Life on the Road, Part III

My Experience with the American Spiritual Ensemble

In October of 2015, Longy singer Todd McNeel Jr. auditioned for the American Spiritual Ensemble. In March of 2016, Todd was selected to join the group for an April tour that featured 9 marquee performances across 5 states, punctuated by many more masterclasses, visits to schools and community centers, radio presentations, and more. This is the third and final installment of his reports from the road. Read part I and part II

May 5, 2016

By Todd McNeel Jr.

Endurance and perseverance were the words that I constantly whispered to myself as we entered into the final weeks of tour. From the pictures and updates on social media, one might think that life on the road is all fun and games. Yes, it’s true that I was getting a chance to travel across the country doing what I love, but that doesn’t mean there were not moments when I was completely exhausted and missed the normality of life. But in those moments of fatigue, I remembered the importance of this tour, and why music and performing are so near and dear to my heart.

I also remembered that my gift of music is not meant for me to have and to keep. It was given so that I might give it out and share it with others. The audiences at our concerts didn’t care how tired we were, or that we had given a concert the night before. They expected us to give our all, and to give them their money’s worth. My colleagues and I often joked about “leaving our vocal chords on the stage (sing your heart out).” 

Night after night I’d watch my colleagues give amazing performances despite being tired. There were performances where we would arrive to a soundcheck after being on the road for six hours and somehow find the strength to sing a two-hour concert. There were also days and nights of back-to-back concerts and somehow not a note or beat was missed.

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I’m not sure where the energy came from, but it was inspiring to see everyone give their all each time we stepped foot on the stage. It taught me the importance of technique and healthy vocal training. The concept of taking low deep breathes and finding my resonators has consistently been reiterated throughout the course of the tour. Without applying those lessons, there is no way I would have vocally been able to survive a month of over 40 concert appearances and video and audio CD recordings. 

When I was asked to join the tour, I knew I’d be giving up a lead role in Longy's spring opera, while having to balance academic work from the road and missing the final month of the spring semester. I am grateful to attend an institution that allowed me to pursue this amazing performance opportunity. The opera faculty at Longy knew that what I was learning and experiencing on the road would only reiterate all that I was learning in my private and vocal studies. It was nice to leave for tour with the blessing of Longy’s faculty and administrative staff, and to feel their love and support while I was away. 

I gained 21 new family members from American Spiritual Ensemble. Being the youngest in the group, I sought career and performance advice, and learned something from each of my colleagues, whether it was personal or vocal advice. They each welcomed me with open arms into the ensemble and encouraged me throughout the tour.

When I had my first solo debut with the ensemble, I walked off the stage to hugs, tears, and kisses. When I was too tired to do homework after concerts, they pushed me downstairs to the hotel lobby, or to the back of the bus to complete my assignments. Having supportive colleagues really made this experience even greater. I’ll forever be grateful for my first tour with ASE, and as I grow into being a more polished artist, I look forward to remaining on the roster and joining them for future national and international tours. 

Now that I am back at school, it’s almost weird to not be flown around the country or on a tour bus anymore with all of my colleagues. Life has slowed down for the moment as I prepare for summer gigs and performances. Next up, I head to Princeton, to perform with the Princeton Opera Festival in their production of Britten’s Peter Grimes. 

Todd McNeel Jr. is a Graduate Performance Diploma candidate in Longy's Opera department. Todd is the recipient of the Neil and Jane Pappalardo Centennial Scholarship and, when he's not on the road, works as a graduate assistant in Longy's Marketing & Communications office.