Professionalism: Standing Out Vs. Sticking Out

Whether you are singing in a school or community theater production, going to audition for a college program, or singing in a church or community choir, the thing that will set you apart is an attitude of professionalism.

I’ve written before about being a good colleague, and that’s a large part of it. Show respect for them and for what they bring to the table, and don’t make it all about you. Especially if they don’t know you yet. Listen. Behave in an exemplary manner and don’t make excuses.

About a month and a half ago, someone posted a question in the NEW New Classical Singer’s Forum on FB (I forget what happened to the original “New Classical Singer’s Forum”):

If you are an opera singer that is successfully and consistently getting roles, what are you doing to get them? Can you dig all the way back into college for me and go step by step with how you got from being a college kid who wanted to sing opera to being a professional opera singer that consistently gets work?

There were many intelligent responses, but I was particularly impressed with one from soprano and voice teacher Davida Kagen of Washington State. Ms. Kagen has had an impressive opera career and teaching studio for a number of years.  (And in a picture on her website from her days at the Zurich Opera Studio, she is sitting next to my cousin-by-marriage, Susan Pombo-Ball!) With Ms. Kagen’s permission, I am posting her response here (bolding mine):

  • Study hard
  • Know your stuff
  • Be a very good actor, along with being an adequate musician
  • Be courageous
  • Trust yourself
  • Develop a thick skin
  • Take the craft seriously, but, not yourself too much
  • Always be ready for anything
  • Be in the right place at the right time
  • Be good enough to attract a sponsor, an agent for representation
  • Be prepared, on time, a great colleague who people love to work with

[These are] just a few of the qualities that get you noticed. Having a beautiful voice is only a very small part of it, but that helps as well.

With the exception of being an actor/musician, these all correspond to things you need to succeed in any other profession. Check out another blogpost I just read about the Six Traits of Professionalism. Really, it’s the same thing.

I would like to add

  • Don’t show off/draw attention to yourself*
  • Don’t apologize (unless you’ve actually hurt someone) or make excuses – particularly in advance of what you’re about to do
  • Be a generous colleague but don’t offer unsolicited/unwelcome advice/suggestions!

*I know this seems incongruous to being a performer,
but there’s a difference between standing out and sticking out

Performing is a team activity, whether or not you are a principal artist or in the chorus. In order to work well with others, you must show respect to them for their time, their ability, as well as being the best artist/human being you can be.

  • You may get hired once for your beautiful voice, but if you don’t back it up with the professionalism required, you won’t get hired back
  • You might not even get hired/accepted to a program if you don’t behave professionally in the audition – to everyone you meet, not just the audition panel. EVERYONE COUNTS.

You stand out by being the most professional: “Look at the work.”
You stick out by being the least professional: “Look at ME!”
Which will you choose?


If you’re ready to choose a professional attitude toward your vocal development (even if being a professional performer is not necessarily on your radar), find out how to work with me
and stay tuned for summer lesson options!

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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