Thursday, May 31, 2012


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

No limits.

This weekend was singerlicious!  I enjoyed lots of church and synagogue singing, and a wildly inspiring voice lesson that concluded with me singing a high G-- a note I haven't had since, well, a really long time ago.

There was also some really great pool time with Joe!  It is my favorite summer activity...and if there is a cooler of beer or cocktails!  Heaven!

I am preparing for an audition tonight and actually kind of scaring myself that I am not more worried about singing two Bach arias.  Especially since that was an entire genre of music I had pretty much written off for myself.  I remember actually saying "I can't sing Bach." Now, it makes me cringe to remember the way that I claimed that as truth for myself, limiting my own progress with my words.  Maybe it is the lovely time off that I have had, and the refreshing feeling of time to think, explore, study and practice, but remember the passage from the New Testament:
And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect...
My mind is in a daily state of renewal, I have to remind myself to stop doubting, but I am beginning to see the futility in saying what is not possible.  The world we live in is full of limits, and people who will tell you where you need to stop.  What might be too much for you.  Where the line is.  What is safe.  But what is good and acceptable and perfect for me is something I can only find when I have decided that I am open to change, to hard work, to discomfort and moving past the fear it brings, and to completely surrender to the love I have for singing.  Love is reason enough to do anything.

Only willingness to push myself and take vocal risks will result in transformation. I find my edge every day and try to go beyond it-- which is scary when you are talking about a few little muscles deep inside your throat that you cannot see and have become almost mystical for us.  I still have to consciously stop myself from singing the hard passages endlessly before a performance or an audition (leading to fatigue!) just to prove to myself that the ability to do it has not gone away, vanished, disappeared.

The truth is, it could disappear.  Something could happen to anything or anyone we love.  So we have to go for it completely every time we open our mouths, trusting that if there is something we are meant to communicate today, it will be there.

Thursday, May 24, 2012


I actually really like going away for three days.  It's the perfect amount of time.  I don't have to take too much stuff-- I don't miss my cats too much.  Miami is such a fun place-- and for a two hour flight you really feel like you are in a very different world when you arrive.  It's European in flavor, and a really refreshing departure from life in the Northeast.  The women are a little different there-- flashier, more glamorous, more confident and less understated.  I wore my striped Calvin Klein maxi dress one night to dinner and really felt like I was underdressed-- or somehow, just not fitting the vibe-- I was too Nantucket and not exotic enough.  Never had a bad meal-- fantastic food.  I didn't watch my diet, and had cocktails with every meal but breakfast!  So now I am back-- happy to be home and back on the wagon-- I feel well-rested and glad to be alive.

Now I'm ready to tackle the Bach and Handel I have to sing for an audition next week.  My voice didn't get as radically out of shape over the four days off from singing as I thought it would.  I missed it, though.  I started practicing not fifteen minutes after we walked in the door.  I am on the hunt for a new English aria and absolutely cannot wait to start working on all my new stuff.

Also, I am wearing mint green nail polish!!!!  It is super wonderful.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Things I am so thankful for this Friday

1. Elly Ameling (her Bach is really the best)

2. The fact that I had the courage to wear pink and red together today!  And that the skirt I'm wearing is kind of a label and I got it for ten bucks on Ebay!

3. My new necklace from J. Crew, courtesy of a special friend

4. Green tea with lemon.  It keeps me from eating the several bags of chips I desire.

5. Finally figuring out how to properly sear chicken so that it tastes good with out breading-- I did this last night to put on a green salad, and I think I may have changed Joe and I'd minds about eating salads for meals.  Here's how:  get a cast iron skillet REALLY hot.  Put a little oil in the pan and turn it up between high and medium for like five or six minutes.  Season chicken cutlets with A LOT of season salt (I use Morton's because it has a hint of Old Bay and I am from Maryland) on each side.  The key is to really thickly season them.  Pat the chicken pieces dry.  Slap them down in that hot hot pan and leave them there on one side until they are dark brown, without moving them.  Then flip them over.  You'll know when they're done, because you touch it with the tongs and it is quite firm and springs back.  Then you take it out and slice it and put it on your greens with balsamic vinaigrette-- shave some parmigiano on there, and it almost feels luxurious.  You know, like you're not on a diet.  Okay well...

