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Musings on m
y life as a busy opera singer, voice teacher, photographer and mom - not necessarily in that order! I consider myself immensely fortunate to have carved out a way of doing all of these things which mean so much to me - it may sometimes get a little crazy, but it's always worth it. Welcome to the madhouse!

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!

A more substantive post to come, but in the meantime a fun little goodie for those of the word-y persuasion (thanks, Kent)

Anagram maker

Here's to a new year!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Friday, December 19, 2008

Small glimmers of light

I admit it - I've felt hard done by and hard hit, and there have been times in the last days where everything seemed pretty futile. The grim news headlines are enough to make anybody want to pull the blankets over their head and stay there, and the continued bad news for us personally was getting pretty hard to weather.

But this week, pinpoints of light ahead. Only small, but they're there.

The first real light emerged yesterday with a small offer for the spring - it won't completely "fill the gap" left by the cancelled contracts next year, but it's an opportunity to sing wonderful music with extraordinary colleagues, and I have no doubt it will be a great experience (and a lot of fun!). I'd have been happy to do this particular gig under any circumstances, but at the moment it's particularly meaningful.

Continuing to try and look at the glass half full, my audition season went well and is done for the time being (no more frantic trips up to NYC for a while! I love going up there, but it does get exhausting when it's several times a week!). I sang well throughout and, although one never really knows whether an audition will lead to something (word of mouth recommendation and previous collaborations lead to being hired as much as anything else), I know I did my best to "show 'em what I do" in each of my 5-10 minute opportunities to strut my stuff, which is the part that's up to me; the rest is down to so many variables, most of which are entirely outside my control. But a good audition is never wasted, as "word of mouth" can come from many different sources - I can walk away from this season knowing I presented myself well and that's a good feeling.

So, even while the bad news continues to top the headlines, at least for me today there's a sense of some kind of balance I recognise, and I fully intend to savour it and use it to keep myself going. Light ahead. Keep moving. Don't look down.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Hard Times

It's been a tough week. The first wave of personally-affecting bad news from the economic kaboom hit not merely close to home but AT home, as my local opera company declared bankruptcy and cancelled the remainder of the 08-09 season and all future plans which sadly includes a couple of (good) contracts of mine. This has of course been bad news for me personally, but is also distressing for the longer-term impact on the local arts community, the opera industry in general and the sadness that goes with the loss of a respected institution. People are shaken, to say the least. It wasn't entirely unexpected - there'd been rumours - but it's still something of a shock. As a performer, you get used to the idea that you won't necessarily have the security of a permanent position, but once you HAVE the contract in hand for a gig, that's always felt safe. Not any more, it seems.

Thinking it all through, I realise that the demise of another company away from home - even if it had cost me the same amount of lost work - probably wouldn't have shaken me as much as this has done. There's something about the collapse being here, where I live, in my face that makes it more unsettling. And, of course, one of the reasons we've stayed where we are is because having two good-sized companies who both used me regularly made family life much easier by providing quality performing opportunities within commuting distance, allowing me to avoid being on the road all the time. The loss of a good company less than 7 miles from my front door will be a big change in my personal professional "geography" for the foreseeable future; the world has shifted, in however small a way.

My understanding is that the company's plan is to restructure, regroup, and resurface, but at this point? Who knows where it will all go (or not); worst of all, I'm powerless to do anything other than watch the rest of this particular drama unfold - it's currently all up to the unions, lawyers and economic outlook, and we artists really can only sit back and wait to hear the next installment after it happens, which is a pretty unsettling position. Watch and wait.

But, life goes on and now the process of moving sideways to move forwards begin; we've redrawn our family budget, auditions are continuing and all I can do is look beyond the immediate changes around me and keep pressing ahead. I keep thinking of that line from The Sound of Music about "Where a door closes, a window opens" and am most profoundly hoping it's true!




Saturday, December 6, 2008

Umm... WOW!!

Taken on Thanksgiving day, a chance capture when I spotted the frozen leaves while outside clipping herbs for the turkey. This piece of ice fell off its perch and shattered into smithereens seconds after the shutter was snapped.

I am, to say the least, delighted by the outcome!

First Place Winner, Dgrin Challenge #13 "Clarity or Diffused"

Iced Foliage

Friday, December 5, 2008

Musings from another branch of the arts

An interesting, if possibly controversial, article over at The Strobist. I'm not quite sure how/if it can (or should) apply to the musical world, but it's certainly interesting food for thought.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Coming days ...

  • Three auditions.
  • End of semester recitals and exams.
  • Sick kid.
  • Holiday concerts (husband's, child's, students' and my own)
No matter how carefully I prepare for the two weeks after Thanksgiving, they always catch me by surprise. To my delight, two more auditions came in for this period (the third one was scheduled weeks ago); this is historically ALWAYS the busy time, but so many companies have changed their plans for this year I wasn't really expecting much, so these are great news (even if one of them is at 10.30 in the morning!)

The wrench in the works, starting today, is the sick daughter, but - for once! - she played it smart and stayed home, warm and quiet so here's hoping she'll recover quickly and won't need time off school this week. Just crossing all fingers I don't catch it. Every parent hates seeing their kid sick, but because her sniffles so often seem to coincide with my busy times (why IS that?!)when I must do everything in my power to stay healthy and keep my voice in shape, I can't provide as much hands-on comforting and TLC as I'd like. It stinks, to be honest, and is one of the biggest singer-mommy pushmipullyus. One tiny solace is the development of a charming little ritual which even at a grownup 10 years old she still demands when she's sick: she'll blow a kiss from across the room and wait for me to "catch" it and press it to my cheek (and then return it to her to do the same, usually culminating in a "catch the kiss" race). I can't even remember how or when this started, but I do know we began this game when she was very little, and there's something so endearing about seeing her spotaneously continue to do it when prudence demands keeping some physical distance.

I'm happy to say that at least I'm a little more organized than usual. My college students are well prepared and just need a little bit of polishing before their own performances. I'm surprisingly ahead on my gift shopping so, even though I'm not done, there's not much left to do. The house was deep-cleaned for the Halloween party, tidied up for Thanksgiving and (amazingly!) we actually completed our self-imposed task of setting up the music room properly over this holiday weekend (including painting and building much-needed new shelving!) so as soon as I've stowed everything, that will finally be a nice space in which to work at home.

And tomorrow... it's December. When did that happen?!


Thursday, November 27, 2008

In short....

Well fed, well loved and deeply grateful. Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

So it snowed for about 10 minutes yesterday....


but I managed to grab this. (Yes, that IS a rosebud. In November.)

I call it "Survivor"

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Signs of the times: the good, the bad and... the friendly?

While standing in line today as our local bedding and household store finished its final day of trading before closing down, I had a lot of time to think. Being a devout bargain shopper, I was thrilled to score some seriously cheap goodies, but even as I gloated over the absurd discounts on the items I purchased, it all rang rather hollow; faltering retail is for sure a sign of the tough times ahead, and we would be foolish and naive not to acknowledge it as a worrying marker of what may be ahead.

But among the sobering thoughts, there were some interesting observations to made, as well.

Although the store itself was stripped nearly bare with only the most meagre selection of items remaining, it was packed. Each of the 5 lines had at least 10 people waiting to check out, and most of those people had carts piled high with bedding, curtains, small appliances and furniture, taking advantage of the 90% reductions on everything that was left before they closed their doors for good. Even the fixtures and fittings were for sale.

Point #1: If it's cheap enough, people will buy it.

The lines were long but, despite restless kids, awkward navigating through the strewn merchandise, bits of merchandise and trash everywhere, I didn't hear a single cross word. In fact, people were TALKING to each other - really talking. Watching each other's kids, helping each other manoeuvre the carts through the chicanes of stuff, pointing out items that might interest the person standing next to them, and generally interacting in a way one selom sees.

