Speaking out and speaking up for the first time


When I was twenty I entered my first voice competition. Over the course of a week I would perform 6 songs in five different vocal catagories – Lieder, Italian Art Song, Opera, Broadway and Modern Art Song. The new kid on the scene, I had only been studying voice for 6 months and would be competing at the university level.  I remember  the first day of competition very well. At 6 pm I would perform my first song, a german lieder piece titled Allerseelen, by Richard Strauss.

All Souls’ Day

Bring in the mignonettes’ fragrant spires, 
the last red asters on the table lay, 
and let again us speak of love’s desires, 
like once in May.

Give me your hand in furtive, sweet advances – 
if people see it, mind not what they say: 
Give me just one of your delighting glances, 
like once in May.

Today the graves are full of lights and flowers, 
one day a year the dead shall hold their sway: 
Spend on my heart again those lovely hours, 
like once in May. 

On the afternoon of the competition I was so nervous that my mother suggested we  go out for a nature walk to take my mind off the competition. Walking has aways been a  family tradition.  Passed down from my mothers family, my Opa often took my brothers for walks in the hills surrounding Bad Fredeburg, Germany, my mothers home town. To make a long story short, mother and I got lost in the woods and almost didn’t make it in time for the competition.

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Once, in the competition hall, my name was called. A nervous wreck, I rushed up to the stage and  nestled myself in the crook of the grand piano. Legs shaking I  stepped forward and just barely managed to introduce myself.  So close to my heart, and my heritage, performing Allerseelen left me feeling exposed, a memory surfaced and as I sang the notes  I remembered the first time I held my mother in my arms after the death of her mother, my Oma.

It’s not very often a song touches me the way that Allerseelen did. Since that first performance of Allerseelen I learned to perform on stage and speak comfortably on the microphone, and never expected that I would feel that level of vulnerability on stage again.

This past  Sunday I was asked to speak about the the Red Bicycle Tour during an easter dinner celebration held by the VIPWA. Since this was an impromtu opportunity to speak in front of friends, I was excited to speak about the project and had not concerned that speaking about HIV/AIDS would cause me to become emotional on stage.  I would never have predicted that halfway through my speech I would loose my composure, and my voice, tears welling up in my eyes.

Thinking back…

Having always been on the outside looking in, for years I stood back and watched loved ones closest to the deceased  suffer. Not knowing how to comfort them I became distant and scared. Tip toeing around the subject of the deceased for fear of inflicting pain on my loved ones, I would make small talk, my demeanor continuously  sunny and bright.

I guess when the time came to raise my voice, I was no longer on the outside and for the first time I became truly conscious of the stigma, and the loss felt by those closest to me.

So today, I am thankful for the hugs and support from my friends at VIPWA .

I am also thankful to be in the presence of my family.

Everyday we have together is a gift.

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