Have you ever thought about what force or forces guide us through life? Is our path pre-ordained by God (by whatever name you call him or her)? Is it fate? Predestination? Or just happenstance? I have to wonder because twice now, my life has taken a major shift after a seemingly random event.
At 16 I was accepted into the University of Wisconsin-Madison as a Vocal Major. The application process in the 70s was pretty daunting. I had to sing three songs, a classical piece, a musical theater piece and one of my choice, in front of a faculty/adviser panel. I had to play a minimum of 2 instruments. And you had to sit in a music lab and transcribe a 5-instrument orchestral piece in as much detail as possible in 30 minutes. No feedback was given at the time of your audition. You were just shuffled from room to room and then dismissed. I received an acceptance letter and a full scholarship the following month. I thought my path was set. I would attend UW-Madison and become a music teacher.
A few months after graduation and barely a month before my scheduled move to Madison, I left the house after lunch, walking across the farm fields, taking a shortcut to some now unremembered destination. There was construction going on over the hill to the south of me. They were building what would be the new Highway 69. To this day, I can’t tell you how close I was to their worksite. I knew from the sound that they were at least over one hill from the field I was in. I could not see any construction fences or cautionary signage or hear any voices – just the big equipment off to the south. I had no idea they were setting explosives into the hillside.
A construction representative stopped by the farmhouse and told my mother they would be setting off dynamite at 1 o’clock and showed her where on a plat map. He gave her a claim form should the explosion break any of the windows in the house. My mom told them she had kids in the fields. The rep shrugged and said, ‘You better bring them in.’ Impossible when she only knew I was out walking and didn’t know my route or destination.
I had no warning of it happening. I have no memory of the experience. I woke up, lying in the field with blooded ears, a pounding headache, no balance, and a loud, piercing sound that filled my head. It was late afternoon, and my music education was ended before it even began. This event… fate… destiny… happenstance… changed my life.
I was dropped as a music major due to the loss of 98% of my hearing on one side and 60% on the other. I couldn’t match pitch or transcribe music due to the constant dissonance of the C# ringing in my head. I left college. I moved out. I got a job. I started to learn ASL. I met a man, got married and started a family. And I never looked back. I loved my life. And I loved my family. The ringing in my ears started to subside 10 years after the explosion. It became a persistent sound but no longer an overpowering tone. I found a new venue for my love of music working in community theater. I wasn’t going to be teaching or directing choirs anymore, but I was blessed with imperfect hearing, perfect pitch, and a three and a half octave voice. Life was good.
The second turning point came in 2012 when I had a quadruple bypass. (Yup, quad. Evidently I don’t being in doing things in half measures.) The surgery went fine as did my ultimate recovery. But the initial recovery had a few skips and stumbles. Starting with my having a bad reaction to the anesthesia and being a very bad, naughty, and some might even say combative patient. I didn’t hit any of the nurses, but I did frustrate them. I removed all the monitors and IVs and tried to get up off of the bed. After three attempts, four nurses managed to get me back into the bed. The head nurse decided to remove the endotracheal tubes. If I was strong enough to get up, I was certainly strong enough to breath on my own.
Unfortunately my vocal cords were damaged when she removed the tubes. It ended my ability to sing or even hum for years. To heal the cords, the doctors recommended complete silence as long as I could. That’s a really hard prison sentence for a gabby introvert. At first I could only get a sentence or two out at a time without having to drink/lubricate my throat. It took two years to build up to a 15-minute conversation. Still couldn’t hum. Five years later, I could speak and hum about six notes in a low alto range. Very frustrating when you want to sing to your new grandbaby.
When I was laid-off from corporate work I decided to try voice over. If I couldn’t sing, I’d use my voice the best I could. And voice over would allow me to break sessions up into smaller segments as needed. It also required the same type of breath support and training. There was a lot of vocal fatigue at first. I could only record for about 10-15 minutes at a time, but I kept at it.
Is it fate? Predestination? Or happenstance? I still don’t know. And honestly, I don’t care. I love my life. I have voiced audiobooks, radio dramas, commercials, e-learning, animations and many other gigs. I keep my recording sessions to 60-90 minute increments, stay hydrated, and have even managed to sing a full octave scale. The character/animation voice overs are fun and give me hope that this work is, in fact, my physical therapy and that I will one day be able to stand on a stage and sing again.
When life sets an obstacle in your path, how do you deal with it? How do you find a new path? What keeps you strong? I’d love to hear from.