Memes 101 for Classical Musicians

by   |  July 19, 2012

Here’s a pop culture lesson for classical musicians: Memes 101

A “meme” is a social trend that gets perpetuated, usually by imitation.   In the past, mass media has been the most effective way of perpetuating memes.   These days, however, social media has sped up the meme perpetuation process exponentially!


Anyone who uses social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter has likely seen an image like this one that I created:

Opera Singer Meme

Opera Singer Meme by Mimi West, Founder, My Dream Teacher

You’ve seen them.   You might have even made your own version to amuse your friends.   But how did this trend get started?


The Original “What I Do, What People Think I Do” Meme

Back in February, Garnet Hertz posted the following image, entitled “Contemporary Artist”.

Garnet Hertz Meme Contemporary Artist

Garnet Hertz Meme: “Contemporary Artist”


Here Garnet capitalizes on popular misconceptions of what a contemporary artist does.   The image is effective because it plays on the viewer’s expectations and past experience.   For instance, I’m sure you’ve heard someone poke fun at a modern art piece, saying, “My four-year-old could have painted that!”
People thought this was so funny that they shared it with their friends.   It wasn’t long before people started making their own versions and posting them on social media sites.


Explanation of the “Opera Singer” Meme

To opera singers, the meme I created is self-explanatory.   But for the benefit of our non-opera singing readers, I shall let you in on our little inside jokes.
What my mom thinks I do.   Naturally, the most apparent aspect of opera is the polished performance. Many an opera singer has dreamed of being on stage in a fancy costume, singing the title role and finishing to thunderous applause.   On the surface, it’s nothing more than playing dress-up for a living.   What is not so apparent is all the hard work that goes into making it there.
In reality, most mothers do know the hard work that goes into the finished product.   They have paid for their children’s many years of music lessons.   They have driven their kids to auditions and grueling rehearsals.   Yet as the opera singer becomes an adult, parents often forget these harder times.   In fact, whenever I’m not doing a show, my mother asks me why.   Sometimes I have to remind her that being in an opera is a lot more than just playing dress-up–though that is one of the best perks about it!
What society thinks I do.   Since opera is not a mainstream form of entertainment, we opera singers may never be able to live down the “fat” opera singer stereotype that permeates pop culture.   The saying, “It ain’t over ’till the fat lady sings,”   is so deeply entrenched in movies and TV shows that it has become a meme in itself!
What I think I do.   In order to pull yourself through the hard times, you have to believe in yourself and what you do.   As such, many successful opera singers are just a little conceited.   I had to have fun with this notion that the opera singer is so in love with herself that she believes everyone else is, too!
What I actually do.   Teaching is the bread and butter for most musicians.   Most performers teach at some point in order to pay the bills.   For many opera singers, this is the daily routine, whereas the glamorous costumes, exciting stage roles, and flashy productions are few and far between.
What I’d like to do.   A shining concert hall full of raving fans.   Need I say more?
What I refuse to do.   This part of the meme throws a jovial punch at those who still believe that The Phantom of the Opera is an opera.   To dispel doubt once and for all: Phantom of the Opera is a work of musical theater, not opera!!!   It annoys many opera singers to have their friends ask, “Oh, so you sing opera.   Can you sing Phantom of the Opera?”   The answer for many of these frustrated individuals is: “Yes, of course I can–but I WON’T!”
Don’t get me wrong: the music of Phantom of the Opera is beautiful and actually does compel the interest of many opera singers.   However I just had to throw it out there to help many opera singers laugh off their continued frustration over this misconception that has only gotten worse since the Gerard Butler movie came out.
In many cases, explaining a joke takes the punch out of it.   In this case, however, I take occasion to present another cultural lesson for non-opera singers.

More on: Classical Music, Fine Art, Opera
About the Author:

Having achieved so many of her own dreams, Mimi West has devoted her career to paying it forward to the rising generation of musicians. You can follow her on Twitter @mydreamteacher.
Publshed: July 19, 2012  | 
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