Performing Artists and Real Life Choices

The Melody Thief” (Blue Notes #2) just received its first editorial review from Melanie Marshall of Joyfully Jay and Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words.  It’s a lovely review and it always makes me feel so good when a reviewer gets the point of a book.  More than just “gets it,” really.  “Gets” a part of me.  

Melanie writes, “[Shira Anthony’s] experience gives such depth to the musicians here and the life they must lead in order to rise to the top of the field that  our understanding of the discipline it takes becomes much clearer.  It is not enough to be gifted, one must also be driven as well.  To have the music be an all encompassing part of your life has a price, and Anthony brings this theme throughout  her series, as all the characters must look at their lives, past, present and future and balance it out with their obsessive need to play and be heard.”

Wow.  I read this and I thought,”Yep.  That’s me.  The person with a gift for singing that just wasn’t able to make it the all encompassing part of my life that my characters have.”

I sang professionally for about 14 years.  For those of you who know a bit about the performing arts, you’ll understand how difficult a career it is.  I had my second child when I was 33.  Until then, I’d been flying up to New York City for voice lessons every other week or so and working as an administrative assistant at a law firm.   I’d sing two or three “gigs” a year, but I was spending the majority of my time working at a job I didn’t enjoy and traveling far from my family.  Nobody forced me to quit.  My husband was incredibly supportive of my singing.  He was as excited as I was when the San Franscisco Examiner wrote of a performance of “Pagliacci,” “Remember the name.  Gruber is a discovery!”  It was a high point for me.  A vindication, of sorts.  The universe telling me I was good enough to make a career of singing.

But at some point, adults have to make difficult choices.  I saw singers a few years ahead of me career-wise, saw their floundering marriages, and sensed their pain at having to leave their families behind when they traveled.  And for opera, at least, travel was an integral part of the career.  There are few, if any opera companies left in the world in the 21st Century who have year-round contract singers.  Add to those considerations my own growing fear of performing well in audition situations (for me, the actual performance was never really an issue, it was the “proving myself” part of the equation that left me shaking in my boots), and I decided it was time to let go and move on.  Hardest decision I’ve ever made, and one that still haunts me.

For those of you who have read “Blue Notes” and who know my story, you’ll realize there’s a great deal of Shira in Jason Greene, the former pianist, now attorney.  The pain of giving up a career in music in that story is my own.  The same is true for the upcoming third installment of the series, “Aria.”  Much of that book draws on my own life experiences when I was living with and later married to my wonderful (and patient!) husband.  Opera singer Aiden Lind’s nomadic life was mine for a short time, although I never reached the heights of my career that Aiden does in the novel.  But the pain and challenges of a long-distance relationship?  Been there, done that.

I say all this because it really does mean a great deal to me when a reader or a reviewer connects with the story and understands the intention behind it.  In retrospect, I feel lucky to have had the experiences I’ve had, even the painful ones.  It means even more to me to be able to share them with others and help them to understand.  -Shira

PS:  Want to hear what I sounded like in my 20s?  Click here.  That’s me, recorded live singing the title role in “Tosca.”

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