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  • Writer's pictureNicholas Pallesen

The Night I Knew I'd Stop Singing

Updated: Dec 6, 2019

Carnegie Hall! From L-R: Me, Jamie Barton, Conductor James Bagwell, Angela Meade, and Michael Spyres

7 years ago today - December 5, 2012 - I made my Carnegie Hall debut.

It was also the beginning of the end of my singing career.

(Wanna know a secret? I think the photographer captured the exact moment I realized that in this photo.)

I sang the baritone role in an obscure Bellini opera, Beatrice di Tenda, with some of the biggest rising stars in opera: Angela Meade, Jamie Barton, and Michael Spyres (who have all since finished "rising" and are now legit superstars).

I remember having an OMG moment when I walked on stage that afternoon for the dress rehearsal.

Wow, I made it to freaking Carnegie HALL! Not too shabby, Nicholas.

And then that night, during the first act finale, I was standing next to Jamie Barton. I turned to interact with her during our scene. When I saw her, I felt pure, unbridled JOY radiating from her. This was someone who clearly LOVED to sing and make music. There was boundless sincerity and heart in every word and sound she made (which I'm sure comes as no surprise to anyone who's ever met Jamie; she's one of the most generous and REAL artists I ever worked with).

And in that moment, onstage, mid-performance, a realization hit me like five tons of bricks:

I don't feel like that at all.

Don't get me wrong: I wasn't miserable. Nor was I nervous. I just felt like I was doing my job, hitting my marks, and earning my paycheck.

No joy. No overwhelming yearning to make art. Just occasionally thinking it was cool to be at Carnegie Hall.

Afterwards, my friends and family greeted me backstage. A short distance away, Jamie greeted her guests. Once again, her gratitude and joy emanated from across the room as she talked about her experience.

Me? I think my friends and family were way more excited than I was! When people asked me what it was like to perform at the most famous concert hall in the world, I replied, "Yeah, it was good! Where should we go eat?" 🤷‍♂️

As I walked to the restaurant, I reflected on my experience. I noticed with surprise that I wasn't beating myself up for my quasi-apathy. Instead, there was a sort of matter-of-fact admission to myself that I didn't feel the same fire for making music that Jamie and my fellow soloists did.

Hmm...maybe there's something to that, I thought.

Fast forward 4 days, and I taught my first workshop at Juilliard for my coaching work. The topic was overall mental wellness for performers and managing anxiety, both onstage and off. I remember how packed the room was; people were sitting all over the floor and along the walls. There was an electricity in the room. The conversation was fun and engaging. Lots of laughs, smiles, and tears of joy and healing.

For 45 minutes afterwards, people were lined up to talk to me. They thanked me for sharing what I did, thanked me for doing this work since no one else was really out there talking about mental wellness for performers, and saying how much the class had touched them.

(Can you believe some people stuck around 45 minutes to tell me that?! Right before juries and finals week? You don't just do that if the class was "meh", right?)

I walked back to my sublet in Hell's Kitchen, and I felt so. freaking. ALIVE. My soul was afire. I felt like my body couldn't possibly contain all the love, joy, and excitement that just wanted to burst out of me. I wanted to teach another class. And another one. And another one. I couldn't stop thinking about the beautiful conversation we all had, and it warmed my heart on a very chilly December evening to know something I had said made a difference for people. I normally go to bed early, around 10PM. That night, I was so wired, I didn't even start getting tired until 3:30AM.

Sitting in that tiny closet called a NYC apartment, I hadn't felt so alive in YEARS.

While I was lying in bed, hoping my third dose of melatonin tablets (yes, my third dose) would be the charm to finally get me asleep, I had another one of those five-tons-of-bricks realizations:

I think this is how I should have felt at Carnegie Hall.

And I made the connection - one that I think I had known for a while, but was afraid to admit out loud until then:

When I sing, I run on partial cylinders. But when I'm coaching clients or teaching workshops, I'm on full freaking throttle.

Hmm...maybe I should do more of that full throttle stuff.

And in that moment, I knew my singing days were numbered. It didn't feel right to walk away cold turkey though. I sensed I had unfinished business in singing (which it turned out I did). So I kept performing knowing that one day, I'd know when it was time. That day came three years later (that's a whole other story), and I made the arrangements to finish out my existing contracts and walk away in the summer of 2018.

Of course, this is the first chapter in my journey out of singing and one day, I'll finish telling the story. But in case you were wondering in the meantime: almost a year and a half into retirement, I haven't regretted my decision once.


I know this is different from my usual articles. I gotta admit I feel kinda awkward publishing this. All I know is that something inside me said someone out there needed to hear this. And I've learned that when my heart says to do something, even if I don't understand why in the moment, to always do it. So here you go. I hope this article was for you 🤗

Friends, do what makes you come alive. Life's way too short not to.




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