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BWW Blog: A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man (Part 3)

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III. ...And There Was No Pomp or Circumstance

III. ...And There Was No Pomp or Circumstance

Read Part 1 HERE. Read Part 2 HERE.

My teacher once told me that, "Some people are just made to experience the world more emotionally than others. And that's you Michael. You have to go through this world building up calluses from the assholes that you will surely meet as you move on with your career and I'm sorry for that"

Unfortunately, my teacher was a well-known soothsayer and I wish I heeded the plea within his heartfelt message to me before I graduated. If I knew this, maybe I wouldn't have gone down this path of being an artist-who am I kidding, I knew he was right due to my middle-high school musical experience, but my passions led me to be foolish. Here's to the fools who dream, right?

I'm use to not having the "pomp and circumstance" of anything and I trained myself have really low expectations for things to protect me from any hopefulness due to the constant obstacles I fought when trying to be creative or just achieving. I will never forget the time when I got nominated for this prestigious national award and my local newspaper wanted to interview me. After that interview, I felt very excited as I never spoke to "the press" before and the fact that they wanted to talk to me was somewhat intoxicating. Unfortunately, the next day I saw my face on the front page of the newspaper with the words "disability" in the headline. I was embarrassed that people who didn't know me from towns over will see me as this disabled person, but I just smiled. Is that what the journalist got from my interview? The journalist didn't have malice in her heart, right? Is this the only way they could market my achievement? For the last two years, other students got bigger receptions, for amazing achievements I must add, that lasted days and even weeks, but for me it was just an interview that turned out to be somewhat of a public embarrassment.

Now, in my senior year in college, I wish some of my compositions would have gotten bigger receptions comparable to the adulation that my high school peers got. From film scores that I produced and advocated to be shown to theatre pieces, it was always a small crowd consisting of some of my friends and professors who were mandated to be there to show support. The moments were always ephemeral-a performance lasting between one to three minutes (and in some cases five); once it was over people went on with their day and forgot I wrote something. I learned to love that small crowd, but I still wish that some people would show up to my concerts and support me as I go out of my way to attend their performances because to miss an opportunity to listen to great music by my peers is a detriment to me.

I even went to concerts headlined by some of my peers and professors who mocked and bullied me, but I supported them anyways because I will never miss an opportunity to listen to amazing live music. I only left a concert once, as one of the performers has done very heinous things that he justified on religious grounds. I regret leaving as I will never know what songs were played, what he did for his improv solo or the energy in the room. We, as artists of every medium, must support each other!

I've seen artists mocking other artists at a university level and it's disappointing that these behaviors are being taught by some of the professors, which creates these cycles of toxic favoritism (for lack of a better word). This in hand with other societal forces exacerbate this hostile environment where some people benefit from this system while others suffer, and the world loses the voices of some artists or even some people learning to express themselves. This is inexcusable.

I've seen derision on Facebook and on TikTok from even adults and teens in the musical theatre community. To put yourself out there takes some balls and to have such a negative response is so discouraging to the performer. One of the most amazing things that I took away from TikTok and Facebook is to see people expressing themselves and singing songs. Whether they sound good or bad, the world is singing.

On Instagram, there is this one account of a professional bassoon player who after posting a video of her playing various orchestral excerpts posts all the "cut" videos in a thread to show the her progress There was this one video where she cried after messing up this extremely difficult passage and made the walk of shame to turn off the camera. Something is just so human about seeing the frustration and powering through it despite mistakes as those are the things that seldom get any attention.

Being rejected by the musical theatre community at my high school and university inspired me to develop my stories and songs a certain way contradicting the ideas of studio perfectionism that run rampant in most of my music circles. The one thing that I really want to accomplish in my writing and composition is this realism that anyone can sing, and it isn't reserved for people who got nine years of training. If I ever get to the point of casting for one of my scripts, I will say this:

I want "an actor who can sing not a singer who can act."

I always believe musical theatre should be in the vernacular of the people who watch it whether that be the content, the way characters speak, and even to a point the music. Musical theatre to me isn't just a fantasy world where you suspend your disbelief. When I walk outside and people watch, I see people with headphones mouthing the words, singing and sometimes, although seldom, dancing while walking. There's a beauty in those behaviors that I find so human. Again, I'm not saying they are singing amazingly or dancing extravagant dances, but they are expressing themselves in the vocabulary they know. That is why I will never understand people mocking other people's singing voices on social media saying extremely hurtful things far from constructive criticism. Again, we, as artists of every medium, must support each other as we navigate through each other's journeys.

My philosophy on how theatre should be done gets me into some confrontations and some of them are respectful and sadly, some are not. My second composition teacher and I had a verbal altercation when I decided not to pick one of the trained singers at the school to sing one of my songs.

"Why do you not want the song you composed to sound good is beyond me?" he said. He didn't know I was rejected by the musical theatre community at the university, so I didn't even have the opportunity to ask any of them.

"The song I wrote should be more emotional than singing the right notes. Although they are important, of course, I would take a person who can tell the story better than the people who can sing the right notes..." I responded in some resignation as standing up for myself and talking back to a professor was something I never thought I would do.

He smirked in disbelief.

Having past conversations with him, I knew I had to support all my claims, no matter how emotional, with evidence or he would deduce it as "pulling a Michael," which kind of makes me mad that my name became a verb, but I digress.

I went on to show him examples like "...Robin Williams in Aladdin, RENT's whole casting process...."

"...Like Maurice Chevalier talk-singing the song Just One of Those Things, right?" he retorted.

"Yes exactly..." it took me a second to recover as my confidence was shaken from being rudely interrupted. Lucky for me I knew his reference as that clip of Chevalier singing that song was featured in one of the Broadway documentaries that I love watching. He tried to outsmart me with the reference, as I learn most professors in my university's music department try to do when I try to have discussions with them, but this time their attempts were futile.

"...it's not singing like how you want it, a la Barbra Streisand, but they all get the emotional core of the song whether that be comedic or tragic and there is something very human of a 'non singer' singing a song..." I concluded my stance with an exhaustive list of things I want to emulate. I was expecting a longer discussion, but he just nodded and resigned and allowed me to do as he learned I was adamant in my choices and what I wanted to show.

To be expecting anything is to be expecting disappointment. I don't know if that is an axiom or something I made up, but it rings true. I trained myself to have low expectations for things to protect me from any hopefulness due to the constant obstacles I fought when trying to be creative or just achieving. I'm trying and still actively learning to just enjoy the creative process and from what has gotten through my thick skull of arrogance of wanting to have the big reception that I yearn for, which I'm sadly learning will someday never come. This has opened my eyes and brain to other possibilities of art in general. I learned this idea of writing "Shitty First Drafts" in one of my writing classes in order to get all your ideas flowing in the stream of consciousness style so that I'm not being an editor while being a writer has been very helpful. It has also been helpful because as the saying goes you are your worst critic and sometimes you throw away great ideas, without giving it the chance for it to grow or be developed. I can't tell you how many ideas I dismissed due to me thinking it's not good enough or not good enough to impress the people that rejected me. I wished I wrote them somewhere because during those days when you don't have any ideas or are just too tired to think they will become a Godsend.

END OF SERIES


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From This Author Student Blogger: Michael Bailey