Monday, October 30, 2006

A nest

As I said a few posts ago, I’ve definitely settled into Life here in NY. My room has taken a real turn from the almost-uninhabitable to the very cozy and welcoming. All it took was a trip to Ikea to put the finishing touches on the place. I’ve even offered it up to a fellow singer who’ll be here for auditions while I’m on a gig, and I would only let someone stay here if I knew they would be comfortable. So, that’s saying something!

Here’s a picture. I love my little desk, which now has my laptop on the pullout shelf underneath and my electric keyboard on the top. Currently there are also some red and yellow roses, two Netflix movies ready to be returned, and a bunch of other clutter. At the top of the photo, you can see my brown comforter hanging down from the loft bed, which has a wonderful light in it now. I’ll post a picture of that, too. I still have some art to frame and hang, but that will be the last touch. It’s my little nest, and I love it.

I had a strange experience at an audition last week, one that will probably occur from time to time if I keep blogging. The audition was for Chicago Opera Theater, whose General Director, Brian Dickie, keeps his own blog here, chronicling the ins and outs of his General-Director-ship. Mr. Dickie and I met briefly this summer at Santa Fe, and when I was introduced to him, he said, “Oh, yes, the blogger!” This was my first encounter with a GD who reads The Concert (or who admits to reading it), and we talked briefly of blogging and singing and parted ways.

At the audition last week, when my manager introduced me, there was the usual “Hello, good to see you again, yes, I know you, we met last summer, etc.” But then he mentioned the blog again and said, “Yes, I know you; I know you intimately.” Gulp. I’ve had few moments through this blogging trip when I wondered if I’d ever said too much, and this was one of them! (And it’s funny writing about this now, knowing he’ll read it…Hi, Mr. Dickie!) Did he read about my insecurities (and conquering them) in regards to Regnava? Did he wonder why I didn’t sing it for him?! Probably not, but I did wonder. Only momentarily, of course, and then it was on to the task at hand: singing a bang-up audition!

This week’s auditions: MidAmerica Productions and Des Moines Metro Opera.


Charles over at ionarts has called me out! "Conspicuously silent." I'll take that as a compliment! Sorry for a quiet week; I have no good reason, really.

I'm off to an audition now, but I'll try to fill in some gaps this afternoon. Maybe a picture of my little hobit hole is finally in order!

Monday, October 23, 2006

Take that

Not only did I sing Regnava at the audition today, I started with it.

Take that, Fear!

Somebody ate their Wheaties this morning. (Actually, it was granola with vanilla yogurt and blueberries.) And my manager’s response? “Well, I expect to hear a lot more of that aria this fall!”

Yes, ma’am.

Opera and Football

This guy gets it!

There are moments watching both that make my spine tingle. Todd Heap's touchdown catch to beat the Chargers and Diana Soviero's gripping solo last March in Dead Man Walking come to mind.

I would add that last week's Monday Night Football game probably aroused passions not unlike those in a fiesty La Scala audience. If you saw it, you know what I mean. If you didn't, well, time to start watching football! Talk about a catharsis. Wow.

I love it!! Go Broncos!! (And Bears, too, of course... everyone's rooting for the Bears.)

Saturday, October 21, 2006

I live here now.

A few weeks ago, when I was in the middle of life-transition blues, my mom shared something that really helped me through it. She told me that she felt the same way after every move, and she’s been through many as an adult. (She was a military kid, as I was, but how easily we transition when we’re kids!) After the house was unpacked, and we kids were off to school, she said she asked herself every time: Ok, where do I fit in this picture? Then she assured me that while the feeling may stick around for a while, one day she’d just wake up and it would be gone. She lived there.

