Wednesday, June 8, 2005

my day job

Most singers at the early stages of their careers (like me) have day jobs: something to help them pay for living expenses, lessons, coachings, etc. Ideally, these day jobs have somewhat flexible schedules (so that one can take time off for rehearsals and gigs), and are not too stressful on the body, mind, or voice. I feel extremely fortunate to not have a traditional day job. This is possible for two reasons. One, I have an unbelievably supportive husband who has unwavering faith in my ability to one day make a viable living as a singer. Two, I have a master's degree in piano performance. This comes in handy in so many ways in my singing life, but perhaps most of all because it provides me with an enjoyable and flexible way to make a living without answering phones or sitting in an office. It also gives me lots of opportunities to work with kids, which I love. There's something completely touching and heartwarming about witnessing kids dedicating themselves to music, and surprising everyone, including themselves, with the excellence they are able to achieve in their art. I am often moved to tears in rehearsals and performances, watching someone face his fears of singing in public, or take her first jazz solo, or seeing the wonder on everybody's face when a piece finally comes together.

Today, for example, I spent most of the day in rehearsals for two different musical theatre shows. When I was a young and naive piano major at university, I was quite snobby about musical theatre. Those of us who considered ourselves "serious musicians" thought we were much too good for it. Oh, how wrong I was! Now, I love every aspect of musical theatre and respect it for the important American art form that it is. It's also a major part of my life. Alec plays about 150 nights a year for a professional musical theatre company, and I've been involved in about 6 different shows in the last year. It's taken me to Scotland for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and given me my first crack at music directing, which I've thoroughly enjoyed. Right now, I'm playing for two totally different shows. The first is for a private, arts-oriented high school in Seattle. Four seniors have chosen to stage and perform In Trousers, by William Finn for their senior project. (Finn also wrote The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, for those of you who watched the Tonys last weekend.) It's extremely edgy for a high school show, but it's a small and progressive school in a very liberal neighborhood, so I'm sure it will be fine. It's been so amazing watching the kids pull everything together. One of the girls was a student at the camp I work at for many summers, and now she's going on to the prestigious Eastman School of Music in the fall. I'm so proud! As if I, her vocal ensemble teacher, had something to do with her marvelous violin technique....

The other show is a very abbreviated version of "My Fair Lady" at a middle school. It's basically the final concert of the year for the choir program, and everyone is involved. The girl who is playing Eliza is shy and quiet in class, and I hadn't seen her sing a solo before this. But today she got up and sang "The Rain in Spain..." and I almost fell off my piano bench! She had a beautiful, clear voice, with impeccable intonation, and wonderful stage presence. When she finished her song, she went quietly back to stand with the rest of the choir, and blended right back in to the crowd. It's so nice to be reminded of how wonderful music is for kids. It enhances every facet of their lives, and gives students who would normally be lost in the shuffle a chance to truly shine. And this is what I get to do for my "day job." How lucky am I?

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