Wednesday, November 30, 2005

one down...

I had my first audition today, for a fellowship at the Tanglewood Music Center this summer. This was my third time auditioning for them, having received some very positive feedback last year. I love singing for them, for several reasons. First, the members of the audition committee (which included Dawn Upshaw today and last year), are extremely friendly, and the atmosphere in the audition is relaxed and welcoming. Secondly, the auditions are held in a recital hall which has a lovely acoustic for singing. Finally, the audition rep for Tanglewood is different than for most other programs, in that they only require one aria, and the rest of the selections are all art songs. I love singing art songs. The opportunity to delve in to the poetry and languages involved, and to interact with both pianist and audience on a more intimate level appeals to my love of the multi-faceted aspects of singing. I love that each art song is a little world, complete unto itself, while an aria is merely a moment in a larger dramatic work. I also feel that my extensive piano background gives me unique insights in to these worlds.

Another aspect of Tanglewood that I find appealing is its focus on new music. This year, the fellows will present 3 small, twentieth-century operas as part of the festival of contemporary music there, and we were asked to prepare a piece from one if we were interested in the role. I prepared a piece from Stravinsky’s Mavra, which I decided (at the last minute) to start with. When I walked in to the hall, they remembered me from last year, which is always a good sign, and asked for my first piece. They seemed surprised when I chose the Stravinsky, and the pianist took a minute to look it over, which told me that nobody so far (at least today) had chosen that piece – another good sign. It went well, and everyone was very enthusiastic at the end. Then they asked for the Ravel song I had listed. Perfect! It’s from my all-time favorite cycle by my all-time favorite vocal composer, a cycle which I have performed on numerous occasions and which fits me like a glove. The pianist was excellent and extremely sensitive, and I felt like it was a great performance. One person on the committee even clapped a little at the end, and everybody obviously liked it. After a little small talk we said goodbye.

I walked out feeling elated. Whether or not I get in (though it would be SO great to get in!), it was an extremely positive experience. What stands out most to me, in hindsight, is the feeling I had that I was totally in control of what was going on the whole time. I was totally present in the moment, and felt as though I was able to shape the performance in to whatever I wanted it to be. I was definitely “in the zone,” which we strive for every time, but doesn’t always happen, and certainly doesn’t always happen to the extent it did today. So it was a success. On to the next!

Monday, November 28, 2005

on my way!

(written at about 11:00 a.m. PST on Sunday)

I’m on my way to New York. Though it’s one of the busiest travel days of the year, I got through security in 15 minutes, and the only empty seat on the entire plane happens to be next to me. It’s the simple things….

I love flying, mostly because I love people-watching, and being in such close quarters with so many people allows for strange, small, random glimpses in to lives. There’s an extremely good-natured baby sitting two rows in front of me, whom I’ve flirted with on and off throughout the flight. The man directly in front of me, also traveling alone, happily plays peek-a-boo with her from behind his issue of “Opera News” whenever she looks back at him, which delights her to no end, and is somehow incredibly touching to me. The man next to me had a very sweet phone conversation with his two sleepy little boys this morning before we took off. (hmmm… notice a theme? Biological clock beginning to tick, perhaps? It’s true, I’ll admit, but I’m hitting the snooze button, for a little while longer, at least.) I watched “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” a movie I’ve been wanting to see for some time, and now I’m taking a break from my book, a new release from one of my favorite authors. As of page 32, I’ve cried 3 times, and while I was expecting it to be moving, I hadn’t quite expected this. I could easily devour the whole thing on the plane, and may do just that after finishing this post, though I was hoping it would last through at least part of my stay. Oh, well, I’m pretty sure I could find another book to read somewhere in NYC if need be….

