Big Fish, Small Pond?

If you are looking at colleges for music or theater (or anything else, for that matter), the question arises – should I strive to be a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond?

If you are looking for individualized attention from a small faculty and the opportunity to perform throughout your entire college career, a small college (or pond) might be exactly what you are looking for.

But not all small ponds are created equal.

I have a pond in my backyard. There are fish, and toads, the occasional snake (ew), and a lot of plant life. My pond has a water pump to keep the water aerated, and a filter to sift out icky stuff. And I have a husband who cleans out the pond in the late fall and prepares it for the spring in late March or April (I’m certainly not going to do it). As a result, my pond looks like this:


The O'Meally pond

If I were the one in charge of pond maintenance, it most likely would look like this:

Stagnant Pond | A few pictures of an algae choked stagnant p… | Flickr

This is a stagnant pond. Oxygen does not circulate. Fish die. It breeds bacteria. Nothing grows here.

Check out the schools you are looking at. Are the students thriving? Are they going on to careers in their fields or to graduate schools of note? Are the performances of quality?

Would you be the best performer at that school as a freshman?

As self-affirming (or self-aggrandizing) as that might be, you really shouldn’t be. There should be room for you to grow and get better.  You shouldn’t be taking up all the room in the pond. Plus it isn’t reality-based.

Check out the pond in which you’ll be swimming for the next four years. Is it one where you’ll flourish? One where you’ll stagnate?

Conversely, if it’s too big, will you get lost in the weeds?

Or will you find a school that will inspire you and encourage you to swim forward with a common goal?

School of fish
(See what I did there?)

This has implications beyond school. When I was moving from Milwaukee back to Baltimore, we were remodeling our entire second floor (ah, timing!) and I had a chat with our British plumber/bathroom designer, who was really quite the artisan. Of all our subcontractors, he was the best and most thorough in his work. He asked why I was moving and I said that I needed more of a challenge in my performing. He told me that he got that – he used to be a bass player in London, and while he was not the best bass player, there was a lot of session work to be had, so he played all the time, and he played with some fantastic colleagues. As a result, he got better. He HAD to in order to keep up and continue to get hired at even better gigs.  When he met a Milwaukee girl and followed her to Wisconsin, he had fewer places to play, and colleagues who weren’t at the same high level he was used to playing with (sorry, Milwaukee, but, hey, it was London). So he stopped playing. And he missed it terribly.

It may well be that you decide you want to take up residence in a small pond. And that’s fine.

But make sure it’s one that can sustain life and growth.

If you are looking to grow your craft, stay tuned for information on an upcoming series of workshops with nationally known teachers and a masterclass with an acclaimed composer/conductor/multihyphenate. Full details coming in Thursday’s blogpost or you can click here to get on the mailing list for more information. 

Published by Mezzoid Voice Studio

Christine Thomas-O'Meally, a mezzo soprano and voice teacher currently based in the Baltimore-DC area, has performed everything from the motets of J.S. Bach to the melodies of Irving Berlin to the minimalism of Philip Glass. As an opera singer and actress, she has appeared with companies such as Charm City Players, Spotlighters Theatre, Chicago Opera Theater, Opera Theater of Northern Virginia, Opera North, the Washington Savoyards, In Tandem Theatre, Windfall Theater, The Young Victorian Theater of Baltimore, and Skylight Opera Theatre. She created the role of The Woman in Red in Dominick Argento’s Dream of Valentino in its world premiere with the Washington Opera and Mary Pickersgill in O'er the Ramparts at its world premiere during the Bicentennial of Battle of Baltimore at the Community College of Baltimore County. Other roles include Mrs. Paroo in Music Man, Mother Abbess in Sound of Music, Dorabella in Cosi Fan Tutte, Marcellina in Le Nozze di Figaro, both Hansel and the Witch in Hansel & Gretel, and many roles in Gilbert & Sullivan operettas. Her performance as the Housekeeper in Man of La Mancha was honored with a WATCH award nomination. Ms. Thomas-O'Meally received an M.M. in vocal performance from the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. She regularly attends master classes and workshops in both performance and vocal pedagogy, and is certified in all three Levels of Somatic Voicework™ The LoVetri Method. Her students have performed on national and international tours of Broadway productions, at prestigious conservatories, and in regional theater throughout the country.

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