Sunday, December 30, 2012


2012, oh how you have yanked me from one end of the emotional spectrum to the other!  What a year it has been with great triumphs and horrible stresses.  But that is the way every year is, after all!  Thinking back, though, a few things stand out.

1. It has been an unbelievable year with friends and family-- bonds were created and renewed and strengthened.  This year I have felt more surrounded with love than ever before, and it gives me an immense sense of well being.

2.  I've made it to a weight loss goal that I never expected.  More to go, of course, but I made it this far, and I am empowered by the feeling that I have the ability to change myself.  I am reminded that I am in charge of my life.

3.  Joe and I had a spectacular summer with lots of time together. 

4.  The death of my teacher was a terrific loss.  He was a rock in my life, in many ways.  But the hole he left forced me to be brave and look for new ears to hear me and to listen to myself and my intuition as I searched for the next person who would be my professional mentor.  Over the weeks and months, its become clear I made the right decision.  The experience has also taught me that I know a lot and have had a lot of experiences, and that I know deep down what is best for myself, if I listen to me instead of all the voices that want to have a say.

5.  I have learned that at a certain point there is no sense in being nervous.

6.  I have learned that certain things aren't worth worrying about, but how not to worry...that is another year's worth of work!  But I am getting so much better at letting things go.

7.  I have learned that making my bed everyday is essential to feeling good about my day and about going to bed at night.

8.  I have learned that its important to keep the circle of vocal mentors small and carefully chosen.

9.  I have learned that getting dressed in the morning can be a delight and the very nicest thing I could do for myself is to make the effort to look put together everyday.  It changes my whole outlook on life.

10.  I have learned that when something is right, it flows.  It works out.  No sweat.  When it is a horrible struggle, there is always a lesson to be learned.

What will 2013 hold?  What will my resolutions be?  I'll be thinking about that a lot over the next few days...

Happy almost new year!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

One week til... you know...

The first year I was married the holidays kind of freaked me out.  I felt weird, slightly off-balance, and a little misplaced running from my family to Joe's, with no real traditions to follow because we hadn't come up with any yet.  The ones from my family kind of got a bit f-ed up a while ago when my parents divorced and we all grew up and moved away and my mother remarried, so I was doubly tradition-less.

I realized the importance of tradition only when I didn't have any any more. 

So the next year, I decided to just do stuff, fun stuff, and say "Its a tradition!" And then if you do it again the next year, BAM!  you've got a tradition!  So now I have a few traditions-- second thanksgiving dinner (the one I make myself after I get back from my grandmother's because she won't make a turkey), a big party with carol singing, eating a big christmas breakfast just Joe and me (wafflesssss) on the china complete with mimosas, watching A Christmas Story on Christmas Eve while wrapping presents, and there's a couple others too that I can't remember right now.

The thing about traditions are that they give me a feeling of groundedness.  I have to say I've never had a lot of familial continuity, and it took me a long time to figure out that being happy in life does not depend on having a close-knit family that does everything together.  And what a revelation it was to realize that you can have traditions that include just you.  Like my tradition of getting a pedicure before vacation, or the Monday night sojourn to Trader Joe's, or the grilled cheese at the diner after a good voice lesson.  

I think one of the things that can make life super fun and meaningful is turning situations that could be stressful into something to look forward to with little events or rewards that make you happy.  Packing for a family vacation can be a pain in the a**, but looking forward to that pedicure the night before you leave sure does make it easier.  

So think of something you dread, and find a way to spin it in a not so bad way.  Teeth cleaning?  Take yourself out for lunch afterward, or have one of those ridiculous coffee drinks at Starbucks that you'd normally never indulge in.  It's a tradition! Bam!  And suddenly, it doesn't seem like the worst thing ever.  

Next tradition up:  The Rockettes at Radio City!!! I can't wait.


Thursday, December 13, 2012

How today went

I absolutely must tell you about today.

It was sublime.

But not because it went as I had planned it.

