"Portland Opera exists to inspire, challenge, and uplift our audiences by creating productions of high artistic quality that CELEBRATE the beauty and breadth of opera."– Portland Opera Mission
As we began our first rehearsal for Barbiere on Monday, right before I sang my first notes in the opera, I looked up and saw that the mission of the Portland Opera was displayed prominently in the center of the wall, right above the conductor's head.
Never before have I seen an opera's mission statement, let alone seen it displayed in a rehearsal room. It wasn't even something that I had ever thought of. I mean, an opera company's mission is to produce opera, plain and simple, right? As I've gotten to know the building during this first week of rehearsal, I've noticed that the mission is displayed almost ubiquitously, serving as a constant reminder of everyone's purpose at the company.
On my walks to work this week, crossing the Willamette River, I've found myself still pondering the idea of approaching this profession as one of service. As a music student, I often felt selfish for pursuing a career in music. I watched as my closest childhood friends grew into adults and took their places in the world community, and marveled at their accomplishments. One dedicated her 20s to an organization called Operation Smile, traveling throughout the developing world helping children in need connect with doctors to get the treatment they were so desperately in need of. Another has chosen a career in promoting cancer awareness and educating communities how to better take care of their health. One is now a Psychiatric resident in New York at Cornell, caring for many mentally ill patients and researching the mysteries of how the brain works. One is a college professor who has dedicated much of his research to education policy. One used her law degree to provide legal aid to youth in need in New England. One is finishing her Ph.D. in anthropology, researching many of the mysteries of how we evolved to be as we are today. Educators, researchers, doctors, volunteer coordinators – it was easy to see how these people who have inspired me my whole life are giving back to society, each trying in their own way to make the world a better place.
As a young musician, it's really easy to forget why what we do is important. It's a tough world out there to get established, and we have to devote much of our focus to figuring out a way of paying the bills, carving out careers for ourselves. I'm not sure that many of us as young musicians ask this question of ourselves, but it is a topic that I have pondered much of my adult life. Over the years, I have come to feel that my personal mission is one close to what my colleagues and hosts here at the Portland Opera maintain. Music really does inspire, it really does challenge, and it really has the power to uplift us. In an increasingly secular, scientific, stress-filled, capitalist world, music feeds the soul, and I've really begun to feel that to be a musician is to choose a career of service – service to the human spirit. Each time I walk on stage, I hope to entertain, to move, to create a little beauty, and to help people ponder and revel in the richness of human experience.
I've looked up at that mission statement everyday this week in rehearsal and been so grateful to have that constant reminder of what is really important in our work. In a day where many are intimidated by the elitist aura that surrounds classical music and opera, it's refreshing to work at a place where we are reminded that reason we strive for excellence is not simply to be good or the "best", but because we want to give the best to the community we serve, and the community we live in, even if (as in my and my fellow castmates' instances) only as temporary guests.