Story post: lesson from a world-renowned opera singer

“There’s a project in Australia and they need some help. We want you to go there next week.”


I couldn’t get the “Hell yes I’ll go!” out fast enough.


In those days, any project offering a new adventure in a new country got an automatic “Yes!” first and questions got asked later.


Go to the other side of the world to work sight unseen with complete strangers on a project with impossible deadlines, an altitude sickness-inducing corporate profile and paralyzing financial penalties if we missed. Sign me up!


That’s the short version of how I found myself waiting in the dark inside the most iconic building in Australia - possibly the world – the Sydney Opera House.


There’s a wide promenade where you can walk beneath the iconic white sails. People gather to chat or eat lunch on the long white steps.


You can look out over Sydney Harbor, grab a coffee or a meal.


Since I was staying nearby, I walked over frequently.

Without making a sound it shouted what I felt, “Oh my God! You’re in Australia!”


Before leaving, I wanted to see a performance. Any performance.


On one of my many walks there, I saw a poster announcing a show by Opera Soprano Kathleen Battle.


“Hmmmm, why does that name ring a bell?”


Battle had been the subject of a late 80’s article in Vanity Fair, which I’d happened to read.


It described her as the rarest of talents. The New York Times was quoted saying one of her performances put the audience in a “state of delirium.”

Good enough for me. I bought a ticket.


Battle was performing a solo concert. She was that celebrated an artist. I waited for the house lights to go down in the Sydney Opera house, not knowing what to expect.


The hall was wood paneled, not sold out but respectably filled.


She came out to loud applause and before each song, she produced a pitch pipe and blew into it.


I wasn’t then and am not now anything close to a musical or operatic connoisseur. Unsophisticated and untrained are more apt descriptors.


What I learned going to performances like this is when it involves talent that's bothered to pursue mastery, there are bound to be moments that transcend what you know and go straight to what you feel.


Anyone can experience it. You don't have to be "highfalutin."


We feel it because it resonates with what’s in our soul, not our brain.


It's the kind of beauty anyone can experience without being taught.


On the other hand, the person delivering it, can spend years perfecting it.


Just close your eyes and listen to the the Fairy Garden, the Firebird Finale or the

Flower Duet from Lakmé, which one person describes as “Two angels singing at God.”


Now imagine sitting alone in the dark, not knowing what’s coming next and having something like that reach out to you like a magical high jacker.

If Battle had sung off pitch, it would have gone unnoticed by me.


Yet, I probably wouldn’t have had one of those transcendent, “Oh my God this is what it means to be alive!” moments either. Something would have been off, I just wouldn't have known what.


It mattered to Kathleen Battle, which is why she pulled out a pitch pipe to get it right.


Young in my career, I was fearful of admitting when I was unsure.


You don't need to see a pitch-pipe to know when you’re experiencing the result of someone who bothered to get it right.


If you're a professional who wants to get it right, Booster Shot is a kind of pitch pipe. A hand book for mastering a certain kind of song.


People may not be able to put into precise words why they feel you’re the one, but they’ll have no doubt you are.


Courtney

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