Lantern No. 1 was a bored 9-year-old girl who, instead of playing outside in the mosquito-laden Minnesota summer, sat at her grandmother’s wooden farm table, and wrote story after story in her school notebook. I still have a few of those stories, written with pencil in longhand…tales of magic, mythic beasts, princesses and dramatic rescues. At the close of each story, I always carefully wrote, “The End.”
During high school, I filled four years of diaries with dense writing, even adding a poem here and there. But, I ignored the lantern that was glowing right beside me. In college, besides doing my schoolwork, I practiced the piano six hours a day to earn my Bachelor of Arts in Piano, and I did not write a word. In my junior year, I met the young man I married, and I had 3 babies in 4 and ½ years. No writing.
Meanwhile, my husband went on to school for his Master’s and Ph.D. degrees in Civil Engineering. We were desperately poor at this time so I decided to try my hand at writing stories for Romance Magazines to make extra money. Every day, I wrote for two hours while the children were napping. I sold the first story I wrote for $300 and, by the end of 30 stories, I was being paid twice as much, and editors were writing me, asking for more of my stories.
You would think that I would notice this very bright lantern but I did not take this writing seriously. I considered it “junk” because I was compelled to write at a 5th-grade level, and my writing was heavily “dumbed down.” A story I titled “Evil in Our House” was changed to “My Dirty Pictures Ruined my Baby’s Mind.” Oh well… But, I made $500! Then, as Robert Frost put it, I came to a fork in the road, and I truly took “the road less traveled.” I became an opera singer.
I sang all over the country, and then all over the world. I gave up writing completely. After years, while my singing career was still going strong, I was invited to teach voice at the Peabody Conservatory of Johns Hopkins University. Oddly enough, it was then that my flickering lantern began to glow. My students begged me to write down what I was teaching them. I also drew pictures of how the voice “felt,” how the voice seemed to be coming from someplace in the head or the body instead of the mouth (although it really was coming out of the mouth). My students asked if they could keep the drawings I jotted down in their lessons, and wrote the “slogans” that I made up (such as “If you look funny, you sound funny”) into their notebooks.
During this time, I decided to take a Personal Enrichment class in poetry at Hopkins. I loved learning the different forms, and experimented with iambic pentameter sonnets, acrostic poems, Haiku, etc. Soon, I began winning a few small competitions, and had about 25 poems published in various magazines and reviews. Finally, I gathered up my nerve, and submitted a poem for an important prize: The Guy Owen Award presented by The Southern Poetry Review.
Believe it or not, six weeks later I received a call at midnight, and was informed that renowned poet Linda Pastan had chosen my poem “Ode to the Innards” as the award winner. My poetry teacher took me to coffee, and gave me a three-hour lecture about how I was the Real Deal and that I should take my talent seriously. She said I should use the time that I spent practicing (before I retired from singing) and write. And, that is when I experienced the crystalline flash…the brilliant exploding light bulb…that told me I was good…that I really could and should write.
As much as I loved to write poetry, I first wanted to pass on what I’d learned about the human voice from my wonderful teachers, and from my 35 years of singing and teaching. I wanted to write the book that my many students so badly wanted. So, I spent the next 2 ½ years researching and writing the academic book Images for Better Singing: A Visual Approach to Vocal Technique. Although it is written for a very small niche of people, the jubilant, thankful letters I receive almost every day from singers who have read it make me feel that I’ve made a contribution to the world of music and singing.
Now… back to poetry.
Marianna Busching, B.A., M.M., mezzo-soprano, is a singer, teacher and writer who has performed in Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and other important venues. Her CD’s can be found on Centaur Records. She holds a B.A. in piano and voice, an M.M. in Vocal Performance and has taught at Peabody Conservatory for 24 years.
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