The Deutschland Experience
by Nathan De’Shon Myers
For decades, many American classical artists have made the journey to Europe in order to cultivate their artistry and hone their craft. Many did so in the midst of social climates that were not always so inviting or supportive, however, in the most memorable cases, resourcefulness, personal drive, dedication, and plain, old-fashioned guts have proven to be precisely the recipe for success. I intentionally failed to mention talent as part of the recipe because as one matures in this business; one realizes that when talent is a given it comes down to the age-old questions of…HOW BAD DO YOU WANT IT? And WHAT ARE YOU WILLING TO DO TO GET IT?
As it was then, so it is now. Every year, countless numbers of aspiring artists travel to various countries throughout Europe in hopes of finding their place in the global artistic community. Whether it will be in the recitals halls of Austria, on the concert stages in France, or in the opera houses of Italy, many young singers are interested in the same thing… How do I Build a career? How do I make it happen for me?
The truth of the matter is… THERE ARE NO ABSOLUTES in a business based on the whims of peoples’ opinions and tastes. For that reason, although I stand firm on the idea that there are certain principle issues that must be addressed if a person wants to pursue an operatic career, I am compelled to say with considerable resolve that there is no definitively “right” way to build a career. It is a constant process of trial and error. There are many who will agree on several aspects of the process, but every person must tailor his/her experience to their own skills and needs.
In the interest of brevity, I would like to give some insight on the aspect of building a career as an American starting in Germany based on information gathered through my own personal experience…
Throughout the duration of my college and grad-school experience I, like many student musicians, explored other career paths that could be used as a safety net in case the singing career did not work out, or at least until it did. I worked as a choral conductor/teacher both in church and public schools. All the while, coaching, taking voice lessons, auditioning and singing when the opportunities availed themselves. As many of you know, it can be extremely exhausting to work full time and simultaneously try to be a “part-time-singer.” A singer’s instrument is his/her body and we can all be clear that when the body is tired, the “voice” is tired. It is imperative that you have the courage to decide if you are willing and able to make singing full-time even if it is only for a certain predetermined period of time. You owe it to yourself to take some time to BE a singer. Not a singer/waiter/receptionist/whatever. Singing is nothing more than a hobby until you are doing it FULL-TIME and getting paid for it. Jobs can be part-time commitments, however, a career, more specifically an operatic career, is most definitely a full-time responsibility.
Some fortunate singers have been able to make a seamless transition from Conservatory to a full-time career, but for most the divide is an abyss of uncertainty due to rejection where each new step can feel as unsure as the one before. This would be the point at which you must answer the question… DO I HAVE THE STRENGTH TO TURN MY REJECTION INTO FUEL FOR MY PERFECTION? You have to be able to feel rejection and keep going. I would suggest that you answer that question before you ever get on a plane to a foreign country, because you will need every ounce of certainty within you as you are venturing into a world built on the whimsical imaginations of intendants, directors, conductors and the like. It is just as important to learn how to receive and apply criticism, as it is to know when to close your ears to destructive comments.
After having spent a few years in the classroom away from the stage, I started to build up the strength to return to the task of constructing a career as a full-time singer. So I started searching the web for opportunities. In talking with my mentors, I realized that it was time to try my hand at something outside of the country. After surveying other singer friends and searching for ways to get a start I found the Opera Foundation website. This foundation has been successfully assisting young singers for over 20 years. There are many scholarship programs and Young Artist Programs (YAPs) around the U.S. and Europe that welcome American applicants. Start looking. That year, there was only one audition that I managed to sing as I was out of the loop and had very small windows of opportunity to audition because of my full-time job. Fortunately, that one audition was one that has changed my life.
There aren’t enough words to express my elation to the news that I was one of the scholarship recipients. I was so excited to be on my way to Berlin, Germany! It wasn’t until I was on my way to the airport that it really hit me…I DIDN’T SPEAK A WORD OF GERMAN! I am sure you already know, but please allow me to take the time to stress the importance of learning the language of whatever country you decide to explore BEFORE you go. It will be an enormous relief. Speaking the native language of the country is also a fast way to gain confidence and respect in your newfound surroundings.
