It is LOL when you get to put a name to a face and at times even more LMAO, when you meet the name behind the face. I have been working on the former for the last few months regarding Sylvia McNair and the other day I got to do the latter.
The first thing I have to say after meeting her: Sylvia McNair is a fascinating person! I had the great opportunity to talk stories with her while going to a media call regarding her appearance on stage and the teaching of Masterclasses with Hawaii Opera Theatre's Education & Outreach Program at the University of Hawaii's Orvis Auditorium.
As a writer and inquisitive sojourner along life's road, I am drawn to the stories of others. For many years, I have struggled to process my own story and writing has been a great outlet to help me understand more (and less) why I'm here. Speaking with, listening to, reading about, and learning from the journeys of others is even more valuable.
"Who is Sylvia McNair?" Gene Schiller of Hawaii Public Radio asked the two-time Grammy Award winning soprano in segue to a song she recorded early on in her career as a performer of opera and oratorio.
With a graceful laugh and a sincere honesty, she spoke candidly about her experience in Music and in essence, from what I can tell, her truth. Amazingly and courageously, after reaching the highest possible levels in the world of opera, she quite simply walked away to make the switch to cabaret and musical theatre.
Subject to Change, a musical autobiography and the title of her show, is not about change of act, venue, or time, it's about her experience and how her own life went through its share of changes.
"I was tired of doing what other people thought I should be doing." Sylvia shared.
Opera and oratorio was not where her heart was. It was time for her to really start living, and that was interesting for me to hear. In my own walk through this life, I have changed lanes, taken many turns from the conventional, walked away from what society told me was "right" for me, and I am still striving to be true to the cause each day, which takes some work.
"You have to keep working at being positive," were among her last words to me in the brief time that we spent together. I agree; sometimes you have to stand on your own and do what feels "right" because at the end of your life, you have to be able to look back, and be at peace with who you are and how your lived.
In the time since she left the opera world, Sylvia has not rested on past laurels. Marvelously and in triumphant fashion, she has reinvented herself in the way that only a strong individual, one with great perseverance can. Sylvia now performs on stages and is still making headlines, except this time in doing what she loves.
"You should see messages that I get on Facebook from friends in opera..." Sylvia comments on the positive reception and support from her peers, many of whom wanted to make a change but did not take the steps that she did.
Though she didn't say it, one can only imagine the things she must of heard in the process of making her decision after 70 plus recordings, two Grammy Awards, and engagements at the most prestigious opera houses booked years in advance...
She was probably called crazy.
When one is called crazy, that normally is accompanied with being looked at funny ways. Growing up looking Caucasian albeit of mixed heritage dating back to the Hawaiian Kingdom in Hawaii, I know what getting funny looks or "stink-eye" is like.
I might also have put aside my own fortune-telling career but I venture to divine that there is a good chance people uttered the dreaded phrase, "career suicide," when it comes to the choice that Sylvia made to exit stage left.
It's telling about a culture when life is all about work and how it is perceived, is it not? What that tells, well...
It takes a great deal of courage to not only take a step back from one's life work, a career deemed successful by others, and further, it takes a survivor to overcome the obstacles that come with transformation and facing adversity in all areas of life.
Now that is something that Sylvia has done as gracefully as she has graced the stage.
"I was given six months to live..." when discussing on air the statistics on her survival of battling cancer, an ordeal that included the full rounds of medical procedures including various medical and radiation treatments, which took place over the course of a few years.
"If my story helps just one person..." She shared in not holding back recollection of the experience, following up to the fact that she is as cancer free as anyone else can be.
Cancer, we hear the words, and we cringe.
We fear its game changing ability in life the same as NFL defensive coordinators and fans of opposing teams alike cringed at the return of Michael Crabtree to the San Francisco 49ers offense and the subsequent hot hand the 'Niners have been riding into the playoffs.
For people who experience cancer and loved ones who travel along for the ride, it really does change everything.
I have lost three grandparents thus far and all three were dealing with the effects of cancer as their lives came to a close. My aunt has been battling the illness for years and I have heard about the feelings of my uncle and my cousins, one of their children, from time to time since.
Loss is never easy and the fear of loss, whether it has occurred yet or not, is sometimes even more challenging to bear...
It's so easy to lose one's way in this world. I have been brought down to my knees thus far in the journey and have been nudged and slapped in the days since my own darkest period.
People like Sylvia give me hope. Hope that it's okay to do what is in our hearts regardless of what anyone else thinks and hope that we can overcome anything. It reminds me to enjoy each day without worry for you never know when something really challenging will appear and your dance partner is subject to change...