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29 Days to Diva: Day 3 – Play the Long Game (#29DTD)

February 3, 2016

“Noooooooo… Please don’t make me play Monopoly,” I wailed to my lovely sister. “Anything else. Really. Monopoly takes FOREVER!” To which she replied, “But, it will be fun!” I was unconvinced for many years. Perhaps you still are. Isn’t it extraordinary how we agree to try things we are certain we will not like just because someone we love says to give it a try? Finally, this winter break, I realized the joy that is in Monopoly and the reason why we’re taking it as a theme for this year’s 29 Days to Diva – a good game takes a long time.

A good game takes a long time.Tweet:

Your 29 Days to Diva – Day 3 Challenge is to Commit to the Long Game.

It isn’t just Monopoly that is influencing this year’s 29 Days to Diva steps; but gamification in general. SAPS is a core framework of gamification, app developers, loyalty programs, and more. It is an acronym that stands for status, access, power, and stuff. The idea is that they are also ranked in order from strongest to weakest. Upon first reading, I know quite a few of you will balk at the idea of actively wanting “status” and “power.” I encourage you to think of the most positive connotation you can assume for those words. Negative connotations will keep us playing small and negating our ability to change the world through our art. We want status in our community to make exciting things happen for ourselves and other musicians. We want more access to the people we care about in our lives (remember Day 1?) I cannot think of anything more powerful than being able to heal other’s exhausted souls through music. Changing your perception and connotation can change your entire experience.

29 Days to Diva: Day 3 - Play the Long Game (#29DTD)

You can pin this #29DaystoDiva image.

At the very basis of gamification models is to choose a clear and easy to understand action that is at the core of your effort. This is called your “grind activity.” Your grind activity is the smallest unit of energy for the players of the game. For our 29 Days to Diva game, our grind activity is going to be practicing. It is the basis of every element of the game. Without this, it is absolutely impossible to level up. Without practice, we cannot achieve status, access, power, or stuff. If we play the long game in Monopoly roll by roll, we play the long game in singing with practice after practice.

If we play the long game in Monopoly roll by roll, we play the long game in singing with practice after practice.Tweet:

To hook users or players further into the game, we need to assign experience points to various actions that move them toward the rewards: status, access, power, and stuff.

Grab a pencil and a sticky note because it’s time to brainstorm, divas.

List your top 5 diva actions you take on a regular basis to move your career forward.






When I listed my major grind activities, I came up with — 1) Practice 2) Email 3) Apply 4) Audition 5) Perform. My brain loves gamification. (Just check out my Foursquare/Swarm addiction. Social gaming nerds, unite!) To truly activate that part of my brain that gets fired up by gamification, I needed to assign each of these activities a specific point value. Now, you should look at your grind activities. Do they lead toward the goals you have already outlined for yourself as a musician, teacher, or advocate? How do you weight them with point values? I know that performing is my biggest investment overall, but it also happens to provide the biggest career returns on investment. Therefore, in my activity points it gets weighted the heaviest. Email gets very few points; however, that grind activity can happen more rapidly and regularly than performing. Which is to say: the grind activities all work together to create your grand point total which leads to the rewards.

||: Practice, Email, Apply, Audition, Perform. :||Tweet: ||: Practice, Email, Apply, Audition, Perform. :|| #29DaystoDiva #29DTD - Day 3

Finally, think about the rewards of status, access, power, and stuff. How do you want to be rewarded in your career? This may change the grind activities that you choose. Remember, a good game takes a long time. Here’s to a lifetime of playing this game together.

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I am all electrified with the idea of a 29 Days to Diva game that awards singers for amassing diva points. Got another idea about what would make 29 Days to Diva better or more helpful? Drop it here!

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29 Days to Diva: Day 2 – Study Your Rulebook (#29DTD)

February 2, 2016

 A career in the arts is a game devised to engage divas in musical pursuits that compel them to want to win. The win, here, is to do more. To take more turns. To earn more money. To collect more real estate in the ears and hearts of producers, presenters, and audiences.

The institutions and organizations that pop up around this incredible art form are attempting to make clear structures and objective ways to recognize achievement. Regardless of your feelings toward these formalized groups, they are almost uniformly created with the mission of educating artists and providing high quality performances for diverse audiences at their bedrock. Feelings of confusion and bewilderment abound, however, when those participating do not understand the structure or the objectives laid out by these formalized groups.