6. It's almost time for our Miami get away.  I've never been to Miami, in fact the east of Florida at all!

7. Pedicure tomorrow-- first one since Christmas-- what color to choose?

8. Having a minute to spend with friends again.  I realize that there are a few people in my life that are so much like family that when I do not have the opportunity to see them regularly, it is hard for me to cope with life.

9. Thich Nhat Hanh:  a little Buddhist monk whose interview with Oprah I watched a week or so ago, and I have been re-watching it every few days.  I can't wait to start reading his books this summer.  There is something about him and what he has to say that makes me believe I can be a better person.

10.  My new mantra from Deepak Chopra:  My true self is fearless and immune to criticism. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

On to the next

I've been spending a lot of time looking through music, and You Tubing tons of new arias and oratorio selections that would work for me as I feel my center of gravity shifting higher.  Since I have an audition for an oratorio conductor coming up, I'm working at getting together a nice batch of contrasting pieces.  Right now, it's the first aria from St. John Passion "Ich folge dir gleichfalls" and Handel's "I know that my Redeemer liveth," as well as Brahms' "Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit" and all the stuff from Carmina Burana

As for opera, I'm totally challenging myself to go out on a limb with things I've got a feeling will be a while before they are heard in public!  Like Violetta and Konstanze and Gilda.  Then there are the things that can come out a bit sooner-- like Juliette and Alcina-- those are closer to what I have already been doing. 

So as I'm listening to all these different singers sing all these different things, I realize that there's really no reason to listen to any body but Jessye Norman.  And Anna Moffo.  And Edita Gruberova.  And Joan Sutherland.  No seriously.  Talk about resonance and presence in every note.  With Jessye, I love the humanity of her singing.  As for Joan, I can aspire in some way to her perfect other-worldliness.  But one thing I learned from my most recent experience onstage is that while inspiration comes from lots of places, the very best thing I could ever be is me. 

Which sometimes takes a lot of work.

Monday, May 14, 2012


You know how sometimes things come into your life and you wonder how you will be able to handle it, and then you decide to just do it, and when it is over you can't believe how great it was?  That is a singer's life in a nutshell.  All the time, moving forward, scared to death, but doing it anyway.

The show went so well, and I miss everyone in the cast terribly.  You all know how that feels.

The only thing saving me from complete and total despair at it being over is that I have my summer program to look forward to!! And so much music to learn for it.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Forgetting about opera for ten seconds

This video is my very favorite part of the 1940s Danny Kaye/Dinah Shore movie "Up in Arms."  The movie is a tour de force of good old fashioned singing and dancing and fun.  I really want to watch the whole movie, but if this is all I can get, right now, I'm good!!  So good to remember that music is about joy.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

The games we play

I have a long way to go before I will ever NOT be nervous at curtain, the moment before the lights come up, maybe someday it will happen.  But the lovely thing about this particular one is that I am rarely off stage, and so I never have enough time to stop and think about what I am doing enough to get really freaked out.  Even some of the most daunting moments come and go so quickly that I am spending really just more time being the character than being backstage waiting and having anxiety.  This is a good thing! 

So, my first aria, oddly enough, is more insecure in some ways, than the very hardest one that I have ever sung, which is Mi tradi!

The first time you open your mouth in the show and are waiting to hear what comes out...oh my, and especially when it is Mozart.  That is fear on a whole other level.  Fear that is unlike most other kinds of fear, the kind that most of the world's population will never understand.  The idea that you may, in fact, completely ruin your reputation with the events of one evening's singing is pretty stunning.  The idea that what everyone could be talking about afterwards is that you were bad is a horrifying concept in general.  Oh, and it is only a piece that everyone knows and loves, and has stood the test of hundreds of thousands of performances for nearly three hundred years.  But there is no sense in thinking about that if you can avoid it, so I play an interesting game with myself as the intro to the first aria starts.  I say, okay, Jess.  You are standing here right now and you have to do this.  You can't leave. You can't walk away.  Well, you could, but that would be more embarrassing than singing badly.  So, you're going to have to do it.  And it would be downright weak of you (and you are better than that and have years of training) to let the people behind you onstage and in front of you in the audience freak you out so badly that you didn't do it really well. 

So I just say, well, here goes.

And sometimes I am better and sometimes I am worse.  But mostly I am better.  Because I say I will be.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Dress rehearsal

Tonight is my first dress.

