Thursday, May 26, 2005

Just a quick note to say two things

One, it should NOT be this hot in Seattle. I think we got up to 85 today… Estimated high for tomorrow is 87, which means it will probably reach 90. If it’s this hot here, what’s it going to be like in Santa Fe??!! And if it keeps getting hotter here in Seattle, my poor Nordic-blooded husband is going to melt.

Two, I hate packing. Love unpacking, hate packing. And today I feel like I’m packing for three things: the week of travel to Santa Fe, three months in Santa Fe, and the move downstairs. (Did I tell you that we are indeed buying the duplex we’re currently renting? We close June 30th, at which time Erik and I will move from upstairs to down, and S&L will move in upstairs. We’ll share the large basement. A “simple” move, in theory, but it still requires packing.) There are boxes everywhere, and still so much stuff to go in them.

And it is too hot to do anything.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

A bit of everything

I’m in the Oakland airport, finally heading home after a long two days of traveling. In the past 36 hours, I’ve been in at least one car, cab, train, bus, trolley, and airplane. I was actually on the first airplane twice, as they loaded us up only to have us wait on the tarmac for 45 minutes before unloading us all again. This after a two hour delay before loading up in the first place. All told, the flight departed 5 and a half hours late. The afternoon I’d planned to spend doing some shopping and writing in San Francisco was instead spent in the Seattle airport.

At least I had some company. I was on my way to the West Coast Opera Auditions (a joint audition for 20-30 Western companies), and there were two colleagues of mine on the same flight. Misery loves company, yes? Actually, not being alone made the day much easier. One of us could walk or wander for search for food while the others watched the bags. Much nicer than pulling my little suitcase behind me all day. MH and I were also staying at the same hotel, so we navigated our way together from the Oakland airport to our hotel in SanFran via BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit). Once we got going, it was a fairly smooth trip.

Despite being in a “bad part of town,*” the hotel was clean and the staff was very friendly. Absolutely suitable for a one-night stay. I slept very well, and awoke feeling rested and ready for my audition. I got a little coffee and had some breakfast with MH and JH at the hotel, then we shared a cab to the audition. And my internal debate began…

What aria to start with? At most auditions, the singer is allowed to choose his first aria; the panel then selects the second (if they want to hear a second) from the list provided by the singer. I ran through all my arias on Friday with a coach in Seattle, and she helped me come to the decision to start with the Queen’s Vengeance Aria. Why? If that aria is on a soprano’s list, the panel will almost certainly ask for it. So why not sing it first and get it out of the way? That way I can be in control of my nerves and I can get the “hard aria” out of the way.

I began to question this logic, however, when I heard that the panel may only be hearing one aria. I have so much more to offer as a singer than just the Queen, and I wanted to be sure that they got a chance to hear some of it. So I decided that if the singers before me (two colleagues from Seattle) were asked for one aria, I’d start with “Qui la voce” from I Puritani, a delicious bel canto aria that I fell heads over heels for the first time I sang it. If they asked for two, I’d start with the Queen and they would get to pick something else. Well, wouldn’t you know, one singer sang two arias and the other sang only one!! What to do? I hadn’t come up with a strategy for this situation…

I didn’t decide what I was going to sing until I was ON THE STAGE!! The panel asked, “What would you like to start with?” I clasped my hands and said, “Ummm… hmmm…” I’m not kidding! I finally opted for the Queen, but it was a very strange moment up there while I decided. I sang it well, and they asked for a second: “Be kind and courteous” from Midsummer, another aria from a role I’ve performed. All in all, after the first hesitant moment, it was a good audition. All my friends sang well, too, so we are hopeful that at least one of us will get a nibble!

(* San Francisco is quite possibly the most integrated city I know. Everything and everyone seems to be blended into the definition of “metropolitan.” People of differents races, classes, and sexualities every where you look; different cultural attractions – Symphony Hall and strip clubs – within blocks of each other; million dollar properties on the same block with run-down buildings. It seems that everyone is comfortable everywhere. A wonderful feeling.)

Then lunch with my friends, and then coffe with MC of The Standing Room! It was my first real-life blogging encounter, and it was great. We talked about how strange it is that we know details of each other’s lives (he complimented my hair (it’s still red!!), I asked after his headshots (he wouldn't show them to me)), even though we’d never met. MH, who knows nothing of the blogging world, was fascinated by the whole thing. It's a unique social phenomenon, the Blogosphere, if that doesn't sound too trite, and one that I imagine we'll be reading studies on in a few years. MC prefers to remain anonymous, so I won’t divulge too many details of our coffee talk, but we have friends and colleagues in common, and others who I hope will be colleagues in the future. He had some great ideas for my CD project; I look forward to exploring them.

