Teachers, Olivia Newton-John, and Speaking Up

I had the wonderful opportunity to do a “Guest-Blog” spot for NPR on their weekly topic of “Teachers Who Made a Difference”, for it brought up wonderful memories (as well as a few twitchy ones), and gave me the pause to consider how deeply one person’s influence can affect another’s.

As luck would have it, I was at my grade school Alma Mater, St Ann’s, yesterday morning, the day the article posted, and I was flooded with memories of term papers, construction paper/stick glue projects, playground shenanigans, and demanding, attentive teachers.  My 7th grade Speech and Drama teacher is now the principle and I talked her ear off with memories of my performance for the required “Advertising Campaign” which consisted of pink leg warmers, a matching pink sweatband, shorts (God help me) and the pitching my product: a perfume called “Physical”.  Yes, if you were around in the 80’s you can picture an awkward but eager 7th grade girl trying to impress her crush, Eric F., with a very solid rendition of Olivia Newton John’s “Let’s Get Physical.”  How did I ever survive Junior High?

My point in bringing this up with her (which THANKFULLY she did not remember at all!) was that from where I stand today, I can trace back, directly, step by step, my path in getting here.  All the failures, successes, misguided school performances, risks, humiliations, little triumphs – they all add up and provide the foundation from which I still function.  I felt very lucky walking those hallowed halls yesterday and loved working with the 5th and 6th graders, giving them a few pointers on how to breathe to sing.  Wouldn’t you know it, the 6th graders, one by one, challenged me to a sing-off!  I loved the enthusiasm and the fascination they showed with a real live opera singer singing right in front of them.  Once they dared to lower their hands, which instinctively went to cover their young eardrums with my first sounds, they actually really enjoyed seeing something so “exotic” up close.

It also made me painfully aware of how lucky I was to grow up with a supportive network.  Not everyone is so lucky.  What if I had been bullied because I liked singing or for being in the school plays? All the latest news reports of teenage suicide, in particular of young gay/lesbian suicides is weighing very heavily on my mind.  Again, I apologize for stepping off topic here, but it is something I feel quite passionate about, and simply cannot stay quiet – I wasn’t alive during the Civil Rights Movement in the US where African Americans were fighting for equal rights (or women, for that matter!), but I do remember being deeply upset when I realized how inhumanely one person could be treated simply because of their skin color (or gender, or religion, and the list sadly goes on and on.)  I would ask my parents, in all my splendid ignorance, “Did people really have to live like that? But why didn’t you do anything about it?”  That wasn’t a condemnation – it was simply curiosity. Happily, I was not raised to see people as separate, or lesser than me, but I always wondered why so many people tolerated behavior that was inhumane, and ultimately, ridiculously arrogant.

So I know that I cannot, in good conscience, stay silent on actions that not only affect other human beings, but some of my very dearest friends.  That a young person would feel it is a better option to take their own life, rather than be accepted for who they are, at their very core, saddens me more than I can say.  We have a responsibility to stop teaching hate.  It is literally killing us.

But there is someone who recently said it MUCH better than I ever could: a councilman from Fort Worth, TX.  This, to me, is what bravery looks like, and I feel immensely grateful that there are people in the world who will speak for what is right, even when it is not popular or politically correct.

Thank you for letting me express myself on this.

Back ON topic – I have to go board a plane now for Germany and Spain. Next time I’m home it will be Christmas.  This is the hard part of what I do.  I don’t want to fly to Europe.  I want to fly to Salt Lake where my husband is getting ready to debut his first La Boheme and I want to cheer him on for his opening night.  But duty calls, and once I arrive, I’m sure I’ll be happy I’m there (especially since I just found out that STING – holy cow! – is singing in the concert in Essen on Sunday!), but boy is it hard to step onto this flying machine!

See you on the other side!



  1. June (Machover) said…

    Hi Joyce, I was just scraping myself off the floor after watching Joel Burns’ video when I came across your blog post. Paths crossing in cyberspace! Thank you for speaking out! Have a great trip to Europe!

    xx J

    • Yankeediva said…

      June! So great to hear from you!! So happy that Tod’s premiere was such a success!! CHEERS!

  2. Annie said…

    As I walked to work yesterday morning, listening to a glorious rendition of the Act III Trio from Der Ros., I felt myself welling up thinking about the amount of hate out there one would have to experience to want to end it all at the earliest part of one’s young life. I envisioned an enormous chorus of LGBTQ singers and allies, soloists and orchestra members reaching out with something powerful like Beethoven’s Nine Fourth Movement with love and acceptance, enveloping these souls with beauty and music and love.

    We need more music and less hate and bigotry. Keep making lightness and beauty.



  3. Zsolt said…

    Im sorry that you cannot go home till christmas.

    Honestly i dont know how you do that, thats the most difficult part in your whole carrier..must be killing to be so far, for so long from your family.

    But therefore thank you, that you come to europe and sing for us!

  4. Zsolt said…

    I have question dear Joyce: what do you sing in berlin in the Aids gala november 7?

    Than i will be in Berlin..might go to the gala, only problem the very expensive tickets..:(

    • Yankeediva said…

      Am scheduled for “Tanti Affetti” So looking forward to what should be a very exciting night!

  5. Tracy said…

    I don’t know how you found that video of Joel Burns, but thank you for posting it. I pick and choose which blogs to read (there are so many interesting ones out there). But, Joyce, I love yours. I love your humanity. I love your voice. I love your artistry. Thank you for being YOU.

  6. cd said…

    I love “yankeediva”. It’s such a spot on name for an american opera singer. It seemed to have been a great fit for you. I hope you still remain the Yankeediva.
    Thank you for continuing to share your thoughts on your blog with us and your exceptional artistry.

  7. Nick said…

    Growing up being a gay geeky bespectacled gangly tall opera loving kid wasn’t easy. There’s lots of memories I wish upon no one. But it does get so much better indeed. I’m a happily married, almost centered, still way too tall but peaceful man now. This made me cry. Thanks for posting this. It does make a difference. Thank you.

    • Yankeediva said…

      Nick, your comment is so beautiful and a real inspiration to me. Bravo to you for living your life with such peace and height! 😉

  8. Chris said…

    Sometime you should sit down with a cameraman and do a lengthy interview on your career: your start in school, your progress to Philadelphia, when you decided and why you decided to go for an opera career instead of a teaching one, your first jobs, what went right and what went wrong, etc., etc. For the record. You have given us some of that in bits and pieces but an hour long account would be invaluable.

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