Point #2: people seem to be trying to connect with each other more, being less insular, more open and more friendly.

Given recent gloominess and insularity, it was nice to see. Here's hoping that's the good sign of the times.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

And onward

It's hard to know how to start writing an entry at the moment. Is it "business as usual", or is the world as we know it in the process of imploding? Probably a bit of both, really.

Normally even-tempered folks are on a short-fuse, stores are all promoting sales, coupons and discounts like their survival depends on it (which it very well may) and it's impossible even to do a quick check of the email without another barrage of panic-stricken headlines (whether media-inflated or genuinely to-be-alarmed-about getting increasingly difficult to judge). There's been plenty of bad news in the opera world this past week as some of the country's largest companies start to face the poor economic outlook, and it's hard not to wonder "what next"?

Yet, at the same time, it's all very much the same - it's audition season (thankfully I still seem to have had opportunities to be heard by companies who are unfamiliar with my work, thus NEW opportunities), the holidays are nearly upon us and there's an almost gritty determination among friends and colleagues to keep things as normal as possible.

And yet.

Despite discouraging news from friends and colleagues, surrounded by a sense of everybody wondering, "what next?", I have decided that the only way forward through this mess is solidarity. We (collective we) ARE all in this together; everybody's probably going to get hurt one way or another, but perhaps a bit of Dunkirk spirit and solidarity will ultimately make it better than getting sucked into an atmosphere of panic and blame, an atmosphere I already seem to sense around us.

As I said previously, this post at the Next 100 Pounds pretty much sums it up for me. Mindfulness. Which is not the same as deprivation. Just as being aware does not have to mean being afraid.


Friday, November 14, 2008

My good friend over at The Next 100 Pounds recently posted some thoughts about the holidays that were a more than timely reminder in these testing times. Check it out.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Monday, November 10, 2008

Thursday, November 6, 2008

This is not a political blog

But, like just about everybody in the US and possibly even around the globe, this week has by necessity been about politics.

It has been a whirl of election mania, activity and emotions, somewhat foreign in a country which in recent years drifted into civic apathy. Strangely, there were fewer lawn signs and stickers than I have ever seen before, but perhaps people were putting their energies into action instead of banners, or perhaps passions were running high enough that nobody wanted to risk causing problems (this community in previous elections has been almost precisely 50/50 on both sides of the party divide, so while good fences make good neighbours, perhaps quieter politics make even better ones!). But lawn propoganda aside, I have never seen this country as committed, as passionate, as attentive as I did this past week; there was nowhere to go and nobody you could speak to where The Election wasn't mentioned or didn't in some way to make its presence felt, and people were EXCITED by the chance to make their opinion official!

Regardless of which side of the political fence you call home, this year has been a historic "moment. To be able to watch it with my family and to know that my daughter will be able to say "I remember the 2008 election!" the same way we talk about watching the night the Berlin Wall came down and our parents remember John Kennedy is an extraordinary thing to have witnessed and of which to have been a part.

Even more extraordinary were the rousing (and moving) election-night speeches from both candidates that not only commented on the obvious results, but also demonstrated a dignity,gravitas and a sense of real commitment to the electorate. I have never been so touched by politicians as I was on Tuesday night.

This week, whoever you voted for and whatever you believe, remember how much it all mattered. Because it did. And it does.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Sometimes it all just works out



I have decided that - this week at least- I am a diva-mommy rockstar.

Following the 2008 New York-Every-Two-Days commuting marathon, we managed to host a Halloween party for 10 10-year olds. Granted, the long drives up and down highway 95 gave me lots of quiet time to come up with scavenger hunt clues, but even so - I always question my ability to "do it all" at times like this! (Happily, the auditions all went very well and for once the Travel Gods were on my side as the trains ran on time both into and in the city, which certainly decreased the stress factor!).

Now, kids' parties aren't that hard, but they do take lots of planning. And plenty of space to do it in... which is where it proves tricky in our lives! We love our little house but it is, indeed "little". It is a 1920s cottage bungalow, and the rooms are small. Comfortable but.... small.

So, it was with some trepidation that I anticipated keeping this thing humming along with that many girls.

However, sometimes luck really is on your side.

The biggest stroke of luck was that the weather was GORGEOUS - warm and sunny all afternoon, and even after the light started to fade they could still play outside. This more than doubled the available playing area, and ensured that the games all ran smoothly. My husband had been a hero helping to organise the house and yard (which had been neglected in recent months between weather, schedule commitments and the like and needed serious clearing up!) in the days up to the event, and one of my friends volunteered to stay for the duration of the party, so we had an extra pair of adult hands, eyes and ears on hand too (thanks, H - you're a heroine). We were already ahead of the game!

Luck again resolved one of my other concerns: coming up with a decent batch of prizes and favors without breaking the bank. Success! I lucked out and visited my favorite discount haunt on JUST the right day, and picked up a case of Halloween-themed mugs for 25c each (grand total: $2.97); filled with a pretty cellophane bag containing a few other inexpensive trinkets they became rather nice party favors for the girls to take home. (What would we do without dollar stores?)

The cake was no real problem, excepting that there was no black icing to be had anywhere in our branch of suburbia (one can only assume that lots of other people took advantage of the weekend date to have Halloween parties too!) and I had to figure out a way of making some with on-hand ingredients. Even a professional chef friend of ours couldn't think of anything! Eventually, I decided to live with mucky dark-purple made from supermarket food colorings but at the last minute decided to try adding some cocoa to it - success! Worked perfectly, and enabled the result in the picture.

The rest of the food was simple, drawing on my British upbringing as much as anything: sausage rolls (I made them up ahead of time and froze them), pineapple and cheese chunks on sticks and assorted sandwiches. Nothing fancy, and they ate just about every morsel we provided and came back for more.

After dinner, we walked them through a few circle games then gave them a spooky-sound-effects CD and a flashlight to enhance the Halloween-ness of it all. It must have been a success since we heard nothing but giggles and faux screams for the best part of an hour.

And, once again, it was a refreshing reinforcement of the notion that kids don't need a lot of expensive toys and acoutrements to have a good time - the things they enjoyed the most were the ones which demanded their imaginations and just let them have a good time with each other.

So, all in all October was a pretty terrific month. It started with an inspiring concert, continued through a series of surprisingly satisfying auditions (no, no results yet, they were just auditions that were fun to sing!), and finished up with a chance for us all to remember what it's like to be a kid. Good stuff!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Return of the Halloween Kitty....


(sorry folks - I just can't resist posting lots of these! We had so much fun with this shoot, and this costume is one she's designed all for herself so I promised I'd post lots of them. On Friday she plans to add sparkly false eyelashes and gold glitter spray to the mix so there will likely be more to come...!)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

About auditions....

So, it would appear that I have managed to get through the last week. Three roundtrip daytrips to NYC in 6 days (the first two only 48hrs apart).

Life was complicated by my daughter acquiring Some Kind of Chest Thing and having to stay home from school(we're still not sure if it's allergic asthma or an incipient bronchitis, but she's been thoroughly miserable) , but Grandma stepped up to the plate (for which I am profoundly grateful - thanks again, Mom!) and made it possible for me to continue with scheduled travel plans and the assorted auditions without a hitch. (Now I just have to hope I don't catch.... !)

Well-meaning friends and family outside The Biz always wish me luck with a "I hope you get it!" or ask "Did you get the part?" when they hear I've been auditioning. If only it were that simple!!

While many auditions are role-specific and result in an immediate answer, it very seldom works like that in my experience (I can only think of three instances in the recent past where I've been asked to sing for a specific role and was cast AS that role, even though other offers and opportunities may have materialised from the hearing).