MH and I then killed a few hours before heading to the airport. We explored the Ferry Building, which is basically one big gourmet food market. Yumm. We got gelato (blood orange and chocolate sorbet for me) and sat in the sun, watching the water traffic under the Bay Bridge. A nice end to a wonderful day.

But as I write this, our flight is delayed 30 minutes. That’s how it started yesterday…

Friday, May 20, 2005

Pampering and Cramming

So I’m striking an interesting balance these days between overworking and being self-indulgent. I’m pretty stressed about all I have to do and learn before leaving for Santa Fe in a week, and so in order to not let stress make me sick (as it has a few times this year), I’m trying to pamper myself a little more than usual. Yesterday I was feeling really run down, complete with the fuzzy head that is often a sign of an impending cold. So, instead of studying the fabulously complex choruses of Peter Grimes, I took a nap. I woke up feeling clear-headed, and was able to get some good studying in after dinner.

In years (ok, months) past, I would have just pushed through the fuzzy-headed-ness, working and stressing and ignoring my body’s warning signs until I just shut down. It’s been a hard lesson to learn that by taking an hour (or two!) to just be still, which is easiest for me to do if I’m asleep, I can be more productive in my day, not less. Of course, I can’t take an hour nap everyday, but I’m learning to do so when instructed by my overworked Self.

More pampering is scheduled for this afternoon: I’m getting my hair cut and colored, most likely back to my former (and natural) dark blonde. Sigh. I love being a redhead, but I am not ready for the commitment and maintenance required. My well-bred mother taught me that I should never show my toes if my polish was chipped, so I can only imagine what she would say about undied roots! We never had lessons on root-maintenance, as my mother is au natural and beautiful, but somehow I don’t think an inch of dark blonde at the crown of one’s red head meets the standards of the Pabor women.

But speaking of toes: I got a pedicure a couple of weeks ago with my friend Chiara, and now I’m hooked on them. I mean, seriously, no chipped polish. Ever! My mother would approve. And, for some reason, I would much rather spend $40 every six weeks to get a pedicure than spend $50 (or more) every two months to keep my hair colored. Call me crazy. Maybe it goes back to that “never been good with my hair” thing. But I love my feet.

Anyway… Somewhere in amidst all this pampering I have two operas to finish memorizing. I’ve never had to memorize a chorus part before, and it’s tricky. I think choruses often have more music than individual characters, for one thing. And we need to be much more precise. For better or worse, soloists have a little leeway with precision. The recording of Turandot that I’ve been listening to incessantly is a live recording from the Met, starring Placido Domingo and Birgit Nilsson in 1970, and it demonstrates this fact. When you add stage business, distractions from things going differently night to night, and the energy of performing to the music you’ve memorized and rehearsed, you’re bound to come in half a beat late or early hear and there. But you catch up, get back with the conductor, and move forward, no one the wiser. But in the chorus, you don’t really have this luxury. The chorus is a mob, usually acting as one voice, and therefore has to sound like it. Staggered entrances and cut-offs are the mark of an amateur group, and I just don’t think that will make the grade at Santa Fe. So I’m doing my best to be prepared. But what worries me? I won’t have any idea how ready I am until that first rehearsal…

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Phase I complete - with an oops!

My new website is up and running! Well, up, anyway. All the “running” stuff will be added later this week. I was too anxious to get the new look up there to wait until all the technical stuff was done. So check it out! Feedback is always appreciated. I’m pretty happy with it, especially considering that Erik and I did all ourselves, and neither of us is really a designer! We’re considering this my “intermediate” site that will serve me very well until I’m ready to pay somebody big bucks to design me a site like this or this. My previous site was designed for me by Erik’s aunt DeeAnn, and was a wonderful first step. She was so generous, and I am very grateful. Thank you, Dee! (Check out her other design and photo restoration work here.)

Phase II will include streaming MP3’s – a little Bach, a little Strauss, and of course, some Mozart – and photos, along with downloadable materials (bio’s and headshots for administrative stuff) in Word. Singers have recently started using their websites for this sort of thing. It’s so easy to direct an admin to your website for materials, rather than sending hard copies through the mail that must then be retyped. Same thing with headshots: it’s going to have to be scanned in order to be added to the brochure/website/program, so why not just deal with the digital image? A website can be useful, not just as a promotional tool, but as a means of simplifying communication. And who doesn’t appreciate that?

