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Imagine you're attending a get-together at a local night spot. Conversation flows, along with a constant flow of adult beverages. Then, out of nowhere, you hear a loud voice burst into your ears to interrupt you shouting, "Tonight is Karaoke Night!"

Suddenly your group gets a little anxious. Nobody wants to step up and volunteer to go first. It brings back memories of a Non-Commissioned Officer asking for Volunteers before deciding to just pick somebody. Maybe all those standing next to you in formation take one step back simultaneously - YOU'RE UP!

But wait! Maybe you can dazzle people with your musical prowess, dance moves, or acting ability. Are you someone who has somehow missed your calling? The Performing Arts can be a source of enjoyment, education, entertainment, and even income if you're good enough.

The music business is tough. The same can be said for any area of the Performing Arts. My good Friends, Billy Townes and Matthew Shepard Smith, shared some stories recently. These guys definitely live by the mantra of "Do what you love!" Not to mention, they perform, teach, and unselfishly share their experiences with others. Both highlighted the importance of being prepared and understanding the educational side and stark realities of the entertainment industry.

Billy Townes

A licensed pilot and graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona, Billy Townes plays Jazz, teaches, records, and produces music and movies. While not performing several times weekly in El Paso, Texas near Fort Bliss, Billy wrote an orchestral score for the PBS docudrama special "Held in Trust," which was featured as part of the network's Black History Month and was televised nationally. Townes also coordinated and directed a symphony orchestra for the MTV award-nominated Boyz II Men video "Water Runs Dry," which was shot in White Sands, New Mexico. In the live performance realm, in the last few years Townes jammed with Stevie Wonder's Drummer Mark Simmons, opened for the Neville Bros., the Pointer Sisters, All-4-One, Nelson Rangel, Everette Harp, the Rippingtons, and Brandon Fields at various venues throughout the Southwest while performing at New York's famed Blue Note club and twice with famed Grammy-nominated jazz keyboardist Rob Mullins.

"Last Saturday a military Musician wanted to sit-in with my band. He handed me his business card, which when read, indicated he can really play. At this point, I don't know him. Maybe he can play, or maybe not. We have a packed house and I'm being paid to perform this gig. This is my vocation; it's what I do for a living. Let's just say there's a lot on the line here. So, I called him up. He comes up to play and just know that my main players in my band are top notch and well-known in the musical community. We played the song and the military guy played a bit raw, but he did ok."

"I've seen this many times before. I pulled him aside and shared a few pointers with him. Specifically, you need to realize and know your limitations. Make sure you know the tune. Be prepared. Know what's needed. And, if you plan to do this music thing for a living, this stuff is mandatory."

Being prepared while on stage is important. Being prepared to select the right place to get an education (maybe even use your G.I. Bill for your education) is just as important.

Matthew Shepard Smith

Adjunct Professor of Voice at NYU Steinhardt, Music and Performing Arts Professions Matthew Shepard Smith has an impressive resume and continues to train and develop students interested in entering "the world of opportunity". Recently, Matthew played Ralph Sheldrake in the Detroit company of WHITE CHRISTMAS, and he was part of the concert version of SOUTH PACIFIC at Carnegie Hall starring Reba McIntire and Brian Stokes Mitchell aired on PBS. Matthew's Broadway credits include; the title characters in both BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL, and Bob Baker in WONDERFUL TOWN opposite Donna Murphy and Brooke Shields, respectively. He has played Enjolras in the National Tour of LES MISERABLES, and the title character in the European premiere tour of the Maury Yeston/Arthur Kopit DAS PHANTOM. He has also been seen numerous times on THE GUIDEING LIGHT on CBS.

Matthew shared some helpful hints for Military Spouses and Uniformed Military who aspire to pursue an education and a career in the performing arts.

"There's really no formula, but the best thing I can share with others is this; identify within you a need to be creative. Discover what method of creative expression is right for you. Then find a venue to express it!"

He then pointed out the importance of finding the right place to be and surrounding yourself with the right people. This can be viewed in several ways:

"If you like to sing, act, play, or dance, (or a combination of these) you need to find a place where you can develop your talent. Then you need to ask, "Where can I do that? Who fosters this talent? Who do I need to study with?" If you go where the Teachers are, you can learn specifically from people who know your specific area of interest. This may mean going to school in a certain part of the country."

"For example, a huge place like New York City has lots to offer. Since any kind of music exists here, there are lots of possibilities. Broadway is right here waiting after you finish your degree. However, maybe your interest in music focuses on Indie Rock. Then a place like UT Austin in Austin, Texas might be better for you. If you're an aspiring Rock & Roll Musician, you'll want to study and be close to all that's happening in Los Angeles. If you go the Classical Music route, we have some of the most reputable schools for that genre in New York. Identify where your passions are and pursue an Instructor at a school that fosters that."

Matthew also mentioned the importance of performing for the right reasons. "If your sole purpose of a career in the performing arts is money, that's the wrong reason. It's not all about the money. Yes, it is nice to be paid, but you need be passionate about whatever you do, whether you sing, dance, play, write, or act."

Do you have aspirations to pursue an education or career in the Performing Arts? If so, tell us about it!

You can find more information about Matthew Shepard Smith here. You can find more information about Billy Townes here.