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Why I think Fort Worth Opera's McCammon Competition is unfair and should be changed. - Tytania Strange
The Insane Ramblings of a Diseased Imagination
Why I think Fort Worth Opera's McCammon Competition is unfair and should be changed.
I consider myself to be a stakeholder in classical music. When someone is a stakeholder in a company, it means that they care about that company's welfare. They might be an employee, a shareholder, a customer, a contractor and anyone who, for whatever reason, has an interest in whether that company succeeds or fails. I want classical music to succeed. I also feel very strongly that, in order to succeed, those of us who work within classical music organizations need to join the rest of the world in 2012. We don't have to swim in the mainstream but we should be able to wade without peeing in the water.

Here are the entry rules for the Mccammon competition. It is presented by Fort Worth Opera, a 501c3 non-profit organization and the top prize includes a role in a main stage production. You'll notice that the competition is even included under the section "Work for Us." If you win this competition, you will get a job. Since they're looking for young talent, there's an age limit, but here's the catch- men are eligible from ages 21-35 but for women the age limit is 21-32. If you're male, you have 15 opportunities to apply to win a job with Fort Worth Opera, once each year from 21-35. If you're female, you get 12 opportunities, once each year from age 21-32. That isn't merely unfair. It is blatantly discriminatory. If you're male, you have three more chances than if you are female.

Back when I was applying for these kinds of opportunities, I'd run up against this kind of discrimination regularly. Many programs and competitions were more subtle about it. They'd provide the same number of chances for men and women, but if you were a woman your age limit would be set from 18-32 as opposed to men being 21-35. The idea was that male puberty was such a major change that men were at some kind of a disadvantage when competing against women who had always sung in the treble octave. I'm not going to get too far into that kind of thinking other than to say that the basic foundations of classical technique are the same, regardless of whether one has gone through puberty or not. Both boys and girls can participate in choirs, perform treble roles in operas and build experience from as an early an age as they feel ready to do. As adults, we have access to the same education at roughly the same age. A man and a woman at age 21 can both have spent three years studying voice at a college level. Some people start younger and some take more time. It has nothing to do with gender. It is all about the individual.

In the classical music industry, the message is biased and it is made very clear. If you are female, your value expires earlier than a man's. You are expected to be a mature artist at a much earlier age, regardless of when your body matured or whether you have a voice that needs longer to develop. Your femaleness defines your value. You have to be young. If you aren't, it doesn't matter if you're talented or not. You are prohibited from trying. In my opinion, this is the kind of antiquated thinking that drives people away from classical music. If you're involved in classical music, it is the ugly status quo. If you're not involved in classical music, it makes it clear that classical music is out of touch at best.

This is 2012. I'm not saying that we've achieved gender equality, far from it. I'm saying that in this age, blatant discrimination is no longer considered acceptable. I dealt with this all through my career as a young artist and I never had the stomach to fight on my own behalf. I figured that if I was the woman who beat the system into becoming fair, the people doing the judging would see me coming from a mile away and there is no way that they would validate my fight by letting me win. I just promised myself that once my horse was out of this race, I would start taking action for the sake of every other young singer who would have to go through what I went through. No young woman should feel like she has to rush through her formative years as an artist because there's an early expiration date stamped on her forehead because of her gender. This is not acceptable. It was okay in 1952 and it sure as hell isn't okay in 2012.

Take a look at Fort Worth Opera. They are a 501c3 corporation. That means that they are exempt from paying taxes. You and I absorb their tax burden in return for the service they provide to the community. That service is defined as educational. They are here to teach us about the arts through presenting performances and they are also teaching us that a male singer at age 33 is more valuable than a female singer at age 33 or 34 or 35.

I am not asking anyone to remove their age limits. I'm not asking to put my horse back into this race. I'm only saying that, if we must have age limits, they should be the same for both sexes. Both men and women should have the same number of years of college and post college-level training and experience when they compete against one another. Yes, some people start early. I know a 19-year-old boy who has several main stage opera roles under his belt and I don't think that he should be penalized in any way for starting so young. The age limit should not be lowered for him any more than it should be for someone else simply because she is female.

This is 2012. We've spent years trying to create a world where people of both genders can pursue their dreams and explore their talents without discrimination based on gender. We're still not perfectly equal, but we've accomplished a lot. It's time for classical music to get with the program. If there is an age limit for a competition or program, it should be based only on age and not on gender.

And if you got this far, thanks for reading.

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26 comments or Leave a comment
houndentenor From: houndentenor Date: February 9th, 2012 08:56 pm (UTC) (Link)
I agree with you, but I'd like to point something out here.

This was at one time the standard practice. When I was in undergrad this was basically the Met's rules. The men had a couple of extra rules. Then they changed them. Now the cutoff is the same but it's LOWER. And for several years before that, people at the upper end of the age limit were wasting their time and money competing.

