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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!

Monday, December 28, 2009

A blog entry of special interest to me....

.... both as performer and photographer, written by my wonderful colleague Susan Eichhorn Young. What's in a Headshot?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Hodge podge, or just life?

I realise that this blog has gone in all sorts of different directions since I started it. Initially, I envisaged it focusing specifically on the challenges facing an "opera mom" out there in the trenches. Well, clearly there have been plenty of entries about that (welcome to my life!), but also a lot of entries on things rather peripheral to that.

In a way, that's a bit what 2009 has been like, so it's no surprise I suppose. My focus has been forcibly shifted by events and, while it hasn't always been happily so and has certainly rocked the boat, it has perhaps had some small hidden benefits.

It's all too easy to become hyperfocused as as singer, to ONLY be able to think about singing, things that relate directly to singing, what other people think of your singing, what other people are singing and where, where and what you want to be singing, ... it's no wonder that the caricatures of the self-obsessed singer are rife! Some of those attentions are necessary ones of course - like any high-pressure, competitive industry you have to keep up with trends and constantly be honing your skills, and with an instrument that's a part of your body, you DO have to pay attention to your health and general well being (physical and psychological) in a way that isn't quite the same as "civilians" who aren't expecting to be in the limelight and can do their jobs more privately. Even so, I think sometimes this self-focus can extend beyond self-care and into a kind of psychological and emotional professionally-driven tunnel-vision. This is a two-edged sword: that hyperfocus is often what keeps us going and drives us to perform and constantly seek to excel, but it can also make us forget to live our lives as whole people rather than A Singer.

Don't get me wrong - I regularly live this phenomenon, understand both how and why it happens and know that I sometimes NEED that tunnel vision available to me so I can gather and focus all of my physical and emotional energy into a really strong performance .... but I also know that it can be both difficult to live with (!), and also runs the risk of turning me into the Stereotypical Opera Singer, a caricature which I have long despised!

A friend and I often discuss the need for balance as singers. Balance in technique, to find the balance in the voice (the term for that itself even describing balance: "chiaroscuro" or "bright-dark" meaning the sound has both the brightness to give it cut and projection, and the warmth to make it beautiful) and balance in our lives to try and keep ourselves whole even while tapping into the reserves of self-focus that we need to do the job of standing out there onstage.

I think this year has given me new perspective on balance, largely because I've had more time to do other things. Photography, of course (which consumes one's attention too, although perhaps in a rather different way) but other things too. I've watched more TV this year because I've been home in the evenings to do so (given how little TV I've watched in recent years, it's been a very pleasant surprise to see how much it's improved of late, and I've really enjoyed some programs!) I've spent more time with friends (much easier to meet for an impromptu beer when you're not worrying about having to sound great at rehearsal the following morning). I've cooked more, played more games, been to more straight theater (thanks, Dad!), started listening to more music outside my own assignments and interests, and attended more performances "just because" ... activities I have in past years either been short of time to enjoy, or for which I just haven't had the attention to give.

So this blog has perhaps veered off its stated topic. But I'd like to think that encompassing a range of interests and activities reflects my own life as an opera singer in a very real way, and I'm not sure it's such a bad thing. The more of life we explore, the more of it we live, the more we have to bring to our art.

I suspect things will get busier as next year is already looking brighter than this gone by (wouldn't be difficult for that to be the case, but I'm happy to share that I have nice contract in the works for the summer), but I hope I can continue to explore my more global interests, even as I tap again into that tunnel vision which I will need to "do the job". I'm not sure it's actually possible to switch that off and on day by day as needed, but I'm interested to see what happens in the light of having stepped "outside" it for a few months. We'll see, I guess!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Saturday, December 19, 2009

And 2009 steams to a close...

continuing in the same vein it began. Oy.

The snowstorm which is passing over the Northeast has sadly snowed out my concert weekend - we made it through last night's performance of Messiah, but this evening's planned concert was a non-starter with 2-ft of snow falling overnight. I know, I know - in Minnesota, Alaska or even parts of Pennsylvania and New York this wouldn't so much have caused people to slow down, but down here in the officially-but-not-really South everything falls apart at the first hint of white stuff from the skies.

Of course, this causes more than inconvenience to a musician: most gigs are "no play, no pay", so when something like this happens that's nobody's fault and legally "force majeur"... the cancellation takes the fee along with it. Totally understandable from the presenter's point of view, but still not good news! It's hoped to proceed with tomorrow's afternoon concert, but there's no way of knowing until the morning if the roads will be clear enough for both performers and audience members to get there.

We actually got caught in the first part of the storm after last night's performance, and the roads were treacherous. We saw at least half a dozen cars spinning out on the slick highway, and came perilously close to joining them; it took over an hour to drive the last 5 miles home, and we came close to getting stuck on more than one hill. I am never happier that I stick to my guns and drive a stickshift (despite all the people who try to talk me out of it) than in a snowstorm!

So, today wound up a quiet day at home - it hasn't been "fun" snow since it's been very wet and it's so deep outside it's hard to play in, but kids don't seem to notice that the same way grownups do!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Catching up

(Note the fake nose and black fingernails!!!)












