Few modern mezzosopranos are more successful and acclaimed than multi Grammy award-winner Joyce DiDonato. She has been proclaimed as “perhaps the most potent female singer of her generation” by the New Yorker and “a transformative presence in the arts” by Gramophone.
Yet Miss DiDonato remains humble and modest, and deeply sensitive to others. This gentleness is perhaps unusual in one so outwardly successful but it is a lesson from which we can all learn.
An example of the way she behaves can be found in the 109th graduation address which she made to the Juilliard School of Music in 2014.
Here, she reminded students, of her own early experiences – a “star turn” as the off-stage lover in Il Tabarro with one solitary line (sung off stage); an evaluation sheet for the Houston Opera Studio which declared “not much talent” and “way more rejections and easy dismissals than actual ‘yesses’”. Indeed, she told the new graduates that she would never have gained admission to Juilliard at their age: “I simply wasn’t ready back then. That is the truth. One never, ever knows where their journey will lead them.”
Then she invited the young hopefuls to speculate on the idea “You will never make it.” She told them: “That’s the bad news, but I invite you to see it as fabulous, outstanding news, for I don’t believe there is actually an ‘it’. ‘It’ doesn’t exist for an Artist. One of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, right here, right now, in this single, solitary, monumental moment in your life – is to decide, without apology, to commit to the journey, and not to the outcome.
“As an artist, you will never arrive at a fixed destination. This is the glory and the reward of striving to master your craft and embarking on the path of curiosity and imagination, while being tireless in your pursuit of something greater than yourself.”
Miss DiDonato also warned the students to be self-effacing, saying: “You may not yet realise it, but you haven’t signed up for a life of glory and adulation (although that may well come) – however, that is not your destination, for glory is always transitory and will surely disappear just as fleetingly and arbitrarily as it arrived.
“The truth is, you have signed up for a life of service by going into the Arts. You are here to serve humanity.”
What inspiring words these are for artists but also for non-artists too. A life of service, a lifetime to strive and to be curious. No end to the journey. A greater triumph always over the hill. And throughout, a sense of humility. It is – as the quote from Buddha says – “Far better to travel well than to arrive.”