by ALEXANDRA GILLIAM
Fourth-year BM Voice
Gossamer clouds billow past my window, suspended in the cerulean expanse like whales, lazily floating in the ocean. Below me, the patchwork farms of West Virginia whiz past, dwarfed at such a great distance. As I sit, with a score open on my tray table, pondering Strauss’s musical intentions in preparation for my senior recital, a nagging voice jars my focus.
“Ugh. You must be a musician.”
Disgruntled and irritated at my seatmate’s commentary I give her a quick once-over. Middle-aged and well dressed, the lady wears a look of condescension behind a pair of Burberry reading glasses. Deciding not to take the bait, I sweetly respond, “Why, yes, ma’am, I am. I’m an aspiring opera singer, on my way to audition for graduate school.”
“Ah, I see. Y’know, my daughter is majoring in biomedical engineering. She’s a senior in college now, but she wanted to be a professional singer when she was in high school. I told her that she couldn’t pursue music, because it’s just such an impractical degree and career path. I didn’t want to allow her to set herself up for failure later in life.”
Hot anger boils in my throat, and the be-khaki’d man on the aisle seems to notice his Bloody Mary and hummus wrap for the first time as he pretends not to hone in on our conversation. I take a deep breath and reply, “Believe it or not, ma’am, a conservatory education is a fantastic prerequisite for a career in the sciences and humanities. As a matter of fact, many people actually become doctors or lawyers after their musical training if they don’t go on to become professional musicians, and some even run arts management companies.” Ignoring her visible contempt, I continue. “Music majors are actually very competitive candidates in the job market, because hiring committees know that we are extremely disciplined, focused individuals who have excellent time-management skills and bring a ton of passion to the table.”
At this comment, the man on the aisle grins and turns to me, saying, “You are absolutely right. I’m the CEO of a Fortune 500 office supply company, and I always look to promote classically trained musicians and veterans to executive-level positions because I know that they’re some of the hardest working and dedicated individuals out there.”
The lady pales and drifts into a contemplative silence as the man and I converse for the remainder of our flight. Finally, as I reach into the overhead bin to retrieve my luggage, he hands me his business card. “If you’re looking for a job in five years,” he tells me, “give me a call. I will remember this conversation.”
While I did not anticipate a reaffirmation of my career choices that day, that discussion really spurred some deep introspection for me. Earlier that week, I had been embattled in an internal debate, as this was the first of seven grad school auditions that I would take throughout February and early March. Anxiety filled my mind and disturbed my dreams at night, and I lay awake, asking myself over and over, what if I’m not good enough? What if I don’t get in anywhere? What if I’m really not cut out for a performance career? What if I should just give up and switch directions?
Through talking to that woman and having to defend my decision to come to NEC just four years ago, I realized that I’m not making the wrong choice in pursuing my musical dreams. While my five-week audition tour was extremely stressful and pushed me to my emotional and physical limits, it provided me an opportunity to learn that I have a musical story to tell and I’m at my best when I’m telling it. For no other career would I be willing to leave the warmth of my house at 3:00 am on a Friday morning to fly to a far-distant city. No other profession would inspire me to stand up in front of a room full of people and bare my soul. And, most importantly, no other job could possibly fill me with as much anxiety over the possibility of rejection.
With this in mind, dear reader, do not lose heart. The musical journey that we chose is difficult, and the road ahead is stony; you may occasionally lose the path as you lay awake in the wee hours of the morning this March and check your email for the seven hundredth time in a day to see if any results have come in. Consider the fact that, if you did not feel pain or stress, you would not be emotionally connected to your craft. Make yourself a warm beverage and take a deep breath. Remind yourself that regardless of whether you get into that summer festival or grad school, life will go on and more opportunities will soon follow. What may appear to be an insurmountable snow drift right now will melt to charming puddles in just a few short weeks. After all, you made it through the blizzard – spring is just around the corner.