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.