On Retraction & Depression, Muscular and Otherwise
Anyone Can Sing

The Lovers, the Dreamers, and Me

 

There’s a 3-year-old post by Allison Ford making the social media rounds this week titled, “I Gave Up My Dream, and I’d Do It Again.” Ford had aspired to an acting career, but after experiencing the reality of show business decided to change directions. She is now a successful and contented writer and editor. 

Her essential point is that while it’s vital to believe in your ability to realize your dreams, it’s also important to allow those dreams to evolve and to be honest with yourself should they begin to shift, because “blindly following a dream becomes less about pursuing a passion and more about just desperately trying to avoid failure.”

Over the course of your life, have you experienced a single, laser-like focus that has guided all your decisions and led you to the course you’re now on? I think that for most of us, dreams are moving targets with varying range. Take a moment to map out how yours have unfolded so far. Here is how I ended up where I am now:

  • When I was four years old, I was certain that I wanted to be a Broadway star. 
  • When my evil middle school chorus teacher repeatedly refused to even cast me in the ensemble of the annual musical, I took up the clarinet, discovered a love of classical music, and set my sights on an orchestral career. 
  • Shortly after graduating college, two things happened that caused me to change course again: 1) I was offered an orchestra position, but performing a concert with the ensemble made me question whether that was what I really wanted; and 2) an extended course of bodywork released chronic tensions that had been inhibiting my breathing and laryngeal function, freeing my voice and leading me to discover that I preferred singing to playing the clarinet after all. 
  • I decided to pursue an opera career, enrolled in an MM degree program, graduating three years later without having achieved anything resembling a professionally viable singing technique despite countless hours of dedicated practice. 
  • I enrolled in a doctoral program focusing on pedagogy in order to begin devising an effective and more expedient means to help myself and all singers develop a professionally viable singing technique. It remains my dream to offer excellent vocal instruction and improve our shared understanding of technique. 

My dream remains helping singers realize their dreams. But as dreams are moving targets, this is a complicated proposition. 

First of all, the dream of artistic mastery and the dream of professional success are distinct. Allison Ford never says that anything happened to dampen her enthusiasm for the actual craft of acting – she left the theatre because she found that there were aspects of the business and career that were not to her liking. Ask yourself: To what extent is it your dream to master singing for its own sake? Is your commitment to mastery contingent on your dream of earning your living as a performer? Building an international opera career? Superstardom? None of these dreams is inherently superior to the others, but everyone has their own reasons for doing this and you need clarity about what motivates you. You also need to be able to draw a distinction between your subjective artistic goals and the objective demands of the business, or the rejection and validation you experience professionally will alternately crush your soul and distort your ego. 

Second, whether your dream is artistic mastery, professional success, or a combination of the two, you will find your commitment to your dream continually tested. I can guarantee that obstacles will arise that will challenge you emotionally, physically, artistically and/or financially along the way. 

Where your artistic dreams are concerned, opera singing demands so diverse a combination of skills that no one singer is naturally good at them all. Some of what you have to get good at will not come easily to you and will push you outside your comfort zone. Whether it’s a component of technique, emotional vulnerability, foreign language diction, or dramatic interpretation, confronting a deficiency in your skill set can be upsetting enough to make you go into denial about it or try to do an end run around it. Either will put progress towards your dream on hold, and eventually you will have to see whether your dream is strong enough to get you to rise to these challenges. Maybe it isn’t. Maybe there is another dream that you will find more compelling, one that will sustain you when you are pushed outside your comfort zone. 

Career dreams are also guaranteed to push you outside your comfort zone. Being good at singing is not the same as being good at auditioning – I know very few singers who genuinely love singing arias out of context in a room with unpredictable acoustics for a poker-faced panel. Show business is a numbers game, so you’re going to experience some unspecified number of rejections for every gig you land. Opera is a highly collaborative enterprise, so your artistic vision will be molded by those of the director and conductor, at times in ways that are highly rewarding and at other times not so much. There is the uncertainty of life as a self-employed, freelance artist. There is the instability of living out of a suitcase and finding yourself in a different city every 6 to 8 weeks, at times one where you don’t speak the language well. There is the constant necessity of networking with new colleagues and socializing with opera patrons, which is easier and more enjoyable for some than it is for others. Again, anything you truly find worth doing will sustain you when challenges like these arise. If your dream of an opera career falters in the face of these challenges, it may be that another, more compelling dream awaits you. 

I wish that Ford had not expressed this process in terms of “giving up” on her dream. I understand why she put it that way, but that isn’t really what she did. She was self-aware enough to see that what she was doing was not as fulfilling as she had hoped it would be and found the courage to explore other, more gratifying options. 

A change of direction is not a personal failing. I didn’t give up my dream of performing musical theatre – I took up the clarinet. I didn’t give up the clarinet, I took up classical singing. And I certainly have not given up classical singing but rather have chosen to pursue teaching as my profession. Which, let me tell you, has created the same level of daunting challenges and road blocks that I would not have been motivated to overcome as a professional singer, but which I will never allow to deter me as a teacher! 

It’s the stronger dream. It’s the right dream for me. But I can only really say that with confidence because I’ve been on this path long enough to feel pretty sure I’m going to stick with it. 

I had noticed that Allison Ford’s piece was getting a lot of play but only finally sat down to read it after a student brought it up in her lesson yesterday. She was deeply concerned: “The only dream I have ever had is to be a singer! What will I ever do if this ends up being my story as well?!” I can’t presume to know where her dream will lead her, but I can observe that so far, she has triumphed over every challenge she has confronted to date (many of which might have proved prohibitively discouraging to someone less determined) and seems to revel in those aspects of the business that others find most distasteful, so I believe she’s on the right course. 

You can never really know where your dreams will lead or whether you’re on the right course. It may be that the only way to know whether you’re on the right course is to see how you respond when everything conspires to knock you off it. Keep an open mind, and seek the path that both satisfies you and offers you challenges that you are eager to meet. 

 

Kermit

 

Rainbow Connection

Why are there so many songs about rainbows
And what's on the other side?
Rainbows are visions,
but only illusions
and rainbows have nothing to hide.

So we've been told,
and some choose to believe it –
I know they're wrong, wait and see;
Some day we'll find it,
the rainbow connection,
the lovers, the dreamers, and me.

Who said that every wish
would be heard and answered
when wished on the morning star?
Somebody thought of that,
and someone believed it
and look what it's done so far…

What's so amazing
that keeps us stargazing
and what do we think we might see?
Some day we'll find it,
the rainbow connection,
the lovers, the dreamers, and me.

All of us under its spell, we know that it's probably magic…

Have you been half asleep?
And have you heard voices?
I've heard them calling my name.
Is this the sweet sound
that called the young sailors?
The voice might be one in the same.

I've heard it too many times to ignore it,
it's something that I'm supposed to be.
Some day we'll find it,
the rainbow connection,
the lovers, the dreamers, and me.

 

 

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