Viswa Subbaraman

Opera and Orchestra Conductor

Making Music and College Basketball

I know it’s been a long time since I posted, and I probably should write about where I’ve been and why it is I haven’t posted in a while, and I will. I’ll post a “why I haven’t been writing” blog post next week. This week, I want to talk about one of my loves: college basketball (specifically, Duke – go figure). People who know me know my love of the sport (which tends to be lacking when it comes to the NBA). I think my favorite month of the year is March. It’s a time when you have seniors facing their last games ever. It’s a time of “win or go home.” UNC’s drubbing of Duke wasn’t without its silver lining. (And congrats to those UNC fans out there - you're team really showed up and overwhelmed us at home.) I think the most impressive player on the floor was Miles Plumlee – Duke’s only senior. He played with determination, heart, and skill that seems to be something only seniors can do in their last games at home. Miles Plumlee played above himself and did all he could to will the team to win. He made me proud to be a Duke alum.

So, why is an opera company founder and conductor talking about a college basketball player’s heart and desire? It’s simple: great performances seem to have Miles Plumlee’s passion and intensity. They seem to have that back against the wall all or nothing feel. Great performances of opera or orchestra “leave everything on the floor.”

How do we channel that as musicians? How do we go out there each time we perform and “leave it all on the floor?” It’s been something that has become easier and easier for me, and I think it’s because I realized recently how much music means to me. Building Opera Vista has been a voyage – it has involved a lot of sacrifice (working two jobs at times in order to keep the company afloat, devoting time that took away from family and friends, lost relationships, etc). It has the difficulties of any start-up company coupled with the difficulties of a start-up non-profit in a rough economic climate.

That being said, I couldn’t be prouder of the shows we have put on stage in the past five years. We have focused on creating great art, and I think each show we have put on has displayed passion and determination – especially when you factor in the resource constraints we have always faced and the sheer scheduling nightmares we have faced.

The opportunity to make music never seems to come around often enough. I feel as though I spend most of my time on administrative stuff, and the conducting subsequently flies by. (In some senses, it’s a bit like skiing. You spend a good bit of time in line for the lift and then on the lift, and then it feels like 2 seconds later, you’re waiting in line again).

There is really no feeling like being on the podium to make music – at least not for me. In some ways, I look at each opportunity in the same way Miles viewed the Duke/UNC game in Cameron – his last opportunity to play at home. I try to focus on each show as if it will be my last. How do you other musicians do it? What do you do to get your head in the game?

And to my favorite college basketball team, in the words of Coach K, "Next Play!"