As previously mentioned, the Early Music singers had their exams here a few weeks ago, yours truly included. After such a turbulent year, my end of year recital was always going to feel different from what I had come to expect from performing. There are many perspectives I could muse upon, including the discrepancy between how a performer and the audience experience the same performance.
But there’s one thing that keeps coming up and every time I think of it, it irks me. It’s not even the usual over-analysis of my own performance and disappointment from that note that was out of tune, or that dynamic effect that didn’t quite work. Rather, it’s one of the comments from the examination committee.
After your exam at the KonCon, the judges immediately deliberate, and you receive your result and feedback in person on the same day. I went into the discussion room, received my mark, and heard the initial feedback on my singing and performance. And then, the committee brought up something they seemed to care much more about: my dress and make-up.
Apparently, onstage my bright blue dress ended up looking grey, and my carefully made-up face wasn’t strong enough under the lights in the hall. For my 2pm recital, they wanted a more extravagant hairstyle and extra jewellery. And I couldn’t help but wonder: do they tell the guys the same things?
I have a hard time believing that a male singer would be criticised for not wearing enough eyeliner, or be held responsible for the lighting in an exam hall making their features washed out. I find it difficult to imagine examiners telling a male student that their choice of tie colour didn’t compliment their skin tone. In fact, I have a sneaking suspicion that as long as a guy turns up wearing pants and a shirt he remembered to iron, the committee tick the “presentation box”, and move on to what is really important in this situation: the music.
Now I know that presentation is an important part of being a performer, and that how one appears onstage can have a huge influence on how the audience experiences the performance. But it’s not like I turned up in sweatpants with unwashed hair. And I can’t help but feel that the more we are judged primarily on superficial merits instead of artistic and technical achievements, the more we will be encouraged to produce superficial and fake performances that are more concerned with how we are perceived, rather than what we have to say, or how we decide to express our ideas and experiences.
And so I’m calling it out. If you want to judge someone on their appearance and dress sense, go to a fashion show. Leave the music recitals for those who have the music as their highest priority.