Tuesday, March 29, 2005

A Family of Performers

I am the only professional musician in my family. Although we are a family of musicians (the stereotypical Von Trapp-style singing in church, paired with coffee shop open mic sets of Simon & Garfunkel and Jim Croce tunes with me on vocals, Dad on guitar and lending his easy tenor to harmonies, and Mark on bass), I am the only one sick enough to take it on as a full time job. But I am not the only performer.

My father is a minister and my sister is about to be certified as an American Sign Language interpreter. Yesterday at church, I got to see them both at work, and they are performers! Communication is their profession, as it is mine. Our media and messages may differ, but we thrive on sharing information and affecting people emotionally.

When I talked to Dad about it on the way home, he said that ministers often have Myers-Briggs’ test scores that are similar to those of actors, and that both groups are often Introverts. Something to do with our level of comfort in front of people: give Dad a podium and a robe (a set and a costume), and he is in his element. He can turn a phrase and deliver one-liners (comic and dramatic) in a way that has his congregation (audience) really understanding the heart of his message. But put him in a room full of strangers who don’t know him as “The Rev” (as he is lovingly called at his church), and he is a fish out of water! I don’t feel quite so out of place in similar situations, thanks to the person-to-person communication skills I learned (inherited?) from my gracious Southern mother, but I have discovered that I often enjoy being in a quiet corner at a party, instead of always in the center of the room.

My sister, Sally, has really found her voice, so to speak, as an ASL interpreter. Even though her hands are tiny (she’s not so big, herself), they are full of expression. She graduates this spring, and yesterday was the first chance many of us, including her fiance, have had to see her in action. I was scheduled to sing “I know that my Redeemer liveth” near the end of the 10:30 Easter service, and about fifteen minutes before I was to sing I thought “Oh, I should have asked Sally to sign while I was singing!” So during the hymn after the sermon, I motioned her to follow me out of the sanctuary. I sprung the idea on her, and she didn’t even hesitate! With ten minutes ‘til show time, I wrote out the words and she figured out her signs as I watched. I was so impressed at how she used her face and body – in addition to her hands – to tell the story. Her facial expression on “And though worms destroy this body” was awesome! She used her face to describe both the worms and the destruction, the grossness of decay. I couldn’t watch her while I was singing, but I’m sure it was a very effective performance.

It is somehow reassuring to have made these realizations about my family members. To know that I am not cut from a completely different cloth. My cloth is just a bit showier!

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Happy Birthday, Mark!

(I know, I know, all the best pictures of my family members also have Sylvia in them!) Posted by Hello

Away from home, going home

For the first time in about three years, I am on an airplane and NOT on my way to an audition or job. It’s kind of nice! I’m going to spend Easter with my parents in Colorado, and, while I will be singing in church on Sunday, it doesn’t even remotely count as a business trip. How refreshing!

I brought plenty of “work” with me, though. I leave for New York a week from Sunday for the Augusta Read Thomas profile concert at Miller, and I still have a lot of prep work to do. I’m starting to get really comfortable with the piece, and coming up with a game plan for the best way to get the most out of rehearsals. A personal game plan, that is; I have no intention of trying to run the rehearsal! It helps that I have worked with the conductor before. Alan Pierson, of Alarm Will Sound, was a Tanglewood Fellow with me last summer. We met when he saved the day on a chamber music concert that we just couldn’t get together. It was a very small ensemble of excellent musicians, and with two or three more rehearsals we would have been able to “conduct” ourselves, which is often best for small ensembles. For intimate chamber music, I think it’s best not to have an extra body standing between the ensemble and the audience. It’s supposed to feel like we’re in your living room! But, due to a strange set of mishaps and misunderstandings, we just couldn’t get comfortable with the piece in short order. Alan stepped in and gracefully guided us through to a great performance. In NYC, he’ll be conducting his own orchestra, so I assume he will be even more comfortable and in control.

I can’t remember if I wrote last summer about all the things I learned about the singer/conductor relationship at Tanglewood. Don’t ask me why, but before last summer, I viewed the conductor as a crutch, as something to lean on only if I needed help. This feeling was probably another by-product of all the “singers aren’t good musicians” comments I endured in college. Well, I’ll show them! I’ll be such a good musician that I won’t even need the conductor! The idea makes me laugh now. Unless I were doing a one-woman show, performing music is about collaboration. I have learned that I can communicate with a conductor – verbally during rehearsals, and in the mysterious non-verbal way during performance – and that together we can present a synthesis of our ideas of the composers work. It’s fascinating. The same thing applies to pianists during song recitals. I know it seems elementary, but it was a real discovery for me.

