I fell in love with music at an early age, pounding on the beater piano my parents hauled from a generous neighbor. While neither of my parents were schooled in music – and my father in fact could not carry a tune in a bucket – music was a cornerstone of my upbringing. I started piano lessons at three, largely because I was into everything that I shouldn’t, and my mother needed that slender thirty-minute break each week. The record player cycled through Pavarotti as often as Joni Mitchell, Foreigner, and Sons of the Pioneers.
In the tumultuous world of middle and high school, hormones and attempts to “fit in,” music and performing afforded me a clique of like-minded friends and the opportunity for public attention of a (mostly) positive sort. By the time I was a high school senior I had performed solos at a host of school concerts, performed in plays, musicals and on the football field at half-time, sang in several choral festivals.
As college application deadlines approached, the question du jour from teachers, counselors, my parents and their friends became “what to you want to be?” I was a pretty good writer, a voracious reader, and my mom had been an English teacher. (my English teacher, actually. Again, that’s a story for another time.) I thought that maybe I’d be an English Major…spending all day reading and writing sounded like a pretty good gig, and maybe I could get out of taking statistics or organic chemistry or another of those classes that my older, collegiate friends were always bitching about. I did, on a whim, put in an application for a private university that had a good music program. I took three months of voice lessons from my best friend’s teacher, and took the audition, singing “Have You Seen But a Whyte Lily Grow” (an English Art Song) and “Tu lo sai” from the old chestnut Twenty-Four Italian Art Songs and Arias.
I walked out of the audition and knew. I had to become a singer. It was my destiny. It was what everything in my life had led up to until that very moment.
And in the next heartbeat: doubt. What if they didn’t take me? WHAT IF I DIDN’T MAKE IT IN???
Well, I made it in. And it started a 10-year on-again, off-again relationship with performing. After a teaching degree, a stint selling pianos, an ill-advised (but educational) year selling HVAC widgets, graduate school, and several years teaching, I started to doubt – seriously doubt – whether I really wanted to be a singer, or whether I wanted to be wanted.
At the end of my last grad school semester, I took a long, hard look at my life, my lifestyle, what I wanted, and what I could live without. I also looked at my young marriage… my husband had been accepted to a graduate program while I was in school,and with him working full time and attending an executive graduate program, the sporadic financial support provided by a freelance performing career simply wasn’t going to cut the mustard. I fell back on that teaching degree yet again (thanks for insisting, Mom and Dad!), and was offered a job mere hours after my first interview.
I had been in my new teaching position for about 16 months, when I got an email. A woman that I had worked with during my graduate school internship at the Wolf Trap Foundation was leaving her position.
My heart flipped. Could this be it?
I put an application in and prayed. They scheduled me for an interview. As we talked, I realized that this was what I really wanted to do: I was terrified – it wasn’t performing, but had everything to do with performing. Operas, orchestral music, chamber music…the excitement and demanding schedule of project-based work, with the stability of a salaried job. Nice people. Creative input. A widely-varying batch of responsibilities and opportunities.
It’s from that spot that I write to you today.
Looking back on my path, it seems full of convoluted turns: the sales jobs, the widgets, the teaching. I’m still in the industry for which I trained, but working in a very different capacity. (Heck, even the thought of performing gives me the sweats.) And I’m certainly not alone: in my small undergraduate class there are only a few people who are still singing professionally. It’s the stories of those folks who have found something fulfilling offstage, and the stories of people like them, that I’m interested in sharing. This is not a “how to have a singing career” site, but rather a collection of personal stories, about how people uncover the things that are important to them, and how that initial career focus is just a stepping stone to a rewarding career. Sometimes trying something new can seem impossible: the people on this site have not only done it, but are thriving.
So, whether you’re here for inspiration, consolation, or something in between, I hope you find a story that speaks to you.
-Lee Anne Myslewski