Why I teach – part I

I have to confess that there have been two times in my life when teaching was something to “fall back on.” The first time was when I majored in music at Alverno College, and told my advisor that what I wanted to do was to sing professionally and teach voice privately. I had never even had a voice lesson at that point, but there was something about it that called to me. My advisor said, “You want to be a music education major,” and I said, “Well, no, not really, I don’t think I’d really like that or be that good at it.” She said, “Well, what was your favorite class in HS? Who was your favorite teacher?” I said, “Well, choir and Mr. Fox. He was an amazing choral director.” She smiled triumphantly and said, “Well, don’t you want to be just like Mr. Fox?”

That would have been nice, but Mr. Fox was primarily a pianist who loved choral music and could play anything. I was a vocalist who enjoyed choral music and could play piano – kinda. But I was raised to listen to authority figures who most certainly knew much more than a girl from the working-class sout’ side a’Muhwaukee ever could, so I majored in music ed. Throughout the 4 years, I ignored my internal voice that said, “You don’t like this. You don’t want to do this. You just want to sing.” I didn’t put any stock into that internal voice because it was my own. It did not have an Estonian accent. That internal voice was more likely to say, “You aren’t a good enough singer. You don’t sing soprano – how can you be a singer when you are an alto?”

So I graduated from Alverno with a Bachelor of Music Education degree and started teaching at St. Dominic’s in Brookfield. I taught there for two years, hating the administration (the priest there deserves his own blog entry), hating giving grades, writing lesson plans, getting up early, disliking everything I was doing – except when I was putting on performances with my students. That I enjoyed. Otherwise, I called in sick a lot, and way more often than the sick days allotted to me. Even though the economy was pretty much akin to what it is now, I listened to my own inner voice and did not sign the contract offered me for a 3rd year. (The Estonian accented one was screeching at me that I was an idiot to turn down work when jobs were so scarce – oh, wait a minute, that was the external voice of my mother.)

For the next few years, I worked day jobs and sang with the Skylight, Florentine and Milwaukee Opera companies, with Music under the Stars, and tried to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. I took lessons with someone who really didn’t understand my voice and gave me repertoire that resulted in auditioners saying, “Miss Thomas, why are you singing this particular aria?”

So I wasn’t teaching (good!) and I was singing (also good), but not at the level to which I aspired. Something had to change.

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