Today I am sad.

Some might call it depression.

I am underemployed and I wonder if I am employable in the long term.

I looked at my Post Doc application again today. It’s very good. I’ve no idea about whether it will get up.

I’m applying for a job on the other side of the country. I’ve no idea whether I will be considered for the role.

I was awarded a teaching commendation for a job I’ve chosen to leave. I received the letter of congratulation yesterday.

I feel guilty for feeling sad. I have so much. So why do I feel so unfulfilled?


Whoops. Well, that was quick.

I quit my job on Friday. It’s a casual singing teacher job at the local university which pays by the hour. It’s well paid but without any entitlements such as sick leave. I was due to work 120 hours this semester which is a substantial amount of money for what amounts to 3 full-time weeks worth of work. Problem was, a student decided they wanted to quit mid-year and learn from someone else, and then I was informed my pay scale was being reduced by $24 an hour. The combination of those two events tipped me over the edge. They were the straw that broke the camel’s back. 

I have been struggling with teaching for a while now. I am not a vocational educator. That is, I went into teaching because it was convenient. Teaching allowed me to take school holidays with my kids, it stopped me from being really poor and it was a stopgap between what I really wanted to do and poverty. As a performing artist, teaching is a valuable means of support between gigs. Paid by the hour, it’s quite lucrative. Divided by the year it’s not, but my work is specialised. 

I’m a good teacher. But I’m not a natural one. I’ve had to work hard to be competent because it’s a draining and exhausting occupation for an introvert. I give a lot of myself. The relationship between singer and teacher is pretty intense because of the complex interchange of embodied instrument and soul urge and sense of self. So when a student decides they want to change teachers it’s heartbreaking. There’s a lot of trust that goes into the relationship. Last week that trust was broken by this student, 3 days before the start of semester. 

Now, in my private practice I don’t give a rats if students want to leave. We’re performing a transaction here and it’s a negotiated one with a financial basis. They come and go and I don’t mind. They originally chose to approach me and I agreed to teach them. That’s fine. I have the authority and responsibility to control and conduct my business as I see fit. You’re only bound by the length of the invoice. So if students choose to stay it’s a positive affirmation of your worth. At the same time, I can choose to cease teaching a student if they’re not up to scratch. 

But in my tertiary position I wasn’t able to select the students.  So when they wanted to shift teachers I had no recourse. It’s a finite pool of students and I couldn’t just fill the space with another student. When you take on a tertiary student you are basically taking them on for 3 years. It’s a long term arrangement. Therefore you plan their education accordingly, and you can only trust that they will accept this long term planning. It’s also about sustaining a positive relationship with the student over this time. So when a student quits, it feels like you’re being told you’re not worth the investment. That’s heartbreaking. 

I’ve had a few moments like this in the last 6 months, and it has been getting to me. Last week I was given a teaching commendation by the university. Awarded every year to the top 3% of teachers across the university (that’s about 60 teachers, so guess the size of our academic staff), it’s based on our student evaluations of our teaching. Students have said they like me. It’s now proven. But if one rejection can send me in a tailspin it’s time to reevaluate my priorities. 

I felt like I was the teacher students wanted to switch from. It became a trickle I couldn’t control and it was impacting on my mental health. Combine this drop in self esteem with a kick-in-the-teeth pay reduction 3 days before the start of semester and I was done. No loyalty to their staff? I felt no loyalty to the university after these events. Luckily as a casual staff member without a contract or entitlements all I needed to do was give an hour’s notice of intent to quit. 

What about your other students, I hear you ask. What about leaving the department in the lurch? Actually, loyalty to the department is only as good as the treatment of its staff. I was not being treated kindly or well. As for the students: I’ll miss them. But I had stopped trusting them. I never knew which of my students would decide to up and leave my studio. Every semester I would hold my breath, waiting for the axe to fall. The anxiety was too much. And too painful. Because as a teacher you love your students very much. You want the best for them and you give them every opportunity to achieve their goals. But if every semester you wonder if you’re going to be dumped you start to protect yourself emotionally and this is not a good place from which to be teaching. It burns you out.

