December 12, 2012

"Best Before" dates: A talk with Lake Diva, Wendy Neilson

DECEMBER 17, 2012

ATHLETES do it. DANCERS most certainly do it. SINGERS? Meh... (insert shoulder shrug - and avoid eye contact)


The “TALK” about CAREER #2.

I know it’s sacrilege to
THINK, let alone TALK about preparing to leap to the next branch of your career....especially if that BRANCH does NOT lead to a stage. While avoiding this conversation, we say things like,

“Yup...busy busy...gotta buy a new score...yup....I’m on hold for a few gigs right now, so, I can’t really say...premiering this new work (for 9 pennies) but it’s totally feeding my soul...”

(and I totally believe you)

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, we:
sling beer, coffee, or cupcakes
fold sweaters
take photos
temp & type
play or conduct
sing for Jesus
create summer programs
sell makeup/jewelry/Tupperware
deliver the mail
spin, poke, or yoga-fy
and even coach
others to make their dreams come true.

We will do ANYTHING that is FLEXIBLE enough to fill in the financial gaps
between gigs and will abandon it all when those magical feasts of opportunity are presented.

Well, for me and my circle, the conversation of 
CAREER #2 is definitely happening. Every time I turn around I encounter fellow divas and divos who are taking on ENTIRELY NEW CAREERS. It’s not broadcast, there’s a lot of, Don’t mention this to anyone until I actually find a job.” but it’s definitely happening.

No question, my December birthday, followed by the New Year forces me to ask:

• what’s working
• what’s not
• what has changed about me
• what has changed about the industry
• and what, ultimately, needs to give?

To avoid turning the blog into AN ODE TO A MIDLIFE CRISIS I spoke with someone who has been on bigger stages than most of us dream of, and has slowly, but surely, created a sturdy branch into an accidental CAREER #2.

cue the canoe! 


New Brunswick native and Lake Diva, 
, is a former alumnus of Toronto’s COC ensemble, the Metropolitan Opera roster, and a highly sought after soprano who has sung worldwide creating an exceptional stage career spanning 25 years.

When asked about whether she 
deliberately planned her current 2nd CAREER branch into teaching she admits, “it wasn’t entirely intentional” but, a slow evolution of teaching at summer programs
, ensemble residencies, master classes and, finally, a discussion with the University of Toronto & COC Opera Ensemble would equate to a full time teaching position in Toronto.

“Teaching was good luck, rather than good planning.”

Wendy’s choice to complete her Master’s degree was done with a PLAN B in mind, aware that,
“..there were VERY FEW singers who ONLY sang for a living
and an even slimmer percentage who would have a BIG career.”

She was conscious of her colleagues at the Met whose calendars were only half full (let the scramble begin). Knowing that her single income family (her husband would be a stay at home dad with their son in N.B.) would, potentially, never have a steady paycheque, some thought needed to be directed toward the future.

What does she say to her students regarding this topic when considering paths other than the stage?

“It’s not about failure (if you choose to change paths) it’s about decisions."

Figuring out (hopefully sooner than later) that you might not actually want to make a living doing this. The 1st or 2nd year out of school is a good time to start asking the question:


• married
• kids
• house
• hotels
• matching cutlery
• dull knives
• Europe
• sing only at home
• eat when you retire


Not surprisingly, she suggested asking the same question in your early 30’s and 40’s.

Your needs and desires evolve, so why shouldn’t your career? Always keeping in mind IF the self-employed, ever evolving income, is something that you can also live with. There is a LOT of freedom in the arts but there is also much less security. Simply saying, “Next year will be better” just isn’t realistic.

ME: Well, how do you decide which new wave to ride?!

WENDY: It’ll be the one that knocks you over.

In a conversation about the standard benefits of being employed by the University, the Lake Diva said, half-jokingly, to the Human Resources representative,

”I’m sorry, you’re my first steady employer in 25 years so, SPEAK SLOWLY.
I don’t want to miss anything .....BENEFITS? Pinch me!”

Last but not least, we mustn’t forget the “best before” date on your voice type. Preparing for the changes your voice MIGHT go through is why having a PLAN B should not be seen as a choice to:

• give up
• or give in
• but
• a choice to SIMPLY be prepared.

If I accomplish anything today with this blog I hope it is that we are:

• more forgiving of ourselves, and others who choose to make changes or branch out
• speak our minds on this topic without feeling guilt or failure.
Think about how much more we would accomplish....just sayin’...

Until this year, I would never have imagined anything BUT the stage - and no one, truthfully, has encouraged me to do otherwise. But, my 
gut is talking and, if I’m being perfectly honest, it's time to shake things up a bit and,


Thanks for reading and,
for spending time with me at the Cardinal’s Nest!