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I suppose this is where I tell my life story and why I’m blogging. I’m writing this a month after starting this blog, having published a new post about 5 times a week. It seems like it’s sticking.

Nuts and Bolts

I’m a Korean adoptee who came to the U.S. when I was 8 months old. I grew up in a middle class household with Caucasian parents and a Korean brother (also adopted, but not related by blood) in central Maryland, where I went to good public schools. I attended a small, liberal arts college, where earned my B.A. in music and minored in computer science. I met my husband the first year I lived away from home. We have been married for 5 years. Before moving to New York last September, we took a two-year detour in Baltimore, during which time I attended Peabody Conservatory and earned my Graduate Performance Diploma in voice. We currently run a small business in northern Manhattan.

The Trauma

Peabody is the source of so much of my voice-related angst. I had a really bad experience at the end of my program, and it turned me off of singing. I planned an ambitious recital program including the Bach Cantata 51 for soprano and trumpet, for which I managed to get 7 other students to perform with me. My pre-recital jitters were unusually strong. I didn’t get a good night’s sleep for a week before the performance. Additionally, my back started to seize up the day before, making it very painful even to stand up straight. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to perform, but I wanted to be done.

One can always use more rehearsal, and of course I would have benefited from more time with my ensemble, more time for memorizing, more time with the lyrics, more time with the languages, more time with my accompanist. But there are deadlines, and at a certain point one must leave the practice room and go do it for real. Those deadlines force the issue, and you get as ready as you can and deal.

Though my voice felt raw and my back muscles were screaming, I went on. The first movement of the Bach flew by, a flurry of energy and coloratura. The recit was shaky in one spot where the tempo changes. The ensemble was not together for what I thought was a measure or two. The next movement was too slow, but otherwise OK. There was another little blip in the transition between the chorale and the Alleluja, but it seemed like everyone pulled it together and then it was done. My French set went fine. The German was going fine, and then I made a mistake I had never made in rehearsal, ever. I’m not even sure what happened, but I lost my pitch and sang the wrong notes for one phrase. The English set went off without a hitch.

I had a fairly large, wildly attentive and responsive audience, many of whom were friends of the family or coworkers who knew nothing of classical singing. I was a hit with them. I felt like I had communicated something. Even though it hadn’t been perfect, I had introduced a number of them to this whole other world, and made them reconsider their views on classical music.

However, in my next lesson, my teacher told me she had had doubts about me performing the Bach. Doubts she never voiced until after the recital was over. She mentioned the mistake in the German piece, admonishing, “Never sing anything in public you can’t sing perfectly.” A few days later, I read her written evaluation. She used the term “train-wreck” to describe the problem in the recit.

At the time, I felt mortally injured by her comments. I thought I let her down, and I felt betrayed because she didn’t tell me what she thought until after it was over and I couldn’t do anything about it. Any successes I may have had were completely overshadowed by my failures.

After graduating, I did a few weddings, but mostly stopped singing as I relocated, adjusted to not being a student, and realized I had no idea what I wanted to do with my singing. I discovered that grad school did not answer any of my questions about goals, direction, or ambition, but it raised a bunch more and left me with thousands of dollars in student loans.

Now, a year later, I see that I did not take enough responsibility for my voice during grad school. I didn’t want to explore on my own, not really. I wanted someone to tell me exactly what to do, how, and when. I put my voice in my teacher’s hands and said, “go to work and fix me.” That’s not to say I didn’t work really hard and learn a lot, but it was not my teacher’s job to tell me what to sing or how to be an artist. I followed blindly. I fell into good student mode.

Meanwhile, there was always a voice in the back of my head or deep in my soul saying, “I don’t want to do grad school like everyone else. I don’t want to be a stereotypical singer. I don’t want to get tunnel vision. I am uninterested in departmental politics. I’m not 18 anymore; I know and like who I am. I am doing this on my terms.” My teacher, on the other hand, was not focused on orchestrating a soul-searching existential grad school experience. What a recipe for misunderstanding.

Moving On

I had a wonderful experience singing at a funeral shortly after I graduated. It was very sparsely attended, but the deceased person’s immediate family was there, and it was obvious how much they loved her. I felt I provided some small consolation and gave them an outlet for their grief. I had the sense that I was serving a higher purpose in honoring the dead and comforting the living. After that, I began to reconsider what kind of singing I want to do, and how singing should fit in my life. While I’m still undecided and searching for answers, I have started singing again. I have rediscovered the joy. This is a journal of my journey from grad school to real life.

This blog title brought to you by Rachel Kranz, who said it would make a great title for something. As usual, her instinct was right. Go read her book. She’s a real writer, and Leaps of Faith should be required reading for artists of all kinds.
3 Comments leave one →
  1. May 23, 2009 6:58 am

    Hmm, I just read this and certain points really strike me in a similar spot.

    I understand (a little bit) what it must have felt like to hear after the fact that someone you rely on to give it to you straight kept doubts to him or herself. I guess I’m still making peace with that, though it has gotten easier.

    And, I absolutely know the attraction to “being a good student” and going on auto-pilot. When I was growing up and dreading coming out to my parents, I kept thinking that when I got to college and could be out, everything would just fall into place. Love, life, school, ambition, all of it. It was better — the freedom was nice, but oh man, did I have another thing coming. It seems ridiculous to imagine that I could have thought that just being out at school would suddenly mean that finding someone compatible to date would be automatic, but I guess I didn’t sweat that part.

    Hardly a good comparison to voice, but being older then, I am (sometimes) a bit more aware of when I do the “just tell me how to FIX IT” which doesn’t seem to work so well with learning how to sing, does it? More’s the pity, I guess.

    I hope you write lots about figuring out how you want singing to be in your life. I just think that it definitely should be there. And I also think that figuring out what you want is sometimes all life is about.

  2. Mariaisabel permalink
    May 8, 2010 7:55 pm

    I’ve also had terrible experiences with voice teachers. It makes me glad to know I’m not alone but I’m also sorry you went through that. Very beautifully written ❤ I especially love "I am uninterested in departmental politics. I’m not 18 anymore; I know and like who I am. I am doing this on my terms.” You rock lol

  3. February 7, 2012 4:19 pm

    Glad I found your blog today! really enjoy reading your posts. I recently sang in an audition and the first six notes were wrong due to nerves. I never have sang it wrong before in all the years I have practiced on my own with my voice teachers! It was nice to see this doesn’t just happen to me. Agree, you rock!

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