It's been another crazy month! Every year I think that I will be more organized and less frantic throughout the autumn months, and every year I am proved wrong.

Hansel and Gretel finished up well - it was challenging to put together a new role on the tight rehearsal schedule we had, but the outcome was good and I'm tremendously glad to have done it. I miss my lovely colleagues! (was it ever thus as a singer - you get to know people so well and then... on to the next thing...).

The "next thing" at the moment being auditions, and then the usual string of Messiah performances (this year with one of my favorite conductors and ensembles, which is always a real pleasure). I wasn't expecting that many auditions this year given how many companies have pulled in their horns but I've been surprised! Perhaps not as many as in some years past, but plenty to keep me busy, brushing up repertoire and keeping the energy going. It's been tricky because I've been afflicted with worse-than-usual allergies which seem to be migrating into a minor chest infection - it started during H&G, in fact, where because it coincided with the exodus of leaves from the trees I figured it must be my usual tree allergies, but a couple of weeks later it's still there. Last time this happened it turned out to be undiagnosed pneumonia, so if it doesn't pack its bags and go very soon... off to the doctor with me. In the meantime, I'm happy it's only having a minimal impact on my voice, although I wish it wasn't there at all!

And onwards. Photo shoots have been slipping in there amidst all the musical work, so it has been a highly varied and busy month (some of the results to be shared in a separate post). Busy the way I like it, although why does it alway seem to be feast or famine?!

Now if I could only find the time to start doing holiday stuff as well..... thankfully, we always put our tree up late (it's a European thing. That's my story and I'm sticking to it!) so our daughter is used to having to wait a little before we catch up with the neighbourhood. The way the dates fall this year I'm thinking it's going to be a VERY old-fashioned holiday with decorations going up on Christmas Eve!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Greetings from the road...

...where I'm hard at work on my next performances. I'm blessed with talented and delightful colleagues, staying with lovely people in a warm "college town" community which has me entirely charmed, and we've even had beautiful weather! Life is good.

It's funny that my last post was about preparation... because sometimes all of that goes right out the window and you just have to roll with the unexpected instead! I arrived here to discover that the translation was getting some last-minute tweaking which, in the case of my role, resulted in a LOT of changes (probably about 75% of the entire part). The changes themselves are very much for the better and in and of themselves small and seemingly minor, but having spent quite a lot of time practicing a completely different set of words, both my memory and my voice are confused! As our supportive (and, in the case of the text, apologetic) director said, "It changes the process". It sure does!

That said, now that I've lived with those changes for 5 days they're sinking in and starting to obliterate what was already there, so I can hopefully begin to relax with it a little bit, and my brain can go on to the "multi-tasking" process which is usually creating a role (and perofrming, for that matter). Singers, more so than any other kind of performers, have to be able to think about many, many things at once when onstage:

1. first, there's the "nuts and bolts": the notes, words and rhythms. This is the part that needs to be most securely burrowed into the brain so that for the most part I don't need to consciously think about them at all - they're simply there and available for use automatically.

1a. Staging. I call this "1a" since ultimately one WANTS it to be as automatic and ingrained as the notes, words and rhythms by the time we get to performance, but in early rehearsals, it's of course being learned from scratch; it's also an "organic" process that grows and changes in response right up to the time we step on the stage. In this production I'm blessed with wonderful colleagues who enjoy the "acting" side of things as much as I do, so I have no doubt that as we grow into the production across the next week things will be changing as we respond to each other! That is, of course, the fun part...

2. Character building. As of last night we got the blocking and actual "traffic pattern" worked out, so now it's time to really build the character. A lot of that comes out of the music itself, but in this case, the High Camp which can be added into the "Witch's Brew" is an entirely additional dimension to play with. The interesting - and challenging - part of doing this with the role is that while the it's definitely a "character" role, the music/vocalism itself doesn't HAVE to be sacrificed to do so, and the role is written so that it can really be sung. HOWEVER... it's really diffficult to get your body/face/manner to do one thing while your musical mind/voice does another! This is one of the longstanding challenges with this role and one I was prepared to face, but determining the actual ways in which I'm going to do that is still something which I am having to figure out; there has to be an organized plan so that I can selectively add some physicalizing mannerisms to my body language, without letting those appear in my sound.

3. Vocal technique. Yup, all the while this other stuff is happening, part of the brain still needs to be attentive to the physical mechanics of producing sound. Posture, breathing, mechanics of vowels, intonation, larynx, tongue... all the technicalities.

4. Music-making, and being attentive to the conductor and orchestra nuances! Our maestro really has a wonderful understanding of how the orchestra and singers can work together at a "pure music" level (in other words, without the added implications of the text, just based on the harmonies and musical phrases themselves) - a coaching yesterday offered a chance to talk about these things which has given me still more to think about! It's exciting stuff, although working at the high speed in our compressed rehearsal period (about a week shorter than the norm) means it's a tad overwhelming!