One always has a better sense of things when the answer is "yes!" The best response is, of course, to get an offer on the spot (instant gratification!); next best is a call with an offer soon after the audition, although casting is often a longer process than one expects (while offers generally appear fairly quickly, it is far from unheard of to get a call months, or even years afterwards).

Rarely will you get a response in the form of a flat out "no" or rejection letter - unlike schools, and training programs where a "thanks but no thanks letter" is usually sent out after all offers have been made and accepted, professional auditions can (and often do) result in no specific response; you may simply hear nothing at all (and here's where having management helps, because an agent can usually get some kind of response in the form of feedback, or even just a timeframe as to when casting will be completed so you know if you're definitely out of the running).

Also, it's entirely possible to audition in consideration for one role, and be cast as something completely different, perhaps even in a different season; the response may be as vague as "we have something next season we'd like to consider her for - we'll be in touch in a few months". Positive, but entirely inconclusive.

There is also the dreaded "hold", where a company will ask if you have the dates available and if they can have preference on that time, even though they're not ready to make a formal offer yet. This is the most nail-biting kind of limbo as these "holds" disappear as often as they play out, and it can be immensely frustrating.

So, the only way to live with it and stay (relatively!) sane, is to forget about the audition as soon as you have walked out of the room. It takes a long time - and a lot of auditions - to be able to walk away and convince yourself you don't care, but once you've done it enough you find you genuinely don't think about it; once you have sung the final note and closed the door, the audition is over until the phone (hopefully!) rings with an offer. On to the next thing!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Photo: October!


(Btw, this photo isn't blurred, but was processed using a Photoshop technique called The Orton Effect - it's more effective in a larger image than the one blogger posts, and I just love the painted, dreamy quality it gives the image)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

October is apparently the new December

In Operaland in the US, "audition season" has historically peaked in the weeks immediately before and after Thanksgiving, with a big surge in the first two weeks of December.

I guess 2008 missed the memo, because it appears I have 3 auditions before the end of this month. Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining - far from it!! - but (since I already had a lesson booked in this period) what this means is 4 trips up to NYC in the next 10 days.

Auditions are, as anybody who has ever done one knows, a curious thing. This year I've been so busy with gigs that it all feels a bit remote, and I need to see about finding that "audition mentality" after a year which has been far more about performing (in large spaces, over several hours in front of an audience primed to react) than auditioning (in a small room, for maybe 10 minutes, for people who almost have to stifle a reaction lest it be overinterpreted). One of my favorite quotes is from Noel Streatfield's children's novel Ballet Shoes where one of the characters points out, "If it was a performance, it would finish with applause, and a classwith comments but an audition always ends in... silence" (a paraphrase, as I don't have the book to hand). Aside from the obligatory "THANK you!", that's pretty much exactly it.

So. Time to take the dress out of the closet, spruce up the arias, and get myself ready for a hefty few days travelling to and from New York. As bizarre as auditions can be, there is always something exciting and motivating about this time of year; in this profession at least, autumn is a time of opportunities and new beginnings. Here's hoping.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

So about that concert....

There was something very special for me about last weekend's performances. I've sung Beethoven's 9th symphony several times now and, of course, known the piece for years as An Icon of Western Music. But (true confession) I've never liked it.

Even the most die-hard fan of Ludwig will usually concede that the vocal writing is ungainly, but my detachment from it has been more complex than that: I have genuinely never quite understood quite why it has such a profound impact on people, because it has always - ALWAYS - left me stone cold. I enjoy other Beethoven, but the effect of the 9th has always been a mystery to me.

Until Sunday afternoon.

This was different than the excitement usually generated by the sheer volume, speed and frenzy of the work (particularly at the end): perhaps it's the uncertainy of the times and the underlying emotional tension that doesn't seem too far beneath the surface that made the sentiment more meaningful. Perhaps it was the careful pacing and extraodinarily musical shape which the conductor gave the piece. Maybe it was just one of those magical occasions where the sum was greater than the whole of the parts.

But being in the middle of close to 250 people in a uninamous expression of a text which celebrates unity and joy with absolute conviction was... well it was extraordinary. I've never experienced that sense of group commitment with this piece either as performer or audience member, but suddenly, finally... it made sense.

The piece is technically flawed; the performance may have been technically flawed. But, ultimately, it didn't matter because something HAPPENED onstage, drawing performers and audience alike into a shared experience which I know I will remember for quite some time.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Greetings from the Midwest

The good:
  • BEEEYOOOOTIFUL weather
  • pleasant colleagues
  • enthusiastic conductor
  • despite having been to something like 35 of the lower 48 states, I had never before seen the Mississippi river, something I have now remedied. The hotel is practically IN the river, and I am completely seduced! I'm very sad that I didn't bring the big camera (oh, how sad!), but I'm having fun with the little point-and-shoot:



The not-so-good:
  • the hotel is comfortable, and in an area which is extremely convenient for the venue (literally yards away), but there's nothing ELSE around except some pricey restaurants. Nice for holiday-ers, but tricky when you need safety pins or a quick snack!
  • Said hotel also does a "Sunday Jazz Brunch". In the atrium around which all rooms are situated. Which started at 10am..... Not so good for those of us who stayed up late after the concert...
Still, beautiful weather, beautiful landscape to photograph and the opportunity to make good music are a lovely way to spend the weekend, and this little town is a really pleasant surprise! It's almost the picture-postcard "small midwestern town/city" as one imagines such things to be. Last night's opening concert was enthusiastically received, and now it's time to get ready for this afternoon's repeat performance across the river. More please!

Monday, September 29, 2008

The double life continues apace...

An "interesting" week all round (in both the good and bad sense!) .

The good:
  • A great trip up to NYC to do some work on coming projects - the performance schedule is spaced more favourably for me to book some lessons and coachings, and I'm taking advantage of it during this period when I can (for my non-singer readers yes, it is "normal" for professionals to keep taking lessons throughout the career - kind of like an athlete, you are NEVER "done" with training)
  • Getting ready for a short concert gig away this coming weekend. Concerts are about the best "bang per buck" in this business as the gigs are typically a few days rather than the several weeks of an opera run and usually a lot of fun. I'm looking forward to this one enormously.
  • A terrific day out with the family yesterday, in part just to go do something fun, and in part for me to take some pictures (I admit it - it's my new obsession!). Turns out that about 45 minutes from home there's a historic waterfront community complete with an early 19th-century lighthouse, so we went in search, got completely caught in a storm and had an absolute whale of a time!


The not-so-good:
  • While working on our front porch (in preparation for repainting) I got a small splash of sodium hydroxide paint stripper IN my eye. Fortunately, the damage is minimal and recovering nicely but please, take my word on this and DON'T trust sunglasses as eye-protection when working with chemicals! Take the time to wear goggles - I know I will be from now on!
  • My daughter's flute was tampered with by another child at school last week and broken - WHILE I was in NY. The resulting furore both at home and at school was a classic example of how difficult it is for working parents (both moms and dads, although I think there is still a societal tendency for people to approach "mom" first when there's a crisis). Standing at Columbus Circle, powerless to help, trying to hear over the traffic and piece together the tale of woe from a hysterical 10-year-old and distraught grandmother was definitely one of the bigger parenting challenges of my year! Despite several "wrong turns" in the story before it was resolved, the complexities were eventually sorted out and, thankfully, we will not be liable for the damage. Kudos to the school: we were impressed both how the children were handled throughout, and also with the excellent communication between the school and us as parents.
  • The torrential rains appear to have breached something in our kitchen and we have a small leak. As yet, we're not clear where or what is causing it (that's this morning's job - up on the roof to check!) but that's an unfortunate addition to our "to do" list for the month.
So, back to getting organised for the weekend's concerts and beyond - here's hoping for no further disasters!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Monday, September 22, 2008

Sunday, September 21, 2008

So many thoughts...