I understand Keith's dilemma. Darren talked about this when he first went to Ft Worth. He'd like to do changes but basically the Guild there runs this and they don't see any reason to change. I have found that talking about these issues with non-singers, even those who are big opera fans, is a complete waste of time and effort. They don't get it. They want to believe this "star is born" fantasy in which we come out of the womb popping out high Cs and speaking fluent Italian. Like so many issues that confront our society, reality doesn't matter when you can just believe whatever you want to believe and that's that.

So, while I agree that it's ridiculous to have different age cutoffs for men than for women, I suspect that changing the rules to give the women more time wouldn't result in women in that age group getting any more opportunity than sending money to a competition that won't even grant them a live audition.
tytaniaherself From: tytaniaherself Date: February 9th, 2012 09:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
The age-limit issue is something that we, the musicians, will have to fight for. There's no good way to explain it to people outside the industry. They're used to American Idol instant fame and it's hard to explain that we have multiple disciplines to master and at 10,000 hours of practice per skill, we don't have time to have it all done at 16.

I don't think competitions will ever be perfectly fair but at least we can say that fairness should be the aim and the standard. From there, we just do our best.
houndentenor From: houndentenor Date: February 9th, 2012 10:39 pm (UTC) (Link)

My only competition success came at 40 with Liederkranz (Wagner Division). That's probably not a typical example.

Competitions are about Wunderkinder. They want someone young, very talented and fearless. Those aren't necessarily the people who wind up having a career. Comps are good for some people and suck for others. I think after a few people realize which group they are in. It's probably not a worthwhile path for late starters.
cycon From: cycon Date: February 9th, 2012 11:58 pm (UTC) (Link)
A possible way to explain it to people outside the industry might be using medicine as an anaolgy: Pop singers (i.e. "non-classical" — jazz, rock &c.) put time and work into their performance, but they're more like nurses or EMTs, who put in at most a couple years or so of study and training and then get to work. Classical singers are more like doctors, who have to go to medical school, complete residencies, and so on — up to 12 years of post-grad work and study before they can hang up their own shingle.
Just a thought.
tytaniaherself From: tytaniaherself Date: February 10th, 2012 05:42 am (UTC) (Link)
That's a great way of putting it!
cantante_lirica From: cantante_lirica Date: February 10th, 2012 04:42 am (UTC) (Link)
Your post about this on the board made me smile today. I was just so happy to hear someone else say the way I feel. Been coming up against a lot of these now, as I am finally in the right rep and having things come together, at 33.

So you rock for saying something. It made my day.
tytaniaherself From: tytaniaherself Date: February 10th, 2012 05:53 am (UTC) (Link)
Thanks :)

I wouldn't have even looked at the application, but I remembered all the promises that were made last time around about how they were going to get the age limit removed and we should all wait until the next go 'round. So, I looked to see if they made good. Nope. The rules are openly unfair as they can possibly be.

Last time, I didn't do anything because I believed DKW and Keith when they claimed that they were working to fix things. Given that nothing has been changed, I have less faith in their promises. I'm not inclined to give them another two years to work on it when the problem should have been solved in one board meeting.

houndentenor From: houndentenor Date: February 10th, 2012 07:24 pm (UTC) (Link)
He has been claiming he would change things for about 10 years now. DKW has a long history of telling singers whatever they want to hear and then forgetting about it no faster than the words have left his mouth. Nothing about this is the least bit surprising.
konstanze1 From: konstanze1 Date: February 11th, 2012 04:57 pm (UTC) (Link)


I was going to comment that judging by who runs that company, it doesn't surprise me even one little bit. They are masters of talking the talk and then forgetting how to walk.
tytaniaherself From: tytaniaherself Date: February 11th, 2012 08:37 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: This.

Indeed. In researching my post, I happened upon his dramatic forum flounce via Cindy. He makes quite a speech indicating how he is responsible for the McCammon happening through Fort Worth Opera among other things.
(Deleted comment)
tytaniaherself From: tytaniaherself Date: February 10th, 2012 05:57 am (UTC) (Link)
Sadly, the issue is not limited to one company but this is one of the more blatant examples. No one will talk about it because they're scared that it will prevent them from getting hired.

I think it could make an interesting news story. It could be fun to forward it around just to see if anyone would pick it up.
spiralflames From: spiralflames Date: February 10th, 2012 06:20 am (UTC) (Link)
tytaniaherself From: tytaniaherself Date: February 10th, 2012 07:49 am (UTC) (Link)
Thanks :)
suntop From: suntop Date: February 10th, 2012 04:55 pm (UTC) (Link)
I agree with this wholeheartedly! It also sounds like you will not be hired by FW Opera if you are a female over the age of 32 or a male over the age of 35...which is just plain stupid.

