NYDV BLOG

  • Jenny Ribeiro

Chameleon or Butterfly?


Sometimes it's just easier to hide

Auditioning for New York Dramatic Voices felt like a long shot. While my voice has changed quite a bit from my coloratura days, or even my light lyric days, when I was singing Susanna and Pamina and Serpina and all the other ‘inas’ and ‘annas’, I wasn’t sure that I was qualified to call myself ‘Dramatic’. At best, I am growing into a young steely spinto soprano.


But as I looked more and more into NYDV’s role prep program, I realized that it would be a good fit. My voice is bigger than your average lyric soprano, and while it might be awhile before I come into my own, I still fit all the patterns of a larger voice.


For a long time, I thought of myself as a chameleon. I grew up singing pop and gospel, and have always done well in a choral setting. I was always too loud, but I learned to back off and sing with half my voice and it worked well enough to get work. I love to sight-read and learn new music, so the choral world fit. And I loved it.


When I had my second child in 2016, the narrow half sound I was using became harder and harder to maintain. I went to my voice teacher, Olga Makarina, telling her my voice had changed and I wasn’t exactly sure what to do with it. And my voice HAD grown, but I had also lost the support that served me so well as a coloratura soprano. I meant to lean into it, to focus back on becoming a solo singer and building up my support. I really did. But I got busy. Just as people started hearing me as a soloist again, I got a job. It was a good job. In music, directing a large children’s choir program, lulling me into a false sense of purpose. I thought I had finally found my niche. I wasn’t singing much anymore, just in my church job and a few more choral gigs that had come my way through word of mouth, but I was making a difference, right? And I was still in music, right?


As the church job became more and more all-consuming, as the music director left and I found myself in charge of even more, I struggled with this thought of, ‘who am I?’. My voice had changed, it’s true, but did it matter? I became more and more frustrated. I wasn’t auditioning. I hadn’t done a staged show in years, and though I was still in music, it wasn’t right. A couple of things happened then. I went to a choral directors’ publishing conference. It was heaven in some respects, I got to travel, sing in a choral concert and then spend all day sight-reading choral charts. I even ran into dear friends of mine who had travelled from Brooklyn to attend the conference. But something happened. As I sat there, singing all the high Cs written at the end of choral anthems, we sang a song about being in a room that you never thought you’d find yourself in. I began to weep. I was sitting there, singing my heart out, doing what I loved. But it wasn’t right. It was a room I never thought I’d find myself in. And just like choral work, I was being a chameleon and trying to make myself into someone I was not.


When I came home, things in my music directing job got even more hectic. The church was having a hard time finding a new director and was reluctant to make me the official interim director. My hands felt tied and I more frustrated than ever. A soloist at the church called me up and asked to take me to coffee. I had no idea what to expect, and I was floored by what she shared with me that day. You see, this wonderful friend had been watching me get more and more frustrated with the work that I was doing, and the work that I was not. She sat me down and said point blank: ‘What are you doing with your voice? It’s a special gift and unique and I want to know why you’re not using it.’ I gave her excuse after excuse. I blamed other people for the situation that I found myself in. And she said, ‘Stop it. The only person who can take responsibility for your actions is you.’ It was tough love. And I needed it.


Here I am, two summers later. Learning not to hide. Learning to be who I am, the unique butterfly with the large steely voice. Not the chameleon. It’s a hard lesson to learn. But at New York Dramatic Voices, that’s the point. I’m 36 years old, and as a famous artist told me the other day, I’m not “cooked” yet. Nobody really ever is. We’re all still learning. We’re learning to be unique and wonderful. We’re learning all the reasons it’s ok to not fit in. We’re all learning how to fly.


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