Wednesday, July 25, 2007

“Dear Friend, leaving so soon?”

The words of the post title are from a Ricky Ian Gordon song, “What shall we remember?” which I am set to sing on the August 11 recital down here. The text of this song took a personal and poignant turn yesterday when I lost my Granddaddy.

Heh. “Lost,” as if I could possibly misplace him, as if he will ever again be farther from me than in my heart and mind and memory. I was his “Number 4,” an honorary title referring to my place as their fourth “daughter.” He was my kindred spirit, my buddy, my biggest fan, and I think I was his.
I lived with him and Mamma for a year in college, my senior year, so they got to watch, up close and personal, as I took the scary step from education to performance major. They watched me fight my way through my senior recital and sing my first opera, but their proudest moment might have been watching me sing the UGA Alma Mater at my graduation in Sanford Stadium. I was also so happy to have been able to sing with the Atlanta Symphony and to have him in the audience, and to have been able to sing at the Met, knowing that he was watching from a movie theater in Georgia!

Whenever I’m asked if I come from a family of musicians, I usually talk about how musical everyone is, how I grew up singing in church with my family (The Bird Family Singers, complete with guitar and rounds and matching outfits. Kidding about the outfits… kind of.), and how our family name likely was given to us years ago because of our singing voices. It’s a running joke on the Pabor side of the family that I most certainly did not get my voice from Granddaddy (that comes from my Granddad Bird), but he was totally comfortable with his musical “gifts!” When I spoke to him on Saturday, after he entered the hospital, his voice was terribly raspy and gravelly; even then, in such a state, he could joke about how he would “never be a high soprano” and that he would leave that to me.

He did make music, though, and passed along his love and passion for it to me. He played the clarinet from early on in life and even wanted to be a band leader a là Tommy Dorsey, but he had to go to war instead. He picked the clarinet up again throughout his life and as recently as last year was playing in the Classic City Band in Athens, GA. When I first heard Schubert’s “Der Hirt auf dem Felsen” (The Shepherd on the Rock), a gorgeous piece for soprano, piano and clarinet, I dreamed about singing it with him. (Read about it and listen to a recording here.) I’m talking with someone about singing that on a concert series in NYC next spring; if it happens, I will be dedicating the performance to Granddaddy.

But more than any of this, Granddaddy just plain loved music. He was embarrassed that beautiful music would make him cry; I probably got my proclivity for being quick to tears from him, as did my mom. He was touched by beautiful things, and I loved him for it. I love him for it.What shall we remember of the ones me miss?
Dear friend, pain in my heart,
I won’t be afraid if we’re meant to part.
Some things have to end before they ever start.
What shall we remember?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Blogroll Update, Summer ‘07

The full (enormous!) list is, as always, here. I’ve rearranged the page into a few more categories, since my two big lists of “Music” and “Other” were just getting too bloated to be of any good. I tried to cull the list, really, I did, but only took off three or four blogs that had become dormant. All the rest are still listed in my Bloglines RSS feeder, I swear. Big blog dork, that’s me…

These new additions are listed over on the side bar for easy access, where they’ll stay until the next update. Happy reading!

101 Cookbooks - Inspiration

bighappyfunhouse - found photographs

From Every Corner - SMB in PDX

The Good Musician - Lists, tips, ideas, definitions. These posts about practice journals and (some of the many) things that make a good musician are a great place to start.

Huffington Post - recently brought back to my attention

Pink of Perfection - La dolce vita

James Roe - NYC arts insight from the Dir of Helicon. This post on practicing vs. rehearsing is fantastic.

Slaves to Fashion - Glamour editor

Yankeediva - Joyce DiDonato, sharing her journey with us

Monday, July 23, 2007

Instant Opera

Kim posted a better wrap-up of Instant Opera than I ever could, so head on over there and read what she has to say. (Second half of the post.)

I will reiterate two points:

One: generous colleagues! Kim used the word ‘gracious,’ but I think generous works, too. Through this crazy project, we learned lessons in how to help someone out on stage - or how to ask for help! While we may never again have to help each other actually make up the story on the spot, we’re always going to be working together to tell a story. And we may have to feed a line or two. Mostly, we learned how to just play together! And you know how I love to play…

Two: recitative. Before we started Instant Opera, I was really nervous about tackling all the recit in the role of Susanna. I’ve somehow managed to get to this point never having sung a Mozart opera with recit, and I’ve been terrified! Recit seems so daunting, all set out there on the page in perfectly equal eighth- or sixteenth-notes which you somehow have to turn into something that sounds like speech. But, but… what about the rhythm? “Just speak it,” everyone always says. That concept has totally perplexed me, but now, after making up recit on the fly, I get it. A few more weeks of just speaking the Italian (hopefully soon with the help of FG, our Italian coach here at Wolf Trap), I think I’ll be ready to add the notes! That’s going to be incredible.

