My Sixteen Year Journey as a Vocalist

by Suzanne Gayle about a year ago in classical

How it Changed My Life for Good

My Sixteen Year Journey as a Vocalist

I’ve been involved with the performing arts since I started speaking. My parents made sure I was given every artistic opportunity available, which in turn sparked the beginning of dance lessons and acting classes. My mother was a school teacher who directed plays on the side (I made a way to be a part of them in any way I could). My father and I always played “name that tune,” and he supported me throughout everything I did. I began to act in musicals by the age of five, and even though I may not have realized it at the time, it was what I loved to do. Between my sisters, brother and I, our childhood was very musical. We didn’t know life without it.

I was in the second grade when our school got a new music teacher and formed the first choir the school had seen in years. Although I had been singing for as long as I could remember, it was the first ensemble I had ever, officially, been a part of. The music teacher, who I’ll refer to as Mrs. G, taught us everything we needed to know in order to sing right. We started putting on concerts and performing for various places, and I liked it. I liked singing and I liked being in it with my friends. But I never thought it would lead me any farther than the tiny rehearsal room behind the old elementary school gym.

I was in the fifth grade when Mrs. G approached me about auditioning for Allstate choir, a competitive, prestigious music conference for students in all different age groups across the state. The conference lasted for two days at the end of the week and, from what I heard from Mrs. G, was the starting foundation of every vocalist. I decided to audition. I wasn’t sure of what I had to lose.

Contrary to what I had expected, the audition process was lengthy and strenuous, involving a lot of after-school rehearsals. If I didn’t sound perfect, I wouldn’t get in. It was that simple.

But I did get in.

Out of 1200 auditionees, I was one of the 150 who made it. And that changed everything.

I was nervous at Allstate. I was the only one from my school who had made it, so I knew absolutely no one there. It was nothing like the simple school choir I had grown used to. There were so many people there, so many good singers. Before then, I had never taken it so seriously. I didn’t fully understand what the point of vocal performance was all about.

But then the director walked up to the stand,

and we opened our music,

and it was like every inch of doubt,

every negative thought,

Left my soul for good.

And that’s when I knew:

I wanted to do this for the rest of my life.

We sang our hearts out for two days before giving the most beautiful concert I had ever been a part of. I learned things that I had never known before. I made music with an incredibly large group of talented individuals who all cared deeply about what they were doing. All of that, it changed me for the better.

I was never the same after that weekend.

From then on, I took every rehearsal more seriously than before. I moved up to the sixth grade that next fall and relentlessly joined the choir at the middle school. I was a shy middle schooler, but I wanted to learn everything I could. I cared more about those rehearsals and performances than any of my classmates, which quickly caused me to become the teacher’s pet, but I didn’t care. All I wanted to do was sing.

I went to Allstate again that year and later made it into the Louisville Youth Choir, a renowned, private, auditioned based choir for students ranging from elementary to high school, in the fall of the seventh grade. The prestigious collectiveness of Louisville Youth Choir undoubtedly impressed me, and it was everything I needed year-round. It was almost like a knock-off, much smaller version of Allstate choir. The amount of dedication, tenacity, and pure talent that each member had in them was just what I was looking for in an ensemble. People who didn’t view it as simply an elective.

I stayed in school choirs and LYC for years after that. The ensembles I was a part of in school were the same- I enjoyed them, but not as much as my peers, which is why I made an effort to become more involved with smaller, more focused groups outside of that as well. But whatever the choir, I always made sure to put in all my effort, all my enthusiasm, because singing was just what I loved to do. I knew that nothing, and no one, would be able to take that away from me.

I ended up making my high school’s A Capella group in the ninth grade, while continuing to be involved in our regular choir and the district’s community theater program. A year prior to this, I started to run cross country, so I had little free time between practices, meets, rehearsals, and school work. I loved being on the cross-country team about as much as I loved performing. I ended up having to drop Louisville Youth Choir that year- I had too little time and dues had gradually become too expensive. I hated having to drop it, but I knew it was for the best. I had to remind myself that I could do anything, but I couldn’t do everything.

