“Identity” Is Just a Word

Yesterday, it occurred to me that despite myself, I was enjoying the challenge of planning some exciting lessons for my show choir. The reason I say, “despite myself,” is because frankly, I don’t like show choir music that much. I’ve never been a fan of Broadway as a performer, and pop music is too repetitive for my taste. Not to mention, my students, while enthusiastic, want to be just like Glee after only a couple rehearsals; they don’t realize that singing and choreographing just one song takes many rehearsals! However, I offered this after-school class because the kids wanted it, nay, demanded it. As a music teacher and musician, can I deny this in good conscience?

Then, I began thinking, does “becoming” something new (i.e., an opera singer) demand that we shed our old skin (i.e., music teacher)? There are many reasons why the answer is, “yes” for me–time, energy, focus, germs from kids (seriously), speaking too much, etc.–and plenty of people have told me to do so. On the other hand, does “being” something exclude “being” something else? Is identity singular?

I finally acknowledged that I’m a good music teacher, and I have an obligation to share that knowledge and skill with others. Perhaps that sounds weird, but I’m a perfectionist and have a hard time admitting that anything I do is good enough.  Well, I’m done with that. I’m a good teacher and a skilled musician. If I’m going to leave a legacy in the world, aside from my own children of course, then it will be what I can share of myself.

What are your gifts that you can–must– share?


Got My Mojo Risin’

Good evening, boys and girls. It’s been awhile!

So, nearly two weeks ago, I came home after band rehearsal with a little twinge in the throat and a headache thinking, “Geez, not another cold!” I quickly went from a sniffle to nearly crawling from bed and onto losing my voice entirely. Wow. You just don’t appreciate your health enough until you don’t have it.

A friend of mine, who’s also a singer, said, “Are you the kind of person who just pushes through?” I thought it a strange thing to say, but suddenly realized I knew exactly what he meant. Ego, it’ll get you every time. What he meant was that while I might think that being Super Woman is a requirement for the job of career woman, wife, mom, and aspiring opera singer (in no particular order) and stopping to take care of myself is a guilty pleasure, it’s actually hubris to think that I can do this or be this in the first place. Virus or no, I think my body just said, “Listen. I’m tired, and you’re not paying attention to me. So, I’m taking a break, whether you like it or not!” The fact that I truly lost my voice and couldn’t even speak, let alone sing, made the point hit home.

With an entire week of not rehearsing and canceling two concert performances, I was very depressed. At one point, I actually talked myself into thinking that performing was too hard, too time-consuming, too much stress, too whatever, and that I’d be totally happy to focus entirely on teaching for the rest of my life. I mean, how in the world can I be careful about viruses with two preschoolers running around and teaching kids every day?! Not to mention, I’m competing against other singers who know the daily humidity level and the reason people freak out about brain-eating amoebas in sinus flushes…I’m not exaggerating.

But, today I sang. And I didn’t sing just anything. I sang glorious music by Donizetti…bellissima musica! It was heaven. Even when sounding like a foghorn and getting raised eyebrows from the tenor, it was bliss. Think my mojo’s on the upswing now.

Will the Show Go On?

This week has been just awful. After falling sick last Thursday evening with a bad head cold, I’m still not well, and my two kids have come down with it to boot, albeit in lesser degrees, thank goodness.  I have a major concert tomorrow that’s been planned for months, and I can barely phonate.

I tried to rest as much as possible this week, but still had to go to several rehearsals, teach, and be mom…as you do.  So, the question now is, will the show go on? I am heartily disappointed at the possibility of The Three Sopranos being the Two Sopranos or rescheduling a major concert (assuming the venue will still have us). However, the hard lesson this week is acceptance of what is. Sometimes, no matter your will, there simply isn’t a way, and you just have to live with it. I don’t like this lesson because I’m very stubborn. I suppose that’s why I end up learning it again and again. Stay tuned for the conclusion of…Will the Show Go On?

Does Weakness Make Us Stronger?