I left Baltimore on a 1:45 bus and proceeded to settle in.  I still haven't finished a book I began long ago, so the plan was to finish it up.  I'd come home from work, made myself a good lunch, packed two cookies and a bag of almonds and the obligatory seltzer water that has made it comfortably possible for me to stop drinking soda.  It was a Bach day, and so, when a young man several rows ahead began blasting hip hop through his ear buds so loudly that I could almost see the blood dripping down his neck, I just put in my own earbuds and cranked the Bach cantata du jour as loud as I could stand.  I felt very aggressive and as though I were proving a point. :)

The trip was really going quite well until we got off at the exit for the Lincoln Tunnel.  That was when my spiritual practice of the present moment began to be tested in a very mighty way.  It took a very painful hour for us to make it from there to the drop off point in Manhattan.  I had planned to meet my friend Alex, get something to eat at subway, and arrive at Nola in plenty of time for my warm up time in one of the studios. Yeah...I missed all of that.

As we inched along through the tunnel, I was working very hard to self-soothe so as not work myself into a decidedly unproductive lather. Deep breaths, Jessica.

Lest you think that perhaps I had never experienced a bus mishap, and that this was my first time at the bus problem rodeo, allow me to share another anecdote.  Once, a few years ago, I boarded a Greyhound at the extremely shady Baltimore bus terminal, all alone, binder and jersey dress in hand. When we arrived in Manhattan on time, I was thrilled.  With bus trips, one must celebrate even small victories.  After several minutes of driving around midtown west, it became clear that the driver was circling, passing the same landmarks over and over again.  He was lost.  And he remained lost for nearly 45 minutes, refusing to heed the advice of any number of frustrated passengers who knew exactly where to go.  And the thing too, was that he would not let us off the bus, so I missed my audition.  The proctor was kind enough to reschedule me slightly later that day, but the horrifying experience had put me off my feed.  I am sure I can't hold that driver responsible for my lack of a young artist contract that year (no, that would have had a lot more to do with the fact that I sucked), but it was nice to blame it on him anyway.

Anyway, back to my day today.

I texted Alex to say I'd been held up and would probably miss my time in the studio.  I called the studio and told them to sell it to someone else- I was stuck in traffic.  No studios available the rest of the night...I'd have to wing it and to heck with getting food.  It would be the old fashioned ladies room warm up for me. There I was, trying to keep my cool, having eaten my almonds and cookies, on a very hot stuffy bus, on my way to audition for something I actually really care about.

When we finally arrived, over an hour late, I called Alex to report that by some miracle I'd gotten a cab, but I probably could have walked faster the traffic was so bad.

When I got the the building where the audition was, I was about to go in, and I heard Alex's voice yell my name.  She ran up to me out of nowhere, seemingly,  handed me a bag with a protein bar, banana, and a bottle of delicious tea and said,

"I stalked the guy upstairs until he gave me a room for you...he had a cancellation now! Get up there!! Don't waste a second of it!"

I hugged her and babbled away totally shocked by her kindness.

"Don't talk, stop talking!  You have an audition!! Get up there and warm up!" She shooed me to the elevator and got on the train back to Washington Heights.

I ran to get the elevator, warmed up, ate my Alex-sponsored meal, changed, did my make up and had a great audition.

Mainly, I think I felt loved.  Everyone, from the very kind man at the studio who switched folks around to help me, to the wonderful pianist who played, to my amazing and selfless friend had given me something so special today.  They helped me succeed.

I tried to take her out for a cocktail after, but my darling Alex had an audition of her own tomorrow, so she chose to lay low tonight.  I practically ran all the way to 11th avenue to catch my bus one after wasting twenty minutes eating the most amazing dumplings on 9th avenue for dinner.

Now I'm on my way home.

What a day. It could have been a disaster but it really wasn't at all.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Tomorrow always comes

Tomorrow I'm going to work for three hours, then leaving the office to hop aboard a bus, travel to Manhattan (maybe you've heard of it), warm up at a weird time because all the studios are booked, and then have an audition in the evening.  I will be taking my new bag and a positive attitude.

This, in case you were wondering, is only stressful for the following reason:

I have a choral rehearsal tonight. 

Oh my.  I need to get over this, because choral gigs have to be part of the life of anyone who hopes to make money at singing (okay, maybe just me...not Renee Fleming though...lucky).  Also, they can be very fun.  However, the screamy tessitura is uber tiring, so I will have to get a very good night's rest tomorrow night and then tape my mouth shut until about 6 PM tomorrow night. 

Which will be just hilarious for all my fellow bus passengers.  