Once we arrive at JFK (still about 2 hours away, I think), I will hopefully find my luggage, a cab, and my way to the apartment I’ll be subletting in Inwood (on the northern tip of Manhattan) for the next 9 days. I actually have directions from the owner to give the cabbie, which I’ve never had to do before, but it should be ok. Both other times I’ve been to NYC for audition trips, I’ve ended up staying at hotels, which has been fine, but I’m excited to be staying somewhere a little more homey, and with a friend from home as well. It will be nice (for my body and my budget) to be able to cook some meals and avoid eating out all the time. It will also be nice to be somewhere I can warm up and practice a little. There is no piano at the apartment, which gave me a good excuse to purchase one of these, which I’ve been wanting for a long time. It’s odd, as a pianist, to play on a keyboard where the black keys are not raised at all, but it rolls up and stores in a little black pouch that fits nicely in my suitcase, runs on 4 AA batteries, and it’s a great tool to have for learning notes and warming up in places with no pianos available. The keyboard is also big enough (4 full octaves) to plunk out most full accompaniments, which is an added bonus. Mostly, though, I have to admit, it’s just a fun toy.

My first audition isn’t until Wednesday, which gives me lots of time to adjust to the new climate, brush up the art songs that are required for this audition, and hopefully catch up with some friends in the city. Ok, back to my book – more from the big Apple!

update: I arrived safe and sound after a bumpy flight, the apartment is great, and the weather in NYC is beautiful and quite a bit warmer today than in Seattle, where apparently they're expecting 3 inches of snow tonight!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005


I had a great coaching this afternoon and am feeling good about my auditions. I printed out my packing list, not because I've started packing yet, but just as inspiration. I'm about to make a "to-do" list of things that need to happen before I leave. All in all, I'm feeling much more focused, and I'm ready to relax tomorrow and then get back to work on Friday.

... and, look what I made!

getting ready...

I'm leaving for 3 auditions in NYC on Sunday. Well, one of them is actually in Philadelphia, but it will just be a day trip. I'll be in New York for 10 days, which should give me plenty of time to get some coachings in, and even a little holiday shopping... :)

For some reason, I've found it difficult this year to get in to the audition mindset. Maybe it's because some programs took SO long getting back to people this year -- as of last week, I only had one audition on my schedule, which was a little disappointing. Maybe it's because Thanksgiving falls relatively early this year, and I feel, more than normal, as though the holiday season has been thrust upon me and I don't have time to think about anything else. I'm not making a full Thanksgiving dinner (which is probably good for the rest of my family, as I'm a vegetarian and somehow I think "Tofurkey" would not go over very well), but I am attempting my first pie crust today. Actually, it's my first pie. period. I mentioned to my mother-in-law that I had a new Kitchen-Aid mixer and wanted to try it out, so she suggested dessert and then mentioned that she was craving apple pie. No problem! We'll see about that.... Actually, as it turns out, I don't even need a mixer to make pie crust -- just a food processor. Who knew (other than anyone who's ever made a pie crust)? Oh, well. My sister-in-law, who is a much more experienced cook than I, will be making a well-tested pie recipe, as well, so I don't feel as much pressure as I might. I've consulted with Martha and Alton, so I should be ok.

See, I can't even think about singing long enough to write this post! The truth is, I am really excited about all my auditions, and I feel ready. I've been singing my arias, brushing up some art songs, and even learning a new aria for a program doing some 20th century operas this year (which is right up my alley!). But normally at this time of year, I'd be busily printing out resumes, audition lists, directions to auditions, confirmation letters, and generally thinking of nothing else but these upcoming auditions, and this year that's just not the case. Maybe it's a good thing. Maybe it's a sign that I'm getting used to these auditions and trips, or that I'm in a place vocally this year where I don't feel a need to obsess about them. I think these things are true, but I also need to focus my energies over the next few days. If nothing else, there's a pile of laundry to be done, copies to be made, a suitcase to pack, and general organizing that needs to happen, which should force me to in to audition mode. I also have a coaching scheduled today, which will hopefully give me some last-minute things to think about in my arias.

But then there's the pie....

Sunday, November 13, 2005

lessons learned in a weekend...

It has been a weekend of ups and downs. It's been a shock. After a period of what felt like inactivity (though, in hindsight, it was anything but inactive), I feel like I've been on a roller coaster over the past few days.

