Saturday, December 03, 2011

Family on the Road

Hello again! I’m writing tonight from a hotel room in Dallas, where B and I are singing a Messiah tomorrow. B3 is asleep in his little hotel-provided crib and B and I are winding down after a roller coaster day. We’ve had amazing musical experiences countered with the down-to-earth realities of family life. Our heads are kind of spinning...

I wish I could have pulled out a laptop and written a post in the middle of rehearsal today; there were so many inspiring moments that I wanted to put into words! We soloists are placed on a raised platform in front of the chorus but behind the orchestra, and from that position we are completely bathed in the incredible sounds created by the musicians around us. Our fellow soloists are top-notch, and the four of us have really enjoyed working together, creating ornaments “by committee” and singing along with our favorite choruses. (Tomorrow during the performance we will have to sit and listen quietly, so we got it out of our systems today.)

B and I really haven’t worked together that often since we’ve been together, and it is nice to have our most trusted pair of ears right there to encourage and support us. I listen for things I know B will want to know about, and vice versa. We can exchange a look that tells each other exactly what we need to know about how we did. On breaks, of course, we put those looks into words, and take the other’s advice or encouragement into the next performance. I love it.

(NB: Soon we will get to announce that we will be singing together again! Sometime in 2013, and in an opera very near and dear to our hearts. Stay tuned...)

The conductor of this group was a Masters student at UGA when I was an undergrad, so he has known my voice from its early days of development. I was a music education major when we met, and he remembers telling me that I should consider switching to performance. His instinct was correct, it seems, for here I am, lo these many years later, making my living - and raising my family - in classical music.

No matter what your profession, it’s hard to raise a toddler. They are complex and constantly changing creatures, with so many needs - not the least of which is a relatively consistent routine. My poor little guy (PLG, as we call him); just when he gets used to things being a certain way, we up and relocate to Dallas or Richmond or Atlanta for a few days. We have several basic routines that we do our best to replicate - morning, bedtime, naps - but so much is different. Sometimes I feel guilty, sometimes I feel lucky (nothing entertains a toddler quite as much as a new place to explore!). And how do I know if his fussiness is related to regular toddler issues - teething, tummy problems, separation anxiety - and how much is due to a new environment? How do I know if he’s whining because his tummy hurts or because he’s still distraught from being apart from us today? B3 has been in a church child care situation while we’ve been here, and that has been brutal. He cries as if he’s dying both when we drop him and and when we pick him up, but he has a great time in between! I know it’s the sort of thing he would get used to if it was an everyday routine, but for now, for a short term arrangement, it’s just hard for all of us.

Tomorrow we will get dressed up a little early and go get our picture taken by the Christmas tree in the hotel lobby. Henry has a little one-piece tux that I can’t wait to see him in! I love having my whole family here on this gig; when I am alone in a hotel room in Hong Kong in a few weeks, I will remember this time and wish they were with me.

Even if it meant cleaning poop out of the tub.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Brave Face

Today is my husband’s birthday! And he is in Macau...

We miss him terribly today, and even with our iChat videos we can’t manage to really connect and make him feel close to us. The internet is amazing, but sometimes a rough connection can make us so frustrated that it would almost be better not to talk at all. Henry is having a rough day, very clingy, and the weather is miserable so we can’t get outside and run around. All in all, it’s not a very fun day.

Or wasn’t, I should say. I started this post at naptime, and the first half of the day was really hard. But, as is often the case, if I set my mind to it, naptime was a bit of a reset, and we ended up having a really fun afternoon. We made pumpkin bread, Henry helping dump in the ingredients; we bundled up and shoveled a little snow; we watched most of Monsters, Inc. in several 20-minute segments. I’m waiting now for Matt to wake up on the other side of the world and praying for a better connection this time. It would be nice to see him smile on his birthday.

Days like this are hard. And sometimes I wonder if I make them harder by not grinning-and-bearing-it better. By not putting on a brave face. I felt awful that I couldn’t fake a smile for Matt this morning. But these days I am a terrible faker! When my first marriage ended, I told myself that I was through with faking it. Years of hiding my unhappiness and anger didn’t exactly serve me well, so I just said enough was enough. And until now, it has worked.

But now that I’m a mom, I wonder: Do I need to learn how to fake it again? To put on a brave face? Henry is a very sensitive boy, and while I never want to lie to him or present a dishonest picture of myself, does he really need to see how stressed and upset I am? Does Matt? Do my friends? My colleagues? Who really needs that information? Is there a way to maintain my honest living and not make everyone around me as miserable as I am??

