Kashu-do (歌手道): Of worthless coaches and fabulous pasta al ragu!

Today I arrived in Milano. My purpose for the last 10 days has been to introduce my Darling Son to not only Europe, but a world beyond his imagination. His mom asked me to show him that the world was a big place with possibilities. Today I had the unexpected opportunity to share with him some life lessons that I learned from my father. These are special moments!

France was ostentacious and fabulous! My ancestors are French from Nevers! But I am two-sided about the French. I have a beloved colleague, a conductor named, Victor Puhl. We studied conducting together. He makes being French a work of art. It turns out that he was the General Music Director in Zwickau, where two excellent students of mine sing. Through one of them I reconnected with him and I am glad. Indeed, this post is about being artists and being art peddlers. I have also met too many French who ruin my attachment to my ancestors by being typically snobish know-it-alls who chose to make anyone not born in France feel less than they–A confirmation of their hollow superiority complex–paradoxically an inferiority complex.

Thus after a stressful time in Paris, where among other things, we enjoyed the splendors of Versailles and the genius of the French Impressionists, as well as the chaos that is traffic in Paris and a brief stay in Nice, where I dreamed nostalgically of warmer times gone by and was reminded yet again why the French at their worse can get on my last nerve , my son and I arrived in Milano at rush hour. This is enough to make one wonder, as Marc Chagall often thought, whether the world has an up and a down. Christopher at one point said: “Do these people know how to drive?” Indeed, I was not expected much from Milano other than the spectacular Duomo and La Scala. I am central Italian through and through. My time in Italy was spent in Umbria, Rome, Toscana and Campania. I found the Milanese cold. But not today! Our hotel suggested the restaurant “Settembrini 18” reflecting the street address, Via Settembrini 18.

For the first time in this trip I watched my son enjoy a meal with such pleasure that I did not need to convince him that it was good. We started with Prosciutto e melone. I introduced him to my favorite appetizer in Berlin at a decent Italian restaurant. He liked it then. He devoured it today. We then had Spaghetti al ragú. He called it the best pasta he ever had. He finished off with a classic Tiramisú and caffé, and we celebrated with a proper limoncello. The service was excellent and the food exceptional. Grazie Italia!

When we got back to the hotel and I left my wallet at the desk after ordering internet connection, the hotel steward brought me my wallet. I blamed it on the limoncello I had at the restaurant and guess what! The steward, a few minutes later, brought me a small bottle of limoncello and said: “So you can work better!”

This confirmed what I told my son at the restaurant. My dad told me a long time ago that everyone can be an artist. He showed me how a taxi driver can be an artist and give his customer an unforgettable experience. So were the hotel steward, the chef and the waiters at the restaurant we ate tonight. My son now sits next to me after having maybe the best time of the trip so far. He is happy! Happier than after being impressed by the treasures of Versailles, which he loved. Happier than he was at the natural wonder of the Côte d’Azur at close sight. The Italians have the gift of human touch!

Now for the vocal part! Singers need to be nurtured in the way the Italians nurtured us this evening. They need people who make them feel they are special while challenging them. A great singer is a special person with a tremendous gift and needs to be reminded of both the magnificence of the gift and the responsibility that comes with it. The many singers I teach are so aware of their responsibilities. For that reason I make sure they realize how very special they are.

I became particularly angry on two recent occasions when a famous teacher known for her abusive nature told one of my students, a burgeoning coloratura of extra-ordinary talent: “Why would you want to be a F***ing soprano when you could be a fabulous mezzo?” I say simply: “Because she is a soprano, you idiot!” One more teacher who believes that singers are the way they are and cannot change.

A great teacher sees what a student can potentially become and does not limit them to the way they sound now!

Yesterday, another gifted student of mine was brought to tears by a coach who thought he was holier than thou. Simply, there is no room for such vile, self-depracating idiots who take out their self-hatred on the people who pay them for guidance. They should be all erased to make room for people who nurture and challenge the talented people who come to them.

A great coach does not show off by showing the student how much they don’t know but inspires them by showing them how much they could learn. What appears to be a subtle difference is really a world’s distance apart!

I left a hefty tip for the two waiters who pampered us at Settembrini 18. The coaches I work with are very special people who challenge me to be better than I ever imagine. Among them, the immortal Glenn Parker, the genius conductor Gustav Meier, the talented directors Jay Lesenger, Ed Berkeley and Britta Heiligenthal, the gifted writer, Sarah O’neill and the brilliant coaches, Alessandro Zuppardo, Akemi Masuko, Kanako Nakagawa and Rupert Dussmann.

As my dear colleague Cindy Sadler says: Singer’s rule #1–Never pay someone to be an A**hole to you!

Singers, we have greater control than we allow ourselves. We pay coaches and voice teachers. If they are abusive, please save your money! Boycott them and give a great tip to the next waiter and chef who make you glad you have taste buds! In such a way, we can slowly get rid of unimaginative people who got to important positions by luck! With this, I am about to remove a coach from my Facebook list who should not be part of my energy circle. Life is too short! We need positive energy! I call to all my students to delete a negative energy from your circle of influence today!

© 07/22/2010

4 thoughts on “Kashu-do (歌手道): Of worthless coaches and fabulous pasta al ragu!

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  1. Fantastic, JR! So important. We must never forget that as we make our own spheres of influence into places of nurturing and support, we can change the world. Those “other types” simply cease to be significant when we choose positivity. Peace.


  2. !!!!!!! YES!
    And this is not only the truth for coaches but as well for conductors and stage directors.
    If a gifted person masters the skills of teaching, guiding and inspiring and wants to share his experiences with you – take the opportunity as a great gift and call him your 'mentor'. There is no better way to learn, but from the people you describe here, and I am glad and happy that I found some of those mentors for me.
    But apart from that there is always the possibility to learn form the people you meet in your life. I would say in our little “Fledermaus”-production we all learned a lot. As long as we commit ourselfs to the art we create together, we will learn the most by enjoying the moment and keep our minds open for all the energy that rehearsing releases.
    And I am thankful about the people I worked with so far (and now I am quoting you, because there is no better way to say it), because those people “I work with are very special people who challenge me to be better than I ever imagine”. You are one of them!


  3. Dear BrittaH,

    Thank you for sharing your wonderful insights. You are absolutely right. That is why I consider you among my great mentors! There are few directors who have your special humanity, and especially faith in the people you work with. You get to know them from the inside and as my tenor voice begins to become very exciting (you might have liked my Otello today) I hope we will work together often in future years.
    Thank you for the Fledermaus experience. It reminded me how much I love the theater.


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