"He was singing to live," Met coach Ken Noda said about Ryan Speedo Green. There was much Green needed to learn--how to sing in foreign languages, how to place his voice, employing dynamics, reading music--but he had a personal energy and presence, a remarkable range, and an ability to "stir a reaction."
In 2011 Green won the Metropolitan Opera's voice competition, beating 1,200 other singers. Green's potential stood out. Yet, while the other opera hopefuls had studied at prestigious schools, Green had grown up in a shack and spent time in solitary confinement in juvenile detention, and had suffered physical abuse from his older brother and mother. Plus Green was African American, and few black men became opera stars.
Sing For Your Life by Daniel Bergner is Ryan Speedo Green's inspiring story, how an angry youth ended up in 8th Grade chorus, discovered he had a voice, and after hitting rock bottom determined to change his life. It is also the story of being black in America where people of color must prove their humanity and equality, and talented black singers are steered toward musical theater and traditionally African American roles.
Green was lucky to have found adults and teachers who helped him along the way. One teacher had students memorize Rev. Martin Luther King's statement about the "content of their character" which Green never forgot. Green turned away from the street life and befriended a boy whose close family offered him a sanctuary of acceptance and normalcy. Many coaches helped him learn to how to train his remarkable voice.
Green's complicated family dynamics and history makes his endeavor to connect with them as an adult poignant. His revisiting the facility where he spent time, singing and trying to inspire the youth, shows his deep commitment to changing not only his own life but the life of others.
Bergner does a wonderful job of explaining the intricacies of vocal performance. Following Green throughout his training could have become tedious to read, but his keeping Green's emotional journey forefront my interest did not flag.
Green has established a very successful career, performing this year at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City and in Vienna, Austria.
I do love reading about how the arts changes lives!
I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.
Read Bergner's article on Green's winning the Met operatic voice competition:
"Sing for Your Life is certain to be billed as a book about race. And it is that, and also a book about art and hope and resilience. But this is not a book about abstractions. It's a story that is suspenseful in the deepest sense, and very moving--a story about a fascinating human being. I am grateful to Mr. Bergner for having introduced me to him." Tracy Kidder, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Soul of a New Machine and Mountains Beyond Mountains.
Sing For Your Life
Little, Brown, and Company
Publication Sept 13, 2016
$28 hard cover