I’m grateful to be turning 30 because I now have officially given up on Young Artist Program applications… and I couldn’t be be happier with my decision. You can only hit your head against the wall so many times before you finally decide to change direction and find a doorway. I gave myself a good 10 years to “make it big” in opera, but the perfectionism, the intensity of the demands, the constant criticism and the endless stream of “no’s” broke my spirit until I lost all joy in singing. There was so much pressure to be perfect all the time that I forgot to just sing.
Ironically, I never really wanted to be an opera singer. I wanted to be a jazz or musical theatre singer. But, when you attend the University of Southern California as a Vocal Performance major, you sing opera. That’s when the pressure to prove myself began; it is also when my vocal issues began. The stress, the tension, the trying to make my voice something it wasn’t, these things slowly stripped away MY voice and replaced it with a façade I was trying to create. I carried these vocal problems through grad school and then later into post-grad life when I started to hit the audition circuit. I tore my body, psyche, and voice to shreds with each audition as I grappled with being judged, trying to make my voice fit in with each program’s needs, and attempting to remember and adjust every nuanced detail my teachers, coaches, and commentators had criticized me for in the past. The problem was, my heart wasn’t in my singing any longer. Instead, my mind remained active–going through an endless list of critiques, comments, reminders, and judgments as I sang through each aria. I no longer enjoyed singing but instead felt like I had to sing to prove my worth. Each audition and performance left me feeling deflated, horrible, emotionally spent, and broken. And yet, playing the role of the good struggling artist, I kept applying, auditioning, and getting turned down. I wasn’t what they wanted, but they also weren’t what I wanted. I just wasn’t aware of it at the time.
This past year has been one of soul-searching and self-evaluation. My body forced me to take almost a full year off from singing due to health issues and that gave me the time to reassess what I really wanted out of my vocal career. I used to want to be the prima donna: to travel the world singing on the biggest stages and lead the romanticized life of a famous singer. But, really, those aspirations were taking me nowhere and I was spending so much time preparing to “fail” auditions that I wasn’t spending any time actually singing–and, in the end, all I really want to do is sing. That’s all I’ve ever wanted, since I was 10 years old belting show tunes to the trees in our backyard. I just want to sing. Anything an everything.
So, this year I have made the conscious decision to skip the YAP roulette wheel and focus my energies on just singing. I’ve rekindled my love of musical theatre, jazz, and cabaret and joined a group which performs just that. I’m joining forces with two other fabulous musicians for a self-produced holiday concert which will mix musical theatre, pop, and classical pieces. I am currently recording two albums which I will have fun marketing throughout my local community in outreach concerts and community performances. I even sang in a choir again (something I haven’t done in 10 years). The best thing is, I’m starting to love to sing again. I’m catching myself humming little motives at the end of the day or singing aloud in the car–things I haven’t done in many years.
Of course, I’m sad to make the realization that I am leaving the path that could lead to “stardom.” But, do you really need millions of people to hear you to make a difference in this world? Isn’t it enough to bring joy, to spark change, or to create solace and contemplation in just a handful of people? Does that make you any less of a singer? I don’t think so. I am a opera drop out and proud of it.
It’s time to kiss those Young Artist Applicaions goodbye.