This is post 2 in the series that teaches kids about the different careers in music. Today, I am excited to share a guest post written by Kaci Berry, a music teacher, singer, and worship leader who talks about her journey to becoming a singer and how she uses singing in her career. If your child has ever wondered what it takes to have a music career and how to be a singer, then do yourself a favor and read this awesome post. If you missed part 1 in this series, you can read about how to become a piano accompanist and the different ways to be an accompanist here.
The early years
I started my public musical journey at the age of four years old, singing “I am a Promise” for my small hometown church. I have this faded, vague memory of standing on the stage, hunkered over in serious effort, holding my microphone so close I could have swallowed it, and belting out for all I was worth, my blonde hair shaking with the effort. I’m pretty sure I started singing in the womb though…EVERYTHING in my life turned into song…and usually a LOUD one. I was determined to grow up and become a famous singer, and practiced daily for my debut. My favorite place to sing was in the barn to my captive audience of cats and goats, and at the kitchen sink while washing the nightly dishes. I learned if I looked down, I could hear the echo of my own voice in the sink even easier. And I only had two vocal volume settings- ON, and OFF. ON involved max volume, because that’s what it obviously took to grace everyone with my many melodious songs, and after all, louder is always better, yes?
As I got older, much to my mother’s (and probably my cats’) relief I focused on ensemble choir and stage musicals…both places I could begin to learn use my capacity of volume for good. My high school director used to call me his Amplifier. If he needed more of a part, he’d give me “the look,” and I knew it was time to take the leash off. In high school choir, I learned the importance of blending, both in volume and in vowel production, and the absolute importance of ensemble skills. I learned that ensemble skills were NOT the same as solo singing skills, and that just because you were a good singer did NOT mean you were a good ensemble member. Ensemble skills involve more HEARING and paying attention to the whole group tuning as well as the effect desired by the conductor. However, as the designated “amplifier” I developed bad habits of pushing in my chest voice, rather than growing through my passaggio. As a result, I was tremendously limited in my voice, and only had a little less than two octaves in range. I used volume as a primary way to emote, which limited personal feedback to how I sounded to myself rather than how it felt. Good solo singing skills involve MORE FEELING and LESS LISTENING to one’s self, to be able to convey the message you intend from the music. I had no real experience with this, and no way to afford a voice teacher, so I developed what I heard, and subsequently, poor technique skills.
The college years
College was a good place for me. I studied music education, and was an honors college student. I pursued honors in vocal performance, and was the first person in the my university’s history to do so as an music ed major. I had an amazing voice teacher who was more stubborn than I was, and insisted I work on breaking the bad habits I’d learned as I was younger. I learned that louder isn’t always better, especially at the cost of technique, and eventually, I began to shine both in solo and in ensemble performing. I grew from a two octave range to almost a four octave range, through her patient training and the study of Alexander technique. I quickly became section leader of the top university ensemble I was a member of for several years. I was super focused on the group success as a whole, and I worked hard to match my teammates’ in sound, skill, and effort.
It was about my junior year that I was also discovered by the university opera company. I was initially hesitant to join because of the rehearsal schedule, and the amount of time it would pull me away from my family. But my love for the stage in high school musicals and the vividness of personality it afforded me to express was attractive to me. The opera department director was persistent, offering to flexibly work with my schedule, and he finally pulled me into the world of opera, giving me a major role in Puccini’s Suor Angelica. As La Zia Principessa, I found new challenges as I worked hard at matching the level of skill required to tell the story without compromising my growing vocal technique. I finally found the place where I felt the sound, rather than heard it, and my voice bloomed. Here in opera as in musical theater, I was able to tell a story, pouring all my passion into the emotion and my volume was considered a blessing as it easily carried over the full orchestra.
While in college, I co-directed the university’s children’s choir. I loved to take the skills I was learning and help children experience heathy choral singing, and have serious fun while doing it. We took our groups on four different nationwide tours while I worked for them, and we had about 150 students every year from all over our regional area.
The after college years
After graduation, I got a job as a classroom music teacher and laid down personal classical performance for a while, with the exception of periodic guest solo appearances for the university, and ensemble/solo work for a professional symphony chorale. However, I continued to worked for area churches as either Worship Director or team vocals, and it is where my faith marries with my talent that I am fulfilled in a no other way. I also continued to teach children’s choir for the university both during and after graduation, and I began to focus more on growing children’s voices rather than my own personal expression.
Several years passed, and one day I got a random email from my voice teacher. She forwarded me an email from an opera company in France who was looking for a mezzo to sing in an Offenbach opera. I was much older than their requested age, so I pretty much just hit delete and ignored it. However, something about it struck me, and the next day I dug it out and then submitted an application and voice clips. I had an offer of contract within 24 hours, and before I knew it I was going to France to spend the summer performing as Mastrilla in Offenbach’s La Perichole. It was the experience of a lifetime. While I hated leaving my family for that long, the people and the music were amazing, and I am so very grateful I did it.
Currently, I still teach in a public school classroom. I also serve my district as coordinator for elementary music. My professional focus has shifted more to training teachers to be better at teaching. I have mentored 16 interns in the last 7 years, and I love to pour into and see them grow into strong and confident teachers. I have worked for the National Board for Professional Teachers, and for the State Department of Education, revising areas of teacher education preparation and accountability. I have served on regional boards for two professional music teachers associations, and I am often contracted to do summer intensives for area education co-ops and help teachers get a better grasp on our state frameworks, curriculum planning, and classroom management skills. I continue to sing for my church, leading worship services most weekends with our teams. Within my school, I direct two children’s choirs, a step team, and am the resident event planner and MC.
“While my musical path has not been what I thought it would be as that young girl singing into her sink, I love that it has grown and stretched me, and allowed me to pour into and grow others. I am eager to see where God leads me next!”
Kaci is the elementary music coordinator and music teacher for Springdale Public Schools. She helps lead her church worship team and loves to use her gift of singing in any capacity she feels led to.
Where are you hoping your singing will take you one day? Are you inspired by this post to see where singing can take you if you keep practicing and putting in the hard work?
If you are a parent, student, or teacher who wants to learn more about music, connect with other musicians, or wants to post their latest videos of what they’ve been working on, I would love for you to join my Facebook group Music Education Connection. Collaborate, learn from each other, and grow new friendships. This is a place to receive encouragement, positive feedback, and to ask questions.