Let me first start off by saying that most of you are probably not interested in my ramblings on this topic, so you can take leave of this post, and I will not be offended. I have been wanting to talk about this subject for about the last ten years now, so I am going to do it now, and it may be long. This blog usually doesn’t serve much as a place for me to have a gushing diary moment, but I am afraid this post may be just that. Forgive me if this is written in a very “stream of consciousness” way, but I don’t really have much prepared in how I am going to address this issue.
When I was in third grade I started playing the french horn. I think this may have a lot to do with the kind of people I attracted into my life and the kind of people I ended up in the end wanting to make music with. It is well known in the world of instrumentalists that one can assume that you have been brought up with discipline, good technique, admirable musicianship, and a very good sense and execution of rhythm not to mention a down to earth personality, especially in brass players. As I began studying voice at the age of fifteen, I noticed between instrumentalists that there was an unwritten code about singers. I don’t know exactly when I noticed it first, if it was in Philly Youth Orchestra, orchestra festivals, music camp or when exactly, but the stereotype of singers was definitely there. They can’t and won’t count, they fall in love with the sound of their own voices, and they end up not needing a conductor because they are right no matter what. Not to mention…they are the best and are certainly too good for you.
This lead me to my college years, as pressure mounted on me from all ends. Scholarships in two instruments and a double major in performance, I was in the orchestra, concert choir, graduate conductors choir, recital chorus, opera theater, wind symphony, the singer for an accompanying class and winning major lead roles in opera’s. I didn’t watch any TV in five years and the practice room was where I ate most of my meals. I was exhausted and pushed to capacity. Overloading on credits every semester, poor as dirt, no time for a job and something had to give. I thought long and hard about my road as a horn player vs. my road as a singer. At that time, for the most part (and this thankfully has changed a lot in the past ten years), almost every horn player in the major symphony orchestras were men. Yes. I am sorry, but it really was a boys club, and it was hard to gain respect even in lessons to be honest. Also, was I going to wait for a seat to open in who knows where and have to compete with hundreds of players for that one seat? That is a lot for all of my living expenses to be wrapped up in. Not to mention, would I crack under pressure? Literally?! I found also after thinking more about it that singing was my true gift. My true passion. I was never nervous when I sang. I was confident, and God always left me with this overwhelming feeling of satisfaction in my singing and in the joy of all of the languages I got to learn, and of the wonderful complex moods that I got to bring across from the composers intentions. This was my gift, and I needed to grow up and make a decision. I put down the horn seriously for a while and concentrated on my singing. I am not ashamed to tell you that I lost many of my instrumentalist friends who accused me of turning to “the dark side”. Ah…what was this, high school? All of these people were guys. They knew I was good at singing, but I think it made them feel uncomfortable and a little sad that we wouldn’t have our camaraderie.
So, the next thing I had to think about was what direction would I take my singing in. Opera of course. After I left school I quickly realized that this was not the path for me. I get asked about once a year from a student, “so, what opera companies do you sing for?” I don’t know why exactly, but to this day I still cringe at that question. Is it because I have to say “none” and then go into my long explanation? Or is it because somehow I think they will think less of me as a teacher? Well, here is my explanation of why I don’t ever want to sing opera.
I love to act. That is not the reason certainly. I think most of it has to do with me not liking most Italian composers music and with the personalities involved in the singing world. I have always been a singer in my heart, but not a diva. I am not much for measuring up the competition, tearing them down in my head, and building myself up to be a giant among mezzo’s. NO THANKS. Can you be an opera singer and have a good family life? Tough question. I know people who do it. Most are dysfunctional. Not to say we all have our challenging times, but is it my right to choose a career over happiness in my family? Opera is a selfish, selfish world. It is hard enough to have the kind of career I have now, let alone with an opera schedule involved. All day rehearsals, night performances, time sucking schedules, and travel. Lots of travel. Not to mention the discouraging environment and self driving ways of your colleagues. Music making is supposed to be a passionate exchange of ideas between musicians, taking delight in the offerings of the printed page. A moment that the perfect phrase is achieved together, and then it is gone forever. A moment to cherish. Opera may have those moments to some, but it just doesn’t for me. It is all too contrived and self centered. People will oooh and aaaah over the big high notes, and then will get dressed up and buy tickets just because it is opera. That is fine. Ooooh and Aaaah all you want. I can make a bellowing plaintive cry as loud as the rest. There is no true beauty in that in my opinion. It is people showing up to do their jobs. It is an orchestra member coming to work with a great gig with benefits, having to let the singers be front and center all the time, taking three quarters of the glory. My favorite moments are when I am in other musicians living rooms, and we are there making no money but making the most insanely fantastic music! The chamber music made by singing a friends piece, or by trying something brand new and discovering that even if you are no good at it, you will persevere and get better for the sake of the art. It is the look and smile a friend gives to you after singing a fabulous duet together. It is the moment when you look down at the violinists bow to see when her bow stroke is about to run out and where you then have to make your cut off. It is about intuitive moments and anticipatory glances and breathing together before an entrance. It is about letting the small things speak louder than the big things. It is in this that I find my happiness.