Monday, January 30, 2012

Monday Funday

Yesterday was a wash. I barely remember it. I touched down, picked up my too-big-for-the-overhead-compartment-so-it-had-to-be-checked carry-on, and there was Joe, bleary-eyed, waiting with the car to pick me up.

I barely made it through my solo at my second church job… for some reason, the gods saw fit to bless me with one that was an entire page of passagio singing and four full slow measures of repeated G5s. It is Murphy’s Law that of course this solo should occur in the rotation when I am at my most tired, most dehydrated, and most…zzzzzz wait, I fell asleep while I was typing that. When I got home, I threw my coat on the floor and got straight into bed, only to awaken about an hour before my evensong call.

At evensong rehearsal, I kept making embarrassing rhythmic mistakes and generally mortifying myself in front of the whole soprano section. I wanted to wear a sign that said: “Don’t mind me, I got up at 3:30 am.” The good news is that I did finally get it together for the service. The minute it was over, I practically ran to the nearby bar for a vodka and club soda. I’m pretty sure I’m not an alcoholic, but boy did that make all the difference in the world.

Today I made it to work, barely alive, hoarse of throat and dull of mind.

But I’m so glad to be home. I really love home.

Even the Lord doesn't get up this early...

I am coming to you from the's five-thirty am. I got up two hours ago, after drugging myself into a fitful sleep around 8:30 last night.

Why would I choose a flight this early? I was just asking myself the same thing. Then I remembered, oh yeah. Because I don't want to lose any more money this weekend, so I decided to try to fly back in time to make it for my second church job on Sunday. Oy vey.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Home is where a CVS is

When Joe and I took our trip to Italy and Spain a few years ago, we were in food heaven. Culture heaven, scenery heaven, history heaven. We were not in toiletries heaven. You'd be surprised what you didn't realize you might need during three weeks in Europe in the middle of the summer. That is when we developed our profound and enduring appreciation for a good old fashioned CVS. King of drug stores.

I made it to Beantown, drove myself from the airport to the hotel without incident, except when I realized I had no idea how to get the trunk of my rental car open. After a few minutes in the rain of looking inside and out, I found the miniscule button that apparently relased the hatch, a relief since I need my luggage INSIDE the hotel.

Being away for a singing thing can involve a hell of a lot of sitting around. Which is why I was thrilled beyond compare upon discovering that I was located directly next door to a Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, TJ Maxx, and, thanks be to God, a CVS. So I will have snacks and nailpolish to keep me company, and maybe some discount shopping!! Not that I really have any room in my bag to bring stuff back, but as with my last singing trip to Detroit, I get some of my best shopping done on these weekends away. Lots of time, depending on how I sing, lots of reasons to console myself with inappropriate purchases, no very bored husband to cater to.

So, I've taken a nap, read, typed to you, and hydrated. I have rehearsal in about two I'll check out the japanese place across the street.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Rumi: you know you needed some

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing there is a field.
I'll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass
the world is too full to talk about.”
― Rumi

Neurotics unite

One thing that really does not mix with my singing habit is my popcorn habit. When was the last time you heard someone say that? Yeah, exactly. But I love popcorn. Not the kind that has all the fake butter on it, or the movie theater kind...just the plain air-popped kind with salt. I eat it every night while watching TV if at all possible. I really feel that if I murdered someone and was going to the electric chair, and they asked me what my last meal should be, I would ask for popcorn as an appetizer. Which, considering that we live in a world that has truffles, artisan breads, french and italian cheeses, potatoes, and the list goes on and on, it is kind of weird that a simple thing like popcorn would make the list. But I love it.

Until a little piece of a kernel gets stuck in the side of my throat.

It has happened so many times, of course, that I have to pick these little guys out of my gums, that a term has developed to describe it: popcorn shrapnel.

