Thursday, July 26, 2012

Love always wins, Jessica.

Kindness always prevails.

And smiles always disarm. 

    The Universe

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Things on Tuesday

(don't read this if you are hoping for great insights. :)

1. I have to admit, I'm starving.  I've been starving all day.  It is kind of a drag being on a diet right now.

2. I love baking cakes.  It's a downright shame there aren't more reasons to do it.  Okay, well, there are lots of good reasons to bake a cake.  But for the main reason I do not bake them more often, see number 1.

3. I am taking my lunch to go to the grocery store and buy more cream of coconut and sugar which I ran out of last night and must have for said cake I am baking.

4. When am I going to eat actual lunch, though, because I am starving?

5. Oh man, this is turning into quite the sh*t show of a blog post.  My apologies.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Dark Day

I could go on rants about what I think, my belief that this young man should never been able to purchase a gun (three guns, actually) in the first place, but it doesn't matter what I think.

It only matters what we DO.

So what can I do?  All I know to do is this: Really listen to people when they talk.  Not hold it against them when they are angry, but try to see through to the pain they are feeling.  Smile a lot.  Say thank you and I love you constantly.  Compliment people.  Try to be kind even when it is really supremely painful and we want to slap them instead.  Remember that kindness is more important than rightness, and that strength is acceptance and not resistance, and that there is nothing proven by lashing out.  It sometimes feels like I am helpless sometimes against evil (like today), but I tell myself that if I can inch by inch try to crowd it out with goodness, in my own little square of the world, I'm moving in the right direction.

"Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good." Romans 12:21

Thursday, July 19, 2012


Much like I kind of hate Mondays, although I am working to break this little pattern, I happen to love Thursdays.  For some reason, by the time Thursday comes along I feel like celebrating-- I mean call me crazy, but usually on Thursdays I just feel good!  I think it is because I teach on Thursdays, which is always exhilarating, and because it is almost the weekend.  During the school year, I am much more committed (in every sense of the word :) on weekends, and would have occasion to quote the Dowager Duchess "What is a weekend?" (watch Downton Abbey if you haven't already), because of my glut of church and synagogue jobbing.  But in the might mean I have no disposable income at all, but I am sure enjoying having time to be.

So Thursdays, I am most likely to come home and want to drink a bottle of wine, just because I feel I deserve it.  Often, I am able to save myself from this temptation by not having any wine at hand.  Tonight, I am stuck with one that needs to be finished, because I opened a bottle for a delicious pasta dish I made last night (Garlicky Tuscan Chicken Pasta with Arugula: it was surprisingly low cal!), and so I feel my temptation this evening will be great.  I have been doing so well, and have lost 16 pounds-- which is not easy for a girl whose favorite foods are pasta and potatoes, but the journey got a lot easier when Joe decided to join in.  One the of the very best things about this summer has been our nightly 3 mile walks!  It has been unbelievable to spend real chunks of time together just talking, something we have so little time to do during the academic year.  Some couples may be concerned that the schedules we keep would be bad for our relationship (my grandmother, for one, is very concerned...:), but it has made us miss each other and be so appreciative of the time we have.  It makes us so thankful for each other too, because we realize how unique it is to have spouses who will support each other's pursuits and passions unfailingly, even when it means that we have to miss out on the whole "come home at 5:30 every night, eat dinner, watch TV, go to bed" American paradigm.  Which, admittedly, often seems really really appealing.  I am so fortunate to have found someone who understands and shares my feelings about the decision to not have children (at least for the time being, minds do change), and stands with me when I feel funny, looked down on, wondered about, and am asked inappropriate questions about it.  I guess I just feel so lucky to really get to marry my best friend.  If I am honest, I always believed it was possible.  I did not doubt it-- because I was too happy being single to settle for someone not perfect for me.  But I didn't realize that anyone existed, man or woman, that I could feel really completely totally myself with in all my weird flaws and issues.

Just another reason to celebrate.  So many many reasons to celebrate on a Thursday evening.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Last night

The performance of de Falla's Psyché went so well last night!  It was an exhilarating experience, and I feel lucky to have worked with that caliber of musicians!  At intermission, something else rather transformational occurred-- I had my first salted caramel bacon cupcake.  People, I kid you not, I will never be the same.  Joe and I looked at each other, and said at the same time "I want these for my birthday!"  That's how good they are.  Just unreal!

As if the night wasn't wonderful enough-- the final piece on the program was Brahms' Sextet No. 2, which I had heard of, but had never heard.  Stunning.  Absolutely fantastical-- so go listen to it!!

There is something so special about a concert like last night's.  It felt like there was a lot of love in the room...because we were all there for the right reasons, playing music we felt strongly about.  After some bad news yesterday, it was a little tough for me to get myself together for last night.  But then I thought, when bad things happen, it makes us think about what is really important to us.  So instead of worrying about how I could have the energy and presence of mind to give a good performance, I focused on losing myself in what I love best, and the joy and comfort that music brings.  Hopefully some of it came through to the audience.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Red-letter Day

Well, sports fans, not only is it not Monday any more, but I have a performance tonight (always a great thing!!), AND I just had a major celebrity sighting.  Kevin Spacey is filming a TV show in Baltimore, and I was walking by, he was RIGHT there, and I smiled sheepishly.  Oh how I wish I could have done something more memorable.