(I guess this is my first true “Susanna” entry. I plan to blog pretty extensively about learning this role, since it’s a big one, both in and of itself and in terms of my career. Stay tuned…)

So, yes, Instant Opera was an absolute joy and a thrill. I’ll write tomorrow about my final Wolf Trap assignment - the upcoming recital with Steve Blier at the helm - but first, a restful night at home after a delicious weekend back in NYC… (One word: Epoisses...)

Friday, July 20, 2007

Shop talk - arias

It’s been a while since I’ve written an “identity crisis” post, but as I’m starting to nail down arias for this fall’s audition season, the question of Fach is on my mind yet again. I’m coming more to terms with this every day/month/year, but it is still frustrating: I sit squarely between two Fachs! (Reminder for those not in the biz: Fach is the term used to describe someone’s vocal category. People love labels…)

I’m not quite a Lyric soprano, because my voice isn’t heavy enough to sing the big Lyric roles like Mimi or Marguerite. I also have an extension, meaning that I’m comfortable accessing notes above “high C” on a regular basis. Funny, but after a year of embracing my inner Lyric, my highest notes are coming back into focus again. I’m regularly warming up to an F# these days, and therefore that pesky E is getting more and more solid.

But I’m not a Coloratura soprano, because the color of my voice is warmer and rounder than one typically identifies with a “fireworks and bird calls” soprano.* I also am not comfortable with the pointalistic kind of coloratura, a la the Queen of the Night or Olympia, or even Lakme. But what’s one of my favorite arias to sing? Zerbinetta’s showstopper from Ariadne auf Naxos, widely considered to be “the” coloratura masterpiece. I just sang it again today after a few months away… what an incredible aria. It shows everything – lyric singing, agility, high and low notes, acting. Fantastic.

(* For the Associates concert, we all sang an aria or song, and I chose Caro nome (Gilda’s aria from Rigoletto). Several of my colleagues came to me afterwards and said things along the lines of “I’ve never heard anyone sing that with so much voice!” I had no idea what they meant by that; was I just loud that whole time? So I asked a couple of people whose opinions I trust to tell me what that meant. Turns out, it was, in fact, a good thing. The presence and warmth that I’ve been developing in my voice by working with Mark and by growing up and freeing up is really coming into focus, and rather than singing a light, quasi-chirpy Caro nome, my voice sings it as a Lyric soprano. Cool.)

So, I call myself a Lyric with Coloratura. Clear enough, right? The only trouble is that some auditioners might look at an audition list and see roles that, to their minds, might not belong in the same voice. But, I have to trust that they belong in my voice, and so the are “allowed” to coexist on my rep list. (See why this is frustrating?)

What are the roles I know I could sing the pants off of right now: Gilda, Susanna, Adina, Nannetta, Pamina, Zerbinetta, Anne Truelove, Baby Doe. So, arias from these roles should make up my audition list, right? Let’s see what that would look like. Generally, one aims for five arias representing the four major opera languages. I’m usually up to six arias these days, ‘cuz I want an extra Italian aria to show my budding bel canto chops.

It: Gilda, Caro nome
It, Mozart: Susanna, Deh vieni, non tarder
It, bel canto: Adina, Prendi, per me se libero
Ger: Zerbinetta, Grossmächtige Prinzessin
Eng: Baby Doe, Always through the changing (?? There are five others to choose from…)

What’s missing? What’s always missing?! Something French… I’m toying with “Non, monsieur mari” from Poulenc’s “Les mamelles de Tirésias.” Funny, 20th Century… Maybe I’ll spend some time with that tonight.

The trouble with Zerb is that her aria is 12 minutes long and a real test for the pianist. I usually bring my fearless companion, JD, to my auditions, and we’d rehearse it of course. I’ll have to poll some of my fellow sopranos who offer this piece and see which excerpts they offer – and if it ever gets asked for!

How does this list compare with last season’s list?
It: Nannetta’s aria
It, Baroque: Morgana, Tornami a vagheggiar
It, bel canto: Lucia, Regnava nel silenzio
Ger: Sophie, Presentation of the Rose
Fr: Sophie, Du gai soleil
Eng: Baby Doe, Silver Aria

I stopped offering Presentation about halfway through, ‘cuz I still have a hard time carrying that scene as a solo scene (it’s really a duet). And the “other Sophie” was rarely asked for. I feel like this new batch of arias is pretty consistent. I’m swapping a Verdi, a bel canto, and a Baby Doe aria for another of the same; I’m adding a character French (Tirésias) and a flashy German (Zerb).

