Once upon a time I had the opportunity to sing for a prominent American composer, courtesy of connections from a woman high in arts administration who’d come to like me at the time as I was interning for her. I was still in my undergrad, looking for my voice, also immersed in pageantry during my reign as Miss Maryland. The details of the encounter are neither here nor there, except that generally speaking I was not a developed musician and after it was finished, I suspected that perhaps if I were a little sharper, I might have been embarrassed at the performance I gave.
What I do remember is when I stood with the director who’d set up the opportunity, I asked her, “is this worth it?” I wanted to know whether the ability, talent or whatever else might matter in pursuing a career in classical singing I’d demonstrated held any promise for success or instead presented an outlook for low prospects and perpetual frustration. All she could say was, “I can’t answer that. Nobody can really answer that for you.” I interpreted her response at the time, and possibly with some accuracy, she meant that from what she could tell at that moment, I wasn’t good enough to be competitive in a small world with stiff competition. Only time would tell what the combination of intentional persistence, unwavering dedication, integral personal values and divine serendipity would do for my journey as a singer and a human being.
And she was right.
Many years (which I won’t number at this point), three degrees and three children later, I look back on the lulls, twists and turns of life and even in the extended spaces where I was not performing or formally studying singing, I never stopped thinking about it. Whenever I could sneak in some noise that wouldn’t wake or upset my young children, I would practice scales or an aria I wondered if I could do better than before. And by the time I had the opportunity to take up lessons again, I had all the desire to sing again with zero expectations for pursuing a performance career of any sort. And after some frustrating lessons, something started to give, and apparently something beautiful came out. Once all the criticisms, advice, opinions, technical approaches that I tried to sort out to stack the best version of my voice that everyone would like had finally given way to my mind that was finally over it, my teacher stopped me and asked what I’d done differently.
I simply said that I stopped trying and just sang.
This is not to suggest that I never needed training, that I don’t anymore, or that I’ve completely actualized my vocal and artistic development. But I did discover that I could only obtain the most rewarding experience of singing and growing as a singer in letting myself go and simply singing the truth. My truth. And this has just about nothing to do with the opportunities or approval that comes with doing it well– these are byproducts of the more important process of setting my own spirit free in singing that truth. So far, doing so has gotten me a nice little handful of opportunities– thanks also to persistence, dedication, and serendipity.
Make no mistake– I still grind. And when an opportunity is available to grow in presenting myself and my artistry, I will persevere until it’s no longer a possibility. At this point, I have become incapable of throwing in the towel when there’s still time and energy to fight. Case in point, last night I endured an incredibly frustrating process of recording where I had to drive an hour out of town to remake recordings late at night to submit to a competition because the videos I had made earlier that day got corrupted and were incomplete, much to my dismay. My husband couldn’t see why it was worth it, though he could tell that it was to me. My incredible friend who gave me the 15 minutes I had after the hour drive to re-do the recordings joked about whether the product was worth the effort. And while both opinions stung a little bit, knowing that I wouldn’t turn back time to undo the effort made it very clear to me once again that my manager those years back was right. Only I can decide whether this journey is worth it for me. And only I ever will.