... following my musical theater debut! To be fair, the entire show was cast with "legit" voices (ie classically-trained), and A Little Night Music with its waltzes and "bedroom farce" moments is in many ways as close to viennese operetta as musical theater but even so - it was a first for me. I enjoyed it immensely and, while I can't ever imagine being swayed from opera forever, it was a lot of fun and certainly something I hope to do again. And what a cast! Really a pleasure.

But in the light of the performances (and fatigue - this was an intense week!), there are so many jumbled thoughts in my mind as I process the differences between this experience and what I usually do, the differences in preparing and presenting dialogue, the experience of having the conductor out of sightlines during the peformances, of putting a show up - from scratch- in record time, of using my voice in a different way, of being fully mic'd......

More to come as I muse on it all - there's a lot to think about!

Friday, September 19, 2008

A curious experience....

So, last night's dress rehearsal. More of a tech dress, really, since it was the first time where we had all elements onstage - while this is theoretically a concert performance, it's a fairly elaborate semi-staged one, so it has a lot of the same complicates as a full show!

One of the more thought-provoking moments was when my character - dictated by the script to be in a wheelchair - inadvertently got stranded out onstage as another scene began. What to do? As the humourous options ran through my head ("Get up?" It's a miracle! "Use my arms to push it?" Paralympics!), the far more sobering reality of the sheer helplessness, frustration, and limitations of relying on others for everything became all-too-apparent to me. I think we all understand this intellectually, but actually living it - even onstage - was a different experience indeed. Even something as basic as finding my light - which, during a dialogue run on my own feet, I realised is something I do so instinctively and sub-consciously, without even thinking about it - becomes a case of relying on somebody else to interpret that sensation of warmth for me.

While I have always tried to help where I could when associated with those who are restricted in their mobility, I have an first-hand empathy now, however theatrical a one. So next time you see somebody who can't do for themselves, stop and think what might be helpful. I know I will.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Empty seats; blank pages

I love empty theaters.

Don't get me wrong, I love walking on stage to a full house, but an empty stage is very special. Private. Personal. Rather like a new journal with an uncracked spine and pristine first page.

For my last two productions I've been lucky enough to rehearse in the auditorium where we will be performing. This is a boon from a practical point of view in that you can space things the way they will be from the get-go (however accurately a tape-out on a rehearsal room floor has been measured, it NEVER feels the same once you get onto the 3-dimensional space the real set and proscenium create), as well as become accustomed to the acoustic and sightlines in which you will be performing.

But working in the house brings more with it than just the practical matters of the physical space. Every theater in which I've ever worked has a kind of ambience to it, almost as though each prior performance has contributed its own colours to the patina of the space, and is waiting to rub off on your own, adding something you had never even thought of before. And somehow, one only really senses that in the quiet... in the private time.

When the pages are still blank, and can become anything we want them to be.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Photo: Tap Class

I feel I should apologise for Blog Cheating of late (photos, while fun, really DON'T count as blogging!), but sometimes Real Life has a way of demanding attention.... More substantive posts coming soon.

In the meantime...

"Tap Class, 2007"


(And yes, the socks are mismatched... !)

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Sunday, August 31, 2008

The end of an era

I admit it. I've followed For Better or For Worse for much of my adult life, the story of the Pattersons being part of my morning coffee-and-email routine (I admit to having switched to online viewing as soon as it became regularly available that way!). While I wish Ms Johnston all the best, I can't deny that I'm deeply saddened that the story will no longer continue to unfold as it has.

Thanks for sharing the wonderfully funny, compassionate and real world you created; it will be sorely missed!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

And.... we're back

To school that is. Well, I'm not - I still have another week before my adjunct teaching begins - but 5th grade has begun and my husband is back to teaching this week, too. Unusually, the weather has even cooperated by continuing the autumnal feel with much cooler temperatures than one expects for the end of August. It's nice.

And now, no more excuses. The next performance is coming up fast and, particularly as it's something a little outside my usual repertoire in that it's a music theater role (albeit a show regularly cast with operatic voices) and thus there's more dialogue, I have a lot of memorising to do. It's a plum role, too so, even though I'm anticipating a learning curve - particularly as rehearsal time will be short - I'm loving it.

I've enjoyed this holiday so much, but there's something to be said for my "working" routine: the house is quiet for a few more hours so I can practice when and how I want without interfering with anybody else's activities or allowing myself to be distracted by what's going on around me. The solitude is peaceful.

And on that note, back to work.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

About Facebook....

Ok, so I'm not the first to blog about FB. But I've been thinking about it a lot recently and I realise, like many, I have a very love/hate relationship with it.

The plus column includes at least two things: I like being able to keep passively in touch with people who I don't necessarily talk to a lot, but who I would consider friends and of whose lives I enjoy being a part (and I like to include them in my own); I also like the professional networking aspect it offers so I can casually let colleagues and mentors know what I'm up to without necessarily bombarding them with news.

On the other hand, the entire concept annoys me. It often feels far too much like "real life" has been so completely consumed by the internet that it gets written down before it gets lived. And, if I'm honest, sometimes the entire community feels like a giant invasion of privacy, as seemingly "off the record" updates and "wall" conversations are streamed in the newsfeeds and made abundantly public (yes, I know people can set their privacy options however they like, but that doesn't change that it often seems like overhearing private conversations!).

Lastly - and perhaps the biggest mark in the "no" column: I feel absurdly guilty at not accepting every friend request that comes my way, but I feel equally uncomfortable adding as "friends" people with whom I have only the slimmest connection professional or personal. It's a quandary - I certainly don't wish to offend or seem stand-offish, but I also don't necessarily like feeling "obligated" to add people simply because they have added me.

So why don't I just bag out of it entirely? Well, in addition to reconnecting with some college friends, I've recently had at least three dear friends from Europe with whom I had lost touch find me via Facebook, and I am delighted - no, THRILLED - to have re-established contact with folks who I might possibly have lost in my life forever. Like it or not, that tips the balance and so, however ambivalently, I keep reading it and using it.

But if you've friended me and I didn't reply .... please don't take it personally! I'm still trying to decide whether I want to throw the net as wide as it can go or keep it more personal and intimate and, for the time being, that means I sometimes take the "inert" option and simply don't respond at all. Maybe one of these days I'll figure out what I want to do....!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Photo: California Sea Lion


(Taken during today's trip to the zoo. To my delight, this is what it looked like straight out of the camera - I can't take any particular credit for this one, but I'm enjoying the results...!)

Monday, August 18, 2008

Lazy Days

Is it really nearly Labor Day?!!? I'm still trying to figure out where the year has gone!

My head is still in Holiday Mode - we still have this week before our daughter is back to school, and my husband's and my own teaching schedules still have two weeks before they're under full sail, thus we're trying to make the most of these last free days particularly since the weather has cooperated and been atypically pleasant for late August in these parts. It's often brutally hot and muggy, but has this year been surprisingly low-humidity and "only" in the 80s, thus encouraging lazy BBQ evenings outside, capped off by watching the Olympics, continuing to marvel both at the miracles which the human body can perform, and also renewed acceptance that singing is far, far, FAR more like an athletic pursuit than an artistic one!

I can't say I'm 100% nose-to-the-grindstone just now ::cough:: but , like the athletes, the Work Of A Singer Is Never Done (I don't think that's a real quote, but it should have been). Like athletes, a singer's training never stops; even during holidays the voice needs the occasional brush up if only so the muscles stay toned and ready for action. Next month brings the next gig, with another one immediately after, and audition season straight after that, so these last moments of summer laziness need to be anything but lazy vocally. That said, without the pressures of rehearsal schedules and performances, it's easier to practice the way one wants; "lazy" practice can sometimes bring its own discoveries and rewards so, as long as it gets done, it's a good thing to take it a little easy sometimes.

