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, January 31, 2011

Scotland III: Lochs and Glens

We didn't go far out of town, but one of the beauties of Scotland is that from the major cities you can be away from the city and into rural countryside in a matter of minutes. Callander/Killin used to be one of my favorite "get away from it all" spots when I was working in Scotland and living with the family in Glasgow, and - thanks to the glorious weather (we're still marvelling at the 50+-degree temperatures and true sunshine that we had for 95% of our visit!) and a cousin with a car, we had a magical day out on this trip, including not only a quick stop by my former haunts, but also getting to see a couple of the minor lochs, a very castle-y castle and a celebrity Highland Cow - all within an hour's drive of central Glasgow. Bliss.

Loch Earn

Even in the depths of midwinter, the countryside is staggeringly beautiful. FWIW, this was about 3pm - may have been warm, but the sun still goes down early in the frozen north....

Doune Castle

Edinburgh Castle is a sight well worth seeing, but its military history tends to overshadow its sense of having been a place of residence. Doune, on the other hand, looks and feels like you expect a castle to look and feel - it's easy to imagine people living in it, something emphasised by the "mod cons" design features it had built into it! No doubt that it was still windy, damp and cold, but it offered private privies for the nobility attached to each state bedroom and in small "aristo only" cubbies off the great hall, serving hatches from the kitchens into the halls to keep the food moving smoothly, and an early kind of central heating through clever hearth and flue placement heating upstairs rooms with the fires in the kitchens.. It looks like it was quite a practical and pleasant place to live by Medieval standards.

Sharp-eyed readers may notice something else about Doune: it was the castle used in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. In fact, Terry Jones narrates the castle's audio-tour guide and, if you're remotely familiar with the film, it's impossible not to walk through without lines from it leaping into your head as soon as you see the reality of the location!

Serving hatches to allow the cooks to hand off the food to the servants to take upstairs. If I'm not mistaken, the reverse of this shot is where they filmed the "Just a little bit of peril!" scene.

While we didn't get as far as water-logged Perthshire, there was still some flooding in Callander.

Didn't stop us from taking in the view and enjoying a supper from the (very good!) chippy in town. Not sure our daughter has quite connected with (understatement) the iconic status of the British chippy, but she did at least give them a try, even if she balked at trying the deep-fried steak-pie she was offered.........

And what trip to Callander would be complete without a quick visit to local celebrity Hamish the Highland Coo?

Friday, January 28, 2011

Scotland II: Edinburgh and environs

(PSA: this post probably ought to come with a tilt-shift alert!! The camera I was using recreates the effect of these adjustable focal-plane lenses digitally and since I love it I may have... uh... indulged a little..... :)

Duddingston Village (from Arthur's Seat)

Towards the Lothian Coast (from Arthur's Seat)

Duddingston Loch (from Arthur's Seat)

Edinburgh from the Castle

same view without the TS effect

You can always find a muckle coo if you look...

The Forth Railway Bridge

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Scotland I: Glasgow

The University

Yup, blue sky. In January.

Kelvingrove Art Gallery

(organ recitals - in the art gallery - most lunchtimes)

The Burell Collection, in the idyllic grounds of Pollok Park

Pollok House

(The tilt-shift feature of my Canon s95 saw a lot of use this trip...!)

One of the themes of the entire visit: Muckle Coos (aka Highland Cattle).

The prizewinning herd at Pollok House are known around the world

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Who says you can't go home again?

Nearly thirteen years.

Since I left the UK I've had a baby, established a career, and watched my life morph from what was more-or-less still a student lifestyle to that of boring (but stable!) suburbia. I've been re-assimilated into my birth country and had the luxury of living near my parents and getting re-acquainted adult-to-adult. I've learned to accept and enjoy the higher standard of American living, embracing the 24hr supermarket with open arms, and have grown to consider firehose-strength water pressure a constitutional right. I've even started thinking of Chipotle as our "local".

Still, within minutes of landing in Glasgow, it felt like being back home. Now, granted, I never lived in Scotland (although I did work there and spend extended time there), so perhaps the changes of 13 years weren't as obvious to me as they would have been in London or Manchester, but even with that in mind, there was that sense of coming home and, frankly, of never having been away at all. As my husband's relative put it, "It's just like walking into another room", and I couldn't put it better myself. Another room rather than another house, country or world.

Of course, things have changed - stores have come and gone, prices have most assuredly gone up, buses have privatised (growl - do NOT get me started on the horror which is Glasgow's privatised bus system - it's a mess, and expensive to boot!), and readily available Starbucks are clear signs of "the 51st state" which we'd been warned to expect. And yet....

One of the things I always do to acclimatise myself when I travel is immediately head to a retail area - I often don't buy much, but it's a way of assimilating prices, local delicacies and getting in a lot of people watching. This trip was no different - while undoubtedly (to quote Marty Feldman in Young Frankenstein) the rates have gone up, and an American-style glossy-tiled mall graces the bottom of Buchanan St... so much is still the same; the faces were the same, somehow, the way things are labelled, the fonts on the newspapers, and even the pace of movement down the streets. Things may have moved on, but they haven't changed. I'm not sure what I'd expected really - to go back and find that I'd remembered everything with rose-tinted glasses? That it wasn't as much "home" as I remembered? That things had changed so drastically as to truly feel like just another American city? In the event, it was reassuringly the same as it had always been. Well, except for the weather - unlike the usual cold, damp, drab and drear of January, 7 of our 8 days there were bright, sunny, and downright WARM! It was a heatwave for the time of year; I'm not quite sure how we got so lucky given the blizzards of the previous week, and freezing fog that followed our departure.

