When I was 18 and just finishing high school, my father took a new job and we moved to California. We didn’t have much money, so I found work at the shopping mall and started community college. Less than a year later, he took another job and we moved to Phoenix, Arizona. I couldn’t attend Arizona State University until I was eligible for in-state tuition, so I went back to work again. I had no friends, no history in this desert town, and wanted desperately to be in school. My father saw my deepening sadness and said, “Well, I guess we better get you voice lessons.”
I came from a singing family, especially on my father’s side, so he naturally saw this as a way to help me heal from all the tumultuous change, a way for me to find my heart again and open it. He signed me up with a professional voice trainer and his instincts were exactly right. When I opened myself to song, I felt alive again, connected and whole. Julie Andrews was my idol and I learned all her songs from ‘The Sound of Music’—with an accent. I learned how to warm my voice, fill my diaphragm, hit the highest notes and sing arias from famous Italian operas.
Later, living on San Juan Island in the Pacific Northwest, I found another outstanding teacher and continued my training. Supported by her instruction, I auditioned for roles in our Community Theatre. I had a lead in a Welsh musical, A Time for Singing, and performed many selections from musical theatre, including Porgy and Bess and the aria from Madame Butterfly.
The most special night of all was a solo performance. I walked onto an empty stage to stand next a makeshift grave. I had a bouquet of flowers in my hands. I took a deep breath, opened my mouth and began to sing ‘Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again’ from Phantom of the Opera. My dear father had just passed away, but he left for me the great gift of being able to sing my goodbye to him.