Metamorphosis

I grew up on a farm in Peculiar, Missouri. My maternal grandmother was a music teacher in the Kansas City school district for 35 years. My mother and father introduced me to all kinds of music in my childhood from a multitude of genres: country, pop, rhythm and blues, gospel, oldies, musical theater, and light classical music.

I was not exposed to opera and classical music until I was in my early teens when I started exploring the genre as a result of studying voice with a classical teacher in Kansas City. I fell head over heels with opera and devoured every recording and every book I could find on the subject. I set my intention at a young age that I wanted to become an opera singer. (I had already been performing professionally from the age of 10 when I toured around Missouri singing at different country opry houses. My young dream was to be a country music singing star). When the opera bug bit, I began self-directed studies in Italian and later took French in high school, double majoring in the language in college alongside music.

In college, I received my bachelor’s degree in Vocal Music Performance, and later received a Master’s degree in Opera. Throughout my education my love of opera was strong, and I was blessed enough to perform with several opera houses throughout the United States.

However, over time as I’ve begun to teach, it’s become apparent that more and more of my students have no interest in classical music or learning how to sing opera. As an independent teacher, rather than refuse to teach other musical styles, I dove headfirst into learning as much as I could about the demands of this music, and how it could be successfully sung with a healthy vocal approach.

I’ve accumulated a studio of singers that hail from all backgrounds and genres of music searching for help in singing more comfortably and healthily. Some are even recovering from vocal injury, as I experienced myself in my own vocal journey. While I do still have classical and opera students, their numbers are not comparable to those singing non-classical music. Because of my students, my own singing interests have decidedly changed. I no longer sing as much classical music as I used to, nor do I consider myself the hardcore operaphile that I once was all those years ago. Today, I find myself more drawn to other styles of music such as jazz, pop, and new composers of musical theater, both as a teacher and as a singer.

This has been a very difficult thing to reconcile because I’ve felt I was somehow betraying classical music or my past teachers, whom I continue to love dearly. I also felt I would be letting other people down if I didn’t carry the ‘classical voice’ flag, or at WORST, they would think that I somehow ‘sold out.’  It has taken me years to reconcile myself to these perceptions, sown in fear, and they have held me back from exploring other genres as a singer myself – potentially stifling my own vocal creativity, exploration, and progress. Why can’t a singing artist pursue more avenues of expression? 

Perhaps these discoveries come as one enters middle age, and one begins to slough off years of habitual behavior and thinking. It feels like a breakup of sorts, but I know that to grow is to evaluate one’s realities and accept what is truly happening and move toward new horizons and experiences.

In the end, singing (of any style) is about connection and shared humanity through music. That is true whether the genre is a grand opera or a small band in a smoky bar. I have learned to be less judgemental as a result of broadening my musical palate, and I have found that it has also made me a happier person. I have met wonderful human beings from all walks of musical life that have enriched my life immeasurably. I have friends in bands, opera halls, jazz clubs, and one just debuted on Broadway. I’m grateful for each of them and value them as unique musical artists.

As I move forward, a large part of my metamorphosis is giving myself permission to sing new songs – songs that are not classical – and I have learned that I MUST sing them for the happiness of my spirit.

As I continue I am anticipating that this blog, too, will slowly metamorphize as I move forward in my own musical and teaching endeavors. I’ve worked to lay out a historical exploration of the history of voice training within these blog pages, and I hope to continue those studies for pleasure on my own – but I do not wish to be seen only as ‘the history guy.’ That has become a kind of straitjacket that has gradually stifled me from personal growth and other more fruitful discussions.

In thinking about writing this particular blog post, it wasn’t until I heard the song below by the Mamas and the Papas that it solidified into a cohesive message  – every lyric rings true to my experience.

Finding our own song and singing it is a lonely journey – but we must sing iteven if no one else sings along.  

Nobody can tell ya;
There’s only one song worth singin’,
They may try and sell ya,
‘Cause it hangs them up to see someone like you.

But you’ve gotta make your own kind of music
Sing your own special song,
Make your own kind of music even if nobody else sings along.

You’re gonna be knowing
The loneliest kind of lonely,
It may be rough goin’,
Just to do your thing’s the hardest thing to do.

But you’ve gotta make your own kind of music
Sing your own special song,
Make your own kind of music even if nobody else sings along.

So if you cannot take my hand,
And if you must be goin’,
I will understand.

But you’ve gotta make your own kind of music
Sing your own special song,
Make your own kind of music even if nobody else sings along.

 

4 thoughts on “Metamorphosis

  1. Metamorphosis rang true in my own experience. I love all genres of music. My interests are also leaning toward jazz,pop ,gospel and musical theater. The opera bug bit for me at age 13.I,too have sang in other genres but in choral settings.My goal was to become an opera singer but life stepped in.Singing the National Anthem like Robert Merrill was a goal of mine that was fulfilled on a couple of occasions. Still in process of changes and your article gave me hope.Thanks.

  2. I wholeheartedly agree. I believe music is simply a language of personal expression, a very heightened one at that. One’s music is one’s own soul speaking, and regardless of style and genre, that’s all I think it is about.

  3. Entering middle age? I hardly think you are old enough to assert that! I’m 60—10 years past the “middle.” I’ve been retired from singing in opera (formally) since 2011. Do I miss it? No—even if I sometimes miss being onstage. As far as that goes, there has been a metamorphosis of my musical interests and was well a deepening of my musical journey through life as I’ve aged. But they aren’t the same thing. You can stay in one sandbox and dig deep. You can also see the relationships between sandboxes: there are as many options as there are people. I’d like to think there are no rules about playing except that we must play. Otherwise, why sing at all?

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