Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Tuesday: fear factor

I have been MIA lately blog friends, but I bet you haven't missed me. We're all auditioning and preparing and taking buses and trains to sing for people and being brave. I applaud you.

I was thinking about the popular exhortation to "do one thing everyday that scares you," and realized that musicians and singers specifically are way over their quota especially at this time of year. If doing one thing everyday that scares you is truly and act that will enrich your life and develop your character (and I believe it is), we've got a lot of character building happening.

As I contemplate that phrase, it does make me a bit more introspective (as if I'm ever not), and wonder what I do or avoid doing out of fear. The other day another singer asked me about the results of an audition I'd done, and when I said I wasn't cast, the person asked who had been cast instead of me. I am so glad I stopped to think before I answered, because what was about to come out of my mouth was an answer specifically designed to make myself feel better by down-playing the talents of the other singer and the judgement of the audition panel. Oh, I've done it before. And I'm not proud. Phew, I avoided it this time.

Why would I ever think that that kind of thing would actually make me look good, make me feel better, or help to elevate the already strained atmosphere of classical singing? Maybe I need to just practice saying the phrase: "I think I must not have been what they were looking for. I better get back to work!"

Seeing another singer succeed should make me feel all the more hopeful and motivated to make myself more ready for that opportunity when it does come. It should give me the sense that it IS possible, not make me want to give up altogether because it was her instead of me.

Talk about facing your fears.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Monday: Live the Question

Oh my gosh. It's been a while since I've written, kids. I think this whole singing thing is getting a bit, well, busy? And, hey, I'm busy filing rejection emails in carefully marked folders entitled: OH WELL, BETTER LUCK NEXT TIME and DON'T EVEN TRY/NEVER AGAIN.

Because I just realized something. It is not my job to worry about the odds. Neither is it my job to worry about the numbers. Or the sopranos or the mezzos or the ratios there of.

It is my job only to do what I can do (apply, prepare, show up), and let the universe figure the rest out.

You'll hear people say: "It's just absolutely essential that you know for sure what your true purpose on earth is." Or "You have to know who you are and where you are going."

That is such a blaringly easy thing to say to someone when you have no real advice, or any idea to how to help them.

I think that my idea of what I am striving for is always changing, and I find that statements of certainty about anything tend to scare me, but my heart says: I have to sing. Do I know without a doubt who I am and what my ultimate purpose in life is? Absolutely not.

But I am living the question.

Deepak Chopra says: Live the question. And the answer will dawn on you when you least expect it.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Friday: from a wise woman

Audition season can make you remember why you do what you do, it can give you a goal to work toward, something to help you truly focus your practice time, great feedback from the panel can make your entire week. There are also those days when you're standing by Sbarro waiting for the Bolt Bus back to wherever, in the rain, with a heavy bag, dress, shoes, looking like a drowned rat, wishing to die and questioning why you ever thought pursuing a career in opera was a good idea.

So, today, because I love Maya Angelou (in my opinion, one of the great sages of our day), here's something she said that feels right for this time of year:

“A bird doesn't sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.”

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Wednesday: The post-audition thank-you note

I’ve been to seminars, classes, and you have too, and this has come up. People I love and respect have differing opinions. But here is mine.

1. There are two kinds of auditions: The kind where you are one of hundreds of people all paying $35 dollars to be heard for about 3-5 minutes, if you're lucky. And then there is the kind where a director or conductor are taking time to hear singers on their turf (a church, or the university where they teach) on a smaller scale, maybe it's even just you they've agreed to hear.

Note the difference. One audition involves the singer paying. One doesn't.

2. Consider for a moment that it is probably a part of a conductor/artistic director/etc.'s job to listen to auditions, because they rely on singers to perform the things that they want to direct or conduct. They need us to make their vision for their company, choir, etc. a reality. Please remember that you, too, are very important to the process of creating a show.

3. However, if I have asked for something out of the ordinary, such as special accommodation of my schedule that was not part of the original block of time alotted for the auditions, and it was granted, that deserves acknowledgement. It is not to be taken for granted that musicians are by far the busiest, most tightly-scheduled people I know, and if someone gave you any extra time, fit you in, it's a big deal. No really. If someone has gone out of their way for you, show your appreciation, and they just might become your biggest fan.

4. I admit, I'm a person who's kind of into thank-you notes in the first place. I think they are polite, I think it shows respect, thoughtfulness, and generally, that you care.

