Artists: they walk among usOp-ed
The other day I was walking downtown, and spotted an opera singer friend of mine across the street. She didn’t see me, and the combination of a busy street and her wearing headphones meant I couldn’t shout hello without looking insane.
I thought to myself about all the people by her on that street, passing her by like it was nothing. Didn’t they know they were sharing the sidewalk with an artist of ridiculous skill? Didn’t they realize what she was capable of doing with her voice and her body?
Of course they don’t, and they’re not idiots for not knowing who this unassuming woman is as she walks by, probably on her way to rehearsal or maybe a matinee. It made me consider all the incredibly skilled artists I’ve walked by on the streets of whatever city, and how many of them are scattered throughout our daily lives.
I suppose it’s the same as anybody with an interesting enough profession; I’ve probably stood in a Starbucks line with someone on Bay Street who just made himself $50M or something, or walked by a brain surgeon or two on my way up University Avenue. From my point of view, I simply saw another guy in a great suit, or a faceless person in scrubs outside a hospital.
A surreal scene played out in my head, where people everywhere hold up big placards that say things like “I can break your heart with a high B-flat,” or “I designed the really cool building behind me,” or “I’m one of three people alive who can fix a really important part of the human brain.” In my head, this experiment sounds really interesting, but maybe that’s because I’m a little bit nosey.
I’ve been hanging out with artists for my whole life, and you’d think I’d get blasé about the fact that these people can provoke shock and awe onstage, and who also go to grocery stores so they can bake a mean banana bread. You’d think I’d be more aware of how artists don’t actually live onstage (you know, like your elementary school teachers don’t actually live at the school), and how they split their time between work and everything else in their lives, like most people in the world.
Instead of getting used to it, I get more and more excited when I see talented people out and about, being banal. It’s not a star-struck moment for me, but it’s more like being in on a secret. The barista that poured that opera singer her tea before rehearsal, he’s a little bit a part of that singer’s work day, whether he knows it or not. Airport security guards, tailors, Uber drivers, they’re all playing their small roles in getting these incognito artists under the bright lights.
It’s a good thing that I’m not one of these opera singers, since I may be insufferable. I may be that singer who hears “Oh, I really like your scarf,” and runs with it for a full-on autobiography of her career.
It’s another reason that I like being the coach, répétiteur, and general specialty-pianist around the opera industry. I get to be privy to more of a singer’s process than most people, and my awe and respect for what they do makes sense both on the job, and along the walk to grab pre-rehearsal dinner.
My musings come without a clear point, I’m afraid. I do think it’s worth taking stock of the performing artists you’re aware of, either in your city or elsewhere; whatever that number is, multiply it by 100 (1000?). If you’re like me, and you get excited by the prospect of skilled-yet-faceless artists permeating the subways, restaurants, and post offices, this is a fun game to play on your commute.