What happens in Vegas...
Last year I was fortunate to see Kelly Clarkson in concert. It was a fantastic evening of entertainment, and I was struck by how the show was put together, particularly in how the space was utilized and how lighting and video created an integrated, continuous experience. Well, this weekend I took in another pop show, and I was struck by many of the same things in terms of unity and continuity; but I have something additional to share this time.
The show was Shania Twain, opening a new run at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. I would not have made this trip on my own, but our best friend from Pittsburgh days is a huge fan (the obsessive kind), and bought his tickets 18 months ago. Since we hadn’t been to Vegas before, we agreed to come along.
First of all, Vegas is a hoot. I could write about my new-found obsession with Blackjack, but that would take us off-topic. That said, while we’re talking about obsession…how many people would buy tickets to a classical concert 18 months in advance (and for a hefty price) and travel across the country to see it? If your answer to that is, “Not many!” I think it’s worth asking ourselves why that is, and what we might do to change that. But that, too, is not what I wanted to write about today.
What I wanted to share concerns the artists with whom Shania was performing. The total cast was about 20 people, some more prominent than others, and there wasn’t a single person on that stage who didn’t do multiple things: the backup singers were also instrumentalists (sometimes coming together to create an entire string orchestra); the keyboard player was also a percussionist and a killer harmonica player (at one point I experienced the highest note I’ve ever heard on a harmonica!). Her lead guitarist played a number of other stringed instruments and was also an incredible fiddle player. And her four main dancers were also back-up singers, members of the string orchestra, and percussionists (and in one occasion, dancing percussionists!). The thing that struck me was how valuable these performers were: they were not only excellent in their primary area (and each artist clearly had their “main thing”), they were also accomplished in a range of other things. This in turn allowed the designers of the show to do more sorts of things without blowing their budget by hiring lots of additional personnel. Here, art and economy came together through these extremely diverse performers.
The traditional rap against pursuing this approach professionally is that one ends up as a “jack of all trades, master of none.” That is, in an attempt to be all things one never really masters any of them. I think this is a false choice, however. If you’d seen these folks on stage Saturday night you would have never accused them of not being masters of their craft. But somewhere along in their training they made the decision to have more than one skill in their bag of tricks: they developed multiple skills simultaneously. I encourage you to think about this as you consider your own career plans, because multi-talented performers are going to become more and more valuable, and not just in the pop realm. The way concerts are being presented is changing, and performers with additional skills will have options to create opportunities for themselves that others will lack. I have a professional flute player friend who is also studying voice, and after some years of study is now getting paying gigs based solely on her multiple abilities. Some of you may know of musical theatre productions in which the instrumentalists are also characters on stage. It’s only a matter of time before more and more of this enters the classical realm as well. Personally I think these trends are good things: they will be part of a renaissance for classical music that I believe can be on the horizon – if we see to it, that is. Hopefully, in this case, what happens in Vegas won’t stay there.