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Women with Belief™ Series: Notes from an Opera Singer.©

By on March 2, 2008 – 12:01 am  15 Comments

David J. Pollay, MAPP '06, is a co-founder of the International Positive Psychology Association (IPPA). David has an Economics degree from Yale University and has held leadership positions at Yahoo!, MasterCard, Global Payments and AIESEC. He is an Executive Coach who specializes in business relationships. He is also an author and keynote speaker known for his best-selling books, The Law of the Garbage Truck (how to navigate negativity) and The 3 Promises (how to create personal fulfillment every day). David's articles are here. For permission to reprint David's articles, please contact him.



Cover for album for Norma

Cover for album for Norma

Mom was an opera singer who could sing high C’s beautifully. And she had the chance to sing them often. Mom was a leading soprano with The National Opera Company, and with The Community Concert Series of Columbia Artists after her undergraduate and graduate studies at the New England Conservatory of Music. Her repertoire included Verdi, Puccini, Mozart, Gounod, Massenet, Hayden, and Handel. Mom also toured Europe for the State Department to entertain our troops. And in 1956 she was presented with a certificate of esteem signed by the United States Secretary of Defense, C.E. Wilson, “…for patriotic service in providing entertainment to members of the armed forces in Europe.”

 

I asked Mom recently how she was able to consistently sing a high C. She said, “You already have to believe it’s there. And once you believe it is, you have to find a way to let all negative thoughts go so that you can sing your high C.”

Daniel J. Wakin wrote about the high C last year in his article, “The Note that Makes Us Weep.” Wakin quotes Craig Rutenberg, The Metropolitan Opera’s director of musical administration, “It is the absolute summit of technique. More than anywhere else in your voice, you have to know what you’re doing. To me it signals a self-confidence in the singer that lets him communicate to us that he knows what he’s doing and he has something very important to express with that note.”

When I was growing up in Milwaukee, my parents formed their own singing act, The Pollays. They performed across the United States and Canada with stars like Joey Bishop, Shecky Green, Myron Cohen, Mark Russell, Morey Amsterdam, Rich Little, and David Brenner. My brother and I often had the opportunity to travel with them.

I remember one particular performance. Mom had the flu. And just minutes before being introduced on stage, Mom was throwing up in the bathroom.

I asked Mom how she was able to sing that day. She said, “I always had a belief that I could sing under almost any circumstances. No matter how sick I was, if I could stand up, then I could sing.” Mom continued, “You believe you can do it. You practice every day. You know you have the technique. You just have to concentrate and believe it is in you.” And not only did she make it through the show, Mom and Dad received a standing ovation.

In a chapter on self-efficacy beliefs for the Handbook of Positive Psychology, James Maddux, professor of Psychology at George Mason University wrote, “The truth is that believing that you can accomplish what you want to accomplish is one of the most important ingredients – perhaps the most important ingredient – in the recipe for success.”

How did a girl from Augusta, Maine become an opera singer?

Mom said, “My belief was that I could sing and that everyone wanted to hear me sing from the time I was three years old. My mother used to say that I woke up singing with the birds before anyone else in the family was up…and I sang all day.”

“There was always singing in my home,” said Mom. “On Sunday nights we listened to the Firestone Hour. We heard opera, operetta, and other beautiful music. I dreamed and I believed that I could sing as well as the stars could and that some day I would sing opera and be well-known. I bought sheet music and imitated all those famous singers, and the singers in the movies.”

Mom turned her talent and her interest into a successful singing career that spanned five decades and took her around the world. Mom’s beliefs gave her the drive and courage to accomplish something very few people do. She became a professional singer. She sang opera. And she could sing the high C’s.

©2008 David J. Pollay

 


 

Image
Norma courtesy of Gonmi

15 Comments »

  • Chris says:

    David,

    Thanks again for another great post. I love the 2nd of each month!

    Your story reminds me of an interview I heard with Bob Dylan once. He said something to the effect of, “I don’t write songs. The songs are out there, I just find them.” That also reflects the importance of the belief that what you seek and want is out there, and then frame your actions around that positive belief.

  • Tamara says:

    David,

    What gifts your mom has. Not only did she give of herself in her performances, she also has given herself to you and through you, to us. Great message!! Looking forward to more.

  • Cari Jackson Lewis says:

    Hi David. It is clear from your mother’s story that you have inherited her positivity, determination, and drive to succeed. It puts me in mind of a saying that my husband Preston has hung in the childrens’ rooms (along with a variety of bible verses and other words of wisdom) “Imagine what you would do if you COULDN’T fail.” This is a powerful (and empowering) vision. Believing that you CAN accomplish what you want to accomplish is like adrenaline to the spirit – what a rush! God Bless you and your family, and all the best to your wonderful, indisputably fabulous mom!

  • Melanie says:

    David,

    Another great post! It is clear to see that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. What a legacy to give her children which in turn allowed you to give to us. Thank you for giving me a smile this Monday morning!!-Melanie

  • mikey says:

    This is one of my favorites. I love it.
    Thank you David for the great lesson and the wonderful tribute to Mom. It was execelent.

  • Your post today reminded me of a modern representation of this concept. I think of contestants in “talent” related game/reality shows. Specifically American Idol, Top Chef, Project Runway, etc. The individual chosen to win the contest has faced challenges, criticism and stress. Yet, ultimately they win because they “could sing under almost any circumstances.”

  • Halle says:

    I haven’t been able to hit the high c since I was in high school! What a great motivator to practice again, this time with the positive attitude behind the voice. This is a wonderful article, thank you for the continued support!

  • Halle says:

    Oh1 I forgot to add that I LOVE the new momentum project tank tops! All my friends want them now!

  • David J. Pollay says:

    Thanks Chris! Great quote from Bob Dylan. And he sure knows where to find the songs! Great point about framing your positive belief with the right actions. Thanks for your post!

    Best to you,

    David

  • David J. Pollay says:

    Thanks Tamara. You’re right; Mom is as wonderful a mother as she was a singer. She is a special woman.

    Thanks for the post!

    David

  • Thanks Cari!

    What a wonderful message for your children! We would all do well to start our days listening to Preston (and to you)and reading everything posted on the walls of your children’s bedrooms!

    Thanks for the post!

    David

  • Thanks Melanie! And I sure appreciate your connecting me to Mom – a great compliment! Have a great week!

    Thanks for the post!

    David

  • Thanks Mikey! It was a fun and meaningful article to write.

    Best to you,
    David

  • The Data Digger makes a great point. All of these shows demonstrate that the best in any field have to demonstrate be in top form no matter how difficult their circumstances.

    Thanks for the post!

    David

  • Thanks Halle for your posts! And the fact that you could sing a high C in high school is impressive! So, we know it’s in you! Have fun bringing it out again! And I’m glad you like the shirts!

    Best to you,

    David

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