5. I have often noted (no pun intended) that while I do feel especially lucky to have gotten an audition when there are lots and lots of applicants for something like a YAP, I have, in almost every case (with the lovely notable exceptions such as St. Louis and Santa Fe), paid a non-refundable fee, taken time off from my job, paid for a bus ticket, and numerous other costly things to get to that audition that I am very lucky to have. Are they really doing me the favor? In that situation I suppose the reason to send a thank you note would simply be to hope that you might jog the memories of the people that heard you and to remind them that you actually did come, that you were there, that you exist, and that you sang, X, Y and Z. Although, there is a very good chance that if you just sang musically, in tune, all the right notes, with delightful and engaging acting, you would stand out from the crowd on your own.

6. There is something that feels, don’t kill me, a bit desperate about writing a thank-you note under the above circumstances. I’ve done it. And for some reason, it didn’t really leave me feeling warm and fuzzy. If everyone is sending them, do you think that it really is making a difference for you? If the answer is yes, then, by all means do it, but I suppose that I am starting to feel like singers, but sopranos specifically, need to stop living from a place of fear, and start living from a place of “Let me share this aria with you and remind you why humans have never gotten tired of hearing it after three hundred years, let me share myself, my heart, and who I am, and you will want to send me a thank-you note when I am finished.“ I am constantly reminding myself, in singing and in life, that I have nothing to prove. I do not have to prove that I am cool, that I am smart, or that I am the best singer you have ever heard. My job is only to do my work, be nice, and be me. I think a lot of times the bad feelings start and the thoughts about needing to be reminding and asking and sending things, after you have sung your aria and a half, poured your soul out on the floor, and they are still sitting there expressionless saying thank you for coming. It’s okay. There's dignity in showing up. You did your part. Walk out the door and get a coffee or better yet wine, and go home. It’s life. And it’s the one we chose.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Tuesday: The Four Questions

Last night, at yoga class, I was handed yet another moment of enlightenment, for about eleven dollars. And, very sore shoulders. But I've always wanted toned arms, and I much prefer this method to the one where you wave some weights around and stare at all the people with awkward gym clothing.

In order to basically take our minds off the fact that we were in agony, our amazing teacher adds chanting, singing, and lots of scientific and spiritual information in to the class. Last night's were especially thought provoking. She introduced each of the Four Questions of the Shaman, as we held another pose that was related to it. By the end of the first, there were tears rolling down my cheeks, partly because of the question, partly because of the PAIN! Good thing it was dark! Or everyone would know just how much of a basket case I really am.

First question:
When did you stop singing?
Not art for art's sake, not a highly refined discipline. Singing as a pure expression of exuberant joy. This really made me think.

Second question:
When did you stop dancing?
I haven't done any actual dancing since...well...a long time. It was something that used to make me feel light and happy and beautiful. Did you ever stop to think that dancing could actually be the solution to all of our problems with ourselves? Maybe it's time for an actual solo living room rock out dance party. Let yourself dance. If you can't bring yourself do dance in a public setting, do it alone in your room at home, but do it.

Third question:
When did you forget the power of stories?
In other words, when did you stop believing that miracles could happen? When did you become cynical? When did you stop really listening when people tell their stories, and stop sharing yours? Stories, like those in the bible, the ones your grandmother tells you about the old days, the one about the singer who worked her tail off and one day really got the big opportunity she had been unknowingly, but arduously preparing herself to be ready for all that time?

Fourth question:
When did you stop finding comfort in silence?
I always liked crowds, and the energy of a crowded room. But it can feel like I'm being overwhelmed by the energy that's coming at me from every side. It is an interesting thing to listen to the silence within yourself even when you are in a loud place, like New York at Nola Studios with jaded singers all around you, for instance. Some people call it listening to the listener. I find that it is easiest to connect with that silence when I am paying attention to my breath. Which couldn't hurt your singing, either.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Monday: from my guru


The four questions of the Shaman. They really rocked my world.


I'm not going to lie and say I'm feeling fresh as a daisy, but honestly, even after getting home last night at midnight, I still feel like I had a more relaxing weekend than I usually do when I am at home! No church, no synagogue, no teaching, just flying around and picking up rental cars and eating at abysmal restaurants and putting on make-up, and then, well...singing an audition.

My favorite moment on the flight there was when I got to my seat, I saw a gentleman sitting in it. "Oh," I said, smiling, "I think that might be my seat...the one on the aisle?"

"Oh, okay," He said, as if he were surprised. "I was hoping you could trade with me because I have such long legs I really like to be on an aisle."

His legs, I might add, were no longer than mine.

"Well," I said, still smiling, "I'd be happy to, as long as you are okay with getting up to let me out to go to the bathroom regularly, as I drink a lot of water when I'm flying."

