One of the nice things about working on the ship this year has been the opportunity to do a lot of singing on board for the guests. I sing two arias in the crew show that we have each cruise, and I’ve also had a few chances to present my own solo recital on board as well. (Where I combine some arias and songs from opera, operetta, and musical theatre.) I’ve been glad for the chance to keep myself in shape vocally, and to be able to get my performing “fix” – a thing that helps to make life feel a bit more normal for me.
However, after each performance, I invariably get a slew of guests coming to the reception desk asking what the heck I’m doing working at the desk of a cruise ship, and why am I wasting away my talents here when I should be out singing all over the world. (I started adding a little tagline to my introduction at each performance: saying that I first came to Europe for my singing, but I stayed here for love. That at least helps a lot of folks understand why I’m here.)
While it’s wonderful and reassuring to hear such kind words about something you’re so passionate about, people don’t understand that these kinds of things in life are not black and white: especially in the life of a singer.
It all prompted me to want to write a little bit more about the world of the singer – and the choices we must make – a world of which people on the outside are completely unaware.
There are MANY singers who have written articles and blogs about what “the life” is really like, and how hard it is, so I’ll touch on some of those points while not making them the main focus of my post.
The first thing I tell people about when they ask me if I’m still pursuing my singing, is Olde Towne Carolers – my Christmas Caroling business. I let them know that every holiday season, I get to sing a lot back home in the States. I also tell them that I did sing for quite a bit back home in “the business” before relocating to a new continent.
But here are the rest of the details that I don’t get into when talking to guests briefly at the desk, and what myself and many other singers have to take into consideration when it comes to this career and our own lives.
Like many other singers, I went to school and got my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Voice. I trained my ass off and got to be really good at what I did. I did it all “by the book” just like my teachers told me I should. However, like lots of other singers, I ended up in horrible debt from student loans. I honestly don’t foresee ever reaching the end of them – it’s that bad. Singers have school debt on par with doctors and lawyers. But unlike doctors and lawyers, we don’t go out into a world where we can make the kind of money that those jobs can yield. And in the early stages of a singer’s career, you are shelling out even MORE money on auditions, and lessons, and coachings, and accompanist fees. The downward money spiral is off-the-charts. But we all do it, because we’re told we have to – or else not have a chance at the great career we all aspire to.
I spent years on the audition circuit. I put SO many miles on my car driving to and from NYC from my home in Pennsylvania. I drove to Philly. I drove to Maryland. I drove to New England. I drove everywhere. I got call backs. I got gigs – quite a number of gigs. (Bear in mind, for every ten auditions you sing, getting ONE gig out of them is considered really good.) I sang in operas, and shows, and concerts. I felt like things were really moving along in my career. Of course like most singers, I also had to work other odd jobs in addition to singing, because singing jobs don’t usually pay enough to completely support you. So, I started Olde Towne Carolers to make even more opportunities for myself and my singer friends. (While teaching, and working retail, etc.)
But then something happened. As I got into my thirties, I got less and less auditions. When over 75% of singers out there are sopranos, the criteria for sorting through the applicants are strict. And if they see on your resume that you’re a soprano who is in her thirties and you haven’t performed yet for X, Y, or Z, well… you’re not going to make the cut to get an audition. It doesn’t matter if you’re really good – there’s lots of others who are really good too. Companies want young fresh blood. So I started doing more musical theatre auditions in NYC – they don’t care (nor are they allowed to ask) about your real age – JUST the age you look on stage. And since I’ve always looked young for my age, I had no problems in that genre of the singing world.
I kept plugging along, trying not to get jaded from all the auditions and the rejections…the miles on my car…the exhaustion… Always fueled by the passion of an unexplainable calling…
But then I had another life changing experience: I fell truly and deeply in love with a wonderful man. It was the weirdest thing – I actually could feel that I loved him more than I loved singing. I’ve said it before – I didn’t even know that such a thing was possible. (Many singers will know exactly what I mean by that.) I honestly did not think that anything in the world could invigorate me with life and energy the way that singing always had. But heck – I was wrong! Well played, Life!
And especially as I got into my later thirties, I started to see my priorities in a new and different way. Maybe it’s something that comes along with getting older, but life was just less black and white – there were so many more colors and shade variations to the world that I had never been aware of before. There were things I wanted in addition to singing, like a healthy relationship and maybe even a family. And guess what? That’s okay! A lot of us singers were trained by members of the “old guard,” who believed the life of a singer had to be lived in a very strict and specific way. Relationships would get in your way. Family would get in your way. If you did anything non-singing, it would get in your way! But it’s a new and modern world. The old rules don’t apply anymore. And at the end of the day, your career can’t give you a hug when you’ve had a really crappy day. Your career won’t be there to hold your hand when life gives you tough challenges. Your career can’t give you a pep talk when you’re feeling down.
So that brings me around to where I am now. Maybe singing isn’t priority number one anymore, but it’s still there. I’m still singing! And singing quite well! (Amazing how taking the pressure off of yourself brings out the best voice possible.) First and foremost in my life now is my love, Milos, and our relationship. We are an amazingly great team that is only stronger when we’re together. Hopefully it’s not too late for us to have a family and a regular home for it to flourish in. We know we can handle all the adventures and challenges to come along because we have each other.
I’ll always be able to find a way to keep singing in my life, but even better – I get to spend that life with the best person ever! ❤