Well, I have digressed! What I was trying to say is that I have my ART score with me, and that I intend to step away from family craziness (meals at our house were once described as an “insanity refresher course!”) a few times a day to review notes. I also have Act I of Orphee aux Enfers, which starts rehearsal next week. Incredibly fun music, and very tonal! The perfect counterpart to the ART piece.

I’ll try to post again in a couple days, but if I don’t: Happy Easter! Mmmm, Cadbury Crème Eggs…

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Happy Birthday, Dad!

Here's to many more stories read to many more grandchildren. Well, maybe not many, but at least a few!

Love you! Posted by Hello

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Pesky question

I’ve been in a bit of a funk since last week, when, as you may have guessed, we didn’t get the house. Someone was willing to pay a lot more than we were, plan and simple. I am very disappointed to not have that problem neatly wrapped up! (Obviously, I’m also disappointed not to be living in a great house with my friends with more friends across the street. That goes without saying.) Since we leave in two months to go to Santa Fe, I think the house hunt is on hold until the fall. Kind of depressing, while at the same time a relief. One less thing to worry about, but at the same time, I think I’m dealing with that pesky question that pops up from time to time: how does this crazy career fit into my life?

In the same calendar year I (we) plan to buy a house AND spend three months temporarily living in a different state. Does that make any sense at all?! No, not really. And then the stress of house-hunting and car thefts and making dinner and doing laundry gets in the way of learning music for concerts that are rapidly approaching. Add to that mix my darling little dog who is training me for the day I have a three-year-old following me around the house saying “Play with me!” I get a bit freaked out; I wonder if I can do it all.

I guess any self-employed person faces the same challenges. I can’t just go to an office for 8 hours a day and deal with the rest of life on evenings and weekends. (Yes, I know “real” jobs aren’t so easily boxed up like that, but humor me.) That is something that I treasure about my job - the flexibility. I can give a concert on a Sunday night, drink two glasses of wine, and sleep until 10am. But that same flexibility can bite me in the butt when I have so many opportunities to procrastinate.

Maybe I feel like I’m still a student, and that all my musical pursuits are still small potatoes. That somehow the To Do List in my non-musical life is more important than my musical one. I don’t think I’ve fully realized that I have taken a big step recently, with an international concert booked for next year (I still haven’t written about that… soon.), offers from established singers to help get me in with bigger companies, and a New York debut next month. I am a professional singer! Maybe I’m in denial…

I think I’m just scared that all of my dreams won’t come true. Or that I will do something that causes a dream to not come true. I know that no one gets all of their dreams, I just want to get as many as I can. I mean, I have so many dreams already, why stop now?

Off to bed, and on to a more productive day tomorrow.

Monday, March 14, 2005

A different kind of nervous

We're putting in a bid on a house today. A duplex, actually, that we are hoping to purchase with Sonja & Laura. It is in a fabulous neighborhood, with a beautiful view of downtown Seattle (from the street, not the house), room enough for a small garden, and right across the street from our dear friends, the Taylors. We are all holding our breath until about 8 tonight, when the seller should have reviewed all her offers. And hopefully will have picked ours...

Sunday, March 13, 2005


This week my internet friend and fellow blogging singer, Tom, catalogued the books currently stacked on his piano. These are the projects – current, future, or just wishful thinking – that take up space in our minds and time in our days. I thought I would borrow the idea from time to time; I think it’s a great insight. Thanks for the tip, Tom, and good luck with all that music!!

Bach, St. John Passion Performance next Sunday (Palm Sunday) with Orchestra Seattle, at Benaroya Hall. I don’t know what it is about Bach, but his music finds it way into my voice so easily. I can move very quickly through the “what’s my next note?” phase into the music-making phase. Maybe it’s because I’ve been singing Bach from my earliest days as a voice student; his is a consistent presence through all my development. I’m putting together a demo cd right now, and I’m including a couple arias from Bach’s Cantata 202 that were recorded three years ago. Even though my voice has grown in many ways since then, I think this it some of my finest singing ever. Hopefully the St. John next week will join the ranks.

