From the Editor : Strength in Adversity

It was a cold spring morning high in the Utah mountains. A slow, relentless drizzle had started overnight and continued as the first rays of light spread over the muddy field. I made my way through hundreds of fellow runners trying in vain to stay dry before beginning the 26.2-mile race down the canyon. I searched my surroundings for anything that looked like a staging area and finally laid eyes on a couple of pickup trucks and a van. With my jacket pulled over my head, I jogged to the trucks and introduced myself to the first person I could find.

“I’m here to sing the national anthem. Where and when do you want me?”

We discussed a few logistics. I would sing a capella. I would use a microphone. And I would begin just before the race started—which was still a 45-minute wait, with the rain not letting up. Pointing to my throat, I asked if there was somewhere dry I could wait. They showed me to the back seat of a four-door pickup truck. Much warmer and a little drier, I gratefully counted my blessings that volunteering to sing had led me to shelter from the storm.

I’m not the only singer who has had to sing the national anthem in less than ideal circumstances. I’m sure many of you could share your own stories, just like the singers Rachel Antman interviewed for this issue (p. 26). From five-second delays in a huge sports arena to simply remembering the words, the music and the venue can present significant challenges.

Learning how to persevere and sing well when things aren’t as planned or expected can strengthen us as performers and as people. Sometimes it’s rain or a bad sound system in a crazy outdoor venue. Sometimes it’s wrong notes from a pianist in an audition. Or maybe it’s a bad cue from a conductor or missed blocking by a scene partner. When we adapt in those imperfect moments and make good things happen anyway, we discover our own strengths and abilities.

Author, voice teacher, and publisher Scott McCoy has learned the importance of adapting
(p. 38). He first published his book Your Voice: An Inside View in 2002. As he worked on his recently released second edition, he continually made changes to fit an evolving audience and marketplace. Rather than offering a CD companion with the book, for example, he has moved the digital content to the cloud so readers can access it from their smart phone, tablet, or computer. McCoy also runs his own publishing company dedicated to vocal pedagogy books, putting himself in the driver’s seat.

When we learn to adapt, we are no longer at the mercy of others’ choices and mistakes, but free to choose and act for ourselves. Tenor Russell Thomas, featured in this month’s cover story (p. 16), has a lot to say about freedom. He admires the freedom with which singers of the past sang and strives to find that freedom in his own singing. Offstage he expresses his opinions and talks about hard things openly and honestly—something he says allows him to really be himself.

Also in this issue, Dana Lynne Varga continues her look at another less than ideal circumstance for female singers: gender disparity in the university setting (p. 30). While we must continue to freely speak out for better equality, we can also proactively find ways to thrive as things are. Varga advises singers to get as much information as they can about program costs, performing opportunities while in school, and earning potential after school to make the most informed decisions possible.

At 6:50 a.m. on that cold spring morning, I held the mic in the still pouring rain and sang the national anthem. In spite of the early hour and the crazy weather, I sang well—no forgotten words, smooth legato lines, and a stirring high note at the end. Or maybe, just maybe, my impassioned performance was actually because of those challenges. Because when we are challenged, our true voice and our real strengths emerge.

Sara Thomas

Sara Thomas is editor of Classical Singer magazine. She welcomes your comments.