Perhaps one of the lesser-known facts about me is that I love to sing opera. People usually respond in a couple of different ways when I tell them that, the first is to say "I hate opera. Let's talk about something else." To which I just laugh, smile, and change the subject. The second is usually a look of confusion, and a statement along the lines of "But you are too skinny to be an opera singer," or, "Why aren't you singing at the Met then?" or my personal favorite, "What are your goals with that?"
Today, I would like to talk about opera a bit, and my "goals." If you are an opera-hater, that's fine, but maybe you could take a few moments to understand a wee bit more about it? Or perhaps, you have something that is in place of opera in your life that you could relate to my story.
I started off singing at a very young age, but it wasn't until college that I really learned my true passion for classical singing and opera. I struggled with vocal health for years, my voice would get very fatigued and the muscles surrounding my throat would ache after singing in choir or on worship team at church. My first teacher, Mark Calkins, started me on the journey to healthy singing. In opera and classical singing, the path of least resistance is used. In other words, you learn how to use your voice in the most efficient way, and the least harmful way. Other types of singing can actually be very damaging to your voice if you aren't careful. Opera can also be damaging if you aren't singing with healthy techniques. Here's a fun fact, and the thing that initially fascinated me about opera, opera singers are able to project their voices over an orchestra, without any type of amplification. Wow! When high notes are sung correctly, you have a feeling of weightlessness. But, after singing an aria you may also feel like you are ready to drop. It requires a HUGE amount of energy and focus to sing an operatic aria. It's the musical equivalent of a marathon!
Opera is truly one of the most intriguing and demanding art forms. It is so much more than just walking onto the stage and singing. It is an art form that requires constant practice, physical fitness, outside critique and coaching, and so much more. Most successful professional opera singers have dedicated their lives completely to the art form, learning to be the best singer and actor they can possibly be. I love singing opera, and I have pursued a career to a small extent. However, as much as I love it, I'm not sure that I want to devote my entire life to it. I want to continue to love it, rather than develop feelings of frustration or even hatred because it is so all-consuming. One story that sticks in my mind is from my former teacher, Doreen Hutchings, who met a world-famous opera singer and later learned that this singer, although she had achieved fame and fortune through singing, was absolutely miserable. Her family had fallen apart, and even her extreme fame is no consolation for the loneliness that results from that.
Right now I am studying with a wonderful teacher named Lila Olson, as well as working with Audrey Stottler, a singer turned teacher who has a very successful international career under her belt. I'm learning so much from these ladies, and I am so thankful for the opportunities to work with them! One of the questions that Audrey loves to ask her older students is "Why do you still sing?" She has taught people of all age ranges, and many of the people she has worked with are singing well past their retirement years. Why would someone work on an art form that gives them no monetary compensation, and is in fact mostly enjoyed in the comfort of their own home? The answer is: Because they love it and just couldn't imagine living without it.
I sing because I love it. My goal is to sing better and love it even more. Another goal is to help others learn to sing better and to love it. Would I like to sing at the Met? Sure, but I'm not driven towards that as a goal. Working on pieces from the classical repertoire and opera has instilled in me a very good work ethic. Even when I don't feel like it, singing through my warmups helps my day feel brighter. Working on a difficult passage and learning to sing it with ease gives me a sense of personal accomplishment. Putting aside my fears and singing an aria in front of an audience reminds me to lean on God for strength. Working with people who are passionate about music helps me to strive for excellence, even when I am not going to be compensated with worldly goods.
Here's how I feel about singing: It's a gift that God gently placed into my hands and entrusted to me. It is not something to be used to puff up my own feathers and prance around proudly, in fact in many ways it has done the opposite (something that anyone else who has done any type of audition can tell you!). It has taught me to stand firm in what I believe, and to keep going even when criticism, competition, and discouragement threaten to derail me. God is there with me when I stand up, against all worldly odds, and sing with the freedom that only comes from being grounded in faith. At times, this gift has truly felt like a curse, but I have seen Him turn it into a blessing as only He can. When I meet my Savior face to face, I hope to be able to hear Him say "Well done."