Last week, one of my conductors asked us to think about what music (and specifically a project we’re working on) truly means to us. This struck a chord (no pun intended) in me – music has almost always been and hopefully will always be a very integral part of who I am and what I do. A friend of mine jokes that my inner CD player gets stuck on audible, but that’s only part of the story…
I’ve been singing since I was three years old. This was encouraged, perhaps, by two major influences: my father was the choir director at our church and I went to a Lutheran parochial school attached to that same church. Add to that the fact that both my parents were very musically inclined and my musicality was almost destined to be. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been singing at the church I was currently a member of – both as a member of the congregation and as a member of the choir. I happily volunteered for the singing parts in any school plays in elementary (and yet never got into drama in public school) – in fact, if there was a singing part available I hated when someone else got the part, especially if it were one of my sisters.
Around second or third grade, my mother informed my older sister and myself that we needed to pick and learn an instrument as well. My initial choice was saxophone, or perhaps flute. Oddly enough, my mother denied my choice, saying that I didn’t have enough air to support those and that I should pick something else. (No comments from the peanut gallery! — years later, Mom denies this story, saying that she was talking to my older sister, who was severely asthmatic. Ironically, T chose the french horn.) I ended up at string practice one day after school, hosted by a middle school instructor for elementary students in the school district. Mom loves to say that the first time I picked up an instrument, I bowed actual music instead of squeaks — I tend to think she exaggerates. At any rate, I liked the violin but it felt a little small; I can’t remember if I tried viola but I did also try the cello. When my parents were discussing instruments and cost with the instructor, I saw the price sheet for violins and about choked, so for some reason I picked cello – thinking they would be cheaper. Hey, no-one said that seven-year-olds were blessed with an overabundance of common sense.
Cello became my instrument of choice from then through high school. I still sang at church, but with the cello I was a true performer. It hurt to be considered a second-class musician when compared to the more popular band and choir in public school, but I stuck with it. My father, always a classical music fan, took us to hear the symphony each season, and encouraged my progress greatly. I owe my mother a great debt for all the chauffeuring she did to get me to the many practices for school orchestra, All-City and All-State. It all ended however, after my sophomore year of high school, thanks to mistreatment by a horrid director – one who turned my passion of playing music into a loathing of the time I spent (or wasted) with her. Even during those high school years, I still sang, and quite frequently in the hallway outside the Choir room after an orchestra rehearsal — I think Mrs. Taute never did forgive me for not joining choir. Sadly, I never thought voice was a true calling of mine back then. My cello playing has fallen by the wayside over the years, although I still have my cello and pull it out occasionally to play a piece or two.
When I went to college, my father really wanted me to consider majoring (or minoring) in Music. He saw something that I failed to recognize — that I had a talent, a gift, that needed to be nurtured in order to blossom into its full potential. I, on the other hand, had moved on to the exciting world of computers — and majored in Management Information Systems instead. Sorry, Daddy. Even so, I still sang for my church and got back into performance with the Madrigal Dinners put on by the REC of the student union at UT. Suddenly I was rediscovering my passion for music, but aside from a couple small outlets I still did not explore it fully. It probably didn’t help that I had college friends who (I felt) had much better voices than mine – one in particular who has gone much further in the music world here than I have. 🙂
Finally, a couple years after college – nearly a decade after high school – I finally felt my time had come. An audition call went out for the Austin Civic Chorus, and I firmly got a grip on my self-doubt and tried out for the group. Amazingly enough, I was accepted – and our first performance was on my birthday that year. The programs we sang in that first year I performed with ACC were a true baptism into choral masterworks and helped me really gauge the depth of my interest and ability. Although I had plenty of classical and religious music background, this was the first time I was truly performing to my utmost — and I thoroughly enjoyed the music! While ‘church music’ will always be something I return to, I do not feel as if I am performing for others; I sing in church for the glory of God. Sola Dei Gloria. Yes, it felt great to be complimented for my work there, I almost felt guilty accepting those compliments, as though I was overshadowing the message of the music by doing so.
Suddenly, I found a niche where performance was right and good – and the message of the music still got through to the listeners. In choral music, it isn’t about the individual talent, but about the talent of the group: the ability of the entire chorus to spread a message via the music – to convey emotion and transcend the moment. My self-confidence grew, as I realized that God truly blessed me with this gift. The message in the music was heard by more than just our audience – it resonated in me.
In late 2003 I was introduced to Barry Scott Williamson, then director of what has now become the Texas Choral Consort. With this group I further explored classical choral music, and got my real introduction into opera – this time as an adult performer rather than a slightly bored child watching a musical play. Mozart has always been my favorite composer, and the addition of his choral works to my repertoire has only served to strengthen my love of his style. I started taking vocal lessons and truly refining my ability – to the point where I will happily now take on just about any choral or solo work for soprano, even those in styles I may not truly like, for the sheer joy of getting to sing them.
A couple years back I auditioned for Craig Hella Johnson for Conspirare, unsure of whether I would be good enough for such a group. Happily, I was indeed accepted into the symphonic group – and these days I split my time between TCC and Conspirare, loving (almost) every minute of it.
There, in a very large nutshell, is my musical history. I’ve considered auditioning for the Austin Lyric Opera. Many brides have requested my talents for their weddings. I still sing in church every Sunday, and with the church choir whenever scheduled. My life would be much poorer without the blessings God has bestowed upon me in the form of music. It helped me through rough patches (like when my father died), it has helped me connect with the children in Sunday School, and it has given me many wonderful friends in various choral groups over the years.
Music is, quite simply, my life. I will continue to sing along with the radio – and quite frequently at random times in public (sorry, V – my inner/outer monologue just happens to be set to music). I only hope that I can communicate the true joy of music to others, the absolute gift that it is, and why I am who I am. (…and, that being yet another song cue, I will leave you with this — lyrics here.)