5 Questions with a Musician: Allison Mondel
Hello all, and welcome back to 5 Questions with a Musician! I am BEYOND excited to announce this week's musician: Allison Mondel!
To say that Allison Mondel is a special singer and teacher would be a major understatement. It’s actually hard to describe Allison’s career with words. She has an M.M. in Early Music Vocal Performance and is an expert in Medieval music and Hildegard von Bingen’s chants (about which she has lectured at numerous prestigious universities!) She is the co-founder and director of the female vocal trio Eya: Ensemble for Medieval Music, which has performed at venues National Gallery of Art, Strathmore, the Washington National Cathedral, and at concert series all over the country. She is the owner of the Sacred Voice Studios, which “cultivates a heart-centered and holistic approach to singing” and aims to “discover the inherent brilliance of our instrument, gain confidence, and access that shining, radiant Divine within, the seat and source of our Sacred Voice.”
...and on top of all that, she has an impressive solo career.
I think Allison can read people’s souls. I think Allison is at one with the universe. She is fully in harmonious tune (musical puns intended) with the energies around her. Her spirit and consciousness are operating on a whole different level than us mere mortals, but at the same time, she celebrates her humanness and lives with the knowledge that what makes us human is what makes us in touch with the Divine. I think. She says it better than I do.
I’ve had one heart-to-heart conversation with Allison and the best word I can use to describe it was magical. She possesses magical powers. There’s really no other way to explain her and what she does.
So of course, I was thrilled to hear that she would answer my questions. Here’s what she has to say:
1) You wear many hats in your career: soloist, lecturer, researcher, ensemble leader, ensemble singer, voice teacher (I’m sure I missed some!) Is there one identity that you feel represents you the most, or, as Walt Whitman says, subscribe to the belief that “I contain multitudes” and all of the roles you play in your professional life (and other parts of your life) come together to make you who you are?
That is a very good summation! Well, I definitely feel as though my different roles are all components of myself, although there is an ebb and flow at various points. When I left graduate school and embarked on my music career, I was definitely wearing my performer hat. I didn’t know anything else, and certainly didn’t think that I was *capable* of anything else.
But things changed over the course of time. I was struggling with this career path: I felt boxed in and frustrated by my lack of agency in ensemble performance, and just always feeling a bit out of water in my solo singing. I am also infectiously curious, and enjoy the pursuit of discovery. I felt urged to bring some ideas to life, so founding Eya was a true dream come true, blending my curiosity and creativity and spirituality. And then subsequently I also founded my own voice studio which embraced some new ideas that resonated with me personally throughout my career. I grew to be fascinated and thrilled by the human voice and its connection with spirit, alongside my keen understanding of how we become disconnected with its innate potential.
I am urged to serve others in discovering their own voice and *their* potential. I even coined a new role for myself: transformational voice coach. I have become the voice coach that I always dreamed I could have had, learning how to re-connect with our brilliant, divine potential, and let go of the small (self-sabotaging) stuff. It’s truly beautiful work, and feels really aligned.
As I grow in confidence, I am also learning more about how my roles interweave with my purpose. But to be perfectly honest, Missy, I feel constantly stretched, as though each of these areas is battling to gain my attention. I am learning how to curate my energy, and spend a lot of time thinking about how to be more in focus. It takes a LOT of practice, will, and courage. (I wonder if that will ever happen?)
2) The overwhelming voice of our modern American society encourages us to follow a “practical” career with a single title, typical hours, benefits, etc. Did you ever hear external voices telling you that what you were doing was “wrong” because it wasn’t a “normal” path (whatever that means?) Or have you always been fearless in marching to the beat of your own drum?
Oh my goodness, of course, all the time, especially at the start of things. My parents were absolutely proponents of this “practical” model, and I was very scared to stray from this path. But when I subscribed to the 9-5 job myth, my body rebelled against me. Literally. I would get weak, downtrodden, loss of spirit. So my inner voice was very much in competition with the outer voice of society and such, but of course the inner voice always prevails!
So, no, I would never in any way describe myself as *fearless* in marching to my beat, but I would say that it took incredible courage for me to change course. And it took me some time. I still balk inwardly when I am about to beat my drum and start a new march. But it gets easier, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
All of that said, I do believe that our societal norms are breaking down. We are in an age of creative entrepreneurship, and some musicians are no longer satisfied with being confined to the music conservatory model of how success is defined for classical musicians. There is much room for growth as we evolve into a new age of technology and global reach through virtual means.
3) What is the best thing, and what is the most challenging thing (maybe they’re the SAME thing!) about having a career in early music?
The best thing about a career in early music is the freedom I have as a performer and interpreter. When you sing medieval music, there is no prescription for how that is supposed to be. There are certainly opinions and preferences, and I have plenty of those. But when I sing a chant, it is always creatively evolving and utterly personal.
The most challenging thing about a career in early music is related (and took me some time to make a reckoning with!), and has to do with standing behind your own musical and creative voice. The aforementioned opinions and preferences can also be extremely pedantic and toxic, one has to hold firm to your own worth and worthiness of your ideas.
4) Your various professional roles take a LOT of different skills. What are the most important skills and personal attributes that you possess that most serve you in your career?
Ha! Skills…so many skills! The most important skill would be communication, or rather, how to effectively communicate ideas, concepts, or a story with the audience right before you, whether that be a private student, a classroom, or an audience. But the most important personal attribute I have earned over time and is also the most personal: cultivated self-worth. I have learned to believe in myself, the value of my ideas, and the value of my voice. This supports everything that I do, especially how I teach and lead, how I create, how I navigate rejection or failure, and how I let go of what is no longer working.
5) What advice would you give to a young person who loves and wants to pursue a career in early music (as a performer, lecturer, scholar, or any other manner)?
Hm, I will offer a few things, hopefully some of them pragmatic and useful!
1) Understand your gifts and strengths and please do not ever ever ever compare yourself with others.
2) Cultivate respect and admiration amongst your peers and colleagues.
3) TRUST your inner voice, especially when you feel a creative idea or spark light within you, OR when you feel that something is not working, whether it is in a job or with a teacher.
4) Be wary of defining yourself by how busy you are or how many engagements you have: this is an illusion and can be self-destructive. Rather, define yourself by what you believe in and what you love to do and know that work will come when you tap into your purpose.
5) Your purpose is waiting for you, but it will be obscured if you define your success by professional benchmarks. Rather, ask the deeper questions about how you are meant to serve, grow, and shine. I believe you will be met with a deeper satisfaction in your career, and rather than just have a job as a performer, teacher, or scholar, you will uncover your vocation. And that is just the best thing ever.
Thank you, Allison, for sharing your wisdom with us on 5 Questions with a Musician!