Well, as moms often are, she was right. One day last week, I realized that the feeling of anxiety and fear that had been hanging around me since I arrived in NYC was gone. I live here, and my patterns are starting to show that. I’ve been more social, getting out to know the different parts of the city, going on some dates and spending time with friends and the Brooklyn Birds (brother, sister-in-law, niece and nephew). An art exhibit, a concert, a friend’s recital (his first Winterreisse!), a cabaret show (where I saw Liza Minnelli!! Me: Look, there’s a Liza impersonator. MP: Um, no, that’s really Liza!), and yoga classes and workshops at my new yoga home. Lessons with Mark, of course, and audition and recital prep with JD.

I live here now.

But there is still fear. It’s just a different kind of fear, one that’s been with me for a long time and one that I’ve let dictate my actions for too long. Maybe writing about it here will help me conquer it. It is the fear of success.

Why I’m afraid of it, what exactly I’m afraid of, I can’t tell you. But I can see how this fear is starting to get in my way. I know that “Regnava nel silenzio” (from Lucia di Lammermoor) is going to be my aria, the one that says to anyone who heard me sing last year or the year before “Check this out: I’ve grown up.” The aria that is the difference between “We like her; let’s keep an eye on her.” and “We like her; let’s hire her.” My goal was to have it ready for my NY City Opera audition, which is on Monday. But have I done it? No. It’s stuck at the 90% level, all the notes learned, memorized, all the cadences settled, etc., but I just haven’t taken the time to really get it into my body and voice. I’m pretty mad about it, too, and I know I’m the only one to blame. I have so much time these days, a true luxury, and I’m wasting it. WHY?? Fear.

Today I went to a yoga workshop focusing on headstand. Many people talked about the fear that was holding them back from mastering the pose, and I realized that I’ve never been afraid of it. (My issues are balance and holding the pose, two things that are getting easier as my body gains strength and my mind gains clarity.) The teacher said that we too easily stereotype ourselves and psych ourselves out of an action; she called them “personal chauvinisms.” “I don’t do headstand.” If we say that, we’ll have a hard time ever getting our feet up there! It works the other way, too, and I think I’ve always seen myself as someone who does headstand. Sure, why not? So I do it.

After the workshop I went to coach with JD, and I realized that while I can do a headstand (I even held it for ten seconds by the end of the workshop!), I’m psyching myself out of a lot of other beneficial actions because of my fear. Singing the right rep is only one, but it’s a big one.

So tonight and tomorrow night and Monday morning, I’m living with Regnava. It’s time to stop being afraid of it and get it out there. Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead! Right? Eek.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Healthy body, healthy voice

There was a conversation recently on the New Forum for Classical Singers, an online community and bulletin board, about vegetarian singers. More to the point, the opera director at a school told a student that if the student wanted a career, he was going to have to start eating meat. He stated that “no professional singer of any stature ever made it as a vegetarian,” a statement I find hilarious for the syntax, if nothing else. What, singers don’t have the discipline to be vegetarians? heehee

What I think he meant, erroneously, was that no vegetarian has made it to any level of “stature” as a singer. And, well, that’s ridiculous. I know many vegetarian singers, many of whom have fine careers and are on paths to have even finer careers. But it got me thinking about health, or, rather, added to my on-going thoughts of health. I’m a vegetarian, but not eating meat isn’t my problem. In fact, I recently started tracking my diet with an online diet tool, not to lose weight, but to see how much protein, fiber, etc., I was eating on average. Turns out it is really easy to get the recommended 50g of protein a day. Whole grains, legumes, some cheese, and done! Add 25g of fiber (blueberries, Kashi cereal, some kale, an apple, done!), aim for 2000 calories, and that’s a darn good diet.

My problem is remembering or taking the time to eat at all. I was having a blue day earlier this week, and as soon as I ate some lunch (ok, technically it was breakfast, too), I felt better! Practically blissful. Hmm, maybe there’s something to that... I told my roommate that the next time I was talking about being sad or bored or lonely, that he should ask if I’ve eaten anything. (Oh, my mom’s going to love this post!) Coffee doesn’t count…

So, yes, you can be a vegetarian singer. Just make sure you eat.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about breath and breathing. I think that I mentioned that in September I conducted a one-day workshop for the choir at my parents’ church. One of the topics we covered, naturally, was breathing. Most people only breath with a portion of their lungs, mostly the top third. When you sing, it’s good to know how to take in a full breath and support it on the way out, but it’s just as important to breath well everyday.

