Singing toward a dream

April 25, 2015

A man with gray hair and wrinkles was shouting into the bullhorn, targeting his frustration at the students gathered on the Library Lawn, who were selling baked goods to fundraise for the music program at El Camino.

“Repent, all homosexuals, fornicators, whoremongers. Everyone’s living in sin,” the old man said. “The day is coming when we will burn in fire and brimstone. You guys are all going to hell if you don’t repent and come to God.”

That’s when Tiffany Haile, 31, music major, came up with an idea. The opera singer roared out every word the old man said at triple the decibel level. The strength of her voice overpowered everything that came out of his mouth.

Haile’s friend joined in and, with their combined voices, the old man retreated.

Since then, and even before then, music has been a large part of Haile’s life.

Haile has been studying at El Camino for the past five years. She’s had her moments of adversity while studying including facing homelessness and having to rely on friends’ couches for a place to sleep at night. Haile has also had her triumphs, as she’s become a force for the music program by participating in fundraising and helping recruit students.

Tiffany Haile, 31, music major, sings a piece from the Italian play,“Rinaldo” by Handel in the Music Building.
Tiffany Haile, 31, music major, sings a piece from the Italian play,“Rinaldo” by Handel in the Music Building. Photo: Amira Petrus/ Union

“She’s attributed with making the program more permanent,” Kenner Bailey, piano accompanist for the music program, said. “Before it was just an extra class, but now it’s an ensemble with repeatability and she really lobbied for that to make it happen.”

Haile had a day job as a bus operator when she finished high school. She produced films in her spare time. This artistic outlet was a deviation from her original passion.

“I got with this group of people and they cared about [film], so I said ‘I’m going to do this because I don’t care enough about what I like,’” Haile said. “That fell apart. I had my quarter-life crisis and it hit me pretty hard. I had to look at myself and everything kept going back to singing. I wanted to sing.”

Haile finally decided to pursue her true passion even if it meant facing uncertainty and a lack of job security. She quit her bus driving job in 2010 in order to pursue her dream.

“They now have mid-level management positions and make decent money. People work for them, they work for somebody, and they have good insurance. It was this horrible nightmare of mediocrity,” Haile said. “I had to get away and be honest and happy because this is why I’m alive. To do this. Not to drive buses or make movies.”

The tale of how she got to EC was one of chance and maybe even fate.

“I lived with my mother who lives in the South Bay. I said to her, ‘What’s the closest community college by your house?’ She said ‘El Camino.’ Thank God, because that’s where I met my teacher Vicki (Muto), who’s our club adviser. She does the opera workshop class and has been my private teacher,” Haile said. “I just randomly ended up here. I didn’t do any research. If I had gone anywhere else, who knows what would have happened to my instrument?”

Once Haile saw a clear path to her true dream, she faced with one of the hardest trials of her life: homelessness.

Haile said things did not go well when she moved in with her mom. Her mom was very resentful that she was working all day while Haile went to school so she kicked her daughter out, Haile said.

“I was homeless for a while but also coming to EC. Still doing a full load, had no job, was couch surfing and coming to school every day. I get straight A’s now but I did not get straight A’s that semester.”

Haile eventually found work at a grocery story in downtown Los Angeles. She’s since gotten back on her feet and has even bumped into EC faculty at her current day job. Haile plans to transfer to the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, classmate Sharda Jones, 24, music major, said said.

“Right now, she’s been going [to San Francisco] to train so she gets there either by bus or train,” Jones said. “That shows how dedicated she is. She doesn’t mind driving from Los Angeles to San Francisco.”

Haile’s friends say her passion for music can be seen every day.

“She’s so gung-ho on music and how it needs to be the forefront in a lot of things,” Jones said. “Music is in everything. It’s in math, English, different languages, history, it’s in everything. Her passion is why people follow her.”