Part 2: My Story
I grew up in a small town. I was stubborn, and all I knew was that I wanted to be a singer. I only applied to a few schools, all in my home state of California, and I figured that if I was good enough to get in to the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, then I’d go there. My parents weren’t crazy about the idea, and they thought I’d be better off getting a more well-rounded education at a regular university. But I was stubborn and determined to pursue music no matter what.
Once I got to the conservatory, I was immersed in a whole new world of music. I’d played piano and sung for my whole life, but I knew very little about music history, literature, or theory. I was fascinated. My grades hadn’t been that great in high school, but once I was studying the things that interested me, I excelled academically. Emotionally, however, I struggled, and I was often lonely and insecure. I also struggled financially, and worked hard to support myself. I missed many opportunities for additional education and training (summer programs, etc.) because they were simply too expensive. There were many ups and downs, and I was incredibly fortunate to have a wonderful, supportive voice teacher who taught me how to sing as well as how to survive.
The main problem was, I was not quite mature enough to handle the pressure. To be perfectly honest, I was kind of an emotional wreck for most of those 4 years. I spent too much time in unhealthy relationships and friendships. And I took rejection too personally, so every time I didn’t get the part I auditioned for (or any part, for that matter), I was absolutely devastated. I knew I was making progress, but I still wasn’t being cast in anything. I realize now that there are lots of reasons for this, but mostly I was awkward on stage (since I had no real acting training, and very limited experience) and not confident enough.
When I finished my Bachelor’s Degree, I wasn’t sure what to do next. I wanted to apply to other schools, but I didn’t have the money for application fees, let alone plane tickets across the country if I got an audition. I thought that continuing at SFCM was the best choice, since I was happy with my teacher, and I was already there. However, that turned out to be a mistake, and I was especially miserable that year. My financial struggles increased as well, and I finally reached a point where I realized that the education I was paying dearly for was not the education I wanted or needed. I needed stage experience and acting training, and I was not getting that at all. I also doubted whether I was on the right path, and did not think I wanted to be a professional opera singer. I decided to leave SFCM and move back to my hometown while I figured out my next move.
That summer I was also fortunate enough to attend the OperaWorks program in Southern California. I’m not exaggerating at all when I say that those two weeks changed my life. The program included classes in improv, performance techniques, and movement: everything that had been missing from my previous education. I began learning how to move on stage, and realized how disconnected from my body I was. We also took yoga classes every day, which made my constant back pain go away and started me on the path to a healthier lifestyle– over the next year I lost almost 60 pounds.
I was fortunate that my tiny hometown has an active music community, and I was able to sing lead roles in several productions with Mendocino Chamber Opera. Working with just one or two other singers and the director gave me the training and confidence I needed to become a better actor. I also started teaching voice lessons, and began finally figuring out what I wanted to do with my life.
The thing is, I love to sing, and performing in operas is so much fun. But I am also sensitive, a perfectionist, and an over-thinker, and those qualities hold me back as a singer. However, those are the same qualities that make me a great teacher. I realized that, rather than trying to change so many things about myself so I could thrive as a singer, why not find a career that actually fits me?
But, enough about me. The bottom line is, even though it was tough and maybe not the best choice for me, I wouldn’t change any of it because I learned so much and I am happy with where I am now. But would I recommend that path to my young students? That depends on several factors, which I will discuss in the next (and final) post in this series.