In the meantime, another golden evening; sometimes summer lives up to its reputation.

Friday, August 15, 2008

About the Olympics...

Ok, so I'm not going to write a lengthy post about the similarities between athletics and singing (although there are many!), if only because holiday mayhem continues and I'm out the door to go be a tourist with the family for a few hours. But this quote jumped off the page at me, and I think it's worth sharing:

"gold is not the glory, the pursuit of gold is"

In art as in sport.

(Quote attributed to Dan Wetzel, Yahoo! sports journalist)

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Summertime indeed....

... and even if the livin' ain't "easy", it's certainly a slower pace than it has been for quite some time. Posting may also be slower this month as "vacation mentality" starts to take over!

Recently occupying much of our time has been the fantastic (and fantastically under-broadcast) Canadian TV series Slings and Arrows.

For anybody involved with the theater at any level, it should be required watching.

And for any non-theatrically-connected readers who see it and think it's merely a clever and affectionate caricature of theatrical eccentricity, I am here to tell you that it is one of the most truthful depictions of the performing life I've ever seen and (give or take the occasional ghost...) far closer to documentary than drama!

It's also quite, quite brilliant. A genuinely funny and engaging script, interesting characters, stunning performances and blazing insight about "the craft of the art" - and the problems that go with reconciling art-as-life and life-as-art (and the challenges of being the artist trying to do both) - combine to tell an amusing and frequently deeply moving story.

All three seaons are a must-see. (And special thanks to L and A for turning us on to this brilliant work!)

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Photo




When Yankeediva blogged about meeting a Bearded Collie, it inspired me to try and capture some new photos of our own Beardie. While he's now getting to be an elderly gentleman and no longer exudes the "bounce" so typical of the breed (read: "hairy couch potato", although since he's sporting his summer clip, too, he's a little less hairy than usual!), he still typifies their friendliness and loving nature.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Friday, July 25, 2008

I was glad

Gladioli (and a dahlia) from the garden....

Monday, July 21, 2008

Mirror, mirror on the wall...

The dressing room situation for this most recent show was "basic" to say the least - one large room for all the women and, unlike larger theatres where every dressing room comprises what amounts to multiple walls of both full-length and lighted makeup mirrors, there were in fact no mirrors anywhere except those erected for the occasion by wig and makeup in their area, and a small mirror over the sink in the small, communal bathroom. Consequently, I never really caught sight of myself except in passing, and certainly not the constant reflection of my costumed self that I would have had sitting waiting for my entrances in a typical mirrored dressing room.

It's only in looking at the photographs taken yesterday - and finally getting a chance to look at some of the production shots - that I realise how much I must normally be using those visual cues as part of The Process of preparing for a show, however subliminally. Now, don't get me wrong - I'm no "method" actress (quite the contrary, in fact - my training means that I'm very much steeped in the "technique" tradition of the British stage!) and the thought of consciously "using the mirror" to create the character is something I've never even considered - but it's only now that I'm realising what a big part that visual feedback must play in how I understand and perceive what I'm creating, and I'm sure it has some kind of impact on the choices I make onstage.

In seeing both the onstage shots and the snapshots from backstage, I now see how differently I looked than I felt; seeing the pictures shows me how much the makeup, wig, costume and, indeed, my own carriage and bearing underneath those items created a far more period and elegant-looking character than I was aware, since I was preoccupied with the comedic elements I had been asked to do (read: pratfalls and some stage "shtick" which had been developed for the character). To be frank, I looked so much more elegant than I FELT that it was almost a shock to realise! And, of course, this now explains why nobody seemed concerned about my performing the "elegant lady" side of my character .... since in many ways it had already been done for me by the "externals". Without the visual feedback to imprint this on my own mind, I was quite unaware of it.

The cliche of the actor talking to the mirror "getting in character" will never be the way I'm comfortable approaching my performances, but there's certainly no harm in using visual feedback intentionally, so.... Note to self: from now on, make sure I really get a good look at myself and process what I see there, however narcissistic it may seem. It's not "vanity", but a part of the technique!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Dog days of summer....

So, the ankle recovered enough to get through the performances with the help of some tightly wrapped sport tape, and I'm happy to say that the first two of the weekend's four shows went very well. We're finding a real "rhythm" for it - always one of the challenges with anything comedic, especially where the shape isn't entirely dictated by the music itself - and even with audiences of varying responsiveness, it's going well.

That said, this last week has been harder than I expected. My husband was asked at the last minute to run a music camp, so he was completely off the scene busy with that, and our daughter had a week off from her own summer activities (while many of her friends were busy elsewhere) meaning that this was the "I'm boooorreeeeeedd" week where she didn't have enough to do and consequently wanted lots and lots of Mommy Time. Given that I was nursing my injury and not moving very fast, it was hot, and the prospect of 4 shows in a row meant I've been conserving energy as much as possible, this was not necessarily an easy combination.

It's times like this where the double life gets hard, and yes, I'm aware of the irrational conundrum: when I'm working away, all I do is complain that I'm missing these domesticities and feel bad that I'm NOT spending time with my daughter, and when I'm working from home I face the challenge of divided attention when all I want to do is shut out the world for a few days. I'm not sure there's an "answer" to it, and really... all you can do is DO it. It does always work out somehow (particularly with help from family and friends, both of whom provided some much-needed support this week!)

Two more shows this weekend and then... a month off! I love my job, I love performing and I love being busy, but it's been pretty much constant since February (a wonderful thing in the life of a freelance anything, but particularly a freelance musician!) and I can't deny I'm ready for a short break. That said, I'll still be working on my next role and starting a new semester but I'm looking forward to taking some REAL time off as well.

In the meantime, the first day in many where all three of us are at home and can actually enjoy some time together. A rare treat!

Monday, July 14, 2008

"Break a leg" indeed

Ok, so not "broken". But following a delightful celebratory dinner with family after yesterday's matinee, we arrived home in a torrential downpour and I slipped on the wet front steps and sprained my ankle pretty badly.

To add insult to injury, today I realised that my prescription sunglasses had also been damaged in the fall, broken beyond repair alas. (Thankfully, For Eyes - and yes, this is a plug for the company! - think they can get hold of another set of the frames, so we can just pop in my existing lenses rather than purchasing an entire new pair, at a savings of approximately $175 dollars! Here's hoping it works out...)

I'm sure my clumsiness stemmed from the fatigue following a tiring tech week and two back-to-back performances, but it's still frustrating to be hobbling around and I of course have to ensure that I'm back in fighting trim by the next performance on Thursday! I'm hopeful that it will all work out but... what a way to spend my first proper day off in a week.

I must say, however, that my daughter has been beyond thoughtful and adorable, and has waited on me hand and foot all day, making sure that I didn't have to move around too much. There are times when kids do something so unexpectedly sweet that it's all the parental heart can do not to melt right there, and today was certainly one of those moments. I'm very grateful indeed for my family!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Opening tonight


Yet another black dress, but at least this is a pretty one! They aged me up again with makeup and wig (I'm trying to remember the last time I didn't have to be wrinkly for a show - seems to be most of the time!), but both gowns I wear are glamourous in the extreme, which is fun!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

A little retouching?

A must for any photographers, and pretty entertaining for everybody else, too:

Photoshop Disasters blog.

