How the hell did I get here? I know there is no one, single way into this weird and wonderful world -call it opera, classical, music, theatre, whatever. But it sure snuck up on me; or vice versa, I’m still not sure.
After a hazily misspent youth spent drumming in rock bands (aping Bonham and Grohl) then singing (yawping, barking, crooning, hollering, roaring; another Morrison-Vedder acolyte, for my sins) -all the while amassing an ‘extensive collection of name-tags and hairnets’ in the construction, film and service industries- a long-awaited trip home (from Vancouver, Canada, where I lived the last 14 years, to Glasgow, Scotland, where I was born) changed my life entirely.
Subtly, but irrevocably, the course was altered. It happened in a curry house. I was eating with friends and telling a story about life on Mayne Island when I got a tap on the shoulder. I turned around and a beautiful woman was beaming at me. I smiled back and she said in a charming accent:
“I am sorry to disturb you, but I have to ask you, are you a singer?”
Thinking of hundreds of sweaty jam-space hours, and any number of beer-stank pub-gigs:
”Hell yeah, I am.”
“Oh, and what do you sing?”
With my best leer and, to my eternal shame/credit (only you can decide), popping some devil-horns, I growled:
The lights went out from her smile:
“Oh, I am sorry.”
That was not the response I had been braced for. She continued:
“You sound like you are trained, that you are an opera singer.”
She disengaged gracefully and returned to her table. I don’t know why, but when I’d had a few more bites. I walked her way.
“Excuse me, why did you ask me that?”
“Well, I’m an opera singer!…”
Many minutes later, we are still talking. She describes vividly the thrill of live performance, of working with a great crew and ensemble of dedicated and talented artists, whether onstage, backstage, or, underneath (yet paramount) in the orchestra pit, to bring every nuance out of a composer’s dreamscape and the director’s vision. Of study, and craftsmanship and revelling in language, and in beauty. Of timeless drama, and epic romance. Of glory, betrayal, tragedy. Fencing. Fighting. Chases. Escapes. True love. And such. With a promise to look her up if I was ever in Zurich, we parted friendly. And I went about my life.
There it would have ended, were it not for the following week in Berlin. Baxpax Kreuzberg, downing pints at the hostel bar. Chatting away with a friend, we notice a guy down the bar looking our way. Glasses are raised. Friendly faces made. A minute later, a tap on the shoulder. Turning, it is the bloke from down the bar, and, in thick Cockney, he repeats verbatim the question of the previous week. Am I a singer? Yes. Do I sing opera? No. He leans in:
“Well, mate, I don’t know how to tell you this, but you sound more like an opera singer than most opera singers.” He’s the bassoon player from the Lisbon Symphony Orchestra, and he’s heard them all, see?
And there it would, almost certainly, have ended, were it not for the following week in Italy. Three different cites, three different waiters. One question: Signore, are you an opera singer? No, I would like some penne al arrabbiata, but I am thinking about taking some singing lessons, thanks. If every waiter is LA is an actor. Maybe every waiter in Italy is an opera singer?
By the next year I was in university, and the year following, working in the Vancouver Opera chorus. The next, I started singing principal roles for smaller companies and artist-training programs. It was just three years ago I finally graduated, and two years back I made for Europe.
So, nigh on a decade to get me this far. With a whole lot of support, truly countless kindnesses, I have been much blessed. However, facing down so much rejection, so much indifference, so much waiting, so much maintenance, so much hurt and disappointment, it all adds up, every day, and it stings something fierce too. And I do not know that it will ever stop. But I never had a Plan B. I’m all in. And that is scary as hell.
It gets real dark some days, but there is still good fuel for the fire. My dues are paid, and I am ready for the break. When I catch it, I’m going to ride it all the way.
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