On Friday, a difficult and frustrating working relationship came to an end under uncomfortable and painful circumstances. In retrospect, I realize that this was the result I really wanted all along. I realize now that I should have ended the relationship long ago. I knew that the person involved was someone with whom I absolutely could not work. It's as though we speak completely different languages. I left every meeting frustrated, angry, and exhausted. It was supposed to be a temporary situation, and I was hoping to be able to stick it out, but honestly the outcome, painful though it was, was the best possible. It was a job I don't really need anymore, and though I will miss many aspects of it, the benefits (the time it has freed up in my schedule and my mental and emotional well-being) far outweigh the costs. Lesson learned: well, actually.... I had hoped to say I learned to keep my big mouth shut, but in actuality I'm not ashamed of anything I said, though I do admit my timing could have been better. However, if I had trusted my inner voice which was screaming at me that this was a situation destined for disaster, I could have avoided the whole thing.

Second lesson learned: sometimes it's worth the wait. I auditioned for a local company in June, for an opera coming up this spring that I was very interested in doing. After so many months of waiting, though I knew they hadn't finished making offers yet, I had more or less given up hope. However, on Friday I received an offer for a role. While it is not the lead role that I had originally hoped for, it is a significant and fun role in the opera and will be a great first experience in what I hope to be a long list of roles by this composer. I've been receiving lots of feedback that it's great rep for me to be singing, and I'm excited to start exploring it onstage.

Lesson #3: it never hurts to ask. I received a letter several days ago explaining that I had not been granted an audition for a particular young artists' program. I was disappointed: they are doing an opera next year that is right up my alley, and I had had a couple of coachings with someone on the staff of the program who had seemed to like my voice and enjoy working with me. I talked with my teacher about it she was surprised. "I know D, she said, would you be comfortable if I asked him about it?" Well, D approached me yesterday, and said that it had all been a mistake -- he had specifically remembered my name coming up while they were listening to tapes and had said he knew me and wanted to hear me!

Finally, I've learned that hard work really does pay off. I sang (for the final time, as I am at the age limit) at the Met auditions yesterday -- a nation-wide competition that hundreds of young singers participate in every year. I was not given a prize, however, I was happy with how I sang, and was looking forward to feedback from the judges. All three had constructive things to say, of course, and that's why I had asked them for feedback, but it was different this year than ever before. In the past, there have always been basic technical issues, mostly dealing with my high range, which I was aware of, that were a constant theme through all three judges. This year, I received the following comment: "You have a great, easy top. It's nice to hear a mezzo with a top that really works. I was impressed." YIPPPPPPPPEEEEEEEE!

Ok, in reading over this post, I realize that it was not a weekend of ups and downs after all. In fact, it was more a weekend of one down at the beginning and then lots of ups! There's still half a day left, of course, but enough excitement for 3 days! I'm ready now to relax, and maybe clean my neglected bathroom....

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Christmas carols

Ok, at the risk of sounding like a sell-out....

I just accepted a gig for the last 10 days or so before Christmas, singing in a Victorian carolling quartet. (Ok, so our costumes are actually more 1930's, but you get the idea) I will be strolling around a local mall for three hours every evening leading up to Christmas eve, not shopping (though I'm sure I'll do some of that before and after), but singing alto lines of carols....

....and I'm totally excited about it! Admittedly, it's not an opera role or an oratorio gig, or even a Messiah at a local church. But, I love singing Christmas carols! And, the money is really pretty great, considering how easy the work is. And, I didn't have any other gigs during that time, so why not, right? It actually feels a bit like coming home for me. The first "professional" (paid) singing I ever did, long before I ever thought about taking a voice lesson, was as part of a Victorian carolling group here as an undergraduate. I knew then that I loved to sing, and it gave me my first opportunities to start singing solos (something I had never done), and to really perform songs, and to dress up in fancy costumes, and to work with other professional musicians and actors, and I totally fell in love with every aspect of it. Mostly, I think I loved seeing people enjoy what we were doing, and feeling like I was part of creating a magical holiday atmosphere for them. (No, I was not working for Disney!) When I think back, I realize that it played a totally integral role in my deciding to enter this crazy singing world.

Besides, extra money means extra shopping!