It is staggering how many times I have been within earshot of a student lamenting, “who is supposed to tell me about all the rules, guidelines, and criteria?” The truth that the most successful musicians know is this: “it isn’t anyone’s job to remind you of the rules. It’s your job to find out.”

It isn’t anyone’s job to remind you of the rules. It’s your job to find out. Tweet:

Your Day 2 Challenge is to Study the Rulebook of Your Field

In art, like in board games and business, those playing the game can be most engaged and allowed to thrive when they understand the objectives and the evaluation criteria. I once read that “Monopoly is 75% skill and 75% luck.” So is singing. If you lose, you can blame it on luck. If you win, you can thank the gods of talent and skill. That is what drives a career in the arts to feeling more and more like a game. It feels like there’s an element of luck involved with every turn and the idea of the overnight success is just around the next corner. Who hasn’t thought, “Well, the odds might be stacked against me now, but just one big break and I will be on top!”? That’s why today’s challenge is so important. We can increase our supposed luck by increasing our knowledge of the rules.

29 Days to Diva: Day 2 - Study the Rulebook (#29DTD)

You can pin this #29DaystoDiva image!

There is not a definite rulebook to a career in the arts like there is in Monopoly. That is true. However, we’re given an outline of the rules for each competition, graduate program, audition, festival application, gig, and recording contract we enter. Truthfully, these rules are constantly changing. But, knowing that is what makes us professionals. We are not casual players in this game. We are dedicated players that have a comfort level and fascination with this field.

“Monopoly is 75% skill and 75% luck.” So is singing.Tweet: “'Monopoly is 75% skill and 75% luck.' So is singing.

But, I’m an artist! Aren’t I supposed to be breaking the rules? I have yet to meet a truly great musician who has suffered from understanding and playing within the rules first. Pretending that there aren’t any rules to what constructs superb technique, excellent programming, and/or succeeding in arts business is ignorance – not creativity. Delving deeply into those ideas and emerging with your own sense of who you are as an artist, business person, and colleague – now that is something special. The rules are not a prison cell; they are a foundation.

To keep today’s challenge a small, actionable item, take a moment to think about your irons in the fire. Go back to the guidelines of that competition that you’re entering. Take a deeper look at the graduation requirements of your program. Are you on track to win? Are you relying on luck to get you through to the next round? Are you, for example, planning on buying Park Place when you land on it? Look at your funds. If you don’t have the funds, or worse yet don’t realize you lack them, your strategies and objectives are incongruous. It does not mean that you are going to lose. It is simply time to realign the specific work you are doing. Remember: the best players are masters of strategy and negotiation. Finally, maybe the rulebook has been wildly hard to find in your experience. Look around at your singing team. Who can you ask to help you figure out the rules?

The rules are not a prison cell; they are a foundation.Tweet:

Studying the individual rulebook that governs your singing life is going to make you feel more in control of the overall arc. Do you already have a system for understanding the rules and moving beyond them? I would love to hear about how you make it work. Share your experiences with me in the comments below. I can’t wait to hear about it. Or, if you would like to share your super diva knowledge with the twitterverse, hit me up at @mezzoihnen. I’ll be using the hashtags #29DTD and #29DaystoDiva all month. I hope you will too.

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29 Days to Diva: Day 1 – The Game Is Optional; The People Are Not (#29DTD)

February 1, 2016

Board-game lovers. You know them. The type that gathers around over family holidays, clad in pajamas well into the day or evening, and commit to hours of rolling dice or pushing buttons or flipping cards. There are lovers and then there are board-games-as-blood-sport types. Where shuffling cards can turn into slamming doors at a moment’s notice. When we start to care more about the game than the people with whom we’re playing. And this is when I started to notice how singer life can start to imitate the game. We are all in this game of our choosing. Amassing diva points as fast as we can. Trying to pass go and collect $200 as often as possible. As our turn stretches from month to month and year to year, it is possible to forget that this game is completely optional. What we mustn’t forget is that the people are not.

Your 29 Days to Diva – Day 1 Challenge is to Explore What You’re Taking For Granted.

The goal of 29 Days to Diva is to demystify the systems that make success possible in today’s musical world.Tweet: So, this is not the New Age Lit bullshit line about “gratitude.” This is an important first step to understanding our careers. Look around you. Pay attention to the souls who fill up your home. Notice the friends who are showing up to rehearsal after rehearsal with you. Recognize the individuals who are making your life in the arts a reality. Isn’t that incredible? Realize that you are in this game for them – not in spite of them. You are pursuing your goals to be the best version of yourself for them.

