Thursday, December 7, 2006

ok, a real post soon, I promise...

...but in the meantime, this is really funny. :)

Sunday, November 19, 2006

because sometimes things happen like they're supposed to... update on camp...

I've been waiting for the Porters to make this public before I posted it here, but it doesn't get much more public than this article. When we're doing what we're supposed to be doing with our lives, for the right reasons, things have a way of working out for the best. In case anyone needed a reminder.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

possibly my new favorite quote...

...and one that I'm trying to implement in life...

"If 'A' = success in life, then A = x+y+z, where x = work, y = play, and z = keep your mouth shut." --- Albert Einstein

Thursday, November 16, 2006

mental toughness

Every Wednesday at swim practice is distance freestyle day. On other days, there is a balance of different strokes, drills, kicking, pulling, and a mix of distances with some rest in between. On distance freestyle day, the focus is on doing longer sets, in only freestyle (crawl stroke), with less rest. Last Wednesday, after we had already swum several sets, the coach came to our lane, and said, "Ok, next we're doing a 1000..." A 1000 is 40 laps without stopping. We had already swum about 3/4 mile at this point, so we were tired, but we set off. I started second, right after the lane leader, and began counting laps. About a third of the way through a little voice started inside. "You will never make it to the end of this set! You've only done 14 (15, 16, 18...) laps, and your arms feel like they're going to fall off. You should just stop and rest. But, at the end of each lap, when I was faced with the choice of doing a flip turn and continuing, or stopping and letting people pass me for a lap, another little voice would say, "ok, just one more." Eventually, we made it to the end. Or so I thought. It turned out that our lane leader had lost count, and did 4 extra laps at the end. But, I made it through those as well. When I saw her stopping in front of me, I thought, "Yay! I made it! Shower and latte, here I come!" But, alas, I looked up at the clock, and to my dismay, there were still 20 minutes left! Time for two or three more sets before the workout was over.

At this point I was reminded of a book that a boyfriend in college gave me. It was about mental toughness training for athletes, and he found it very applicable to his music (he played trumpet). And I realized that, in each moment in the pool that day, I was always capable of taking another stroke, swimming another lap, and once I put myself in that mindset, that annoying voice in my head quieted down (well, not entirely, but mostly), and I found that finishing the rest of the workout was easy (easier).

I honestly haven't thought a lot about mental toughness in performance since I stopped performing as a pianist. As a singer, I'm not often worried about coming in on the wrong note, forgetting a line (it's happened, believe me, but I don't worry about it the way I did when tackling a concerto or sonata), and as my technique has developed and strengthened, I don't often worry anymore about a high note at the end of a piece or a difficult run. However, I think we singers have to apply mental toughness in different ways. Remaining positive and optimistic in the face of the rejection and judgement that we subject ourselves to on a daily basis can seem hard sometimes. And walking in to the next audition, and the next, and the next, with confidence in what we have to offer as artists, certainly requires a great deal of mental toughness. As audition season gets in to full swing, I have been thinking about these things lately. I think I'm doing ok on the mental toughness scale, but there's always room for improvement, and if this is another thing that swimming will help me with (other than the 7 pounds I've lost already, or the great arm muscles I'm developping, or the improved breath control), then I say, "Yay, swimming!"

Wednesday, November 8, 2006

general check-in...

Oops -- it's been a while! Lots of things going, as usual, though, so I thought a general post was in order.

Hoffmann rehearsals are going well, and I'm loving playing Nicklausse. It may be my favorite role to date. The dress rehearsal is two weeks from today -- lots of work still to do!

Last weekend, I sang in a concert of Bach cantatas with some of my favorite colleagues. An easy gig for me -- in 4 cantatas, I had a recit, a duet, and two trios. But, it was some beautiful music, and a possible new gig came out of it, which I'm very excited about. More on that later.

Audition times are starting to trickle in for my trip to NYC in December. I've rented an apartment in the Village for most of my time there this year, and I'm really excited to have my own space, with a kitchen and wireless internet access. Everything feels very settled for my auditions this year, which is a nice feeling. Several of the programs I've applied to this year are art song programs, so in addition to "my five," I'll get to sing quite a few songs this season. On my piano right now are two of my favorite cycles that I'm revisiting -- Mahler's Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen and Ravel's Histoires Naturelles. I'm also looking through some english songs, and will make final decisions this week about what specific songs I'll take to New York with me.

Other things on the piano right now for upcoming concerts: Bach's Magnificat and my Messiah score ('tis the season, after all). Speaking of the season, it's time for my piano students to start their Christmas songs (their favorite time of year)! How did it get to be November already? Yikes!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

well, I think I look at least 21...

I was leaving my lessons yesterday, walking through the schoolyard, and a kindergartner stopped me:

boy: "Hey! Do you remember that time when you subbed for us in Miss L's music class?"

me: "Yes, I do."

boy: "Are you Willa's mom?"

me: "nope."

boy: "Well, who's mom are you?"

me: "I'm nobody's mom."

boy: "Oh, because you're just a teenager, right?"

me: (laughing) "No, I'm not a teenager."

boy: (confused) "Oh. Well, you look like a teenager!"


Tuesday, October 24, 2006

and so it begins...

... audition season, that is. I was in San Francisco this weekend for my Merola audition. Going to San Francisco for auditions is always lovely, because I can visit with my oldest and dearest friend S, her husband M, and their lovely toddler Ty. My favorite quote for the weekend, when I came downstairs in my audition outfit:

Ty: "Auntie Meliss (actually, he can't say L's yet, so it comes out, "Auntie Meyiss").
Me: "Yes, Ty?"
Ty: "Auntie Meyiss, you're pretty!"
Me: "Thank you, Ty!"
Ty: "I'm charming!"

Tee hee! I arrived in San Jose (such an easy airport!) on Friday morning, and spent the day hanging out. My audition was Saturday around noon. I started with Nicklausse and they asked for some of the Handel, presumably to see if my voice could move (Dopo Notte is filled with lots of coloratura). After listening to about half of the A section, Sheri Greenawald said, "Thanks, that's exactly what we wanted to hear!" We chatted for a minute on the way out, and that was it. Easy! Later that evening, I called the auditions hotline to find my name on the list of finalists. Yay! So, I got to sing again on Sunday. At the finals, the audition panel chooses what they would like to hear, and the auditions last about 15 minutes instead of 5. They're doing La Cenerentola this summer, so I figured, especially since they wanted to hear coloratura the day before, that they would ask me to start with Non piu mesta, and I was right. As I walked in, they said, "Well, we figured we'd just get right down to it." We all laughed. Overall, I was really happy with it. The best part: even after just a week and a half of swimming, that phrase that I always worry about was no problem. I had lots of breath to spare. At the end, they asked for the Composer. Not an easy thing to sing after Rossini, as I'm sure they knew when asking me. It went fine. I had to use all my secret places in the piece to rest, breathe, swallow, and try to keep myself grounded. But I made it to the end. It was a little bit of a let down, to me anyway, after the Rossini, because in my warmup, Composer had felt really great, and in the audition, it felt like it was taking a lot of effort, but I think it was the best I could have sung it after Cenerentola. Then I sat down to talk with them for a few minutes. We chatted about repertoire they thought I should look at, and a little about my teacher, and then it was done! On to the next....

Sunday, October 15, 2006

getting in shape

"Non piu mesta", from La Cenerentola, is on my audition list for a few things this year. I feel great about it for the most part, but there's one phrase where I always worry about getting to the end breath-wise, and there's really no place to breathe in the middle of the crazy coloratura going on (mezzos, I'm sure you know the part I mean!). I always make it, but it causes a little bit of panic every time, and who needs that in the middle of an audition? This has given me the final incentive I needed to get in to better cardio-vascular shape this fall.

I used to have fantastic breath control. I was a flutist in high school and college, and I was also a swimmer, In fact I was captain of my high school swim team. I could swim, at one point, 2 lengths of the pool underwater without breathing. My breath control and lung capacity are still pretty good, but I definitely can't do that right now! So, last week I joined a US Masters swimteam at a pool close to my house. Workouts are 5 days a week from 7-8:00 a.m. Alec usually leaves for work at about 6:30, so the timing is perfect, and then I'm done earlier than I would usually even be awake enough to be doing anything other than drinking a cup of coffee.

I started on Wednesday, which was unfortunate in some ways because Wednesday, as it turns out, is distance freestyle day (which means longer sets without resting, and a total workout of between 1 1/2 and 2 miles). I was never a distance swimmer at the best of times (I have a strong kick, which makes me more of a sprinter), and let's just say that by the end of the workout I was tired!!!! But, I got some great reminders of why I love swimming. First, and this may sound weird to people who have never been swimmers, I smelled very faintly of chlorine for the rest of the day, and I really love that. It brings back lots of great memories. Secondly, walking out of the pool in the morning to a bright, sunny day, and smelling the fresh air knowing that I had challenged myself (and survived) felt fantastic. Thirdly, I am one of the younger people there. Lots of the women have children in high school, and they are all amazing, dedicated, and in great shape. One of them asked me how old I was and when I told her, she said, "Oh, you're just a baby!" I'll take it! But most importantly, in the pool, I had a moment where I had a glimpse of what it felt like to be really in shape. I felt a very physical sensation that reminded me of how amazing it feels to be really strong. So, even though the first workout kicked me right in the butt, I made it back for Thursday and Friday, and it got a little easier every time. I can't make it tomorrow morning, but Tuesday I intend to be back in the pool!