I am so sick of the whole 'younger is better' idea. I'm one of those who took longer to figure out her voice and a lot of doors are closed to me because of it -- even though I'm singing better than I ever was 10+ years ago!

tytaniaherself From: tytaniaherself Date: February 10th, 2012 05:58 pm (UTC) (Link)
The best part is that the age limits tend to be put in place by older people who most definitely didn't achieve great professional success by 30. I've always felt that if you want to apply those rules, you must first apply them to yourself. Heck, for many companies a group of "fresh" 25-year-olds actually would do a better job of running things because they're far more in touch with how to market to modern people.

Still, I'm willing to say that the age limit is there because they want artists at a certain level, but if that's the case, it should be only limited by age, not be gender.
houndentenor From: houndentenor Date: February 10th, 2012 07:27 pm (UTC) (Link)
The reason programs don't want people over 30 is that by 30 you know better about way too many things. They want singers who still have a student mentality of doing what you're told and getting an A. I have seen quite a few singers who did few if any yaps and often didn't even do well in competitions land leads in A houses because their independence and self-reliance made them marketable. Those same skills, marketable for mainstage, would have made them major league pains in the asses of any yap administrator.
houndentenor From: houndentenor Date: February 10th, 2012 10:02 pm (UTC) (Link)
Side question: why is Marvin such a steaming bag of santorum?
tytaniaherself From: tytaniaherself Date: February 11th, 2012 04:36 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh that one is easy. He practically spelled it out. He said that he competed in 2010 and didn't win. Or maybe he did win and is saying he didn't to misdirect. Regardless, however he placed was validation for him and now here's this horrible woman saying something that sounds to him like "You only succeeded because the odds were stacked in your favor."

Look at the way he's lashing out and calling names. That's someone who was hit way close to home.

And I feel somewhat bad for him that he's flailing so much. Obviously, I'm right about something or he's damned afraid that I am.
tenorvox From: tenorvox Date: February 12th, 2012 01:51 am (UTC) (Link)

That, or possibly he felt the calling to fill the currently-gaping whackjob/troll-hole left by PDW no longer being around to spout inanities.

Ya nevah know....

tytaniaherself From: tytaniaherself Date: February 12th, 2012 02:05 am (UTC) (Link)
As fate would have it, I just found out who he is. I'm just waiting to make sure that any comments I make won't hurt people who were involved in this without their consent.
tenorvox From: tenorvox Date: February 13th, 2012 06:05 am (UTC) (Link)


I'd almost be willing to find out who this person is, too.

Triple-Z-snaps-plus-head-moves to YOU.

divamelisande From: divamelisande Date: February 14th, 2012 01:51 am (UTC) (Link)
I've kinda given up on competitions. I just don't seem to be a competition winning singer. I do work, though, and that's more important to me.

However, it's totally the flip side when it comes to work. I'm almost 29, heading for dramatic soprano territory (almost there, even), and when I go for things that are supposedly at the level I *should* be working, I'm just being told "Come back when you're older". Time and time again. I"m working on roles that are age-appropriate. My technique is solid. I can act. I look pretty good. Supposedly, my voice is world-class. But I still can't get work, because I'm not freaking OLD ENOUGH. Or at least that's what I'm being told.

Hopefully things will change. But I'm not going to wish my life away.
tytaniaherself From: tytaniaherself Date: February 14th, 2012 01:56 am (UTC) (Link)
It's ridiculously frustrating. I know a lot of people, myself included, who have been given conflicting messages about being too young one minute and too old the next. Personally, I'd tell opera companies not to ask. If you don't about age, no one can accuse you of ageism, even if you actually are choosing people based on perceived age.

You're in a great place right now. You're one of the people that I expect to be hearing about in the future :)

divamelisande From: divamelisande Date: February 15th, 2012 04:10 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thank you - that means a lot!

This business is just weird. I'm learning that, now. Just because you deserve something does not mean you will get it, and vice versa. Everyone has different ideas about everything... and the best I can do is be true to myself and true to my instrument. I'm working on it.
tytaniaherself From: tytaniaherself Date: February 15th, 2012 05:29 pm (UTC) (Link)
I tell my students not to get wrapped up in what other people think of them. Yes, it's nice to get the part or win first place, and it probably means that you did well, but it doesn't mean you were the best or that there wasn't someone who outperformed you. You did your job and lucked out.

Similarly, when you don't win or get cast, it doesn't mean you weren't the best one. You might have been. Who knows. You can't let other people decide whether or not you have the right to feel good about yourself. Set your own goals that don't hang on someone else liking you, so you can control your own success.

And, as a side note, this is why I get so pissed at people who play the "Oh your career isn't as great as mine so you don't count" game. It's so destructive. Even the most successful singers have lean times. If your self-worth hinges on how many gigs you have, then you're not going to make it through the hard times.
26 comments or Leave a comment