For years now, the Pennsylvania Lottery has used the saying, “You Can’t Win if You Don’t Play.” So simple, it’s (almost) eloquent.
Fact of life. You’ll never complete that slide to second base if you’re afraid to muddy your pants. Similarly, you’ll never win any kind of writing contest if you’re not willing to put your work, yourself, and your (oh *so* delicate) ego out there for public scrutiny from time to time.
Just to clarify, I do put my writing “out there” regularly, querying agents, editors, and publishers, sometimes receiving a friendly “keep at it,” but more often incurring a) callous rejections b) snarky comments c) downright bitchiness and/or d) all of the above. Generally, no one knows but them and me whether I’ve succeeded or not in my literary quest unless a snarky agent snarks about me on Twitter (which actually happened).
masked revelers in Nationals Park
How lucky for me then that the Washington National Opera was sponsoring a really fun-sounding, heart-pounding, low-risk songwriting contest themed around a Simulcast of Verdi’s “Masked Ball” in Nationals Park. All entrants had to do was take one verse of the acclaimed “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” tune and adapt it with creativity and singability, while paying homage to the nature of the event: live opera in a major league ball park on the big screen.
I had a week’s vacation and figured I’d give it a try. I agreed with this kind of event in principle. A noble idea! Finding corporate underwriters to make the event free for thousands of people (families, too) and holding it in a setting as comfortable as your favorite pair of slippers–lime green slippers with big floppy bunny ears.
a shot from my video entry
Also, I have a high fun index, so this augured to be several hours of creative engagement–writing, editing, filming, and learning the movie works program on my laptop, for starters. Truth is, I utterly entertained myself by just writing and filming my entry, which I blogged about earlier this month. The making it was enough of a reward, if I’m being honest. And I like major league baseball–especially at Citizens Bank Park.
So, pleased with myself for following through on a goal and because I liked the end results, I sent my entry sailing through cyberspace to the people at WNO.
I waited a few days.
And nice things began to happen. First, WNO posted my video on their website. Then I got an email saying I was one of three finalists in the contest, inviting me to come down to the park to receive my prize during the “7th Aria Stretch.”
Sunday, September 19 was a breathtakingly beautiful day in the Mid-Atlantic States. Blue skies, wispy clouds, a hint of a breeze. It was a smooth drive to Washington, D.C. despite being a home game day for the Redskins. The staff at the park was friendly and upbeat–they had their game faces on–though their game had changed from nine innings to three acts.
Luca Salsi as Count Anckarström
The picture on the Nationals Park Jumbotron is brilliant. It’s HD to the max. The sound was wonderful–and not so loud you couldn’t talk quietly to the person beside you. The air smelled like fattening, stadium foods. The sun was shining, the beer flowing.
When the opera began, the singing was glorious–none more so than Tamara Wilson as Amelia. It was so easy to become enraptured in the production, I sort of forgot that the grand prize winner would be announced at the end of Act II and that I was a contender.
Contest organizers gathered all the finalists in a VIP staging area just before Act II concluded. The reporter from the DC television station picked off the contestants, one by one. After the second and first runners-up were named, I was left standing. I had won first prize. What an honor. A talented singer from WNO’s young artists program along with the TV reporter warbled with me as my lyrics appeared on the Jumbotron.
Being announced as the Grand Prize Winner
I remember feeling a little shell-shocked, mostly because I was surprised that I’d won–that my little entry was selected by none other than Placido Domingo, WNO’s general director. It was like someone dumped two tons of glee on top of all the joy and attention participating in this event had already garnered me as a finalist from friends, family, and writing colleagues.
A crowning touch was having the lyrics I wrote appear on the Jumbotron while everyone sang along–that sealed the specialness of the day for me (just click on the pic for the video). Oh, and I also loved the curtain call when the principals came onstage for their bows wearing Nationals red baseball caps.
Though WNO has offered “Opera in the Outfield” for three years, this was the first year for the songwriting contest. If they offer it again next year, I have three words for you: Go. For. It.
All my "booty" from WNO
They are a capable, friendly organization. I think their marketing department could sell sand in the Sahara. The prizes were are fantastic. In addition to the generous Target gift card and VIP tickets to Madama Butterfly
, I got a tote bag, T-shirt, screen-printed baseball souvenir, and, of course, crackerjacks. Oh, and a mention in the Washington Post
today (I just had to throw that tidbit in there).
Fun. Glory. Prizes. Win. Win. Win.