Tech Week

Which means (pretty much by definition), "Tired and preoccupied"! While my role in this show isn't that long as it suffered pretty substantial cuts (before I was hired - nothing to do with me or my performance, I'm relieved to note!), it's turned out to be highly physical, so my body is plain worn out! But, after feeling like I was struggling earlier in the week, at last night's piano dress (a rehearsal onstage and in costume, but with piano rather than orchestra) I finally found the "shape" that I want for the character, and it went much, much, MUCH better. Clearly Wednesday night was "That Rehearsal" and, as is always the case, the frustration and self-dissatisfaction ultimately led to finding what I need to do the job the way I want.

Never a dull moment, eh?!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Yesterday, Last Year and Very Long Time Ago

Married to a Brit, I always find the 4th of July slightly amusing: the mixture of resentment and bemusement displayed can be entertaining! (In fact, one of my favorite photographs EVER is one of my husband standing at a 4th of July Small Town parade, bag over his head to keep the torrential rain off, waving a tiny American flag which was stuck in his hand by a passerby. It's perfect!).

But that cultural conflict actually has wider implications, not least of which a sense of TIME. A country which is 250 years old simply doesn't have the same sense of integral history as cultures which still regularly use 6- and 700 year old buildings as part of daily life, and where it's seldom more than a day trip to visit the semi-intact ruins of the Romans, the Greeks or beyond. These things are simply THERE, and a given, accepted part of the cultural landscape.

In his teaching, my husband is consistently taken aback by the fairly standard structure of American music appreciation and music history classes, where the real study seems to start with the Renaissance, while anything before that usually gets lumped together as "ancient music".

The same is true with non-musical history. Students frequently have no concept of time before the iconic date of 1776, and many find it hard to place anything before their own time. Many music students may know nothing of Napoleon except perhaps something that was mentioned in passing when they learned about Beethoven; the Armada, Austro-Hungarian empire and Ataturk are complete mysteries with which they are totally unfamiliar even as vague names and places. And it's not limited to world history, either: one college history teacher we know hands out a short quiz on the first day of class, asking the students to place in chronological order the Depression, the Civil War, the Kennedy Assassination and the Korean War - very few of his 17-25 year old students get it right.

Our daughter has grown up in a US community where the oldest standing building is about 150 years old, and there is no doubt she is a true child of the 21st century, in a world where television, digital photos, cellphones and computers are a normal (and, as she sees it, necessary!) part of her daily landscape. Like many of her peers, her sense of time is truncated by a lack of hands-on evidence of anything earlier. We had a long talk the other day about how different it is to understand the past when history - real history, hundreds and maybe even thousands of years old - is RIGHT THERE in front of you: not something you read about, but something you see, and use, and understand is a real, living THING... because it's still there.

Although American, I've lived in Europe for so much of my life that I think I've taken this naturalness and constant presence of history for granted (that, and living the music in my professional life, too, I suppose - how you can NOT know something about the French Revolution if you've performed The Marriage of Figaro, or even Andrea Chenier?); it's in my own consciousness, and I forget that for many - including my own daughter - that it's just not part of their lives.

This year and last year are for sure important, but we could all stand to give Very Long Time Ago a little more attention too. Perhaps a holiday built around a historic moment is as good a time as any to think about it a little more.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Thursday, July 3, 2008

About last night....

I'm still smiling at my own confession last night. If anybody had told my 15 year old self I'd even THINK the concept "I love to dance" someday I'd have laughed outright. Live and learn!

This morning, despite the fact that just about every bone in my body aches from the falling-down staging and said high-heeled dancing, the weather finally decided to provide the appropriate dry, warm temperatures for me to get on with staining our deck, a project which we have been trying to accomplish since about April, and which has been consistently defeated by the bizarre weather patterns we've had this year.

I didn't finish it, but I did make a good start, and hopefully my husband and I can use the extra time over the holiday weekend to finish it (weather permitting, of course. And that's a big "if" these days!)

From Dancing Diva to paint-speckled suburban homeowner in less than 12 hours. Welcome to my world!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

A recent discovery:

I love to dance.

Onstage.

In public.

The funny thing is that, like many singers, for years I dreaded the idea that I might have to dance onstage. I'd never been afraid of being athletic in a swimming pool or when I was horseback riding, but on dry land on my own two legs? In my mind's eye, all I could envision as a dancer was the most elegant of pencil-slim, infinitely flexible ballerinas - a sort of cross between Margo Fonteyn, Iman and Elastigirl - which just made my efforts at graceful movement feel more like one of the dancing hippos from Fantasia than anything recognisable as dance.

I just did my best to get through the movement and dance classes in my training; I didn't mind the movement part as such, but always felt slow at learning the actual dance steps, and not really sure what I LOOKED like which made me self-conscious. I did it, but as more of an obligation than a pleasure, often making the excuses born of insecurity to wriggle out of it at times. But many shows quite simply require the singers to perform the dances that are in the score and at some point it became a kind of "do or die" with no escape if I wanted to do the role (which I invariably did!).

And I've noticed that, over the years as I've repeatedly had to jump in and just DANCE as part of my professional commitment to a role, it's not only become easier, but also more enjoyable, and I'm discovering that I truly enjoy formalised, choreographed, dancing. And in this current show - with enough choreography to make me have to think and work at it a little - I've finally come to terms with the admission that I can create a character through formalised movement as well as the natural physical expression that goes with singing and acting; I'm not "a dancer", but I can move and use the body as another item in my collection of expressive tools.

I'll never be a willowy ballerina and am unlikely ever to master anything more significant than Opera Singer Dancing (or maybe some basic ballroom), but I do know that not only have I finally made my peace with it, but I actually ENJOY it. It's fun!

Now if only I could find some really, really comfortable dancing shoes....

Friday, June 27, 2008

The apple falls not far...

Today was my daughter's camp performance. 'Nuff said!




Photos taken using Canon Digital Rebel XT w/50mm 1.8 or 70-210mm 3.5

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Connections and clothes

After a month of connection troubles we will be switching providers. We’ll see how quickly they can get us up and running, but in the meantime access is still somewhat limited (hence the sporadic posting).

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A shout out to all the wonderful costumers, stitchers, tailors and wardrobe mistresses out there!

My latest show involves a lot of falling down onstage and, while I’m happy to do this for the director, it was getting a little, how shall we say…. PAINFUL. I was particularly worried about the costume since I was pretty sure they would be using a dress I had worn previously which had a (very period-correct!) steel-cage petticoat to create the period look (either 17th or 18th century depending on how you want to interpret it!).

(a similar shape to this drawing, but made with more narrowly-spaced and continuous rigid steel hoops - no gap at the front as drawn, but complete rings - hinged so they can move a little bit vertically, but not horizontally. You put it on over your head.)

While I’m prepared to deal with the occasional bruise, I knew that the physicality of the staging in that garment would be a genuine safety risk, and was worried that I’d possibly get caught between the director’s requests and the costume.

As soon as I got to my fitting, I mentioned the potential problem. Fortunately, the wonderful wardrobe coordinator for the show took it in stride and somehow managed to magic up two completely different dresses that were designed to go over a PADDED bumroll/petticoat combination, thus not only preventing me from injuring myself on the original petticoat, but in fact giving me some extra protective padding in the process!

All of this in the space of an hour-long fitting, and both dresses are perfect for the character, flattering and will fit like a dream once she's done the usual "nip and tuck" on them (it's assumed that if a costume was not made for an artist that it will likely need some alterations - it's very rare to have a period gown fit "off the rack"!). Granted, this is a full-service costume rental company and they do have choices available in stock. But given that I’m on the tall side at 5’9” and it can be hard just to find something long enough for me, the fact that she came up with these entirely character-appropriate new options on the fly is a real tribute to professionalism and skill for which I am profoundly grateful!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

An Open Letter

As mentioned in an earlier post, an opera singer friend of mine was recently featured in a New York Times blog-article (blogticle? Is there netspeak for that particular branch of journalism?!) for her 100lb weight loss. The article was upbeat, positive and insightful, just like the singer in question and, while there were a few comments which were pessimistic in tone, most of them were highly supportive.