On a very positive note, my concert this weekend went swimmingly, so I am feeling vocally more confident.  However, an odd thing happened at the rehearsal-- I must have been singing rather wildly because I wrenched my neck something terrible and left in a considerable amount of pain.  I probably should have gotten one of those horrifying collar things. 

Wish me luck.  Hopefully I will not have anyone next to me on the bus listening to very loud music in their earphones. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Monologue madness

That awkward moment when you realize you have to do a monologue and your audition is in two days.

And you thank your lucky stars for once in your life that you are a total nerd who already has a ton of Shakespeare memorized and can pull a one minute monologue out of thin air, no problem whatsoever. 

This is one of the few times my nerdiness has come in handy.  Usually it is just a source of ridicule from ones siblings.

Friday, December 07, 2012

The Weekend

Tonight, we're starting on the Christmas tree. I think I'll make a nice dinner and then talk Joe into lighting a fire in the fireplace so we at least have ambience while we try to put the lights on-- always the worst part.  The ornaments will then become a long process.  I'll put several on whenever I have a spare half an hour, and eventually they will all be on the tree! 

Tomorrow morning I have rehearsal for concert no. 2 of the holiday season, and this one has a few more variables than all the others and a LOT more singing.  Last week was nerve-wracking because it was Bach, and with orchestra, but I only had to sing one piece.  This one is just me and a tenor, singing arias and duets and a few holiday things and hoping that we make it to the end of the 90 minute extravaganza in one piece.  I do, however, have a bright green dress and sparkly shoes, which should make up for any shortcomings in my singing, not that I plan on there being any.  :)

Next week will be the craziest week of the year so far, with work (its nuts this time of year), rehearsals, a trip to New York for an audition, a holiday get together, church, of course, and a concert.  It's exciting, and I'm not dreading it like I thought I would be.  Maybe I am finally learning the fine art of time-management-- a.k.a. you have to not schedule yourself back to back every second if you want to sing well.  You have to have time to eat, drink, and sit without talking. 

Have a wonderful weekend! 

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

The Opera Singer GIFT GUIDE

Let me just say that by the time we lay our head down on the pillow Christmas night, we classical singers have done a hard month’s work.  I mean for realz.  For the first time in months we may actually have a little extra money in our pockets, but we have swollen, tired vocal cords, sore breathing muscles, and aching feet to show for it, and every piece of concert black clothing we own is threadbare.  Our brains are officially dead after sight-reading piece after piece for the Christmas Eve marathon, memorizing all fourteen verses of O Holy Night and the First Noel for that last minute gig, and well, trying to read the conductor/organist’s mind as per usual.

Add to that the stress of trying to make it all work around our tricky audition schedules and going back and forth to New York, oh…and if any of us are academic voice teachers…well…forget it.  If you make it Christmas in the first place with all your hair, arms and legs, and not mortally ill, you’ve really accomplished something. And you know, sometimes just the emotional strain of hoping and striving for a dream can really wear you out, especially if you’ve been met with some rejection.  Don’t worry, singers, you’re not alone.

Believe me, we, like the rest of the world, have worked hard this year, made it through a hurricane and a presidential election.  So these are a few gift ideas for all the opera singers on your list, or if you ARE a classical singer, maybe it’s about time you TREAT YOURSELF.

1.  Audition Season Detox Bath Pack
So, you know how about this time of year, you start dreaming of being on a sandy beach in warm weather, frolicking in the waves?  And you know why you feel so great and relaxed when you come out of the water and lay down on your towel to dry off in the sun?  Because you just took a saltwater bath.  It literally flushes the toxins from your body, cleansing you from the outside in. 
So, put together sweet little box with Epsoms salts, lavender and eucalyptus essential oils and maybe a little loofah sponge.  Lavendar is great for a relaxing bath, and the eucalyptus is great when you’re feeling a little congested or think you might have a cold coming on.  Add a note about which to use when!

2.   Amazon Prime Membership
This would be a WONDERFUL gift.  We could order scores, books, CDs, and get FREE two day shipping!  Add to that the awesome bonus of access to the Kindle Lending Library, for FREE Kindle books!  Dreamy.   Never be bored on your audition and gig trips again!   Sitting on a bus is just WAY less of a life-sucking experience with juicy reading material.

