Monday, 28 January 2013

On having no regrets...

Do you ever have one of those moments when you take a step back, look at your life, and think... "What the #$?%-ing #$?% am I doing???"

Well, I was having one of those moments last week.  Being back in Canada, seeing all those familiar faces and places, I couldn't help but re-evaluate the choices I've made in the last few years.  Choices which have brought me further and further away from the girl I was when I lived in Toronto.

It was completely random that I ended up in Glasgow in the first place.  I had never thought of applying to the conservatoire there.  But as it happened, my teacher had taught a someone who came over from there on an Erasmus exchange.  She still had vivid memories of this singer (now a world-class mezzo) and what she had said about the conservatoire in Glasgow.  At my teacher's urging, I applied and flew to Glasgow for the audition.  The audition went well and they offered me a generous scholarship.  I accepted the scholarship, but I still wasn't sure if I wanted to go.  It was an excellent conservatoire and from my visit I could see it had a warm friendly atmosphere.  But I didn't know if I could make such a big move, all the way across the Atlantic.  Anyway, I had some auditions later in the year and if those went well I might move to the States to study instead.

As fate would have it, as the auditions in the States approached I was struck by a nasty cold.  The cold kept getting worse until it turned into bronchitis.  When the time came for my other auditions I hardly had a voice at all.  Needless to say, these schools were not so eager to have me.  And so it was that destiny brought me to Scotland.

And so it must be, for so it is written on the doorways to paradise..

Was it fate?  Kismet?  A random act of the universe?  Or just my run-down immune system?  Whatever the reason, I ended up moving to Scotland and changing my life forever.  After finishing my degree I thought it would make sense to stay there and explore the work opportunities.  Before I knew it I'd been living in Scotland for 3 years and was on my way to Belgium to study opera.

Well.  It didn't quite happen like that.  This is a highly-edited version I'm telling.  A lot of surprises, disappointments, failed relationships, and other twists in the path happened along the way.  But the point is, here I am now.  And I never thought this was where I would be.

If you met my 20-year-old self what I'm doing right now, she would probably be completely dumbstruck.  She would have expected to stay in Toronto, and go down the same career path that she'd seen older generations of Canadian singers travel.  Or perhaps she would have considered moving south to the States and going to one of the big name schools there.  But Europe?  Europe was kind of a far-off dream of a place, where famous singers travelled to sing at Covent Garden or La Scala.  The 20-year-old Brynne would not have pictured a future in Europe.

She would also think that my life sounded very exciting and glamorous.  Living in Belgium, studying opera, jetsetting about Europe for auditions, visiting a Scottish boyfriend in Sweden, flying back to visit family in Canada... what an adventure!

Kind of like Carmen Sandiego, but with less crime and more singing.

But honestly?  Although it might look like an adventure from the outside, most of the time my life is just really complicated and stressful.  I'm always trying to plan the next trip, struggling to find the cheapest deal (which normally means taking a very long and convoluted journey that starts at 3 in the morning).  Most of these trips are to sing audition after audition for hundreds of people, most of whom won't hire me.  The most meaningful conversations in my life take place over skype.  I'm always missing my boyfriend, or my family, or (most of the time) both.  I am on my third European visa.  I have no idea what I will be doing or where I will be living in 6 months, never mind a year from now.  I don't have a tv, an oven, a microwave, or even a real bed.  I have bank accounts in three countries and mobile phones in two. One of my phones just got blocked because with all the travelling I've been doing lately, I haven't had time to take out cash from my Canadian account and put it into my Belgian account to pay the phone bill (yes, this is how I have to pay my phone bill, and incidentally, also my rent).  My laptop is currently plugged in with a Canadian plug attached to a British adaptor attached to a European adaptor. I don't even know how that works, but somehow it does.  In short... my life is ridiculous!

And no, not in that fun Harry Potter way.

I only wish that travelling still held the same novelty it used to when I was younger.  The other day my niece was telling me lamentably how long it's been since she's flown anywhere.  "I'm just desperate to go on a plane!" she exclaimed.

And she sounded exactly like Anne of Green Gables.
Bless her wee melodramatic soul!
Ah yes, I remember those halcyon days of youth, when going on a plane was something fun.  Now it's just an annoying necessity, a way to get from A to B.  It makes me sick and tired and stressed out.  And as if that wasn't bad enough, it's also making me stupider.  No, I'm not joking!  Jetlag actually makes you stupid!

What might seem like an adventure from the outside often feels like aimless wandering.  I'm not really sure if I'm in the right place, or if I'm going in the right direction.  I feel lost.  What if this whole thing is just one big wrong turn?

Each time I've moved country, I've had to start over again.  I've had to throw away my hard-earned professional contacts from the previous country and work on making new ones.  I've had to explain my background to people who aren't familiar with the Canadian music world (or the British music world), and I've had to convince them that I am actually worth hearing, even though they don't know me from Adam.

Or in this case... Eve??
I see singers who stayed in Canada who are doing really well, and I ask myself, should I have stayed?  If I had stayed in one place, perhaps I would have established myself by now.  Perhaps people would know who I was, and my background would be worth more to them, because they would actually recognise everything on my CV.  Perhaps my life would make much more sense, having everything and everyone in one place.

It was in the midst of all these doubts and misgivings last week that I had a lesson with my old teacher in Toronto.  She hadn't heard me in 3 years, and I was curious to see what she would think of my singing now.

The lesson was a revelation.  My teacher and my coach were both thrilled at how my voice has grown.  And all at once everything rushed into perspective.  I remembered who I was when I left and how far I've come since then.  Not just as a singer, but as a person.  How I've matured, grown braver, learned about myself and the world.  I would not be the person I am today if I hadn't moved abroad.  Nor would I be singing the way that I am now.

I don't know if moving abroad was the right decision or the wrong decision.  But then again, perhaps there is no absolute right and wrong with a decision like that.  It is what it is, and it's shaped my life.  The important thing is not the decision itself, but how I deal with its consequences in the years to come.  And when I see the bigger picture and realise how far I've come - and not just in air miles - I can see it was a good thing to do.

There's no point in looking backwards, wondering what if.  The important thing is to keep looking forwards and make the most of where you are now.  And if you do choose to look backwards, always remember: every decision you've made has led you to become the person you are now.  Once you realise that, you'll probably discover that you have no regrets at all.

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