Also, another great thing, I sold one of my old audition dresses for a very respectable price on Ebay today.   After it had been fumigated, of course (no explanation needed here!).  It reminded me that I should be selling things more often-- they would have gone to Goodwill, and at least this way, I have more money for my trip to New York fund!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Trying so hard not to try so hard

My yoga guru often says at the beginning of class: 
"When the mind wanders, ask yourself, what is so awful about this place that I cannot remain here?"

Why do we want to be something we aren't?  Why do we work so hard to make bigger, grander, thicker, larger? 

(all those of you still in your twenties, don't listen to me.  You should still be working to make bigger :)

I'm speaking about myself, obviously.  Because I see it in myself, I see it in others too.  At this point, I'm vocally mature, at my age, and it is time for me to own who I am now, appreciate the work I have done, choose the rep I love, and move forward.  We continue to grow and change, but when something is right, and change is necessary, we know.  The time for making predictions about what we "will be" is over.

Part of it, I think, is really that we all have such difficulty seeing ourselves as clearly as others see us.   Which is where mentors that we truly trust come in.  Also, the few singer friends that we feel are really on our side, and whose opinions are grounded enough in knowledge to have validity.  You know how very difficult these people are to come by.

I cannot understand, and never have, why so many people think that they have dramatic voices, when it is such a small percentage of the singing population that truly possesses vocal cords that can support that music properly.  I mean like one in a hundred.  A good way to tell is, of course, what you are getting hired to sing.  If I am getting cast as Musetta and Lauretta, there is no reason to assume that I should really be singing Aida and that people just haven't "understood my voice" the way my teacher and coach do.

This is also where hearing live singing comes in.  If we are not attending performances and hearing the singers of the day live, NOT mixed and edited and perfected via recording, we have not trained our ears to hear the kind of sound required to carry over various types of orchestra.   Or the particular timbre best suited for Verdi, Strauss, Mozart, Handel, you name it.  Singers, when your friends invite you to their performances, GO.  Not just to support them and the organization that has hired them (although that's really important in and of itself), but to hear singing LIVE.  So many of us that are professional singers focus only on our own music and own performances, and close ourselves off to the refreshment and enjoyment that watching others perform can give us, and all that we can learn from it.

Another thing I have noticed are singers who are practically unable to enjoy concerts/operas that they are not singing in themselves.  They are overly-critical of the performers and always hearing imperfection, or sizing up the competition rather than enjoying the moment.  I have been to technically "bad" performances of music that have had some transcendent moments.  But it is sad to see singers who are unable to enjoy music, and instead see only the negative, because I can only imagine what the inside of their heads must sound like when they are speaking to themselves.  It must be torturous to live with that negativity towards themselves most of all-- we only see it when it comes out.

When we as singers see ourselves clearly, and move forward to make the most of what we have been given, free of delusion, we are lights in a shadowy singing world.

By being happy to be me, and feeling at peace with myself, I give other people the space and freedom to do the same.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Happiness is:

1. Finding out you're singing a gig with a great friend (read: maybe we can all go drinking after??)

2. Learning to be okay with imperfection

3. Okay, so maybe carnations aren't really so bad after all.  They were two dollars, and I'm broke, so I made them work.  Any flowers are better than no flowers.

4. Practicing on your lunch break

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Unleash your weapon of fashion, Singers!

I read this today in a fantastic blog called The Simply Luxurious Life, which frankly, is an inspiration, helping me to put my focus on what is important.

I've been thinking for a long time about writing a post on style and getting dressed, but couldn't come up with a way to say it that didn't sound like I was foisting my own ideas about style on all of you.  Thank goodness Shannon said it for me:

"Unleash Your Weapon of Fashion. Many critics argue that fashion and outer appearance should not be paid so much attention. That in fact fashion in general is a superficial hobby. As you would imagine, I wholeheartedly disagree. For women especially, but men too, how we adorn ourselves speaks to our inner self-confidence and speaks to our respect for ourselves without saying one verbal statement. Choose to speak in such a way that is uniquely your own – wear those heels even though your office mates may snicker. Wrap a fabulous statement belt around your waist even though none of your friends would have taken the risk. Be who you are and introduce yourself to the world with exuberance. Have fun with fashion, as it is a tool that is often underutilized."

I truly feel that dressing with care and intention in things you love and make you feel beautiful makes you stand out-- and all of us could use a little of that! 

Things from the 4th

I love the Fourth of July-- it brings out the best in people.  And I have to say I really love when it falls in the middle of the week, because there is none of that "holiday weekend" pressure to do something really cool for the whole weekend, or spend it being bored if you are poor int he summer like me.  When there is one day, you make the most of it.  I went to some sales in the morning, ordered pizza for lunch at the pool, and then went to a friend's for a fabulous barbecue and fireworks.  Here are some of my revelations:

1. Life is really more fun when we dress for the occasion!  Joe and I both wore red, white, and blue yesterday, and every time I looked at myself in the mirror (in between playing hide and seek with the little boys), I felt good.

