January 5, 2013

Choose your chair

The great tenor, Luciano Pavarotti, asked his father if he should study to be a singer or to be a teacher. 

‘Luciano,’ my father replied, ‘if you try to sit on two chairs, you will fall between them. For life, you must choose one chair.’ “I chose one. It took seven years of study and frustration before I made my first professional appearance. It took another seven to reach the Metropolitan Opera. And now I think whether it’s laying bricks, writing a book–whatever we choose–we should give ourselves to it. Commitment, that’s the key. Choose one chair.

You have to chose to be a singer, even in the face of opposition.  How well I remember singing for a highly regarded voice teacher in Philadelphia just before I went to graduate school. She suggested that I would make a better conductor than singer, and while there may have been some truth in her words, my daemon thought otherwise. I kept pursuing my goal of learning everything I could about the voice, eventually finding my way to Manhattan and its musical life, New York City Opera and the Metropolitan Opera, a wonderful training ground for my present life as a teacher of voice.

While I was in school, I met and sang for the doyenne of voice teachers, Margaret Harshaw, who pushed me forward. She quizzed me as to my career aspirations, and when I said that I wanted to teach singing, her eyebrows shot up, and then she looked at me quizzically with eyes narrowed and said: "You have to be able to sing really well to do that!" She thought I had a good voice, and then proceeded to show me how to use it, letting me ask lots of questions, which—I realized later—wasn't exactly her usual modus operandi. Was I special? No. But she respected curiosity and commitment. If you worked hard, she was right there with you. 

Choosing your chair means more than dabbling, more than kinda, sorta trying something out to see if you like it or not. I can tell within 15 seconds whether the person calling me for voice lessons has a passion for singing or not. How? I can hear it in the sound of their voice. What is the dead give-a-way? A hint of fear. We fear what we really want,  resistance building in direct proportion to our desire. Really good actors say that they won't take a role unless something about it scares them. I felt it myself when I met my teacher: excitement and fear mixed together. It means you are where you are meant to be.

Find your fear and choose your chair. Life will conspire to help you find your way. 

1 comment:

  1. Such an insightful post--about singing and about life in general.


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