On top of this was my desire to do something that filled my soul’s urge. I’ve finished my PhD. I have the floppy hat picture and the testamur and the conferral letter. What now?

Well, it was time to give myself a push. Take a risk. Take a leap into the unknown. Challenge myself and stop using teaching as my safety blanket. 

I have a book proposal to write. I have jobs to apply for. I have a house to renovate and children to care for. I have a supportive, loving husband whose salary can support us for a little while on one income, and I have some new directions to find. I have a mid life crisis to manage! 

Time for a change. 

I bin gon’ fer a bit

Went overseas, didn’t take a computer and I really hate typing on my phone, so no blog post for ages. Sorry, not sorry. Actually, I AM a little sorry I didn’t blog while away. So much interesting, good stuff happened and I really wanted to write about it but my fat fingers don’t work on mini screen and my eyesight is getting worse. So I gave up and played computer games instead because that’s what you do when you’re in Europe having a lazy holiday in the south of France and northern Spain.

I had a family holiday in the north of Spain and the south of France. For more than 3 weeks. Do I feel lucky? Hell, yes. Am I tired now? Hell, yes. On arriving home Tuesday morning at 1.30am after 30 hours in transit we rolled into bed at about 2am (get this, we put ALL our stuff away, unpacked our bags, made the bed with fresh linen, played with the dog, because our house looked so clean and gorgeous we wanted our stuff not to get in the way and make us feel bad in the morning. Who does that? WTF?). I slept through to about 1.00pm, so caught up on all my missed sleep during the flight, then went and taught yesterday because I was at my most awake between 4pm and 10pm.

Living in Australia is great, right, but OMG the travel. I hate flying economy to and from anywhere other than south east Asia. I finally worked out what it is, apart from the cramped seating and no lying down. It’s the chairs. They are so high off the floor that I have no purchase for my feet. Consequently my feet swell and I get cramps from trying to literally hold myself in the chair. For much of the flight I sat bolt upright, too, because I have a bad back from driving for 3 days solid. I stick a damn pillow in the small of my back and I must look really dumb but it’s the only way I don’t feel utterly crap. Oh well, first world problems, as they (trolls) say.

Now, of course, I was unable to sleep much last night because jet lag, so I’m in bed about to attempt some more shut eye before I teach this afternoon.

So, in some nice news, my article was published, huzzah –

Not much other news to report other than I had inquiries from four prospective singing students, which is good because I need the money to pay off the debts from the holiday.

And the holiday? Well, I was in the south of France and northern Spain. You figure it out. ;)

Submission feels good, m’kay?

Hah! Got you there. You thought it was a BDSM site. Nah, I’m not into that kind of submission. Ew. Each to their own. Aaaanyhoo.

I submitted my Post Doc application today. The first of many, probably. But I got it signed off by my Research Centre Director, so that’s just the first step of joy in a long, long, long process that will probably be ultimately unsuccessful. And it’s the first independent study I’ve had an idea about since I had the aha moment to begin the PhD.

Why would I want to do any more study, my mother asks. Well, mum, I say, vaguely annoyed that she thinks that research is about studying when clearly to her I’ve been a “doing” person all my life (singing, teaching, NOT studying or writing down stuff or learning stuff). Um. Because I like learning about stuff, mum? And it’s an interesting job?

Now get this. My sister (Australian Indigenous Rights lawyer) has been “studying” her whole adult life, because most of her work is doing stuff like looking up stuff and writing down stuff and that sort of thing, reports and such. She is also undertaking PhD studies (submitting hers 7 months after I submitted mine), and she just got a great new job at uni. Blessed mum has not said anything remotely like this about my sister’s new job at the university, which is also about research and teaching. And studying.

SIGH. Apparently being a teacher and singer means I don’t write down a thing. Um. Yes I do. It’s kind of amusing to wonder what my mum and dad think my job actually is. I co-edited a book with DH about teaching singing. My name was on the cover. I sent a photo of me holding my book pointing to my name. On the cover. My mum and dad thought my DH had written the book ON HIS OWN. Even though my NAME WAS ON THE COVER.

