How to give up a career in classical singing without ever starting one

Photo by Enrique CespedesCreative Commons

May 14, 2015

Take voice lessons.

Get a lead role in a musical early on — preferably the second year of high school, so your ego gets sufficient encouragement.

Be compared to child-star burnout Charlotte Church.

Attend a prestigious fine arts summer camp. The fact that you got into the choral program but not the solo program should clue you in regarding your potential future as a solo vocalist — but you got into a prestigious fine arts camp, so it doesn't.

Be asked frequently whether you want to audition for American Idol. Answer politely; the people asking have no concept of Mozart or Handel, so you feel sorry for them.

Major in vocal performance at a small liberal arts school where you are sure to be in the top echelons of vocal prowess. Pass the first semester juries that will determine whether you will be allowed to continue as a voice major — with flying colors.

Take part in a sweaty summer community choir in which you get a solo. The way the middle-aged conductor looks at you when you sing makes you uncomfortable — but hey, he must really love your voice, so that's a compliment, right?

Get cast as the lead in the one-act opera as a college sophomore. This is the Big Time, starting Now.

Come down with a strange hoarseness two weeks into rehearsal. Assume it is allergies. Don't worry; you'll be at full voice next week.

Panic, because you're not. In fact, you're not even at full voice the night of the performance, before which you are convinced you will forget your part and cannot put the score down, even though you know it backwards and forwards.

Perform anyway. No one can tell you're barely making it, and the show is a success.

Sit in the chair of shame during choir. Your voice is totally gone now.

Go to an otolaryngologist. Learn that "otolaryngologist" is the medical term for an ear, nose, and throat specialist. Confuse people when you use this word. Become a pro at not gagging on the scopes the ENT shoves down your throat and the way your vocal folds flutter unevenly, the left side slower than the right, though the doctor doesn't know why.

Listen instead to the doctor talk about the time Steven Tyler came in before a concert for a steroid shot. Wonder if it is legal for the doctor to tell you that story.

Drop choir at the doctor's recommendation.

Change your major. Whoever heard of a voice major that couldn't sing?

Avoid the fine arts building at all costs.

Attend an awkward meeting with the music faculty during which it becomes obvious that the administration wants to make sure you aren't blaming your private teacher, an adjunct instructor, for wrecking your voice. You aren't, but it is probably a little bit her fault. Realize you should have spoken up more during lessons.

Seek out vocal therapy when life becomes a stagnant swamp of futility and meaninglessness. You have nothing else to lose.

Achieve 75% of the voice you had. The therapist thinks your anxiety is a major factor in your singing, but don't believe her.

Finish college with a major in general music studies. This feels like a cop-out, but is better than nothing.

Teach voice lessons on the side.

Criticize every kind of singing you hear with vengeful bitterness: Broadway stars who shout, pop singers who can't match pitch, and radio sweethearts who would be inaudible without microphones. Think, "I would be better."

Realize that after six months of no singing whatsoever that you would not be better. Realize your self-image has expired. Go shopping for a new one.

Try sketching, writing, design.

Try knitting, cooking, photography.

Try filmmaking, and while you're doing research, catch the end of Renee Fleming's 2014 Rusalka at the Met.

Observe the passion, the sweat. Let Fleming, in that flowing blue gown, lead you into that otherworldly transcendence that comes of the perfect marriage of orchestra, story, and voice. Watch the behind-the-scenes interviews and read in the artists' eyes the whole-hearted devotion, and know it would have been too much.

Know you couldn't have done it. Let it be enough that you tried.

Allison Wall is a fiction and essay writer currently living in the Twin Cities. As a semi-retired intermediate musician, she is always on the lookout for ways to combine music with writing.

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