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!

Thursday, July 31, 2008


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.


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....