Saturday, July 07, 2007

How I Became an Opera Singer

I was a lonely little girl.

My parents were unhappy and finally divorced when I was four years old. I had four siblings, all older then me by more than eight years. I had a very special imaginary friend and when I was most sad or lonely, he told me to sing.

And so I sang. Mostly made-up songs that were like little prayers; but they comforted me and I found happiness in them.

When I was about eight years old I read that the producers of Annie were coming to Toronto, Ontario, Canada; they were looking for the "new" Annie. I lived in Bramalea which would take (I can't remember now for sure) more than an hour to get there. I asked my Mom if she would take me for the auditions, but she did not support it. Toronto was too far away, I wasn't talented enough, don't even think about it.

But I practiced anyway. I borrowed the album from the library and listened and listened to it on our big ol' credenza stereo (remember those?). I had to play the songs over a lot to figure out the words. I begged my sister, who had just gotten her license a few months before to take me. My sister, bless her, agreed. My sister is a bit of a Nervous Nelly and to drive into downtown Toronto traffic was a BIG undertaking. I still can't believe she did it for me.

We found the place and my sister waited and/or parked the car (again, can't remember what she was doing) while I went inside to find Orphan Annies wall to wall. I was the only one in the place who did not have my hair done up in red ringlets. I was not even wearing a dress. I had dressed nicely, but I don't believe I owned a dress at that time in my life. And unlike the other girls, who had mother's primping them and fussing over them and running lines with them, I sat there alone.

When my name was called I went in and was kindly greeted by the panel of judges. They asked for my resume and headshot, of which I had neither. They told me it was customary to bring such things, but they would hear me anyway. They asked me what I was prepared to read, and at the time I had no idea what they meant. I now know they meant which part from the musical was I prepared to recite for them ... a monologue or something like that. I was prepared to sing, though, so they listened with happy looks on their faces.

In my grown up life I've known many producers and directors and they rarely listen to auditions with happy looks on their faces. Knowing just how badly I messed up that audition (oh, I think I sang well enough, but I was totally unprofessional and unprepared) I'm so grateful for the kindness they showed me in even listening to me. When I was finished they again kindly told me I was a talented little girl but that I needed more experience and an agent so they couldn't use me for this production. They didn't give me the part, but they did give me hope for my future and courage to keep at it.

Similar scenes repeated themselves in the following years, with my Mom in various stages of cooperation, but all with similar conclusions as I was unprofessional.

Finally I auditioned for something that only required a good voice: The London Fanshawe Symphonic Chorus. Mr. Fagan changed my life and set me on a path that would bless me forever. He listened to me, taught me and told me if I worked hard, I could join the chorus. I had no idea at the time that the chorus only consisted of adults and very talented and experienced ones at that. I was fourteen years old, the youngest singer ever to be admitted into the Chorus.

I sang with the Chorus for five years and during that time, also performed with The Ontario Youth Band and Singers, a prestigious group of a handful of talented young performers from across the province, for a few years.

I went to Acadia University in Nova Scotia, Canada, where I auditioned for their music school. Even though I failed to pass the theory exam (because I had never had any formal training) I was able to prove that my intuitive understanding of music was excellent and I had a real talent. I got in.

I studied music for a couple years and life was happy. But I had such pain in my face, particularly in my jaw that I eventually sought the help of an orthodontist. It turned out that a fall on my first birthday had dislocated my jaw. My jaw was never reset and so the jaw actually sat outside of the joint. That doctor told me I had to stop singing or I wouldn't even talk within five years.

I ignored him.

Not long after that my voice teacher told me I should consider another area of study because I obviously had no talent and shouldn't be singing.

I believed her.

This is getting very long so I'll try to fast forward:

My husband and I had moved to Boise, Idaho where I happened to pass the Arts building on my way to work every day. One day there was an open call for chorus members. I had missed music in my life so very much. It had been more than five years and I was still able to speak, so I decided "come what may" but I needed to sing. I auditioned and was accepted.

Through the chorus I learned there was a special vocal coach accepting a few new students. Her name was DeNice Jensen. She listened to me sing before deciding if she would teach me. I was terrified, hearing the words of my earlier voice teacher telling me I was no good, ringing in my ears. But Ms. Jensen told me I had something to work with.

I worked with Ms. Jensen for seven years and by the time I had to move and leave her, I was singing for Opera Idaho, having performed such principle roles as Baby in The Ballad of Baby Doe , and the Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute.

This girl, who two strangers only believed in, Mr. Fagan and Ms. Jensen, who did not have the support or encouragement of her family, did not have very much formal training, and who was told by someone 'in the know' that she had no talent, sang to such rave reviews as:

"Stunning and heart-warming ... "
"Though I've heard this aria many times, I've never been moved like I was tonight ..."
"Truly flawless; coluratura at it's best."
"A Star."

I wanted to be a singer, a performer, but many obstacles stood in my way. No one made it easy for me. And though my career was short-lived, due to the birth of my twins and a desire to be home with my family, I got what I wanted, for a time. You can imagine what my life-philosophy might be since it's served me so well: Risk can bring you what you fear, but there's such a good chance it can bring you what you desire. Take risks so you can live your life without regrets. That's what I do!