Thanks, as always, for looking and reading!

Edited: The "oops?" We forgot to move the images for this site, which were hosted on the old site, over to the new one! Hence the ugly red X's at the top of the page. I'll see what I can do about that...

Edited again: I fixed it!! I can't believe I actually knew how to do that. I mean, two years ago phrases like WinSCP and made absolutely NO SENSE to me. And now I can use them! So proud. I'm not about to leave opera for web development, though. Not even close.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Must be Prom Time

Twenty-nine of the last 100 referrals that brought people to my website have been web searches (Google, Yahoo, etc.) for “hair-do,” or “easy hair-do,” or “long hair-do,” or my personal favorite: “how-to hair-do.” I love it! Granted, I have a post entitled Hair-Do’s, but I find it ironic that all these folks are coming to me looking for hair help! My post is all about how bad I am with my hair! Makes me chuckle.

Other referrals include searches for Andrea Gruber (in various forms: “Andrea Gruber,” “Andrea Gruber addiction,” “Andrea Gruber opera addiction”), Benjamin Luxon, “a very merry unbirthday,” and “high f O zittre nicht.” I know I mentioned Ben Luxon sometime during last summer's Tanglewood entries, but I can’t find it! You’ll have to trust me on this one. There is also the occasional search for “Anne-Carolyn Bird,” which, I have to say, weirds me out a little! I mean, I know I have a career in the public eye (or at least, I’m trying to), but it feels a little stange – and a little good! – to know that folks are using “the internets” to learn more about me.

I also get a lot of referrals from other blogs, most notably Alex Ross’s fine collection of music blog links. Ionarts, Prima La Musica, and The Standing Room have also sent folks my way. I also got slammed the other day when Chiara mentioned me. Seriously, my hits were doubled that day! Of course, she is a Diarist Award winner, so she has a following... Thanks to all who’ve referred their readers here! I try to return the favor, although percentages are still in your favor. But my readership is up! That makes me happy.

However you get here, however long you stay, I’m glad to have you. Happy reading and blogging!

Thursday, May 12, 2005


I gave a short lunchtime recital yesterday at the new Central Branch of the Seattle Public Library. It is truly an amazing building, architecturally, but I found it a bit cold. Not in temperature, but in feeling. Lots of metal and concrete and odd colors. Not really the sort of place I’d want to curl up with a book. They do have an amazing collection of musical scores and recordings, though, so I’m sure I’ll be back.

Before the recital, I went up to the 8th floor where they have several small practice rooms equipped with nice electronic keyboards. I was able to reserve on for noon (it was 11:57 when I checked in), so I went to wait by the door for the last three minutes. The gentleman who emerged when the librarian knocked on the door at noon had been playing beautiful music on the piano, sort of a mix of classical and jazz. He had obviously had years of training. So imagine my surprise when he gathered up his old backpack and plastic bags, put on his dirty coat, and shuffled out, eyes down, not responding to the comments of “That was beautiful!” or “You are very talented” from the people in the hall. From the librarian’s brief encounter with the man (when he opened the door, he said, “Sorry, but time’s up. You know how much I love to hear you play…), I gathered that he was there on a regular basis. Maybe even daily.

This massive, strange, beautiful place isn’t just a place to read newspapers from around the world, listen to five different recording of Debussy’s Pélleas et Méllisande, or pick up the latest blockbuster to read on the bus. It is a place where all the people of Seattle can feed their souls.

Monday, May 09, 2005

A new project

A new project idea is brewing. I’ve been thinking about recording a CD project for some time now, and next year seems like a good time to do it. I’m planning on lightening my load next year, taking on fewer gigs in order to focus on taking better gigs. (All part of the “recognizing that I’m a professional” stage!) This will make time for voice lessons and coachings in new roles, something I was woefully lacking this year, and for a “career-development” project like a CD.

I’m in the very early stages right now, but I think I have a theme in mind: American composers and poets. This idea came to me as I was thinking about the kinds of art songs I love to sing, and 20th C American songs are always at the top of the list. I know this next thought will be blasphemy to some, but I’ve just never been able to get into German Lieder. I’d say that French is 2nd after American/English, then Russian, and then German. I know, I know, the “Schu’s” were genuis, but their songs never move me the way Bernstein (“So Pretty”), Ives (“Memories” – so fun!), Debussy or Poulenc do. So, I won’t be recording any Lieder any time soon.