Of course, this is also what makes it fun - yes, it's hard work and the rehearsal process can sometimes be stressful and exhausting, but it's beyond rewarding when you realise you've moved beyond the basics and cooked it up into something that takes on a life of its own. I'm not quite there yet, but it's well on its way. I'm looking forward to the next few days!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Doin' the job

People outside the singing world often wonder exactly how one goes about preparing an operatic role. Many think that it all happens in rehearsals, yet nothing could be further from the truth!

The preparation process may sometimes have begun YEARS before a role is even performed - most of us have "core repertoire" that we learn and work on even without any kind of offer in sight, the idea being to have them learned and ready to go in case somebody wants to hear them, or an oppportunity to "jump in" to a gig at the last minute emerges. A lot of time and energy goes into deciding repertoire both for auditions and "roles in preparation"; most singers have one list of "wishlist roles" (the roles they really want to sing and feel are best suited for their voices and temperament, usually the leads in operas from where their audition repertoire is drawn), and another comprised of roles they "should" know (usually easily-marketable repertoire that they know they could get called upon to sing at short notice, or in specific career-building situations, or supporting roles that might not be "first choice" roles, but which have a place in their repertoire). You can never really know too much repertoire - it's surprising how many singers have landed important contracts simply by being ready "just in case"!

When an offer comes in for a role which isn't yet in the repertoire, work begins immediately. Getting hold of the score (sometimes harder than it should be!), translating the text if need be, listening to as many recordings as possible to get some ideas of the overall "shape", various tempi and how others may have interpreted the music, and generally familiarizing oneself with the words, notes and rhythms. I personally like to read through the score at the piano a few times - I'm no great pianist, but I can paddle through it well enough in my own way, and becoming familiar with the orchestra part (even in a piano reduction) helps me learn the *music* rather than just my part.

After that, the real work begins: "singing it in". This is singer-speak for working through every single note and phrase largely for vocal and technical reasons, planning (and practicing) exactly how each note and vowel will be approached to get the best possible sound, building muscle memory and stamina along the way. This process has about as much to do with "making music" as a ballerina on a treadmill. It's physical coordination, nothing more or less. Sure, decisions as to vowel choices, breathing points and other details may be based on eventual musical/dramatic interpretation, but at this stage? It's about the mechanics of producing the actual sound. This is the longest phase for me at least - while I can do it quickly (I'm a quick study and have had to learn more than one role at lightning speed!), I'm happiest when I have several months so that I can do this work gradually and incrementally rather than trying to cram it all into a few intensely physical days or weeks; the longer time period gives the voice time to stretch and adapt to the particular physical demands of any role (singers always talk about their voices in the abstract, "the voice" - I've never quite understood why, but it's pretty standard parlance!). This is usually also the best time for me to work through the role with my teacher, who is wonderful at guiding those physical choices so that I can build the role into my voice the way I want from the beginning.

Because I have a good musical memory, I'm lucky in that the repetition of the singing in process usually also cements the text and music itself into my mind, so by the time I've done a fair bit of this technical work, I'm ready to coach the music.

In the classical voice world, "coaching" is not the same as a "voice lesson". While there is of course some crossover between them, the latter deals primarily with the kinds of mechanics described above - HOW the sound is produced. A coaching, on the other hand, is more about the music itself, exploring the expression, polishing the interpretation and musical shape. It's also great to work that music through with a pianist and get a feel for how ensemble changes things, even just with two - it's very easy to unintentionally "bend" the music to your own internal rhythms when you work it by yourself, but getting together with a pianist quickly points out where you may have been unintentionally cheating and have to get back to what's written!

Lastly, memorizing. Unlike straight theater where it's assumed you'll have the script in your hand when staging starts and complete the memorizing process as you rehearse, opera productions expect you to arrive off-book and ready to roll. Hopefully by the time one has done all the previous phases the role is largely in the memory already, but there are always places that need specific work, and this is the time to work those out. For me, the music is usually thoroughly in my brain, but words sometimes don't stick as well - I find writing it out longhand often helps with this, so you will often see me with a steno pad scribbling away....! Also, it can sometimes be helpful to work repetitions with a pianist simply to run through it for memory. While I'm a good study, credit where it's due: I'm blessed in having an "in-house" pianist, and my husband puts up with many hours of bashing through music I'm preparing with me as I get them sung-in and memorized. It's an incredible luxury, and one for which I'm profoundly grateful. The fact that he can sight-read just about anything makes it even better!

So, before the singer steps into the rehearsal room they're ready to start staging and shaping their interpretation with the Maestro and stage director. It's a collaborative process, of course, but an awful lot of the work happens alone, and a long time before the gig begins.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Sigh

I've had several monster posts on all sorts of subjects kicking around my head recently, but somehow real life seems to keep the thoughts in my head instead of flowing out my fingers onto the screen. Soon, I promise.

In the meantime, greetings from H1N1 central.

I admit it: last spring, I pooh-poohed the hyperbolic alarm over swine flu as the usual media irresponsibility, but after 5 days of living with it - my daughter, not me (yet) - I have to say that it really is a whopper. She is currently heading into the worst phase of the illness, which starts out as "ordinary" flu. But after a day or so of seeming recovery, it turns into a brutal pneumonia. We're not quite at that stage yet, but she's certainly having the relapse today, frighteningly going into a near-hypothermic state tonight (apparently one of the body's defenses is to LOWER temperature as well as to cook the infection out with a HIGH fever).

