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What I Learned from Singing

Back during my glory days of singing, I never fully appreciated the discipline it took to be a singer. Perhaps it was my youthful energy that drove me, but I like to think that I was good at it. Good, but not quite great. As a classical singer, you must work independently to become successful. There is no team, and discipline, or the lack of it shows in your command of your craft. As an opera singer, you learn to limit your social life in anticipation of upcoming performances, market yourself to get a few more paid gigs on the resume, and practice every day, because the field is saturated with good singers and you have to stand out.

Young singers learn early on to be organized. You have no manager, agent, or assistant taking care of you, you are all that and your instrument. Singers schedule lessons, rehearsals with pianists, research Young Artist Programs (YAPs), and church jobs, and learn the most commonly sung arias in opera or oratorio, just in case someone falls ill and you have to replace her at the last minute. What about all of the research that goes into the singing? Who wrote the piece and when? Who was the first singer to sing the role and what was her voice part? What's the vocal range for your part? Does it sit in your passagio (that part of your voice that breaks whether or not you can help it)?

Many American singers do not speak French, Latin, German, or Italian, and yet we sing in those languages, every day. Our enunciation is so precise that our general audiences are impressed. Singers learn the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) which allows us to fake our way through Carmen or Die Zauberflöte. The process is painstaking - one must transcribe each word, then memorize and commit their meaning to memory so that the right emotion can be conveyed while on stage. By the way, this is why classical singers enunciate every word when speaking. It can't be helped after years of training.

I knew that a full time career in singing wasn't for me once I discovered that I only wanted to sing songs that I liked, rather than songs or arias that would get me hired. I simply wasn't passionate about it, not like I am about teaching. Over the decade or so that I spent learning my craft, I also learned skills that have served me well in education. Organizational, research, independent thinking, innovative skills (I once formed my own caroling company!), and finally, discipline, are serving me well in my second profession. I may have discovered my passion by chance, but I am very glad of the path that I took to get here.