I’m laughing a bit as I write this, because in this moment I am not miserable. Tired, yes, but not miserable by far. But I’ve been thinking about this this afternoon. How did I change things around for us today? I think I just gave over to what was happening, to the day that was unfolding. A day we can’t get outside is a day that Henry will need a lot of holding, lots of reading and lap time, lots of convincing that he is really tired and needs a nap. (Two out of three of those are really not bad at all...) So this afternoon we just did those things. And it was fine. I gave up on getting to the laundromat (in the snow?? what was I thinking, anyway?), gave up on getting any studying done (sometimes I can while he’s awake), and just gave over.

There is something to be said for that at work, too. Accepting your fate and just deciding to make the best of it. I guess that’s different than putting on a brave face, though, isn’t it? It’s not faking it. What is it? Making lemonade? Accepting? Giving over?

Maybe it’s just living the life you have and not the life you wish you had. I like that.

Monday, October 24, 2011


Remember the audition in this post?

I've been meaning to tell you that I got the job. :)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Better living through blogging

The season has started.

In the past ten days, maybe less, I’ve gotten two job offers and two inquiries for interviews about my life as a blogger and working musician and mother. So even though I’m not really working much this fall (except for a one-night concert at an awesome club in NYC), things carry on apace! Guess I’d better get to writing...

The thing is, “my life as a working musician and mom (and blogger)” is tough right now. B (my husband and fellow opera singer) is out of the country on a gig and I’m solo parenting our very spirited (artistically temperamented!) child. I’ve been on the road with Henry alone many times in the past, but being home (not working) is different, not to mention the fact that he is very different at 15-months than he was at seven! Let’s just say that if “getting into things” is Henry’s job right now, he is at it like he’s up for a promotion. Keeps me on my toes!

I used to compose my blog posts in my head throughout the day, sitting down and regurgitating paragraphs of brilliant prose that had been stewing in my brain for several hours. But now by the end of the day I can barely remember where I left my computer let alone piece together a blog post from memory. After making and eating and cleaning up meals and snacks, reading dozens of books several times each, changing diapers, walking and running and playing inside and out (regardless of weather), cuddling, crying (both of us, often) and napping (also both of us), I am done. I barely have enough energy to log onto iChat and check in with B, who is lonely without us on the other side of the world. How am I supposed to write? What should I write? Many people have been asking me to start up again, but honestly...

I am not a “mommy blogger.” I will actually go out on a limb and say that I feel that genre has probably done more harm than good. Well, maybe equal harm and good. Blogs have become so slick and sleek as more and more people are making their living through them, but now reading a mom blog is akin to reading a fashion magazine: Do you feel better or worse about yourself when you read it? Do you look at the pictures and compare your (real) life to the (edited and Photoshopped) one on the screen? How’s that working out for you?

Nobody likes a complainer; I get that. But nobody likes a fake, either. So I’m going to try to find the balance. This blog used to help me work through things that were troubling me, issues I needed to focus on; it was a great place to brainstorm. Even now, after working on this rather short post, I feel a bit of mental clarity. I know it’s good for me. Maybe it will be good for someone else, too.

I still get the occasional email from a young singer who tells me that my blog has encouraged or inspired them. Even though I often feel discouraged and uninspired as I figure out this working mother thing, maybe writing again will help. You’ll have to live with a boring Blogspot template, though; the last thing I have time for these days is learning graphic design. So until I get some high-paying sponsors and hire a designer...

But this is me. You just get me. Real, unflashy, working hard to figure it out.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011


So my friend LMB sort of challenged me to start blogging again while I’m out of work this fall. I’ve tried several self-imposed challenges of the “write every day” type, even starting a new blog on Word Press instead of Blogger, hoping a new interface would kickstart me. Nothing has stuck, and this might not either, but here we go in any case.

Yes, out of work. I finished up a super fun Figaro at Opera North in mid-August, and between then and early December I have no work. Well, I have a one-night concert event - a fund-raiser for Gotham Chamber Opera at La Poisson Rouge - but that’s it. Scary! Thankfully, because of my past work at the Met as a weekly soloist, I actually qualify for unemployment! How many freelancers can say that? I am grateful and not at all ashamed. :)

It’s a tough time in the business. I think it’s safe to say that most of my friends are in similar situations. Smaller opera companies (the ones that aren’t top tier like the Met, Chicago, San Francisco, etc.) seem to have shrunk their seasons to fit in the period from January to May, rather than filling the full school-year type season. Not sure why nobody want to do fall operas, but those jobs were few and far between. It’s a bit of an ego blow that I didn’t get one of them, but when I look around at my fellow “starving artists,” I know I’m in good company. But what do we do in these months??