So, back to the vigil tonight - my husband and I are watching her like a hawk; so many kids around here have been so sick that it's hard not to feel like we've regressed back a century or so, and hard not to feel just as scared as those parents nursing their children through scarlet fever, diptheria and other life-threatening conditions. Ok, so this flu may not be quite THAT dangerous, but there's no doubt that it's a rotten one and when it reaches the acute pneumonic phase progresses aggressively and very fast. No fun.

So from us: heed the public advice on handwashing, and stay away from anybody suspected to have the illness (and if you already have it, keep your germs at home, please!). It's definitely one to avoid!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Transitions

I find transitions are always popping up to be negotiated both as a parent and as a singer. Moving from one phase to the next, from one place to another, from musical style to style, from supporting role to lead, from one group of people to a completely different cast sometimes in as little as a matter of hours, not to mention the scheduling variations (and conflicts!) as one switches worlds between the domestic tranquility (?!!!) of motherhood and the sometimes emotional hurly-burly of performing.

This autumn is shaping up to have some previously unencountered adjustments to navigate. My own schedule and expectations were so badly derailed by external forces earlier this year that I was forced to transition into what felt like a completely different lifestyle than I have experienced in a long, long time: instead of bound by external schedules and commitments, I was pretty much completely on my own timetable for the first time in many, many years. Sure I had plenty to do, but it wasn't necessarily ruled by the clock. In fact, I had more free time than I've had in over 10 years. That it wasn't entirely by choice, of course, rather tainted the pleasure that could be found in it, but (shhhh...) I can't deny that it WAS kind of nice to have more than a few snatched and jealously-guarded minutes of each day be "me time" and I've become used to it.

Now that the autumn's schedule is returning to something I can recognise as normal (or as normal as a singer's life ever gets!) I can see a lot of adjustments looming, not least of which giving up some of this re-discovered down-time. A couple of decent gigs have rolled in (which is, of course, WONDERFUL news), and I'll be getting busy again as we move into the fall; it will be back to the crazy shuffling of family, students, auditions and rehearsals, trying to be in too many places at once, and wondering how on earth to fit everything in. (and there's probably another blog post in here somewhare about "WHy does it always have to be feast or famine?!?!", but I'll leave that for another day.....). Don't get me wrong - this is the way it needs to be and SHOULD be - but after the slower pace of the last few months, it's definitely going to be an adjustment.

This year, in addition to the usual scheduling, we'll be adding a wild card into the mix: middle school. Is there any parent who hasn't had absurdly mixed feelings about this particular milestone? This, perhaps even more than those early days in preschool and kindergarten, feels like it's time to let go; it's certainly when the fledgeling wants to start flying solo, and that raises all sorts of questions! The change in schedule - 30 minutes earlier every morning (in this house, that's a big deal!) - changes in expectations, routine, work load and no doubt a social merry-go-round (both good as well as frustrating, noe hopes!) raises a bunch of questions too, for none of which I have answers until we adjust to the new environment, the new directions and the inevitable new challenges. I have no idea at all how this will all work yet.

But, in the meantime, the last days of summer. Last week wrapped up three weeks of camp so we're transitioning (that word again!) into a week of downtime... although some out-of-town friends, a couple of unexpected invitations, and boring domestic catastrophes (including a leaking washing machine demanding repair) mean those few days of respite are going to be slightly delayed.....

But no doubt we'll adjust, as we always do. I wonder, however, how a few months to reflect on a slower pace and really take life in will affect perceptions; I'm interested to see my own reactions as I get back into the thick of things. We'll see!

Friday, July 24, 2009

A trip to a beach...

... that until this week I didn't even know was there. Ok, so it's not exactly the Pacific (or even the Atlantic coast), but it's got sand, tides and saltwater, and is only about 15 minutes from home! We had a good time.

(click image to see slideshow)

Friday, July 17, 2009

Perfect foods

Currently, I'm prompted to reflect on the two foods which I have long considered perfect.

The first is toast. Is there a more versatile food? Meal, snack, pick-me-up or just because, toast always holds its own. Toast with butter, toast with jam, toast with cheese, toast soldiers under egg, toast with cashew butter... the list goes on. Toast after a long winter's walk, providing the perfect warm pick-me-up after being out in the cold. Toast for breakfast with a cup of tea or coffee. Toast easing us back into health after a bout of illness. Toast as a meal; toast as a snack. What's more perfect than that?

Well, in summer, the answer is this:



In our house, blueberries take over in July. I'm the truly violet one in the family (there are rumours that I turn a delicate shade of purple some time in August), but my husband and daughter also enjoy them, if not with quite as much gluttony as I do. My mom buys them in bulk at Costco and makes care-package deliveries (sometimes even out of season, bless her heart!). We have two small bushes in the backyard, but, unfortunately, the birds get up earlier than I do, so we haven't been able to enjoy what little they produce. No, we are forced to buy them to indulge the passion, which means waiting and watching until the glut begins..... Our supermarket currently had a 4-punnets-for-$5 special (limit 4 per visit) and we made multiple trips each day to ensure an adequate supply. There is seemingly no limit to the quantities of these fruits that we can consume; blueberries on cereal, blueberries with greek yoghurt or blueberries by the handful as a snack - doesn't matter, as long as they're fresh, ripe and plentiful.

