#TheStories, part 11Editorial
I moved to NYC in 2011 to pursue my masters degree in voice. I arrived here ready to work as hard as I could and do whatever it took to have a career. Growing up in the rural Midwest with almost no connections, I knew that I had to do twice the work with half the resources.
The summer after my first year of grad school I sang in a small opera festival. I was the youngest apprentice by several years and couldn’t believe I was given this opportunity. Although there were several people on the artistic staff, one conductor/pianist/coach in particular worked with the apprentices.
One of the older apprentices warned me that this man had a reputation for singling out one young female apprentice each year and trying to sleep with her.
I loved working with him, and found that how he communicated fit exactly with how I learned. We had a nice banter, and I felt for the first time that an established musician considered me something of an equal.
One of the older apprentices warned me that this man had a reputation for singling out one young female apprentice each year and trying to sleep with her, and that it was clear I was that season’s target. I had absolutely no experience with men at that point, and no template as to what to expect from someone sexually interested in me. I didn’t know this wasn’t normal.
He was one of my few connections outside of school, and I was eager to keep it.
However, I believed that since I knew his game that I could beat it. I thought that his ignorance of my knowledge put me in a position where I could stay ahead of him. Plus, my singing improved drastically while working with him. I had my brain and my voice to keep me safe. He acted flirtatiously with me during the festival, but nothing more.
I continued working with him after the festival ended and we both returned to NYC. Again, I thought that my awareness would protect me from being harmed, and I was also naive enough to think that nothing would actually happen to me. I foolishly believed that people who showed kindness were always kind, and that he would never take that step from flattery to predation. He was one of my few connections outside of school, and I was eager to keep it.
Since he already had the reservation made, he asked if I would join him.
One evening that fall, during a coaching with him, he looked at his phone. He said he’d received a text from the friend he was supposed to have dinner with that night cancelling. Since he already had the reservation made, he asked if I would join him instead. He added, I suppose as a joke, that I was a poor grad student and could use a nice dinner paid by someone else. In retrospect, I don’t think there really was a friend who cancelled, and that the whole scenario was manufactured.
The dinner was a little uncomfortable. I felt like a child thinking she’s having a very grownup conversation with an adult who doesn’t really take her wild dreams seriously. The equality I thought we had vanished by the second. He didn’t look at me, he stared at me. I felt little, stupid, and dirty.
I said I had to go home and study. Still holding me, he offered to take me home himself. I felt sick.
We split a bottle of wine, but he ensured that most of it ended up in my glass. As we walked out, I mentioned I felt a little tipsy. I wasn’t drunk, it had been just enough wine to make me not completely sober and loosen my tongue. He held me by the shoulders. I thought they would be crushed in the too strong grasp of his hands. “Yes, but not tipsy enough for me to cash in on some bets I’ve made,” he said, looking at me with a lecherous and confident smile that froze my blood.
I couldn’t look at him anymore. My eyes went anywhere that wasn’t his face. I said I had to go home and study. Still holding me, he offered to take me home himself. I felt sick. I didn’t want to be alone in a car with him, where I could not escape, nor did I want him knowing where I lived. I shook his hands off of me, told him I was fine and went home.
I had one or two more coachings with him after that. Part of me thought that if I could just have normal coaching, than maybe it would mean I had just misinterpreted everything. Maybe I was wrong, and he truly was just interested in my voice. Maybe it would all be ok. He never came on to me like that again, but he did continue to physically invade my space, holding my arm so tightly it hurt, or standing just inches from my face when talking to me.
For many years I laughed about it, perhaps in an effort to protect myself.
Not long before that dinner, I auditioned for the summer festival he ran. We had a few conversations about what roles might be good for me, and he implied that I had a good chance. He was the only person in the audition, and it went well. After returning home from what would be our last coaching, a month or so after the audition, I saw a Facebook friend’s status announcing that she had been cast in their season.
I was furious. It wasn’t that he didn’t hire me that angered me, it was that he had deliberately chosen not to tell me. Was his silence the consequence of my rejection?
To this day I find it difficult to trust mentors.
A few years later, I ran into him in a now closed café on the Upper West Side. He didn’t remember my name.
The effects of his grooming came on slowly but have lasted a long time. For many years I laughed about it, perhaps in an effort to protect myself. My cracked confidence made auditions difficult, and I was convinced that because of what he had done, other people who claimed to believe in me were probably lying to me too. If someone who understood my voice could betray me, what was stopping those who were less invested?
Each rejection only affirmed this belief; if I really had talent, someone would want me. On the other hand, each time I did manage to be cast, I was afraid it had been a mistake, and wondered if there was some other sort of agenda. To this day I find it difficult to trust mentors.
While I have many artistic achievements that I am proud of, my once promising career has been reduced to ashes, burnt by an industry that allows men like him to strike the matches.