29 Days to Diva: Day 1 - The Game Is Optional; The People Are Not

You can pin this #29DaystoDiva image!

Time for some action. Divas, this is just the beginning.

  1. Only express gratitude if it’s genuine. Full stop. Read it one more time. Okay, now let’s go on…
  2. Thank the people in your innermost orbit now. They are the ones who see you at every moment of your career. They are there when it is good and they are there when it is gut-wrenching. One of the trickiest elements of the human experience is that the closer we are to people the more we assume they will just be there. The truth is: everyone close to you is also choosing your career. They are making choices that validate what you do too. Thank them for making that choice on your behalf even when you can’t see it… especially when you can’t see it.
  3. Now, thank the first person who told you that you have what it takes to make the art that you make. There may be many people along your path that have reassured you that you are actually the artist you think you are. Go ahead and thank them too. They may not have always told you in words. But, you know exactly who those people are. You may not be able to personally thank them by calling or writing anymore. Find a way to still put that thank you out there.
  4. Now, look around you at what you might be taking for granted. Make a list. Even better, write it out by hand. The profound and the trivial revel in each other. What keeps your life humming along?

Perhaps you have had a really terrible day. Or, your resolutions didn’t end up quite going your way last month. Maybe 2015 really knocked you down or almost took you out of the game entirely. Do not gloss over that pain with a false sense of gratitude. The gratitude will show up later in different ways. Do recognize the things and/or people who have kept you alive. The more we focus on what keeps us alive the more we will seek out those people, things, and experiences.

Remember, the game is optional; the people are not.


Thank you so much for joining me today as we kick-off the 2016 version of 29 Days to Diva.

One of the things that keeps me alive and passionate is the community I’ve found online. I couldn’t be more appreciative of the way you have supported these ideas by sharing and championing them and living them out in your various corners of the world. Feel free to tag me (@mezzoihnen) throughout the series or use the hashtags #29DTD and/or #29DaystoDiva. I can’t wait to see your Day 1 challenge in action – thanking the people who mean the most to you.

Feeling fired up already and want more?

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29 Days to Diva: The Reboot (#29DTD)

January 31, 2016

Hello friends,

When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and I could say, ‘I used everything you ever gave me.’ – Erma Bombeck

I need to tell you a story. When I was seventeen years old, I knew I was going to be a high school choir director. I was convinced and told my superhuman voice teacher so. She replied, “Well, have you ever considered… performing?” With overdramatic amazement (imagine: back of hand against the forehead and everything) I asked, “Oh really? Do you think I could?”

“Oh, Megan, I think you’ll do just fine.” She answered.

And that was it. I was hooked. For better or worse. Forever. All I knew was that I was going to figure out a way to make a performance career part of who I was in this life. Performing is what I do, who I am, and how I relate to the world. Performances don’t last. And, undeniably, neither do we. Only in other’s memories. That is the ultimate beauty and heartache of it all. But, that is life and that is why I’m a performer.

So, here I am: on a mission to use up any and all of the talent I possibly have.

#29DTD | #29DaystoDiva | @mezzoihnen

#29DTD | #29DaystoDiva | @mezzoihnen

Part of that mission is getting better at what I do every year. Most of us make resolutions at the beginning of the year for the exact same reason. That’s where 29 Days to Diva (#29DTD) comes into being. Figuring out tiny, actionable items, over the course of one short month, helps me get the necessary work of the career out of the way so I can dive deeper into the work of the art.

Perhaps you are hoping to find ways to move your career forward so you can focus on whatever is most important in your life. I’d like to invite you once again into the breach with me this February.



Are you ready to join me and use up all the talent you’ve been given in this world? Let’s jumpstart this mission by doing your Diva Audit before the wave of daily challenges. It’s easy and free! You can download your Diva Audit by signing up for the Sybaritic Singer email newsletter here:

Do you have a decision moment story? I would love to hear it. Please share with me in the comments below or on the Sybaritic Singer Facebook page or on Twitter by using #29DTD.

in performance: How To Warm-Up January in Iowa? With Dalí Quartet!