But this morning when I woke up with that little pinching thing on one side of my throat, I was like, oh god, not now. Throat infection-a-rama, after everything that has happened already this month? Really? I am not going to describe the scene to you, as I reached down my own throat to try to get the little piece of shrapnel out. It wasn't elegant.

It probably would have dislodged itself on its own, but I would have been damned if I was going to take that chance with my exciting adventure coming up tomorrow, when I get to try to drive in Boston by myself. World's scariest city to drive in.

Today, I think I'll lay off the popcorn, have a coaching, go to work, teach, pack, and then go to bed early so that I don't look scary getting on the plane tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Silent practice works

When my coach suggested silent practice last week because my recovery was going a bit slower than I would have liked, I sighed. I knew it was coming. I knew that was what I should do, but I just HATE IT. Afterall, I sing because :

1. I love the way it feels
2. I want to be heard

I'm preparing a new aria for a competition, and have experienced the level of anxiety only a crazy soprano the entire time I was sick, knowing I couldn't practice something that desperately needed practice. So, I had to do the whole speaking the text in rhythm thing, working on it from a dramatic standpoint, watching endless youtube versions to gain perspective.

And when I decided I was finally ready to sing it, and did, it had come a long way. So that's fun. All that wasted time hadn't been wasted...what do you know. It's good, too, because I have so much music to learn in the next two weeks. A fabulous and exciting Duparc duet for a recital, and oh yeah, to brush up Donna Elvira enough to bring back out in public for another show.

My Christmas present-- an Ipad (yippeeee skippeee and so over the gift amount limit we agreed on...but he never listens) has been so amazing when it comes to getting me mobile with all my music and recordings so that I can have a lot of stuff with me wherever I am to work on. I downloaded pdfs of all my pieces, and have the i-tunes tracks to get some work done during all that downtime during the competition this weekend. The only problem is that the Barenreiter Don Giovanni is not really available as a Kindle edition, so that's a drag. But I suppose I could scan various parts of it and download them. I am being rather lofty in my goals for this weekend, really, because of course, it is very possible I could do something stupid during my audition and embarrass myself to the point that I must console myself with food and trashy magazines.

After this next couple weeks is over and I am settling into the idea of only having to worry about Don Giovanni...I really need to go shopping...I think I lost my fabulous.

Friday, January 20, 2012


I now realize that my last post made actually very little sense. I am not surprised, to tell you the truth, my brain is addled with the various chemicals I have been giving it to get this infection out of its system! Yesterday, I had my first coaching since before Christmas (although I had others scheduled I had to cancel because of an inability to phonate), and it was a bit rough, but it felt good to know that no, I had in fact NOT done irreparable damage to my cords because of all the coughing. There were some moments of true worry, I must say.

So, I write my teacher an email that goes something like this:

"I have to sing in a competition in a week, and haven't practiced in two weeks. What do I do to get everything back in time??? AUGHHH I am scared!!!"

A few hours later I receive an email that goes something like this:

"You know what to do. Go slow, go easy, rest, hydrate, trust yourself."

So, basically, why, after 15 years of studying voice do I still feel compelled to ask someone else to tell me what to do???? It's not like I've never been in this situation! Trust myself. Wow, what a concept.

I am still in the stage of feeling I have to be very protective of my cords when I sing and I hate that, because it is as though I am not really doing myself any good by not leaning more on my voice. Why practice if you can't really practice, you know? It's hard to go slow. But I'll do it.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Rehabilitation Station

You never know how much NFCS means to you until you have a question about vocal cord damage due to coughing. You do a search, and it brings up literally zillions of entries about coughing. After reading a few hundred, you feel like you have the singer consensus about the situation. And now, well, you're even more confused than before.

Yesterday I started freaking out because I realized, "Oh my word, I feel just as horrible as I did five days ago!" And then I started to really worry that by now I had already coughed myself into a vocal injury, which is when, of course, the NFCS search debacle began. So I started calling doctors.

