, scratch their noses, tug on their clothes, etc. Why do they do this? Because they are nervous. Concentrate on introducing yourself and your performance or presentation. Leave it to your recording assistant to ensure your sound is clear, the lighting bright enough and that you are not positioned to sprout a lamp or any other object out of your head to make you look ridiculous.

Your application introduces yourself to the program staff. Your social media profiles tell them more about yourself, who you are. Keep your profiles up to date and list them on your resume to make you easy to find online. Social media profiles have an advantage over the resume in that they should showcase what you are doing now and how you are developing professionally. They keep the story of you going.


Redefining Your Career Dreams

If you are pursuing a career in the creative arts, you’ll probably get at least one well-meaning person giving you this advice: “If you like anything else besides (music, art, acting, etc.) do that instead.” There are also those people ( some who may be your parents) who will tell you that if you aren’t “successful” in your chosen career by age 26, you need to go back to school for something else. Before you get discouraged and scrap your career dreams, maybe you need to redefine them instead by asking yourself a few questions:

  1. How are you going to define success? This is a two-parter question because your definition of success depends on what you want out of life. Does success in your career mean that you are famous and live in a mansion? Does it mean you get to use your talent and are able to pay the bills too?
  2. What are you willing to sacrifice? We all initially give up some earning power when we go to school full-time to pursue a degree. But what are you willing to give up short-term and long-term, say, like, forever? I met 40-somethings in LA who happily lived in small studio apartments while occasionally landing bit movies parts. For them, success was being able to have some connection to acting while having a day job and living in an area of the country with a great climate.
  3. What makes you happy? Will you only be happy if you have a career as a musician? Are you willing to put up with family and friends who ask you “when will you get a real job?”
  4. What else does interest you as a career? I also met a nurse in LA who had a solid acting career. She went to nursing school after acting school and then set up her nursing jobs to take the hours that no one else wanted, often earning time-and-a-half and overtime. She built up her savings and reputation so that her employers were willing to let her come and go when she got cast in movies.

There is also the perception that if you do not “make it” in your chosen career, you can always pursue something related. For example, you can always teach or pursue arts administration instead of being a musician. This thinking sometimes leads to career trouble, however, because you need other skills in addition to musicianship. Can you actually teach? Do you have the patience because many of your pupils are apt to be kids who will need your patience as first-time or maybe even reluctant learners. . Do you know how to manage personnel, fund raise and take care of facilities as a budding arts administrator? Do you even WANT to do that?

One of the key things I’ve learned especially in working with creatives is that career dreams aren’t necessarily an end, a finite goal. It is often a long, rewarding process consisting of periodic redefining, tweaking and maybe even scrapping some parts of those goals.

Last question: Are you willing to commit to this process to create a life you can love?

Active and Passive Mentors and Why You Need Both

Many of my work supervisors have acted as a mentor to me: the boss who was excellent at written and verbal skills and showed me how to work my way out of sticky client situations; the boss who modeled how to navigate the corporate good ol’ boy network of automotive design. These were active, on-the-job mentors, teaching me skills and how to adapt to the work culture. Active mentors teach and model valuable skills. You can find them at work, through LinkedIn, word-of-mouth and many other places. They are the people in the career in which you want to be, albeit it further along the path, but in-the-know. They have many of the same career goals as you, and are willing to invest the time to help you reach those goals.

Now, many career professionals will tell you if you are looking for a mentor to try and engage a KOL, a key opinion leader in your career on LinkedIn, Facebook or some other social media site. But the reality is these KOL’s have so many demands on their time that they will likely never even reply to your request for mentoring.

Meet Your New Mentor, YouTube

This is where passive mentoring comes in. There are different types of passive mentoring: mentoring that takes place inside your career and mentoring that comes from other areas of interest. You do not get to be passive in finding active or passive mentors. It is up to you to do the leg work. KOL’s are all over the place. They lecture and record it on YouTube; they offer webinars; they blog; they speak at conferences. They are passive mentors in the sense that they  do not know you, but every time you watch, listen and read their words, they are mentoring you. Often, they are giving you valuable intelligence about your career that you would not get from day-to-day work interaction.

