LaShelle Bray never set out to be an opera singer. She was discovered. She was called out, literally.
It was the last thing she expected while singing for a music audition as a Harford Community College student in the Spring of 2010. When she ended her second piece, one of the judges stood up, pointed at her and said, “I. Want. You.” She insisted that she become Bray’s new voice teacher and even made it a required part of her music scholarship.
“She heard a quality in my voice that I didn’t even know existed,”Bray said. “And she’s right. I can actually sing opera really well and I never even knew that I could.”
Bray is now a senior at Towson University pursuing a degree in Music with a concentration in Voice Performance. The road to earning her bachelor’s degree has been a long one. It took her four years to complete her associate degree at HCC, and after what will be five semesters at TU, she is set to graduate in the Spring of 2016.
Being a wife and a mother to six children ranging from age nine to 20, as well as a having two grandchildren, may have something to do with that.
“I don’t have any free time,” Bray said. “Every second of every day is spent doing something whether it’s cooking, cleaning, or driving someone somewhere.”
Bray, 38, is not the only one completing a college degree later in life. According to the National Center for Education, 25% of all college students are over age 30. Many of these students have to balance work and family with their academics.
Aisha Vega, a close friend of Bray, understands these challenges firsthand. As a mother herself of three young children, she has returned to college to pursue her degree, while also working full time.
“LaShelle works hard to learn and grow in what she does and then pours herself out to others to teach them and encourage them to further pursue their art form,” Vega said. “It’s definitely inspiring.”
Although Bray is an older college student, she has never felt like an outsider. Her fellow students are always surprised that she has such a large family, yet instead of ignoring her because she is a mom, they ask her a lot of questions. Through laughter, she admits that she is older than half of her professors, making her relationship with them often different.
“It was weird when I first started coming to school and finding that I have more in common with the teachers than the students.” Bray said. “But eventually you make friends.”
Singing opera has meant having to embrace an entirely new culture. There are languages to learn, terminology to understand, and composers to recognize. Although she loves this art form, the challenge has been trying to find ways to immerse herself in it amid her busy life.
After all, there are grandchildren to snuggle with. Her teens have concerts and sporting events that she won’t miss. Meals need to be cooked and there is always something to clean in the house.
And then there’s her husband. When she talks about how proud he is of her accomplishments, her face lights up.
It might seem like these two sides of her life could never work together. But with the support of both her family and her professors, Bray has persevered, creating a unique harmony in her life’s music.
“I never knew I could do something so well. I’m a good mom, I can change a diaper really fast. I can braid really fast,” Bray said. “But when I get up to sing and it’s something that I know sounds really good, it’s like being able to release everything and just let go.”