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE my mum and dad to bits, they are awesome, generous, kind, thoughtful, lovely people. They are sending me and the fam to France to spend 2 weeks together in a CHATEAU. They paid for the plane tickets. They lent me a lot of money to buy our house. They are AWESOME. But moments like that give me pause. I mean, c’mon! My NAME WAS ON THE COVER.

Anyway. Life is pretty good, actually, proofs have come for my journal article which I have to complete by this week because Spain, and my students all seem to think I’m ok. Which is good, I guess.

But I want that Post Doc. I really, really do.

Gigs! I got gigs! And happy/sad today.

Well, just as my life takes a turgid turn for the boring, a great thing happens: I start getting gigs! Not very frequent at the moment, but they are good for me as they pay for stuff and I get to have fun on stage with a bunch of great folk. This is important for a singing teacher, that my own performing legitimises my teaching practice. My gigs are seminars about happiness – I’m blessed to have some lovely people who think I can actually sing and perform, who have asked me to do this stuff with them.

And for the first-ever time I went to the physio today because I have a super sore shoulder muscle. Its from doing lots of piano playing and computer sitting – I’m doing some crap things to my alignment that affect my neck, which then affects my back – mostly sitting down for too long and for too many years while teaching singing. I’ve been strapped up to make me keep squeezing my shoulder blades together. I’m tired already. I really hate chronic pain, and my back injury is in no way a spinal or bone-based condition, it’s muscular and can totally be fixed through exercise. Meaning I have to go to the gym and work out a truck load so that I don’t feel all muscle-achy. I want a massage. Oh, the pleasures of ageing. Not.

On the dark side, my DH’s mother has taken a turn for the worse. She’s 87 and in frail health – has been for years. On Saturday night she had a fall (as you do at 87), and then a stroke. It’s relatively minor, but at 87 even a minor stroke can mean catastrophic events. We’re waiting with bated breath to find out the outcome. Meanwhile I’m in all kinds of grief because a stroke was what finally took my beloved Granny Moose at age 89. I know the outcomes of these things. I’m hoping my MIL recovers well enough to make it to Christmas but there are no guarantees. And I grieve for her husband, who has lovingly looked after his wife for more than forty years of ill health. He was distressed and sad and even though at age 87 he knows the end is inevitable, the shock of the stroke has surprised even him. I’m particularly fond of my FIL, and I worry for his health and happiness as his wife slowly declines.

So happy/sad today. But at least I’m writing my Post Doc properly now.

Things we think might be a little bit b*llsh*t

There are mutterings afoot here in Australia regarding the future of the Yarts. It’s pretty terrifying to the Australian performing artist. The first is the decimation of the Australia Council by the Senator George Brandis, who instead of creating his own little arts fiefdom with his own pocket money has decided to take it (the money) away from the AC instead – disabling the capacity of the AC to run its programs for independent artists, and schools programs, and development of shows and the list goes on. So angry I could spit.

The second is the proposed changes to one of our university’s classical voice program. InDaily’s reporter Suzie Keen reported the following on 13 May:

Adelaide University provided a statement saying it “has no intention of closing classical voice studies in the Elder Conservatorium of Music, and these rumours have no basis in fact”.

A university spokesperson said proposals for changes to the way the Conservatorium music courses are taught were still under consultation with staff, but that the bachelor of music (classical performance), including the classical voice major, would continue to be offered.

“It is proposed that some of the modes of teaching may be changed to give students exposure to national and international expertise and greater opportunities.” 

A media release issued last week by Adelaide University stated that changes to the music curriculum were planned to strengthen ties with the music industry and help students apply their skills to multiple career opportunities across different industries.

“Our new teaching and learning model will include greater crossover of skills in areas such as popular music, classical, jazz, performance, teaching, media and multimedia,” Professor Jennie Shaw, executive dean of the university’s Faculty of Arts, said in the release.

“As a result, the music curriculum will become as flexible and diverse as possible, representing the interests of students across a wide range of genres.