January 26, 2016

Amidst television trucks and pedestrian guardrails for Iowa’s turn in the political spotlight, concert-goers made their way on Saturday night into Sheslow Auditorium to take in not more blustery campaign speeches but a bright performance by Dalí Quartet presented by the Des Moines-based Civic Music Association. The quartet boasts musicians with training in both Venezuela’s El Sistema and in the American conservatory tradition. Their program on Saturday reflected those interests by combining Schubert Quartettsatz in C minor, D. 703 and Brahms String Quartet in A minor, Op. 51 No. 2 on the first half with more than a handful of Latin-American and Spanish composers on the second.

Sybaritic Singer | in performance: the Dalí Quartet

The Dalí Quartet

Des Moines may not have felt the wrath of Winter Storm Jonas that rocked the East Coast this past weekend, but local music lovers are still feeling the dip of temperatures into the teens and expecting snow flurries at any possible moment. It is no wonder that desperation for any sensory reminder of sunshine is so strong. Dalí Quartet delivered in dynamic fashion for these beleaguered listeners in the second half of their performance. Carlos Rubio (violin), Alex Fortes (violin), Adriana Linares (viola), and Jesús a. Morales (cello) all became more invigorated and captivating while playing this repertoire. The quartet opened the second half of the performance with Angelica by Venezuelan composer Efraín Amaya. Inspired by a Bach fugue, Amaya’s sunny and syncopated work highlighted each player’s gift for warm, rich sounds.

Both Astor Piazzolla Four, for Tango and Carlos Gardel El día que me quieras “The day you love me” arranged by N. Aponte share stylistic features of the tango while representing completely different poles of the spectrum. It was certainly heartening to hear the audience applaud the extended techniques and harmonies in the Piazzolla just as enthusiastically as the lyrical and luscious playing in the Gardel arrangement. If one was looking for a masterclass in accomplishing the perfect level of sentimentality in playing, one need not look farther than the quartet’s delicate ritardando and Rubio’s sudden pianissimo into the final return of the El día que me quieras theme. Although, it was the final minutes of Joaquín Turina La Oración del Torero, Op. 34 “The Bullfighter’s Prayer” that completed the performance to this taste. While combining nationalistic and meditative sounds, the serenity of the conclusion illuminated not only each player’s skill but the quartet’s exquisite ensemble sound.

While we continue to expect blankets of snow and the ever-present onslaught of political ads here, it can only be hoped that we’ll experience the same regularity of incredible musicianship that the Dalí Quartet brought with them last weekend.

Have you heard the news? I’m on a mission. I’m on a mission to make people far and wide fall in love with classical music – specifically new music. YOU are already helping me in my quest to spread the word. But, I want to make sure I’m getting this information to you in the easiest way possible. Won’t you take one minute and thirty-seven seconds to update your email preferences now? Especially right now because the 2016 version of 29 Days to Diva is right around the corner! And divas, if your turbo-boosters weren’t firing away before, you better tell your loved ones to buckle up.


Dispatches from New Music Gathering: Community in More Than 140 Characters

January 16, 2016

If success is being in the right place at the right time, then New Music Gathering is a success incubator. It has been a week since the three-day conference, held this year at the noble Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, MD, ended and many attendees have begun that process of boiling down an incredibly inspiring moment to the practical implementation into real life. Boasting a schedule with abundant panels, presentations, performances, and more, New Music Gathering – only in its second year – is quickly becoming the place to share ideas and create meaningful connections in contemporary classical music.


As new music practitioners, social media is the predominant medium for networking. Lacking mixers, traditional conferences, and meet & greets like other fields, most of us have grown close to people we only know 140 characters at a time. New Music Gathering doesn’t change that so much as augments it. It seems only appropriate that the conference itself grew out of a Facebook exchange between Daniel Felsenfeld and Matt Marks who became founding organizers of NMG with Mary Kouyoumdjian and Lainie Fefferman. The prospect became ever more real when Maryclare Brzytwa offered the San Francisco Conservatory as the venue for the inaugural New Music Gathering in January 2015. This January, attendees experienced the fruitful efforts of Jascha Narveson joining the NMG team as Technical Director and David Smooke as the Peabody liaison and general badass. With the heroic, volunteer efforts they all put into this get-together, the attendees were able to experience a small part of the new music world materialize before their very eyes in a splendor of sight and sound. It is no surprise that the composer-performer speed dating is one of the highlights of the conference. We are all there to turbo-charge these relationships in real life.