Another reason for this theme is that I have relationships with composers with whom I can collaborate to bring a new work to life. I have presented some poetry to a young composer colleague, and he has agreed to take a look and see what moves him. It is a thrilling prospect, let me tell you. No names yet, not until I know for sure that I have the money lined up to pay him!

Yes, money. That’s the big detail to work out. Erik (my husband) is a recording engineer, so that aspect of the project is in good hands. He also has a degree in Music Business, so he knows all about copyrights and licenses and all that jazz. But how to pay for it all… I’m looking into grants, but those are so hard to win these days. I’m thinking of approaching my grad school and Tanglewood to see if they can get me in touch with people who like to give money to young and upcoming musicians. Tanglewood, especially, with their focus on new music, seems like a great place to find a sponsor. I’m also thinking of ways to approach patrons of the arts here in Seattle, people who maybe have seen me perform and would be interested in helping me take this next step in my career.

After the CD is completed, it would be available at some of my concerts and on my website, as well as in local record stores. I might even get it up at Amazon, if possible. The composer and I have talked about a little concert tour before recording, in order to build up some “buzz” and give his work a proper premiere. We’d have vouchers available for buying advance copies of the CD, kind of like buying the next Harry Potter book six months before it’s due for release… =]

Like I said, very exciting. I’m sure I’ll post more details as they come up. Oh, and feel free to email me about making a donation!

Thursday, May 05, 2005

An Off-Topic Post

When I started this blog, I told myself I’d stay on topic – my life as a singer. But I just have to vent for a minute! I came across this article this morning about the current and intensifying drought in Washington state. (Insane, I know, to even put the words “drought” and “Washington” in the same sentence, but it is true.) Rainy winters have never bothered me here, but this winter, I would get depressed if I woke up and it was sunny! It just wasn’t right. Cool, cloudy, misty days. That’s what Seattle winters are supposed to be. Sweaters and jeans and clogs. No tank tops allowed until May!

But, it was a sunny, gorgeous winter, and now we’re in a drought. And yet, so many people seem oblivious to this fact! Our neighbor spends an hour (I’m not making this up) watering his driveway!! At least, that’s how it seems from my side of the fence. I’m sure he’s washing away pine needles and saw dust and dirt. But, honestly, has he not heard of a BROOM??!! Two evenings in a row, now, Erik and I have had to close our windows while eating dinner, not to shut out the white noise of I-5 three blocks away, but to close out the incessant and depressing sound of waste.

At least it’s his water bill.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

"Sing something!"

An Alert Reader™ sent me this singer-themed Miss Manners column the other day. This complaint is heard over and over in singer circles!

It’s not that we don’t like to sing in public. I mean, that’s our job! But that’s just it – it’s a job. And like everybody else with a 9-5 job, sometimes it’s nice to not be working. Instead of asking singers to sing on the spot, ask when they will be performing in your area. We will gladly plug our performances! And you’ll probably enjoy the experience a bit more, as well.

(On a side note, Bird-family favorite Dave Barry, the originator of the Alert Reader™ brand, has a blog!)

Monday, May 02, 2005


A while back, I alluded to some big gigs in February of 2006 and 2007. I still can’t talk about 2007, but it’s finally time to get next year’s big gig off my chest. It’s been “official” for a couple of months, now, but it didn’t really seem real until I saw this website.

Next year I will make my European debut singing Osvaldo Golijov’s Grammy-nominated Pasiòn Segun de San Marcos. This is thrilling for me in so many ways. First, LONDON! Enough said. The two week tour will also make stops in Atlanta (three performances for the hometown crowd!) and New York. The NYC performances are part of Lincoln Center’s Osvaldo Golijov Festival. Second, I am so honored that Osvaldo chose me to sing this piece. I will never forget my first encounter with him at Tanglewood in 2003, guiding us through Ainadamar. His intensity was almost off-putting at first, but by the end of the summer I knew I had found a kindred spirit. He loves my singing, but I think he will always have a soft spot in his heart for my dancing in Ainadamar! He calls me his “beautiful horse,” which I choose to see as a term of endearment.

The London concert is six days before my 30th (un)birthday. I was in Los Angeles for my birthday in 2004, singing the West Coast premiere of Ainadamar with Dawn and Osvaldo. Is this the start of a trend? I don’t think I’d mind spending every other birthday singing his wonderful music!

