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My Life as an Opera Singer

“My wife is an opera singer,” says my husband to the man sitting next to him at the bar.

 

We like to go to gastropubs and try out different beers and food (hubby is a home brewer and a beer aficionado), so of course, it’s more interesting when you meet people and learn something interesting, so he shares with others what I do.

And why not? It’s a glamorous enough sounding job, and one that most people don’t even know about except that you are on stage singing a lot. So people have a natural desire to ask questions about it.

Plus, he knows I’d never openly share that. It’s not that I’m private about it, it’s just I’m not one to blow my own horn.

I just love to sing. I always have. Ever since I was a little girl, I’d always had dreams of singing on stage. Not for being in the spotlight or fame, but just because I love to sing.

 


But it’s not as glamorous as you might think.


When I went off to college, I didn’t think I was talented enough to make a living singing, so I tried being a zoology major because I loved animals. I just didn’t love science, and when I realized that my favorite class was choir, I made the switch to becoming a voice major.And thus began my long, treacherous – and torturous – road of learning how to sing. I somehow managed to graduate college after a 3+ year hiatus, all the while taking voice lessons with various teachers that, despite knowing how to sing themselves, couldn’t quite help me to release my voice. It was trapped in there, somewhere. I knew what I was capable of, I just didn’t know what to do.

Pile on top of this, my insecurity about my talent, and rejection from the college where I sought my masters (I ended up going for piano instead), I thought my dream was simply wishful thinking. I spent thousands of dollars going from one teacher to the next, going to master classes and young artist programs in hopes of figuring out how I could sing the way I wanted to.

A side note about Young Artist programs: they are designed to teach young opera singers things like acting, performing, and to some degree, technique. They’re usually very expensive and you get some kind of performance experience. Essentially, you are paying them to let you sing, as opposed to getting paid to sing. Big difference. And while these programs can serve great purposes, one cannot get a career off of them for obvious reasons.

And the truth of the matter is, I wasn’t “young” anymore. Opera is an art that requires maturity in the voice. The voice doesn’t even reach it’s full maturity until you’re 40 or even 50 years. For someone like me who didn’t really get the training I needed until much later in life (after 8 teachers!), it was time to move onto a real career. There weren’t any opera companies in central Wisconsin, so we moved to Florida where there were more opportunities.

I auditioned for an opera chorus, and got in! I was super excited and was finally feeling like my voice was getting on track, and my career was about to take off…or so I thought.

The thing about being in opera chorus is that you can’t make a living off of it unless you’re at the Metropolitan Opera (I think that’s the only full-time opera chorus in existence, but I could be wrong). You are contracted each season for only certain operas where they need you, and you can make maybe $1,000 per season if you’re lucky. There’s one season per year, so do the math and you can see how this doesn’t even come close to paying the bills. Most opera companies won’t let you be in more than one opera at a time, either (and really, it’s insane to do two simultaneously anyways).

So you really end up piecemealing together some other performing opportunities like singing at restaurants, parties, weddings, and funerals. And luckily, I teach. Not all performers can teach, as I learned, but I have a love for teaching and my students have taught me so much over the years about myself and about how best to reach people so that they don’t walk away feeling discouraged.

So this is the life of an opera singer. It’s feast or famine most of the time. The picture at the top is me singing the soprano solo for the Brahms Requiem in Chicago with the Tower Chorale. This was one of the fondest memories I have from performing. Both of my parents were in the choir and it was a great honor to be a part of this performance.

Am I living my dream?

To some extent, yes. I think I’ve just come to realize that my dream doesn’t quite fit in the mold that the opera world forces you into. My path is different, and as one of my teachers encouraged me, “There are singers that need opera companies in order to sing. You don’t need to rely upon others to sing, you have what it takes to do it all yourself.”

I would amend that to say that I don’t need others besides God in order to sing, and I depend so much on the support of my husband. It’s been quite a journey, and while it’s not over yet, the scenery is quite different from when I started out. I’ve learned to enjoy the scenery along the way, rather than trying to reach that destination. Each hill to climb over is a discovery of something new on the other side.

By | 2017-07-11T15:43:51+00:00 July 11th, 2017|Categories: Performance, Personal, Voice|Tags: , , , |0 Comments

About the Author:

Erin Philleo
Erin began her music studies at the age of 5 with piano lessons. She often sang with her family at home, and joined choirs in school. With encouragement from her parents to continue piano, she took lessons until she was 15, after which she studied on her own. After high school, she enrolled at Miami University of Ohio, where she received her Bachelor of Arts in Music studying voice. She continued on at University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point to obtain her Master’s in Music Education – Piano Pedagogy, where she also studied composition under Dr. Charles Young. Erin has maintained a private piano and voice studio since 1998, while she also continues to expand her musical knowledge through performing, conferences, master classes, and private instruction.

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