Friday, August 31, 2012

Thank you, Kim!

My good friend Kim was kind enough to give me a shout out on her fantastic blog.  Many of you know her already as the voice of Kimozart and Opera Rocks! both of which are linked here.  She's getting ready for her first week as a grad student in Dawn Upshaw's studio!  I'm excited for her and can't wait to hear about her adventures.

You go girl!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Wednesday means...

Only three days til my trip to New York for a lesson with a new teacher.

It's time to move forward after losing my teacher a month ago, and work on finding someone who can be my new set of ears.  I'm really excited about the new things ahead, and I'm thinking that it would be great to get a fresh perspective by studying with a woman-- I haven't had a female teacher in a while.  I think having a soprano who has sung a lot of my music would be helpful for me at this stage, since I am starting to feel (finally, whew!) that the technique thing is pretty solid.  I also know that I need a mentor who is well-connected in the New York world of coaches and agents and has a feel for what is going on for other emerging professionals.  I need to know how best to be competitive.

I still can't believe I'll never make that drive to Pennsylvania for a lesson like I used to every other week-- it's truly the end of an era.  The drive and the inspiring lesson waiting for me at the end of it were always healing for me in many ways.

I can't say I'm totally psyched about the idea of getting on a bus for a three hour trip to NYC every time I need a lesson, but it's a step I need to take and one I've known was on the horizon for me.  It's good.  Again, like I said in my last post: I can feel myself stretching, because it doesn't feel easy.

It also makes me think...wouldn't it be great to live in New York?

Deep thoughts.  I'm kind of scaring myself!

Monday, August 27, 2012


So wow.  I am officially back! It was so great being away from real life that  I now know what my fantasy world would look like:  a beach.  With my family.   What a great time it was.

Then the rude, but still great awakening that oh yeah, I have to sing Handel in church Sunday morning.  It was not as horrifying as it could have been, as I went a week without practicing.  There was honestly only one ten minute interval during which I could warm-up in the house at the beach when I was alone!   Tomorrow night the rehearsing starts in earnest for the high holidays, and vacation is definitely over.  Here we go!

But we need breaks.  They are so good.

Now I am back at work, and facing numerous challenges in a somewhat different role.  But I know that it will be for the best, as I can feel myself stretching. 

I miss my family, but they are only a phone call away.  I think fall is coming, guys!  And you know what that means!  Singing!!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

“Tenderness and kindness are not signs of weakness and despair but manifestations of strength and resolution”

–Kahlil Gibran

Monday, August 20, 2012

Little Summer Poem Touching the Subject of Faith

By Mary Oliver

Every summer
I listen and look
under the sun's brass and even
into the moonlight, but I can't hear

anything, I can't see anything --
not the pale roots digging down, nor the green stalks muscling up,
nor the leaves
deepening their damp pleats,

nor the tassels making,
nor the shucks, nor the cobs.
And still,
every day,

the leafy fields
grow taller and thicker --
green gowns lofting up in the night,
showered with silk.

And so, every summer,
I fail as a witness, seeing nothing --
I am deaf too
to the tick of the leaves,

the tapping of downwardness from the banyan feet --
all of it
beyond any seeable proof, or hearable hum.

And, therefore, let the immeasurable come.
Let the unknowable touch the buckle of my spine.
Let the wind turn in the trees,
and the mystery hidden in the dirt

swing through the air.
How could I look at anything in this world
and tremble, and grip my hands over my heart?
What should I fear?

One morning
in the leafy green ocean
the honeycomb of the corn's beautiful body
is sure to be there. 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

A sta sera

I have a tumblr, full of my favorite images.  Some of you are into this sort of thing, and some aren't.  But I am so inspired by pictures of beautiful things!

Here it is: a stasera

Friday, August 17, 2012

The wonderful things about TODAY

Well, it's Friday.  Thursday was rough, in some ways, fantastic in others-- like a wonderful break-through with a student that reminded me what this whole music thing is all about: finding out that we CAN.

Tomorrow we leave for a week with my crazy, but truly wonderful aunts, uncles and cousins.  We'll be at the beach nearby, sharing a house and cooking for each other, there will be babies, kids, and I can only imagine because of my Russian cousin-in-law there will be some fun with vodka.  I am so looking forward to time with the people that understand me the best, see only the good things about me, and make me laugh.

So posting will be sparse, but if I'm really inspired by something that happens I might check in.  I have to admit that I am usually the most prolific when I am going through something bad.  Maybe you have noticed :), and I anticipate very little about this coming week being bad.

I thought I'd share my favorite things this week, since it's Friday!

1.  Freezer food: food I was smart enough to make lots of and put up in the freezer for weeks like this when I couldn't dream of having the emotional energy to cook anything, and we're too broke to go out! I mean, the meatballs and tomato sauce I made back during spring break was as fresh as the day I made it when we had it last night.  Do yourself a favor and start freezing everything.  It's a happy surprise in the form of a frozen block.  You can find the recipe for the meatballs here.  And the sauce is here. 
Another fantastic variation is the asian-flavored pork version: here. 

