An Open Letter to my Marymount Students

AlexandraDavid-126It’s become a tradition for me to write an open letter to my seniors graduating from Marymount Manhattan College. As I have said before, this process never gets easier. This year, however, there’s an added heaviness in my heart, as I am stepping down as a voice teacher at Marymount to pursue a career as a freelance teacher, writer, and entrepreneur. While my seniors will be leaving their undergraduate education, I will be leaving behind a studio of talented students, who have brought great light into my life. 

This year, I’m going to address all my students and, in another break from tradition, I will not offer advice to those graduating. Well meaning though it may be, it simply feels wrong to me right now. While I may know many things, the truth is I feel just as hope-filled and scared as many of my seniors. Let others give the advice. I just want to share some final words with all my amazing students.


Dear Studio,

I knew it in my soul. I knew it was time. And that’s where the deepest hurt came: knowing and yet having a cognitive dissonance with the Truth. Call it the Universe, or God, but I knew I was being called to something new, something I can’t yet fully see. 

Why would I leave a great job at one of the country’s top musical theatre programs with students I love to become a freelancer? I can’t give you one answer. There are more like thirty little signs: a growing private studio, more than a couple international teaching opportunities, a growing business that needs more attention, a patient collaborator who has been deserving more face time… so many reasons. None of these necessarily add up to a pay check similar to the one I’m currently receiving, but with these signs comes an assurance that I will be provided for. 

In lessons, we’ve talked about the abstraction of singing. What you hear is not what is necessarily going on outside. Life, of course, is also abstract. So, to my way of thinking, the work we do as singers in some ways prepares us for the spiritual work life often offers us. 

Many years ago, I was working at Moody’s Investors Service, a bond rating agency, quoting and collecting fees on municipal bond deals. It couldn’t have been further from my calling, but the money was good and so was the health insurance (there was actually a time when health insurance was fantastic). I was a temp there until the legal department discovered they should have offered me a full time job at some point because it’s illegal to have a temp work for you for, oh, three years. So, I decided to take a full time job while pursuing singing, writing, and running an opera company (fun fact: I co-founded and ran an opera company for a couple years….). 

I was really good at my job. Most days, I was able to get my work done by lunch and spend the rest of the day working on my own stuff. I wrote two one-act plays while at Moody’s (something I feel I can now admit 10 years later!). I’ve always been great at using my time well.

And yet, this job was so clearly not how I was supposed to be spending my time. I always used to say to people, “My work day begins at 5 PM.” And it was true. I’d get home from my day job and, until midnight, work on the things I might not have been able to do at work. I did that five days a week, and then worked more on the weekends. It wasn’t sustainable and, at some point, it came to me: I have to leave my day job and focus on being an artist. 

I spent months saving money and coming up with an exit strategy. I decided to give my Notice two weeks prior to Labor Day. I had money in the bank, but no solid prospect of a job. I decided to leap anyway, having faith the next right thing would find me. 

A week before I was to give my Notice, a colleague of mine told me about a voice faculty position for the musical theatre program at Marymount. I had a productive phone conversation with Pat Simon (while at Moody’s – I snuck into an empty conference room…) and she hired me over the phone. Two days later, I told my boss Lucille I’d be leaving. In planning to leap, the net appeared.

I now find myself in a similar situation. I love teaching, but my current schedule is not sustainable. I need room to write, perform, travel, and run my company. The Universe is once again telling me it’s time to leap. I have faith the net will appear.

Does knowing I was alright last time make this leap easier? Sadly, no. That’s not the way it works, at least not in my experience. I think big changes like this will always feel scary.  No matter how much one prepares, there’s always the Unknown. What has changed, I hope, is my ability to recognize and act on the impulses of the Spirit, not unlike what we talk about with singing. My intuition is telling me things will be alright. It doesn’t make it easier, but it does make it clear.

Whether you’re graduating or going on to another teacher next year, I hope you know I love you. You have been an essential part of my journey, and my life. While we won’t be working together in the same way, that doesn’t mean we won’t ever again. And maybe this change will be a good one for you too. No one owns the truth – we can learn many things from several different people. 

I hope I can be an inspiration to you in the countless ways you have inspired me. There will always be room for you in my studio. 

With much love and gratitude,



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4 thoughts on “An Open Letter to my Marymount Students

  1. David. I said this before last fall, so I won’t repeat how VERY thankful I am that Landon was a lucky young man to have had your vocal instruction (and your friendship/mentorship) his first year in college. (Well, I sort of just did repeat it. Ah well.)

    I’m proud that you’re brave and wise enough to follow what you know is the right path for you, even without knowing the outcome, and at the same time sad for Landon who is ALSO sad. He told me in detail about the moment after he was done singing and you announcing that this was your last one, saying “I was his last student.” in a bit of a dazed tone.

    I’m forever grateful for the things you’ve taught him!! I can tell a difference both in his facility and his confidence, and I have no doubt you were a blessing to him in more ways than just vocally. And for that I’m eternally thankful!!!

    Also, I’m not giving up on hoping for a voice lesson from you someday!! I know/hope that you and Landon will keep in touch and I’m so happy about that!!

    Kristin Calhoun

    1. Thank you, dear Kristin! I so appreciate your kind words. Landon is such a gift and I’m grateful to have had the chance to work with him. He is in wonderful hands, and I look forward to keeping updated on his progress! Big hugs, David P.S. – You’re welcome in my studio anytime! 🙂

  2. Ah, David! I’m beginning to feel a tiny itch that’s telling me it’s time to think about change too. Although I’m a few years older than you 😉 I can’t imagine giving up teaching. I love the flexibility of my private studio – there, I can schedule as many or as few students as I want. I love the security and benefits that the university provides and know that there, I always have a studio full of (mostly) passionate, enthusiastic and INTERESTING young people. Who knows how that change will manifest itself over time, but I feel it coming!

    See you in Stockholm?


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