Some of you avid readers might have noticed that I haven’t blogged for the last couple days.  As it turns out, I had a great day on Thursday, working through some kinks in a lesson, teaching a few classes, and landing the role of Lucia in Lucia di Lammermoor for my opera scenes class.  Yay!

That evening, though, I went to band rehearsal and began to feel crummy through the evening.  (Did I mention that I play trumpet in a community concert band for enjoyment?)  At any rate, Friday morning I was feeling lousy–headache, body aches, sore throat, stuffy head and nose, and my voice was sounding froggy.  Saturday came, and I had a final rehearsal for a concert I was invited to perform for on Sunday.  I still sounded froggy, and now my head was in the clouds from taking cold medicine.  Today (concert day) arrived, and after not sleeping well for three nights due to a nagging sinus headache and a lack of oxygen (i.e., my nose was stuffy), I was exhausted.  How in the world was I going to perform three demanding arias back-to-back when I was getting winded walking up the staircase in our house?!

I sent frantic texts to my voice teacher, accompanist, coach, and mom, wondering what I should do.  I have never canceled a performance in my life–not as a performer and not as a teacher.  In fact, last year, I stayed up all night retching from stomach flu, but still made it to an 8am performance my students had for our annual school fundraiser breakfast.  I rarely miss any obligation I commit to, unless it’s because my children are sick.  It feels weak, and I don’t like being weak.

However, everyone I spoke with said it was better to cancel the performance and get some rest, especially since this week is going to be very busy with last rehearsals for a big concert on Friday.  I was disappointed because some of the musicians today were part of the AZ Opera orchestra, and it would have been great to connect with them.  On the other hand, it would have been awful if I wasn’t at my best in front of them.  So, in the end, I canceled.

My husband reminded me that although most people can slog through jobs when sick, singers are sort of like athletes.  If your body isn’t working at its best, you simply can’t do your job.  Your instrument is your body.  So, I guess it’s time to really pay attention to my body.  I’ve been sort of skirting the issue for the last year–working too much, not eating well, not exercising enough, etc.  *sigh*

My  mom reminded me that sometimes being weak forces us to pay attention and teaches us to be strong in other ways.  She should know; she’s certainly had her share of struggles in life.  I guess today’s canceled concert is a lesson in acceptance of a situation out of my control, forgiveness of myself for being human, and patience to analyze what might be out of alignment in life priorities.

I want to succeed at what I’m doing, but pushing myself will only cause stress fractures.  It’s important to pay attention on the journey.

Failure Is a State of Mind

Well, I just received word that I didn’t make the study cover program for AZ Opera for this season.  I’m disappointed, to be sure, but I just read my blog post from yesterday which stated I would not feel less about myself if I didn’t make the cut.  Hmm…sort of feeling unworthy right now, but did I expect to simply have everything magically work?  I guess not, but it sure would be nice.

Funny, when I was running down the whole scenario (i.e., lamenting) to my husband this evening, I said, “Just when things were going so well!”  He replied, “Things ARE going so well.  This is just a little bump in the road that you didn’t even have planned.  You just auditioned for a major regional opera company on 30-minutes notice!”

I guess that’s true.  At this point a year ago, I had just finished the second recital of my life, the first being about something-something years ago, in which I forgot all the German text and literally German scatted through the whole thing.  This month, I have three concerts–one as an invited guest and two paying full concerts–that’s pretty good.

Tomorrow, I have a voice lesson and my opera scenes class, so the the world really does keep turning.  I now have to decide if I’m going to make the most of these experiences or cave into self pity and insecurity.  I choose not to fail!

You Are What You Think

I have come to the conclusion that mind over matter really works.  I’m sure you’ve all witnessed this yourself or heard stories of such things–cancer patient cured from sheer will to live, backpacker extraordinaire reaches the top of Mount Everest, 80-year-old grandmother finishes college–and of course, it doesn’t have to be one event or moment in time.  How do people like Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Gandhi, make their entire lives an amazing testament to their attitudes, their commitments, their values?  It is a belief in yourself.

