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APSU's Mabry's new book examines "The Performing Life" of a professional singer

8/6/2012

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CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. – Dr. Sharon Mabry’s plane was delayed. The Austin Peay State University professor of music arrived at the Copley Plaza Hotel in Boston a little after 11:30 p.m., some six hours later than she intended. She was tired, having spent the day rushing through airports to make connecting flights, and she needed a good night sleep. The next morning, she was scheduled to sing live before a national audience on WGBH radio.

But when Mabry reached the front desk of the hotel, she learned her bad day was just beginning.

“We walked up to the counter, and this elegantly dressed man said he had given away our reservation because they were overbooked,” Mabry said.

She and her accompanist, Patsy Wade, were close to panicking. They explained to the clerk that they were supposed to perform a concert in only a few hours.

“Finally the man says, ‘well OK, I found a place for you to go,’” Mabry said. “We followed him through this beautiful lobby, we followed him out the back door, down an alley way into this strange place, knocked on a door that looked like a speakeasy. There was this long hallway with bare bulbs everywhere. It ended up, we stayed in these little cubicles for the night. These cells. There was no television. There was just a bed. It was clean but that’s about all you can say.”

The story depicts one of the many stressful, anxiety-inducing experiences that occur in the career of a professional singer. It’s enough to cause some talented individuals, unprepared for this life, to quit altogether. That’s why this anecdote fits so perfectly in Mabry’s new book, “The Performing Life: A Singer’s Guide to Survival.” The book, which hits bookstores in September, offers valuable advice along with little vignettes culled from Mabry’s 35-year career as an award-winning professional singer.

“Oh how I wish I had had this book as a young singer,” Dr. Carl Swanson, associate editor of the renowned Journal of Singing, said. “Dr. Mabry has used a wonderful mix of practical advice and memoir to underscore her astute insights into the minefield we call performance. Every performer should read this ‘performance bible’ before beginning a career and whenever faced with new challenges in that career. Thank you, Dr. Mabry, for enlightening us all.”

Over the last three decades, Mabry has performed across the globe as a highly sought after recitalist and soloist with symphony orchestras. She took a diary with her on all her travels, and the insights and obstacles she experienced, scribbled in those pages, inform much of her new book.

“In that diary, I wrote about the problems I had – the logistical problems, the health issues, all kinds of venue problems with acoustics, heating, cooling, dresses,” she said. “With this book, I wanted to let people see that even in the worst of times, if you have a plan, if you’re prepared mentally, if you’re prepared logistically with a support system, you can get through it. But you have to have those sorts of things.”

Mabry said many young people today, thanks to the popularity of shows such as “American Idol” and “The X Factor,” think they only need to be able to sing well to be successful. Her new book explains that for singers to have long, successful careers, they need to do everything from warming up their voices to exercising and maintaining a proper diet to insuring that they get enough sleep.

“Sharon Mabry's latest addition to the young singer's bookshelf, ‘The Performing Life: A Singer's Guide to Survival,’ is a welcome introduction to the complexities and rewards of a life in music,” Eileen Strempel, associate dean of the Syracuse University graduate school, said. “Mabry's multifaceted career as an academic, master teacher, singer and recording artist of contemporary music provides an authoritative platform for her advice-driven book.”

Several years ago, Mabry contacted 15 professional singers around the country and asked them what kind of book on performing they would like to read? What would be most helpful to them in their careers?

“They said, ‘tell us what it was really like. Don’t write a dry, academic book,’” she said. “This book is how to survive, and that’s what they wanted me to say. How to survive as a performer. And they said, ‘tell us all the crazy things that ever happened to you.’”

That’s exactly what she did. Rather than writing a dry tome on her experiences, Mabry infused the pages of “The Performing Life” with her notorious sense of humor. The result is both an informative career manual and an entertaining memoir of three decades in the business.

“Warm, personal and humorous, this book is a must read for those singers who think they want a performing career,” Judith Carman, a music reviewer for the Journal of Singing, said.

The book, which is being published by Scarecrow Press, is already available for pre-order online at amazon.com and Barnes and Nobles’ website, bn.com.