Life in the Big Apple
I moved to NYC in 2006, and, like most classically-trained singers, needed a day job that 1) paid well enough to leave me free to practice, and 2) was flexible enough so that I could get out for rehearsals and performances.
That job came in the form of tutoring - specifically, working with kids who had an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), meaning difficulty learning and need for a more individualized approach. The work was challenging, and I worked exclusively in the Bronx - where I was told no person should walk alone at night.
Working with the kids was really difficult. These are amazing, awesome kids, but with a million diagnosed and undiagnosed issues that hampered their ability to learn, and kept them behind (knowledge-wise) sometimes four or five grade levels.
Despite the frustrations and occasional setbacks inherent in this kind of job, I fell in love with my kids - when I wasn't looking. I would take them out on weekends to concerts, shows, ballet, museums (everything from the Jewish Museum the graffiti museum), ice skating, acting lessons, art lessons… and then dinner in restaurants where the cuisine was foreign to them – stuff they’d never tried.
Berlin, Germany – Where It’s At!!
After 5 years with the kids, I moved to Germany in 2011 to focus on singing. Why Germany? Because enough people had told me that "that's where it's at" - not surprising, considering the 30 American opera houses are woefully eclipsed by the 120 German opera houses in operation today.
I arrived in Berlin and quickly learned there were plenty of other singers in Europe who'd been given the same advice, whose German was better (because they had started learning it at the age of six or seven instead of twenty-one), who had no visa issues (thus no trouble working), and who didn't balk at the coldness of the culture.
Many obstacles are quickly put in front of a new arrival into a new city – especially when that city is in an entirely different country, and on a different continent. The process of finding an agent (which was, I was told, the KEY) was daunting, and every agent I sang for told me something different:
“Your voice is too heavy; make it lighter.”
“Your voice is too light; make it heavier."
Oddly enough, they did all agree on one thing:
“You haven't been here long enough to do this...keep working at it and come back again."
Facing the Judge... FOR PRACTICING!!
Then there was adjusting to German life, which included my having to face a German judge when my neighbor brought me to court for practicing in my flat, despite my adherence to German law pertaining to practicing music (yes, they DO have laws protecting musician’s practicing and, yes, the case was dismissed).
One night at the Komische Oper Berlin, my coach and dear friend [still to this day] had a lot of amazing things to say about my singing, but I realized I just didn't want to hear them/act on them. They seemed trivial, unimportant.
At that point I realized the grind had gotten the better of me - it just wasn't what I wanted to do anymore. My friends encouraged me to take some time off and see how I felt. I did, and began feeling a longing to be with my students back in the Bronx.
Timing is EVERYTHING
I made my decision to quit singing on a Monday night. Two days later I woke up to a text from my best friend Max:
"[We're talking about starting] an SAT camp for low-income students... I said I thought u'd [sic] want to direct it. Correct me if I'm wrong."
Help run a non-profit SAT camp for socio-economically underprivileged kids, just like the ones I had worked with in the Bronx?? I just about had a heart attack. Here was my reason for living, putting itself in my face. And it came two days after I'd decided to stop singing.
Today, my days, nights and weekends are spent working for two organizations – the Socratic Summer Academy and Yleana Leadership Academy (the two SAT programs we created) – doing the most important work I can imagine doing: trying to close the achievement gap, trying to help our kids get into college and STAY there. I love my kids. This is my life's work.
Then Came the Call… FROM INDIANA?
I honestly hadn't looked back when I stopped singing - I never wondered if I'd made the right decision, because I knew the work I was doing was what I wanted to be doing.
Then, there I was, walking between meetings one fine day in July 2014, when who do I get an email from, out of the blue? Andy Lyon.
I swear I thought I would never sing again. But I believe in saying yes to everything, to never miss an opportunity. I thought about it and decided this would be a great opportunity to get my toe back in the water and see how it felt to sing.
Honestly, I couldn't be happier. I realized that my singing is easier and much more fun now that the pressure's off. It's not the measure of whether I am a successful human being anymore.
A Passion for the "NEW"
Since 2000, I have performed a number of world premieres and North American premieres, as well as being willing to work with composers just getting their feet wet and trying things out. The key with performing new music is being confident in your abilities as a musician, and if you can do anything that's asked, the composer quickly learns what makes sense to ask and what doesn't make sense to ask of you. Plus it's a really exciting experience, being able to make active decisions about what works and what doesn't - what you like and what you don't - and sometimes to even have a hand in that creative process.
Working with Michael Schelle on “Rain”
After learning of the Columbus concert's repertoire from Andrew, and doing a little research on the composer of my piece, the prospect of working with Michael Schelle (www.schellemusic.com) was wildly attractive!
I have done a lot of twentieth- and twenty-first century work over the years, and have found that as daunting as it may seem at first (to the performer and the listener), the key to successfully navigating any new work is first being comfortable with my own instrument – in this case, my voice – and my abilities.
One thing I like about working with composers - especially established intellectuals who've been in academia for a long time, but still have their roots firmly with the greats (Mike told me stores about his esteemed teacher, Aaron Copland) - is that they are brilliant, but also down to earth. They've reached that point in their life where they recognize that we don't have to take everything seriously, that fun is important, that sometimes it's okay to say, "I just did it because." It's relaxing, it's exciting, and it reminds me of the person that I always wanted to be.