Now that my dear Granddaddy has had to start using oxygen**, I’ve come to believe that the maxim “use it or lose it” applies to our lungs as well. I don’t have any scientific evidence for this, just anecdotal, but it makes sense. Ever notice how singers (and brass and wind players, too) have large ribcages? That’s not fat, that’s capacity built by use. I know that I have gained about two inches on that measurement over the years as I have developed my lung capacity. (I gain almost three inches when I inhale, as well.) So, when I visited with Mamma & Granddaddy in September, I taught him several of the exercises I taught the choir, and I think we were both surprised when he couldn’t do them.

So here they are, and I encourage everyone to start breathing with all of your lungs, even if only for five minutes a day. Next time you’re stuck in traffic, give these a go. (Just don’t hyperventilate!)

First, (and, well, this part is not a traffic exercise), the next time you lie down, spend some time actively breathing with your diaphragm. Lightly rest one hand on your belly, with your thumb on your solar plexus. As you draw air into your lungs, notice how the diaphragm rises into your hand. (It’s easier to do this lying down because it helps you avoid the tendency to try and take in a deep breath by lifting your shoulders.) Then try this exercise standing up. You might find that your body rebels, that your muscles have gotten used to breathing in a more shallow way and they will fight against this “new” activity. They’ll come around; they just need to be reminded of what they knew how to do perfectly when you were a child.

Once you feel that you can breath smoothly from your abdomen, try a three-part breath. In this exercise, you breath into the three sections of the lungs from bottom to top: expand the abdomen, the ribs, and then the top section of the lungs, under the collarbone. (Phyllis Curtin can breath so well in that top section that I swear her sternum is made of cartilage! It really seems to flex.) Exhale in the same order, bottom to top: abdomen, ribcage, clavicle.

Cool, huh? Now, singer or other, use it or lose it.

**Granddaddy is doing very well, thank you, and is as active as ever; he just has a 40-ft “tail” for the tank at home, and a smaller tank for the road.)

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Sting crosses over

Now this I like: Sting’s latest album is a collection of Dowland songs, performed in collaboration with lutist Edin Karamazov. Sting joins in on a few numbers on the archlute, as well. Hot.

I have a lot of respect for Sting as a musician, and I think this album could be quite good. The clips on the DG site and on iTunes (where I will likely purchase it) make it clear that Sting is singing these songs with his voice and not trying to sound all “early music” and period (whatever that means…). Probably best, don’t you think? Besides, what was Dowland if not a singer-songwriter? Makes perfect sense to me to have someone like Sting sing them.

I’ll be curious to hear what others think about it…

Monday, October 09, 2006

It's here

The cold I've been expecting to hit me since I arrived in NYC is finally here. Nothing major, just a cloudy head, stuffy yet runny nose... You know the drill. Boo.

Fortunately I don't have any auditions this week.

Guess I'll take a nap while my files are transferring / backing up onto my new external hard drive...

Saturday, October 07, 2006


I had what I guess you would call an anxiety dream last night, probably fueled by the martini I had after posting that last post…

I was about to go onstage to sing Gilda (guess I won the audition yesterday!) when I realized something. I turned to my Rigoletto with panic in my eyes and said: “I forgot to learn the rest of the role!!”

Oh, and I just remembered another dream! JB, a soprano who is in the Met’s Lindemann Young Artist Program and will be singing a role in Suor Angelica with me, came to pick me up (in a car, no less, even though I’m 15 blocks from Lincoln Center) for the first rehearsal. It was like I had never done anything like it before, because I said: “So, is this a staging rehearsal? Should I be memorized?” Um, yes. JB looked a little suprised, a little worried, a little like she wouldn't be sitting with me on the breaks... :)

Not only was I not memorized, I had planned on sight-reading at the rehearsal! It’s a “small part,” after all. I was frantically flipping through my score, looking for my part. I laughed and said, “I can’t even find my part in here; that’s not a good sign!”

