Retrospect: Paris auditions

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A personal account from EQ auditionees Olga Siemienczuk, Devi Suriani, Andrew Munn and Mayan Goldenfeld.

Sitting at a table kitchen in an ecological community house on a grey Sunday afternoon with a cup of hot tea at our hands, here we are – catching up with our lives and exchanging our insights post EQ Workshop Paris, which occurred a month ago. Since our experiences were very distinctive, we have decided to share our retrospect separately.

Olga:

Being used to the “standard-anonymous” audition where one gets their 15 minutes to present their best, this audition/workshop experience with Equilibrium felt quite personal for me. I was relieved to witness that the EQ Team created an environment where I could feel comfortable and even had fun!

The personal contact with Barbara before, during and after the workshop made this audition very special. In addition, the format where all participants were required to stay for the whole day and listen to each other’s performances was very unique. Thanks to the introduction by Barbara, Jackie, and Pascal in the beginning, we quickly learned to turn this into a positive and motivating experience.

I had a short crisis, though… During the break I discovered that one person is going to sing the same aria as me. I was feeling a slight panic. On one hand, I wanted to listen to her interpretation and on the other hand I was afraid to get influenced by it shortly before performing it myself, especially that I have never sung it in front of people before!

I talked about it with another participant. They smiled and reminded me of having Friendly Eyes… not only for the others, but also for myself. It was great to get this kind of support from another singer. I decided to stand back and prepare for my performance.

Last but not least – even though I have never met any of the other participants, the atmosphere at the 104 was delightful. Huge thanks to Lora de Montvert for being there for us on every step of the journey!

Devi:

Twenty months (I count) later than initially planned, we- with masks and safe distance- finally gathered round in Atelier 11 for the long awaited Workshop/Audition EQ Paris. It was a clear sign of me breaking up with the languish feeling I have been experiencing during the pandemic as I couldn’t hide my excitement and went to Centquatre the day before audition to make sure I’ll get the place and entrance right.

It felt surreal-not only the fact that I got to sing in front of live audience again, but the world renowned soprano and conductor Barbara Hannigan, whose video I watched on Youtube halfway across the world 9 years ago, were going to listen to me and give feedback!? I took a deep breath in and deep breath out.

As someone who is not a stranger to performance anxiety, I was not surprised when my mind played the fastest ping-pong game on earth throughout the day: “The time is now. Let’s go!” vs. “What’s at system 4 bar 3 again? Are you sure you got that one right?” This mind chattering was soothed after I reminded myself with the answer to a question posed by Friendly Eyes founder Jackie Reardon in the beginning of the day: “What is your definition of success?”

It was an inspiring day to be surrounded by fellow artists who support and celebrate each other’s successes. This audition felt more like a healing therapeutic journey rather than stress-inducing event. I will carry this wholesome experience in my heart forever.

P.S. By the way, my answer to Jackie’s question earlier was “whenever I choose love over fear”. Based on that, I am elated to say that I had a few successes – which I rightly celebrated by treating myself to copious amounts of pain au chocolat.

We would like to express our deepest gratitude to the pianists, Natalie Burch and Michalis Boliakis, our special guest of the day Pascal Bertin for his time and encouragement, to Lora de Monvert for making sure everything running smoothly and to Jackie Reardon for her dedication and warm positive energy. Most importantly, a big thank you to Barbara for her generosity, commitment and honest feedback.

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The Equilibrium Workshop/Audition day was an intense and moving experience of simultaneously diving deeply into ourselves and reaching out to one another. We thought the best way to channel that productive tension was to exchange letters reflecting on the day. Especially for those of you who took part in the day, please consider yourselves addressed in the questions, and invitations included.

Dear Mayan,

It is hard to believe that over a month has gone by since our day in Paris at the EQ workshop/audition day. Did you stick with the Friendly Eyes Discovery Course afterwards? I need to admit that during the holidays I let it drop, but I am now feeling drawn back to it, as the initial aspirational energy of the New Year wears off and January winter bluesy-ness sets in. I’d love to follow Jackie and Barbara’s suggestion to do the Experience Course with a group, would you be up for that?

When I reflect on the workshop/audition day, my mind immediately rushes over the nearly two years it took to come together. It was early in the pandemic, April Fools Day 2020 to be exact, and I was sitting on Berlin’s Tempelhofer Feld (the ultimate outdoor space for social distancing) when I received the invitation to take part. The uncertainty of those days, the scheduling and rescheduling… of course there were moments of fear and blistering frustration (hello, story thinking!), but at its core, I think that the time since then has been a teacher, showing us what we can control, and what we cannot. The promise of an EQ workshop/audition day, taking the Friendly Eyes Discovery course twice, was a piece of what carried me through that time. The fact that it took nearly two years to be able to come together made the day all the more… sacred is the word that comes to mind.

