By Andrea Lynn Cianflone
Do you remember that activity in your youth that brought a big smile to your face? Aside from my music lessons, that activity for me was playing volleyball. I loved the sport and cherished all the memories from playing the sport! I used to sing the National Anthem at my team games. My Dad even brought a keyboard one time, playing a new version of, “take me out to the volleyball game,” in the stands. The crowd went wild, clapping, standing, and encouraging parents to cheer for their daughters playing on the volleyball court. Those moments made such an impression that I still hold on to my volleyball jersey many years later.
I was always in the gym trying to get better at the sport. Some days I went into the school gym early to do training. After school, I had two-hour practices with the team. When the practice was over, I stayed for an additional fifteen to thirty minutes trying to nail down a jump serve or attempt a sharp spike that would hit the ten-foot line. I was on the shorter side of what was, ‘typical for an outside hitter,’ standing tall at 5’ 5.” With much strength training and continuous drills, I was able to use that two-foot vertical I acquired to make some real progress on the court. I thank my Mother for the many years of dance training I had, because as one fan said, “you look like a fierce ballerina when you approach a spike.”
I was advised by coaches to take part in the travelling volleyball teams as that would increase my skills for the game and provide the opportunity for college scouts to notice me. I was excited about the idea of working with some of the best talent in the state, travelling to cities, and playing the game I loved so dearly. The only obstacle was affording the costs of playing in the program. So, I created my own program!
While the other players were on their travelling teams in the off season, I went outside in our backyard and I marked a line strategically on my parent’s shed. Every afternoon, I would “serve” the volleyball against the shed. I would “set” the volleyball to the shed. I would “pepper” with the shed as my other volleyball partner (a warm-up drill that includes two players bumping, setting, and spiking back and forth to each other). The wood on the shed had some thick rough edges. As a result, there were plenty of times when the volleyball would ricochet off the wood in a variety of directions. The volleyball would make a straight shot to my head, veer way off to the left or right, or drop immediately to the ground. Still, I would do my best in responding athletically to the volleyball. I became frustrated! Really frustrated! How was I going to get better if the volleyball didn’t come right back to my arms in a typical way of a two-person pepper drill?
To my surprise, those rigid volleyball returns from the dents in the wood paid off. To my knowledge, I became one of the only players to jump serve in the conference. My coach told me that I had the highest digging average in the conference. In my senior year, I became one of the captains of my volleyball team and I was thrilled to serve my teammates in that capacity.
Life presented greater obstacles than the volleyball court! Financial duress painted a picture as though I’d never be able to achieve my goals. Being resourceful was a necessity! I found myself extending this creativity into my career path as a singer. Again, I found myself in similar conversations, where coaches encouraged me to join a “pay-to-sing” opportunity. As the title suggests, many opera singers will pay thousands of dollars to attend international programs to perfect their craft, network, and receive opportunities to be on an international stage. In analyzing some of the “pay-to sing” programs I was accepted into, I declined that path, largely due in part to the deep costs associated with the program. So again, I set out to create my own program to perfect my craft, network, and attempt to go after the same opportunities. I continued to take lessons in a way that was affordable. I recorded my lessons with the permission of my coach. I read books on singing. I attended and analyzed masterclasses. I experimented beyond belief with my own voice in traditional and not so traditional ways. I sang while walking, running, exercising, cooking, and showering. I would analyze my breathing. I studied the art of breathing, meditation, prayer, and toning. I practiced daily! On the business side, I found mentors, read hundreds of books, visited blogs, glued my eyes to YouTube videos, and asked hundreds of questions to people I encountered in the field. I asked for help, took the wisdom from trusted people, and threw out the bad advice from others. I created quid quo pro arrangements to get consultations from experts. I emailed, called, followed up, attended a gazillion events, and literally chased after people for opportunities in the field. I found that if I wanted to achieve a dream, persistence wasn’t an option. It was a requirement!
After I had my Carnegie Hall Stern Hall debut in New York, many people asked me with a smile, “do you know how to get to Carnegie Hall?” Unbeknownst to the age-old joke, I responded to the question by describing the train I took to get to the hall for the performance! I quickly realized I had the wrong answer! How one gets to Carnegie Hall, to the sports arena, to gaining progress in relationships at home and work, takes discipline. I often ask myself, “Andrea, what is that ‘thing’ inside me that makes my heart yearn for more every day? I can’t imagine a day where I am somehow not singing or giving through the art of singing. I take notice of that desire in my heart daily. If it’s a true and good desire that serves people, I believe that the resources will come. I have seen it happen in my own life and believe it happens in others, so go practice, practice, practice, and make the world a better place through developing yourself and your dreams!