Finally, I got a hold of some antibiotics and today I'm feeling better, my voice is slowly coming back, but I'm still worried that I won't have my chops back for next week when I have to fly to the semi-finals of a competition.

Singers, what are your suggestions for me to get back up to snuff quickly without hurting myself? How do you recover muscle memory quickly after a long illness?

Thursday, January 12, 2012


Well, I got the cough. Good god, how long have I been sick again? I think it's been 13 days. The illness kind of changes everyday and it keeps tricking me into thinking I'm getting better. So today I wento the doctor, who promptly handed me some heavy duty cough syrup and said: "You have a cold-- there's one going around that lasts two weeks. I promise it will go away soon."

No antibiotics for me. No quick fix.

Right now, the cough has taken away my voice, and everytime that happens I wonder if it will ever come back. I think most singers worry about these things.

I am practicing acceptance of what is. And praying that I'm well for my gig tomorrow night.

I'd really like to be done now.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Master Class

Sometime ago, I vowed I was done singing in master classes. It was just too scary, and somehow gimmicky, you know, sing it the second time and of course it will be better. I always felt I learned more listening to the "master" work with the other singers than I did when it was me.

Then I got the opportunity to do this one, to sing for Frederica von Stade, mezzo-soprano extraordinaire, and scary or no, I figured I'd better not let that chance pass me by. I went for a coaching to kind of polish up my piece, and my adorable coach said when I told her what I was preparing for:

"Okay, so this is one of those times when you really want to not suck."

Pretty much.

So, I felt good about my choice of arias, and where it was vocally, things were looking good. Then I got sick. AAAHH

I almost cancelled. But I've learned that my voice is usually okay all but the worst day of the cold, as long as I don't get a cough. Coughs are the voice killer. Nasal congestion is actually oddly un-scary for my voice, unless whatever I am taking to help it dries me out, making singing uncomfortable. Thankfully, I didn't really have anything pressing to do, so I could spend lots of time (i.e. waste an entire week) drinking green tea and getting better. With lots of encouragement from Joe, and my dear Mrs. M, I finally realized how stupid it would be to NOT do this, and we got up early and left for CT early Friday morning.

The truly lucky thing about this master class experience was that I was singing on the same program with two other people who just happen to be two of my best friends. And for some reason, the hotel must have sensed the connection and booked us in connecting rooms. This came in very handy when I was curling my hair and realized I had forgotten hairspray.

Oh the other thing-- Why didn't anyone tell me how perfectly amazing parts of Connecticut can be?? It's perfectly idyllic!! I'm moving immediately. Well, when I win the lottery, that is.

We rehearsed with the pianist, appreciated the amazingness of the gorgeous New England church, and then spent a lot of time standing around awkwardly and being nervous. Getting ourselves mentally prepared to be ripped to shreds in front of an audience of blood thirsty opera fans. I thought I was ready-- I'd memorized the meaning of each italian word, and I'd brushed up on all the facts surrounding the opera my aria was excerpted from...then she arrived.

Elegant, poised. It's the kind of thing that takes years of being an incredibly successful operatic powerhouse to cultivate. And it made me think that it I hope I someday can approach that sort of elegance.

So we all went out into the house to sit together and await our turn.

It was packed. There were so many people.

Then Flicka began her opening remarks. She didn't spend any time telling everyone about her very long list of accolades and accomplishments. She told people what it was like to be US-- the nervous, freaked out singers-- she said that the voice is part of the human body, therefore imperfect, and subject to all of the emotions and experiences that human beings have. You can't put it away, you can't have it tuned. You are just you, whatever you have experienced, whatever you did the night before, whatever you had to drink, however sick with a cold you were. So, thanks to this grand lady, before we even began, the audience was on our side.

I was first. Oh man oh man oh man. It was like my entire nose and throat region had completely dried up. Dry as a gosh darn bone. I'm dying. The music starts and somehow I manage to sing some kind of version of the aria I was supposed to sing. No whammies. No whammies.