I was reading an article in a yoga journal recently explaining a person’s belief in himself or herself was one of the most potent (and difficult to realize) powers in life.  It’s quite simple, really, to say that you believe in your own ability or skill or knowledge or whatever, but it’s quite another thing to feel that viscerally without question.  You can’t lie to yourself.

So, this week, I decided to stop being insecure, at least about singing and my ability to turn this passion into something exciting.  Funny, how it sounds so easy.  But, seriously, I have tried very hard not to berate myself for mistakes (which I make constantly) and assume that I will sing beautifully.  I have told myself that mistakes are part of life, and perfection is imaginary, kind of like those numbers I still don’t understand.  Thus, my new persona is that of successful opera singer–if I dream it, I will become it!

It’s only Tuesday, and I’ve already had several comments asking me if I had changed something about my appearance, like my hair, and another concert invitation to cover a missing performer for a chamber concert on Sunday.  Wow!

I still haven’t heard back from my AZ Opera audition, but no matter the results, I will not think less of myself.  I auditioned well, I think, and more opportunities will come.  I’m certain of it!  Carpe diem!

Do You Mean to Tell Me that I Can Get Paid to Do This?

Raise your hand if you hate tax season.  Ok, it’s unanimous.  I, too, dread the entire quagmire of receipts, deductions, expenses, blah, blah, blah, blah.  Essentially, I’ve never had any money to be much concerned about past your basic EZ tax form, and my husband and I had just one job each.  Not to mention, my eyes glaze over and I get heartburn just hearing about all the “schedules.” Let’s see, I get a pat on the back for not taking student loan money to pay for courses and paying in cash, but alas, I earn too much money to receive any credit for paying for the classes myself.  Huh?  Oh, and we appreciate the fact that teachers often pay for classroom supplies, but you can’t deduct more than $250 on your taxes.  Ummm…my first year teaching, when I made the very least salary ever, I spent nearly $1,500 on books and supplies for the classroom.

Anyway, in the last few years, things have become very complicated because our income derives from various places (mostly due to my husband’s work).  Thus, I was on the phone, yet again, trying to understand why we were paying more federal taxes when we thought we’d already paid plenty of estimated taxes ahead for 2011 and scheduling a meeting to sign more forms when the conversation turned to the income I was getting for performing.  I stopped.  Wait a minute.  That’s right, I did get paid for performing this year, and I have two paying concerts coming up!  When did that happen?

Truth be told, I’d probably perform for free for the rest of my life for the sheer enjoyment of making music.  However, there is a niggling sense in the back of my brain that if I don’t get paid for this work, it’s not valuable.  Is this a righteous attitude?  In the end, does it really make any difference?  This dilemma is one that I faced when becoming a wife and mother–how does one place value on work that is not recognized by society as valuable in a monetary sense?  We all know that child rearing and housekeeping are incredibly important jobs.  Otherwise, how would anyone manage?  However, if you don’t get a paycheck for what you do, is the work less esteemed?  You betcha.  Is it valued in other ways?  Certainly.  Does it matter?  I guess that depends on your own attitude and whether or not you want to get tied up into gender studies, class studies, race studies, you-fill-in-the-blank studies, etc.

I guess the long-winded point I’m trying to make is that it’s super-cool, as my kids would say, that I’m getting paid for doing what I really love.  However, it’s a far cry from being able to support myself or anyone else for that matter.  (Performers certainly can make a good living, but most of them hustle–teaching, performing, studio work–and may even add a non-performing job into the mix, like waiting tables.)  Nonetheless, I’m trying to view work as productive and purposeful, rather than simply profit-bearing, and value it accordingly.  It’s definitely a hard switch to think in these terms for me, but I’m going to try.  All you unpaid domestic laborers out there, get on board!  My work is my work; it is no more or less valuable a contribution to society or my life if I’m paid more or less than the guy or gal next door.  But, here’s hoping that we fall on the “more” side now and again…