Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church


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The Life of an Opera Singer During a Pandemic

Posted by Sarah Breckbill on

I AM Palmer

I am Palmer is a series of articles written by parishioners at Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church about their experiences in the time of COVID-19. In this series, we are hearing from medical professionals, educators, students, public health experts, parents of school-age children and others who are finding ways to cope and thrive in our challenging times.

I am a professional opera singer and I serve on Palmer's lector ministry. Pandemic life has been pretty bleak for the opera world. My Opera News magazine arrived yesterday, and I laughed out loud when I saw it in the mailbox. Opera News: otherwise known as "Everything is Cancelled."

Life for itinerant performance artists has always been challenging, even in normal circumstances - but now that our workforce has been furloughed worldwide for the foreseeable future, we are having to grapple with more loss than we thought possible. All of my performances have been cancelled for the 2020-2021 season, except for two concerts, which I expect will be cancelled soon.  My husband and I are grateful that we can still pay our bills and stay home in relative safety and comfort, while so many of my colleagues are having the biggest financial crises of their lives. And then there are my two colleagues in New York who caught the virus and died. Opera News used to have one page of obituaries ... now it has three, and my friends are in them.

If you ask me how I'm doing, the answer will vary wildly from day to day. Some days I hold my grief loosely, and find myself taking comfort and joy in phone calls with family and friends, Bible studies and meditation group on Zoom, long walks with my husband and the dog, support groups for opera singers to share our experiences, sunset jogs through the neighborhood, rewatching Avatar on Netflix, and teaching myself how to quilt from blogs and YouTube videos. And some days the grief wells up and takes over, and I cry all day for what I've lost: the loss of the cycles of travel and homecoming that gave my life structure; the loss of creativity, motivation, and forward energy; the loss of feeling useful to society; the loss of physical connection with everyone outside my household; the deaths of five family members within four years, culminating in the unexpected death of my father in April 2019.  On those days I hold my grief to my chest and try to be present for it.  

I am learning to ask for help.  I am learning not to feed the punishing voices in my head. I am learning to trust that God will sustain me through everything.  If that's all I get out of this pandemic, it will be enough.