“Rather than being known for one specialisation such as voice, composition or violin, they will receive a portfolio of skills that are relevant to the challenges and opportunities in the industry in the 21st century.”

Right. So, what this means, in effect, is that students will be unable to specialise under the new model. Singing teachers will be “let go” and students will not be given the opportunity to develop elite skills or expertise in their chosen domain. Now, some (university heads) would argue that this is the way of the future for musicians. That in fact musicians need to show flexibility in their career and have a variety of skills in music that transcends expertise on one instrument.

That’s actually pretty true. Most musicians DO need to be flexible. They DO need a variety of skills and they DO need to prepare for a “Portfolio career” in the Yarts. All music institutions are painfully aware of this need, because we all know that carving out a living-wage performing career is difficult. Most performers are able to maintain performing careers over a range of musical styles; they perform, they teach, they create entrepreneurial opportunities for themselves through writing for Cabaret, Musical Theatre and the like. They collaborate and network with arts councils (sic) and write grant applications and play in bands and, well, they find ways to survive. Many universities and music institutions now offer courses that discuss how to make it as a portfolio musician, and most Bachelor music courses seem to offer electives that will expand the student experience across domains. In just one example, back in the deep dark 90s I arrived at Melbourne Uni just as they changed aspects of the BMus. They opened up about 30-40 credit points to study courses outside the faculty. I jumped at the chance and did some English and Drama courses. Useful and fun. Now, of course, I’d study introduction to Psychology and probably some creative writing courses, and perhaps a business module or two. However, back then it was hard to find out anything about the Arts courses so I just took what looked most like the career I was then trying to build.

However. And you knew there was always going to be a however. Without high levels of expertise in at least one instrument all you are going to get are bad musicians without the level of skill required to do anything more than busk. And that’s the sorry truth. So, really, what Adelaide Uni are saying is “we don’t want to support the expensive one-to-one teaching approach characteristic of most conservatoires and which has a track record of success over the last – say – 800 years (I’m lumping in Apprenticeships and European guilds in that model for all their strengths and weaknesses), so we’re pretending that a breadth degree will be just as good, and that students will somehow through an amazing osmosis-like development get the expert training they need.” Badow.

It will not happen. What you will get will be poorly trained musicians with poor skills across a range of instruments. Classical singers will not have language or stage craft skills, therefore will be unable to compete in the market IN ANY WAY. Here’s a thought. Without any – ANY – empirical evidence that what Adelaide Uni is doing will be beneficial for classical singers, I offer some anecdotes of my own as evidence to the contrary.

Kate Miller-Heidke. She is one of Australia’s leading women performers, with a successful career spanning more than 10 years (she’s only 30ish). Can sing opera really really well, but is also an award winning song writer and performer across a range of genres. She trained at Qld Con in classical voice. Huh. Here’s the thing. When she graduated, she chose not to sing opera. She chose to pursue a highly successful career in pop. She has written a truckload of albums, won a truckload of awards, was the world’s best song-writer one year, and has appeared on TV innumerable times singing everything from a totally crazy rendition of Psycho Killer to her own amazing work. And then something happened. Now she is singing Opera again. At the Met, no less. She would not have had this amazing career without the thorough training she received from one of our finest Conservatoires. One-to-one classical voice lessons set her up to be expert in that field, WHICH THEN TRANSLATED TO EVERYTHING SHE SUBSEQUENTLY DID.

Training for expertise in one thing does not automatically mean you are going to be bad at everything else. What it means, more likely, is that you are going to have the know how to develop expertise across a raft of skills WHEN AND IF THEY ARE REQUIRED. Well, ok, I was never going to be any good at Maths, but my own training in Classical voice enabled me to apply the LEVEL of skill required to master just about anything else I needed in my career, including teaching, singing pop and jazz, and writing. The discipline I developed in my vocal training has held me in great stead for my PhD studies (that old thing about excellence etc). Developing elite skills in one thing just means that I’m elite at that one thing, not that I’m unable to be good at anything else.

