Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Making a decision to succeed

Many of you may have forgotten all about me, it's been so long since I've posted.  I can't really explain why I haven't blogged!  I just stopped feeling like I had anything worthwhile to share that I hadn't shared before.  But lately, things come to mind, I have ideas, I notice things, and I wish I had a place to express them.  So.  I'm back.  Soprano is stepping out.  Yet again.

One of the reasons I didn't feel like writing was because I was doing a lot, very busy, singing, working on my voice, earning a living, things were happening with family, etc.  Since I last posted, I've gotten to sing some of my dream rep with orchestras, with great ensembles, in weird situations and in great situations, had to sing difficult pieces while terribly ill, was engaged to sing things I thought at the time were vocally slightly wrong for me, one that I am now convinced was totally wrong (lesson learned), and even a few that felt just perfect, I signed with a manager, I freaked out, I meditated.  Basically, in the past year, I think I've learned a ton.  I am no longer just speculating about singing stuff that is scary. I'm starting to do it.

The over-reaching lesson I've learned this year was one thing: I decide whether this is going to be good or not.  This performance, this experience.

The orchestra is tuning up and you are sitting there trying to disguise the fact that your folder is shaking.  And you can look out at the audience and think "What am I doing here? This is ridiculous. I got the music for this a month ago, and since then I've had 8 other performances, all of crazy music that I didn't have enough time to learn and I'm exhausted and scared and I am going to run away now." Or you can think, "I'm scared, but there's no turning back now, I practiced this and now I am going to sing it well, because what would be the point of sucking, after all?"

When I can pause in my terror just long enough to allow a hint of logic to enter my brain, I realize that allowing fear to take over is only going to absolutely ensure the occurrence of the thing I am afraid of: FAILURE.  Being bad.  Not sounding good.  Being flat.  Coming in wrong.  Being behind the beat.

Now, we all know we can decide anything we want, but the body has real physical reactions to nervousness.  They are: dryness, reduced breath control…no need to list them here, we're all WELL acquainted.  But I find that I do better with handling these symptoms of nerves when I am completely aware of them and absolutely prepared.  If I practice and prepare the piece with these symptoms in mind, I can prepare myself for how my body will react in those situations rather than being surprised by it when I'm on stage.  I feel like I wasted a lot of time practicing to sing something in the perfect set of circumstances rather than the worst ones, because I had a strong sense of how things SHOULD be.  Things that can only go right in the best of acoustics with the best pianist with the most well-lubricated throat with beta blockers and the most sleep probably aren't things you should be singing in public.  But that is a really hard lesson to learn, especially when you're a soprano, and you're just relieved you got the call in the first place.

I always get a kick out of singers who come out of an audition room gasping and making lip-smacking noises and exclaiming "I'm so dry! It's SO DRY in there! Ugh!!! Yuck!" I've never known whether this declaration was meant to psych out the other singers or to make an excuse for the singing that we all just heard from the other side of the door. But either way…I always think…Yeah, you were nervous, why are you surprised that you felt dry?

The truth is that you can never prepare for everything.  Weird stuff happens, companies don't have the money to pay for enough rehearsal time, early in our careers we are frequently filling in for others on short notice and haven't had time to live with the music long enough, we have day jobs and can't focus full time on our singing work, once in awhile the orchestra gets things wrong too that can throw you,  and perfection is impossible.  However I've found that  I do better if I make a decision to take control, a real choice in my brain that this is happening and it is going to be good, things work so much better. Then I unclench, release, my nerves relax much more quickly, and the feeling changes to something more akin to excitement than fear.

Now, if I can just unclench long enough to not freak out about the Mozart aria I'll unleashing for the first time next week...

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Geeking out

Well, gang, I've been doing some serious role work, listening to recordings galore and working on my high Fs.

The past few days of listening have sold me on a couple things.

A: I do not favor the light, tweety sound in a Queen of the Night.  Nor do I favor the robot sound.  It doesn't have to be like that to be right, people.

B: There is just nobody who does full-voiced, effortless legato Mozart like Edda Moser. Her Queen is RIDICULOUS, and the F in "O zittre nicht" makes you want to stand up and cheer.

For Konstanze, I'm loving my girl Edita Gruberova.  Plenty big, but small when it needs to be, and actually, you find out with this role, that it should be small whenever it can be small.  A girl has to save when she has three bravura arias pretty much back to back, the highest 39-page (in the Barenreiter) quartet ever, a 20-page duet, oh, yeah, and then the finale.  I had a fabulous coaching last summer on Konstanze, and the conductor I was working with reminded me that Mozart wrote the orchestra parts with the singer in mind, with a lot of light writing in between the heavy parts so that especially in the very difficult, virtuosic moments, you do not also have to be pumping full tilt.  You can take it easy sometimes and save the bravura for the end of the aria.

It is intense stuff, but the best, most refined, sensible music in the world.  It takes very little time to learn it because it is so smart, but to sing it well and properly takes FOREVER.  You have a real sense of history and duty when you sing these things and it is not to be taken lightly.