The only thing I haven't tried yet is blueberries on toast. Hmm... jam, anyone?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Following the tradition

It's been a fascinating month. My daughter was asked to join the chorus of a local light opera company, and watching her find her way through her first semi-professional appearance has been interesting and enlightening indeed.

One curious thing is that everybody(myself and my husband included, I'm sorry to say!) has made an assumption of prior knowledge simply because she's our daughter: she already osmotically knows all those complicated staging processes, scheduling conventions and company protocols, right? Not necessarily....! For sure, she's had experience onstage in her childrens' groups and a great deal more exposure than many her age, but the specific nuts-and-bolts of mounting a full production in professional adult theatre.... she's never needed to know that before; in many ways, it's been a brand new situation and she has had to learn a lot. We've all had to remind ourselves that, like any other young person, she's needed certain things explicitly spelled out to her so that she could truly understand how it all works and act according with expectations. She's done a wonderful job adapting to this new environment and "flying solo", and we're extremely proud of her!

Additionally, I was beyond proud that she took some suggestions from me after I sat in on one of the dress rehearsals. At age 11, it's getting harder for her to accept that Mom might still know a thing or two (funny how moms go from "knowing everything" to "knowing nothing" in the space of about, oh, 3 months!) and there has sometimes been resistance to any comments I might make. Imagine my delight when the next time I was there I saw that she had incorporated every single thing I'd mentioned and, most importantly, in her own way. No blind "doing as she was told", but a clear indication she'd processed the information given and made it her own. What a wonderful warm-fuzzy for a parent!

It's been a wonderful experience for her, I think - the company also has a mission to nurture young performers and thus has provided a nice, safe environment for a first time out on her own and she's really enjoyed herself. It was a thrill to see her so focused and involved onstage at last night's successful opening performance.

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In other news, I'm delighted to share that I've just been cast to perform the Witch in Hansel and Gretel later this year, a plum of a role I've been wanting to do for ages. The production sounds like it will be great fun, and I'm thrilled to start preparing it. Things finally seem to be looking up!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Strawberry Popsicles

A friend recently wrote of a longing for a simpler time, and tonight while watching my young'un eat her ice cream I couldn't help but think of it. Somehow, this is summer the way we want to remember it: warm lingering twilights out on the porch; watermelon, fireflies and ice cream, with a seemingly-endless vista of days filled with nothing but possibilities.....

Summer.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Congratulations....


... to my daughter, who yesterday received an achievement award for her contribution to the Children's Chorus with which she sings. Proud mom couldn't resist taking a few photos!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Through a series of links I chased...

... I happened to stumble over this marvellous blog/column by casting director Bonnie Gillespie. While written for actors and presenting things from a film industry point of view, there is much of relevance to just about any branch of the performing arts, and I'm finding it refreshing to read things seen from a slightly different angle. Recommended.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

It's not over yet

Another established area company hit by financial uncertainty; another cancellation to my season. Although deeply saddened by the news both artistically and financially, I'm trying not to think about it too hard since it's too much of a downer to dwell on it. The matter is out of my hands and all I can do is keep my own spirits up and try to keep the joy in making music, even as the world around me is spinning out of control. Surprisingly, it's proving easier than I thought; maybe the sadness will affect me more down the road, but so far this particular hit is making me want to put my energy into moving forward rather than dwelling on what's now done and outside my control. Here's hoping.

In the meantime, the garden has finally burst forth in full bloom. The weather pattern for the year means everything is terribly late, but now that it's getting started, it's been worth the wait!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

"Busy" doesn't even begin to describe it

All my good intentions to blog regularly in recent weeks have clearly travelled the proverbial road. Oh well.

The concerts last weekend were a wonderful experience. Following a satisfying week of intensive rehearsals, the performances were moving and deeply rewarding as a performer, and it was a wonderful week at so many levels.

Alas, I brought home more than the warm glow of a job well done, as I was laid flat by a bad upper respiratory infection almost as soon as I crossed my own threshold, and this week was basically crossed off the calendar even though it included my daughter's 11th birthday. I wound up on antibiotics and cancelled almost all commitments (except the birthday, which was thankfully a very happy one) until Friday when, fully recovered or not, I simply had to get out to teach my long-suffering students (finals and recital week coming up), attend a long evening meeting/rehearsal for my daughter's dance troupe (final rehearsal before they perform in NY at the Ronald McDonald house), turnaround the next morning to take said-same daughter to a girl scout event (I stayed long enough to watch some of the fascinating work this event offered the girls - more on that in a future post, I think) and then get myself out to the photo studio to take some pictures for some singer friends.

Today was a quiet Mother's day, but maybe that's a good thing! Rest was perhaps my most-required "gift" today. Ok, I admit it - a flawless clean house (engendered by somebody else, of course) wouldn't have gone amiss either, but I'll take what's offered and a day with no commitments anywhere except at home was a welcome luxury.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Things you don't see if you fly...



