"Ben, if you're going to do this, just do it. it's now or never."
My dad said this to me as I was moping around my high school's college fair, not really looking at anything. He knew deep down that I wanted to look at the theatre schools but simultaneously didn't want to admit it. Most of my friends had already applied, toured, auditioned, and been accepted to like a million schools, but I hadn't even started looking. Not only that, but what would people think if they knew I actually cared about theatre and wanted to take it seriously? Would they think I was kidding myself? I don't know if subconsciously I was waiting for permission from my dad, freeing me from the age old cliché of a disappointed theatre father, but allowing myself to look at school for theatre became the first step in this journey.
Fast forward a bit to undergrad. I'm in my voice class, and this word I've never heard before comes up: pedagogy. Over the course of that year, my voice professor gave a crash course into voice science and studies showing ways to improve your singing. I was completely amazed. It seems silly to say now, but at that time I genuinely believed that singing was a talent, something you either had or didn't have, and there wasn't really any use in trying to improve. The very idea of vocal pedagogy unlocked something in me. I spent that school year in the practice room almost constantly. I uploaded twice the amount of practice recordings assigned at twice the length. I wouldn't have admitted it at the time, but I wanted to sing and to sing well. It was exciting to see even the smallest improvement. This was the second step.
As the semesters went by I grew increasingly aware of the fact that I wasn't a tenor. From direct comments about my voice and repertoire choices to indirect comments through cast lists, studio assignments, and other missed opportunities, the message was clear: I needed to expand my upper range. Because of my introduction to vocal pedagogy, I believed I could sing higher with practice (and it seemed like that's what I needed to do to get noticed/cast), so I started bringing in exclusively tenor repertoire to my lessons. This is when my teachers turned negative. Comments became subtle insults like, "You should sing low more often" or "You need to lower the key for this." I couldn't understand why they were saying these things instead of teaching me what I needed to do differently in order to improve. I distinctly remember one lesson where my teacher got particularly mad at me. She kept demonstrating a note (it was A4 by the way, extremely high in my voice but right in the middle of hers), and repeating, "Sing it like this! NO! Like this!" I left defeated, embarrassed, confused, and ready to give up.
As moments like these became more common, I shifted from wanting to do well for my own sake and passion, to simply wanting to prove to everyone wrong about my voice. I became overly sensitive to any vocal comment - if it was good they must be sparing my feelings and if it was bad it must be true. This type of unhealthy thought process quickly turned to resentment. This is not a step in my journey that I'm proud of, but it would be dishonest to deny its importance in my development because this resentment is what led me to take things into my own hands and apply for a graduate level vocal pedagogy program.
The next, and possibly most important step came from my wife, Sara Beth. I had gotten a callback to NYU's vocal pedagogy/MM in vocal performance dual degree program, and I was rehearsing the night before the audition when, surprise surprise, my voice cracked. I immediately started drafting an email canceling my callback. My voice teachers must have been right about me, and it wasn't worth it to embarrass myself in front of another faculty panel. Sara Beth stopped me and said,
"Ben, you're going to do this. you can do this. it's now or never."
These experiences shaped me as a person, an artist, a vocalist, and a teacher. It is my teaching mission: To pursue, attain, and distribute vocal knowledge to prevent experiences like mine, especially for Bass/Baritones who feel that they're being left out of the musical theatre scene.