These are the things I am learning.  And washing it down with a lot of seltzer water and iced tea because it is hot.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Weekend Jaunt to the Big Apple

It wasn't exactly a jaunt, really.  We were busy every second.  It was intense.  

First, my bus was late and I barely made it to my lesson.  Speaking of lessons, by now I should know that there is literally no chance of getting to New York on time on a bus on a Friday afternoon.  REALLY.  And I need to plan for that better. The traffic is super horrific.  I barely had time to get some grapes at that iconic purveyor of produce, Duane Read.  But I got there, and I sang "Traurigkeit" like a champ.  It think this Konstanze business is working for me. 


Then, I took the subway back downtown to meet Joe at the hotel and get dressed to go for dinner at the ever delicious Benoit.  I had the cheese souffle there Friday night that made the world seem so good and sparkly and purely lovely.  I mean, who doesn't want to eat something that is literally oozing delicately flavored cheese?  It was unreal.   We had lots of plans for going to other places for drinks and dessert, but by the time we had stuffed ourselves with savory French delicacies, there was absolutely no room for anything else.  And between my work meeting in the morning, rushing to get to the bus, rushing for the subway, rushing to get grapes, rushing to my lesson...your girl was tired.

The next morning, it was my diner for breakfast, then another walk, and my lesson.  We got a cab to take us to the bus stop.  Well, either this gentleman was new or he hated me, because I had an honest to goodness panic attack in the car while we were sitting in cross-town traffic almost barely missing our bus. 

But I came home with a lot of music to work on and some clear direction as to what the heck I'm doing this year with this whole singing thing.  

In general, I am gaining the courage to put myself out there a bit more, and having the confidence to send the emails and ask for the auditions and self-promote just a bit better.

Love the art, hate/embrace the business.  But we have to wade through. 

Thursday, July 25, 2013


Tomorrow Joe and I are NYC bound and I am giddy with's been nearly two months since my last fix.  Stay tuned for some blog action from the road!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Epiphany at Bethany

My family does something completely insane every summer.  We rent a huge house on Bethany Beach and twenty-three people of all ages, political affiliations, occupations, first languages and religions live together for a week.  It has its stressful moments, especially when it's my night to cook!  But it feels very grounding to have such strong bonds with people with whom you never need to wear makeup, or put on anything dressier than a t-shirt.  You can just let it all hang out. 

However, I must admit that being around all my accomplished family members gives me a good reason to spend some of that time on the beach really thinking about my life and my purpose on earth.  I mean, my cousin Jorge just spent several weeks in Guatemala repairing cleft palates of babies and children for free.  What could I ever do for anyone that would be that life-changing?  Joe and I are the only musicians, except for one budding diva (!!!!!) and one jazzer-cum-accountant.  Other than that we have two MDs, two PhDs, one dentist, six attorneys (one of whom was just a commentator on the news, for god's sake), and the list goes on and on.  Luckily, we also have three visual artists, a linguist, and a therapist to balance it all out.  But I always feel a little bit like the underachiever, like maybe what I do is a little bit misunderstood. 

I think we all have moments in life when we wonder if we are on the right path, if we are fulfilling our purpose, if everyone feels this struggle, or if those who are really living their destiny sail through life with fewer cares.  One day I was feeling this particularly acutely, so I took a long walk on the beach.  When I am walking on the beach, it really is almost as if my brain goes blank.  It is the calmest I ever am.  The sound of the waves have such a soothing monotony and that is why I love the beach-- it's my happy place.  While I was walking, the thought came to me that I do have purpose, that I am living my purpose, that I'm right where I should be, and struggling at it like every other human.  I have two purposes: Joe and classical music.  

The clarity of this little revelation (which might really seem obvious in some ways) startled me.  

Without either I would not be me.  I would not be who I am.  I owe them both everything.  One saved me in one way and one in another. 

And so I know now.  It was quite a moment. 

Thursday, July 18, 2013


A good friend of mine has the personal policy of giving herself 24 hours to spend feeling bad about a disappointing experience.  Which makes sense for a few reasons.

1. You have a chance to acknowledge the fact that something bad happened
2. You have plenty of time to really feel sad
3. By the end of 24 hours you are usually sick of feeling bad, and don't feel like you are supressing your feelings by moving forward.

Once in a while there is something that happens that is so difficult that you really do want to wallow for longer.  But having a definite end point arranged is best, that way you can say with authority: ENOUGH is ENOUGH.  And you are controlling your feelings instead of allowing them to control you.

So I've reached the point where I am over it, and since I've already ordered the score and a recording, I'm going to learn the whole role any way.  The minute it comes, I will dive in as if I do in fact have to sing it very soon, I'll get my translating on and get to work.  I just know I'll sing it, and when the opportunity comes, I'll be ready.

And in the meantime, and after work of course, you'll find me at the pool.