The State of the Industry: Pursuing Your Passion

Why do you sing? And what keeps you going when times get tough? We readily suffer for our art, so to speak, because we love what we do and we would not be happy doing anything else. This month I explore more of the many reasons why singers choose this path.
 
Despite the various difficulties one may experience in pursuing a performance career, we choose to sing. Why? “Because music is worth it,” says Chicago-based baritone Michael Orlinsky. Baritone Brian Myer, who is currently pursuing his master of music degree at Cleveland Institute of Music, agrees. “It’s more about the music than the recognition.”
 
“Because I love it,” exclaims soprano Sarah Diller, an emerging artist based in Chicago. “Regardless of the frustrations and hardships singing can cause, performing makes me happy. I think I’m still young enough to choose happiness over money.”
 
“Despite the really unfortunate things that accompany a career as a singer, the joy and total peace I feel while I’m singing make up for everything else,” says soprano Kimberly Waite.
 
Soprano, founder and artistic director of Emerald City Opera, and private voice teacher Keri Rusthoi’s agrees, “[I do this] because I love to sing!” That passion has in turn taken her down an unexpected career path. “Singing is healing and developmental, yet the reason I have a career is because I’m an entrepreneur. I never thought I would teach singing, but I’ve been ‘through the wringer’ as a voice student, which gives me a rather unique perspective on what good singing is and how to teach good singing. I have so much respect and adulation for the art of singing, which was instilled by my teacher, and it is an honor to pass on her tradition.”
 
For soprano Melissa Rivera—who has performed with Creede Repertory Theatre, Lyric Opera San Diego, Sledgehammer Theatre, and Diablo Light Opera Company (now Diablo Theatre Company)—singing is really a basic need. “I continue to sing because there is nothing else in the world that brings me that kind of joy,” she says. “I once had a teacher tell me that if I could imagine myself having another career, then I should go for it. This path is too difficult to pursue if you are not completely devoted to it. As a singer, I do not feel like I am working, I feel like I am experiencing life.”
 
“I do it because I love it,” echoes Las Vegas-based soprano, Pier Lamia Porter. “In a world of utter chaos, music keeps me sane. I have a desk job and I hate it. I see my coworkers looking miserable and I think to myself, ‘That can’t be me. I want more from life.’ I’m not looking for a glorious career where the world loves me and the paparazzi invade my privacy—I just want to share my one true love with the world. If I can do that without living on the streets begging people for money, I’ll be happy.”
 
Obviously, most of us pursue singing because we love it, but several performers also expressed deep satisfaction from perfecting their art. “I love to do it and I find intrinsic value in just performing and exploring the process of improving technically,” says Alexis Alfaro, a San Diego-based tenor. “Making singing difficult is a mindset. It can be easy and fun—it is just how you perceive it. Anything worthwhile is worth working for.”
 
One soprano, who wished to remain anonymous, has technical goals she hasn’t yet met. “I have had this unexplainable urge, obsession, and devotion to overcome these technical challenges. Until I sing freely and my ‘true voice’ shines and expresses what my heart and head have to say, I don’t think I’ll be able to stop.”
 
Even with an absolute passion for singing, eventually the extreme pressure, the fierce competition, and the stream of rejection letters can take a toll on your ego and self-esteem. In those moments, it helps to have someone who loves you unconditionally to encourage you. I asked these singers who the cheerleaders are on their team who support them and keep them going when they question their career choice.
 
“My father,” says Orlinsky. “Although I don’t always enjoy everything that he has to say to me, he is sincere. I know that he would never lie to me if I didn’t do my best.”
 
Madison Emery Smith, a soprano based in San Francisco, counts family and mentors as huge blessings. “I am extremely fortunate,” she says. “I have a family that completely supports me emotionally and financially. I have a number of wonderful mentors who support me and give generously with their time and their energy to help me be my best.”
 
“My parents are the most emotionally and financially supportive people in my life,” Diller says. “Right now I feel like my career is me paying a panel of people to hear me sing. My parents are always there to financially back me if I can’t afford an audition. I would have missed out on many auditions if it weren’t for them. My two best friends from college, neither of whom is a musician, provide an incredible amount of emotional support. They always know my audition and performance schedule and are the first to wish me luck, to ask how it went, to listen to my doubts when I’m rejected, and to celebrate with me when I’m hired.”
 
Rivera garners support from her mother and best friend. “They know little to nothing about music, so everything I do looks amazing,” she says. “They celebrate the slightest victory as if it were their own. When I feel like I have hit a brick wall or I am not good enough, they lift me up. Their innocence and honest point of view reminds me why my work is so important.”
 
Another singer agreed that family support was helpful, but felt that her support group outside of her family “hits really deep. I have close friends who are also singers who are very encouraging. I have colleagues, mentors, and directors who have been extremely helpful and supportive—and I am so grateful.”
 
Many successful singers who are also spouses and parents credit their accomplishments to having support from their entire family. “My parents, my husband, and now my daughter support me,” Fraser says. “It is a family project. It would be tough without them—they think I am great! I also have wonderful colleagues all over the world that like to collaborate. I have worked hard to establish a good reputation, but I also have pride and respect for the music and for the people with whom I am working.”
 
“My husband and daughter have given me love and have encouraged me to get out there, despite late-night rehearsals and performances,” says a Los Angeles-based soprano and teacher, who wishes to remain anonymous. “This would have been impossible without them, and I’m deeply grateful.”
 
“I am lucky enough to come from a family of musicians who have either followed a similar path or they understand without me having to explain the happiness that comes with singing and performing,” says Waite. “If I ever feel like quitting, all I have to do is call my mom, and she’ll remind me, ‘You could quit, but why? I know you’ll be successful because you’re so stubborn!’ That’s generally all I need, along with a sweet reminder from my grandmothers that my singing makes them cry.”
 
Defining your idea of success is also important. “What a lot of people don’t realize is success to a singer isn’t making a lot of money and having screaming fans,” Porter says. “Success is being able to do what you love every day of your life and sharing that love with others. To perform on a stage and pour out every ounce of your frustration, admiration, sadness, love, happiness, anger, personality, and soul makes it all worth it. To walk away knowing that you touched at least one person’s life is worth every hardship we face. I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
 
Whether you perceive your career as suffering for your art or pursuing your passion, ultimately it is up to you to choose happiness. “I find it healthy to choose to be happy, even when working under less-than-ideal circumstances,” says Arsdale. “Singing is my favorite form of communication, and I will continue to sing until I can’t.”
 

The full article written by Michelle appears in the May 2014 issue of Classical Singer magazine.

Dr. Michelle Latour

Dr. Michelle Latour is a Las Vegas-based voice teacher, repertoire consultant, and writer. She is the creator of The LATOUR voice studios, LLC, and maintains a busy studio, teaching both classical and musical theatre genres. She has been on the full-time voice faculties of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and Bluffton University. Latour earned a DMA from the University of Southern California and an MM from Boston University, both in Voice performance. To find out more and get in touch, visit www.drmichellelatour.com.