Why I teach – part II

So I left Milwaukee in June 1987 for the DC area. I started to audition for anything and everything and discovered, much to my chagrin, that my sightsinging skills left a lot to be desired (and all the auditions called for sightsinging). Since my husband at the time (hereafter “HATT”) was on the road a lot and I knew only a handful of people, I spent a lot of time with hymnals practicing solfege on my own. After a few months of that, I was hired by two high-end performing groups – the Paul Hill Chorale and the Washington Bach Consort. I also found a teacher, Marianna Busching, who became a friend, a mentor and an inspiration to me. In June 1988, I auditioned for the Washington Opera chorus and was hired to sing in La forza del destino the following winter. The Kennedy Center became my home for the next 7 seasons -and Marianna’s studio.

My own home was growing increasingly tense and uncomfortable. HATT and I were having terrible marital troubles – we had since before we left for DC and it didn’t get any better once I began to grow as a singer and begin singing in more professional venues, both as a soloist and as a chorister. Since Marianna had been hired at Peabody, I found it more and more difficult to get a lesson time that would fit with my work schedule. So I decided to bite the bullet and go back to grad school – at Peabody.

I took a lot of flack for it. My parents were horrified that I would go out on my own and move up to Baltimore. When I tried to talk to Renate about how things were going, she would change the subject, saying that it made her stomach hurt. HATT alternated between being verbally supportive and passive aggressive. (So what else was new?) But ultimately it was the best thing that I could’ve done for myself. We wound up making the break permanent shortly after I graduated.

I still had a day job post-grad school and was singing with Washington Opera and in solo roles with smaller companies throughout the area. And, oh, I’d met Bill at the beginning of my second semester at Peabody, so the big move to NYC upon graduation was no longer in the cards. So —

I came back to Milwaukee. Since I had worked as singer from 8/87 through 6/96 with barely any time between rehearsals, I had no doubts that I would return to conquer my hometown. I took a job as a legal secretary and hit the audition trail. I really thought I’d only be here for the 3 years of Bill’s residency and then return to the east coast. In the meantime, I was sure that I’d be working constantly!

This is not Baltimore. This is not Washington. This is still Milwaukee. So I decided to hang out my shingle and teach, just until the gigs started pouring in. I figured it was better than filing. My initial students were castoffs from other teachers (“I don’t have room for you, but I know someone who might”) and frustrated choir directors (“you learn to sing in tune or you’re out!”). Most of them couldn’t read music, couldn’t match pitch, in some cases couldn’t speak a lot of English (I still remember the guy to whom I said, “This exercise is on the syllable, ‘ng,'” and he said, “That’s easy for me. It’s my name!”), were being forced to come by their parents, and often forgot to bring money.

But I found myself, much to my complete surprise:

1. Really good at this;
2. Determined to help anyone as long as they wanted to be helped – some didn’t;
3. Absolutely passionate about the subject of voice and wanting to learn more, not only to sing better myself but to take people further than they thought they could go.

By September 1998, word of mouth had resulted in my having to make the decision to quit the day job – my car wasn’t paid off yet, which was the criteria for pursuing teaching full-time. I had no choice. I couldn’t stand being a secretary for another day.

In 10-1/2 years, I’ve become

1. Even better at this;
2. Still determined to help anyone as long as they wanted to be helped – and some still don’t, but I don’t get castoffs anymore. At least I don’t consider them castoffs.
3. Still passionate, still wanting to learn more and still wanting my students to exceed their own expectations, if not mine. (I always feel like anyone who walks in might be the next B’way or opera diva – it’s up to them to prove me wrong!)

Even though it was the “hey, at least I’m not typing” option, teaching voice is my calling. Marianna says that you can teach for as long as your ears work – I’m hoping they work for a good long time!

Published by Mezzoid Voice Studio

Christine Thomas-O'Meally, a mezzo soprano and voice teacher currently based in the Baltimore-DC area, has performed everything from the motets of J.S. Bach to the melodies of Irving Berlin to the minimalism of Philip Glass. As an opera singer and actress, she has appeared with companies such as Charm City Players, Spotlighters Theatre, Chicago Opera Theater, Opera Theater of Northern Virginia, Opera North, the Washington Savoyards, In Tandem Theatre, Windfall Theater, The Young Victorian Theater of Baltimore, and Skylight Opera Theatre. She created the role of The Woman in Red in Dominick Argento’s Dream of Valentino in its world premiere with the Washington Opera and Mary Pickersgill in O'er the Ramparts at its world premiere during the Bicentennial of Battle of Baltimore at the Community College of Baltimore County. Other roles include Mrs. Paroo in Music Man, Mother Abbess in Sound of Music, Dorabella in Cosi Fan Tutte, Marcellina in Le Nozze di Figaro, both Hansel and the Witch in Hansel & Gretel, and many roles in Gilbert & Sullivan operettas. Her performance as the Housekeeper in Man of La Mancha was honored with a WATCH award nomination. Ms. Thomas-O'Meally received an M.M. in vocal performance from the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. She regularly attends master classes and workshops in both performance and vocal pedagogy, and is certified in all three Levels of Somatic Voicework™ The LoVetri Method. Her students have performed on national and international tours of Broadway productions, at prestigious conservatories, and in regional theater throughout the country.

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