Throughout college, my brief stint at a conservatory, and my various apprentice programs, “making it” pervaded my thoughts and goals and became an obsession. I ambitiously tried to do anything I could to get out of school and into the working world, and I looked at any success that I had as a sign that I was going to “make it”. I fantasized about winning competition after competition, making my debuts at the worlds biggest opera houses, giving recitals in the most famous concert halls, the thunderous applause that would greet me at those performances, the photo shoots for my album covers, and the sense of coolness I would feel at having “made it”.
All the while, I would moan constantly at the opportunities that weren’t offered to me and complain that the opportunities that I did have were not good enough, were not what I wanted, were not what I deserved. I would look at the success of others and jealously wonder how they had managed to achieve their accomplishments. My ex-boyfriend, Luiz, once pointed out to me that it never seemed like anything was enough. He noted that even being in the Houston Grand Opera Studio (where I was at the time of this conversation – where I had the opportunities to share the stage with some of the most famous and accomplished singers of our time as well as get free lessons, coachings, career advice, language lessons, etc.) was not enough for me. I bristled with anger when he told me this, furious that he could see so easily through to my unbridled, all-consuming, youthful ambition and my spoiled sense of entitlement.
The strange thing was that my fantasies and ambitions were never specific. When fantasizing about singing in the greatest opera houses of the world, I never thought about which roles I would sing. When dreaming of photo shoots for my album covers, I never had any idea about what music would have been recorded on those CDs. I never knew what I would program for my dreamed-of recital tours around the globe. Music, the core essence of what we do, was mysteriously absent from my fantasies.
The summer before my second year in the HGO Studio, about to begin rehearsals for my first Barber of Seville at Wolf Trap, I began to notice the adverse affects of my ambition on my soul. Warming up before our first rehearsal with the conductor, I found myself panicking that I wasn’t good enough. I became certain that everyone would hate my singing and even had nightmares about being fired. I worried that this was going to be a disaster and that my career would never recover.
Something inside me snapped, and I realized that I absolutely could not live the rest of my life like that.
So, I picked up the copy of The Artist’s Way that the ex-boyfriend had given me earlier that year, found a journal to do morning pages in, and resolved myself to finding a therapist the minute I got back to
I discovered that gratitude and humility were important aspects to life as a musician and a performer. I discovered that my love of and passion for music had been usurped by ambition and “career” aspirations. My desires began to change and become more specific. I stopped fantasizing about a vague future and became more focused on the details of the present. I became more focused on doing the best work I could possibly do and constantly trying to improve as opposed to being the “best”(whatever I imagined that was) and comparing myself to other people. Competitors became colleagues, and I discovered that it is not the flashy result or performance that is important, but the substance of the work and the journey to get there. I discovered that in reality, there is no “making it” or “getting there” – there is only the going.
As much as I hated to admit it, I found that I had sort of stumbled into life as a musician. I liked music, first as a violinist in my youth, and then as a singer in my teenage years into college. Looking back, I realize I was responding to a calling that I had to answer. But by blindly following that call, I never bothered to ask myself why I was pursuing the path I had chosen. I decided it was what I wanted to do without a single thought as to why, and I naïvely thought I was entitled to a successful career doing it.
Speaking with Jeremy last night, the differences between his path and mine as professional musicians were interesting to me. His attitude is inspiring to me, especially in the fact that it has always been present in his work ethic. He pointed out to me last night that regardless of whether he is playing for a choir of junior high students, playing for a bevy of young violists trying to learn how to deal with their instruments, coaching professional singers, or playing a rehearsal at a great opera company that he always chooses to try play musically and with inspiration in the hopes that whoever he is making music with will respond in kind, and be that much better, enjoy the experience that much more, and come that much closer to discovering that extra level of beauty, technical proficiency, or whatever truth it is they are after. “Isn’t that why we are here? Isn’t that why we do this?” he asked me. Listening to him talk, I agreed, wishing that I had realized that when I started on this path.
Jeremy’s primary goal has always been to be able to make a living as a musician. He always has known that it is an earned blessing to be able to call music our vocation and to be able to support ourselves from this work. As a result, every milestone he has reached and every accomplishment he has achieved are real privileges to him and opportunities to be savored. It also shows in his fierce commitment and care for the work, which is something I marvel at. It was never something I realized until I was far into my training, and I must say that I am glad that I can see it now. It allows me to do this and find real happiness and fulfillment as I explore the paths that this profession opens for me.