Moving Forward: A Public (and Private) Service Announcement

I’m sure many of you have noticed by now that I’ve been struggling with whether I should continue pursuing a career in singing. It’s been an emotional road over the past several years, to say the least. There are highs and lows to everything in life, and as I’ve gone deeper into the business, the highs have gotten higher and the lows have gotten lower. Of course, the occasional highs are what keep me coming back and facing the much more frequent lows.

Receiving one rejection after another is pretty demoralizing, and the incredibly competitive atmosphere of this business has a lot of negative psychological effects. It has affected my marriage and some of my friendships, and not for the better. I often feel like I’m going in circles, making progress and achieving something new, only to get knocked down hard at my next audition (or twelve). Trying to make time for serious practice every day gets stressful when I’m trying to juggle two jobs, lots of volunteer work, and relationships with my husband, family, and friends.

At the same time, having a successful audition and getting cast in a show is a huge boost of confidence. It’s like someone is telling me, “You’re worth something in the singing world! The time, money, and effort you have put in over the last seven years have not gone to waste!” What singer, what person really, doesn’t need to hear that? Even the physical act of singing just feels right to me. It’s something I know I can do well, that I have control over and that always brightens my mood and relaxes me on the worst days. Singing is a part of me, and I wouldn’t be myself without it.

When I went to Germany this summer, I was hoping for a major revelation about whether or not I should keep doing this. In the weeks leading up to leaving for the program, I kept saying to T, “I don’t want to go. Why am I even going? I regret spending the exorbitant amount of money to do this.” He encouraged me, like the supporter that he is, to use it as a way to figure out if it’s something I really wanted to keep pursuing. I would take a deep breath, nod, and say, “Okay. You’re right. I can do that.” I never had that revelation moment while I was there, but I think the experience helped me along in the process of deciding where to go from here. The program was tough, there were attitudes that I had a very hard time dealing with, and the prognosis of the state of the business was very dark, especially for sopranos like me. I spent the entire time missing T and home and counting down the days until I could go home and resume my “normal” life, whatever that would mean.

Since I’ve been home, I’ve halfheartedly been to a few auditions because I felt I should, and none of them turned out to be encouraging. My YAP Tracker account has been filling up with programs to apply for, but instead of being excited about potential opportunities, I have avoided the website altogether and dreaded having to submit applications and videos that I knew weren’t going to be as good as someone else’s were. The thought of actively trying to leave home for another summer program or out-of-town auditions for companies makes me feel depressed, guilty, and confused. I miss so much every time I leave that there are times when I feel I’m not really living the life I was meant to live. Instead I’m alone at an airport or on a train or in a practice room, wondering what’s going on at home with the people I love more than anything in the world.

This past weekend, T and I were able to be at the hospital for the birth of our nephew. He’s the first of the new generation in our family and there will definitely be more after him. I had originally planned to be at an audition in LA over the weekend, but I decided not to go because of some other weekend commitments and because the thought of traveling that far for almost certain rejection was, to say the least, unappealing. If I had gone, I may not have made it back in time, and once again I would have put my own pursuits, however unlikely or ultimately unsuccessful they might be, ahead of our family and the things that really matter to me. I’m tired of being a person who makes that choice.

What I’m trying to say is, I can’t do this anymore.

I can’t spend the rest of my life facing rejection. I can’t continue trying to make it in a field that’s designed for 99% of people to fail. I can’t keep letting my desire to sing come between me and my singer friends when they are more successful than me. I can’t put up with the mental games and the psychological warfare. I can’t pretend that it’s my career when I’m always going to lose more money than I make. I can’t put my selfishness and pride ahead of my husband, my family, my friends, my students, my God.

It’s not that I will never sing again. Like I said, I wouldn’t be myself without singing. I’ll audition for local productions and companies, community and professional, without worrying about whether or not I’ll be paid for it or whether it’s the right thing for my resume. I’ll continue to try to achieve the highest level of musicianship and performance skill that I can, and I’ll do my best to communicate through music, because that’s what music is for. But I won’t be applying for summer programs anymore, even the professional opportunities. I won’t be auditioning for companies that would take me away from my real life in the Bay Area, no matter how enticing they might seem. I won’t spend crazy amounts of money on application or audition fees or traveling to auditions. I won’t surround myself with people who play mind games just because I think they will somehow advance my career. I won’t worry about my degrees and training going to waste, because they won’t. I will still use them. But this is never going to be my career, and to be honest, I don’t want it anymore.

