Preparations and Pivots
Hello! Welcome to my story of Session 2 of New York Dramatic Voices Role Prep in the Summer of 2021. My name is Jenny Ribeiro and I will be bringing you along in my journey for the next two weeks. You’ll get to know more about me in the coming blog posts, but here are the basics. I’m a music pastors’ kid from the West Coast who moved to NYC in 2008 to pursue my dreams of being in musical theater. My big dreams were based on becoming Christine in Phantom of the Opera, and to that end, I got my degree in Voice Performance from Central Washington University. At the age of 17, I had the idea that singing high Es in performance 8 shows a week might need a solid classical foundation. Go figure. I worked and prepared, giving up my second major in clarinet performance so that I might fill my days with dance and acting classes outside of my degree program. I did Summerstock and community theater during my summers. I graduated in three years, impatient and, I thought, ready to take myself to the next level in my performing career.
I soon found myself in New York. No job, strangers for roommates. I was ready to go. And no one was hiring. You see, in 2008, the recession hit. Theaters were scrambling. Before I arrived, most theaters travelled to New York to hold auditions. But in 2008, theaters no longer had the funds to travel so far, and local actors were hired instead of the non-union actors they could find in the cattle-calls in New York. I was prepared. And no one needed me.
This brings me to my first major pivot. I had a secret talent. One that was underutilized in the land of musical theater. I could sight-read anything. Piano from the age of five and parents who encouraged jumping lines in the hymnbook had turned me into a monster sight-reader. A colleague at the theater where I sat cold-calling potential donors (Ah, New York survival jobs…) told me about a profession that valued this skill: professional choral singer. I contacted one of the top contractors in the city and within a month was hired to be in the chorus of Ainadamar at Carnegie Hall. Robert Spano conducting, Dawn Upshaw singing the lead role…it was glorious. And I fell in love. Contemporary opera called to me. I was determined from then on to have an opera career (not Phantom of the Opera, this time!) – and one that included lots and lots of premiers.
Fast forward twelve years to the year 2020. By this time, a lot had changed. I was married, to a tenor I met at Dicapo Opera Theater as a young artist. (I know, I know, the soprano married the tenor; don’t shoot me!) I had two children, and was about to embark on the next phase in my career. I was still ensconced in the choral world, singing and directing the children’s program at a large church in Westchester, as well as singing around as a choral gig singer. I had always wanted to launch back into the solo career that I put on hold to become a mother, and this seemed to be the perfect time. My oldest would be in Kindergarten and my youngest would be able to be in full-time Pre-K. A dear friend of mine from my opera chorus days at Bard Summerscape Festival had invited me to begin my masters’ degree at Michigan State University and I had received news that I was accepted into the program with a full-tuition Graduate Assistantship. Things were looking up.
And then the world stopped. Overnight, the gigs that took me from my home nearly every night were gone. Easter gigs, imperative for the down-payment on the perfect farmhouse we were buying in Michigan, were cancelled. I was home 24/7, the outings that kept me sane as the mother of two young children were gone, as were the hours that they were in preschool, the only time I had to practice and prepare for my upcoming graduate degree. We were very lucky. Our salaries stayed the same, even as our church jobs were cancelled. Stimulus checks and retirement accounts added up to a small down-payment and the house purchase was saved. We moved everything down to the moving pods from our third-floor walkup ourselves, with only the piano being moved by professionals. I began my graduate degree and teaching assistantship entirely online, with only a small graduate ensemble meeting in person daily on campus. I planned and prepared and studied and dreamed. But when it came down to it, I pivoted. We all pivoted.
These next two weeks could be another pivot; another change of plans. For the next two weeks, I will be attending New York Dramatic Voices Role Prep Program virtually. Because my two children have not yet started school and my husband now works from home, I had scheduled a room on MSU’s campus in order to have a place to work without interruptions. Everything was set up. But as of two days ago, with the Delta variant of COVID-19 in full-swing, MSU has suddenly put into place yet another mask requirement indoors on campus. I know that this is ultimately a good thing, and one that will keep many people safe. But for attending a virtual program that focuses on the voice, it is not ideal.
I don’t know what the next two weeks will hold. I don’t know what the music school’s policy will be on individuals utilizing classrooms alone. I don’t know if I will be attending the program at home with my children screaming in the next room and my husband walking through to make his numerous cups of tea. But I do know this. I will prepare. And like all of my colleagues all over the world, I will pivot.