Rod Gilfry always dreamed of being a fighter pilot. But at 6-foot-2, Gilfry was already too tall for a fighter jet cockpit. In the years since he gave up those plans at age 17, Gilfry has been nominated for two Grammy Awards and has acted and sung in 74 roles on prominent stages around the world, including Carnegie Hall in New York City.
Talk about a transition.
Although Gilfry’s early aspirations resided in a wholly unrelated field, he was always interested in music. Throughout high school, he tailored his résumé to apply for a music education major in college and completed his undergraduate work at Cal State Fullerton.
“While in high school, I tried to figure out what activity was most fulfilling and gave me the most pleasure,” Gilfry said. “It was vocal music.”
At Fullerton, Gilfry took voice lessons and developed his innate vocal talent through operas in the theater school. He performed at the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, Calif., before coming to USC to study in its master’s program.
After graduating from the USC Thornton School of Music, Gilfry has enjoyed an exceedingly prolific career and was first brought to worldwide attention in the 1998 premiere of André Previn’s A Streetcar Named Desire at the San Francisco Opera.
Since his stunning debut, Gilfry has appeared as the title characters in Busoni’s Doktor Faust at the San Francisco Opera, Britten’s Billy Budd at shows in Geneva, Paris, London, Dallas and Los Angeles, and Mozart’s Don Giovanni, with shows in Los Angeles, Zürich, Lyon, London, Parma, Dallas, Minneapolis and Amsterdam, among many other illustrious roles.
More recently, Gilfry appeared as Emile de Becque in the U.S. National Tour of the Lincoln Center Production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific and as Captain von Trapp in the Théâtre du Châtelet production of The Sound of Music in Paris.
Between his tours onstage, Gilfry also acts as an assistant professor for Thornton’s vocal arts department.
Despite the current stability of Gilfry’s career, which allows him to explore music exclusively, his life is now one of transition and transformation.
Although his incredible theatrical run can be seen as an elevation from his initial goal of becoming a music teacher, it was still never part of the plan. Gilfry was recruited and trained to pursue the vocal arts as a performer, but it is not irrational to think that Gilfry would have been equally content as a music teacher. Why else does he return to Thornton whenever he gets the chance?
For a singer, the physical gift is essential, and the same can be said about many different skill sets, such as painting, mathematics or open-heart surgery. You need the painter’s eye, the mathematician’s brain or the surgeon’s steady hand to realistically follow the dream on a professional level.
What Gilfry argues is that we must embrace our deficiencies, because life fluctuates.
“One secret to happiness and fulfillment is to be flexible,” Gilfry said. “We should put all our energy and heart into pursuing what we want, but we need to be ready to embrace a change of course when it’s necessary.”
In other words, just because someone isn’t blessed with the vocal ability to have a solo singing career that shouldn’t mean that he had to give up on music. This is not the same as throwing in the towel or settling for less. We must all be aware that our dreams, no matter how specific, are malleable.
“Sing in a chorus, conduct a choir, work for an opera company, become a music educator,” Gilfry said. “If that’s not appealing, start an opera blog and retool to make a living.”
How many people can say that they are working in the exact environment that they envisioned for themselves as children? How many undergraduates can say they are approaching their careers in the way that they originally planned? How many of us have switched our majors?
When it comes to dreammaking, it is the core of that dream that matters most, not the details that we attach to it at various points in our life. The classic example of this is the man who aspires to sing at Carnegie Music Hall, so he disregards the community productions where he might have made some extraordinary connections and improved immensely as a performer.
Then there is the woman who is set on becoming an anchor on ESPN and completely neglects FOX Sports Net on the road to her idea of perfection.
Gilfry sings all over the world just to keep singing.
And if we are truly passionate about something, shouldn’t we be able to find enjoyment in every crevice and corner of a career?
If we can just do that, we will never truly fail.
Brian Ivie is a sophomore majoring in cinema-television critical studies. His column, “Dreammaking,” runs Tuesdays.