Voice lessons are all about best use of the voice – catching overtones, tuning perfectly, collaborating with accompanists, singing powerful, gracefully, cleanly, and with control. Until this week I hadn’t had a voice lesson since before my surgery, and my lessons in the last year had mostly been taken in the shadow of the pain and dis-ease that followed me around. I was so excited to see my voice teacher and my accompanist, who together make up a team who give me great advice and support.
Yes, I was excited to see them, but as the hour approached to sing scales, exercises, and arias with them I recognized another emotion: nervousness. It’s not that I was nervous about singing. I have had a few performances and done a fair amount of cantoring since I was sick, and have been happy with how I sounded. But we don’t invest in voice lessons and education just to be happy with how we sound. There is a pursuit of perfection, or at least improvement, involved in studying anything. And hanging over our heads the whole time is the pressure to be hired to perform, a sign of the value of our gift.
I was nervous I wouldn’t be able to handle the suggestions my teacher would make. I was scared of my own discouragement. I was scared of that feeling to which most singers can relate: that I am not good enough, that no one will ever hire me again, that the competition is too severe and I should throw in the towel.
I should be wiser than this. I should have some brilliance about how we each have our own unique and glorious voice and that comparisons and competition are odious. I shouldn’t be jealous of the success of others. I shouldn’t imagine and resent that it is easier for others because they are prettier or wealthier or healthier.
But this is the real world, and I balance my knowledge of my innate musical gift with the realities of a marketplace into which most singers scratch their way. Lots of excellent singers don’t get hired.
With nothing particularly to work on at this lesson, I brought my Messiah score because its soprano solos have a little of everything to work on: long phrases, fast runs, extensive singing in the passaggio, cadenzas, differing moods, tempi and ranges.
I sounded just as good as I did before I was sick. I wanted that to be enough for me.
As we wrapped up, I shared my short term musical plans: keep auditioning for opera and musical theater, and try to be more aggressive than I was when I was sick so that I can have a full and productive season next year.
“Yes,” she said. “Next year you should sing a Messiah.”
As if it were the most natural thing in the world – and perhaps it is, to sing in front of people after years of training and preparation. As if any of this is easy, singing perfectly on a certain day and somehow distinguishing one’s self from 50 other sopranos. As if being hired for such a December gig would offer any relief from the nervousness and dissatisfaction that come with ambition, and that I am still struggling to conquer.
“Yes, I should,” I replied with a smile before walking out into the spring evening, still foolish and imperfect, still learning, still honest.