So, why do I teach opera?

IMG_4565-1.JPGI always knew I wanted to be a teacher. I used to play “teacher” in my bedroom all the time. One year for my birthday, when I was in 4th grade, I asked for all school supplies… teacher supplies, rather… file folders, copies of worksheets, legal pads, post-its, markers, a stapler, the whole shibang. I made my desk messy with file folders stacked high with work sheets. I wanted it to look just like my 4th grade teacher’s desk… horribly messy… sorry Miss K. Playing this way, pretending to be someone I thought was so amazing, set up my dream of being a teacher someday. I wanted to be someone that others looked up to, someone that changed children’s lives, and someone who could change the world one classroom at a time… thank you, Miss K.

In high school I was majorly involved in the arts. I was a theater kid, working as stage manager or student director in every show. I was in multiple choirs, and was the show choir president as soon as I was a senior. I was in concert band,  jazz band and marching band, becoming drum major for my junior and senior years. I took on as much leadership as I could, becoming a teacher in my mind. Even then, I wanted to help other students. I wanted to show them how special they were. I wanted to change their lives.

When the time came to apply for college and pick a major, I knew I wanted to go into music. Music was always an important part of my life- from going on “joy rides” with my family as a kid and turning the tunes up loud, watching the Little Mermaid at age five and learning every song by heart- belting them as loud as I could, getting to dance with my grandpa while listening to the oldies,  and then studying music in school. Both of my brothers went to college to study music in one capacity or another, and I knew that was the path for me. I was inspired by all the music that existed in the world and the impact it had on people. I knew that there was more music that I hadn’t even begun to tap into, and that mystery excited me very much.

The question then became … band teacher or choir director? It took some deliberating. Some of my favorite memories were of band experiences spanning from 4th grade through high school. Thank you so much to all those teachers. You truly shaped my life. I hadn’t had the best choral experiences, and that shied me away from becoming a choir director.  My theater director in high school sat me down and told me that if I hadn’t enjoyed my choral experiences, I should use that as inspiration to become a better choir director for the next generation. That was that… it changed my life. I knew that I could make other students’ experiences better, and that was all it took to make up my mind.

I chose choral directing as my path, and off I went to the University of Northern Iowa as a music education major. To become a choir director you must take voice lessons, something I was pretty excited for as I hadn’t had many voice lessons in my past. I was fatefully lucky to land my voice teacher. She was tough, had high expectations and pushed me to become better every week. She was like any good mother- firm and warm at the same time. You know your mother loves you and would do anything for you, and yet you do not want to cross her. I wanted to make her proud and yearned for approval, which seemed to come exactly when I needed it most. I started taking voice lessons because it was part of the degree requirements, and within the first two weeks of my freshman year I was hooked with interest.

At UNI you have to study classical vocal technique; it’s their primary focus. I was not interested in classical music then; I was much more interested in contemporary genres. In our studio seminar class I found my self hoping I would never sound operatic like the graduate students I listened to. They were talented, and I acknowledged that, but aesthetically it was just not my “thing”. Then… my voice started opening up in my lessons and I could see my teacher’s approval. I knew I had talent. I quickly learned how hard this sort of singing is, how much you have to work to do it right. As my teacher always said “if singing was natural, we would all walk around singing instead of talking”. The level of difficulty to sing well, and the complexity of the music I was learning, had me captivated.
IMG_4567-0.JPGI remember listening to the upper class-men sitting in the student lounge throwing out titles of operas, song titles, aria titles, names of famous singers on recordings,  and I thought to myself “Gosh, I don’t know anything about this stuff. How will I ever know this much about classical music?”. That is what drew me in. This was the huge pot of gold I’d been so interested in- the mysterious music that I hadn’t even started to tap into yet! There was this whole genre of music that I knew nothing about. A huge amount of historical life that I had never studied before, and here it lay waiting for me to explore it. I couldn’t figure out how to dive into such a large pool of unknown. It took time to start feeling knowledgeable at all. My history and song literature classes helped. I learned about composers and different operas, song cycles, historical movements in music. All the while my voice grew and started to really sound good. I started to love the operatic sounds that were coming from me, impressed by myself! I started looking towards the graduate students, admiring their voices and hoping that someday I could reach their sound and musicality. I was cast in lead roles of operas at UNI and loved preparing and performing my degree recitals. Performance very quickly and clearly made itself preset in my life.

I switched my major to vocal performance by the time I hit my sophomore year. I knew I wanted to teach but that a master’s degree was in my future first. I thought becoming a teacher at a higher level of education was more for me- more education in my future, a higher level of artistry and expectation,  teaching at a higher level. It all sounded more difficult and more exciting. I received my bachelor’s and then my master’s degrees both in vocal performance. I anticipate the possibility of someday getting my doctorate and expanding my education that much further. In the meantime I have started my professional career as a singer and teacher. I love it! I learn from my students and my experience with new opera companies every day.

IMG_4568.JPGAs I have matured into an artist and professional musician, my love for opera and art song has continue to grow. The fantastically dramatic stories of opera ignites my mind, and the power of classical music hits my soul. I still love contemporary genres, and I enjoy going to see live musicians of all styles and genres any time I can. The power of live music moves me more than anything else can. The intelligence required to study classical singing drives me to become a better singer, a better performer and a better teacher. Whether in performance or through teaching, I want to show others how amazing music is.  I want to help others experience how awesome it is to succeed one step of vocal technique at a time. There is always more to work on- as a performer and teacher- but that is part of the excitement. I am not done learning yet. I never will be. There is always another step I can take. May I never reach a point in life where I am done learning from and teaching others.

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