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Cancer Almost Stole My Singing Voice: How Blockchain Helps Me Hit High Note

Newsweek 9/28/2022 Soula Parassidis
Here, international opera singer Soula Parassidis poses for a photo. "Not being able to speak was one thing, but not being able to sing? At that point in my life, singing was the only thing I cared about. It was my passion—and worse—my identity," Parassidis said of her cancer surgery. © Kerstin Hammerschmid Here, international opera singer Soula Parassidis poses for a photo. "Not being able to speak was one thing, but not being able to sing? At that point in my life, singing was the only thing I cared about. It was my passion—and worse—my identity," Parassidis said of her cancer surgery.

"It's cancer."

That's not a sentence you want to hear your doctor say when you're only 23 years old. One week earlier, I was graduating from university and on my way to a promising career as an operatic soloist. Now, I was in a hospital facing a life-changing diagnosis. I remember giant, hot tears falling from my eyes. I was so shocked, I couldn't even blink. My doctor reassured me that I had the "best kind" of cancer and that it was highly treatable, but not without risk.

As he outlined the dangers of the surgery, he went on to explain that if things went really bad, the procedure could leave me mute. Not being able to speak was one thing, but not being able to sing? At that point in my life, singing was the only thing I cared about. It was my passion—and worse—my identity.

Thankfully, when the day of my surgery finally came, everything went as well as it could. Still, rehabilitation took a long time. I had lost a lot of weight, and my voice didn't work the way it used to. I felt that I had to start from scratch and that all my plans were shattered. I was shattered. But I didn't give up. I started to put in the work every day, just like I used to. It was tedious and frustrating, but I kept going.

A New Beginning

I had no idea that a local businessman was about to change the trajectory of my life.

He said he had been listening to me for a while and thought I was talented. He asked what my future plans were, and told me that if I wrote him a business plan, he would help fund my vision. I didn't even know what a business plan was at that point. But somehow, I figured it out, and presented him with a proposal. And true to his word, he funded my vision.

I went to Germany, the opera capital of the world, to try my luck. I was full of hope, but it wasn't long before I realized I lacked many of the requisite skills to excel in my field.

While I had graduated from a very good music program in Canada and could sing pretty well, I wasn't prepared for the "business side" of the music industry. But I kept trying, and eventually, I was able to build the expertise I needed on my own, without the guidance of an expensive degree program or agent—the paths that most singers are taught to pursue.

I didn't know it at the time, but the skills I was gathering would later serve as the foundation for the work I would eventually do at Living Opera, the company I founded to inform, equip, and empower artists to build lasting careers with knowledge and competency beyond their immense artistic talents.

It wasn't until those knowledge gaps were filled that I experienced my first "big break" and landed a job at the prestigious Festival Aix-en-Provence, eventually going on to sing all over the world until the global shutdowns of 2020.

Pay It Forward

While the opera industry allowed me to realize my dreams of a singing career, when I started Living Opera in 2019, I noticed that many performers I interacted with were struggling with the same professional issues I had overcome. It seemed that not much had changed in the 10 years I had been singing professionally.

I began to seek ways to connect singers directly with philanthropists and fans of opera with the hope of replicating the good fortune I had experienced early on. Living Opera's first initiative "Hope Sings" fell flat when we were unable to secure $50,000 to pair dozens of professional singers with hospital patients (via Zoom) during the pandemic. I was disappointed, but I kept trying to find a solution. With billions of dollars spent in philanthropy in the United States alone each year, I was sure I could find a funding source for my budding community of emerging artists.

I had a light bulb moment in November 2021 when I attended NFT.NYC and learned about the potential that blockchain technology had to rally seemingly dissimilar communities around social causes. I was hooked. I quickly expanded the focus of my company from education to developing digital assets that could be used to fund philanthropic activities.

I discovered how blockchain could securely connect people directly with one another, eliminating intermediaries and overhead costs that complicate the process and drive up the cost of conventional grant-making. When I learned about NFTs, I saw them as the vehicle for bridging the gap between artists and philanthropists. Now, as we're preparing to launch the Living Arts DAO (decentralized autonomous organization), I believe we've finally landed on a solution that will fund our artist community and take our philanthropic aspirations to scale.

While singing is still my life's passion, and I'm thrilled about my performance opportunities in the upcoming season, the work that I do to ensure that the artists that come after me have something worthwhile to inherit drives me day by day. Their voices must be heard, too.

Soula Parassidis is the CEO and lead founder of Living Opera. She is also an international opera singer, speaker, and passionate advocate against human trafficking with a bachelor's in music from University of British Columbia.

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