By Ella Taylor
My name is Ella, and I’m a freelance classical soprano. I’m trans/non-binary and my pronouns are they/them. I hadn’t sung since early July, and still haven’t performed since 6th March. The grief of what creative freelancers have lost is keen and affects all of us in different ways. My reaction, once my online coachings with the National Opera Studio had finished, was to stop singing altogether.
So, in early September, when I decided that enough was enough and I really needed to get back into it (another post for another time perhaps), naturally there was a bit of… er… dust that had gathered on the cords! I contacted my singing teacher, who I have trusted with my voice for roughly six years, to arrange a lesson. I thought it might be useful to detail what happened in that first lesson here. All of this occurred over Skype.
“The voice is still there! Don’t worry! You just need to be gentle and slow and you’ll be back to normal”.
I’m in my bedroom, because I live in a tiny two bedroom flat with my partner and best friend – thank you, London. The phone rings, I pick up. Liz asks me how I am, and I immediately begin to cry. I try to cover it; it sort of works, and we move on to the warm-up. We start with the part of my voice I feel most self-conscious about – the dreaded middle range. Maybe five minutes pass and I begin to cry again, this time noticeably. Cue a long break to talk about my feelings and the state of the arts. Somewhat composed, though the voice is now not in its *best* state to sing, we try again. Now we’re getting to my favourite bit – the high range! A soprano’s dream. I feel happier, pleased that my voice is still my voice at certain moments. She lovingly says: “The voice is still there! Don’t worry! You just need to be gentle and slow and you’ll be back to normal”. Tears well in my eyes for the third and final time. I had hit on what I had been so scared of – that my voice, of which I had been so proud, and spent so much time working hard on, might not be mine anymore in the same way it had been. But it was. It was still there waiting for me when I was ready to go back to it.
I’ve since had two more singing lessons of the much more standard variety. No crying, and many more moments of my voice becoming mine again. As for the future, I still have no performances booked, and our industry has a lot of fighting to do before it’s fixed, but there is a tiny ray of light. For me, it’s the realisation that I can trust my voice to work with me after a long absence. For freelancers, it might be slightly unclear at times, but we can use our skills to get our industry back on its feet and make it better and fairer than it was before.
Photograph credit – National Opera Studio/Kirsten Mcternan