By my sophomore year of high school, I had auditioned for Senior High Allstate Choir for the first time. Although I had made it into Allstate every year since the fifth grade, I was incredibly nervous, because the audition process for Senior High required live quartets and sight singing assessments, where the judge would give you a piece of unfamiliar music, and you would have to sing it on the spot. I prepped as hard as I could. I brushed up on my sight-reading abilities and went to every workshop I could. But for the first time in years, I didn’t make it in. I tried not to lose hope. I convinced myself that it was just because I was young and didn’t have much experience in the audition process. I refused to let myself get discouraged, and I never thought that I would...

Choir soon became routine. I was still in two A Capella groups and the highest ensemble our school had to offer, but it was almost as though it had lost its spark. Or, I had lost my spark. Every day seemed to be the same, although I wasn’t unfocused or undedicated. Something was Something I couldn’t quite determine. Every rehearsal seemed analogous and felt almost insubstantial. I just couldn’t figure out why.

My senior year of high school is when everything changed. Allstate auditions were upon me again, but this time, I let my director know that I wasn’t planning on auditioning. It seemed unreal- Allstate was what made me want to be a vocalist in the first place, but now, it seemed pointless to try. It had been two years since I had last auditioned and actually made it in, and I had never been to the Senior High conference before. But the audition process was strenuous and tedious, requiring a lot of before/after school rehearsals, which in turn interfered with my cross-country practices. I explained that I didn’t have time to put my all into something I would get nothing out of- nothing but disappointment. Instead of letting me be at peace with my decision, my director protested. She fought for me. She put me in a quartet and made me audition anyway. No one argued with someone like Mrs. S. I didn’t argue with anyone.

For weeks after that, I practiced. I practiced to no end. After the end of the month, I could sight sing anything that was handed to me. I worked on my tone, my blending. Something in me changed. I knew that this was my last chance, and I had to make it right.

And I did.

I walked out of that audition beaming.

Six weeks later, I found out.

I made Allstate.

And six weeks after that, I was back in that same hotel, in the same large rehearsal space. I was surrounded by 150 extremely qualified, talented women. I had no idea what I was doing there.

But then the director walked up to the stand.

And we opened our music.

And it was like every inch of doubt, every negative thought, left my soul for good.

And that’s when I knew: I wanted to do this for the rest of my life.

Those three days, that’s what changed me. That spark I had lost had returned, only now it was a fire, a blazing fury of operatic conviction, and it was like I was back in the fifth grade again. I was determined, I was faithful. I realized just how much all of this really meant to me. I realized I was capable of anything, that I was here for a reason- because of how much I loved to perform. I wondered how I could ever have let it get so lost.

After that, nothing was the same.

I was back. I took rehearsals a million times more seriously, pushed myself to the limit, because I knew what I was capable of. I graduated from high school that spring, but I kept practicing. I wasn’t ready to let go of that part of my life just yet.

I auditioned and made it in my college’s top choir a few days before my first semester started. I was incredibly nervous, like I always am when I audition for anything. But I wanted it so bad. Being a vocalist was, and is, everything to me. I remember my first day at rehearsal, I remember the first chord we sang. It inspired me more than anything. All those years, all that hard work, it all paid off.

I’m still in University Singers today, and it is an ensemble and part of my life that never ceases to amaze me. While I am not majoring in music or performance, I still have goals for myself and my life in the field. Over the years, I have come to realize the importance of treating your passion as though you are young and are experiencing it again for the first time. If your younger self who was just starting out on their instrument could see you now, imagine how proud they would be. It changes you. I have been singing for sixteen years now, and I am still not yet tired of it.

I owe it all to my fifth-grade music teacher, Mrs. G., who convinced me to audition for Allstate in the first place. To my high school choir director, for not giving up on me when I had already given up on myself, for introducing me to the beauty of music all over again. To my parents, family, and friends, for supporting and fostering my love for the arts and my life as a performer.

To the young musician out there, to the musician who has lost hope, to the one who thinks their journey is over, I have three words for you: never give up. I thought about quitting years ago after several failed attempts to be a part of something I just wasn’t ready for yet. Could you imagine what would have happened if my director hadn't pushed me to audition anyway? I would not have found the beauty in vocal performance again and I don’t know if I would still be performing to this day. So, do not lose hope. Seek out a new opportunity to grow. Because you are talented. You are capable. You are tenacious. You are a musician.

May you never doubt your utter ability to create something magical.

Suzanne Gayle
Suzanne Gayle
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Suzanne Gayle

Psychology major at EKU

Calligraphy artist, vocalist, writer, philanthropist.

Jesus freak.

See all posts by Suzanne Gayle