This feels like a post I write every year… (Heh. Every year in mid-July, it seems...) Sorry for the rehashing, but it helps me get my audition book into focus! Up next: a recap of Instant Opera, but first a trip away from this idyllic countryside. A change of perspective is always good, especially when it involves good food, friends, and the best city in the world. Back soon…

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Wolf Trap Picture Pages

Sorry, guys, but I seem to have hit a writing slump. I’ve sat down to write almost every day for the past week, and nothing comes together! So, picture pages it is.
The cover of our Wolf Trap indie rock album. Actually, taken backstage at the Aria Showcase concert. We look like we’re just too cool for school.Jim, our fearless improv leader and bringer of such now-beloved games as “Big Booty,” “Zip Zap Zop,” “Yes, And…,” and “He said, She said.” We got to see him in action with his improv comedy group (former group, actually, as he now lives in Florida), and let me say: this is one funny man.Working with a high school singer at the anti-masterclass. We talked a lot about freeing up, not being stiff when you sing, and LB instructed her in the ways of French nonchalance…Instant Opera! Today we put on “The Happy Dragon,” which told the story of a wizard and a princess who galloped in the woods until a dragon came along, and which included such moralistic gems as “Material things can’t bring you happiness” and “Leave only footprints, take only memories.” So much fun!Tonight’s dinner: polenta with spicy peppers and onions. Actual cooking (as opposed to grazing or eating out) inspired by my blog crush…
While I do miss the breath-taking Santa Fe sunsets, I see some beautiful ones from my little retreat here.

More soon, I hope, as this writer’s block wanes…

Saturday, July 14, 2007

FriPod: Mind, Thought, Hear

(I’ve made up Scott’s FriPod lists for the past few weeks but have never gotten around to posting them. Today’s seems fitting somehow, I can’t really say why. I keep these on my iPod as playlists; it’s fun to see your music thrown together in different ways. Enjoy! Oh, and I’ve replaced “Thought” with “Think,” ‘cuz I didn’t have any songs with “thought” in the title…)

1. “It’s all in your mind,” Beck, Sea Change
2. “New York State of Mind,” Billy Joel, The Essential Billy Joel
3. “Speak our minds,” The Innocence Mission, Glow
4. “She’s already made up her mind,” Lyle Lovett, Joshua Judges Ruth
5. “In my own mind,” Lyle Lovett, My Baby Don’t Tolerate
6. “It never entered my mind,” Rodgers & Hart, performed by Miles Davis
7. “Never mind,” Nancy Griffith, Little Love Affairs
8. “How does it feel? (to be on my mind),” Over the Rhine, Patience (I.R.S.)
9. “Always on my mind,” Pet Shop Boys, Discography
10. “Never you mind,” Semisonic, Feeling Strangely Fine
11. “Don’t think twice, it’s alright,” Joan Baez, Ring Them Bells
12. “Don’t you think,” Natalie Imbruglia, Left of the Middle
13. “What do you think?” The Sundays, Blind
14. “Hear me Lord,” Bonnie Raitt, The Best of Bonnie Raitt
15. “What do you hear in these sounds,” Dar Williams, End of Summer
16. “I hear you say so,” Innocence Mission, Glow
17. “Let’s hear that string part again, ‘cuz I don’t think they heard it all the way out in Bushnell,” Who Else but Sufjan Stevens, Come On, Feel the Illinoise!

(I seem to have a lot of “Best of” albums...)

Thursday, July 12, 2007


Everything I had planned to post about seems trite after hearing about Jerry Hadley. For those who don’t know who he is or what happened, please go read this article in the NY Times. Just know before you read it that it isn’t good news.

I can’t stop thinking that this is a reminder of the side of this business we don’t talk about very often. The lonely side. The side where we constantly put ourselves out there for people’s approval and admiration. The uncertainty about the future of our careers. All of those things that can make as singer feel like he is all alone in this business, that it’s all up to him, and, oh god, what happens if he fails?

I doubt there was a singer out there who, when Beverly Sills passed and the world mourned and shared stories and sang her praises, didn’t wonder, “What will people say about me when I die?” I sure did. Who doesn’t hope to touch lives the way she did and to be remembered with as much love and fondness? A thought like that can either be an inspiration, as it was to many, or it can come to weigh very heavily on your mind and heart.

I will not speak to what brought Mr. Hadley to his decision, and I have no stories or memories of him, other than that of his presence as a great singer. I can only say that, for myself, I am grateful to my friends and family who have stuck by me during the past year of growth (I often use another word to describe last year, but we’ll leave it be for now…). I have learned that I have people I can call at any time if I’m scared, nervous, lonely, sad – and I can call them when I’m happy, excited, feeling silly. I am so blessed.

