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GIA Music

The Singerís Ego

Finding Balance between Music and Life

By: Lynn Eustis

162 pp.

Published by GIA Publications, Inc. Chicago, IL. USA

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Lynn Eustis has finally done it. She has created a singerís self-help manual that is long on useful ideas and practical advice and devoid of the psychobabble and new-agey feel-good double-speak that is the usual content of such tomes. Typically, books like this one have about three chapters of decent material and another five chapters of redundant word-spinning to fill pages. Not so this, which is the most concise and effectively personal essays on the art of singing and its mountains of baggage that I have ever had the pleasure to read.

Dr. Eustis is an Assistant Professor of voice at the University of North Texas in Denton. She holds degrees from Bucknell University, the Curtis Institute of Music and Florida State University. Before she assumed her faculty positions, she pursued a full time career as an opera singer in New York, and has appeared in operatic productions, recitals and with orchestras throughout the United States and abroad. She is also recognized as a scholar, presenting lecture demonstrations on the music of the Holocaust to receptive audiences around the country, and she is a sought after adjudicator. Many of her students have gone on to pursue professional careers, and others have become successful teachers in their own right.

The book is divided into two major sections: The Inner World and The Outer World. In a totally unabashed yet not self-indulgent manner, Dr. Eustis invites the reader into her own personal space, candidly relating her own trials and tribulations as a student of singing, as a professional singer and as a teacher. She is frank about her own shortcomings and she proves that she has had the wherewithal to find solutions to the problems that held her back and hampered her progress.

One might easily quip that a book about the egos of singers would be a very long opus indeed. All jokes aside, Dr. Eustis gets right to the nuts and bolts of what it takes to have a career as a singer, and along the way provides sound advice on just how to approach the art, how to find the right teacher, how to overcome stage fright and all importantly, how to keep the relationship of "the voice!" and "the human being" in healthy balance.

Nearly every gnarly topic that a singer might encounter is covered here. She speaks frankly about dealing with difficult colleagues, testy and overbearing stage directors, tyrannical conductors and she has a thing or two to say about coping with the critics, with whom she has had her fair share praise and pan.

In the "outer world" section of the book, she helps singers cope with the way that others perceive them. Covering even the most private of issues, she deals frankly and adroitly with personal relationships, the relationship between singers and their families, spouses and children, and she gives some very helpful words on the ever stressful world of competition, both for students and professionals.

Perhaps one of the most useful tools of this book is the systematic method in which Dr. Eustis leads the reader through the entire course of a career as a singer. She begins at the very beginning, that time in which a youngster discovers that he or she has a voice that will attract attention. She moves next into the high school years and the often-painful transition from adored local star to small fish in a big pond collegiate life. She talks bluntly of the rigors and pitfalls of professional life, not sparing aspiring singers from the fact that a full time and lucrative career as a professional singer happens to very few indeed.

And yet, with all the caveats she presents, Dr. Eustis gives a supportive and positive reinforcement to those who would venture into the operatic jungle. She provides a large list of alternative careers and some helpful hints as to how and where to pursue them without having to leave music behind altogether. Yet, she also deals unhesitatingly with the fact that a career in music is not for everyone and that if a person were to never sing again after today, he or she would be no less a human being.

This is not just a book of lectures from a master teacher. It is a practical guide to making it in a tough world, and to that end, most chapters close with a well-constructed and germane set of self-exploratory questions for the future opera star to consider. Call them soul search discussion topics if you will, they even made this old professional singer rethink some of his approaches to his art.

Dr. Eustisí language is clear and personal, and as one reads the text one feels as if he has entered into a conversation with a trusted friend over a good meal. I did find one small consistent grammatical quibble in that Dr. Eustis consistently uses the now-accepted but not really correct word "empathetic" instead of the more proper "empathic," but I must admit that I am a bit over zealous when it comes to those sorts of usage formalities.

This is a book that should sit well used on the shelves of all singers, aspiring singers and teachers. It wonít take you long to read it, and it is well worth an annual re-read. Recommended highly.

Kevin Sutton



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