The minute she addressed me, I felt like I was going to be okay.

I loved that she didn't make us prove how much we knew, and then make us feel bad if we were so nervous that we couldn't remember our own names. Flicka shared what SHE knew.

We had the best time.

So now, it seems, there is even less of a reason to be a diva-ish, complaining soprano. Flicka didn't need it to get where she got. Let's redefine soprano-dom, shall we? Can't we please prove that you can get just as far being generous and kind as you can with being demanding and, well, insecure?

Talk about a master class.
You go girls.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

starting the new year off right: hello, cold

Well, here I am, sitting in bed, I just woke up from a nap, trying desperately to sleep off my cold. Because there's this thing I realllllllyyy need to sing for on Friday night.

Gosh darn it.

I am practically floating in echinacea tea and green tea and seltzer water. My neti pot is glued to my right hand. I have eaten more mucinex than food, and all I can think about is blowing my nose.

Lord, I pray, don't let it turn into a cough.

Sorry to bitch. As some wiser people than me have said: this too shall pass.

Monday, January 02, 2012

2012: the year of getting out of my own way

Getting rid of obstacles

1. Anger, resentment, and annoyance.
The only person those feelings are hurting is me. Talk about stupid. In other words, cultivate compassion and patience. If there's no action I can take to change whatever is bothering me, then it's just downright silly to let it bother me.

2. Listening and self-correcting while performing.
Let go. Focus on just letting it go and stop trying to control the voice so intensely. Stop holding it in and back...let it gooooooo

3. Fear of failure.
No explanation needed. And so totally unproductive.

4. Worry over someone else's opinion of me.
Needless, fruitless, etc., etc.

The best things about 2011


1. Tough music
Early last year I was given the opportunity to learn and perform what I soon discovered was the most complicated piece I'd ever taken on. It also turned out to be one of the most rewarding. Talk about facing your fears! I was scared every single time I opened my mouth to sing it. While incredibly beautiful and effective, it never became "comfortable," keeping me absolutely on my toes throughout the whole experience from the first rehearsal to the closing performance...then:

2. Sickness
Somewhere during the last weeks of rehearsal of this very challenging piece, Joe developed quite a health situation that put him completely out of commission. I quickly realized that I'd been taking my husband's contributions to the household for granted. Oh my lord. Suddenly I was taking care of him, the house, working, and rehearsing the aforementioned really hard piece. I brought him home from the second surgery out of three just two hours before my dress rehearsal, only to discover our house had been broken into! This was one of those times when I was kind of forced to dig pretty deep to not suck that night. The whole experience: what seemed like the perfect storm of stress, made me appreciate Joe and everything he does for me and the amazing fortune of good health more than ever before.

3. Then came yoga
So, it's no secret to anyone who knows me that I love food and hate exercising. This is the recipe for certain disaster of self esteem. You want to at least feel like you're doing something for your body, you know? I've made peace with the idea that being skinny is not enough of a priority to me to starve myself, but I do want to be healthy and not out of shape. When I cancelled my gym membership because I loathe the gym and everything about it made me feel like I was wasting an hour and a half of my life, I promised myself I would replace it with something. Little did I know when I walked into my first yoga class that it wasn't just going to make me more sore than I'd ever been in my life, but it would begin something very transformative for my mind and heart as well. Some of the most memorable moments of this years have happened in a yoga class...whether it came as a major lightbulb going on or as a word or sentence spoken or an emotional response to a physical pose that forced me to really take stock of something in my life. I am proud of myself for having the courage to walk into that first class.

The article "Two Ways to Deal with Negative People" was the impetus to change some things about the way I dealt with a couple of people in my life. It's crazy how changing my outlook has transformed each of those situations.

5. Practicing Peace in Times of War
This book is unbelievable. Reading it through once a month will be a goal for 2012.

There must have been a lot of other lessons along the way, but these are the ones that stand out in my mind.