Recently I was sitting in the Cafe at the American Club drinking a “Lemon Love” (frozen lemonade) and a table full of little girls was staring at me, hard. I thought it must be my forehead (long story-basically it looks like I ran into a wall or attempted to give myself a Harry Potter-esque tattoo and failed miserably). But as they were leaving their Dad said “they know you are an Opera Singer – you’re famous!” It was pretty sweet. I taught a group voice class in June which seemed successful, I know at least one little girl very eager for me to start again. I think I will – even though I don’t think I’m a very good teacher. I try.
I’ve been meaning to write a blog about singing for a while now. These last two years (ish) definitely represent the least amount of singing I’ve ever done, although I do sing for outreach trips, events at the embassy, and the national anthem – that sort of thing. The girls in my voice class obviously heard me sing a lot, and I enjoyed teaching it both because they were so sweet and eager to learn and because it gave me a reason to sing more. Anyways, here are some conclusions I have come to over the past months:
1. I really miss my voice lessons. I’ll be honest, sometimes going to voice once a week wasn’t something I loved. Well….I always enjoyed it once I got there, and when I left I felt better, but on the way there I sometimes thought “ugh look at all the traffic, I have so much to do, I’d really rather be resting….” but I never, ever felt that way afterwards. It always felt so good to sing and learn and talk with Mr. Stoudenmire. Reserving time in my week for something I love – for me time – I really miss that. The next time I live in a place where lessons are available, I am definitely taking them. (Probably Warsaw.) And even as I realized that a professional career was not going to happen for me, I was still learning and improving myself and participating in shows and operas around town. Which brings me to point number two….
2. I miss shows. There is so much wonderful theater in Charleston. Yes, there were times that I took things too personally (Charleston Stage why will you never cast me) and that was childish of me. Just having the opportunity to audition for shows (ugh which I do not miss) even if I didn’t make it, someone did, and I see now that being able to have a thriving theater community means that so many other needs of your community are already met. Here in Nepal, they do have a couple of theaters, but it’s hard to get people to donate or spend money on a ticket or participate when there are much bigger community problems – terrible air pollution, poor roads, not enough jobs, hunger and poverty. Instead of seeing theater as this awesome/fun thing that talented, cool people get to do, I am seeing it as something totally different – it’s hard to describe, but I hope that one day I am back in Charleston or DC (or Warsaw or Berlin) where I get to participate and observe and support the arts. I will not take it for granted.
I sometimes think if Opera Charleston had worked out, and had done four operas a year where I could have been in the chorus, maybe small parts, I probably wouldn’t have taken this job. I liked working at the financial service center, I would have moved up eventually and made a little more money, and I would have kept taking voice lessons and gotten to sing all the time. It would have been lovely, but it just didn’t happen that way, and that’s actually a good thing because it brings me to point #3……
3. I was a snob. I didn’t know it or think I was, but I seriously was. The best thing I could have done was exactly what I did – join the foreign service and gone out into the world. This seems like a big statement, so let me try to explain. The thought starting becoming clear to me a few months ago when I bought myself an awesome Kate Spade wallet (on sale). I hadn’t gotten a new wallet in years and it’s so fun to get mail here. Anyways, I’m opening the box and it’s so nicely packaged and wrapped, and I get to the wallet and it’s so awesome (pink cheetah print what!) and I think “this is the sort of wallet an opera singer should have.” That’s a weird thought to have, right? So I started thinking about all the things I thought I an opera singer would have – an apartment in Manhattan. Drinks at the Rainbow Room. An entire Kate Spade wardrobe. All this, of course, on top of a “job” where you get paid to sing. And I realized – guiltily – that at some point in my life I wanted all that stuff just as much as I wanted to get paid to sing, if not more. Hmmmm. I thought. I am really a snob. Or, at least I was. Without meaning to be, not that that’s a great excuse.
Now that I’ve lived in Nepal for a while, I still that getting paid to do what you love is a great goal….but for most of the world, it’s more of a far off fairy-tale dream. Many people would be happy to have a steady job that pays the most basic and necessary of bills. Most of the world wouldn’t even dream of an apartment in Manhattan and a Kate Spade wardrobe, much less think that they deserved those things. It is good that I have learned this. Seen a new perspective. Otherwise, I might be in Charleston, not fully appreciating the arts community there, and secretly resenting the fact that I didn’t have more roles, more recognition, a better apartment. What a waste that would have been. Besides, no one “kept me” from being an opera singer but me. It got down to the tough part and I folded, I just completely broke down. I don’t have the spirit to be told “no” over and over and still be myself. I got scared to try, I started performing very poorly, and I questioned myself over and over. Nothing makes me miss that, or want to go back to that place.
I feel confident that I made the right decision – my new dream career is White House Chief of Staff, by the way – being a diplomat who sings and has a fan club of second graders is the best. Seriously. I love it. I can sing anytime, anywhere in the world, but it turns out I can only sing joyfully and truthfully if I’m not trying to make it my job. I’m not trying to advise anyone or tell anyone what the right choice for them is – I have tons of friends still fighting the fight to be a professional and I am SO PROUD of what they are doing. But the next person who asks me how I feel about “not being an opera singer” is going to get a strong eye roll. There are people here in Nepal who have never heard opera before and never will again, but the one time they did I sang it for them – that is special to me.