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  • Kayleigh Decker

World Opera Day Musings: (My first blog post!! Read at your own peril...)

For those of you who don’t know, I am an opera singer, and I work and live in downtown Chicago. Sometimes when I walk to work, I look around, and think, how the hell did I get here? 

I’m power walking (usually to a 9am German class,) fighting for my sliver of the sidewalk next to frazzled peers rushing with their airpods balancing in ear, next to experienced Chicagoans who refuse to wear jackets until the weather is well below freezing, and next to immoveable business executives in sleek tailored suits with their new balance sneakers on. I realize, Chicago is a city built upon labor, beauty... and practicality. 

However, there is disparity all around. Most days, it seems like Chicago is a city brimming with complex paradoxes, divisions, and conflict. Tall impressive skyscrapers persist that at one point were record breaking. Pristine art-deco architectural wonders endure that still command a moment of reverence, all beside the void of a few empty lots of sparse gravel and assertive weeds. 

I think on these contradictions as I walk among this crowd, rushing to be anywhere but here, now...

We rush right by the iconic architecture. We rush by the striking public school teachers blocking off roads, the taxi-driver violently laying on their horn, impatiently attempting to turn through an active crosswalk. We rush right by the person suffering from homelessness who endures on their sliver of the sidewalk morning and night.

We so easily choose to distract ourselves, blinded by ambition, by the sparkle of these modern monoliths of Chicago capitalism. We avoid the truth, and we don’t look down. Anything to evade confronting the pain borne by the foundations of our dreams. Anything to hide from our complicity.

When I think of my profession, and how I relate to this environment walking down the sidewalk in Chicago, I often times don’t even know where to begin. 

How the hell did I get here?

Balancing the pride I feel for the power of opera, and the simultaneous shame from its treacherous superficiality and elitism, fits right in with the other contradictions I observe on my daily voyage to the opera house. 

As a singer, I collaborate, and (hopefully) connect deeply with people on a daily basis. I get to tell stories for a living. Don’t get me is magical. I use my voice and my body as a conduit for truth and expression, and I wholeheartedly believe that music, art, collaboration and storytelling have the ability to heal and help us to better understand ourselves, and one another. I have the privilege of witnessing some of the greatest artists in this industry up close and in their element, and I am constantly inspired by them and my fellow young artists. But, sometimes I witness my peers (and myself!!) take the path of least resistance, not only by avoiding risk, and the sting of failure, but also by bypassing the examination of the role that we play within our larger communities. 

When we avoid digging deep, we fail. 

When we stare so naively into the light of our own glaring ambition, indulging our fear, avoiding risk and latching on to the surface, we fail. We become blind to reality, and to our purpose as artists. We neglect to nourish ourselves by growing roots in the soil that we tread upon.

I’d like to challenge myself and my peers, (even if you aren’t a musician :-]), to stop rushing, and to stop avoiding the pain. To have the courage to glance away from the blinding glare of perceived success, shifting our focus towards our foundations, and steeping in the discomfort of the contradictions and paradoxes that we confront everyday. 

I believe the only path forward, (that is the only path in the future that has any space for opera,) is one that holds us responsible to deeply examine the connections between the contradictions in our communities. A path that holds us responsible to honor ourselves, and to really see each other.

Happy World Opera Day! Here's to many, many more... :-)

The Chicago River and some fallen leaves.

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