Friday, October 13, 2006

long time no blog!

Lots has been going on, and there's plenty to write about. The side effect of this, of course, is that there's no time to write about any of it. Here's a little update.

A couple weeks ago I sang in the Sun Valley Opera competition (which, interestingly, takes place in Seattle). There were seven finalists from various places around the country. I am not at all sure that competitions are for me. They seem so contrived. I have a hard time putting an art form in a competitive format like that, and the idea of judging voices, particularly when there's no role or anything in question as a result, just seems a little weird to me. However, it's another opportunity to sing, and while I still fall within the age limit for most of them, I'm trying to give them a chance. This was a good way to start, as the competition took place in a church where I sang as a soloist for six years, and where I still teach piano lessons twice a week. I felt very at home. It was a particularly interesting competition in that the first round consisted of each of us singing an aria, and in the second round we were all required to sing a musical theater piece. Having started singing late, I never did any musical theater in high school or anything, so this was a totally foreign concept to me. I chose "Bill" from Showboat, because I've always loved that song, and hey, when am I ever going to have a chance to sing it, right? It was actually really fun. In the first round, I sang Nicklausse's aria Vois sous l'archet fremissant, which is my starter in most auditions nowadays. Apparently, the judges liked it -- I got third place! More importantly, I learned a couple of things. There's a universal truth of singing that we all know on some level, but which many of us (well, certainly me, anyway) seem to have to learn the hard way: sing what you sing best. period. I'm finally over feeling like I have to sing something that shows everything plus the kitchen sink in one (usually long and showy) piece. Nicklausse shows what my voice sounds like. Lots of great, rich middle with a nice high note at the end. The thing I took away from the competition is that I now feel totally comfortable starting with that piece in any situation. I have lots of showy coloratura (Rossini and Handel) on my list, and some more difficult pieces musically and range-wise (Meg from Little Women and Komponist), and they'll ask for what they want to hear. All told, a valuable competition experience. Who knows? I might do a few more.

In other news, I finished all my apprenticeship and young artist program applications yesterday and put them in the mail. It feels, even more than in past years, like a huge weight has been lifted. I got them all done in plenty of time, but being gone for the first half of September really screwed up my normal timeline, and I've felt totally panicked and stressed about getting them all done. Luckily, I recorded a good demo this summer, so that part (usually the most stressful for me) was easy this time. We'll see what happens. Probably due to the fact that I have such a busy schedule this year (and maybe because I continue to feel more and more comfortable with my voice), audition season seems like less of a big deal than usual. Just another job to do. I think that's a good sign.

In the last couple weeks, I've been doing something new singing-wise. Seattle has a large (and growing) recording industry, mostly for film soundtracks, trailers, and video games. Often these pieces involve not only an orchestra but a chorus as well, and I've been doing lots of sessions lately. It's been really fun. Generally the orchestra records during the day, and the chorus (of between 20 and 40 professional singers) records at night. The music is your typical action-movie stuff -- a lot of it sounds like Carmina Burana, complete with fake latin. :) It's good for the sight-reading skills, good money, and it's been good to see some old friends and meet some new colleagues. However, it's also long hours -- last week we had three nights in a row, two from 8:00-midnight, and one from 8:00-1:30 in the morning. Not good if you have anything to do the next day! I'm not complaining, though. The recording engineers were there from 9:00 a.m. all of those days! And, one of the singers in the choir is a morning news anchor for a local television station, and had to be at work at 4:00 a.m.! Sheesh!

We just started music rehearsals for Hoffmann, and I think it's going to be a good show. Performances aren't until Thanksgiving weekend, and we have 5 or 6 music rehearsals before staging starts -- a nice luxury, for sure! One disappointment -- my audition aria isn't in the version that we're doing. Oh, well. Such is life. :)

Finally, I was just offered a new gig for the spring -- singing Rosina in a school-tour adaptation of Barber of Seville. I'm excited about it. Rossini is something I hope to sing a lot more of in my career, and this seems like the perfect way to ease in to it. If I can sing "Una voce poco fa" (or whatever it will be in the English translation) three times a day, starting at 8:00 in the morning, then I think I'll feel comfortable singing Rosina or Angelina anywhere, any time. Actually, now that I've written it, it doesn't really sound like "easing in to it" at all, does it? More like throwing myself in to it!

So that's what I've been up to for the last couple weeks! The result of being so busy (well, that and the fact that I hate to clean) is that both the apartment and my car are a horrible mess at the moment, so I'm happy to have the day off to get organized. Happy weekend, everyone!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


My younger piano students (mostly girls, between the ages of 5 and 10) all receive a sticker at the end of each lesson. I keep a large assortment, and they use them to decorate their lesson books. I must say, this is not entirely selfless on my part -- I get at least as much amusement out of it as they do.

My first lesson on Mondays is with R, a 5-year old blond princess with one of those high, squeaky voices that only a 5-year old blond princess can have. Her parents are from South Africa, and though she has lived here most of her life, she still has a very strong (and adorable) South-African accent, probably due to the fact that she goes to a French-speaking school and doesn't watch much tv, so the only English she really hears on a regular basis is from her parents, who also have accents. In any case, she chooses her stickers in pairs, always with the following week in mind, and the pattern on the cover of her book is completely symmetrical in a way I didn't even know kindergartners were capable of. Two pink fairies in the top corners, two bumblebees in the bottom corners. A tropical fish dead center, and two sparkly butterflies evenly spaced on either side of him. She's very serious about choosing. For example, with the sparkly butterflies (one of which she chose yesterday), she carefully examined each one on the sheet to find one who's color and size closely matched the one she already had, then carefully placed it at a slight angle on the book to create a perfect mirror image.

Next I have E and T, two friends who both have their lessons at E's house every week. E is a year older and usually goes first. She is a very grown-up 3rd grader now, and has been taking lessons quite a bit longer than T, who just started 2nd grade. I often have to subtly and gently remind E that T doesn't need her extremely helpful hints and advice during her lesson. Both of the girls have sticker collections, so they take their stickers and save them to use in art projects or other books later on instead of putting them on their piano books. Not surprisingly, T watches carefully to see what sticker E has chosen and then often chooses the same kind. :)

I buy most of my stickers from the same drugstore, and lots of them are a brand called "Stickeroni," where each sheet has a "bonus" sticker on the bottom left hand corner of a piece of macaroni with arms and legs that somehow matches the theme of the stickers (on the butterfly stickers, the macaroni has a little butterfly net, and on the tropical fish, the macaroni has a scuba mask). A, who comes on Wednesdays, has almost exclusively these macaroni stickers on her book, and is always slightly disappointed if I'm out of them. If macaroni is not an option, she tends to choose small stickers (sea shells or little hearts or stars), which will decorate her book without detracting from her little macaroni family, which takes center stage.

K, my only boy right now, likes to put his stickers on the inside cover of his book, and goes in phases. First, he liked fish, then frogs, and lately he's very in to Sponge Bob Squarepants. Every week, he counts the stickers to see how many lessons he has had in this book, then counts the number of songs left to try to determine how many stickers he will have before he moves on to the next level.

O and S are second-graders and friends who come back to back on Thursdays. They like to spread out all the sheets on the piano bench, so as not to miss any great stickers that might be hiding. Then, they look at their books to see if there are any they don't have yet. Then, they pick the "cutest one." O's little sister, who is 4 and doesn't take piano (yet), often stands quietly nearby and watches, hoping to get a sticker, too. (she usually does -- I'm a softie, what can I say?)

T is the oldest of the bunch (10, and just starting 5th grade), and has been my student since she was 4, when I had just finished graduate school. Needless to say, I have a tender spot in my heart for her, having watched her grow up and progress over the years. She is getting more advanced now, and is no longer using method books, but instead has several books of piano literature and theory, which are decorated with well thought-out scenes. A frog is playing the piano while Spongebob sits on it, singing. A school of fish is swimming through the under-water picture on the front of her theory book, and a family of monkeys is tumbling around through the title of her piano book. Several butterflies are floating in a group, and two fairies are having a conversation over a cup of tea.

Oh, yeah, and occasionally we play the piano, too. :)

Monday, September 18, 2006

a good reminder

I feel almost caught up with the things that piled up while I was away, and fall is in full swing. I started teaching my piano students last week, though this was the first day I saw my Monday students, as I didn't get home until last Monday evening. Most of my students are young beginners, between the ages of 5 and 8, and Mondays are no exception. I like working with the young ones. I seem to have a good rapport with them, and they, for the most part, are happy to be taking lessons and come excited to learn and excited about music, which is really the most important thing to me. However, my last lesson on Mondays this year is a high school student. She took lessons with me for about 6 months a couple of years ago, and now she's back.

Two years ago, she was thirteen years old, and had just moved to Seattle from a suburb where she had been living with her mom. I don't know any details, but I got the impression that the living situation was not ideal, and she and her brother had moved to the city to live with their dad, a single parent. She was starting high school a year early, and in a much more urban environment than she was used to. When I first met her, she was painfully shy, withdrawn, totally uncomfortable in her body, and seemed to be very unhappy. She would occasionally cry in her lessons, not because she was frustrated, but (I think) because music was giving her an outlet that she wasn't getting anywhere else. She loved to play all kinds of music, especially Chopin, and also played the cello. At the end of the school year, she stopped taking lessons, a combination of financial and time reasons, I think, but really wanted to keep playing, so I made her a bunch of photocopies of things that appealed to her from my collection and sent her on her way. I've often thought about her, wondering how she was doing.