Wow. Think I’m nervous about all the music I have to learn this year?

Friday, October 06, 2006

Nice and Tough

Nice: Coming home to find my roommate scrubbing the kitchen floor. On his hands and knees, even! Our ancient tiles are now substantially less dingy, and the kitchen smells delightfully of Mop-n-Glo.

Tough: Haven’t seen any for a few days, but we have pests. Yes, “life in the big city” and all that, but… yuck. If the little four-legged one shows its face again, we’re borrowing a cat.

Nice: Stopping by the Post Office to pick up a mysterious package, only to get home and find it contains FIVE Kronos Quartet cds! I confessed to a friend recently (someone in “the business”) that I had never listened to any of their work, and he said he would get me started. Current listening: Osvaldo’s Dreams & Prayers of Isaac the Blind. Thank you, friend.

Tough: Running out of disc space on my computer. Time for an external hard drive! (I'd rather spend the money on that fabulous purple dress in the window of Neda, but I suppose that can wait...)

Nice: A good audition (“Caro nome” and Baby Doe’s Silver Aria are actually a great audition pairing…) with hair that cooperated (mostly), and an afternoon spent delving through music for the spring recital project that I keep saying I’m going to write about but never do. Someday. It’s almost time to announce it in the concert series, so I might as well fill you all in on the program explorations.

Tough: Hearing that Erik, my ex-husband, fell off of a climbing wall Tuesday night. Fell 15-ft, onto his straight legs, which jammed up his back something fierce. He is recovering well, thanks to drug cocktails and days off of work, and friends rallying to care for him with dinners and taking care of the dog. He’ll be with his girlfriend this weekend, too, so I know he’s in good hands… But I still worry.

Nice: A weekend full of plans for drinks with friends, seeing my roommate’s concert, and brunch with more friends. Hopefully some yoga and some practicing to round it all out. I might even cook, finally.

Tough: Understanding what people mean when they say that NYC is the loneliest city in the world. I know I’ve only been here a month, but right now it stinks. Literally. I miss my dog, I miss having space around me, I miss nights with collaborative dinners and board games, I miss the fireplace.

I love my new city and my new life, but this time of transition is hard. I’m starting over with a clean slate, and sometimes I don’t know what to make of it. It all feels very “personal,” and I don’t write about that much here, but I thought I would a little. If only to refute the people who think my life is a rose-filled parade all the time (and I know you’re out there). You can know no one’s life but your own, and even that is harder than it seems. Remember what happens when we assume?

I’m going to post this. I might take it down or edit it tomorrow morning, after a good night’s sleep. But for now I’ll post it. Smudge the image a little bit…


Ok. First audition with the new haircut.

HELP! This is a great rock-n-roll, city haircut, but I have no idea how to pretty it up for an audition. I have bangs now, so to speak, and having them in my face is fun and sexy for walking down the street (I’m apparently the kind of woman who gets asked out by strangers on the street now… true story.), but it’s not good for an audition. No hair in the face.

Sigh. Maybe half-up with some strategically placed hair pins? And a lot of hairspray.

At least La Voce is working…

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

300th Post!

So, that technique-heavy pitch chart post was my 300th post on the concert. Cool!

I thought I would celebrate by switching over to the new Blogger format. The thing I'm most excited about is labels: I'll be adding subject-related labels to all (or most) posts now. This way, those of you who really like my tech talk can go back and read it all with one simple click!!

Ideas for other label categories?

Update: Ok, where'd my little picture and blog description go? Any Beta-Bloggers have any hints? ("Beta-bloggers." Sounds like a drug.)

Finally - Pitch Charts!