Have you ever had to work all day and then sing Donna Elvira in a not sucky way?

If so, please comment with tips.

I need all the help I can get.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Less than perfect

I feel a little disappointed in myself right now, because I totally lost my shit at someone the other day. There are frustrations every day, and we all have them in our lives. But I've been trying so hard lately to really practice being as kind and understanding as possible while I'm there. The result of this has been that I'm much happier, and so is everyone else. Basically, the energy I'm putting out is circling back and life is much better in general. There's a lot more to the story, things that are going on, my own internal struggle with certain situations, but I can't go into that here. It wouldn't be right. And really, it doesn't matter. Giving you the back story would be so similar to making excuses, so I'm not going to go there. I feel terrible that at that moment, I wasn't able to be conscious enough to stop myself from snapping. I've been doing so well at stepping back and observing myself before reacting. The really sick thing is that I felt worse about myself than about the person I snapped at. It made me feel like I was one of the kind of people I spend a lot of time judging-- the ones who sometimes freak out and let their emotions get the better of them-- you know, HUMAN BEINGS. I've told you before that I work at being the kind of person I can be proud of. When I don't live up to it, I spiral into self-doubt, yuckiness and victimhood. Which is exactly the vortex of despair I've been wallowing around in since the incident. Oh, and I can only imagine that its made me a wonderful person for Joe to live with, who has lots of his own stress right now! Then it occurred to me. Maybe the best kind of person to be is the kind that forgives others and herself. Lets them and me be who they are, doesn't expect so much from them, doesn't take things personally. I screwed up. I admit it. Now, I guess I have to forgive myself for not being perfect.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

keeping your life condition high

My cousins are Buddhist, a philosophy I find very attractive, but then I love things about lots of faiths.  They are some of the most compassionate, accepting women I've ever met, and I feel so lucky to have them in my actual family!  During various rough patches in my life, A. has often exhorted me to "keep my life condition high," which is a phrase I had never used, but have come to feel that it probably means something like: Keep your chin up, focus on the positive, keep working for what is good.

I was getting pretty down on myself here recently over a couple of passages in my upcoming show that I was having some trouble singing the way I wanted to sing them.  It was a rough ten days, with way too much packed into them, and very little time to rest.  Lo and behold, give a girl a day off (and by that I actually mean just an evening off) and she can suddenly sing everything nearly as fabulously as she had hoped.  In other words, a lot of the times that we hate ourselves and think we suck, it's probably just because we're tired and our voices are tired.  Take an evening off, think about something else, rest your voice (that means no phone talking too, I've discovered), and suddenly, the world looks like a better place.

There is a lot of chaotic energy swirling this time of year, if you are anywhere near academia, and rightly so.  But it can be really hard to keep your life condition high when you're just basically dodging bullets all day long.

That's when I try to take a few seconds (if only I had the presence of mind to do this ALL the time) and just remind myself that I do not have to absorb the energy of others.  I can float along in my own bubble of energy and relate and understand, but not absorb.  Maybe this is one of the reasons that taking trips can be stressful, if you are on a bus or a train or a plane.  There is so much energy, coming at you, and your consciousness just doesn't know how to react, so you spend a lot of mental energy self-soothing, which tires you out, and causes you to eat cheeseburgers and fries (or maybe that's just me).  I think that is what happens to me on audition trips to NYC.  But tomorrow, when I go again, I will be trying to practice my non-absorption skills.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012


While I' m resting in between drilling the Act 1 quartet of Giovanni with a metronome and kind just generally metronoming myself into oblivion, I thought I'd share that I was accepted into a menotring program for this summer that I'm realllllly looking forward to. Me and twenty-four other singers get to pick the brains of agents, coaches, important teachers, and work on becoming fabulous on a whole other level. I think it could be exactly what I need. Also, I hear the food's really good, and there's yoga. Sounds like a plan.

A blog post from a pianist that will make you LOL

Okay, gang, I haven't had much time to write, but I just had to share the hilarity that is this wonderful person's article.  Joe was in the same studio with this gentleman in undergrad, and we've been friends for a while.  There are so many quotable quotes, it's just way too good.

Thanks to Operagasm for asking him to write this fun article!

Now, don't get your panties in a bunch, it's all in good fun.