About six weeks ago, she called me and wanted to schedule lessons for the fall. Her grandmother had paid for several months of lessons for her birthday. Our first lesson was today. I arrived at her house this afternoon, and the door flew open to reveal a lovely, happy, and confident young woman who was absolutely beaming at the prospect of a piano lesson. She was articulate and well-adjusted and seemed totally comfortable with herself. She had learned several pieces on her own, and was completely excited to get feedback on them and make them better. And, she had made a (long) list of pieces that she wants to learn. I have most of them at home and will bring them next time.

Even now, hours later, I am close to tears thinking about it. Every now and then I'm reminded that the healing and transformative powers of music go so far beyond what I can imagine, and that's why I teach and perform. A good thing to be reminded of at the start of a new year.

Monday, September 11, 2006

all done!

I arrived home from Union this evening -- our final concert (a 9/11 memorial this afternoon) was a success and a great way to end the festival. I've been asked to come back for their Oktoberfest next month for some German lied recitals. It's exciting -- I love giving recitals, and try to do at least one or two a year. Usually, though, I have to put them on myself (finding musicians, choosing music, printing programs and program notes, making translations, finding a space -- it's fun, but quite a job!) and having someone else organizing (and paying me to sing!) will be a real treat.

I'm in that odd space that I often find myself in when coming back from a gig or audition trip. This festival, like many gigs, was an intense experience -- a beautiful setting, lots of great music-making, getting to know some fantastic new friends and colleagues and catching up with old ones. Even though I was only two hours away from home, I've felt a million miles away from "real life," and it's a bit disconcerting being back. Usually, I'm good about keeping up with things while I'm away, and it was my intention to be good about it this time as well. I was pretty successful for the first few days, but I must admit I got caught up in just being in such a lovely place surrounded by lovely people, and as the rehearsals and performances got in to full swing, things started piling up. As a result, I have lots of phone calls and emails to return, applications to finish, piles of music to learn (including some new German lieder -- exciting!), and a messy office to get organized. I'm sure that all this, along with some yoga and meditation, will help me feel grounded again. I find that I always come back from traveling feeling like things have been stirred up inside of me, and often this leads to great periods of introspection and growth as things settle back in new ways, enriched by new experiences. But for tonight anyway, I'll allow myself to relax in front of the tv and veg out a little.

Thursday, September 7, 2006

Burton Music Camp

Those of you who have been reading for a while know that I have spent many a July at camp. Alec and I are one of seven married couples who met working there, and it has meaningful in my life in so many ways. Before I went for the first time as a painfully shy 10-year-old camper, I felt like being involved in music at the level I was made me a freak. I had never been around other kids who practiced their instruments, or who wanted to be musicians or music teachers. I worked there from the ages of 17 to 29, and I each summer I saw shy kids who were probably seen as "geeks" in their regular lives making friends and being accepted by their peers, and coming out of their shells in so many wonderful ways. It has changed thousands of kids' lives for the better. I owe so much to my time spent there. In fact, when I was first thinking about trying singing, I was completely terrified of singing alone in front of people. Hiding behind a giant grand piano is completely different than standing alone, facing your audience head on. That summer, I was asked to teach a section of the choir at camp, which required me to sing in front of lots of people everyday. It stretched my boundaries, and by the end of the summer I had no trepidation about it at all. I started taking voice lessons shortly thereafter. Camp has been a constant through the years of my life that were the most filled with change and uncertainty.

Barbara and Neal Porter started Burton Music Camp 34 years ago, and everything about it was Neal's brainchild. His philosophy of a non-competitive, accepting musical atmosphere and individualized attention from trained music educators is unparalleled in any music camp I have seen elsewhere. For all 34 years, they have had an agreement with the same site. Last week, that site decided not to renew the Porters' contract to run music camp there. On Tuesday, I helped them move their music library, instruments, and other things off the site and in to their basement. I am grieving as surely as if I had lost a loved one, and I'm certainly not the only one. I am alternately furious and incredibly sad, and I've found myself bursting in to tears at the drop of a hat for the last few days. Perhaps the biggest slap in the face is that the site intends to run music camp, using the Porters' camp as a model, under the same name, without them. This is their legal right, as the Porters worked, technically, as employees of the camp, never filing for non-profit status of their own. However, it is heart-breaking, especially because nobody at the site knows the first thing about running a music camp. As for the Porters, they are looking for another site, which is a challenge to say the least, but I have to believe that what they have worked for is too special for it not to live on, and there is a perfect site out there somewhere for them. Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers, and if you know of any great camps in Washington or Oregon, pass on the word!

Monday, September 4, 2006


We've finished our first week in Union, and the festival continues to go well. One of my favorite parts of participating in music festivals as opposed to individual productions is the opportunity to go to lots of great concerts given by friends and colleagues. This particular festival has lots of creative programming, and this week I've heard pieces by Dominick Argento, John Cage, Lou Harrison, Henry Cowell, Alan Hovahness, and Lee Hoiby, among others, along with lots of Copland. Among my favorites this week has been the performances of two 1-person chamber operas. The first, Lee Hoiby's Bon Appetit! is written for mezzo-soprano and chamber orchestra, and is taken almost verbatim from an episode of Julia Child's tv show, where she's making a chocolate cake. It's hilarious, and definitely a role I'd love to do someday. It may be at least a couple of years before I'd make a believable Julia Child, though. The second, Dominick Argento's A Waterbird Talk, is based on a story by Anton Chekhov, and is written for solo baritone and chamber orchestra. A man is giving a talk on waterbirds in his living room, and over the course of the talk we gain insights in to his life, specifically his relationship with his verbally abusive wife. Baritone Robert Orth has been here performing, and I've so enjoyed getting to know him and watching him onstage. His performance is hysterically funny and completely heart-wrenching at the same time. He's totally captivating onstage, and it's wonderful to get to watch someone like that in such an intimate setting (the hall seats about 80 people). I feel like I'm learning a lot everytime I see him. The festival kicked off with a vocal recital by the two opera artists, and he delivered the funniest rendition of Copland's I Bought Me a Cat that I've ever seen. In addition, he's kept us entertained at meals all week (a read of his dark bio will give you some insight in to his sense of humor).

We get a few days off now until next weekend's concerts start, so I'm headed home to relax -- lots has been happening this week, both at the festival and in the rest of life, and I'm exhausted. A visit home to see my husband and kitty will definitely do me good. :)

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

open rehearsal

The performances at the Baroque Opera workshop went very well -- I've been offered 3 gigs for next season as a result of my time there, so it was certainly a success in that department. :) I loved singing Dido and got lots of great compliments on my performance -- I hope to have the opportunity to sing the whole role sometime soon!

After a celebration with my colleagues on Sunday night, I went home to pack, and left for Union at 5:30 a.m. (yikes!) on Monday morning. Since then, we've been going full steam with rehearsals and final preparations for the concerts, which begin tonight (though my first performance isn't until Friday). Overall, I'm extremely impressed with how the festival is being run. The level of musicianship is extremely high all-around, and we're being very well taken care of. (I'll post pictures as soon as I have time to take some!)

Last night, the choir had a rehearsal for our final concert (a memorial concert on September 11th). The rehearsal was held at the local high school auditorium, and was open to the public. It was a brilliant idea on the part of the administrators. For the festival, it was great free publicity. There are 2 or 3 of these open rehearsals this week, and apparently ticket sales have gone through the roof as a result, which is fantastic. For the people who came, it was a chance to see the work in progress (we've hardly rehearsed this concert at all, so it was really still in progress!), and there was a question and answer period and a chance for a meet-and-greet afterward, which was lovely. In addition, each of the open rehearsals are benefitting a different non-profit in the community. Last night, Mason County Literacy was there, and they collected donations and had sign-up sheets for volunteers. So, it was great for the community as well. The community seems to be very involved in the festival -- in fact, 100% of the funding for the festival came from residents of Union and the surrounding area. Amazing.

When I have time to think about it, I have lots of applications to fill out for audition season this year, but I need a couple days to settle in to a routine here before I dig in. Now, off to dinner and tonight's concert....

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

changing gears

This week has been a lesson for me in changing gears quickly, both in a larger sense (changing between opera and choral singing, and between music and the rest of life) and in the context of the workshop. I'm in three scenes this week, and they couldn't be more different. In Poppea, I'm playing two characters: Valetto and Nutrice. Valetto is a horny teenaged boy (think Cherubino). I'm singing a scene with the beautiful young Damigella, where I spend most of my time chasing her around the room. I've done the scene before, with the same partner, so putting it together was quick and easy, but we've had lots of help this week from our director Anna, who is a Baroque dance expert and choreographer, and the scene has really come to life. It ends with a beautiful duet, and the two of us being discovered in a compromising position and running from the room.

