Something that I think I’m pretty good at is being grateful for the many blessings in my life. Although I certainly was not born into a family “of means,” I never went hungry or went without clothes. More importantly, I was born into a loving family with two parents (still married after 43 years) who insisted that I do the things that perhaps I didn’t want to do at the time, but were beneficial to me in the long run. My folks emphasized a quality education very highly, and they helped me to learn what it was to have faith in something bigger than myself.
In my opinion, a corollary to being grateful for my many gifts is the requirement that I acknowledge that the gifts I was given weren’t handed to me because I earned them, or because I deserved them. I was (and still am) simply very, very lucky to have had so much given to me through no effort of my own. Of course, I used the gifts given me to the best of my ability, but even then, the environment was always favorable to facilitate good results.
I began singing in a really great boychoir in fourth grade, and goodness knows I did not want to go to rehearsals, etc., but my parents insisted that I go, and when I was there, the director (probably my greatest mentor outside of my parents) consistently demanded excellence and would not accept the alternative. I didn’t realize the benefits of such rigorous training until I reached high school, where I learned that girls actually liked guys who could sing, and I then thanked my stars for having learned how to. In the wider field of education, I was accepted into a rigorous high school magnet program, and again, excellence was simply expected, and I learned to deliver. In college, my professors took the time to work with me individually to fill in the gaps in my education and to encourage me to look beyond my existing limitations. In graduate school, again, excellence was the standard, and anything other than that was simply unacceptable. I had the great good fortune to attend three of the top 10 programs in voice (at the time), and each had something special to offer. Say whatever you’d like about psychology or external motivations, but in my life, the best was always expected from my parents and my teachers, and at the same time, assistance and encouragement to achieve excellence was always provided.
With that in mind, this past week has been difficult for me to witness. I did a little bit part on a program at a local university, and what I saw upset me. The faculty seemed clueless and misguided in relation to this student and her program (the lecture portion was actually embarrassing), and I kept thinking about how poorly they must be able to guide their students when they themselves seemed so hapless. I’ve also been volunteering at my church’s school (K-8) with the music “department” there, and it just depressed me to walk into a room of students who wanted to learn, but had a teacher who was unwilling and/or unable to offer the type of quality assistance they needed.
In just a short time of talking to the students and getting them to work on making something good, we made some progress, but the unavoidable truth is that when someone walks in to teach someone step 10, but they aren’t around to teach steps 1-9, step 10 probably won’t be achieved. Of course, this has many implications across society. For various reasons, young people are being cheated out of something better by parents, by teachers, and by a society that seems to encourage Guitar Hero over actually playing a guitar, or Madden 2012 over a kid learning to play football in real life. The lucky ones, like me, who are surrounded by a demand to achieve, while being provided with the means (guidance, love, and support) to accomplish those goals, gain so much, while everyone else sits by, wishing that they were just given the opportunities and the assistance to do better.
Much ink has been spent and studies conducted that examine the question of “finding oneself” through self-exploration, questioning, etc., but I have long maintained that we find ourselves when we learn the value of achievement (and failure) through the things we do and the excellence in all things that we pursue, knowing that in some things we’ll find success better than in others, and that’s OK. In fact, it’s better than OK. It’s great.
My doctoral program took me four years in total. After three years “in residence” I was basically done, but I had to revise and publish my dissertation, and during that time I moved back home, met a new voice teacher, and have since focused on my own performing career again while eschewing the academic path. Weeks like this one make me think that maybe my talents would be better served back in education, giving young people some of the same advantages I’ve had. The pull I feel back to working with young people is a good one. I know that my future certainly holds exactly that, even if I’m not quite ready to jump back in right away.
About Me…Hi! I'm an opera singer who's not really all that interested in opera. What I am interested in are the things you'll see on this site. You'll find that I like to stir the pot. I hope you enjoy what I'm cooking. Read more →
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