2.  Essie Tart Deco.  Looks lovely with your sunny summer tan. It's right here.

3.  Practicing.  The head space I've been in has influenced my mood, for sure, but I've been leaning on singing as a way to completely cleanse my mind and my body of all of the drama.  It takes me to a place where I can only be completely in the moment: the sensation of creating sound.  Pretty amazing stuff.  The next time you're disappointed, pissed off, worried, or stressed, get over yourself and go practice.  I'm telling you, it almost always helps.

4.  Fashion and uplifting lifestyle blogs give me a little boost of inspiration when I'm feeling a shopping craving coming on, without having to actually go out and shop (because it's summer and you know...).
Try these and see what you think:
The Simply Luxurious Life
The Pink Peonies

Have a wonderful weekend!  All of you readers have been so supportive with the death of my teacher and, really throughout the life of this blog.  Thank you SO so much.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Choosing love

Sometimes feeling weird about a person or situation is really nearly overwhelming for me.  It takes over my mind, the one usually filled with thoughts of music I'm learning, or my next meal (who am I kidding), and starts to stack the space with endless layers of useless chatter.  Chatter that plants a seed of anxiety that grows and grows throughout the course of the day, til I'm so escalated that I can't practice and have a huge headache.

Do I have a right to feel weird?  Do I have a right to feel hurt?  Have I been wronged?

Well, yes, probably. 

But it is such a waste of time, and it all boils down to one basic problem.  Fear.

I put myself through these things because I'm usually afraid that something will happen that I can imagine in my brain turning into a disaster.  Or, that someone is saying something about me behind my back. After my mind is clear and I have a chance to stop and think, I realize that neither of these worries are things I can control.  What happens will happen and what other people think of me is none of my business.  I guess I am pretty happy that the people who like me are the people I like best, so that is all that matters. :)  Oh, if only I could really stop caring that much!  oh my...

So I am trying to talk myself into love instead.

Fear binds me, and constricts my thoughts and even my body.

Loving feelings and actions make me feel free, happy, at peace.

Only when I allow fear to creep in does it start to drain away, and that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach starts again.  Fear that no one will hire me to sing.  Fear that the people who have hired me won't hire me back.  Fear that the people I work with are annoyed by me and my personality. Fear that it's too late for me.  Fear that things won't turn out the way I want them to.  Oh my goodness, I'm embarrassed to even write most of these things, but I hope that most of you can sympathize, and understand why I'm writing it. The truth is, there are endless things to fear.  Anger is fear, worry is clearly fear, and insecurity guessed it...fear.

When I get up in the morning I have a new goal.  To always, when I can, choose to turn my thoughts toward love instead of fear.  When I worry that my reputation is at stake, I make the choice to compliment myself on trying so hard to do the right thing, and immediately re-check my motives for my actions.  When I worry that I am hopeless and too old, I make the choice to remind myself that there is no such thing as being too old to do what you want, unless, as we've discovered, that thing is olympic gymnastics...then I go practice and shift my focus to doing my thing instead of worrying about not being able to do my thing.  When I worry that I will never be as skinny and beautiful as Tom Brady's girlfriend...that model, you know...I remind myself that I do not really need that piece of fudge after all, that a better choice would be a cherry tomato, and that being able to pop out high Fs or sing a beautiful legato line is probably not within her reach at this point, and she should probably be jealous of me instead.  When I am sad that my family is not as close as I would like, I call my sister, and then I think about the friends I am lucky enough to have and the husband I landed.  When I worry that I will not get hired, I think about all the other sopranos who are thinking the same thing but who do not have a lot of the great things in life that I do-- a job, a companion, a measure of security, two great cats, and then-- guess-- I go practice.  Nothing feels quite as empowering as turning that frown really and truly upside down by staring the fear and the face and saying: I'm doing this anyway, and watch me go.  Love is power-- it is the strongest force there is.  If you love what you do, and you refuse to let anything stop you from singing (especially fear), there is literally no way you can fail.

Then I remind myself of my mantra:

My true self is FEARLESS and immune to criticism.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Riding the resonance

So think about your very favorite places to sing…the places where you sound super amazing and don’t even have to try…

Stairwell.  Bathroom.  High-ceilinged spaces with no carpet.

We just can’t resist.  We have to vocalize up to a high D if we happen to find ourselves alone in a stairwell.  Or even if we’re not alone.   It’s why instrumentalists find us insufferable.  But they’ll never understand.  Hearing the sounds bounce off all those hard surfaces and come back to us in that way is beyond delightful.  

My teacher introduced a concept to me not long ago that has helped my practice immensely.   What about figuring out how to use our resonance to produce sound like that wherever we are?  What about having our own portable stairwell that goes with us everywhere?  What if we stopped “trying” to get our vocal cords to come together perfectly (and consequently pressing them) and just spent time finding our optimal stairwell resonance when we warm up?  It’s a concept that has increased my stamina and carrying power incredibly, because I’m not pressing, I’m riding the wave of resonance that we all have but often don’t know how to use.   All of us probably have it on various notes.  The trick is to use that powerful tool consistently throughout my range to maximize sound and minimize fatigue.  Now I know we can’t really hear ourselves as accurately as we’d like, but hearing your sound inside your head and hearing it resonating outside yourself are two different feelings and aural experiences altogether.  When I can do that, I sing with freedom and control at the same time!  What a concept!  My trills have completely changed, and my coloratura is better.

