Friday Story Time: Horrifying Stage Fright to Singing Opera

I have always loved to sing. My parents will attest to this fact. I’ve sung in choirs since I was about 6 years old (which was adorable, by the way.) But when my parents asked me if I wanted to learn an instrument, I told them that I wanted to learn violin. “Not piano?” they said. “We already have one in the house!” Nope, I really wanted to learn violin. So I did. It took about 8 years until I sounded fairly decent. I started with a truly wonderful teacher, Lora, who I consider a mentor and friend even now, when I haven’t taken lessons from her in four years. She passed on many pieces of wisdom, but two of her most-heard sayings are “Don’t go into music as a career.” and “Violinists are really just frustrated singers.”

Lora had house concerts and recitals once or twice every year. All of her students were required to perform in them; everyone would play a piece by memory, no matter their level. No matter how hard I worked to prepare for these events, performing for people was always very hard for me. Sometimes I would blank out on a whole section and stand there, frozen, until I could get it back. It was horrible. This persisted through the years.

I took lessons with Lora until I left for college, and promptly found a new teacher at UC Davis as soon as I got there. Let’s just say that life was significantly harder when taking lessons from this new guy. I had never had a male teacher before, and while he’s a nice man and a great violinist, we didn’t click the way I had with Lora. He didn’t understand why I wasn’t at a higher level, and I began to dread my lessons, which had previously made me so happy.

During one lesson, a few months in, my new teacher made a suggestion that changed my life. Granted, he could have phrased it more kindly, and it was inspired by frustration with my continued playing of a passage incorrectly, but it is probably the second best piece of advice I have ever gotten.

“If you want to be a music therapist,” he said, “you really should be learning how to sing instead of this. Can you sing something for me?” Taken aback, I sang a piece of one of my favorite Beatles songs, “In My Life,” for him. “See, there! You already can carry a line through so much more musically with your voice than with your violin! You really should try taking voice lessons,” he said.

Since I had secretly harbored a deep desire to be an awesome singer for years, this suggestion really resonated with me, and I went back to my dorm and immediately looked up voice teachers at UCD. I picked the female teacher, because I felt more comfortable with that idea, emailed her, and within the next day, I had an audition scheduled with her for the next week.

I have to take a short digression here to say that my mom and I are very close and talk every day. She and my dad have never been anything but incredibly supportive of me, their only child. I always call my mom when I have a big decision I need help making, so I called her up as soon as I got home from that fateful lesson. She heard the excitement in my voice, and told me to go for it, why not? You only have your college years once, and you might as well get as much out of them as possible. My mom is an amazing woman.

I went in to my audition with Zoila not having any idea what to expect. She’s a Peruvian woman of indeterminant age (anywhere between 60 and 75, I’d say) with a thick accent and a truly delightful personality. She had me sing some scales to test my range, and informed me that I should come back next Tuesday for my lesson. I have now been taking lessons with Zoila for three years.

Zoila quickly discovered what kind of voice I have: a surprisingly large operatic mezzo-soprano voice. I could not have been more surprised. I knew that I had a nice voice, I have really good pitch, and can pick up melodies quickly, but I NEVER imagined I could sing opera. The most amazing thing I learned, though, is that my stage fright disappears in the context of singing. Singing actually calms me down, so performing is no longer the huge issue that it once was.

Singing makes me happy in a way I had never really experienced before. It’s a very similar feeling to coming out of my violin lessons with Lora, but I’m better at singing than I ever was at violin, so my satisfaction and feeling of accomplishment is higher. And that’s where I’m at now, preparing for my hour-long solo recital next May!

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