By the side of the rural road, high on a hilltop....

Friday, April 24, 2009

On the road again...

Wow. I get to be a singer again for a week! After the enforced hiatus, I appreciate my luck at being able to make a career out of a passion even more than usual, and am really looking forward to this one (for so very many reasons, not least of which an amazing piece to sing, and with colleagues who are not only wonderful musicians but old and valued friends).

Of course, with unerring accuracy, my time away seems to hit with THE busiest times at home: in the next week our daughter has:

- Girl Scout camping
- all-county honor chorus
- her children's chorus performance
- school orchestra concert

I think (hope!) I've managed to line everything up so that my absence won't cause too many logistical problems, but I always worry that something will fall between the cracks. Thank goodness for helpful grandparents, good friends and great neighbours.

And now, off to complete the usual pre-gig marathon of laundry and packing. Since this is a concert, I have gowns to get in order as well as the usual stuff, so a busy 24hrs ahead of me. But it's the best kind of busy, especially in anticipation of the amazing music I'll get to work on next week.

Life is good.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

An actual update

Wow. Do I get the proverbial FAIL for this long lapse in actual content?

It's been a tough winter, no doubt about it. The constant bad news in the world at large and continued traumatic impact on the opera biz, sub-zero temperatures for most of January and February, winter colds and general gray malaise has made it hard to find something to blog about that didn't simply sound like whining.

But life goes on and, finally, things seem to be picking up. I'm not sure one can say it's "back to normal" (I think that's a definite no-go for the short-term, and unlikely in the medium- and even long-), but at least the "cat on a hot tin roof" underlying panic seems to be easing. Future seasons are being spoken of with more certainy, and offers are trickling out into the world, however slowly.

It's not all rosy, however - among my friends I know of nobody who hasn't been affected in some form, whether through cancellations, fewer advance bookings, lowered fees, or reduced performances. The status quo, if there ever really was such a thing, definitely no longer exists.

But even that seems like an improvement over recent months.

Speaking for myself, it is an absolute joy to be preparing for forthcoming concert opera performances. Not only am I savouring the anticipation of working with wonderful colleagues on an amazing piece of music, but the process of preparing for the gig puts me back into the swing of things in sessions with my coaches, teachers and colleagues in a way that I've desperately missed while being "benched" in the wake of my economy-forced cancelled contracts.

While I've put my time on the sidelines to good use - photographic activities have picked up far more than I could ever have imagined and have kept me very busy! - it feels beyond wonderful to be back in the saddle musically speaking. Life is good!

PS Happy Birthday to the blog, which I started last April. What a year!

Friday, April 3, 2009

I'm still here, really I am!

Between family illness (nothing serious, fortunately, just time-consuming) and continued bad news in the industry, there just hasn't been anything positive to say, or much time to say it in, but I'm still here - more substantial posts to come, but just a brief confirmation that this blog is still alive and kicking!

More soon....

Saturday, March 14, 2009

End of an Era

And so it's official: my local opera company which had hoped to weather the recession with the reprieve afforded by declaring Chapter 11 bankruptcy announced this week that they are now filing for Chapter 7 and liquidating the company.

I've been privileged to sing many supporting roles with the company over the years, and was also scheduled to sing with them this spring before they cancelled the season back in December.

As any singer who has the luxury of repeatedly performing with the same company in the same theatre can tell you, there's a comfort and joy to having a 'home" house. You know the theater, and banal but practical practical matters like how to time your journies to work, where to park and how to find things backstage are second-nature and stress-free. Even the stage itself is like a longtime friend, despite the limited amount of rehearsal time in the theater itself (in many - most? - US regional houses you're frequently only in the theater itself for a week or so, which usually means only 3-4 rehearsals on the actual stage before the final dress). You know from experience which corners favour your voice and which direction to sing to enhance the feedback you'll hear; how to angle yourself to see maestro (because you KNOW those angles); how long it will take to make the crossover under the stage, and whether or not you *really *have time to stop by your dressing room first.... (!) Sure, you figure all these things out in new houses (it's part of the job), but you DO have to figure them out; in a familiar house, it's that wonderful feeling of coming *home*, with that many fewer things to think about that distract you from the singing itself.

And it's not just the nuts-and-bolts of the building and space: you know the people. Not just the management and musical staff, but each production is GUARANTEED to be a reconnection with familiar colleagues backstage - the dresser and makeup artist who know just how to make you look your best, stagehands who know your name, the supers, the chorus, and even the volunteer ladies who run the green room coffee shop. You're going to work with "old friends", and the sense of shared experience and history is a welcome and relaxing change from the often-frantic yet lonely pace of an opera singer's life on the road.

From a purely practical and entirely personal point of view, the closure of the company will mark a huge change in the way I run my professional life: the two big companies within driving distance have both been kind enough to keep me well supplied with roles and covers, meaning I've had consistent work right on my doorstep between the two houses, particularly in recent seasons. Even though it is sometimes advised not to sing too much with any one company, when one has a young family and is given opportunities to sing at the highest level without ever having to get on a plane, change time zones or be away from home during a production ... how can one possibly say "no"?! Add to that musical colleagues of the highest order and the most professional artistic standards, and it's been a no-brainer to prioritize my schedule to sing with the company as often as possible; I shall miss that luxury more than I can say.

