04 May 2015

Mommas Making Moola #3: Opera Singer

Mommas Making Moola is a new guest-blogger series about the non-traditional ways  moms can bring income into their home (outside of the 9-5 job). In this series, I will be joining forces with Swag On, Momma to feature the experiences of our guest bloggers. If you are interested in being a guest blogger, please contact me for more information.
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By Marlise Ahuna

I guess on a continuum of “working” mothers, I’m just a hair above unemployed. I don’t have a set part-time job; rather I've developed a love of performing into something that earns enough to sustain itself.

I grew up doing children’s theater, choir, and instrumental music.  In fact, those were my main after-school activities all the way up to high school graduation. I continued to take voice lessons while in college, but I didn't study seriously at that time; it was mostly for fun.

Fast forward a decade, a husband and two kids later, and I was a stay-at-home mom living with my family in a tiny apartment a few blocks away from Waikiki.  Even though being at home was important to me, I also felt I needed something of my own to work on and to progress in. I checked out some community theater, but the rehearsal schedule was too intense for that time in my life.  I met another mom at church who was in the Hawaii Opera Theater chorus and she convinced me that it was manageable schedule, even with a young family.

So I auditioned for the chorus and got in. The opera theater was celebrating their 50th anniversary with a concert by the chorus and they threw me into that.  Suddenly I was singing in Italian and French (luckily no German) and wondering what the heck I got myself into. Several months later I was in my first opera, La Boheme, and I was hooked. I had never even seen an opera before and here I was, onstage with a small army of performers, all of us singing at the top of our lungs, in front of a huge set, no microphones, and a symphony orchestra accompanying us. There was a maestro leading us in a concert hall with over 2,000 seats. There were people in the dressing room specifically there to put on our make-up, our wigs, and our costumes.  It was huge and lavish and crazy all rolled into one. And I LOVED it.

I continued to do one to two operas a year with the Hawaii Opera Theater, but I also branched out and did some community theater.  I was in a local production of Phantom of the Opera when the costume designer gave my name to a local singer/songwriter who was producing his first children’s musical.  I met with him and ended up auditioning for his show.  Up until that point, all the performing I had been doing was unpaid, even the opera chorus. But this new show, Honu By The Sea, was a paid gig AND it was an opportunity to do something few performers in musical theater get to do: originate a role.

That was several years ago.  I've continued to work with Honu By The Sea and the Hawaii Opera Theater, both in their chorus, their Studio program, and in their Opera Express educational program. I've also sung in numerous concerts as a soloist and in more community theater. I don’t always get paid to sing, but increasingly, I do.  I wish I could say I’m earning enough money to significantly help my family, but in reality, developing as a performer can be expensive. Almost all the money I earn goes to pay for voice lessons, music, promotional material, etc. I also depend on (and am forever indebted to) my parents and in-laws for helping with my kids while I am performing (two kids in school, two still at home).

Although my family and friends are very supportive of me (hubby is my biggest fan), at times I worry about taking time away from my husband and kids to do something that is not contributing significantly to our budget. But I suppose everyone has time he or she spends in recreational activities; binge-watching Netflix shows, playing video games, participating in adult sports leagues, watching football, doing scrapbooking, or crafting. Me? I perform.

Sometimes I think about all the money parents spend on their kids for music lessons, dance lessons, sports organizations, etc. Why do we spend years chauffeuring our kids around from one activity to another?! Do parents really expect their children to grow up to be a professional dancers or pro athletes?  If their children don’t, is that money wasted?

As a parent, I want to provide my children with enriching experiences that will help shape their character.  So why don’t we parents do the same for ourselves? What better way to teach your children that learning doesn't stop at a certain age or with a certain degree? Everybody needs that one thing that is their own and that keeps them learning and growing.  Everyone needs a balanced life.

I love being a mom and I love being able to stay at home with my kids. I love that I have the time, the support, and the ability to earn enough to continue singing and performing for others.

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