Music lovers understand the benefits of being in the room. We get the visceral excitement of the senses from listening and seeing. Putting all of these interesting people together in one place, then sharing ideas conversationally and musically, exhilarates and incites the attendees to take that momentum back to their home communities. Which, just so happened to be the theme for this year’s New Music Gathering — community.

Community is undeniably a meaningless buzzword for those that don’t know how to see it, appreciate it, or create it. However, it is a very real and important concept. Ask anyone who understands the benefits of “being in the room.” Community is why we all show up in January and say, “I choose these values. I choose this place. I choose you with whom to walk along this journey.” If success is about being in the right place at the right time, then community is about making more right places and more right times.

So, three days packed with more than I could possibly see or hear is just a microcosm of our field as a whole and even smaller than that when we consider our place within the larger context of classical music. That is what makes New Music Gathering so special: agents of new music talking about ideas, strategies, and stumbling blocks. It is a group of humans attempting to be honest about the challenges in our jobs and lives. Yet, we celebrate that makers of music, no matter their station or way, are devoted to a practice that is much bigger than our place in it. That alone fires me up to make more right places and more right times. I couldn’t think of a better reason for a conference.

Feeling amped from #NMG2016 or inspired from everything you heard about it? Join the conversation and keep those good community vibes flowing by participating in #musochat on Twitter (most) every Sunday night at 9PM EST. Check out more here at

How are those New Year resolutions coming along? Is one of them to participate in 29 Days to Diva this year? Diva or divo, it doesn’t matter. This month-long, entrepreneurial kick in the pants is going to dazzle you and put rocket boosters on your arts business in 2016. Don’t miss out! Sign up to be one of the Sybaritic Faithful in the right sidebar of the homepage so you can make last year’s resolutions look like small change compared to this year’s windfall.

in performance: A Night of Exquisite Carols with Calmus

December 12, 2015

The month of December is a perpetual rataplan of “and heaven and nature sing” mixed with “in fields where they lay” and infinite descants of “mild he lays his glory by” for any regular concert-goer especially those of us familiar with the rich, Midwestern choral tradition. Usually they all coalesce into a monolithic sounds-heard-during-the-holiday-rush. Occasionally, however, we are gifted with a rare performance that rises above just another holiday concert. Such was the case with Civic Music Association‘s presentation of the German vocal quintet Calmus on December 10th in Sheslow Auditorium on the Drake University campus. Both in programming and performance, the singers stunned and delighted the audience.


Calmus is represented by Concert Artists Guild

While there were the prerequisites such as Stille Nacht, The Twelve Days of Christmas, and White Christmas, Calmus’ “Christmas Carols of the World” program featured gems to keep even the most proficient church musicians intrigued. An early selection, the Ravenscroft Remember, O Thou Man arranged by Calmus baritone Ludwig Böhme, began with soprano Anja Pöche and countertenor Sebastian Krause ascending to the upper left and right staircases to perform their seraphic descending vocal lines into perfectly tuned intervals. In fact, there were quite a few instances of this sparkling pairing between soprano and countertenor throughout the program. The trio onstage: tenor Tobias Pöche, Böhme, and bass Manuel Helmeke provided fascinating harmonic texture before Pöche and Krause joined them again onstage for a later verse that accentuated the sanguine middle voices. To this ear, the Alice Tegner Betlehems Stjärna arranged by Robert Sund was the treasure of the evening. Imbuing the piece with dynamics to make the heart swell, the quintet displayed incredibly nuanced musicianship. Their ability to crescendo to the climax of the phrase while ever-so-slightly delaying the resolution of the suspension was exquisite.

When it comes to a cappella vocal ensembles, there can be an over-reliance on anemic vocalism to achieve blend within the group or a specific style. As their name suggests, Calmus allayed those fears immediately. Like a prism, they used their outstanding technique and musicianship to begin the concert in solemn unison and then break out into the full manifestation of their constituent vocal colors. While there were a few unfulfilled attempts at swagger, Calmus never missed an opportunity to play for laughs. It is clear that they prize their dedication to diverse musical styles and diction across multiple languages. So much the better for the audience was clearly tickled with the sheer number of languages in which they sang. Finally, the technical ability of each member of the group, from sotto voce to their most resonant, was impressive as soloists as well as in ensemble singing.

Would that all the concerts filling up our calendars during this festive month be a cause for introspection, stillness, fascination, elegance, and laughter such as this one.


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