However, several of those comments, as well as some questions recently asked of me in passing by non-singers, really made me realise just how many misconceptions there are about the modern opera career. There is so much people outside this operatic world DON'T know about what we do, particularly those of us in the trenches who are "working singers" rather than "household name stars". So, without further ado, a few clarifications!

1. Singers live a glamour lifestyle and have lots of money
Well, maybe for those at the very top of the profession that's true. But for most? It's good just to be working and paying our mortgages with our music-making (singing for our supper indeed!), and not having to fill in between singing engagements with other non-musical employment to make ends meet.

For many singers, the lengthy training process to reach "career ready" (usually by late 20s or early 30s) has racked up significant debt via student loans. The coveted spots at Young Artist Programs (summer, or occasionally year-long "internships" at opera companies for singers transitioning from student to professional) often pay stipends which barely cover living costs. Many singers are still living like students even once they've started working professionally, or at least spending their between-gig-times waiting tables or working in offices. And singing work is by no means "guaranteed", even for those who enjoy a degree of success - until the calendar is booked up years in advance (something becoming rarer these days as opera companies reflect global economic uncertainties) it's never a sure thing; health insurance, pensions or any of the other peripheral securities that many people assume go with any "career" don't exist unless we buy them for ourselves, and there are seldom any longterm contracts to a single house (except in Europe, where a "Fest" (full time) contract can give a singer some financial security). There is often an element of the Vie de Boheme until a singer is consistently engaged at the very highest levels!

2. It doesn't matter what you look like if you're an opera singer, because everybody knows that all opera singers are fat.
This is a hot-button topic in Operaland so I hesitate to wade in and discuss it at length but, suffice to say, looks DO matter these days. While vocal ability is still the single most important element towards making a singer a star, "type" plays into it more and more and singers have greater pressure on them to "compete" with media images of dramatically credible than has ever before been true. Any look at Anna Netrebko, Kate Aldrich or Nathan Gunn (just to pick three high profile names out of the air) makes it abundantly clear that looks DO count these days (these folks are all excellent and committed singers who have for sure earned their star status musically and vocally, but nobody would argue that they all come in a package that could just as easily be successful in Hollywood as onstage at the Met).

3. What's so difficult about being a singer? It's all natural talent - you either have it or you don't.
The basic talent may be "natural", but learning to use it is anything but! It's more like developing an athletic skill than any kind of magical inspiration, and takes years of physical (muscle) and musical (intellectual) training. In addition to training the voice itself, singers need to be versed in various musical styles and at least familiar with the major European languages (even if they don't speak them fluently or even conversationally, they need to be able to read them well enough to be able to look up literal meanings in a dictionary and pronounce them properly). Oh, and develop their stagecraft and dramatic sensibilities enough to be able to act out an operatic story while still keeping beautiful sounds coming out of their mouths... Add to that acting as their own CEO and marketing team (even the best agent in the world can't actually make our decisions or do all the on-the-job networking and schmoozing for us), and there's a lot to learn, develop and sustain in making this a career.

4. Being an opera singer means you have loads of free time
Not so's you'd notice! The actual musical preparation time involved in sustaining a career is significant even when not in rehearsal for a production (at which point it's a pretty consistent 4-7hrs of rehearsal a day, 6 days a week until the opening). An average "day off" (ie, not in rehearsal or performance) for a working singer probably includes 1-4hrs of actual singing practice, plus pretty much endless score study and research - translating a part, learning those foreign-language texts, researching the story, character and historical background... Many hours of work. Even when it's something you love, it can be a long day! Remember too that while working at "just a job" may mean that you clock off when you leave the office (or the factory, or the sales department), as a singer your voice is a PART of you - you can't put it in a cabinet until the next professional appointment and thus you are living with your career 24/7 and have to remain vigilant about caring for that instrument; this can be more wearing than you'd realise! Many singers also teach or have other professional activities in addition to their performing commitments, and those take time too; it can often be flexible scheduling for sure, but it's busy.

5. Dedicated only to their art and their voice, all singers are solitary diva/os
Well, as discussed, I think many singers DO have a single-mindedness about their singing, but that doesn't mean they aren't also pretty normal people, too. Vissi d'arte, but vissi d'amore and a whole bunch of other things as well. Plenty have families (I'm certainly not alone in being a working singer with children). And I sometimes think that "non opera folks" would be surprised how many singers spend their free time playing video games, woodworking, walking trails, volunteering for charity, breeding puppies and doing any number of other low-profile, "non diva/o" quite mundane activities (in fact, mundane and uncomplicated, down-to-earth pastimes are a wonderful antidote to the emotional intensity of opera, and I think many of us actively seek it out in "down times"!). There is indeed a conundrum between singing being a job that you DO and a vocation that you fulfil, but singing and real life are NOT mutually exclusive... even if they occasionally collide!




Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Who am I this time?

A friend recently sent me an email talking about how much we singers define ourselves by our singing and our success as singers. Is it true? Is it really possible that our entire lives can become that wrapped up in the sounds we produce in our throats?

There's an old saying that being a singer isn't what you DO but is what you ARE. While the old-fashioned view of a pampered Diva swanning through life in furs with her French maid, lapdog and swarms of adoring fans catering to her every whim is pretty much a fiction these days, there is a certain kind of hyperfocus that seems to be part of the makeup of the most successful singers: ruled by The Voice, The Demands of The Business, The Schedule and The Art (and I fear that all-too-often it IS in that order, much though I would love to be able to believe The Art is always at the top of that list), even the healthiest and most well-adjusted can get a little self- (and most particularly VOICE-) obsessed. And that's before we even start talking about when life starts to imitate the art we put on the stage.... (And at this point I must insert a plug here for one of my favorite films of all time, Being Julia: the wonderful exchanges between Julia (Annette Bening) and Jimmie Langton, her theatrical mentor (Michael Gambon) express magnificently how important is that line between what we express onstage and who we are... and how very, very narrow that line can be!)

Part of it, of course, is the physical aspect. I admit it: when I'm in vocal discomfort - regardless of the reason - I feel less of myself. I know I'm not alone in feeling like I'm wearing two left shoes when my voice won't work, even if I know it's due to something as banal and entirely out of my control as a headcold. (Of course, it's worth remembering that where for a "civilian" that cold would merely be an annoyance and a bit uncomfortable, for a singer it can be catastrophic, especially if it coincides with an important performance or audition.... and particularly if it results in cancellation!)Part of that is the practical problem of basic communication with a recalcitrant voice, but I think it's more than that; we somehow begin to devalue ourselves as artists and even as PEOPLE when we feel our voice is unavailable.

But it's not only physical. I know that my mood can change from cynical frustration to elation over something as significant as a job offer, or as (seemingly) minor as conquering a particular technical passage in a phrase of music. Or, of course, the converse - when I'm frustated with my singing (whatever that frustration may be) I know it affects everything about me . And while I think most singers don't put any significant store in reviews on the "if I believe the good ones then I have to believe the bad ones" theory (and many eschew them entirely, refusing to read any press about themselves), I don't think there's ANYBODY who doesn't react at some level to published comments and feel it somehow, however quickly the sting (or boost) may be brushed off and put in perspective.

I'm not sure I'm any less ruled by my throat and performances than any other singer, but the complex nature of my life as singer, mom and teacher at least helps me to keep some perspective, I think. It may not change that I perceive my life as A Singer (with all that implies!), but it does remind me there's more to it - and me - than ONLY that. I'm grateful.