While I suspect that some kind of operatic Phoenix will rise from the ashes in time - this town is full of singers, musicians and opera-lovers! - the closing of the company is a huge loss to us all. I have yet to speak to anybody in the community who is not badly shaken and deeply saddened by this turn of events; we all hope for brighter days ahead.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Your Starter for 10....

Thanks to the miracle of the internet, we've been able to keep up with some of our favorite British television shows, not least of which the cozily old-fashioned, all-for-the-honour-and-glory (ie no monetary prizes) and wonderfully academic University Challenge.

We've been following it avidly, not only enjoying the sometimes absurdly arcane questions, but also enjoying watching the competitive edge sharpen throughout the rounds, culminating in tonight's final between Corpus Christi, Oxford, and Manchester University.

We knew it would be close between these two teams, each of which had consistently been "fast on the buzzer" for that opening question, but our money was on Corpus, led by the rapidly-becoming-a-celebrity Gail Trimble, a Latin doctoral scholar who seems to know well... to know just about everything, and passes on her knowledge with an air of authority and (slightly simpering) charm that has made her the current darling of the series. She would have made Dorothy Sayers proud as the perfect embodiment of the educated female, and it wouldn't surprise me in the least if she turns up as a television presenter in a few years; the camera seems to love her, and (judging by her performances), she it.

It was a close run and Manchester very nearly left the favorite in the starting gate by buzzing in correctly on most of the first questions and thus grabbing the bonus rounds, but at half time the Corpus horse finally got out of the gate and bolted. Manchester fought back, however, and it wasn't clear until the final 5 minutes or so that Corpus had indeed lived up to their odds. The excitement was palpable - Even the voice-over announcer was on the edge of his seat, as you he SHOUTED (literally) the name of the contestant who had buzzed in.

While few matches are as excitingly neck-and-neck as this one, the program is great intellectual fun, as much for Jeremy Paxman's asides as anything else (he's kind enough not to treat the students with the same tar-and-feather handling as his political interviewees, but a lifetime of presentational scorn is impossible to eradicate completely, and the occasional withering remark slips in between questions, usually to the amusement of the audience as much as the consternation of the contestants!). And you even learn a thing or two if you pay attention!

And now, if you'll excuse me, it's high time I went and swotted up on Italian painters since, judging by my own performance tonight, I apparently don't know my Botticelli from my Giotto....


Friday, February 13, 2009

It's almost impossible

to blog anything that isn't bad news in the arts at the moment. Another regional opera company bit the dust this week and has publicly announced they are ceasing trading and I think we're all getting worn down by article after article expressing concerns over the future of the arts in general. While this last collapse didn't affect me directly, the demise of the company where I held contracts for the spring means this is now dead time for me, and I have too much time on my hands to think about it all. I have things to look forward to later in the year, but this current period is the first time in many years that I have had this much downtime between gigs and I can't deny that I miss being onstage dreadfully.

As the saying goes, however, I've been "making lemonade". Without being at the mercy of the "daily schedule" (professional companies seldom give you a solid schedule more than 24hrs ahead of time, and the only BINDING schedule is the one that comes out the previous evening, meaning you're pretty much on permanent standby during the rehearsal period), I can actually plan my own activities ahead a little and, as luck would have it, my teaching day at the college meshed perfectly with a studio lighting class in the photography department - serendipity! I'm very pleased to be able to take advantage of this opportunity which, in any "normal" year, would have been impossible for me to squeeze into the schedule. I'm looking forward to the experience immensely, especially since I even get to use the well-equipped studio onsite!

So there are silver linings and new opportunities, but there's still a terrible feeling of waiting for the other shoe to drop as the country - arts and otherwise - lurches forward in attempts to move on from the last few months. I have no doubt that opera as an artform will survive, but I also truly believe that it there is different professional landscape on the horizon from the one most of us currently active on the scene have experienced, and we're all just waiting to see what happens next.

To end on a good note, however, one recently emerged bright spot: kudos to a group of enterprising and highly talented colleagues for starting Baltimore Concert Opera - here's to their succesful launch!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Not "good" news, but...

a must read article about the current state of opera.

While the news is grim, I find this post far, far more realistic and hopeful than a lot of other commentary I've been reading. Here's hoping some of the views expressed are possible realities; they certainly suggest a better prognosis than the current state of affairs.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

That felt GOOD!

I love the philosophy of song recitals: just you, your accompanist and the composer fusing to come together as (one hopes!) a coherent, expressive and trascendent musical whole. "Pure" music, without the trappings of costume, the multitude of musical opinions in the orchestra as many strive to become one... it's in many ways the apogee of singing to express at such a simple and heartfelt level.

