Ten years ago I left the high-pressure world of banking and finance, I thought forever. I had intended to leave years before, but the need to support a young family when my husband was out of work overrode my personal desire to - in the words of my little boy - "stay at home and do my big singing". But in 2012, following the breakup of my marriage, I decided that the time was right to leave. I was already teaching singing part-time and doing some professional singing, and I had gained my Royal College of Music Associateship in Singing Performance. Encouraged by my new partner, I took the plunge. I ended my consultancy at RBS and concentrated on building up my singing and teaching career.
It worked stunningly well. Or at least the teaching did. All too well, actually. I quickly found myself working in schools during the day and teaching adults in the evenings and at weekends. Right from the start most of my work came through word of mouth - recommendations from people who had either heard me sing or seen me teach. Within three years of cutting loose from banking, I was afloat as a self-employed singer and teacher.
But there was a downside. I soon found that the amount of teaching I had to do to earn enough money to pay the bills was having a bad effect on me physically. My voice was constantly tired during the school term and I started to lose high notes. I recovered during school holidays, when my schools work stopped (although my private work continued) - but then I didn't have the money to pay the bills. I started to dread Christmas and summer holidays, because I knew that there would not be enough money. And I started to dread solo engagements during school terms, because I didn't know if my voice would work well enough. As the schools teaching increased, I gradually stopped even looking for solo work.
The physical problems associated with teaching have got steadily worse over the last ten years. I accompany my students at the piano when I teach, which means sitting on a backless piano stool for hours on end: the remuneration level from teaching is not enough to allow me to employ an accompanist, and I don't like the inflexibility of backing tracks. The ergonomics of school practice rooms are frankly dreadful: it is always a beaten-up old upright piano, always with its back to the wall (so I have to face the wall) and there is seldom a correctly-positioned mirror so I don't have to twist round to see my students. I started to get pain and stiffness in my back, neck and shoulders, which kept me awake at night, interfered with my voice and reduced my ability to sustain long phrases. I now have regular chiropractic to straighten me out, but I am still tired and in pain a lot of the time during the school term. I've loved the piano all my life, but it has become an instrument of torture.
At the beginning of December 2012 I did a concert with a choral society that I have worked with many times. In their programme they advertised their next two concerts, both of which are works I know well, have sung before and which suit me vocally. But I won't be doing them.
It appears that a friend of mine who arranges teams of soloists for concerts had been engaged by the director of this choral society to book the soloists for the next concerts. But my friend had not booked me. I was very upset to discover this, so I emailed him to ask why. He said I am not strong enough vocally now to match the other people he was booking. The last time he heard me, which was in the summer of 2011 when I was doing 36 hours a week singing teaching, I was so tired that I simply didn't make enough noise.
I was horrified. I left banking to be primarily a singer, not a teacher. Losing professional singing work because teaching wears me out is far too high a price to pay for household solvency. And in the end, if my physical and vocal health is destroyed, teaching too will become impossible. You can't be an effective teacher if you can't sing well yourself.
I don't know if this is the end of the road for my professional singing. I hope it is not, and that I can continue to do some solo work, though I don't expect it to pay the bills. But it has to be the end of the road for full-time singing teaching.
So this New Year, for me, really is the end of the old and the beginning of the new. I have changed career before, but last time I knew where I was going. This time I don't..........or maybe I do. For the last two years I have been spending much of my time writing and talking about banking, finance and economics. So far I have done this entirely in my spare time, for fun and for nothing. But maybe that will change. Maybe the wheel is turning, and the banking and finance I thought I had left forever is calling me back.
Singing will always be a part of my life. And perhaps teaching can be too, though on a much reduced basis. But what will plug the gap that teaching will leave? I don't know. Writing, perhaps, or consultancy? I would welcome suggestions.
I am holding to the belief that somehow, the way will become clear. After all, the end of one road is always the start of another.