Music School Killed My Dreams

Why passions need venues outside of academics

photo: Charlotte Baynard

Last summer while on the Dingle Peninsula in Ireland, I sat in a cramped room full of musicians ranging in age from six to 76. Half of them had accordions while the other half had harmonicas, violins or bones. Everyone was encouraged to contribute, even us newcomers. The host of the gathering created a unique space where performers and audience members alike were accepted and loved. I, however, panicked. Did I have to participate? What would I sing? What if I forgot the words? My heart raced. I couldn’t get myself to do it in spite of the welcoming environment. Later that night, I questioned where this deep and very real fear came from.

Since the time I decided I sounded just like Ariel from The Little Mermaid (at the age of seven), nothing could come between me and the stage. I was dead set on becoming a star. I took every chance I could get to perform while growing up and eventually majored in vocal performance in college.

Passion gave way to the intense need to be the best. Adding an academic element to singing quickly took the joy out of music for me. I stopped seeking ways to sing casually and instead spent hours in the practice room. From the outside, I succeeded in college. I always excelled at my year-end jury and won roles in the school operas. Yet by the time I graduated, the pressure of “succeeding” was so daunting I ran away from music altogether.

It wasn’t until that night in Ireland that I came to terms with how much the fear had grown. It was debilitating and stifling. I pride myself on being creative and wacky, yet I hadn’t been outwardly living that way. I knew I couldn’t be the only person trapped by this fear.

I looked for others like me and sure enough…they existed. I found people with hidden talents even their closest friends didn’t know about. The problem they collectively faced was finding a place to share their art. Booking shows is too big of a commitment, open mics are weird and strangely competitive, and in-home salons can be even more intimidating.

So I came up with a solution and created a “no talent required” variety show. I found a beautiful space, made a couple of flyers, hired a house band, and starting booking acts. The acts ranged from music to dance to comedy to magic to dramatic readings. I hoped for an audience of at least 40.

photo: Charlotte Baynard

Nearly 100 people came, packing the room not only with bodies, but also with an overwhelming sense of energetic love and support. The acts were so wonderful that it was hard to believe talent wasn’t a requirement. For some, it was their very first time performing publicly. I could not have expected a more successful evening.

Producing the event was both terrifying and liberating. I selfishly created a space not just for others to perform but for me to have that same opportunity. I had no clue if people were even interested in this kind of entertainment. Never had I felt more vulnerable or exposed.

At the end of the evening, someone asked what surprised me most about the show. I answered that if you ask people to show up, they do. If you provide the opportunity and environment for others to be vulnerable, they’ll take it. We all crave experiences in which we can feel something real and this show helps us do just that.

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