Singer: Identity Crisis

C.W. Hoffman

Reflecting on my 22 years of singing I still wish that someone along the journey had told me this: “While you have been gifted with this wonderful identity of singer and vocalist it is wise to remember that it is only a part of you and not all of you.  If you find that you have other passions, pursue them.  You may find that music and singing will stay with you in your life or you may find that music will only be with you for a season.”

Being identified as a ‘singer’ at the age of ten was both exciting, ego-boosting and frightening.  I felt it as a burden and a blessing all at once.  My parents were excited to have me start private lessons.  I honestly don’t remember asking for them.  They were excited that I had a talent that was new and ‘out of nowhere’ from the family gene pool.

Throughout my high school years all of the students were required to take career aptitude tests.  I remember my results included: photojournalist, psychologist, artist, photographer and professional musician.  Because I was already taking voice lessons I kept after music as it was the easiest and most known craft to me.

I rested my entire undergraduate career on the fact that I was a singer.  Period.  My parents, while supportive of me going to college and pursuing ‘my dreams’, were just excited that there was a person with musical talent in the family.  My younger brother is also quite gifted with music as well, but was never pushed into lessons or pursuing it as a career.   Music for him was always, and is still, an enjoyable hobby.  For me I saw music as something I had to do, not necessarily something I wanted to do.  I managed to wrestle with this concept throughout my 7 undergraduate years of college and I finally let it take hold of me while pursuing my masters degree in voice performance.

My first voice teacher was a Juilliard graduate and retired opera singer.  She drove an hour and a half to teach lessons in the area where my family lived.  She must have loved teaching voice that much to drive so far.  She always had high hopes for me, as she often publicly announced.  At my high school junior recital she claimed that my name would be in lights someday.

Now, twenty years later, I still feel a pang of guilt, though, as my name and those lights have not yet appeared.  That was not my path as a singer and I have accepted that. My identity has become one of a whole person, one who still enjoys singing and performing.  One who was able to make a little bit of a living while singing at the same time.   Perhaps those lights looked different for my career, rather than being publicly displayed on a marquee.  Perhaps they shine differently and in a different way.

My advice to younger singers would be this: “Take personality tests, take career aptitude tests.  If you’re unsure as to what music means to you, what singing means to you, then consider your options regarding other careers and passions.”

I am not writing to discourage you, rather to encourage you to grow yourself as a person and singer.  Look beyond what you already know and see how you can use your talents to positively impact those around you.  If music speaks so loudly to you that you must sing or play your instrument, that’s an amazing gift to share with the world.

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