June 24, 2015

Made to Sing

After high school, I decided what I wanted to do most was perfect my craft and sing classically - specifically opera.  This decision came after an unforgettable experience singing with the All Region Choir my senior year of high school.  Our choral director was the most musically-passionate man I had ever met, and still to this day, have not forgotten.  His name was Charles Bruffy.  He had curly hair and dreamy blue eyes and he was incredibly charming.  His passion and zeal for music and instructing us invited me to more.

Before our big performance that night, he told us this lovely story about his gold cuff-link,s of all things, that had "1-2-3" imprinted on them.  How someone he knew invited him to take a risk and how all you can do in life is to say 1-2-3 and jump out into the unknown.  I remember how he asked us to be curious about our call to music. How we were all there because of our talent and hard work and maybe a life spent in music was something worth risking.  As we took the stage and our choir prepared to sing the first movement of the Chichester Psalms, he raised up his baton and quietly whispered "1-2-3" to us.  I nearly melted in the awe of that moment.  I can still remember the chills I had, and the power that music moving through my entire body gave me.  How I teared up at the end of this triumphant song (also, sung in Hebrew) by one of my favorite composers, Leonard Bernstein.  That very night, the conductor, that piece of music, those silly cuff-links - all of it planted a desire in my heart to pursue a career in singing.

At the time, I knew that I knew, I was meant to sing.

With my music major decided on, I ended up at a small university where I made several friends who shared the same dreams and aspirations as me.  We were both friends and competitors, but all of our comparison and training and performing in front of one another at various voice recitals only motivated us to do better.  I was one of the best freshman vocals that came to the university that year, and told so by my choir director.  And though it was a small school, I was oozing with a kind of confidence I never had before.

I remember that feeling of being 18 and feeling like I could really go somewhere or be somebody.  My whole life was right in front of me, the world was at my fingertips - and all those other cliche things you say when you are young and on your own and could literally pick one of a thousand different directions and they would all be the right one.

My story took a different turn though after my third semester into studying music.  I was in love, consumed by it even.  It felt so good to be loved and wanted to by a guy - the first ever who really showed any interest in me.  He made me feel beautiful and sexy and significant and valuable - all of those things that any young woman wants to feel.  And being so distracted with my boyfriend whom I was convinced I would spend the rest of my life with, I slowly gave up going to classes.  It felt better to stay in bed and be held and kissed and adored.  All of those feelings took over any kind of logic I possessed, which was probably not much to begin with if I'm honest, and completely disappeared.

If there was anything I wanted more than to sing, it was to be loved.

On top of that, I found myself reeling from a very disappointing vocal competition where the judges ripped me apart - especially on my diction and pronunciation.  I couldn't sing German to save my life - something rather important if you are studying to make a career in vocal performance.  Others, who I had deemed lesser than me, did better than I did at the same competition and I was left feeling humiliated.

But even had I kept going on to study music, life took a different turn for me.  My boyfriend was murdered at the end of the year and it undid me.  Part of my soul felt like it had died and my world that was once so full of possibility and bright futures vanished.

By January of 2001, I was working at Sonic as a carhop and "fountain engineer," which only meant I could make a mean banana split and deliver it to your car.  I was living at home with my parents, had no car, no community, a pile of debt from school and credit cards and shattered dreams.

All of that feels like a lifetime ago.  Yet, when I remember that season of my life, when loneliness reigned supreme and I had nothing to do but sit in my disappointments and failures and heartbreak, those memories feel very tangible and close.

Before I turned 21, a small business owner took a chance on me and my lack of any office experience, and hired me as his secretary.  I taught myself how to keep books and several accounting principals and from there I have built the career I have today where I make a fairly decent living.  Also, let's use the word career loosely, shall we?  However, bookkeeping is far from where I ever thought I would end up.  It wasn't in my plan, it wasn't a dream.  It's far from singing opera and all things musical or even creative.  And as an adult, it has been hard for me to dream beyond the familiar borders of where life has me now.

The last few years, I have seen my opera-singing friends travel the world and fulfill their musical dreams thanks to Facebook.  Those who I went to school with and who literally made music their life are in my face on a pretty regular basis.  I am reminded often of my past and my old dreams and how small my life feels sometimes.  I have one friend specifically who travels the world singing with various opera companies.  This summer she is in England and Italy, and when she's not traveling the globe, she directs an up and coming opera opera company in Tennessee.  Those are the moments it's hard not to feel jealous or wonder "what-if" about my own life and choices.

All of this invites me to think that perhaps I wasn't meant to sing like I thought I was.

Just last night, I was peeling potatoes and preparing dinner while my boys played in the living room for a few quiet and conflict-free moments.  Todd was on his way home from work and we had plans to attend a new small group.  As I was putting dirty dishes in the sink, I was overwhelmed with gratitude.  I lead a relatively small life where I am a part-time bookkeeper and I cook dinner for my family and we live in a humble cracker-box house in the suburbs.  I am a mother of two and a wife to one wonderful and handsome man.  Family is nearby and we have all we need or could ever ask for.  I am blessed beyond measure and have more than I could ever begin to deserve.

And I am loved.  Deeply, truly loved.

I felt thankful and content.  Happy even.  I hummed and sang as I worked, like I often do.  I am still singing.  But, it's a much different song.

Every so often, you might catch me walking around my house singing an old aria or taking an everyday tune in my best out of practice operatic voice and busting it out at the top of my lungs.  And my only audience is my children who think I am silly and make hilarious attempts at imitating me.  But a singer isn't defined by her audience or how many opera houses she has sung in or how many degrees she has in vocal performance.  She is a singer because she sings.

My story turned out differently than my 18 year old self imagined that it would.  Some days I am overwhelmed with gratitude.  Sometimes I travel down the what-if road even though I know I shouldn't.  But one that remains true and always will be.

I was most definitely made to sing.

1 comment: