I'm sharing my extraordinary experience with the 2018 Tuscany Project to encourage people to support its scholarship fund. Yes, it is a fairly significant investment of money and time for its participants, but what I once thought of as extravagant now feels truly essential.

I’d let my first love, singing, fall by the wayside until I found myself performing at my Grandmother’s bedside while she was in hospice last December. Feeling how healing music was for both of us made me vow to bring it back to the center of my life again. Soon after I re-committed myself, I learned my employer wouldn’t be hiring me back for several months, so I moved into her former home and started working on repertoire. The yearly announcement for the Project came out in the midst of this, while I was time-rich but cash-poor. I was finally in the perfect frame of mind to do something a professional singer I knew had described back in 2012 as changing her whole approach to performance. But how would I pay for it?

Incredibly, scholarships were being offered for the first time, and I was honored to be one of two people selected as the inaugural recipients. I’d been on the mailing list for so long that I thought I knew what to expect, but there’s this intangible thing that’s greater than the sum of its parts, and that can’t really be conveyed on the website. What I found in Italy was an inventive schedule of improv, movement, acting, technique, writing, and collaborative exercises--each of which expanded our sense of what sounds and emotions our bodies could conjure up. I knew the coaches were gifted, but could not have known the lengths they would go to in supporting us. Together, we dove into exploring how lyrics and personal stories can illuminate each other, and my 13 companions on this journey of never ceased to inspire with their fearlessness, creativity, and loving attention.

Less expensive workshops can probably be found, but few could offer the inner transformation of travel, the intensity of nearly round-the-clock interaction with fellow artists, and a stunning natural setting that feeds the Spirit. I am eternally grateful to Shaynee Rainbolt for her work in finding funding. Without it, I would not have been able to participate at this pivotal moment. To all the donors who pooled their resources large and small so that two people you’d never met could have their lives changed: Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Know that I am repaying this kindness — as I hope all future recipients will consider doing —  by spreading the word about the wonders of this workshop. It has not “just” changed my approach to performance; it has changed my approach to life.

Vanessa Finney, Santa Monica