Achieving this, however, has proved elusive. My last few recitals of the recent years have often seemed to be a triumph of will over circumstances, battling everything from externally-imposed repertoire restrictions to less rehearsal than I would have liked to unexpected traffic delays to inadequate pianos, perhaps culminating in the one where I passed out halfway through the performance, scheduling an impromptu intermission! (I'd been struck by a respiratory bug two weeks before and, while my voice was 100% fine and I was for sure fit to sing, somehow the exertion of the substantial vocalism in the program against still-sensitive sinuses was more taxing than I could have imagined and I fainted for the first and only time in my life... although thankfully I made it off the stage before I hit the floor!)

Yesterday, however, seemed touched by magic. Everything ran smoothly logistically (rare in our lives!) and we arrived in ample time, un-rushed, fed and ready to roll. The venue was organised and prepared for us. The piano was in tune (not always something you can rely on!). We had a brief but uneventful and entirely adequate warmup rehearsal. There was a competent page turner (my husband was playing for me - a rare chance for us to perform as a team onstage! - and was very grateful to have another pianist for the job since his recent experience with page turners has been poor) and every practical detail was exactly as one would have requested it to be.

And, for once, absolutely everything came together in front of the audience too, even better than in our rehearsals. No unexepcted little vocal glitches to be managed (the tiniest bit of extra phlegm - or a drying environment - can wreak havoc on a singer so it's rare not to have to do some kind of "crisis management" in performance, if only to find a place to clear your throat or swallow!), the tempi felt just right, and the music - as SHOULD be the case - flew along of its own accord, telling us what to do rather than the other way around.

A beyond satisfying afternoon that has restored my enthusiasm to do more of this "pure music" again; I think the key is perhaps to ensure that the banal logstics and mechanics are in place so that they don't take up too much mental bytage on the day, distracting from the musical concentration. Then again, that might be philosophy triumphing over reality again - we'll see how easily that can actually be implemented!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Was winter always like this?

Yes, I know - it's January. It's supposed to be cold. But in the 10 years I've lived in this state, I don't ever remember it being THIS cold THIS consistently for THIS long. Not much snow, just day after day of sub-freezing temperatures and a hefty windchill. Brrrr!

But life goes on, however chillily (is that a word?!). The colleges start back next week, so we'll be resuming our routine - I can't say we always like the imposition of an external schedule but by the same token it does gives some structure to our generally hectic lives, and that's not such a bad thing.

Now, would somebody please turn the solar heat up and give us a few days of pale sunshine to get ready for the inevitable ice storms of February?!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Stalemate

It feels like the entire world is "on hold" just now. Even the ground is frozen solid as subzero temperatures sweep across the Northern Hemisphere (thankfully, we're merely in the teens rather than below zero, but it's still jolly cold for this part of the world!). The economy is caught in its mudlocked matrix which shows no signs of moving terribly quickly, and the rest of the world is responding to that with a profound wave of... wait and see. Call us again after the election/the holidays/the stock market report/the weather storm/the inaugration/fill in the blank. Oh, it's understandable, but for somebody like me who likes to go and DO things and take action this societally-imposed straightjacket is starting to feel mighty restrictive.

Then again, we're still on hiatus from the colleges, and without the imposed deadlines of a semester schedule, we always tend to curl up and hibernate during this particular break. The holidays are over, but there's still a couple of clear weeks to catch up, or more importantly, slow down. Read a book. Play a game. Watch a movie.

And so, the waiting game continues. I'll be interested to see who moves first.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Poor little blog...

I think it's feeling neglected.

Between the holidays, getting back to school, starting to prep some (small) forthcoming projects, and becoming completely and totally immersed in picture-taking (what can I say? I'm hooked), I've fallen badly behind. More substantial musings to come, Little Blog, I promise!

In the meantime, a project I've started for myself, namely the Photo a Day gallery, which can be found here. It may offer glimpses of my life at the moment, although many of them are simply studies as I wrap my head around the technical side of picture-taking. Enjoy!

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I recently found several comments which hadn't been published - my apologies to those who responded! I've posted them now.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

In 2008 I....

  • Started this blog
  • Not only survived, but ENJOYED a substantial and entirely successful home remodel ... even on a (very) tight budget!
  • Enjoyed a full performing calendar, including singing opposite the most famous living exponent of my own voice type in a stupendously received concert - it was a year where I was truly "living the dream"
  • Had it reinforced once again that I am blessed by truly wonderful colleagues who are not only a pleasure to work with and know, but who also inspire
  • Watched my first roses bloom in their first year
  • Discovered a passion for photography that has always lurked in the background but thanks to the digital age I can now indulge and take further... even achieving some (small) recognition along the way
  • Went camping (albeit reluctantly) and lived to tell the tale
  • Elected a new president
  • Watched my local opera company declare bankruptcy, leaving large holes not only in the local arts landscape, but my own pocket and calendar.
  • Was warmed by the response of at least one colleague to do what was in his power to help me fill one of those gaps
I've never known "It was the best of times; it was the worst of times" to so accurately describe the year - it started with such joy, growth and satisfaction and finished in a maelstrom of uncertainty as the world responded to global events, some hitting all too close to home.

But, as a friend said to me, always hope. And there IS always hope, and never more than at the turn of the year with it all metaphorically (perhaps even literally) spread out in front of us.

Here's to a brighter 2009 than any of us can imagine.