The other type of passive mentor comes from your interests. Again, they do not know you, but you know them. They are the NASCAR drivers, the opera singers, the sports figures, the gamers, the artists and actors whom you follow, whose careers you are passionate about. You hunt for their videos, their blogs, their games, their concerts. You avidly keep up with what they are doing, where they are going. These people often give you valuable information too. They model ambition, good and bad work-life balance, how to communicate and work as a team, and even how to stay out of jail.

So why do you need active and passive mentors and why must you actively seek them out? Active mentors help you acquire the career skills you need to be successful. Passive career mentors can do that too. Passive mentors in your interest fields can pass along knowledge that may not be direct career skills, but still can help you get ahead in your career. For example, I definitely know I do not want to be an opera singer. However, watching some of these singers in their careers gives me motivation and determination to succeed in my own career. All of these skills from both types of mentors may make your career path easier and more successful. You need to be proactive in seeking out both types of mentors because I can practically guarantee that:

This May Never Happen to You:

There is a now-famous story in opera circles that Renee Fleming tells about how Leontyne Price ended up mentoring her. Ms Price literally contacted her and said, “I think I can help you.” You can watch Renee talk about her experience here. It is a wonderful story; however, it almost never happens that way for the rest of us. But do not be discouraged: most people genuinely like to help others and are gratified to be asked for their expertise. So do your research and ask. Your active and passive mentors are just waiting for you to find them.

Career Freebies/Discounts

So I was on Facebook the other day, scrolling along and I saw this: Free Pixar Renderman Software. This is great news for the animator wanna-be’s out there. But like most things free, there is a caveat: Renderman is a rendering engine. You still need a rendering application to use it. Get the FAQs to learn more.

This got me to thinking that there must be other free/discounted resources you can use in your career or career exploration. So I got back on the Internet, and this is just a small sample of what I found. I will add more as I find them, so check back.

* Free Shipping – While technically this isn’t “free stuff,” shipping is expensive, especially when you are working in small, rural areas where you can’t get to, say, a medical uniform store to shop. A1Scrubs will give you free shipping on orders over $100. Not a nurse or med tech? Search free shipping or supplies for your career in your favorite search engine and see what pops up.

* Search Engines – Bing – Search engines have jumped on the freebies bandwagon. Bing Rewards is a bonus point program where you earn reward points for searching with Bing. You then trade in your points for stuff like Starbucks and other restaurant gift cards that you can use for business meals or just to keep you fueled throughout your busy work day. Bing rewards will also allow you to trade your points for one free year of 100GB of OneDrive storage. This can come in handy if you use several mobile devices like a laptop and tablets to stay connected to the office. This offer ends June 31st.

* Search Engines – Google – Not a fan of expensive Microsoft Office? Then try Google Docs for free. It also has free Drive storage for the documents you create. Keep an eye out for other free cloud storage. Apple will give you 5GB of iCloud storage for your documents too.

* Teaching Tools – There are a plethora of teaching tools out there for all age groups. If you are a music teacher, a student, or a musician, Chromatik gives access to free sheet music. If you are a high school or college opera student in the San Francisco Bay Area, the Merola Student ConneXion Progam will give 40 students complimentary tickets to their events, but you must apply by May 4th.

* Career Discounts – You may find discounts on resources related to your career or on every-day items like food, drink and air fare. One example: Search military discounts online and you will find thousands of them. Not in the military? Try searching under your professional associations.

* Directories – Directories are useful for finding business contacts or for researching a career; however, the print versions are often expensive and out-of-date by the time they are published. Look online. Need to contact media talent? Go on over to AIR’s Talent Directory. The site also gives info on how to contact talent not in the directory.

