Thursday, September 29, 2005

a good kick in the #%&*@!

When I'm in a show or have a concert performance coming up (both are true at the moment), I tend to limit my practicing to those pieces. For the last couple weeks, I've mostly been practicing Hansel and Gretel and the Mozart Requiem. However, today I got my first confirmation of an audition time for this season, and it's coming right up! Better get those arias back out! Yikes! Back to practicing....

Tuesday, September 27, 2005


I'm sitting in a lovely coffee shop, taking a break from editing. I have to say, I love having one thing I do that's not music-related. When I finished my master's degree, I was very intent on being "a professional musician," and only took on music jobs. And I could make ends meet, and everything was fine. However, there were jobs I was doing that really didn't interest me all that much, even though they involved playing or singing. Now, I can be a little more picky about the music jobs I take, and fit in an hour or two of work between lessons and rehearsals, or between jobs, while at the same time enjoying a grande soy chai latte and a yummy piece of chocolate-almond loaf. :) And, I feel like I'm expanding my mind by thinking about something other than music for a change. It actually feels more like a break to me, and I love the fact that I could conceivably do this anywhere in the world my singing happens to take me. Of course, the fact that I'm being paid (very well) to take these "breaks" makes it even more enjoyable.

I'm just about to leave for the ferry terminal (I have to take about an hour's ferry ride to get to Hansel and Gretel rehearsals). Tonight is a run-through with piano, and we'll be wearing our costumes for the first time, as a representative from the local paper will be there taking photos. My costume is extremely comfortable -- I basically feel like I'm wearing sweats to perform. One of the benefits of playing a boy, I suppose!

Sunday, September 18, 2005

finding balance

On the middle finger of my right hand I wear three rings. The first is my engagement ring, which is not a traditional gold/diamond ring, but rather a silver band with celtic engravings and a small garnet, which is my husband's birthstone. The second is a ring I bought several years ago on a trip to an international choir competition in Ireland. It was on that trip that I had the final revelation that singing was what I wanted to do with my life, and the ring symbolizes that decision to me. The third is a simple silver band engraved with the word "balance." Feeling these three rings together on my finger reminds me of my desire to achieve and maintain balance between my personal and professional lives, and helps me to feel grounded and centered no matter what I'm doing.

This was the first week that my work schedule for the fall was in full swing. Almost all of my jobs follow the calendar of the school year, leaving my summers free. Last year, I only worked about 15 hours per week. I felt like I was at a crucial point vocally, and I needed time to adjust to my new teacher and all the changes that were happening in my voice. I was extremely blessed to be able to cut back significantly on the number of jobs I chose to take, and as a result I had lots of free time for practice, reflection, listening, and just relaxing..... almost too much, if I'm honest with myself. Having as much free time as I did sometimes made it difficult to stay motivated.

This year, I decided to take on more work. I wanted to have more expendable income, to contribute more to the household expenses, and believe it or not, I felt a need to be busier. I started taking on more jobs. Now, in addition to the new job editing from home, I'm also teaching 10 hours per week of music classes for 3-5 year olds (SO cute!). I've also taken on new responsibilities at the music academy where I teach -- I'm now running a new program for young singers, and currently teaching all the classes, including a theory/eartraining class, a history/literature class, and a performance class. This only adds one hour per week to my actual teaching time, but it adds considerably more to my planning time. All of these new activities are things that I really love, and I'm excited about all of them, and about the sheer variety of work. I'll certainly never be bored! However, when added to staging rehearsals for Hansel and Gretel, applications and demo recordings for upcoming auditions, lessons, coachings, practicing, and the fact that I'm just getting over a cold, it's made for one exhausted and slightly overwhelmed singer this week!

I think I'll be able to handle everything without stressing myself out or making myself sick. It certainly helps that I love everything I do. However, this will be a good exercise in time management. Alec starts playing his first show of the season next week, which will cut even further in to the little time we already have to spend with one another. It's been quite a while since we've had to resort to scheduling time together to make sure we see each other, but I think it might be time to get out our calendars! In the mean time, I have a class of three year olds to teach at 8:00 a.m., so I'd best be off to bed.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

home again, home again...

The concert went extremely well. I think we raised a good amount of money for two great causes, and everyone involved was deeply touched by the experience. Aside from the cold I caught while I was down there, I'm doing well and happy to be home. It was a lovely trip. I got to spend some quality time with our good friends G & W, and of course Maddy, possibly the sweetest and most adorable baby in the world.

While I was in Portland, I had basically 3 days of free time. I was able to spend some time in the world's greatest bookstore, working on some math editing stuff in their great coffee shop. We also had some fabulous meals, and there was even some time for a little tax-free shopping.

But, even though it was just a short trip, it's great to be back to Cleo, our new, crooked-tailed kitty! Isn't she cute?