All of my work this season is in NYC, aside from a short jaunt to Dallas for a Messiah (with B!). I’m thinking about taking on some voice and elementar piano students here at home. I would love to put on a recital somewhere, but that pays exactly zero dollars and requires tons of prep time that I need to be spending on my winter and spring gigs. (Lucia! In Hong Kong!! Yay! Over Christmas!!! Boo.) So, we’ll see.

In non-singing (or, should I say, non-no-singing?) news, I am quickly becoming a Pinterest addict. I have already implemented several ideas I’ve picked up there, and I am constantly looking at ways to improve or enhance our home and our lives. Great recipes, fun activity idea for B3, tons of organization and decorating tips. Love it! It has inspired me to pick up my needlework again, working again on a huge project I started in January 2001. My mind is full of fun gifts ideas for friends and family, and I can’t wait for Christmas.

** In typical representation of the way I’m operating these days, I started this post on October 1. Ah, well... So much for a 31-day challenge! But, at least I’m writing again, and hopefully I’ll find something interesting to say...

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Genuine Perfection

Today was one of those near-perfect summer days, the kind filled with snapshots and memories and awesome things. (The phrase “awesome things” indicates just how badly my writing skills have atrophied...) Among them:

* Walking through a street fair, in the sun under my sky blue “sunbrella,” wearing a polka-dotted sundress and red lipstick, on my way to rehearse my favorite opera.

* Playing with our friends and their beautiful 8-month-old at the amazing Hanover Library. Beaming with pride as the librarians smiled at Henry’s little oohs and aahs as we made our way through the walls of books, picking several to bring home, knowing he will ask us to read them many times.

* Coffee and snacks while catching up with good friends, watching our boys run (slightly wild) through the (practically empty) cafe. 

* Playing peekaboo on the bed with Matt and Henry and surprisingly them both so totally that we all fell in a heap, laughing til we almost cried.

* A delicious meal al fresco: grilled bbq chicken, local squash and tomatoes, baked sweet potatoes with local goat cheese, a cold beer. Henry eating all of it (except the beer) sitting shirtless in his high chair, covered in goat cheese and barbecue sauce by the end of it. We sat together at the table after eating and sang songs and watched Henry learn the difference between the sign for “more” and “again” as he asked to sing “The Grand Old Duke of York” over and over again.

In so many ways, these were little moments of perfection. Instagram-worthy moments that would be proud to be featured on any blog about the life of a young working mother and her family. Summery, happy, healthy. Perfect.

And yet... Isn’t there always more to the story? Today, to be honest, there isn’t much more; it was a pretty great day all around. But I’ve been thinking about this idea of perfection a lot recently. Why is it such a sought after goal?

The reason so many “mommy blogs” rub me the wrong way is the way so many focus on the wonderful, cool, stylish, special things they do with and for their children. That stuff is great, but I always navigate away from those sites feeling a little unworthy. Surely those women don’t have tables covered with clutter, or kitchen sinks constantly filled with food debris. Surely their children put themselves to sleep with no fuss, and they never bite or whine because they can’t play with the iPhone. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they DO, but who talks about that? That stuff is embarrassing, right?

I’m working on getting my head back in the blogging game, but I feel like it’s been taken over with “perfect” blogs, stories of women living perfect lives. My life is amazing, but holy cow is it every far from perfect! I also struggle with the desire to constantly improve my life and that of my family - what to read, wear, eat, do - but instead of finding inspiration, I get so discouraged by all the perfection and just go back to the status quo. That’s my own hang-up, most likely, but I’m getting kind of fed up with feeling unworthy. Let’s have a little more reality, shall we? Instead of Hair Thursdays or the like, how about we all take snapshots of the messiest room of our house and post them every Monday? Or every Friday is “How my child ruined my latest plan to have Me Time” story-sharing. It’s not so much misery-loves-company, because I’m not miserable, but I am real.

There is a parallel here to performing, and maybe I’ll write about it more another time. Now I have to go to bed because my adorable and brilliant son still wakes up 2-3 times a night. But basically, it all boils down to this:

Give me genuine over perfect any day.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Auditions these days

From today’s status on Facebook: “I have got to stop psyching myself out about auditions. I’ve been getting SO nervous these days and yet they always - knock knock - go well. I’ve got to trust more...”

I had an audition today for a company that was hearing rep for the next four years out. Lots of rep, and lots of “opera’s greatest hits,” which naturally includes many roles I am dying to get under my belt: Gilda, Lucia, Violetta, et al. Yesterday I sang through a couple of my arias, and things were going beautifully. I felt like I was singing lightly, without pushing or trying to make my voice sound bigger than it is, and yet the richness that has come into my voice over the past few years was there. High notes were feeling great. Even Henry seemed to like it. (There is nothing better than singing “Caro nome” with Henry in my arms, him laughing at each coloratura passage...)