Tuesday, November 8, 2005


I'm in much better spirits. Thank you all for your kind words. Unfortunately, once I let my guard down a little, the cold I've been trying so hard to fight off for the last 2 weeks finally hit me, accompanied by a migraine on Saturday as an added bonus. I'm determined to be healthy by the met auditions this weekend, so I've spent the last few days with my trusty facial steamer and neti pot, zicam, Emergen-C, throat tea, and I've even broken down and taken Nyquil at night, which I almost never do. I do seem to have been blessed with a light case, though, and it seems to be moving through pretty quickly. Today is the first (and hopefully the last) day I've had a sore throat, so I'll limit myself today to a few very gentle warm-ups and some mental rehearsal, and as little talking as possible. I'm also going to my favorite pho place for lunch with a good singer friend (the only one in Seattle I know of to offer 100% vegetarian pho), and nothing, in my opinion, is better for a cold than a hot, steamy bowl of pho. Yum!

Yesterday, I still felt well enough to go to a scheduled coaching, which went extremely well, and I'm feeling confident about this weekend. I'll let you know how it goes!

Friday, November 4, 2005


I’m having a bad week, for a variety of reasons. I knew, when I started studying voice, that there would be certain doors that would be closed to me because of my late start. Still, I really felt (feel) that singing is what I’m supposed to do, something that I need to do. Generally, I think my attitude about it is pretty good. I’ve had a lot of successes, and I’m grateful for those opportunities. However, there are those weeks, like this one, when the odds seem to be stacked so high all around me that I can’t see out to my next step. When programs do not grant me auditions, and I’m left to wonder what I did wrong (Did I audition for them before I was ready and make it on to some sort of black list, never to be heard again? Is my resume pathetically underdeveloped, in their eyes, for a singer my age? Is there some horrible, glaring error in my recording that I missed before sending it out?); when a local company doing an opera I’d really love to do is taking forever to make calls, and even though nobody else has heard anything, I can’t shake the feeling that if they really wanted to hire me I would have heard already; when all of this is set against a backdrop of incredibly positive feedback about my singing recently; and when I feel like I’ve made so much progress in the last year, I am left in a state of confusion, frustration, and disappointment. Such is the business of singing (and of many things), I know, but sometimes I have to ask myself, why? Why am I doing this to myself? And while I know in my heart that I know the answer to this question, some days something in me just won’t stop asking. There are few things more frustrating in life than not being given a chance. To know you can do something and not get a chance to prove yourself is one of those things that are just not fair.

Add this to a particularly frustrating editing job, 100 3- and 4-year-olds high on Halloween candy and coming off a week of vacation, and a new boss who is extremely difficult for me to work with musically and personally, and the result is a very cranky girl.

When I look over the last couple months, and the coming months, objectively, I know that things are not so bad. I just finished singing a lead role and two performances of one of my all-time favorite pieces. I have some fun gigs coming up and some exciting possibilities. I have been granted some auditions and I realize that the important thing is to focus on the opportunities that I do have and make the best of them. I’ve been blessed(?) with a stubbornly optimistic outlook (my mom calls it a disease), that never allows me to remain in these states of depression for long, and even as I write this I feel somewhat better, though I’m determined to wallow and pamper myself a little for the rest of the evening (no editing, no planning for tomorrow’s classes, just me and my book that I’ve been trying to finish for the last month, and maybe some leftover Halloween candy).

M-MV, one of my favorite blogs, seems also to be fighting a bad day, and had some advice that has helped me immensely this afternoon.

“I choose this. Again. And again. Every time.”

I know that this path is one that I’ve chosen, and one that I continue to choose with each passing moment. I don’t have control over everything that happens along the way, but I do, ultimately, have complete control over my outlook, my reactions, and my choices. I know that I could choose another path at any time. That’s not happening today. Probably not tomorrow either. I’ll let you know if I change my mind.

And, finally, thank you, M-MV, for reminding me:“Without the occasional bad day, I might fail to recognize just how damned good I have it. So, I embrace the bad days and their aftermath, too. May we all have a few if only to remind us how good the rest of the days are.”