Friday, September 9, 2005

On the road

I’m not too far away, but still sleeping in a bed that’s not my own, which is especially difficult tonight because I’m not getting to snuggle with our new kitty, Cleo! (I promise I’ll post pictures upon my return.) I’m just outside of Portland, OR, where I’m singing a Mozart Requiem on Sunday. On the way down this afternoon, I was listening to it in the car, driving by flag after flag flying at half-mast, and I was suddenly overwhelmed with emotions -- with sadness, of course, for the thousands of people dealing with the loss of loved ones this week (this concert is held annually on September 11, but it will be the victims of Hurricane Katrina that will be in everyone’s hearts this year, I think). But perhaps even more than sadness, I was overwhelmed with a feeling of gratitude, that I have the opportunity to sing this great work, that provides both comfort and a way to mourn for so many people. In times like this, I am struck by the reality that we as performers are servants, in the best sense of the word. We are servants to our audience, yes, and also to the universe, to the spirits of the composers and the pieces we are asked to perform. I suppose we are ourselves mediums of sorts, letting the healing and cathartic powers of this music flow through us to those, hopefully, who need it most. And, amazingly, through this, we ourselves are healed. In the car this afternoon, I knew, perhaps more intensely than ever, that this is what I’m supposed to be doing with my life. This is the gift I can give back, in my own small way, to the world. If even one person leaves on Sunday evening feeling touched by what we’ve done, then we will have done our jobs.

Wednesday, September 7, 2005

my five

It’s coming to the beginning of audition season. There are lots of applications to be filled out, some on-line, and some by hand; recordings to be made; travel plans to be arranged; and most importantly, arias to prepare. Some companies want to hear just one, most ask for a list of four or five and choose from that. Some have specific language or stylistic requirements, others just want to hear what you think you sing best. Five carefully chosen, meticulously prepared arias, and maybe a couple of art songs and/or musical theater selections on the back burner just in case, will prepare you for almost any audition. Those five arias should show your vocal quality, stage presence, personality, musicality, and technique in the best possible light. You can imagine the agonizing that goes in to these decisions.

In years past I’ve never been totally happy with my list. There was always one aria that I would rather the adjudicators didn’t ask for, or one that I didn’t think really fit in my fach (probably because I wasn’t totally sure what my fach was – something that many young singers struggle with as our voices continue to change and develop). Also, for the companies that do have specific language requirements, there are some languages that really don’t have a whole lot to offer in terms of audition arias for a young mezzo like myself. Take German, for example. While there are several roles that I might sing in German in my career most of those (even Hansel) do not have an aria that is exerptable, and there are really only two audition arias that lyric mezzos sing on a regular basis. One is just slightly too heavy for my voice, especially in bigger houses, and one is pretty silly and really doesn’t show much except the fact that I can sing in German. I lean toward the heavier one (the composer’s aria from Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos), as it shows my musicianship well, and I’ve sung it at many auditions, but this year it’s going in the “back burner” category, to be brought out only when German is specifically requested.

This has been a huge year of growth and change for me musically and vocally. I have been studying with a new teacher who has given me what is perhaps the most powerful tool I can possess as a singer: the feeling that I have total control over the sounds that are coming out of my mouth. For the first time, I feel like I have a technique that works for me in every way, and I’m able to sculpt my voice in ways I could never have done a year ago. This has opened up new repertoire to me, and also has helped to clarify the type of repertoire which is best for my voice at this point, and I’m really excited to audition for people this year. I also have new confidence in my acting abilities, which I hope will come across when I’m auditioning. One of the most fun changes so far is that my voice seems to be well suited to the higher Rossini mezzo roles, including the title role in La Cenerentola (Cindarella). Rossini is one of the only composers where mezzos get to be the lead female character (well, other than Carmen, obviously), and the arias are full of showy coloratura passages. I had been told by several people in years past that I should be singing Rossini arias, many coaches seemed to think that they would be good in my voice, but I never had a firm grasp on the technique and stamina that I needed to get through one of the arias, which tend to be a little on the long side. That is no longer the case, and they even feel easy to me now. I’ve also found some Mozart that I think works well for me, and a French piece that I’ve absolutely fallen in love with. So, my “five,” as it stands now (subject to change between now and December, of course) are:
  1. “Non più mesta,” from La Cenerentola, by Rossini
  2. “Parto, Parto,” from La Clemenza di Tito by Mozart
  3. The Muse’s aria (“Vois sous l’archet frémissant”), from Les Contes d’Hoffmann, by Offenbach
  4. “Things change, Jo,” from Little Women, by Mark Adamo
  5. Either “Smanie Implaccabili” from Così fan Tutte by Mozart or the Composer if German is required.

It feels good to have five arias that I love and feel good about. We’ll see what happens!