Nutrice is another story entirely. This is the role I will be playing in the full production of Poppea next February, so I was excited to get to work. The initial reaction from Stephen was that the role was too low for me, and he was right. The entirety of the role never goes above an a in the staff, and we're performing at A=415 this week (a full half-step lower than A=440, the modern accepted pitch). My scene happens with my queen, Ottavia, just after her gorgeous lament, "Disprezzata regina...". Stephen came up with a brilliant solution -- all of my lines have been transposed up a 5th, which puts the whole role in a great range for me and still works with Ottavia's part. This is one of the last scenes to be staged, and we had our first music and staging rehearsals on it today. After our initial run-through, Stephen asked if I would be willing to try it in more of a character voice. Of course I was willing to try, though I've never really done anything like that before, and I wasn't sure if I could. Apparently I can! I opened my mouth, and out came this nasal, cackling sound. Suddenly, the scene (which I had struggled a little with dramatically) made perfect sense to me, and judging by the reactions of the instrumentalists in the room, I think it was a success! The staging is equally fun, and I'm really looking forward to it.

In the third scene I play Dido, the widowed, mourning queen of Carthage. I'm falling in love with Aeneas, a handsome Trojan prince, much to the delight of of my friend and confidante Belinda and my ladies in waiting. I'm resisting my own feelings, out of grief and fidelity for my dead husband. A gorgeous lament, and I've been having so much fun playing her this week.

Whew! I'm exhausted just writing about it. I have this afternoon and evening off, so I'm off to take a quick nap, do a little editing work, and spend the evening with my husband and a few friends. Tomorrow, it's back to final rehearsals before the performances this weekend, and then off to Union for two weeks of choral concerts. It will feel like a vacation, I think, after this week!

Sunday, August 20, 2006


One of the big reasons I was attracted to singing as opposed to my previous instrumental pursuits is the presence of text. The study of libretti, poetry, and languages is something I'm passionate about. This week, with my days being filled with Baroque opera scenes and my evenings with American choral music, text is at the forefront of my mind. Text and language is central to Baroque opera in a way which is obscured as the art form developed more in to the aria-centric form of the 19th century. Not that it's not important in Puccini or Bizet or Strauss, but the purity of it's importance is much more evident in Monteverdi or Purcell, and (for me at least) coming back to this kind of music is a great reminder of this, and something I take with me as I journey back in to later operas (like the Offenbach I'll be spending a lot of time on this fall).

I feel so lucky to be working again this week with Stephen Stubbs, who is completely brilliant at seeing the unification of music and text, and how they highlight each other, each raising the other to a new level. Truly a master teacher and musician.

Interesting things are happening this year. I've already been offered a gig for next spring -- a role in Caccini's Ruggiero with the Northwest Puppet Center (acb recently talked about how fun this was -- I'm really excited to be involved!) Also, my role in Poppea might be changing somewhat, but more on that as details are solidified....

what, you mean people are reading this thing?

The Accademia started a couple days ago, and we're now in full swing of lectures and rehearsals. On the first day, three separate people (one of whom I knew from last year, two of whom I had never met) and said, "I read your blog!" It's such a strange experience. I know that people are reading, as my counter ticks a little higher every day and occasionally you leave comments, but to meet other people "in the business" who already know me through this blog is bizarre -- and fun! :)

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

this is why it's the best coffee table book ever...

a couple of quotes from Harry Partch...

at no time are the players of my instruments to be unaware that they are onstage, in the act. There can be no humdrum playing of notes, in the bored belief that because they are "good" musicians their performance is ipso facto "masterly." When a player fails to take full advantage of his role in a visual or acting sense, he is muffing his part - in my terms - as thoroughly as if he bungled
every note in the score.

To John Cage: I believe in many things: in an intonation as just as I am capable of making it, in musical instruments on stage, dynamic in form, visually exciting. I believe in dramatic lighting, replete with gels, to enhance them; in musicians who are total constituents of the moment, irreplaceable, who may sing, shout, whistle, stamp their feet; in players who are in costume, perhaps half-naked, or with fantastic headpieces, but certainly in some visual form that will remove them from the limbo of the pedestrian.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Glenn Gould

Alec and I celebrated our third anniversary last week. To celebrate, we took a weekend away this weekend. Saturday, we went to Port Townsend to visit my brother- and sister-in-law (and neice and nephew, of course), and spend some money in the beautiful new location of their record store. Among many other things, we bought what is possibly the best coffe table book ever, and a cd set of Glenn Gould playing Bach's Goldberg Variations (one recording from 1955, and one from 1981). I've been spending quite a bit of time listening this week -- two completely different interpretations, but I find what I'm taking away from it is how beneficial it is to listen to now as a singer as well as a pianist. The lyrical qualities of his playing (much more than his singing in the background!) are so astonishingly beautiful. I'll be listening as I'm working or washing the dishes, and suddenly I'll be totally absorbed in the beauty of a single phrase, and think, "Aha! That's how I should shape that phrase in the Agnus Dei of the B Minor Mass, or the opening of Es ist vollbracht!" His runs are almost impossibly fast, but I've learned things there, as well. In the 1955 version, they're totally, almost mechanically, even in tempo and tone, which is amazing to listen to (and sometimes makes me giggle!). In the 1981 version, while they're equally fast, and sometimes even a little faster, there's something a little more human about them -- a softer attack, a subtle shaping of the phrase. I don't mean to say that they were any less technically perfect, but there was something a little more approachable about them. Gorgeous!

Oh! The rest of the weekend! On Saturday night, I was surprised by a night in a fancy hotel in downtown Seattle, and an evening at Jazz Alley to see Ahmad Jamal, followed by brunch and Pike Place Market on Sunday morning. Aaaahhhhh..... :)


As I sat through my fourth rehearsal so far this week for my upcoming choral gig, a few thoughts ran through my head. First, singing choral music is good for my soul. There's something so fulfilling about communal music-making, and this is an exceptionally good group of choral singers, which makes it even more satisfying. Secondly, choral singing is good for my sight-singing skills! I'm a good sight reader. I make part of my living by teaching sight-singing. In fact, in most musical situations I've been in in my life, I'm one of the better sight readers in the room. My piano teacher in grad school always said that the best way to become a better reader is to play duets with someone who reads as well or slightly better than you, and I believe the same is true about singing. This group reads complicated music the first time through without (or with very little) help from the piano, with dynamics, phrasing, and all the other markings in the score. I'm keeping up, but it's definitely keeping me on my toes, which is really exciting. I'm finding that three-hour rehearsals fly by. It helps, as well, that we're singing great music. My favorite, so far, is Samuel Barber's Reincarnations, three gorgeous a cappella pieces on Irish poetry. Completely sumptuous!

Now, I have a couple days off from rehearsals to learn the opening scene from Dido and Aeneas and a scene from Poppea for the Baroque Opera workshop next week. Fun!

Thursday, August 3, 2006


I went to the dress rehearsal of Rosenkavalier at Seattle Opera last night. I have to say, this might be my favorite Seattle Opera production of all time. Carol Vaness' performance as the Marschallin was truly unforgettable -- so powerful and human. And Alice Coote was completely fabulous as Octavian. Occasionally, a performance will touch me so deeply that it stays with me long after the curtain closes. I feel like I've been walking around in a daze all day. :) If you're in town, don't miss it!

Tuesday, August 1, 2006


Sorry for the long silence! Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been working on a demo recording. For the first time, I hired a recording engineer and found a great space, and took a couple of days to record, and a few more to listen and work with the engineer to do some (very minor) edits. Up until now, I’ve headed to a local church with my mini-disc recorder every time I needed an aria or two for an application or audition. Partly, this is because my voice has been changing so rapidly that I have been reluctant to make anything too permanent, and partly it’s been the fact that I really don’t love listening to myself on recording, and I knew the amount of listening that would go in to getting a result I was happy with. Now, I feel like my voice is settling a little, and I wanted to have 7 or 8 tracks that I could mix and match for different purposes. I’m really happy with the results, and it’s a relief to know I won’t have to spend a lot of time recording for a year or so.

I decided on four arias – Nicklausse’s violin aria from Hoffmann, der Komponist, “Dopo Notte” from Handel’s Ariodante, and “Things Change, Jo” from Little Women. No Mozart, I know. Right now, it’s just not what feels best for me, and Handel is a good substitute for most purposes. For orchestral/oratorio stuff, I have a good recording of the B Minor Mass I did in June, and I recorded “Es ist vollbracht” from the St. John Passion and one of the Wesendoncklieder. I also recorded a few art songs, including one from Ravel’s Histoires Naturelles and one from Britten’s A Charm of Lullabies. It’s enough variety to cover everything I want to apply to this year, and a good mix of things to send to conductors. My grandparents will enjoy it, as well…. :) I’ve already sent out copies in various forms for a few competitions and a possible gig next season – I’ll keep everyone posted as details arise.

The next step is to figure out how to post some samples on my website – I’m working on it, and I’ll post a link here when I have it all done. I have plenty to keep me busy in the meantime, though – 4 full concerts of American choral pieces to learn in the next week, as well as the Dido scenes for the Baroque opera workshop and Nicklausse.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

a breakthrough!

The most common comment I get at auditions, particularly since I've been studying with my new teacher, is "Wow, you have such an easy top!" While I would agree that my top is now blended with the rest of my voice, and very consistent, it has never felt what I would consider to be "easy." Particularly in the range of A-flat, A, and B-flat, the notes before my very top notes (which are easy, though people rarely get to hear them), things have always felt somewhat tenuous. I'm glad that they haven't been sounding that way, but I've always known that they could be better.

