Finding Her Voice: A Classical Vocalist's Journey of Accepting Her Artistic Purpose
Talar Arslanian speaks with truth and conviction. She sings with a percussion beating heart and a creative soul. Talar is raw in her description of how and why she pursued a life as a classical vocalist. People often look at the arts and assume it is all rainbows and sunshine, when in fact it is hard work that can make you question everything.
The truth is that an artist usually has, or comes close to, some kind of a breaking point. There's a lot of internal struggle about pursuing the craft. Trust me, I've been there. What looks like a final period drawn with strong black ink on the pages of an artist's story, is actually more of an ellipses (. . .), a long pause, a much needed breath, in which we struggle to take a last inhale as we die unto our old selves.
When we finally exhale, we release the pressure and all of the preconceived notions of who we thought we were and what we assumed we needed to do in order to succeed by society's standard. We are left vulnerable, somehow born again, but this time with the newfound understanding that what we do as artists is not a self-serving act or a strive for perfection. Rather it is for a deeper, more meaningful purpose, one that is pursued over a lifetime of dedication to uphold the truth of the craft. It is about generosity to others and using the talent we are gifted with to make a difference, big and small. Talar is using her voice to make a difference.
This piece focuses on how Talar became a classical vocalist and the ellipses she encountered in her artistic journey.
Talar: I pursue classical vocal performance, but I started in theater. I never wanted to be a singer. I wasn’t planning on becoming a singer ever. If you had asked me in high school what I wanted to be, I would have said anything, but a singer! I wanted to do film scoring. I’ve been a composer since I was young, I play piano, and I have an intricate mind that can put different instruments together. It’s something I enjoy doing, so I wanted to pursue that. I was also deathly shy as a kid. The total opposite of who I am now.
My mom knew I was shy and I guess she also saw a little bit of talent, and was like well, she likes music, so let’s put her in voice! So I did it and honestly, I didn’t love it at the time. I hated singing in front of people, but I had a really nice teacher and that’s what kept me going. God bless her.
At the same time, there was a new theater company that just opened, Showlights Theater. My first vocal teacher threw me in that theater and gave me a lead role that I didn’t even audition for. She said, “Too bad. You’re too shy, so I’m giving you a lead, get over it.” And I don’t know what it was, but I fell in love with it. I always secretly wanted to be a comedian. I would joke with my mom and say I’m not going to college, I’m going to be a comedian! My role was the stepsister Joy from Rogers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella. That was my first real breakthrough. I really enjoyed it and it was strangely very therapeutic because it was a comedic role. I’ve always been that one person who finds everything funny and jokes around.
I continued to study with my voice teacher and became more encouraged as I was getting more immersed in musical theatre. She then announced that she was moving to Colorado, but that she had spoken with the teacher that I have now and said that she was willing to give me voice lessons.
I tried my first lesson with her and she was very intense, very intimidating. Redhead, very fiery. She’s like a steel magnolia, very hardcore, but very nice too. She made me buy this book, everybody in the classical world knows what I’m talking about. It’s called Twenty-Four Italian Songs and Arias and they are the most annoying songs. All they do is repeat and they are all in Italian. Those are like the baby steps songs that you need to sing before you can move on to the bigger ones.
As I was studying, she started getting annoyed with me, but I didn’t get why. Then she told me, “I don’t think you’re meant to be a singer. I don’t think you have it in you. I don’t think you’ll ever make it, it’s not for you. You’re not committed enough.” Very straightforward. And the way she said it infuriated me.
It was the spark and she was right! That’s part of the reason why I was so bothered. I wasn’t taking it seriously at all. I left that lesson crying and so mad and I was like “I’m gonna prove her wrong.” So I literally got into singing thinking that I’m gonna prove somebody wrong, which is so ridiculous.
I got the dang book and I started practicing two hours per day. My only goal in life, in my immature little brain at that time, was to prove her wrong. I started studying my behind off. I got the language, I sounded like a native Italian, and I took it into my next lesson. I finally sang it and it wasn’t an amazing or breakthrough thing, but my work showed. I finally looked over and she had tears running down her face and she told me, “You proved me wrong.” I was like wow! I started getting teary. It was pretty strange. . . God was working through it the whole time.
She said, “I know you want to do music and composition, but the vocal auditions are in two weeks. Try to make it.” In my head I’m like I don’t know any classical songs. I only knew Italian ones and they ask for different languages, so I had to learn everything in two weeks. It was a lot of pressure for me.
When I got in there, how do you think I do? Terrible! I was so nervous. I am not the type to start off pitch, but my pitch went all over the place, it was garbage. I felt so embarrassed, it was the worst thing ever. I looked over to my teacher and I was like I just ruined my life. Then there’s an interview right after the singing portion of the audition where they ask you pressing questions like, "Why do you want to be a singer? What is the most important (fill in the blank), etc.?" They’re asking me all of these crazy questions and I’m on the verge of crying. It was the worst thing ever.
But I got in. And I got a full ride.
It’s so weird! It’s really weird. Maybe they saw something that was there? I have no idea what it was that made them give me a full ride. I don’t get it.
My teacher and my mom were like, you’d be crazy to not go, it’s a full ride scholarship. So I pursued it, but man it was hard. It progressively got harder and harder and harder and harder. I would literally pray to God like "Why would you give me a full ride scholarship? It’s like I can barely sing."
Little things can affect your art, like if you wake up and you’re having a bad day, it’s going to affect your voice. If you wake up and you’re dealing with for example, depression, you’re not going to be able to sing. It’s just very hard for people who are actually meant to do it to wake up every day and have baggage, which is yourself, everything inside of you, including your voice, and do what you’re trying to do. So pursuing singing wasn’t a happy thing for me, it was very serious. It was never about loving the stage. I realized that I had a lot of problems and the reason I couldn’t sing was because I was literally destroying the gift that God has given me by my lifestyle choices and by not working on my problems.
I finally realized that I’ve got control issues, I can’t let go of stuff. As chill and casual as I am, I have a type A-ness to me and that’s why I want to control everything. Terrible. It was literally destroying my voice. By the grace of God, He revealed this thought to me: Your voice is who you are. It’s not like a piano that is on the outside, where you can control it. When you are a singer, you are your voice.
I understood in that moment that God wanted me to be in vocal performance. I finally got it. If I had done film scoring, I would’ve been behind the instruments and computers- I could’ve controlled and been unseen. Singing requires vulnerability. It feels like you’e naked when you’re performing.
Once I realized that I am my voice, I am responsible for what I say and think, and all of that affects my voice, I understood I had a lot to learn. That’s how I knew I was meant to be a singer because singing teaches me about vulnerability and growth in my life more than any other career. That has to be a divine type of thing from God.
Talar Arslanian is a classically trained vocal performer currently pursuing a Master of Music in Performance at Azusa Pacific University. She is a frequent winner and competitor in professional vocal competitions. Pre-Covid, she was a background singer at the Microsoft Theater for a famous Persian artist. She was also selected out of 2,000 vocalists to complete a Masterclass with renowned Metropolitan Opera singer Lisette Oropesa. Talar is the ongoing Director of Music at the Showlights Theater.
Here's a special Spotify playlist of some of Talar's favorite songs!
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