My family, all of them around the country. JD and ND, MP and PDB, CLR, CT the DT, MP, KG, LW, KW, all my blog friends, my new Wolf Trap buddies and Met colleagues. You are my lifelines. I am grateful that you are there, and even more grateful that I have learned how to use you. I am learning to be a lifeline, too, and I am honored every time you call on me.

We’re not all alone in this business, or any business, but we have to reach out, to look, to open our eyes. We have to ask for help. My heart aches for Mr. Hadley, and for all those who feel they are alone. Reach out to someone today, even if it’s only a smile or a small random act of kindness. You’ll never know how much it can help.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Quiet, busy

Quick update: I had a wonderful four days in Georgia (where I picked up some kind of cold or allergy or something that is causing my nose to stuff), and started two new projects upon my return to Virginia.

I've got a few posts brewing in my mind; I'll try to get them up this week. The past week has been too full of family dinners, lunches and brunches with friends, swimming, birthday parties, girls' nights, and general good times for me to sit down and think clearly!

Topics on the docket: being in your body vs. in your head, Instant Opera!, a Blogroll overhaul, and more about my upcoming year. Hope everyone is staying cool!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Joy, unending

Last night as I sat visiting with my grandparents, we talked a bit about opera singers who they have enjoyed listening to but who have since retired. Granddaddy was a big fan of the Three Tenors, back in their hay day, and he was excited to hear that I'll be (kind of) working with Domingo next year at the Met (I'll be covering in Iphigenie). The next singer to come up, of course, was Beverly Sills. "Is she still around?" he asked. I told him that we'd all been saying prayers for her for the past few days, as her publicist had just announced that she was ill, that we all were preparing to lose her. And sure enough, this morning, we woke to the news.

It always surprises me when I am moved by the death of someone I've never met, but in this case, I really shouldn't be surprised. Hers was the second biography I read when I started my "what's the life of an opera singer all about?" quest. (The first? Callas, natch.) I read her memoir, Bubbles, and was struck by her absolute love of singing. Her Joy! She sang because she was born with a song in her heart and she had no choice but to share it. Just look at the slideshow that accompanies the Times story; there is joy seeping out of every pore.

Every time I saw her on television or heard her on the radio, whether she was singing or conducting interviews, that smile blew me away. And she sang with Muppets! You can't tell me that she didn't relish the opportunity to be silly at work... Talk about living in Joy! More than in her singing, more than in her career, I desire to be like her in that.

Thank you, Ms. Sills, for your Joy. You have infused it deep into our hearts and into the heart of this profession. We have lost you, but you have given us so much.

Monday, July 02, 2007

For the Record

It is already way past my bedtime (or what should have been my bedtime tonight), but I’m about to head to Georgia for a few days to visit family and friends, and there is news!

Kim has finally announced on the Wolf Trap blog that we are going to be releasing a recording of Volpone! She’ll be giving a more detailed explanation of the process, and later I’ll share a bit of my experience (we recorded all four of the performances and did a two-hour touch-up session) from the stage side of things. It was an interesting element to add to the mix of performing this challenging and wonderful piece. We had a great final show today; really, a lot of fun. I’ll miss it!

This recording will bring my current “discography” up to four: Griffelkin with Boston Modern Orchestra Project while I was still in school, Ainadamar (which, um, in case you missed it, won a Grammy! I got my certificate just before I came to Wolf Trap. Eeek!), this recording of Volpone, and Long Road Home, the Parkinson’s benefit cd with Bill Barnewitz (we recorded it in Santa Fe last summer; read about it here.) That cd was just released last week, I think, and while it is currently only available through European distributors (including, please consider buying one. All the proceeds from this amazing collaboration go towards Parkinson’s research.

Featured on Long Road Home are singers Joyce DiDonato (who is now blogging!), Jennifer Holloway, and Eglise Gutierrez (all Cendrillon cast mates); pianists Carol Anderson and Ursula Oppens; and Margaret Butler, oboe; Todd Levy, clarinet; and Ted Soluri, bassoon. Those last four join Bill (who plays horn on all tracks) for an absolutely beautiful performance of Mozart’s Quintet for Piano and Winds, K. 452. It is a gorgeous cd all around, and would be worth picking up even if it weren’t for such a good cause. As soon as I hear of a US distributor, I’ll let you know, but for now, all of you in Europe: buy one!

With two other recordings in the works for next year (including a recording of Hillula and other selections from the Bhakti Project – it’s not too late to make a donation!), I might need to add a Discography page to my website. How cool is that?
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