I had my first lesson in about 5 weeks on Tuesday. J has been out of town singing some fabulous concerts. The timing was good, as I'm getting ready to do some recording next week, and some of the slightly heavier rep we've been playing with still wasn't feeling great. I've recently pulled out Komponist for the first time in about a year. I had put it away, thinking it was just too heavy, but J thought it should go back on my list, so I've been working on it again. It's a short role -- only about half an hour or so at the beginning of the opera, but he's pretty chatty in that half hour, and the aria comes right at the end of his part. The last page and a half sits right in those notes I've been worried about, with a few B-flats (including a big one at the end), and a huge, sustained A-flat and A which come in rapid succession. I've tried lots of different tricks on those notes, and somehow I always felt tired at the end, and they weren't all I hoped they would be. On Tuesday, as we were working through the last section, J said, "drop your jaw a little there." Not earth-shattering advice, I know, and certainly, dropping my jaw was something I had tried before. But somehow, in combination with the other things we’ve been working on, something clicked. I sang the final B-flat and burst out laughing. It was clear, full, had lots of vibrato, and EASY!!! Once I sang through the whole aria with these new pointers in mind, I found that it was no problem to get all the way through, even though I had been singing for over an hour straight and my voice was starting to get a little tired. J was laughing too. “So, you mean, something like that?” I asked. Since then, none of those notes have been a problem, and now I feel like they’ve been sufficiently ingrained in my muscle memory to be consistently there. How exciting!

In other news, I’ve gotten my Baroque Opera assignments, which include Dido in a couple scenes from Dido and Aeneas. I can’t wait to dig in, but it will probably wait until after my recording sessions this week.

Sunday, July 9, 2006

coming home to something new...

I got a call yesterday for a great gig. I’ll be singing in a 16-voice, professional chamber choir at the Annas Bay Music Festival, which takes place in Union, Washington. It’s new this year, and I’m not sure where the funding is coming from, but it must be coming from somewhere, because the pay is fantastic, and we, along with the chamber orchestra, will be staying and eating here. It seems as though we will be extremely well pampered! I haven’t done any choral singing for about 3 years now, and I feel like I’m coming home, in a way. Singing in small groups like this one was where I first fell in love with singing, and where I first knew that this was what I wanted to do. While everyone involved has worked extensively as a soloist, there’s something about working together in a small group that’s extremely appealing. Blending together, becoming in tune with one another in terms of dynamics and breathing, and making music as a unified body is extremely satisfying and challenging, in a different way than singing in front of a group or in a costume onstage. I have several friends and colleagues who will be involved, so it should be a great experience personally and musically!

Friday, June 30, 2006

hidden talents

Well, I returned from Wisconsin last week and jumped right in to final rehearsals for a show. A friend and colleague, JW, has started a new opera company here in Seattle, and tonight was the first performance of a great double bill of Menotti operas: the haunting, disturbing The Medium, and the silly, hilarious Amelia goes to the Ball. I had two small roles, singing the 2nd chambermaid in Amelia and covering Mrs. Nolan in The Medium, so I've had lots of time to sit and observe in rehearsals. J has found his calling, I think. He has a real knack for all the tasks of putting together a cast and production, things that many other people (myself included) would find intimidating, tedious, or overwhelming. He has a fantastic knowledge of repertoire and voices, and chose great pieces and a great cast. He took care of so many little details, and managed to get almost a full house tonight, no small feat for a couple of fairly dissonant, twentieth century operas on a gorgeous Seattle summer evening. He also hired a stage director with lots of acting experience, who has never directed before, and took on the job with great aplomb, and has done an absolutely fantastic job. It was no easy task for one person to simultaneously stage two such completely different pieces, and his ideas have facilitated some powerful, moving, witty, and hilarious performances.

Amelia culminates with the heroine whacking her husband in the head with a vase designed, of course, to shatter impressively onstage. Tonight, someone accidentally hit it and it broke all over the table. The director didn't miss a beat. In an instant he was backstage with tomorrow night's vase and some flowers that had been given to the stage manager before the show, cutting them to the right length and arranging them deftly in to a lovely display. Then, he grabbed the other chambermaid, and the two of them waited by the entrance for the perfect musical moment (he knows, apparently, the entire score by heart), at which point he sent her scurrying on to clean up the mess and freshen the flowers. That's the kind of person I want around in an emergency!

There's another performance on Saturday, for those of you in Seattle -- check it out if you're around!

Friday, June 16, 2006

on vacation...

I'm currently in Wisconsin, with my family, visiting my grandparents and other relatives for Father's Day. I don't get out here nearly as often as I'd like, and I'm filled with wonder at rediscovering the blessings and challenges of traveling with my family and of large and extended clans like ours. (My mom has 10 siblings and my dad has two, all married with children, and some of those with children of their own already. Almost all of them live in Wisconsin.) I'll be back on Tuesday and will post more then, but I will say that I've had time in the last few days to highlight my Hoffmann score (for a Nicklausse I'll be doing in the fall), schedule a couple auditions, and buy two of the most gorgeous gowns I've ever tried on. At 40% off, no less! More later -- Happy Father's Day, everybody!

Monday, June 12, 2006

I heart Bach

On Saturday night, I sang in my first B Minor Mass. I’ve been absolutely awestruck, in the last couple of weeks as I’ve prepared for this performance, by the beauty of this music and how grateful I feel to be a part of it. I sang both the alto and second soprano solos, which is apparently done a lot, since they’re basically in the same range and don’t ever sing at the same time. This makes me a busy girl during the Mass – 3 arias and 2 duets. Certainly more than the alto usually has to do in an oratorio performance! Among them are some of the most gorgeous pieces I’ve ever had the privilege to sing, and I was honored to have the opportunity to perform them. The concert, to top it all off, was in a stunningly beautiful church, built at the turn of the century with amazing exposed brick and wood work. A perfect setting.

I recently began attending classes at a new yoga studio. In one of my classes this week, the teacher had us bring in journals and encouraged us to stop at any time and write down our thoughts. As we were flowing through asanas, she would read passages to inspire us. The focus of that day was finding the truth within us, what we wanted, or were meant, to do with our lives, at our core. And she read some very inspiring passages from various spiritual leaders and philosophers. But what spoke to me most happened while she wasn’t reading. There was some music playing quietly in the studio, and when she wasn’t speaking to us, she was quietly (and probably sub-consciously) singing along. It was so obvious that singing was totally natural to her – and while she sang, her whole body seemed to light up. It was a powerful reminder to me of why I do what I do – I sing because that’s who I am. I’ve had piles of music to learn in the past few months, and with my schedule being what it was, lots of it had to be learned quickly and often at the last minute. It all got learned, but it has at times felt like a bit of a chore. Singing in the B Minor Mass was great because I knew most of the pieces already, so singing them as part of the context of the whole work was like coming full circle.

Even though I was relatively busy during the performance, I still had lots of time to just sit in front of the orchestra and listen. In the second half of the work, I had a duet close to the beginning, and then the Agnus Dei, at the very end of the entire piece. I gave myself time to be aware of my body, mind, and spirit, and to offer gratitude for my voice and the opportunity to work with other great musicians, performing this amazing music. In retrospect, it raised the evening for me from a great performance to an overall wonderful and powerful experience. Definitely something I want to try to keep in mind as I move on to the next performance!

Friday, June 9, 2006

some thoughts on art and education

It’s the end of the school year. Somehow, though I’m happy to have free time again, and to be able to sleep in a little, I am not feeling the giddiness I expected to feel. I have mixed feelings about it – I will miss the kids terribly, I will miss the staff, I will miss the daily opportunities to teach and learn that presented themselves to me in the classroom and out.

Today were the end-of-year faculty meetings, and the atmosphere, at least in the fine/performing arts department, were a little tense, as all departments had received a mandate to provide data demonstrating the success of their program, including test scores, grades, and (the real kicker) the percentage of kids who go on to major in the fields related to the department. This made everyone immediately defensive. First, fine and performing arts do not lend themselves well to this kind of data – there are no exams to speak of, nor do the teachers want to create an environment of competition and judgement among the students. While there have been several students in the last few years who went on to major in the arts or related fields, none of us felt this was a valid way of evaluating the success of the program, nor did we feel that a small number in that category diminished the validity or importance of the program. I did not participate in the music program at my high school in my senior year because I wanted to take Physics and French IV. I excelled in math and science and was a national merit scholar, and an academic decathlon state champion and captain of the swim team, and many fellow musicians I know have similar academic records. I am lucky in my life to know many people who excel in the fields of math and science, and I have to say that the ones who are most successful are people who are also successful at music and/or visual arts and/or languages and/or writing. One of the most gifted medical students I know, one of two recipients of a highly competitive full scholarship to one of the nation’s top institutions, came to the program after completing a master’s degree in tuba performance from one of the country’s top music programs. I edit math text books with gifted mathematicians who also speak four languages, or are involved in other more “artistic” pursuits. Going further, I happened to sit next to Bill Gates at a play a couple seasons ago, and noticed him enjoying it whole-heartedly. Paul Allen opened a museum dedicated to the history of rock and roll here in Seattle, where he’s currently displaying his art collection, which could easily be displayed at the finest museums in the world. There are working opera singers with degrees in engineering, and I was at an opera workshop last summer where one of the participants was a family medicine practitioner. When will people see that educating and nourishing the whole person does not come at the cost of excellence in math and science and SAT scores, but rather that a holistic approach to education enhances all these things and creates a society where people end up in careers that fulfill them, whether that be working in a biology lab or being an accountant, or playing in a symphony orchestra or working as a stage manager? And beyond that, it creates a society where people value other people because they understand things beyond their own field, and appreciate the importance of art, and music, and engineering, and scientific research, in their communities.