I know you all have been waiting with bated breath for this post! Ok, maybe only boston_soprano has been waiting, but hopefully the rest of you will get something from it as well. It gets pretty technical; bear with me!

What follows is the “patented” Lucy Shelton Pitch Chart Method for learning nonharmonic, 12-tone, or just plain hard vocal music. I learned the system in 2003 at Tanglewood while working on Dallapiccola’s 12-tone Four Lyrics of Antonio Machado. (For my non-musician readers: “12-tone” music is based on a pattern, or a “row,” of notes that uses all 12 tones of the scale before repeating pitches. This pattern can be presented in many permutations: chopped up, backwards, turned around, etc..) When I was learning the music, at home before getting to Tanglewood, I really sweated over the score. How was I supposed to get these “melodies” to stick in my head?! Especially when my line often clashed in unexpected ways with the piano. I was really nervous. Was this going to be the first impression I made at Tanglewood, not knowing my notes?!

At my first coaching with Lucy, she put all my fears to rest. There was something almost mystic about the way this system takes the “impossible” and makes it not only accessible, but a delight to learn. Here’s how it works.

The basic idea is to separate the notes completely from the rhythm and text. In order to do this, get some blank manuscript paper (paper with music staves on it). Taking one phrase at a time, write each note of your vocal line as a whole note. If there is a key signature, keep it in mind as you write, adding the appropriate accidental to each note. (So, there will be no key signature on the staff itself.) When the melody line gets extreme, high or low, write the note in two octaves so you can practice the line with octave displacement. (This saves vocal resources in those early days of learning the notes.)

Now, choose one pitch to serve as a pedal tone. This should be the note, if there is one, that is something of a tonal center, a pitch you return to or center around throughout the piece. (For 12-tone, Lucy suggests simply starting with C.) Play this pedal tone in several octaves, sustaining it while you sing or whistle or hum through the vocal line. Pay attention to each notes relationship to the pedal; this is the key. For example, in the photo above, you’ll see the first few phrases of the first Machado song. Using C as my pedal tone, I would find the F# by hearing the tri-tone relationship to the C, find the A in relationship to the F# and the C, etc.. My favorite moments in this process are when you sing a half-step below or above the pedal tone and then resolve, as the Machado does in that first phrase (B to C). For music like this that has no “home” pitch, like tonal music does, this feeling of arrival is beautiful.

After you have worked through the vocal line a few times with one pedal tone, choose a new one. Find the second-most predominant tone, or use G for 12-tone. Go through the process again, hearing how the “melody” changes in this new context. Honestly, I find it beautiful.

As you’re working through the piece, also look for relationships within the line itself. Where are the major 4ths and 5ths? (You can see them indicated above by the triangular or bracketed lines.) Where are the traditionally scalar passages? Half-steps?

Work with the pitch chart exclusively for as long as possible!! Things like rhythm and language are much easier to incorporate, generally, than these unfamiliar melodic structures. Keep the manuscript paper with you and study whenever you have a moment, in the waiting room of the Social Security Office, for example. When working like this, without a piano for pedal tones, it basically becomes an exercise in sight-reading, focusing on the relationships of each note to the next. But always remember the pedal, and see if you can “hear” it as you work, coming “home” to it in your mind’s ear. An easy way to study like this, when out in public, is to plug one ear closed with your finger and lightly “whistle.” This works especially well on an airplane: you’re able to hear yourself clearly and not annoy your neighbors. And, again, it’s a good vocal resources conserver! No need to drill these notes at full voice for hours on end.

I think that’s it. Clear as mud? Please leave a comment if you have any questions, and I’ll try to clarify. Writing this all out makes me wish I had some atonal music to learn!!

Happy studying.


Well, if ever there was a reason to drop of the blogging radar for a while, getting married is certainly it!

Congratulations to Tomness and his lovely bride. Once you’re back from Hawai’i, we’ll have to finally meet up for that coffee. Maybe over a photo album?
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