And on that note, it's time to go do some more work memorising my current role for rehearsals which start on Saturday, to make dinner for the family, and to continue learning how to use a circular saw so I can fix my porch rail. If THAT doesn't bring me down to earth, nothing will!

Congratulations!

To friend and colleague Cindy Sadler who was recently featured in the New York Times for her significant weight loss. See her blog at The Next 100lbs

Sunday, June 15, 2008

More flowers


(Dwarf Gaillardia - first bloom)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Success!

I'm so pleased for a happy outcome. The missing camera was FOUND! (Ironically - and HOW often does this happen to any of us? - it was exactly on her desk where we all thought it SHOULD be, but hidden inside a bag where an envelope had become wrapped around it, thus masking it. Both envelope and camera are white, and it just disappeared into it)

And to add to that good news, the temperatures have dropped 20 degrees following a huge thunderstorm last night and the predicted high is a full 10 degrees lower than yesterday (still hot, but 90 sure beats yesterday's 100+heat index!).

School's out today, but no vacation for me: I'm working away at the music for my next gig, rehearsals starting next week. That said, I'm anticipating a lot of summer fun on this one since it's a somewhat silly role and I'll be among good friends. It's been a good season all round.

Here's to the rest of the day continuing in the same vein!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Having it all?

A couple of recent online discussions about singing and having a family prompted me to think harder about all this, and HOW exactly does one do it? I do it each and every day, and each and every day I ask myself, "How on EARTH am I going to make today work?"

The answer is: I have no idea until I get there and do it.

Sometimes it's really hard, and I truly wonder how I can juggle the logistical complications, never mind finding the time and internal focus my professional and artistic life demands while still giving my daughter the attention she needs and deserves (and vice versa, because it does work both ways). But the deal is... it generally DOES work out, and I can say with absolute honesty that my performances have not suffered, and my daughter certainly seems a thriving and affectionate child so I have to assume that she doesn't feel slighted. Sure, there are compromises (usually me giving up something social, or my own "free time" rather than shortchanging my family or my career). But when the rewards from both parts of my double life are so tremendously satisfying, I don't generally find that a hardship. Complicated: yes. Depriving: NO!

One thing I HAVE learned since having a child is that I am capable of much, much more than I ever thought. Example: All my life, I have been the ULTIMATE "needs sleep" person. The running joke among family and friends was, "Let her sleep and nobody gets hurt"! Before having children, the thought of broken nights and sleep deprivation scared me half to death, particularly as a singer. How would I manage the physical requirements for my singing with limited sleep over long periods of time? Well, guess what - you do what you have to and, while I still prefer my 8+hrs a night, I found I was able to sing just fine even when I was tired and it was, in fact, a useful way to learn to cope with the less than optimum circumstances one often encounters while traveling or in high stress circumstances. If anything, learning to sing through the exhaustion was a help rather than a hindrance, and it taught me that I really CAN do a lot more than I had ever realised.

This past weekend's camping trip is another example. While I spent my teen years at the stables, turned into an enthusiastic fell walker in college and beyond and broadly speaking love The Great Outdoors, I don't like SLEEPING in it. Especially in 100 degree weather, in areas where my phobia - snakes - are almost certain to be lurking (and almost just as certain to make a public appearance). Add to the mix a need to be careful about just how much time I spend outside these days in order to avoid triggering allergy attacks (which of course interfere with singing) and it's just not really something I do.

In my post-college, pre-mom professional days, I would simply have said NO to any and all invitations to participate in something like this (especially in June!) but, for my daughter, I did it. And not only survived, but genuinely enjoyed the canoeing activities on offer, as well as the magic of looking up through the (mesh) ceiling of the tent at 2am and seeing stars and trees and nothing else; my "outdoor self" was sated in a way it hasn't been in years. And guess what? I can still breathe, I didn't die of heatstroke, I kept my panics at the multiple snake sightings broadly speaking under control (!) and I got to share something with my daughter which will, I hope, be a memory she can keep forever.

I can't claim it's always an easy coexistance - sometimes my work means I MUST say "no" to something for the family (for instance, in previous years I've had to miss the Camping Weekend due to performance dates) - but I'd like to think there's enough give and take between them so that, over time, everybody gets "a piece of the pie".

Tomorrow, I go back to memorising my next role, a day of teaching, and keeping my respiratory system indoors and away from pollen. And I know that, however hard it sometimes is to be pulled OUT of the somewhat self-focused world my singer-self inhabits, it's good for me - the more we have to enrich our lives (whatever that may be, whether that involves children or not), the more we have to bring to our art.




Thursday, June 5, 2008

Random catching up

I've been kept busy by an audition out of town today, and preparing for my daughter's camping trip this weekend (yes, this diva WILL be sleeping on the ground, however trepidatiously!), so not much writing from me here the last few days; there will be more soon, however, as both activities have prompted much thinking.

In the meantime, the first flush of flowers from our gorgeous, beautiful Maiden's Blush rose bush (yes, this is the one that I thought was dead in March). The photo can't capture the fragrance, but it smells like it looks with the "tea rose" scent so typical of antique variety rosebushes. It's glorious.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Expectations

ex·pec·ta·tion
1.the act or the state of expecting: to wait in expectation.
2.the act or state of looking forward or anticipating.
3.an expectant mental attitude: a high pitch of expectation.
4.something expected; a thing looked forward to.
5.Often, expectations. a prospect of future good or profit: to have great expectations.
6.the degree of probability that something will occur: There is little expectation that he will come.
7.Statistics.
8.the state of being expected: a large sum of money in expectation.

I would add

9. The high level of consistent achievement assumed the minimum base line after a great opening and lavish reviews.

Once the glow had worn off after Sunday afternoon, I realised that we were faced with an interesting challenge for our our second (and final) performance nearly a week later: how to recreate the magic which had happened, even though I think we all knew that the "something" which had made it so exceptional was one of those alchemic concoctions over which we didn't entirely have control. Sunday had most assuredly been one of those performances where the whole really was greater than the sum of the parts (considerable though those individual elements are), and that kind of spontaneous electricity can't really be machinated at will. You do your best and hope that it leads to inspiration, but there are so many variables and intangibles that you can't necessarily guarantee that it will take that leap from "very good" to "extraordinary".

Now, before anybody thinks that our 2nd performance somehow didn't go well, nothing could be further from the truth - it was another evening of music-making at the highest level, and we were again rewarded by an audience reaction of lavish and exceptional enthusiasm which made it abundantly clear that the evening was a huge success even if we onstage didn't feel it had quite the same "life of its own".

But what I learned this past week is that a successful opening and the subsequent reactions and rave reviews don't, in fact, make things easier. Expectations are high, and all one can think is, "How did we do that? How do we do it again?! " It's a different kind of pressure than I've experienced before, particularly in a concert-performance context (when it's staged, there's not only more visual interest for the audience, but also the "physical memory" of the movement and character interactions which adds a level of consistency and security, in its own way - without that, it's ONLY about the performances, meaning more responsibility rests on each individual singer)

The point here is that I think as performers once we have "achieved" something, it's all too easy to jump to the end and want the RESULT without necessarily remembering to recreate the PROCESS. I don't think we do it consciously, but it's human nature, and something to be watchdogged. It's always about the process. Never allowing ourselves to over-focus on WHAT we achieved, but instead focus on HOW we achieved it. I think we all went into our second performance aware of this conundrum.

All that's really left to say is that everything about this gig has been artistically and professionally expanding, awe-inspiring, and affirming; there's truly no turning back after an experience like this, but only motivation to continue to do more, and achieve more, knowing that we will hold ourselves to even higher standards in the light of realising just how much we can achieve. It raises our OWN expectations of ourselves which can only be a good thing.