It’s Music Monday! A little story; a little song.
A storm moved in Saturday from out of a flawless sky. Clouds rolled up and let loose their chaos for half an hour then rolled out again, leaving the air clean and crisp, and perfumed with jasmine.
I’m sure I don’t need to draw the obvious parallel here. It inspired today’s song—one very close to my heart—about a better place where there are no troubles, and you can have all the good you can dream up.
This song has deep and magical implications in my life. First, it was the official song of the voice school where I studied for years, a place that saved my life, Singer’s Forum. This school, founded by my uncle Andy Anselmo, was a place for anyone who wanted to sing. Andy even created a class called Singing for Those Who Think They Can’t, which was very popular.
Don’t believe everyone can learn to sing? There was one student who used to have his private coaching every Thursday in a studio adjacent to the theater space where I took my opera scene workshop. When he started, he had two notes, both bad. Two years later, we was crooning like Sinatra, and two years after that, he was able to quit his job and support his family with his tours, selling out 2000-seat theaters. That philosophy of fulfilling people’s dreams is why today’s song is so apropos of the Singer’s Forum.
This song came around again in my life, when I was at a crisis point. I had started studying with Neil Semer in an effort to step up my game. The majority of Neil’s students are professional opera and musical theater performers—major players. Here I was in the big leagues and I felt the pressure. Imposter Syndrome they call it. A few weeks into our lessons, when I opened my mouth to sing an aria, nothing came out. My voice was fine, but I was paralyzed by fear. Years of study, failed auditions, a ticking clock, squeezed the joy out of singing.
Neil could see this, and held up his hand to stop my agony. “I want to try something,” he said. He got up from the piano and disappeared into another room, returning with a songbook. “Let’s just see where this takes us.”
He started to play the very same song that was the theme of Singer’s Forum, but Neil didn’t know its significance in my life. My heart soared and so did my voice. Inspired, Neil pulled out a few more classic torch songs. I devoured those, too.
“Can you tell me why you’re not singing this repertoire?” he asked. “Doesn’t it feel like coming home?”
It did. I grew up with this music as a child, been singing it all my life. “But it’s so easy,” I said.
“Easy for you,” Neil replied. “You’re born for this music.” If I was only singing opera because the level of difficulty made it appealing, I was missing the point. And classical singing didn’t come hard to those it was right for, he explained. Cabaret was in my blood, and it felt effortless. Maybe it was time to trust that, to be true to who I was. “Singing should be joyful,” Neil reminded me.
I had been attracted to a faraway, exotic place. I thought I would be happier there, but like Dorothy, I realized that coming home—to my authentic self—was the adventure. Being happy where you are—that’s the dream.
And here is today’s song, in case you hadn’t guessed:
Over the Rainbow. Vocals by Lisa Anselmo.