The arts department at this school is really quite amazing for a school its size (450 kids spread out from grades 5-12). The drama productions are outstanding, the music groups provide terrific opportunities for kids, and the visual art I’ve seen blows my mind. In the end, my recommendation was that, instead of providing a sheet of paper with data, the arts department might be better served providing a cd-rom with clips of plays and musicals, recordings from concerts, and photos of artwork. And it would provide a format, if they chose, to also include the data that does exist, that kids involved in arts programs tend to be the most academically high-achieving, and have the highest test scores, and are more attractive to colleges because of their well-rounded interests. Just a thought.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


Thanks for the tag, acb, for my 100th post on this blog.

I am counting down the days, and practically the hours now, until the end of the school year, and looking forward to a summer with time for exercise, practice, meditation, and all the other things I’ve been sorely missing for the last few months.

I am not
looking forward to tackling the gigantic mess that is my apartment at the moment.

I want to know that I have done my absolute best in anything I have attempted.

I wish that I were always present enough to appreciate every moment.

I hate being stuck in traffic so horrible that it takes an hour and a quarter to travel a distance that should take 10 minutes, particularly when I have a middle school choir concert to conduct on the other side!

I love Seattle when the weather is starting to turn summery. Every time I step outside I am awestruck by the absolute beauty of this city and region.

I miss, sometimes, the time when I was just starting singing, when auditions were things I did for the experience of doing them, and I never worried about whether or not I would get a gig. What a great attitude to have in this business.

I fear becoming jaded in some way and losing the joy I get from singing along this crazy, winding path.

I hear the whir of the fan and the hum of the computer in my classroom -- blissful silence before the next class of the day.

I wonder
what my voice will sound like next week, next month, next year, as I’m making strides technically and musically.

I regret letting friendships slip away when distance or life interferes and makes things complicated.

I dance more rarely now than I’d like. Another way to use my time this summer.

I sing in my car on the way to work, lately to this album, and this one, oh, and this one and this one.

I cry with joy to see children making music or putting their absolute all in to anything, and almost always at movies. Especially this one.

I am not always (or ever) good at keeping my car clean, inside or out, particularly when I practically live in it as I have lately.

I make with my hands a kick-ass apple pie, and various knitting projects, when I have time. Wow, all that extra time this summer is filling up fast!

I write to clarify my thoughts, to understand myself better by taking a step back from situations, and to keep my grandma informed about what’s going on in my life. :)

I confuse Andy Garcia with Nicholas Cage, and Robert DeNiro with Dustin Hoffman. Don’t ask me why.

I need to learn the alto and soprano II solos in Bach’s B Minor Mass very quickly for a gig that recently came up.

I should compile a list of music to be working on this summer (after the B Minor Mass, of course), and get organized for an upcoming demo recording.

I started a diet 12 days ago. 7 pounds down, 23 to go. Ugh.

I finish almost every book I start, though I haven’t had time to start many lately.

I tag Gia-Gina.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

the world according to a 6-year old

One of my first-grade piano students came in to her lesson after my recital a couple weeks ago. I still had my dress on -- plain black, knee-length, with nude hose and black pumps.

Student: You're dressed all fancy today.
Me: Thank you. I had a recital this afternoon.
Student: And you're wearing make-up, which you almost never do.
Me: That's true.
Student: My mommy wears make-up every day.
Me: Yes, lots of women like to wear it everyday.
Student: She won't leave the house without it on. And she's always touching up her lipgloss and stuff. I think it's kinda weird.


...or, "why I shouldn't read that online forum."

As I was driving home from school a few days ago, I was listening to NPR. The were playing an interview with Daniel Gilbert, Harvard professor and author of this book. In it, he hypothesizes that we tend to overestimate the effects of both the happiest and least happy moments of our lives. Brides often can't recall many details about their wedding days a few months later, winning the lottery brings lots of responsibility and stress when one really starts thinking about what to do with her money, breaking up with that boyfriend turned out to be better for you than you realized at first, etc. He also says that we minimize the positive effects of happy events when we expect them or have explanations for them happening. For example, one who had a good audition for a company and then read an online forum everyday where second- or third-hand rumors were flying about from people hearing or waiting to hear from said company, might minimize his or her happiness when and if s/he were offered a role with that company. Conversely, reading about other people receiving rejections and then receiving one him/herself would not necessarily minimize the disappointment. Since there are no substantiated stories of anyone hearing about casting, one would be well advised to stop reading said online forum and put it out of his/her mind....

...hypothetically, of course.... :)

Monday, May 8, 2006


I always feel nostalgic in late spring. I’m not sure why. It probably has to do with the fact that, up until now, many of the major events in my life have happened in spring and summer – graduation from schools, international travel, my wedding, deciding that I wanted to sing, recitals, summer programs, moving to new places or moving home from them…. In any case, at this time of year, I often feel a need to reconnect with people from my past, ghosts whom I carry with me on this path.

It amazes me how easily that is often done in this day and age of technology. Anyone wanting to get in touch with me could do so within 20 seconds online. In fact, one friend from the past did just that last week, via this blog. Apparently I’m not the only one feeling a little nostalgic lately! I’m lucky this year – I’ll be visiting a few places from my past in the next month or so. This has inspired me. In the past week I’ve heard from 6 different “ghosts.” Some I haven’t seen or talked to in a few months or a few years. With one, it’s been a decade since we’ve been in touch. Nearly all of them I will see in the next couple of months. It’s so exciting to reconnect with people. For a little while, at least, these ghosts will become people to me again, and we will get to know each other, as these new versions of ourselves, musicians and artists, that we have become over the last few years. It is these connections with others that nourish and renew us, isn’t it? It’s a big part of why we’re here.

Friday, April 28, 2006

swimming through

There hasn't been much time to post this week, but lots to post about. 3 auditions, a recital, 3 concerts this weekend, and a great master class.... Lots of wonderful things are happening. Unfortunately, I'm too busy and stressed to really enjoy any of them. I feel like I'm swimming through molasses -- struggling as hard as I can just to get to the next thing, and there are so many things stacked up that there's no end in sight. But, I have a little break right now, and I'm hoping that the simple act of writing about them will help to clear my head, which feels crammed full at the moment.

In addition to the audition for the scholarship I was awarded last week, I also had auditions for 2 local companies over the weekend. Both went well. The first is doing a new opera over the summer. It seems like an interesting project -- the composer was present at the auditions and is flying out for the final week of rehearsals and writing a new chamber orchestration for the occasion. I was happy with the audition, and the committee really seemed to like what I did, but I'm fairly certain I won't be offered anything (i.e. I haven't heard anything yet, but know of some people who have received offers). The second was for Tacoma Opera, one of the larger small companies in the area. They still have one weekend of auditions left, so I know I won't be hearing anything for a while, but they do have a wonderful season for mezzos coming up -- Carmen and Beatrice and Benedict (Berlioz). I sang something from each at the audition, and both went well, though I think Berlioz is a little better fit for me, both physically and vocally. In any case, there are two mezzo roles (one big and one smaller) in each of the 2 operas, so I'm hopeful that something will work out. In the meantime, I hardly have time to think about it, which is probably a good thing.

Yesterday was the recital I mentioned in a previous post, for which I was preparing the Wesendoncklieder and Chansons de Bilitis. It went well, and was very well received. However, I didn't have time to prepare nearly as thoroughly as I would have liked. I used music, which was fine for the event in question (it was very casual), but I hate using music. Anything that interferes with direct communication of the music is extremely distracting to me, and a music stand between me and the audience, especially one that I need to look at while I'm singing, certainly interferes! I considered making some program changes and replacing the cycles with ones I've performed before, but in the end I decided that it would be better to just get these two cycles learned. I can always perform them again. And I will definitely do that -- I'm in love with both of those cycles! The Wagner are so lush and gorgeous, and the Debussy are so sensual and charming. I'm hoping to find some time in the fall for a full recital, but more on that later.

Meanwhile, the teaching year is reaching it's most hectic point, at least for performing arts teachers. My high school choirs have their concert tonight, and I haven't been so nervous for anything in years. The kids are prepared and I'm sure it will go fine, but conducting a concert of kids is totally out of my comfort zone. I know it's good for me, and I'm glad I'm doing it, but I'll breathe a sigh of relief tonight when it's over (and perhaps a celebratory martini will be in order, as well). The showcase class that I team-teach has their performance on Monday, but that's much less stressful for me -- I just have to sit behind the piano.

Speaking of sitting behind a piano, I'll be doing that at another concert this weekend -- I'm playing some orchestral piano parts in a local orchestra concert. The conductor is a friend and colleague, and he calls me whenever parts come up. I love it -- playing piano as part of an orchestra is a totally different experience than accompanying a singer or playing a sonata, or even playing chamber music. I love sitting in the middle of a large group of musicians, counting measures of rests, hearing the parts play off one another. It's another thing to do, but this one is a refreshing change.

Through everything this week, the recent tragedy at my alma mater has been constantly with me. I didn't know any of the five talented young singers (I graduated well before their time), but just knowing the school, the halls they walked down, the groups they sang with, the professors, the practice rooms, has made them feel close for some reason. It has affected me in ways I never would have imagined. My heart goes out to their families, friends, and the school that was their temporary home.