2. I heard something that made me stop and think, and really fits where I am in my vocal development now:  "People confuse their life's purpose with what they want rather than what they already have." I have been in "who I am going to be" mode in my singing life for so long, that it took a big bolt from the blue to make me realize that while I will never stop growing, who I am right now, what I have that is special now, not who I hope to be or what others have speculated that I may someday sing, is what I have to offer.   There is nothing more striking or electrifying than an artist who is singing the rep that is REALLY right for them at this moment, their voice and their whole persona.   And it is striking because it is so rare.

3. Watermelon and fried chicken may in fact be my favorite foods.

4. Bach's Cantata "Wachet, betet, betet, wachet," BWV 70: sheer joy.  Check it out.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Tales of Tuesday

There are so many wonderful things about life that it is hard to be down for long, even on Monday.  I really didn't feel great when I got home last night, and was starting to go to that place where all I wanted to to was lay in the recliner with a bag of chips, but Joe wanted to go swimming, and I thought seriously about saying no, because I was wallowing.  Then I thought to myself, wow, Jess, you are being really a huge dummy.  Get over yourself and go to the pool with your husband despite the one million degree heat and your splitting headache.

I did.  And by the time I left the pool to come home, I was as relaxed and thrilled to be alive as could be.  I then ate dinner and went on a three mile walk, and treated myself to a spectacular new nail polish that is really bright blue.

Making that decision to do something because he wanted me to, and not give in to my own silliness really pulled me out of my Monday funk.

The score for a gig I have coming up with a chamber group finally arrived and I have started working on it.  What a thrill to perform a new piece I have never even heard before being asked to sing it!  And it is really fab, in a hot summer languorous way.  What a comfort to know that no matter how bored we could possibly ever get, there is always a new fantastic piece of music lurking out there that we haven't yet discovered.   This one is de Falla's Psyché  and it doesn't get performed a lot, from what I can tell.  It's probably because there aren't a lot of vocal fireworks, or even anything really high or low for the singer.  I'm always shocked when chamber groups choose to do a piece with a singer instead of the usual thing where the singer has to round up six people and bribe them to play the piece with her.   Because there's really so much wonderful literature for them without us in it-- and let's face it, we can be touch and go.  I mean god forbid we turn up with horrifying allergies, or hungover, or too sick to perform altogether.  It really can mess things up.  So I'm very flattered they would ask me, and I always think about ways I can help to overturn stereotypes we have created for ourselves, and work toward making we singers a respected breed once again.  But at any rate, it's refreshing to sing something where you can forget about your voice and sing the words and focus on the ensemble aspects of the piece.  

So my lesson from yesterday was that sometimes it's best to do something for someone else (albeit it wasn't really a sacrifice because it consisted of going to a pool.  But I really didn't feel like it, so there) when we are feeling down, and the results can be very pleasant indeed. 

Monday, July 02, 2012


"What you seek is seeking you."
(I love this quote, but I want to ask Rumi: "Promise? Really? I am seeking very hard and I am working very hard...I want it to find me. Today it is harder to trust.")

On Monday mornings I am often in a pensive mood-- sad the weekend is over, tired, a little moody.  Sometimes going to my day job reminds me that I am not where I want to be, and I start to dread and worry.  I put on something nice to start the day off properly, make the bed, wear lipgloss, but my brain wants to go to the dark things because I have a case of the Mondays-- like why am I in Baltimore instead of New York where those people are that I am missing so much?  Like I am afraid I will forget everything I learned and become complacent about singing and what I truly want for myself, because although Baltimore is a lot of things it can be really comfortable with my apartment and husband and cats and amazing friends and pool membership.  Like who am I and did they really mean what they said?  That I am good enough, worthy, and capable of doing what I have aways dreamed of doing?  Writing this, I am close to tears.

But to circumvent thoughts that are in not really productive and are in fact kind of a waste of time, I am making myself think about things I am thankful for.

1.  I am so thankful that I have an all-consuming passion for something.
I wonder what I would do if I didn't.  Sometimes I shock myself when I think about the percentage of the day that I spend thinking about singing.

2.  I am lucky to have so many people who care about me and want me to have what I want for myself and not just what they want for me.

3.  It is a wonderful thing to give yourself permission to be the authentic you.  I am trying to do that.

4.  I never lost my electricity and air conditioning during the storm, and I am so much luckier than so many!  Although, it was a hot morning at my church job AC and singing above the staff should be outlawed.  I need to remember to put that in my contract.  :) Sweaty sopranos: not cute.

5.  Being alive is wonderful even when it is terrible.  Just to be able to feel feelings is truly a profound and fantastic privilege.

So it would seem that Mondays for me are the days that faith and trust are tested.  It is easy to trust when you are surrounded with encouragement and your synapses are firing glitter.  But trusting on Monday, that's what faith is all about.