For the past couple of months, when I’ve told people I was going to grad school next year, the immediate response was typically “Great! For music, right?” Well, actually, the answer to that is no. It surprised them. And it even surprised me.
Around my hometown, I’m known as the young opera singer. Though I have a day job in insurance marketing, most people ask me first about how my music is going. Since graduating with a Bachelor of Music in opera performance, I’ve held a bi-weekly church musician job. I’ve sung for numerous galas, weddings, and funerals. I couldn’t tell you how many National Anthems I’ve performed. I’ve participated in voice competitions, like the local level of the Met Opera National Council competition. I’ve had opera auditions and had landed a role in a Seattle-based young artist opera program last summer. Every year, I have held a benefit recital for a local domestic violence shelter. Opera is the strong-suit I’m connected to first.
I was growing as a musician and enjoying the music process, as always. I should have been happy. Instead, I was exhausted. It began to hit me that I didn’t want to be this tired. I don’t have a family that can support me while I pursue singing full-time, and I don’t want to have to rely on anyone for that. I decided I would apply to grad school to further my craft. While I was going through the application process, a few things happened that made me think hard about the direction of my life.
I had a callback audition for a performance series with a good-size symphony. In the waiting room, I learned I was one of five sopranos called back for the soprano lead. I was noticeably younger than all of them. Quite a bit younger. In fact, one of the other sopranos had judged me in a singing competition when I was in high school. I did not get the role. After talking with others, I learned that roles like this, which used to go to singers of my experience level, were now going to older, more-experienced singers. And these more experienced singers were taking these jobs because there were now less opportunities for them.
I had stayed in touch with a singer colleague who is a couple years older and much more experienced than I. She is hired to sing far more often than I am. She was also applying to grad schools, but not for music performance. Still with constant work as a musician, she did not make enough to leave her retail job. She was coming to realize she wanted to have a nice retirement and unmarried, she couldn’t rely on a spouse for that. Both of us had considered moving to Germany to work in opera because of more opportunities and the phenomenal government support of the arts. However, she was telling me about her friends who had gone to sing there, who still had to have a ‘day job’ to make ends meet, even though they were contracted full-time opera singers. Why go to Germany just to have a second job there too?
For the past few years, I’ve come to realize that I love public speaking. (More on that in a later blog…) I started asking public speakers how they came to do what they do. It turns out that the vast majority of them started in broadcast journalism. On a whim, I began to research what a career in broadcasting looked like. I came to realize that it was incredibly interesting. Interesting not just in the way of curiosity, but in the way that I was interested IN it. AND it used a lot of my skill sets I’d learned from performance - public speaking, thinking on your feet with the unexpected, presentation skills, vocal ability, stage presence, etc. Funnily enough, my voice teacher casually mentioned in a voice lesson that she and my collaborative pianist had a secret theory that I would make a great TV anchor, without my ever mentioning broadcasting to her. I decided to give it a shot.
After finishing my music school applications, I quickly researched the best graduate schools for broadcast journalism and pieced together my applications. I applied to one safe school and three reach schools. With no background in journalism, I had no idea if any school would consider me for even ten seconds. I didn’t have any broadcast or journalism materials to submit. Instead, I submitted blogs I had written for a German opera website, videos of my past speeches, a vlog from my YouTube channel Acutely Anikka, and an academic essay from a music history course.
Soon, I received callbacks for three of the four music schools I had applied to. I scheduled my plane tickets and confirmed my live audition times.
Not long after that, I received broadcast journalism program acceptances from two of my reach schools and my safe school. I couldn’t believe it. I still think they accidentally hit the ‘accept’ button.
It was time to do some serious self-reflection. I couldn’t both attend my auditions and visit the broadcast schools. Deep in my heart, I realized that I didn’t want to rely on music as my main income. I too want a nice retirement. I want complete independence. I want to perform on my own terms. I don’t want my life to be as financially and emotionally difficult as every single singer I know. I LOVE speaking just as much as singing. Further than that, I LOVE influencing people positively. The common thread in everything I’ve loved dearly is influence. As a performer and as a speaker, you see in the faces of your audience when you have made an impact. You hear it in their response. You feel it in the air. It’s rather addicting.
I cancelled my auditions, my flights, and my hotels. I booked a ticket to visit one of my reach school acceptances - Arizona State University. I’m not abandoning music. I’m adding to my professional repertoire. And I can’t wait to begin this new career adventure.