I almost didn’t recognize it.
It’s been so long that someone looked at me as a woman and was outwardly hostile to me for being where I wasn’t “supposed to be.” But that’s exactly what happened last night.
You see, I sing tenor in my church’s choir. I’ve only been singing now for 18 months and have never been trained as a singer. I do it for the joy of singing and as a way to sing praise to the Lord.
When I first joined the choir, because my singing voice is low, I sat with the ladies in the alto section. But I couldn’t hit their high notes and didn’t feel comfortable singing that range. So I scooted over to sing with the men in the tenor section and my voice felt at home.
My choir director has been welcoming, supportive, and friendly and has taught me a lot about music in the past year. I’ve come a long way, and still have a long way to go.
Well, our choir now has the opportunity to sing with a professional opera company and last night was our first rehearsal with them. When it came time to sit in sections for our parts, naturally, I moved to sit with the tenors.
The professional opera director was completely baffled. He stepped away from his area in front, approached me, and first told me to sit with my section. When I said I was because I sing tenor, he was dumbfounded to the point where he could barely sputter, “YOU sing tenor?! No… you don’t.” Openly hostile. I barely recognized it because I’m so used to expecting people to be kind and welcoming – because they usually are.
At that point, my director who recognized what was happening, stepped in immediately and said, “Yes, she sings tenor. And she’s very good. In fact we have three women tenors and they are all amazing.”
By now, the entire opera company, along with our choir was watching this incredulous exchange happen – and it was suddenly a big deal.I said, “I think I just blew your mind…”
I imagine the opera director felt the way some people must have in previous centuries when a woman doctor entered the room to treat them as a patient. Can women even BE doctors? Yep. And apparently we can sing tenor, too.
It’s like that in the speaking world sometimes. Women aren’t expected to show up at events in “male dominated” industries, let alone be on stage. But it turns out we can be awesome, there, too!
When I arrived home after the 3+ hour rehearsal, I did some research and discovered in professional opera, women with a lower vocal range don’t *actually* sing tenor… they are called “contralto,” but choral music (that I sing) isn’t written that way. It’s written as SATB – soprano, alto, tenor, and bass. I sing what works for me – and my choir. So I can understand how the opera dude wasn’t sure what to make of me.
I stood my ground, did my thing, and was happy to know my director had my back. Even when you expect the best of people, sometimes it doesn’t work out that way. And that’s ok. Just be you.
Felicia J. Slattery, M.A., M.Ad.Ed., is a #1 best-selling author of five books, an internationally-acclaimed, award-winning championship speaker, and has happy clients and customers in 81 countries around the world.