About My Job: The Baroque Countertenor

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by Conor Friedersdorf

A reader writes:

Being a sort of lower level, highly-specialized professional classical vocalist is really fun (I sing mostly in smaller pro choruses and as a soloist in local concerts), but can be annoying. For example, whenever I tell anyone what I do, they try to helpfully summarize by declaring I'm an "opera singer," which I'm absolutely not. Then when I tell people that countertenors sing in their falsetto voices, they also helpfully summarize, "like a castrato?" No, there are no more castrati in the world, sorry.

Most annoyingly however is how, especially in North America, many assume that because singing is a wonderful gift and so much fun to do, I shouldn't worry too much about remuneration. I can't live exclusively off my earnings (although if I lived in Europe I probably could), and I am paid a fraction of the money of my instrumental counterparts, even though my skill is just as specialized. I find too many people associate the words "community" with "choir"and friends of mine continue to express incredulity that I as a professional chorister with some of the best early music groups in North America should deign to get money for it. Working in the arts, as liberating and wonderful as it is, is a specialized livelihood, and it's really hard breaking through the culture here where kicking a ball accurately is worth millions of dollars whereas perfect sight-reading, constant vocal practice, and good knowledge of period performance and ornamentation is considered a fun hobby for just about anyone.
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