I have these, and they are not only comfy but look way more expensive than the $19.95 I paid for them.  It is just a pleasure to be tooling around town in these with a pair of black pants or jeans.  And, they are audition trip approved, in other words: they are as comfortable as a sneaker, but provide a little bit more polish so you look cute and professional.  

4.  A gift certificate for a great meal in Midtown West
This, admittedly, is where we spend a lot of our time in New York, right, singers?  Or for those of you nearer Chicago, San Francisco, or points south, there’s probably a city you travel to often to do the old audition one-two.  A thoughtful relative or friend would thrill us if they were to pick a comforting, mid-priced, easily accessible restaurant and get us a gift certificate.  I mean, imagine not eating Dirty-Water Dogs (otherwise known as hotdogs from a street vendor) on the street for once!  It sounds like a little slice of heaven!

YAY!  Oh man I want this so bad!  My lovely colleague recommended it, and says it has worked very well for her, but it is a reasonable price, and oh so useful.  Even in the teaching studio, where the air can get awfully dry.  And you know what dry air means!  Long-living virus bacteria! 

Even if you’re not a history buff like yours truly, if you sing Mozart, this DVD contains valuable information about the times, the attitude, and exactly what the heck happened during that thing we like to call The French Revolution.  It changed Europe forever, people, and influenced a lot of operatic situations, so lets all get behind learning a little something this holiday season.  You weren’t planning on just sitting around watching football all day on New Year’s were you?

Hire us!  We will love you forever!  Give us the chance to sing something, anything!  We want to give what is overflowing inside us, what propels us from one up to an down to another up, what keeps us going when it feels like nothing is working, and nothing is going our way.  We want to give you our hearts, wrapped up in a little package called song.

And please email me and comment with more things you’d love or love to give as gifts.  I know you have more fabulous ideas for me!

Tuesday, December 04, 2012


Singers!  Right now, you’re feeling tired, overwhelmed, just absolutely completely sick and tired of Nola Studios and your audition wear desperately needs dry-cleaning.  You’ve run yourself ragged trying to give these people what they’re looking for, and you feel like you’re just about ready to…wait…don’t finish that sentence!   Read this blog about not giving up, and get back to me in the morning!  It’s called “Why never giving up is always the best idea.”  Shannon over at Simply Luxurious Life does it again.  I am officially inspired. 

Another thing—I added a book to the reading list!  Lessons from Madame Chic by Jennifer L. Scott is a wonderful book about learning to live a life of quality and consciousness.  I read the whole thing on the way to New York and back on Saturday.  It think it was really one of the reasons I enjoyed the day so much, since my audition was kind of lackluster!  

Monday, December 03, 2012

Letting go of limiting beliefs

I could listen to Bach all day.  And now I believe I could sing it all day too.  But first I had to stop saying that is was something I couldn't do. 

As singers, we do this:  we love a piece and we get a score and sing through it, just for fun, whether it is a piece that would work professionally for us or not.  Every light lyric soprano has sung "Vissi d'arte" with great relish late at night in a practice room.  Just because it is wonderful, and there is no reason to deprive ourselves of the sensation of singing that transcendent collection of notes just because you never be hired to do the role!  And that is how I started with Bach.  I love St. John, St. Matthew, and Magnificat.  I love actually all of it.  So I started singing through. 

Year after year I took out my Bach scores, and sang through the arias, experiencing various levels of frustration at my limited ability to negotiate the various melismas and awkward jumps.  At one point in my vocal development, I believed there was no reason for a lyric soprano to have coloratura, and stopped working on flexibility nearly altogether.  I look at that as lost time.  And that was probably the origin of my limiting belief about Bach.  

Not long ago I realized that if I had coloratura when I was younger, there is no reason I shouldn't have it now.  There should be no losses of ability as my technique grows, only gains.  So, with the help of my teacher, I set out to rediscover it.  As a result, I've gotten all my notes above the staff back in shape as well.  In the spring, I decided to stop saying there are things I can't sing.  It was silly.  Maybe Wagner would be a wildly unrealistic choice for me right now, but I will not say I can't sing it.  Actually, I truly believe there are a lot of things I can do and will do that I never imagined were possible.  We can do hard things.  So I decided to take out a couple of Bach arias and work them up for an audition.  Lo and behold, I got hired.  My experiment was working. 