*Start-ups – Thinking of starting your own business? The Small Business Administration – SBA has tons of free info, including funding options and the deal on capital and angel investors here. If you need to find an investor, Chubby Brain’s Funding Recommendation Engine will hook you up with capital and angel investors, financial institutions and grant sources. You need to request an invitation code, but it is free.

* Job Training – Free job training programs do exist. For example: if you want to break into hospitality and food service, read Magdalene Chan’s blog, Job Search Central. The blog entry is from 2012, but the phone numbers should still be current.

*Libraries – Libraries often have career centers with free information and workshops. Try your alma mater’s career and academic libraries, as well as the public library. Not near a central library? Check your public library for e-membership  programs like the one at It is free, and you can borrow anything in the library ebook database or in-person at the many city libraries. You must live in NY state to take advantage of this program, but other states may have a program like this as well.

*Career Help – Some career associations will provide limited free career coaching. Check with your college career center too.  State or county career programs are another option. One resource is the Science, Industry and Business Library – SIBL in NYC which provides limited pro bono/free career coaching.

Obviously, this post is not an exhaustive list of career freebies, and you have to read the fine print so you won’t be disappointed. It is meant to give you some ideas on how to find the resources you need. And, hey, searching is free, right?




(Opera) Fashion Hard At Work





For those of us lucky enough to not have to wear the company logo to work, we have fashion decisions to make. Do we bring our fashion sense to work, dress conservatively or wear what reflects our interests, hobbies and passions?

Nowhere is fashion more hard at work than on the opera stage where the opera production dictates the costumes. Costumes indicate the time period, socioeconomics, who the leads are, where the action takes place and sometimes even what is going to happen. Opera fashion can also influence opera house architecture as well. And architecture returns the favor.

Take a look at some of these influences:

Albina Shagimuratova never performed on this Phantom of the Opera stage in this costume, but the colors, shapes and textures are a direct match, no?



This is Renata Tebaldi’s costume from Manon Lescaut paired with the coral tree garden of the Disney Concert Hall in LA, indicating that old world fashion can still influence modern architecture.



The design on Barbara Fritoli’s costume reflects a similar pattern on the curtain of the Odessa Opera House.


Modern diva, meet modern opera house: South Korean soprano Sumi Jo and the Chinese Guanzhou opera house. Similar lighting, similar color palette


The lenticular fabric of Renee Fleming’s gown reflects the orange, black and light lavender of the Royal Albert Hall in this picture.



Modern Block Color Throwback: Shirley Verrit 1973/The Queen’s Theatre at Trianon, Versailles, 1780, Architect: Richard Mique.


The ruff of Edita Gruberova’s Maria Stuarda costume mimicking the roofline of the Sydney Opera House.

I doubt that there was a direct design correlation between any of these pairings, yet it is as if there are some fantastically weird fashion/architecture archetypes out there that get repeated again and again.

Want to see more examples of fashion influencing architecture and vice versa? Visit me here on my Pinterest board, Fashion/Architecture Meet in a Night at the Opera. And take a look at the original pictures which inspired the board.


Creating the New Face of Arts Education

When I was a kid growing up in the parochial schools of Rochester, NY, we had music and art classes several times a week. They were a mandatory part of the curriculum. You were also encouraged to join whatever music ensembles that existed and expected to play at several school concerts per year.  Sometimes there were more students in the concerts than were in the audience. We received a great foundation in music without traveling to lessons and without extra lesson or instrument rental fees or auditions for private music education. When I got to high school, I just took it for granted that all high schools had their fair share of extremely talented young singers and musicians and the means to cultivate that talent.

I  guess I never realized how fortunate we were to have that kind of education available right where we were in school. I cannot believe how much this has changed now. When I worked in higher education, I watched my music work-study students struggle to find student teacher placements in the local school system. The same for student art teachers. My friends’ kids now get their arts education primarily outside school from private teachers. But what about those kids who do not have the resources: money or access to teachers? It disturbs me to know that there is young arts talent out there who will not have the same great experiences we had.

