Not long after I moved to NYC, I came across this thought-provoking question in downtown Manhattan:
This bit of street art seemed to be calling me out… The “you” in red. With extra swirls on the “y.” Underlined. It implied that others were leaving something (something good and beautiful, I assumed) and that I had a responsibility to do the same.
I freely admit that I get caught up on the practicing, the learning of repertoire, the scanning of YAPTracker announcements, the wondering of how I stack up against other sopranos (really, there are too many of us). In particular, this year feels more high-stakes since I’m in a new city, with a new teacher, singing new arias with a changing voice. I come down hard on myself if a practice session doesn’t go well because THIS IS THE YEAR THAT WILL MAKE OR BREAK ME.
And when I reach that point, I (or Baritone Boy) have to tell myself that this is obviously not a true statement.
Whether you’re a singer or pursuing excellence in another field, it is easy to feel only the pressure and momentarily forget the joy and the purpose behind all the toiling and struggling. Perhaps it’s cultural – we want to be better, have more, do more, win more, make more. We have a hard time just accepting and being happy. And for singers, this can be even more heightened as we go through daily (practicing), weekly (voice lessons), and annual (audition season!) routines that require a critical approach and, more often than not, focus on what we don’t do right rather than what we do well.
As I’m working on my audition arias and gearing up for the next round of auditions, I have to remind myself that, yes, I do have something unique to contribute to the world. We will not all have the same kinds of success – we won’t all sing at the Met or record for Deutsche Grammaphon – but we can continue to nurture the spark inside and share the joy we experience when working our craft. We all have something to leave behind in the lives we touch, the people meet along the way, the art we make.
And on those days when you do feel down about the slow progress you’ve made, the lack of results, the challenges that line up one after another, revisit a comforting little ritual — for me it’s drinking boba tea and watching a period drama with Baritone Boy and Dante for company — or an inspirational quote that helps re-energize you. And when that’s not enough, I know I have a fabulous circle of supporters who do see my skills when I don’t, people who will quote the inspirational quote when I can’t. I’m so thankful for the family, friends, teachers, colleagues, and mentors who have been there for me with a kind word, a hug, and their belief in me and what I’m capable of.
And at the end of the day, stay strong and stay inspired. And ask yourself what you’ll leave behind for others to enjoy.