My husband and I were both thrilled to see our daughter enjoy this new/old home as much as we did. This was her first trip overseas, and we really didn't know quite how she'd react. As it happens, she can't wait to get back quickly enough, and has been suggesting schemes to mail herself there if we can't figure out a way to put her on the plane for the summer!

It was a delight to see her meet her paternal extended family, too: many new aunts, uncles and cousins to get to know (and to translate from their native Glesg'y) as well as family friends many of whom she'd never heard of before. It could have been quite overwhelming (don't we all remember being paraded out as children to oohs and ahs of "Last time I saw you, you were only ~hands spread apart~ this big" and "You've grown since that last picture your mum sent!"?), but she embraced it with style.

For me, it was a chance to be a tourist in Scotland for the first time - every other time I'd been there it was for a gig, and I was too busy to do much as a rule. Oh, I had managed to do some hillwalking around Loch Lomond and visit Callander/Killin once or twice on days off, but I'd never really "done" the cities properly, so it was a real treat to explore. This time we made a point of visiting galleries, castles, and stately homes as well as a day into the lochs and glens, really getting to enjoy it as a holiday as well as a long-delayed family visit.

And we've learned that you really can go home again.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

2010 Roundup

A well-timed nudge expressing pleasure that I'd "finally posted again" (!) reminded me I hadn't yet posted my annual roundup for the year. Somehow while working on that I was also moved to experiment with a "new year, new look" for the blog so apologies for any glitches - work in progress! So, without further ado:

In 2010 .....
  • I finally caught up on about 5 years of British television I'd managed to miss; this project started out merely as entertainment, but quickly became something much more artistically important and, in a way, prompted the theme of dramatic exploration that drove my performing year. We started the year with North & South and were bowled over by this amazing production - it would be hard to overstate what a tremendous artistic "reboot" it prompted (it even warranted its own blog entry). Impressed as we were, we decided to give some of Richard Armitage's other productions a try which led us first back to Spooks (MI5 in the US) and then to Kudos Productions' other series': first Hustle, and then Ashes to Ashes. We'd given the original Life on Mars a try when it first came out but, for whatever reasons, hadn't really connected with it; Ashes, however, immediately drew us in and we were hooked - actually, more like completely pole-axed as this powerful series worked its magic on us. As with North and South, while we enjoyed the series just as great television and entertainment, the intensity and brilliance meant it became more than that: the artistic impact those performances had on me was profound. Watching emotional layer upon layer expressed sometimes with no more than the flicker of an eye was a very powerful reminder of just how much we can achieve as performers, and how much we can and should - must! - strive for.

  • My daughter and I took a spontaneous whirlwind trip to Vancouver to take advantage of a friend's invitation to see the dress rehearsal for the opening ceremonies - it was every bit as much fun as it sounds and we were just grateful to make it there and back between the brutal snowstorms that hit the east coast the week we traveled! We got incredibly lucky with our flights (and even luckier that close friends put snow tires on their car every year.....!)

  • I performed a well-received duo recital which prompted ideas that came to fruition later in the year...

  • I enjoyed a wonderful festival production: fantastic colleagues in an idyllic setting was pretty much a guaranteed recipe for fun and it was a terrific experience. Despite being a role in a genre I don't sing all that much (and also sustaining a miserable foot injury which slowed me down more than I liked), it was a rewarding summer both artistically and personally and given the chance I'd repeat the experience in a hearbeat! It was perfect timing to work "outside the operatic box", too, with a great deal of "real" dialogue (George Bernard Shaw's original text was reinstated for this production) - the entire process was very different from the usual opera production, and while it was sometimes challenging, it was enormously exciting and satisfying to stretch my dramatic wings in different ways.

  • I got home from New York and hit the ground running, putting the ideas sparked at the spring recital into practice. The result was a concert in the words and format first tried out in March, but this time based on a unifying theme: the life and works of Edgar Allan Poe. The idea seemed to spark a lot of interest, and we benefited from some terrific publicity including a nice piece in the paper and a fun interview with the classical radio music station.

  • We lost our much-loved Bearded Collie at ~14 years old. He was a venerable old man and it was time, but that never stops it being hard. The animal was a hairy saint and we miss him terribly; hopefully 2011 will include a small furball addition to the family at some point...

  • Continued to take many, many pictures, and photography certainly didn't wind up on the back burner! A series of headshots for young performers, a chance to meet and work with The Strobist (aka David Hobby)as part of an advocacy journalism project, and even a small competition win were just a few of the many projects I undertook and enjoyed this year.
Which I think brings us to the end of the year and makes me wonder.... what's in store next? What adventures that I haven't even considered yet are waiting in 2011? I have no idea, but I'm game to find out! Here's to a fresh, open page ahead of us - I've never liked the idea of "resolutions" for the new year, but I love the promise of possibility ahead.