My second admission is that though I’d found the insights of Friendly Eyes to be invaluable, I did not have high hopes for how it would play out in the workshop. I had expected to encounter among the participants, and maybe even myself, a not-quite genuine use of Friendly Eyes and mindfulness lingo in a competitive fishbowl environment (again, hello story thinking!). Whether it was the mix of people that Barbara had invited, or that the grind of the last two years had filled us all with an unspoken solidarity, but I was deeply moved that instead the day was filled with genuine kindness, curiosity, and a sense of play. To say that the day had a positive energy would be too simplistic – it was focus, it was gratitude, it was stress, it was ambition, it was the feeling of “bringing it.” Barbara’s opening quote on ego comes to mind: “the ego is an exquisite instrument. Enjoy it, use it, just don’t get lost in it.” Maybe it is an instrument that when played right gives a good beat to dance to – I felt that all of our egos were in a kind of groove together.

Somehow that balance was struck, and it created a palpable energy in the room during our performances. There was a true energetic exchange between the room and the performers – for me this was a godsend – it is so easy for me to get lost in my head during auditions, but the energy of the group was like a current to play with and against. Even if, as usual, I was singing about death and injustice, it was an uplifting experience for me. Your Monteverdi monologue from Valetto, berating the philosopher Seneca for being full of hot air, hit home, and reminded me that even in noble silences and reflective letters, one should keep it real. I loved that you pivoted from that biting sarcasm, where you essentially pull the rug out from under “serious thought,” right into owning your own deep side, by diving into the spiritual searching of Oliver Messiaen. I hope that you too felt heard and seen by the room.

So, until next time! I’ll be back in Berlin this spring, and hope we cross paths then!

all the best,

Andrew

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Hey Andrew,

Hope you’re well! It was so wonderful to hear you sing during the EQ workshop auditions this December!

Funny to think how long we’ve waited to take part in this day – my first postponement due to the pandemic was actually this audition, and after almost two years, finally getting to be in the room with everyone felt like a sort of a miracle, and for me personally, a symbolic moment. In a way, having it postponed so many times yet knowing that the organizers are determined to make it happen and not to cancel it, has helped me stay hopeful and optimistic in this strange and complicated period. Am I weird?! Maybe weird is the new normal.

I’m pretty sure that this positive build-up had to do with the fact that already from the emails we got I could feel the care and empathy of everybody who was involved in making this day happen, and sure enough, I can wholeheartedly say that this was the best I’ve been treated to in an audition experience. Everything and everyone were so considerate, down to the little pauses we had of ‘Noble Silence’ – now that is a concept, I’m totally taking with me going forward! The introvert in me was so relieved and grateful. Not that I don’t love to interact with colleagues but being encouraged to save our energy for our performances made the introvert in me scream with joy (or rather since screaming is neither noble nor silent – to sigh in relief).

Usually, auditions are a quick affair: you go in, you sing for 10 minutes if you’re lucky, and you leave. You do it while standing alone at the piano with an accompanist who you might have met for a few minutes beforehand, to a poker-faced jury and hope for the best. In that sense, our day was the furthest thing away from an audition as possible! It wasn’t just that we sang to a room full of our peers, we got to be there for them as their audience too. We played games, we got to ask our jurors any questions that was on our mind, and got actual, practical, honest, and compassionate answers. The height of the workshop, for me personally, was having the musical aspect of the day combined with working with Jackie Reardon. After getting to do her course Friendly Eyes online in the weeks leading to the workshop, it was especially interesting and exciting to get to experience her work live and in person. I found that it had a strong and positive impact being able to experience exactly how these two aspects become two sides of the same coin, getting to put them into practical use, both as a listener and as a performer, and feeling the tremendous difference they made for me. Since the audition/workshop I have this newfound motivation to be better about meditating daily, and I’m sure it’s thanks to the effects of the work we did leading up to and during the workshop (it also might be just me being carried away as every year with the spirit of “new year, new me” But if that’s the result I’ll take it).

Anyway, it makes me curious to further explore Jackie’s work and courses and see where this experience will take me going forward!

One of the loveliest things for me as an audience during that day was seeing the different repertoire choices singers brought with them. It was so cool and interesting how each singer’s unique personality and qualities were reflected in their repertoire, and how each one had their own unique voice and story to offer through their music. I left that day with my head buzzing with inspiration and rep ideas. I also loved the amount of art songs I got to hear during one day and I have to tell you how much I loved your choice of rep! I really liked how both of your pieces corresponded with one another thematically. You were so expressive and gave a masterful performance. It was like getting to listen to a two-piece Liederabend! In that sense, and with all the things I mentioned before, I left the workshop with both my mind and heart full of wonderful things to carry on with me. I can say it was definitely and totally worth the two-year wait! Now I just hope it won’t be this long until the next time I get to experience such a wonderful singing-related day.

Sending you all my best wishes, stay well and healthy!

Mayan