I totally get that musicians need to be flexible and have a range of skills across a range of domains. We are already doing this, people. Let’s look at Babushka Cabaret, another anecdotal example. I saw them just recently and was blown away by this Brisbane-based group’s skill, flexibility and talent. The women performing all trained as classical voice specialists. Here is a bio of this fabulous group, which I found on Pozible;

About Babushka

Babushka was born in 2011 when four of Brisbane’s most vivacious and dangerously different divas bonded over a shared case of Soprano Identity Crisis Syndrome at the Queensland Conservatorium. Premiering their wares as a cabaret four-piece at Queensland’s own Woodford Folk Festival, these quirky young sopranos created the collective to indulge their love of operatic prima donnas (mostly themselves) and cabaret femme fatales. Pushing the boundaries of traditional opera through their unique crossover arrangements, mash-ups and musical sketches, the girls have won the hearts of classical music buffs and indie music nerds alike. Their repertoire explores the spectrum of theatrical music from full-blown operatic arias, cabaret tearjerkers and pop gems set to luscious 4-part harmony. 
As individuals, the girls have performed with Opera Queensland, OzOpera, Alpha Crucis Ensemble (The Southern Cross Soloists II), The Sounding Out Collective, Oscar Theatre Company, The Qld Conservatorium Opera Department, ChiChi Delux, The National Youth Choir of Australia and more.

The prevailing societal culture of pop and rock means that these women already know that stuff. They hear it every day. They probably sing it in the shower. But their training in elite opera styles enabled this group to develop an extremely high level of skill in their cabaret endeavour. Their conservatoire training, which included everything from stage craft to languages to vocal pedagogy to music theory, was in-depth. Breadth was a by-product of their own desire to break out of the mold. So their amazing vocal arrangements of pop tunes and classical standards, set within a cabaret formula, was borne of their elite training.

Do I have to give more examples of successful “cross-over” artists in the absence of ANY research that indicates what Adelaide Uni is doing there will have a POSITIVE effect on Australian artists? There is no evidence that this is a great move by Adelaide. Call it out for what it is: lack of money to support this conservatoire and its attempts to maintain excellence in a time of increasing austerity about the Yarts. Don’t attempt to placate us with nonsense about breadth and crossover skill. And there it is, folks. Things we think might be a little bit bullshit.

Impending doom was a resounding success.

Ok, ok, I’m fine. It’s just that my noony noony moment turned into a “you’re going to procrastinate today” moment which did indeed last all day. Went to bed having achieved nothing all day except a gym visit, blog post and dinner preparations. I have so much to do they all seemed to get crowded in the doorway and not one thing got through. So of course I then hated myself a little bit. A lot. Normally when I procrastinate I do other useful but boring things like filing, but I didn’t even manage that on Monday. 

I wondered why I did this and I think it’s probably a teensy weensy bit of self sabotage. You know, the thing where you think you might fail and so you don’t give it 100%? Just in case you DO fail and then you can say “oh, I didn’t really try hard on that thing, so it was always going to be crap”. That thing. It’s the perfectionist in me, partly, but also the bit in me that worries I might not be good enough at the thing. I’ve got lots on, and all of the things require a high level of expertise, skill or whatever. I just get the yips. 

Anyway. So I procrastinate, feeling miserable. Then I get the lovely letters from my collaborators and referees and whatever and feel more miserable because I haven’t done the work I’d promised them. Sigh. You see the cycle here. It’s like I’m determined to feel shite. And then I have to do a gig. Now, I don’t have to do the gig. I could stand back and say nah, I’m done performing. But part of me is flattered that I’ve been asked, another part of me thinks I need to perform as it legitimises my musician persona for my students and the last part of me loves the premise of the gig. 

So naturally I don’t do much prep for the gig either. In my old performing days I rarely bothered to remember the words (bad bad me) and I didn’t give much emotional energy either. This gig demanded emotional energy AND memory work. As a teacher I demand and expect my students to memorise songs. I demand and expect and emotional singing energy. Yet I don’t apply the same demands to my own performances. 