I have no idea what direction I will go from here career-wise. Right now I’m happy working my dental office job and my church choir job without always trying to advance to bigger things. Those jobs allow me to live the life I really love, where T and I spend our evenings together, volunteering with our youth group or spending time with our friends and family, and where me missing those things for rehearsals or shows is the exception rather than the rule.

I think I’m pretty safe in assuming that most of you don’t care what I do or won’t be affected at all by my decision here. Even for those of you who are singers, one less soprano in the competitive pool isn’t going to make a difference. I don’t expect to be judged negatively for this, since I’m confident that you either love me independent of what career path I follow, or you simply couldn’t care less about my life (in which case, why are you reading my blog?). But as I said to T last night as I revealed these thoughts to him amid tears of relief, verbalizing it just makes it real, and that’s why I’m sharing it with you. This is what I choose, and now I’m going to move forward with my life, singing and otherwise.

It’s been fun, Singing Business. But I won’t miss you.

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9 thoughts on “Moving Forward: A Public (and Private) Service Announcement

  1. Dear Kelly,
    Thank you for posting this. I went through something like this during undergrad and tried to make people understand what it’s like to be a non-lyric soprano taller than 5’5″. Your experience is different because you had the courage and the persistence to keep trying! And for that, Kelly, you’re my hero!
    My first and last audition that wasn’t school-related was for OSJ. During my aria I felt incredibly stupid for trying. I’m a great actress, but I remembered what Prof. C told me: “Your voice will never carry over an orchestra.” You remember when I was doing my senior recital and TRYING to learn two roles. I heard that and stopped trying to be Susanna because I knew I would never be good enough.
    But like you mentioned, I will never stop singing because it’s part of who I am, who we are!
    I’m so happy that you picked what you need to be happy. Trevor is super lucky to have such a caring wife.
    Thank you so much for writing this.
    Sincerely,
    Em

  2. I believe this commits you and T to join B and L and myself next year singing in my mothers Christmas concert….. Correct??? 🙂 love you, Cuzzo!!’

  3. Life outside of the safe confines of an instution is very difficult to break through. I feel your pain and completely understand your want and desire to just throw your hands up and “give up”. These horrific emotions can take over the vulnerable self something fierce. It’s not nice to deal with ridiculous egos, verbally abusive comments, people who think they shit gold etc. This line of work can get very ugly when in the thick of it, even on a university level. I too have had my struggles, we all do. What’s important now is taking all the knowledge you have and using it to benefit you and your family effectively. You studied voice for 7 years and have experienced what it is to train as a full time commited musician. You know your trade. Perhaps right now in your life performing is not your strongest suit, however, that does not make you less of a person or performer. One of the things that sets you apart from other performers is that you are always prepared. That is such a powerful asset to have! Use the knowledge you have to help others with their trails. You have so much to offer as a teacher. Teaching can only make you stronger, and it will help you overcome these feelings of self hate and rejection. Your day will come. Much love!

  4. I was really moved by your post. It took me a few minutes to really think about what you wrote in order to fully formulate the best response. Personally I have been going back and forth on what to do with my own life, since I graduated. You have all that training and to give it up made me sort of think about what it means to “lead your own life,” as they say. I think that regardless of how much time you train or participate in something, if you don’t see the point in whatever it is you’re doing, it is entirely up to you if you want to continue that activity. While I would have loved to see you perform again in something, I respect your decision. It seems like such a big decision and I hope for nothing but the best for you. I know we haven’t seen each other since Pirates, but I still think about you sometimes. You have an amazing voice.

    Best wishes,
    Jillian Rogers =)

  5. All of the things you spoke of in this post are exactly why I decided, quite a while ago, to not go down that road. I’ve always been very aware of what the life of a performer (especially a classical singer) looks like and it is not the life for me. I, like you, will ALWAYS perform, but I do not need it to be my career to be satisfied with my ability and it is good that you have accepted that same fact for yourself. The field is cut-throat and if a singing career is not TOP priority then you stand little chance of making a living at it… The biggest thing you (and anyone) could understand is that it is perfectly okay to be talented, but to have different priorities in life.

    I still feel guilty from time to time because people have always had high expectations of me, but it is important to always remind yourself that this is your life and you know what is best for your heart and soul better than anyone else possibly could. Being in New York this last summer confirmed for me much of the same things you have come to realize (though I was already pretty certain about them for myself). Being away from those I love for months performing, constantly having to compare myself to those I am in competition with (even friends), and having to suck up to people I have little respect for are all things that I simply do not want in my life.

    Now you can audition for things you truly WANT to audition for and perform with and for people who you truly WANT to work with. There is a lot of freedom in understanding where your priorities really are.

    All that is to say, I fully support and understand your decision. Congrats on letting go.

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