So here we go. Next season is an international one.
Somebody pinch me . . .

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Voice Lesson

WARNING!! Serious tech talk within. Enter at your own risk!

Yesterday I had a voice lesson with Carol Vaness. She is good friends with Vinson Cole, who I call my teacher, even though I’ve had only four lessons with him over the past two years, and she was in town to see Vinson in dress rehearsals for Les Contes d’Hoffmann at Seattle Opera, which opens this coming weekend. (Looks like there’s an interview with Vinson on the the SO homepage; very interesting, and good prep for those of you who will see the opera.) I didn’t really know what to expect, but I was very excited to sing for her – and to have some “hands-on” help with these damn high notes!

We met at Vinson’s beautiful Capitol Hill apartment, where she was finishing up with another student. When it was my turn, we settled into some chairs for a few minutes and she asked me to tell her a bit about myself. It was at this point that we also talked about our love for cute cheap shoes and the gorgeous greens that are in fashion this season. Fabulous! We talked a bit about my move into Coloratura Land, and she understood my hesitation immediately. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it here before, but coloraturas often get a bad rap, viewed as the pretty little songbirds that aren’t too bright. Not how I want to be viewed! But she reminded me that the great coloratura roles – Lucia, Zerbinetta, Adina, even Norina – are not cutsy. They are fierce, strong, wily, and smart. Yeah, yeah, I know all the bel canto ladies go crazy when they lose their loves, but still! She joined her voice to those others who have been telling me this for a year now, and, slowly but surely, I’m starting to believe it myself. I can be a smart coloratura!

She led me through some vocalises, not to warm me up, as I had done that before I came, but so that she could start to get a sense of my voice. After a few exercises going up, we turned around and headed down the keyboard. Somewhere around A or B below middle C, she asked me if I ever used my chest voice. I don’t really, although when singing low I imagine adding on a lower resonating chamber; I just never settle my voice fully into my chest cavity. Carol said, “If you’re going to sing Lucia, you’ll have to use your chest voice!” So we worked a tiny bit on that part of my voice, singing gentle five note scales (do re mi fa sol fa mi re do) starting at the bottom of my range and heading up. She spoke to me while I was singing, guiding me through the passaggio (literally, “passage,” or the section of the voice where you move from one resonance to another; most voices have three or four) between chest voice and lower head voice. Fascinating. We went all the way up without changing exercies, and when we stopped she talked about how different my voice was when I allowed the colors of my chest voice to permeate the rest of it. (Wow, this is hard to put into words!) Basically, she encouraged me to not cut out any part of my voice, not to disregard it. Of course, that doesn’t mean I should start belting my way through Mozart. Rather, simply let my voice sing with all its colors.

When we moved on to repertoire, I knew exactly what I needed help with. I told her that, while I knew I was a coloratura, I was still terrified of my highest notes. Right now, I can sing up to the Queen’s high F’s, but it scares me, which inhibits singing, right? Right. So I started singing. I could go on and on (as I already have, a bit!) about how much she helped me with the Vengeance Aria. She got me to let go of the consonants and to really sing on the vowels, she helped ground my body so I wasn’t getting caught in my shoulders, and (drumroll, please!) she helped me find those F’s! For the first time, I sang all four with no fear, and even I could tell that they were great. Again, it was all about the vowel. Even though I sing an “ah,” if I think “oo” it flips the high notes into the magic spot, and they are easily right on pitch. So great.

We also worked a bit on another Mozart aria, Durch Zärtlichkeit from Abduction, which I would be singing that evening at an audition. It has three high E’s at the end, and she helped me gain confidence here as well. Her tip? When you get to the difficult phrase, disengage and go into robot mode. Don’t try to act, don’t try to color it, just let it come out. Trust your technique to get the notes right, and trust Mozart to get the emotion/acting/interpretaion to come through in the music. She assured me that my E’s were great, but that I was judging myself so harshly that, even if the first one was great, I assumed it was bad and tried to mess with the next two. And let me tell you, at my audition, I was able to put her words into action. When I got to that phrase, I put my hands on my hips (a pose very appropriate for this character!), and “disengaged.” Hell if it didn’t work beautifully! After those notes were out of the way, I was able to really get back into character, because there was no voice in head saying, “those E’s were awful.” It was a great feeling.

Carol will be coming to Seattle semi-regularly for the next few years, as she will be an adjunct professor at UW. I can’t wait to work with her again.
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