Friday, April 21, 2006


It's always nice to get little affirmations that we are headed in the right direction -- a compliment from a respected colleague, being offered a gig, touching someone at a performance. These things are important in all walks of life, of course, but particularly in the arts, where we are putting so much of ourselves in to our work, it's nice to know that people are appreciating it. On Wednesday I was awarded 1st place in a small scholarship competition here in Seattle. There weren't that many contestants, and the prize money is not huge (though it will pay for a few months worth of lessons, which is wonderful), but it's lovely to know that someone wants to help support me on my path, and that people can hear growth in what I'm doing. So thanks to them!

Monday, April 17, 2006

...and back to the grindstone

Well, vacation, lovely as it was, is over, and I'm back to work. 8 weeks of school left! (but who's counting, right?) It will be a busy next few weeks, with 2 choir concerts and a showcase (mixture of dramatic readings, musical numbers, and dance -- the culmination of the showcase class that I'm team teaching). But, after that, it's all down hill to the end of the year.

Cenerentola is in the books. It was a hectic pace to get it together (in fact, opening night was our first full run, which is always a little disconcerting), but in the end it was a great show, and everyone seemed to enjoy it. Now, I'm excited to get to work on the pile of music on my piano:
  1. Wagner's Wesendonck Lieder -- I'm studying with a renowned Wagnerian singer, and these lie well for me (possibly the only Wagner I'll ever sing, but who knows?), so it seemed like a natural fit. I'll be performing them at a little recital coming up -- good incentive to get them learned quickly!
  2. Debussy's Chansons de Bilitis -- I've been wanting to learn these for years, and the aforementioned recital provided a great opportunity.
  3. Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde -- mostly just to learn them, but they might be useful for an upcoming audition.
  4. Berlioz: Beatrice and Benedict -- a local company is doing this in the fall, so I'm looking at Beatrice's big aria in the second act. It's quite a sing! But, I'm having fun learning it.
  5. Several arias to be dusted off for upcoming auditions, including the mother's aria from Amahl and the Night Visitors.

Wow, my plate is full! I'm thrilled to be working on so many art songs. I haven't done a lot of that lately and I really miss it. I passionately love opera, but I think recitals are really where I feel most at home. Probably my piano background is the reason for this. I love the more intimate feel of recitals, of feeling like I'm communicating directly with the audience, with no stage make-up or costumes disguising me. It's just a small recital coming up, but I can't wait.

Saturday, April 15, 2006


Cleo is my adorable cat. She will sleep on my lap for hours on end, so relaxed that I can scoot out from under her to grab lunch or go to the bathroom, and she won’t be even the least bit disturbed by it. She hates my singing. It seems to be the only thing in her charmed little life that causes her even the least bit of stress. It doesn’t bother her when other people sing – students, recordings, whatever – she’ll just ignore them and go back to sleep. But should I so much as open my mouth to sing a note, it sends her in to a frenzy. It doesn’t matter, actually, whether it’s me singing live or a recording of my voice. Either way, she hates it.

Actually, I think she might think that the strange sounds emitting from my mouth are a cry for help or some alien being inhabiting my body. If I leave the door to my office open, she will come racing in with this panicked look in her eyes. If I’m sitting at the piano, which I often am, she will hop up in to my lap, sit up, and put a paw over my lips, as if to say, “Stop that, for the love of God!” When that fails, or if I happen to be standing and singing, she will slowly circle my body before deciding that the best way to deal with the situation is to attack my feet. Now, Cleo is not a vicious cat. Her idea of attacking something is to nibble lightly at it. Still, she’s incredibly persistent. Needless to say, I mostly practice now with the office door closed. She meows outside for about 10 minutes and then heads back to the living room to lounge in the sunlight streaming through the window. Rough life.

Friday, April 14, 2006

some thoughts on auditions and competition...

Seattle has been a great place to start out as a singer. There are, for the size of the town, many opportunities for young singers here, and I’ve been able to work more steadily than many of my friends from graduate school who have multiple degrees in voice. Granted, many (not all, but many) of these gigs pay little or nothing, but it’s been a good place to build up my resume a little, especially given that I was starting with nothing, having earned two degrees in piano performance.

One of the problems, and blessings, about living in a city with a relatively small singing community is that we all know each other. We’re all in the same small pond auditioning for the same roles, and we all know the people who are getting them or not getting them. Being in direct competition with friends and other people who I know and like (both musically and personally) is not easy. It’s not easy when a friend gets offered a role that I really wanted. I know that it’s just part of the business. In fact, a big part of starting off in this business for me has been learning to forget an audition right after I do it. I have no illusions that I will be offered every role or concert I audition for, or even one out of every two or three. The most important things for me right now are to keep growing as a musician and actress, to keep auditioning, and to trust that I’m on the right path. I’m getting better at that. I’m pretty sure it’s something I’ll always work on.

In the past couple of days I’ve run in to a slightly different difficulty. Getting offered the role means that other people (who really wanted it, too) didn’t get the offer. I like to get along with people. It bothers me when I feel like I can’t, whether or not it’s in my control. I don’t like feeling like, by my success, someone else has been hurt.

It’s all part of learning to be a good colleague, I guess. I hope that I can be happy for people’s successes, and not view them as my failures, because they really aren’t, when I step back and look at the big picture. And when I do get the gigs, I hope to do the work to the best of my ability, and to know and accept that competition is just part of what we do. It’s part of the business, but not part of the music and art that we create, which is why I’m on this path in the first place.

Friday, March 31, 2006


I have the next two weeks off of school. I didn't realize until I was driving away this afternoon how tense I was (am). The combination of (somewhat frantic) rehearsals for La Cenerentola and 4 classes a day of kids with serious spring fever is not a good one. I've been craving vacation, and I finally get one.....

.....well...... sort of.......

Next week I have about 25 hours of editing to do. I also have 12 piano students and 1 voice student to teach, 6 hours of teaching at the small music academy where I spend my Saturdays, 15 hours of Cenerentola rehearsals, 2 Cenerentola performances, and a lesson (which I'll be taking, not teaching). Oh, and I have to finish my taxes. Hardly a vacation, I'd say! I do, however, get to sleep in at least a little past 5:30, which is when I usually have to get up to make it to class on time. I will also have time for a few lunch and coffee dates with friends and a concert.

Happily, during the second week of my break, I have the following things on my calendar:
  1. Sushi with good friend LL
  2. An overnight trip to Port Townsend with Alec to visit his brother, where we'll be staying in a quaint Victorian hotel
  3. A haircut
  4. A coaching or two, and a lesson
  5. Planning an upcoming short recital
  6. A massage, to get rid of some of the aforementioned tension

Just looking at all that lovely white, empty space on my calendar (yes -- I still use a hand-written date book, if you can believe it) for that week makes me feel more relaxed already!

Monday, March 20, 2006


I'm very jealous of ACB for having her taxes finished already. With all the craziness of moving over the summer, I'm left with a sizable hole in my record-keeping, so now I'm left digging through receipts and bank statements to try to fill it in. The upside is that this time of year always serves as a good kick in the pants to make sure that I have this year's records in order up until now. We purchased a home this year, which we're hoping will help somewhat, but I have trouble believing that we won't owe at least some money. Such is life for self-employed musicians, and when there are two of them in a family, it's bad news in April.... sigh.... Yes, we could avoid this by paying quarterly taxes, having extra withheld from checks throughout the year, etc. However, one fact of life when a good portion of your income comes from performing and teaching is that there are good times and lean times (lots of gigs at Christmas, kids on vacation in the summer and not taking lessons, etc.), and when it comes down to it, I'd rather have that extra money in a savings account in my control, just in case. Oh, well, back to my bank statements....

Thursday, March 16, 2006

warm fuzzies

When I was younger I kept a book of happy thoughts -- a little notebook where I recorded the little things that made me happy. I thought of it today for the first time in a long time. Here are some little things that have made me happy lately:
  1. Releasing my choir classes and hearing them sing the songs we've been working on all the way down the hall and out the door.
  2. Knowing that it's a long weekend (mid term break), and I won't have to wake up at 5:30 tomorrow morning.
  3. Rehearsing an opera with some great colleagues.
  4. Exploring new song repertoire.
  5. Working with a new teacher and feeling as though my voice is making noticeable strides in size and beauty, even in a short span of time.
  6. Taking a nap with my cat in the afternoon.
  7. Reading a good book.
  8. Consciously taking a moment to enjoy these little things when I notice them.

What makes you happy?

Monday, March 13, 2006


Last week, a great writer came to give a talk at the school where I'm working, as part of an annual writers' symposium. The school sponsors a writer to give talks to the middle and high school students, who have all been reading his or her work in class, then the writer visits English classes and leads discussions. I almost didn't go. I almost didn't make the trip across the hall to the theater, in favor of an extra hour of planning time.

What I almost missed was a wonderful, thought provoking talk, followed by equally wonderful, thought provoking questions from the students, who continue to amaze me every day. Mr. Wideman spoke mostly about Education, and the role it should be playing in the lives of young people. Education should include and allow for people to come to know themselves in the process, and only through that knowing of oneself can one begin to understand other people and the greater world as a whole. He spoke of feeling like an outsider as a child, as a teenager, and as one of six African-American students at Penn when he was awarded a full scholarship, and that he continued to feel like an outsider today. Moreover, he offered that it was impossible to enter in to the process of self knowledge without that feeling of not fitting in to the world around us. In my own experience, I have found this to be true. I have often felt most fulfilled by experiences entered in to with trepidation, with a feeling of discomfort, and knowing that I was an outsider to some extent.