Augusta Read Thomas, In My Sky at Twilight Fabulously difficult piece of “new music” that is having its New York Premiere on April 7th. So nervous! I’ve never had to work on a difficult orchestral piece with neither a) a piano reduction or b) a couple weeks of rehearsal. In this case I have neither, but I do have a wonderful recording of Christine Brandeis singing the piece with Pierre Boulez at the helm. It is a sexy, sensual piece, all about love and desire. I hope I can get to the point with the music where I can be sensual. This is NOT a piece for the deer-in-the-headlights, “what’s my next note?” look! (That purple dress would help, yes?)

Offenbach, Orfée aux Enfers I’m working on the role of Eurydice, who enjoys her trip to the Underworld and doesn’t want to leave when (a very reluctant) Orpheus comes to claim her. Two fun arias and a fabulous duet with Jupiter, who has been turned into a bee. Lots of buzzing! I’ll be covering this for the University of Washington’s spring production.

New Arias: “Qui la voce . . . Vien, diletto,” from Bellini’s I Puritani; “Par la rang et par l’opulence,” from Donizetti’s La Fille du Regiment. I’ve been instructed by my teacher to get some bel canto into repertoire, and I am loving it.

Osvaldo Golijov, Tenebrae I’m trying to build a chamber music recital cd around this piece. Possible themes it could work with are “Light & Shadow,” religious texts, or string quartet rep. The score was given to me by Osvaldo, with a very sweet inscription, after the premiere of Ainadamar at Tanglewood in 2003. I’ve been looking for a performance opportunity ever since!

Opera scores for Santa Fe: Turandot (chorus), Peter Grimes (chorus and First Niece), and Ainadamar (ensemble, which is kind of like a chorus but generally smaller and each voice has moments in which it stands out; I don't think my role as Horseman made the final revision. No more dancing!).

So, you can see I’m keeping busy… If only there were more hours in the day.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Wearing Art

How much would you pay for this dress? A few things you can't tell by looking at it (unless you're a connoisseur of high fashion) that might affect your answer:

It is one of a kind.

It was designed by John Galliano.

It makes me feel like a goddess. (Well, maybe you can tell that just by looking.)

 Posted by Hello

where, oh where has my little car gone?

I had planned to spend some time today writing about the rest of the operas this weekend (I was, overall, very happy) and about "Phase I degeneration" of the discs in my neck (won't that be fun?). But then we woke up to find our "new" car, a '94 Saturn that we bought two weeks ago, gone. Erik came in from walking KD and said, "Where did you park the Saturn?" Not a great way to start the day.

So I've been a big funk all day, not getting much done at all. Amazing how losing one's (newly acquired) mobility can but a damper on the day. On the bright side, it is another gorgeous day, so instead of driving out to the big dog park, KD and I just walked to the ball field a mile away. Cleared my head a bit.

But I'm still mad.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

One down, two to go

Well, my first Queen of the Night is in the books! Not sure yet which books, but it is over and done. I was happy with how it went, although I still have a ways to go before I will be satisfied. I still have to focus a bit more on technique to get through the arias than I would like. I prefer to get to a point with my music where all I have to think about is the story I am telling. The monologue that runs through my head when singing the Vengeance Aria goes something like this: “Ok, keep it light. Don’t try to take the whole voice up to the stratosphere, just let it float. Right out the top of your head, that’s it. Keep those ribs expanded, sternum up.” And so on. It’s Phyllis Curtin’s voice that I hear, and it is comforting. Although I would much prefer to be able to stay completely in acting mode, as I can with so much of my other music.

Please don’t get the idea that I zone out of character while singing! That is a great fear of mine, having started life on the stage as a straight actor. I think I generally do a fair job of blending the disciplines. It’s just that now, while the Queen and her high notes are working themselves into my body and voice, the percentage is shifted a bit more to the singing side. Let’s say ideal balance for me is 80% focus on acting and 20% on singing; I feel that the Queen is at 40/60. Hopefully, though, still enough acting to be scary! View these photos and let me know what you think. (I'm the washed out redhead with the black antennae...)

I’m looking forward to two more chances to sing the role this weekend. Then, hopefully in the next couple of years, I’ll get to sing it many more times, and I can relax into this delightfully wicked (or callously betrayed, depending on your interpretation) character.

The rest of the cast is outstanding vocally as well as dramatically, as the above photos will attest. I have enjoyed working with them all, and feel I have found a kindred spirit in my Pamina. It’s not often two sopranos can ask each other for counsel on getting through difficult scenes in an opera! I know she has helped me progress, and I hope my advice has served her well.

So I say again, if you live in Western Washington and love opera, there is a gem hiding in Mount Vernon this weekend! More next week on all the other goings on…
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