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I can imagine you sitting in an armchair 40 years from now, nursing your poison d’jour, reflecting on what has been, and then it suddenly hitting you… “2016 was brutal!”

Between celebrity deaths, political upheaval, and iPhones with no headphone jack – there’s barely been a moment to pause and catch your breath! It’s been a strange year, for sure, but as I write this blog one year on from “I don’t want to be an opera singer” , I can’t help but look back on 2016 as being one of the most euphoric, most challenging, most varied, and most rewarding years of my life. When I signed-off from the O Word in January I was uncertain of where I would be or what I would be doing right now, but none of what has followed featured in my wildest dreams! … but then again, some of my wildest dreams are terrifying, so maybe that’s for the best. Feel free to mosey on over @richard_nigel on twitter if you’d like to be all caught up! I probably did other things as well, but if I didn’t tweet about it, did it ever really happen?

As I embark on this particular Vocal Voyage, I wonder what value I have to add in writing a follow-up blog. I could certainly tell you all about what made 2016 special to me – but we’re all the protagonists of our own stories, and I doubt y’all would find me as interesting as I find myself! Perhaps the most useful aspect of my journey to young musicians back in Perth is how a BMus and MMus have served me in the world outside of opera… I definitely spent countless nights throughout college questioning what on earth I was going to do with my (seemingly) useless degrees! 

These useless pieces of paper – but more importantly the skills I acquired in completing these degrees – have in fact opened a world of possibilities to me in Education. This past August I took up a post at a private boys school here in Manhattan, teaching music. I have never been more inspired in my life – by the work, by the chaps, and by my colleagues. 

It’s at this point that I should give a shout-to my Form IV Music Survey chaps, who have done some thorough background-checking and read the entire Richie In The City series…Chaps, if you’re reading this, please click on this link: 

I do not hold a degree in Education, but I’ll share with you below just a handful of takeaways from my BMus and MMus that have propelled me into this wonderful world. Enjoy!

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The greatest tool my education has given me is a thirst for education. Certainly, as Socrates suggests, college will not teach you all you’d ever care to know about the works of Goethe, or allow you to master vocal technique. Rather the entire point (it seems to me) is to open your eyes to the vast ocean of information that exists in the world, and to give you the map, grit, and guile to go and explore it for yourself. Most obviously, this passion for education has certainly held me in good stead for an actual career in education. 

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I’m often drawn back to this quote. Music and the human race have a great oral tradition, and quote is an homage to all the mentors in my life – many of whom I’ve met during my BMus and MMus. I have had the privilege of meeting incredible people who selflessly give; of their time, and their wisdom. Hold on to these people. Your time at college is fleeting, but relationships can last a lifetime. 

And, please, if the chance ever arises; pass it on.

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This is a loaded quote – not because it’s particularly profound, but because of its story.

  • The idea itself is probably the greatest gift WAAPA gave me, and is the lesson that has resonated with me the most. Since hearing this in 3rd year I have asked, not always received, but certainly the act of asking and deciding I want something has allowed me to focus-in on goals, put plans in-place, and achieved them. 
  • This quote is also a shining example that you can simultaneously loath a learning experience, and derive important knowledge…it is no secret that I haaaaated the class that this quote comes from (for myriad reasons), but I’m glad that I had the humility (if I do say so myself) to remain receptive to good ideas.  
  • This quote assumes privilege. I am a private school educated eurasian male, so I have a massive head-start in life. I absolutely knowledge this, and will leave that there for far more erudite people to unpack. All I’ll say is that I am proud that so many of my school friends are ‘asking’ and ‘getting’ in efforts to promote diversity and equity, as is our charge.

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I often wonder if I would be where I am today if I had studied Education at college… and I don’t think I would be. Not because I wouldn’t be infinitely more educated in the techniques of teaching, but because in doing my degrees in music, at a time when I was focussed making vocal music, I learnt what it means to be passionate; the costs of passion, how to communicate passionately, how to be inspired. I tell my students that music is more than playing the right notes at the right time; music is passion. I’ve found it’s often executing tasks with passion that sets people apart. To bring it back to opera – Netrebko has her vocal flaws (who doesn’t!), but her performance is so much more than her singing. Her artistry, and her animalistic passion set audiences on fire! And..I am thankful everyday that I had my passion taken away from me as a result of becoming too institutionalized. For me it took loosing my passion for music to allow myself to fully appreciate it and for it to grow back stronger. I’M RAMBLING, but all this is to say:

Be passionate.

Written by Richard Symons

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