In the age of the Baroque specialist, sometimes it seems like it makes sense to leave this music to them! But I realized yesterday that in a large space with winds and strings, even Bach requires excellent resonance and a full but flexible voice that cuts through the space is welcome.  I am always happiest to be enveloped by the sound of singer rather than having to strain to hear them.  And in the end it is really just about singing the music as beautifully and truly to the composer's wish as possible.  If you can sing it without sounding effortful, and it gives you joy, why not take it out for a spin?  

I still have lots of limiting beliefs lurking-- when they arise, I've made up my mind to stop.  Just STOP. Don't try, just do it.  Replace the belief that you can't do or sing something with encouraging phrases about what you can do.  You may just be surprised. 

Friday, November 30, 2012


It's hard to believe tomorrow is December!  It feels like just yesterday I was getting ready to go to our family beach week or heading to the pool after work to make the most of the long summer evenings.  Wow.  Here we are.

I love this time of year in some ways.  I love Christmas.  I adore Thanksgiving.  I enjoy audition season and all the singer noise in New York City.  But for those of us in academia its also absolutely insane.  Recitals, performances, juries, everyone is spinning out of control with their own feelings of complete overwhelm-ness.  Not to mention that beyond working tirelessly to ensure the students are prepared for their events, we have many of our own.

I'll be singing some Bach in a concert on Sunday and I'm really looking forward to it.  I probably shouldn't tell you this, but its my first professional appearance as a BACH soloist.  This music is hard, people.  But I have learned a lot-- the main thing being how important it is to have a great relationship with my metronome.  Being perfectly in time gives so much freedom.  Knowing you have the structure of a steady beat takes some of the pressure off of the voice, somehow, because we are no longer the leader.  The beat is the leader.  The rhythm takes over and all we have to do is make sound.

Tomorrow, I'll be in New York for an audition and a lesson.  It will be fun to get my teacher's take on a few of the interesting things that have happened lately in my musical life.  She is excellent at introducing humor to otherwise rather devastating situations to help me see them in a new way.  In any case, she has always encouraged me to own both my great choices and my mistakes, and to take back my power when I've unwittingly given it away.  Everyday I get better at knowing, just knowing, exactly what is the right thing to sing, the right person to work with, and who I am as a singer.  I've learned this year that my instincts are ALWAYS right and only when I ignore them do I get myself into trouble.  That little funny feeling in the pit of my stomach is the best indicator of whether I'm doing the right thing or the wrong thing.  Everyday I realize that age is unimportant, and desperation is NEVER the right motivation.  Scrambling to reach a certain point is counterproductive if you aren't ready to be there yet.

I also found a bag!  TJ Maxx to the rescue once again!  Hopefully I'll run into some of you in New York this season.  I'll be the one in the royal blue audition dress with long brown hair who is nervously making jokes in the hallway, hoping my nose doesn't start running while I'm singing (as it always embarrassingly does) and being really nice to the poor person who has to check in all the singers.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

First world singer problems

Okay, so tis the season to be going to New York every time you turn around.  Well, at least if you’re like me and somehow don’t already live there.  Now don’t get me wrong, I jump at the chance to go.  It is truly my happy place.  But one very significant first world problem I seem to be experiencing is that I don’t have a bag that really fits all my stuff.

You know:

-Hose/support garments (must have!!)
-Water bottle
-Turkey dinner with all the trimmings (In my fantasies, but certainly it would enhance my singing powers if I did have that.  I hear stuffing soothes the cords.)

Even if I did have a bag this big it would hurt horribly to carry it hither and yon from bus to rehearsal space to audition to lesson and back again.  I thought I had the perfect bag (girls think about these things) but it turns out it really hurts my shoulder and leaves me sore and grumpy for my audition.  So what do I do?  Surely there is some able-bodied young person for hire that might be able to become my servant for very low pay (i.e. the fun of being around me and my winning personality) and carry all my things.

Well no, there isn’t.

I toyed with the idea of buying hairspray and a little brush at Duane Read when I arrive, using them, and then throwing them out before the trek back to the bus.  But they are not nearly so heavy as the shoes, dress, binder, water bottle and I-pad, none of which I can afford to offload in the interest of comfort.

So I’m going out tonight to look for one.   Let’s see what I come up with.  And seeing as my budget for this is a little low, it may be that I will just have to put up with the shoulder pain and compensate instead by taking cabs everywhere.

See, I told you it was a first world problem.