So I spend most of Monday through Wednesday morning with minor anxiety about memorising the words. Note: I don’t bother to do the work for this. I just worry about it. Sleep poorly both nights, finally get up Wednesday morning to print out the words in a vain hope that by doing this I’ll somehow feel better about my lack of preparation. I feel better. Go to gig. Along with one of my colleagues we both have a minor panic about said new song which has about 3 words in it. Practice it badly. Then, in the middle of Wednesday afternoon, we finally get onto stage and voila, my anxiety completely melts away. Jeez. I forget I’m a professional sometimes. I’m GOOD at this stuff. Being on stage is an easy thing for me. 

The gig went off without a hitch. The new song with the 3 words was incredible, my singing partner and I totally emotionally invested in the beautiful song “Say Something”. Our audience laughed, danced, and cried. Lots of crying. And I remembered why I do this stuff. 

And I realised why Monday was a crap wasteful day. Sometimes anxiety is nothing more than a feeling of malaise. Out of focus and vague, no concrete thoughts or anything, just a feeling of … waiting. Watchfulness. The amygdala hijack of fight or flight. My adrenaline was up due to the gig so I was in readiness mode, which stops me from being able to work or think in a deep and meaningful way. So now it’s over, the gig is done. Time to forgive myself and move on. I have a Post Doc to write. 

Noony noony noo…

No news is good news, right?

Typewriter-ClearNoony noony noony noo.

I’m the Sesame St typewriter this month. That’s how I’m feeling right now. I’m about to finish organising my book proposal and Post Doc applications but otherwise life is just noodling along, pretty calm and relaxed. My referees are coming along nicely, my book proposal is nearly done, my Post Doc is pretty shite right now and I need to get my referee love sorted BEFORE  June, but mostly I’m feeling cool.

I’ve recently seen more pro-am theatre than I ever want to see again, but I don’t mind. As my mum says, “I’m notching up those karma points for my old age”. And most of it has had some very good points. At least at no time was I really bored. That’s important.

My daughter is OK (which is as good as it gets), my DH is a bit ill with a persistent cold because he needs a long holiday, and the house plans are on the final stretch to costings and council approval. The animals are in fine health, I polished the furniture yesterday and the laundry is done (not by me).

My teaching is going fine (as far as I can tell, I’m over it slightly so the care factor is rather low), and I’m performing again, adding valuable dollars to our school fee account. The house sitters are organised, the bills are paid, Netflix and Stan are getting a good work out, I’m going to the gym and calorie counting again (minus the calories for Pinot Noir, because I need it), I’m cooking, we’re eating out a lot, I’m seeing heaps of great theatre and shows, seeing friends, I’m organising our wardrobe and pantry with some new coat hangers, storage jars and a shoe stand (which is a GREAT thing to have). Exciting overseas holiday plans are coming along well – Spain and France this year. And that’s it.

Noony noony noony noo.

Why then do I have a niggling feeling of impending doom?



A break in the weather

Brisbane is characterised by hot, humid weather most of the year. I hate this type of weather. Which is why, in May, I’m suddenly feeling very cheerful again. The weather is COLD. Days are quite warm – think an Irish summer (apparently), but the nights are fabulously chilly. I am now, at 4.20pm, wearing my UGG boots and feeling delightfully not warm. I don’t know anyone else who feels quite the way I do about the cold. My mother recently explained to me that she used to keep windows open during Winter because she had read somewhere that it was good for children. I must say it saved time getting into the house when I didn’t have a house key.

However, as an adult I have difficulty now spending time in environments where there is no wind. Dammit. Most houses in Winter are hermetically sealed from the cold. In those environments, hot and dry and still, I feel terribly uncomfortable, as if someone has left the electric blanket on and I can’t breathe.

Luckily our house – about which I have been complaining vociferously for several years now – is a veritable gale of open windows, gaping window frames and not-quite-sealed doors. No chance of me not being cold in the house. People, I LIKE wearing jumpers. I LIKE rugging up against the cold INSIDE the house. I feel more connected to the environment I guess, but really it’s because I like the chilblains I used to get as a child. Ah, the delicious agony of warm bath water on cold, cold feet and hands. Nothing quite like it.