I can go on about how studying music and arts benefits everyone, not just kids. However, you can do an Internet search and read up on that for yourself. Yet, as people bemoan the loss of arts education in our schools and the lack of funding for arts programming, the need for arts education is still very real. If funding for arts education is not returned to public school systems, then we need to find a way to reframe this problem to come up with viable solutions.

In addition, the old school model of higher arts education which emphasized education and arduous practice to make it to the top has not produced a plethora of graduates who have enjoyed better career satisfaction over the years. A large number of music graduates go on to a career in something else. Music and arts schools are still turning out graduates who may be skilled at music and arts, but little else, making it hard to make a living. Those schools who are offering business and entrepreneurship classes should be thinking of ways to fill that educational gap created by the slashing of arts education from the curriculum. It would fill a need for school kids and provides jobs for their graduates.

One general solution is promoting portfolio careers for new graduates where they do some performing, some educating, some entrepreneurial programming, etc. My experience is that these graduates are chockfull of ideas, and their proficiency with computers and the Internet can only help. Teaching lessons online or through community schools of music and arts, albeit not new ideas, are some ways to keep arts education going and graduates employed. However, there must be other ways to provide arts education to those people who can’t afford private instruction on their own.

Enter big corporations. I was in a local toy store over the holidays where they did free demonstrations with their musical instruments and arts and crafts kits. Obviously, it was shilling at its finest, designed to get the kids’ parents to spend money. However, every kid who stopped by to participate in the demonstrations learned something, regardless of whether their parents bought anything or not. These demonstrations also brought people together to share ideas, different ways to create Rainbow Loom bracelets or how to record rhythms on a synthesizer, for instance.

Maybe these corporations have hit on a way to sell while educating. However it happens, we need an approach, grassroots or corporate, to bring together the students who need arts education with those who are newly educated and beyond who can provide it.

When the Competition Becomes Fierce

Happy New Year! I think 2014 has a much better ring to it than 2013, don’t you? I am going to start the new year off with a post on one of my favorite careers: music. Yes, that huge American competition, the Grammys, is coming up at the end of this month. The category, Best Classical Vocal Solo is dominated by four of my favorite performers: Joyce DiDonato, Cecilia Bartoli, Dawn Upshaw and Jonas Kaufman. All possess completely different voices, especially among the mezzo sopranos, yet all recordings up for this award are wonderful. What to do, what to do? I am glad I am not a Grammys judge because I would be hard-pressed to decide.

This dilemma is similar to what hiring managers face when confronted with many excellent candidates and too few jobs to fill. And if you are a job seeker in this new year, you will also be dealing with fierce competition. I was once told in my academic career that my fiercest competitor should be – me. This advice held me in good stead all through college, keeping test and deadline stress at bay. It also helps in developing your own career. However, when you are writing a resume and interviewing for a new job, you cannot just ignore the competition. You should be benchmarking yourself against those other candidates.

One of the best ways to know how you stack up against the competition is to pay careful attention to the job description for the position that you want. Are you using the same words on your resume that are listed in the description? Do you have the knowledge and skills for which the employer is asking? How about certifications and licenses — do you have them or are you willing to get them? Make sure you let the employer know this. Put them on your resume or indicate in your cover letter that your are willing to go the extra mile and obtain anything you need for the job.

You may not know who else is applying for that coveted job, but you DO know yourself — your strengths and what makes you stand out from your competitors. So don’t just repeat buzzwords from the job description on your resume. Ask yourself, “How am I a maverick in this field? How is that going to help my next employer?” Be careful. This takes a bit more finesse, more research into the culture of the company. Will having some unique qualifications help you or hurt you? For example, will it help you to have experience in several related fields for one specific job? Find out by networking. Tap into your family and friends, their contacts and forums on the Internet. Going into the interview armed with this information may very well put you ahead of the competition. Good Luck!

As for who will win Best Classical Vocal Solo at the Grammys this year? I cannot even begin to guess. Everyone who is nominated has put forward their best work. This means that while I am at a loss as to know whom to choose, the ultimate winner is sure to be a stellar musician with an excellent album.