Beyond this, he spoke of the absolute importance of silence in cultivating self awareness. Today, when we can take our phones, our music, the internet, television, movies, and other distractions with us everywhere we go, we too often fill our silences up with so many other things that we cannot hear ourselves. Not a new concept, certainly, but certainly one to be reminded of over and over in this noise of day-to-day life. It made me question the last time I had had real silence in my days. It had been a while. In my former life as a pianist, I had lots of it. In a practice room for four or five or even six hours a day, silence was a regular part of my routine. That extended practice time allows for ideas to develop in a leisurely way, for silence and sound to mix. In addition, I lived alone and often found time for meditation, or even just a quiet nap in the afternoon. As a singer I find that I often don't have these luxuries. First, I'm not a student anymore, and real life takes up a great deal more time than student life, allowing less time to practice. Secondly, even if I had six hours a day to practice, I couldn't possibly sing for that long, or even half that long if I have other singing to do that day. Certainly, there are other things we have to work on than actual singing -- translating, thinking about acting choices, etc. However, even with all that included, my practicing as a singer tends to be more..... full, is the only way I can think of to describe it. Often I'm learning things quickly for a looming deadline, or brushing them up for upcoming auditions, and a sense of space is lacking.

Now that I have a little more time in my days, I've made it a priority to find silence whenever I can. Still, I'm sure I'll need reminders like the one I was given by Mr. Wideman the other day.

Friday, March 3, 2006

so proud...

I tell you, there's just something about kids giving their all to performing that totallly gets me. When it comes time for production week, all the struggle that it took to get roles and blocking learned seems to disappear. Seussical opens tonight. It's the first high school show that I've music directed, and I'm very proud of everyone involved. The kids have really stepped it up this week, and everyone has taken the show to the next level with every dress rehearsal and preview. It wasn't an easy road. Student theater (or any theater, for that matter) never is. Things come together at the last minute, people don't know their lines, etc. But then, magically, something always seems to click. Suddenly, when the sets are up and the costumes are on, everybody embodies their character and gives their all to every moment of the show. Would it be nice if this happened all the time? Certainly, though it rarely does, even in professional productions I've been involved with. Why? Well, I attribute it mostly to the fact that giving your all at anything is exhausting. It puts you in a vulnerable place, and that's hard to do on a consistent basis, particularly for teenagers who spend most of their days in vulnerable places anyway. In any case, the final result is really quite astounding. Everybody is working so hard and the performances are really quite wonderful. It's not, in general, a very emotional show, but it is terribly sweet, and I've cried at every run-through so far! I'm a sap, especially when it comes to kids performing. I shudder to think what a mess I'll be someday when I have children of my own in performances of some kind (music, sports, etc. -- it all makes me sob!). One thing that amazes me about this show is how perfectly cast it is. I cannot imagine a more adorable Cat in the Hat, as I'm sure you can see from the pictures, and Jo Jo (left) is so sweet I could just watch her all day. Everyone, from the Whos down in Whoville to the Bird Girls, to Horton the Elephant, to the Grinch, is totally perfect. An added bonus is that after this weekend, my schedule will return to something resembling normal! I might actually have time to do all those little things that need doing, like replacing the burnt-out headlight in my car, or getting a much needed haircut, or cleaning my bathroom. And maybe even a trip to the spa! Aaaaaahhhhhhh.......

Friday, February 17, 2006


My school schedule continues to amaze (and exhaust!) me. Next week is "mid-winter break," a phenomenon which is new since I was a student (not all that many) years ago. Instead of a three-day weekend for Presidents' Day, schools take an entire week off! Normally, when I'm on my regular schedule, and my husband suddenly has a week off in February, I think, "How silly. They just finished Christmas break, and in another month, they'll have a week off for spring break!" However, now that I'm teaching full time and playing after-school rehearsals, I feel a need to express my relief and gratitude for these precious days off, for a variety of reasons.

First of all, Alec and I are going on a real vacation! Granted, it's only 4 days long, but we'll be flying to New York next week, and while I'm there, I won't be doing a single audition, lesson, or coaching. I'll only be hanging out with friends, going to a Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra concert, looking at Art Deco buildings, and hanging out with my lovely husband, who I feel like I haven't seen in a month! It will be heaven!

In the three days before and one day after we return, I'll be learning an entire opera role plus one scene. First, I'm singing Tisbe in La Cenerentola in April, and our first music rehearsal is a week from Saturday (yikes!). Of course, with Seussical in full swing (the week we get back to school is production week), Cosi previews, traveling to auditions, and teaching, I haven't had time to learn the role yet, and it's a lot bigger than I thought it was! Happily, we are singing it in English, and I don't anticipate learning it to be too much of a problem. I'm a quick study, and it's Rossini, after all, not Schoenberg. Still, in retrospect, I'm glad that I'll be singing Tisbe in this production and not the title role, as I had originally hoped. These things have a way of working out.

Secondly, I'm being considered for a role in an opera next year with the Seattle Early Music Guild. It's only a small role, but it's in a great opera run by some really great people, so I'm thrilled, and keeping my fingers crossed! They gave me a scene to look at, and I'm having a coaching on it on Monday.

In short, I have my work cut out for me, but I'm still on vacation! Yay! :)

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!

I'd forgotten what a big deal Valentine's day is in schools -- everybody is wearing pink and high on chocolate, and it's not even lunch time!

Monday, February 13, 2006

just for fun

AC at the concert posted the link to this quiz and I thought it was fun.

I'm a French Horn. (also scored high as string bass, oboe and bassoon, but definitely not violin).

If you were in an orchestra, what instrument would match your personality?

****Edited to say: Oops! This is what I get for going out of town for the weekend and not checking in online to see that EVERY blogging musician has done this quiz already! :)
Apparently I'm the only opera singer in the world (other than AC) who's not an oboe!

all done!

(written at 2:45 p.m. in the Calgary airport)

Well, it’s done! I think, all things considered, it went very well. It was a different audition committee this year, and they were not as friendly and chatty as they have been in the past, though that really doesn’t mean anything.

I had a moment of panic when my pianist (who came highly recommended) came in to the waiting area, introduced himself, and said, “Wow that’s a really tough Mozart piece you’re doing, eh? How do your other accompanists handle it?” (He was referring to “Smanie implaccabili,” which is tough, I suppose, though it’s also one of the most commonly performed arias in the mezzo repertoire. Luckily, we had a chance to talk through everything before it was my turn – he didn’t realize I was doing the recitative at the beginning, and the tempo he wanted to take was considerably slower than what I normally do. However, in the audition, everything was fine, and I breathed a sigh of relief. They were flying through people, generally only hearing one aria, and when I got to the end of Smanie, they heard part of “Things change, Jo,” and then it was over. I didn’t even get to do my monologue, which was a little disappointing! I mean, I learned one and everything…. Oh, well, maybe next time.

They chatted with me a bit after the audition was over, asking how I had heard about the program and why I was interested in doing it, etc. Then, I was off to a yummy lunch, and I will shortly be on my way home. A whirlwind trip, to be sure!

I made it!

(written at 9:15 a.m. on Saturday)

I’m writing in bed, from my hotel room in Calgary. Internet access is $12.95 a day here (yikes!), so I’ll wait to post until I can find a Starbucks or something later on. Calgary seems like a great city, and I’m sorry I won’t get to spend more time here! My hotel is lovely, with six huge feather pillows on the bed. I was hoping to sleep in today, but apparently, when one is used to getting up at 5:30, 8:30 is sleeping in. Oh, well.

The flight up was great, and I even checked in here in time to catch the lighting of the flame and Pavarotti singing in the opening ceremonies. Right now, speed skating is on (have I mentioned that I’m a total Olympics junkie?). It’s always interesting to watch Olympic coverage in another country. The last time the summer Olympics were on, we watched them mostly from Edinburgh, Scotland. It’s interesting to see the sports we never get to watch in the states, and to hear the different colours (a little Canadian spelling for you) of the commentators.

I had a lesson yesterday afternoon before heading to the airport. Being with a new teacher means approaching things from a slightly different way, of course, and I wasn’t sure whether I should take my audition pieces to the lesson. Banff only requires two arias, so I certainly had other things I could have sung. Not everything we would go over could be implemented before today’s performance, and it’s possible that thinking about new things might get in the way. I didn’t really decide until I was asked what I wanted to work on. “Why not?” I thought. “I can always choose to ignore the advice tomorrow if I don’t think it will help.” So, I started with the 20th century English (“Things Change, Jo,” from Little Women) and then we worked on “Smanie”. I made the right choice! We had a great lesson, and the changes (most of them minor) were easily implemented and totally fixed a couple of issues I’ve been wanting to deal with in both pieces. I plan to do some mental rehearsal this morning, and make sure my monologue is ready to go. I’m also drinking LOTS of water and tea, as Calgary is extremely dry! My breakfast (oatmeal – yum!) should be arriving in about half an hour, and then I will have plenty of time to have a long shower, warm up, and get ready for my audition at 2:15.

Looking out my window this morning, I saw that one of my favorite Canadian restaurants is right across the street, between here and the audition site, so I think I’ll be stopping there for a late lunch before heading back to the airport. A quick but pleasant trip!