He looked oddly shocked. I mean I really didn't think it was that weird of a thing to say. I drink a lot of water, therefore, I have to pee a lot, therefore, you'll have to get up a lot if I let you have the aisle.

He hemmed and he hawed, I continued to smile, and he obligingly slid into the middle seat and relinquished the prized aisle to moi, the one that I had, mind you, purposely booked for the very reason I explained. I then proceeded to put on my Vick's Vapo Rub and my socks, and drink an entire VERY large bottle of water, and consider what about that exchange had made him so uncomfortable. And you know, I think he was honestly, just really surprised that I didn't just say yes, of course. When I started to think about it, I felt this tiny twinge of anger. I felt put upon, annoyed that he would ask me to give up the seat I had booked, for a very specific reason, when he did not take the time to plan ahead to do the same for himself. He probably does this every time he flies. Just asks people to move, and they do.

Then, I thought, why would I create this entire script in my mind about this and a complex story surrounding this situation? I'm going to actually put myself into a place of anger over something that is not even an issue. I'm in the damn seat, that's all that matters! The fact is, he had the right to ask. I had the right to say no.

Later, when a very well-hydrated young opera singer arrived at the rental car pick up, low and behold, a VERY bright yellow car had been assigned to me. The young man who gave me the keys said that he thought that an "attractive lady" like me would enjoy a bright yellow car. I have to admit I was flattered to be called attractive, since I've kind of felt lately like my powers of attraction are drying up...but the car....the car. It was hideous on a whole other level. Does it matter? Is it worth hurting this guy's feelings? I would be driving it only for about 24 hours. The older gentleman after me got a nice civilized white car. But, there I was, with my yellow car of shame, driving away down the road to find my hotel and the nearest place to get something to eat.

On the subject of food...why must everything be so horribly over-salted? Okay, I'm done.

It's scary how much free time I had. I did my nails, I shopped, I watched Law and Order. It was awesome.

But here's the thing. The actual audition part: you know, the whole reason I did this...

When I got there, my warm-up went great, everything felt wonderful. Somehow between talking to the pianist, greeting the panel, and walking up on stage, I lost my ability to basically breathe.

The first piece was full of unusual breaths and singing that was not as controlled as I wanted it to be. I had to really work hard at not hating myself for that.

The second piece was great.

But I am concerned they would have already formed their opinions of me by the time I opened my mouth to sing a second selection.

What can I do? Nothing.


Friday, November 04, 2011

Friday: leaving on a jet plane

Tomorrow I leave for my little audition overnighter, and I'm really excited. I love going places by myself. I get so few opportunities to really be with myself, as weird as that sounds, that I'm kind of looking forward to it.

That being said, there is always a modicum of anxiety that enters my little brain when considering what to pack and what to wear on the plane. Why? It's not that big of a deal, and I'm not going to like Pakistan or anything. Where I'm going, there's sure to be a Target and a CVS should I need one. But I have this sense that when I'm in an airport surrounded by hundreds of people, it's not going to make me feel good if I look at all schlumpy or disheveled. But you still want to be comfy and warm. So, I'm thinking this is a job for a favorite member of my wardrobe family: leggings.

I've got my amazing pumpkin spice granola (comment if you'd like the recipe!), my green tea, my vick's vapo rub for use under my nose during flights. It is my theory that it keeps the germs out...and it definitely makes people avoid trying to converse with me because I look like a freak. I'm hoping Joe will loan me his noise-cancelling earphones...but we'll see about that. I've got my GPS for rental car driving and audition venue finding. I'm taking one pair of audition shoes and a choice of two dresses...we'll see which I feel like wearing the day of. goes!

Friday: a blog post to share

I can only imagine how the world of singing would change if importance were put on the issues mentioned in this wonderful blog by Claudia Friedlander!

Tuesday, November 01, 2011


Oh my gosh. The kids trick-or-treating! It's so cute that it's almost enough to make me want to have a couple dozen of my own! Wow. It was a smorgasbord of cute last night.

This week, I've made an effort to kind of give myself a little more downtime as I prepare to go on a little trip for an audition this weekend. I honestly am so excited about it. I need to practice, but I don't want to be my usual weekend wasteland of exhaustion as I head out. I'm staying in a truly "spectacular" airport hotel, and one thing I really don't love about that whole scene is the breakfast situation. So tonight or tomorrow I've got a recipe for Pumpkin Spice Granola that sounds like something the hubs and I would really be into. And, I can pack some to take with me to eat the morning I am out of town, and it will feel like home.