My first year in Berlin at the Deutsche Oper Berlin was an amazing year. I was presented with so many opportunities to prove to myself that I really want this career. The interesting thing is that the entire country of Germany is roughly half the size of my home state, Texas, but there are more than one hundred opera theaters. Having had the privilege of doing YAPs in America before coming to Europe; I have found that in Germany, the transition from young artist to professional is much smoother because there is much more work to go around. It is no wonder that so many singers, beginners and established professionals alike, flock to Germany. The same is true for artistic representation. There are so many, but singers are fortunate to have the choice to work with as many agents as will work with them. In my first six months, I was wading through a sea of names from opera houses to agents. It was a lot to take in, but if there were ever an extreme to prefer, it would be the extreme where there are so many agents and opera houses rather than not enough.
Since there was a scholarship that took care of my living expenses and I was connected to one of the worlds best known opera houses, I turned my sights first to learning the language and figuring out how to start getting opportunities inside and outside of the theater. I enlisted someone to help me put together a package to start sending out my materials to agents. Some suggest that you send your materials out to everyone and some say narrow done to only a few. I say, send your stuff to anyone whom you feel will listen. Be prepared to send it in every form known to man: snail mail, email, fax, however. Just make the initial contact. When doing so, make sure that all of your materials are current. Do not stretch the truth. Do not send old photos or inflated résumés, as you might be asked to prove anything on your résumé at a moments notice.
As I stated earlier, the particulars will vary depending on individualized methods, but whether you are on a scholarship, get a contract, come for voice competitions, or just come on the strength of your own hard earned money, HAVE A PLAN BEFORE YOU COME. Many have come without one and have returned without what they initially came for. The main objective has to be retained at all times. Build a career. Only you can define what that means for you. Once you have done that… just stay on course.
I decided to spend this first opportunity discussing the questions that I believe must be answered before ever attempting to relocate to a foreign country in hopes of beginning a full-time singing career. I admit that most of what I have addressed is rudimentary in its approach, but practical and essential to the process of taking singing from being a part-time dream to a full-time reality.
Thank you for reading.
Musically Yours, Nathan De’Shon Myers
·HOW BAD DO YOU WANT IT?
·WHAT ARE YOU WILLING TO DO TO GET IT
·A CAREER IS A FULL-TIME RESPONSIBILITY
·LET REJECTION FUEL YOUR PERFECTION
·LEARN THE LANGUAGE AHEAD OF TIME
·HAVE A PLAN BEFORE YOU GO
Rising American baritone, Nathan De’Shon Myers is fast establishing himself as an artist with international appeal. The coming 2009-10 season marks Mr. Myers’ third season as soloist with the distinguished Deutsche Oper Berlin. Highlights include his reprisal of roles such as Ping in Turandot, Silvano in Ballo in Maschera and Schaunard in La Boheme as well as a house debut in the role of Dandini in La Cenerentola and his role debut of Lescaut in Manon Lescaut under the baton of the company’s new General Music Director, Maestro Donald Runnicles.
Mr. Myers is a “feisty stage presence and a bright, well-focused baritone” remarks The Dallas Morning News of his portrayal of Dr. Malatesta in Don Pasquale. He has not only caught the attention of many with his vocal prowess, but is also a consummate actor who commands the stage. The Chautauquan Daily heralds, “Nathan Myers, in the role of Valentin, was clearly a favorite. His voice possesses strength, beauty and clarity. Myers’ acting was electrifying.”
Upon completion of his first year with the theater as a Young Artist, Myers made such a positive impression that he was re-engaged for the 2008/2009 Season as a Fest-Ensemble Member. He has collaborated with such noted artists as Neil Schicoff, Johan Botha, Elisabeth Futral and Maestro Marco Armiliato. Prior to moving to Europe, he debuted in Il Barbiere di Siviglia along side Viveca Genaux and Richard Croft with The Dallas Opera Young Artist Program. He was also a featured soloist with the Minnesota Orchestra in a performance of a collection of spirituals commissioned by the Albany Symphony specifically for his voice and orchestra, David Alan Miller, conductor.
Mr. Myers operatic role portrayals include the title role in Don Giovanni, Valentin (Faust), Schaunard/Marcello (La Boheme), Papageno (Die Zauberflöte), Dandini (La Cenerentola), Dancairo (Carmen), Gregorio (Romeo & Juliet) Figaro (Il Barbiere di Siviglia), and Pooh Bah (The Mikado). Additional career highlights include, performing the role of The Subway Opera Singer in the movie EVERYDAY PEOPLE and on the soundtrack of KINGDOM COME starring Whoopi Goldberg.
For more information on Nathan, please visit www.thenathanmyers.com