VV: Richie In The City V

new-york-city-nyc-skyline-midtown-manhattan-at-night-black-and-white-jon-holiday

I’d like to level with y’all – the greatest gift that moving here has given me is the realization that…

I don’t want to be an opera singer.

Richard-Symons1-e1413516376478I’ll let that sink in, cause it might seem a bit odd, given that I’ve been blogging about becoming an opera singer for the past month! I’m going to walk you through my rationale. I should say from the outset that this isn’t a blog about learning from my “mistakes”. I have zero regrets about the path I chose, which has led to so many incredible relationships and experiences. However, I will say that this is a blog about learning from my experiences. This decision was far more difficult than my decision to come and study my MMus in New York, which was a no-brainer. It probably took me 8 months to fully realize that I wanted to take my career in a different direction, and why. So, I suppose the best place to start is the beginning…

 In May 2015 I flew back to Perth to perform in Lost & Found’s Medée. It was my first experience of having to travel some distance for work, and even though I was staying with my parents and constantly seeing my friends, I was incredibly lonely. This is when I first considered if Opera was the right career for me. I thought about what it truly means to be an opera singer, and the reality is that those lucky enough to gets jobs are, pretty much, travelling gypsies. For some people that is their idea of a life worth living. It is not mine.

 And even though Perth is where my loved ones are – my parents, my sister, my friends – home will always be where my couch, Netflix, and Isabelle are – not necessarily in that order! That small world that exists in my tiny New York apartment has now become my family.

I had to look myself in the mirror and really question what a life worth living looked like, to me. Everyone should do this. Do it now! It wasn’t as simple as a 3-minute conversation with myself, but what it did reveal was what I didn’t want, i.e. to live out of a suitcase.

 A couple of months later, in July, I drove across America with my best friend. There’s something about driving 5 hours a day through desert plains and mountain ranges that gives you perspective. I didn’t have Simpsons-esque visions of tortoises or coyotes in the desert, instead I had recurring “aha” moments – that I valued lifestyle over career. To put it another way, I decided that I will not let my future career dictate where, when, and how I live life. And, I realized that the “how” was to be surrounded by my family.

 Let’s check the progress report in this story with a nifty little table…

What I want

What I don’t want

To be surrounded by my family

To live out of a suitcase

This was the genesis of my decision, but once I stumbled across these discoveries it became clear that a career as an operatic soloist no longer fitted into how I want to live my life.

 So we’re now into August, and my second  year at Mannes is about to start. The question still remained however: what next? What are my next career steps? What career do I even want? At the same time as this great unknown was permeating my thoughts, my apathy towards a career in opera was slowly but surely destroying my love for music all together. If I was at school for 50 hrs a week in my first year, I now whittled down the time I had to spend at school to 10 hrs. Everywhere I looked I only saw the negatives in this career: the narcissism, the lack of collaboration with colleagues, when all you do is lock yourself in a practice room for hours a day; the self-doubt you put yourself through before auditions; the audition process itself and how fickle it can be…the list goes on.

 I decided that instead of focusing on what I didn’t enjoy, I’d use this opportunity to do all the things I love doing but put on-hold to pursue a career in opera. I started playing rugby again (ask me when you next see me how that came about – it’s a good story!), I got a job singing in a church choir and listened to 100’s of hours of renaissance choral music, and I went to the pub pretty frequently to watch the football…or baseball…or soccer…pretty much any sport! These were the first steps in discovering what actually made me tick. It wasn’t too long after this that I discovered what stimulates me more than anything else:

  • Helping people be the best version of themselves
  • The English choral tradition, more specifically, choral music of the renaissance

Before I went to WAAPA, before I even graduated high school, I wanted to teach music. I had earlier spent time in India and Fiji teaching and playing music to orphans. All I wanted to do is make a positive impact in the lives of kids. And to pay my way through WAAPA I taught at a school, and I loved it. Equally, before I went to WAAPA I had sung in a church choir for 10 years. I also sang in small consorts, performing music of the renaissance and early baroque. I can’t remember when or why it happened, but at some stage I decided to study singing at WAAPA, and stayed on that track. I didn’t stop to think, “Why am I quitting my teaching job to sing, when what you really enjoy is teaching?” – Or – “Why do you have to give up singing renaissance music so that you can better sing opera, when (out of the two) you would much rather give up singing opera?” That answer was probably that at that time I was really enjoying singing opera, and being offered opportunities that I couldn’t turn down! Hindsight is 20/20.

 What I am saying is: understand your own values and how they can change over time. Take stock frequently of what gets you out of bed. Make sure you make decisions based on what you want to do, not on what most people are doing. There is no ‘one-way’ to have a career in music, and just because all the other salmon are swimming up-stream doesn’t mean you can’t forge your own path…just watch out for bears!

 But, all these discoveries mean that we can update that nifty table!

What I want

What I don’t want

To be surrounded by my family

To live out of a suitcase

Make a positive impact in the lives of kids

To perform renaissance choral music

 The final piece of my puzzle fell into place thanks to the guidance and kindness of my mentors here at Mannes. I have been extremely fortunate to work with many great Directors, both at WAAPA and in my first year in NYC. I took what I had learned from them and tried my hand at directing for the Young Artist Program (YAP) opera scenes concert. I had never been so intellectually and artistically stimulated in the opera medium. At the beginning of this year, noticing that I wasn’t enjoying singing, my YAP coach suggested that perhaps I’d like to do the lion’s share of directing for this year’s program – an opportunity I snapped up. As I immersed myself more and more into this task, I discovered just how much I enjoyed directing and, ironically, this step away from singing revived my enjoyment of singing. I was then offered the opportunity to be Assistant Director on the main opera production for this Spring – Little Women, an opera very close to my heart! I had a meeting with Maestro Colaneri when he said that, whilst this has never been done before, the opera department was in a position to do what was in the best interests of a student – a novel idea in many institutions! Interestingly, I now realize that the reason I enjoy directing isn’t just because one gets to see an artistic vision manifest itself on-stage. It’s because, through direction, I can contribute to helping other singers be the best performers they can be. With that in mind, let’s defer to the nifty little table one last time…

What I want

What I don’t want

To be surrounded by my family

To live out of a suitcase

Make a positive impact in the lives of kids

To perform renaissance choral music

Help performers be the best they can be

So, what’s next?

I want to teach. I have been invited to interviews with private schools here in NYC for classroom music teacher positions – and some have the added responsibility of being Head of Choral Music…so fingers crossed! Some other opportunities seem to be arising in the UK to sing renaissance choral music, professionally. So again, fingers and toes!

Hopefully in reading this story, you can take something away and apply it to the way you move forward in your music career. As I keep repeating: there is no “one way” to have a career in music, so take the time to figure out and constantly re-evaluate what you want, and the rest should fall into place. Never shy away from embracing change! Trust me, I never thought I’d get myself out of the hole I thought I dug for myself in August, but here I am, writing in January, the happiest I have been in a very long time!

If anyone wants to contact me and ask any further questions just let The O Word know, they have my info.

Richard xx



Written by Richard Symons

We were so thrilled when Richard expressed interest in writing a blog for The O Word ~ and what a great blog it is. Thanks so much Richie for enlightening us and sharing your story… I know it’ll be helpful and interesting to a lot of people! K & L

Feel like you missed a VV: Richie In The City blog? Click here.

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