But then this morning? I was a nervous wreck. I almost felt sick to my stomach in the cab on the way to the audition. What happened to the blasé auditioner I used to be??

A friend asked if I felt like motherhood had anything to do with these relatively new feelings, and I’ve been pondering that all day. I think the easy answer is yes, if only because the list of things I need to do in order to get ready and BE ready for an audition is so much longer these days. It’s not just about putting on a dress and praying for a good hair day anymore!

It’s harder to warm up well, since we can’t sing while Henry is sleeping. (I was just sure I would have a baby who could sleep through it, but alas!) I had to worry about the timing of feeding and naps and my departure. I got too busy with other stuff and forgot to feed myself, and so my blood sugar made me shaky and irritable. I was running out of time trying to warm up and review my arias, and the later it got, the more nervous I became and the tighter my voice got. All the confidence I had yesterday fell away with each vibrato-less high D or inflexible and imprecise run.

And yet how did it end? With me walking out of the audition room with my head high, feeling like I had not only sung the best I could sing today given the circumstances, but feeling like I was singing my best ever! What is this disconnect?

True, before the audition I had some time to collect myself and eat a Clif bar, as they were running late. I took one difficult aria off my list, freeing me up a little. I put on my kickass red lipstick. I chatted with colleagues and generally relaxed a bit before heading in.

But mostly? In the audition room I did what I just can’t do at home: I performed. I got my head out of the way and just sang and loved it. The high notes were there, and I remembered all my words. It was a great audition.

And it almost always happens this way! Why can’t I remember this in the hour beforehand, when I am freaking out and making myself - and my family - miserable? I never have these feelings for performances, only auditions. Is it something I’ve come to depend on, this dance of fear and doubt and the conquering thereof? Or is it just that I feel that the stakes are higher now, that I have more to gain and lose? I need the work, after all. Baby needs new shoes!

Who knows. I’m grateful that today turned out the way it did, and thankful to have such a supportive husband and smiley baby. We each, the three of us, have obstacles to overcome everyday, and we do our best to help each other out. It could be a hell of a lot worse...

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Let’s try this again

Hi, remember me?

Not sure I have any readers left, but I’ve been starting to feel like writing again. Rather than starting yet another new blog to “help me focus” my project, I just decided to just come back to the place where I’ve written successfully off and on for almost seven years now. I’m going to take a page from Tom’s blog book and just post when I have something to say.

Sometimes it will be about singing, sometimes motherhood, sometimes both, and maybe even sometimes neither. I don’t think I’ll do too much back-tracking, although the past year and half has plenty of material from which to draw. But there is plenty more ahead - not the least of which is our upcoming trip with the Metropolitan Opera tour to Japan!

Yes, we’re all going - Matt, Henry, and I - and yes, of course I’m nervous. We’ve had plenty of reassurances that we will be safe and that there is safe food and water aplenty. We have the blessings of our pediatrician and our families, and I am really starting to get excited. But I recently saw the list of company members on our chartered flight, and there are only a handful of guests coming, and only two babies. I was told that a lot of people bring family on this kind of tour, so I was really surprised - and a little concerned. Did we make the right choice?

Then I had to stop and think again. I am not bringing Henry and Matt to Japan so that we can have a working vacation, even though there are elements of that in this trip. They are coming along because I have a job in Japan and Henry is 9-months-old and can’t be separated from me for three weeks! Maybe there are moms who could be away from their babies that long; I know there are. I’m just not one of them. We are still breastfeeding and hope to do so until Henry is at least a year old; I don’t want to jeopardize that. Obviously I could have cancelled; I think the company would have understood my reasons. We would have taken a hit financially, but if I didn’t feel that we would be safe on tour, we would have found a way to work around the money. Once we got the information we needed to feel safe going, it just seemed like the best option for us all to go together.

If it sounds like I’m explaining myself, I kind of am - to myself. Every day I have to make choices about life as a working mother, and none of them are easy. Whether it’s taking my family to Japan or taking an hour at yoga to clear my head and focus my body, every decision carries consequences. Sometimes those consequences are immediately visible, some I won’t know for years to come. But I am learning to trust my instincts and to trust Henry’s resiliency - and Matt’s support! We are making our way as a family and I think we’re all doing a bang-up job.

Besides, other members of the tour may be bringing their families over for shorter periods of time, rather than from Day One like we are. There are many other flights to Tokyo and Nagoya in June! So, just because there aren’t many guests on this flight doesn’t mean they won’t be there. Right??

Breathe in, breath out; day in, day out... This is our life, and I love it.
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