A few weeks ago I made an audition recording, and it was a huge success. This success has nothing to do with whether or not someone else will think my singing is good enough. I don't know yet whether or not I have booked any work with the recording, and the odds are that I won't. The success is that I enjoyed myself. For the first time in an extremely long time it felt good to sing classical music and I left the recording session smiling. I'm aware that this might seem trivial or inconsequential, but to me it is monumental.
Before sharing the video of this recording I'd like to share my story in the hopes that it will encourage you in some way. Perhaps it will encourage you to challenge the ways you measure your success, or encourage you to rejoice in the unique beautiful voice you have. Perhaps it will motivate you to continue to work hard at a seemingly insurmountable task.
A History of My Life as a Singer (2001 - present)
When I was ten years old, I discovered that I liked to sing. I had been cast in the school musical and was thrilled to learn that I could sing and that other people even seemed to like it when I sang! All through middle school and into high school I continued to participate in musicals and seek out other opportunities to sing. Singing felt good to me and filled me up. It was joyful.
By the end of high school, singing had become a huge part of my identity. I sang for people often, performing lead roles in musicals and solos at church services and graduation. Being a singer gave me a feeling of purpose and worth. At eighteen, off I went to college at Ohio State University, and I sought out opportunities to perform and sing right away. I auditioned for a musical in the theater department and was cast in a supporting role. I joined an acapella group and a choir in the music department. Midway through my freshman year I decided to audition for the music school, despite having declared a major in Spanish, because I figured I could handle double-majoring and I was hungry for more knowledge about music. I didn’t have the slightest intention of pursuing a career in music at the time. I just knew I wanted to make music for the rest of my life and with my lack of formal training up to this point, I had a lot to learn if I wanted to do it well. I prepared my two audition songs, sang my audition, and was accepted into the program a couple of weeks later.
Entering the music program marked a distinct shift in my experience as a singer.
The music program at OSU was, like the majority of university music programs, rooted in the classical music tradition. That meant that for the first time in my life I was surrounded by people who had been developing themselves as classical (think opera) singers. I didn’t know a single thing about opera. I had never even heard opera before. My peers’ voices seemed so big and rich and deep, while mine sounded puny, weak and small. I felt miserably behind and I began to believe that I was not a good singer.
Because classical singing was the only aesthetic celebrated at OSU, I subconsciously developed the belief that it was the “right” or “best” type of singing, and I was determined to get it right. I spent hours in the practice room repeating the exercises and techniques I was learning in my weekly lesson. I didn’t really know what I was aiming for, except that I needed to sound more like my teacher and my peers and less like myself. As time passed, my voice did seem to be becoming more “operatic”- it became bigger, louder, and developed more vibrato. But it also became increasingly unpredictable, chaotic, and uncomfortable to sing. When I opened my mouth to sing I never knew what would come out. It could be wonderful one day (these days were rare) and then a complete disaster the next, and I felt helpless because I didn’t understand why.
I began to hate singing in front of people, and I only did it reluctantly when I had to for class. The joy of singing diminished and was replaced by intense anxiety. Every single time I got up to sing classical music in front of people I felt some mixture of shame, disappointment, frustration, or even despair afterwards because no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get my voice to work for me. Even as recent a performance as my Master's Recital was an enormous struggle. So, in the context of that journey, the fact that I enjoyed myself making this recording is monumental.
I believe I am entering into a new phase in my story as a singer. The work is still ongoing, but with the help of my patient, brilliant teacher and a lot of new knowledge acquired in grad school at NYU Steinhardt, I have rewritten both the way I sing and the way I think about myself as a singer. It was a difficult and oftentimes painful process, but I am grateful for it. I’m grateful to be singing with joy again, and I'm so grateful to be a voice teacher. I’m also grateful for Bach. And with that, here is the recording I made.
"Mein gläubiges Herze" J.S. Bach
And here is a mini clip of Bach melismas (that means the fast, flowery run passages). For the audition I had to demonstrate that I could sing at the quarter note at 110 beats per minute.
Thank you for reading and listening.