I've been testing it, too, in very dead spaces.  I try to get that resonance going even in a room that’s low-ceilinged and wall-to-wall carpet—it’s possible and it’s super fun to hear that I can resonate even in non-resonant spaces, using my face’s own hard surfaces.  

Wild stuff.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Are you coming over for dinner?

Zoe my god, so this past seven days has been amazing.  I got to spend time with no less than three of my favorite families!  Sometimes when life is being a little weird, I have a hard time not letting the situation make me feel like I’m a terrible person.  I guess I automatically go to that place where I feel like things went wrong because of me.  And you know what that means of course!  It means that somewhere in the recesses of my mind, I must think I am really that important that the success or failure of any given scenario rests on me… a truly ridiculous notion and one that just isn’t logical.  Spending time with friends is so great because you get to tell your story, get good feedback, and then move on to their stories!  Because, oh wow!  Big surprise: other people have wild things going on in their lives too!  Oh, and then there is the laughing!  It is so healing.  I wish I could live my life on the set of a Will Farrell movie and just laugh nonstop.  It would be super fun.  But going to a house with a kid helps with the laughing part!  My little friend Mr. Jack always makes my heart feel lighter whenever I get to see him!

I am always so honored when someone invites me to dinner at their house and makes a meal for me.  It’s literally the nicest thing anyone could do for another person.  It’s just so personal and takes real effort on their behalf.  And I love having the opportunity to just sit and talk with no other distractions.  It’s really unlike going out to dinner, although that is always great too, but in the summer, we musicians are a little tight on dough, so it makes more sense to eat at home.  It also gives me the chance to practice my nice manners, like waiting for the hostess to start eating, grabbing my napkin from the correct corner, using the right forks, you know.  Even though no one cares if I do it properly, it’s nice to try anyway. 

Since most of our friends are musicians there is never any end of things to talk about—we know all the same people and have had a lot of the same gigs.  But I especially love when there happen to be dinner guests who are accomplished at other things too—there is so much to learn just from talking to people.  I always have to be careful not to drink too much wine so that I can actually remember everything! 

Having people over for dinner is becoming a little bit of a lost art, but I am determined not to let it be one around here.  It is so civilized and so special to create a special evening for people you love, and fun to introduce friends from one circle to friends from another, creating an ever-widening circle of good will.  

There are so many things to celebrate and no end of excuses to have friends over, but I think that especially during the year it can just get so completely insane, and we are all too tired.  But I always feel so good if I plan ahead and just do it anyway!  I think this will be one of my goals for the coming year—to try to make time to do that even though it’s not summer any more.  When I feel happy and connected to people in my life, I have more energy and drive, and somehow, I'm way more productive!  

So, this begs the question: can we start writing dinner parties off on our taxes?  :)

Friday, August 10, 2012

I think we made it

We made it to Friday, everybody!  I was enjoying this rainy morning, and now the sun's out and I'm enjoying that too!  Also, I have on pink pants, which means happiness every time I look down.

Losing my teacher, having an emergency root canal, and some pretty wild turmoil in other areas of my life have made this a rough couple weeks, but bad times really make you appreciate the things that are so great about life.  My teacher's passing was devastating for me, and for the large community of singers that he influenced, but I am thankful and mindful of the universe's timing.  I couldn't have been okay without him before pretty much right now.  And seeing all the wonderful posts about him and his life and work on the Facebook page his students created has been uplifting beyond belief.  It inspires me to live so that there are scores of people writing wonderful things about me when I am gone.  And since I don't believe that people who die are really gone at all, I am even more at peace.  I think I'll run into him again somewhere somehow.

I read my horoscope and hilariously (or pathetically, either one), it warned that August was not my month.  It makes me giggle every time I think about it, because, wow it's been kind of true.

But what life could really be bad that is chock full of singing, a kind husband who is an excellent listener and who I can trust for sound advice, true friends who I know will understand, two cats who are fluffy and seem to know just how to help when I need them, and, last but not least, it's finally corn season!  Corn, my favorite food!!!!

I know I've talked about this blog before, but this young lady is really an almost unending source of uplifting tips and great suggestions!  I'm taking this advice for a fresh start this weekend! 

Now, go do something fun!

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Classical music is my escape from propriety? This soprano says yes.

Once, not too long ago, I was having a coaching with a gentleman that I’ve known for quite some time.  We were conversing about a character whose aria I was working on and discussing the similarities between her personality and mine.  I am always interested to hear how others describe me, because I suppose I am interested to know how I am perceived. 

“You seem like a person who takes herself and life very seriously,” Said he.

I was struck by that, because it made me realize what an incredibly accurate description of me it actually is, but I’d just never thought of it that way.  He probably has read this blog!  Anyone who does could only imagine me to be an over-analyzer of epic proportions!  But I spent most of the next day thinking about what he had said.   I took stock of my thoughts and observed myself throughout the course of a normal day. 

The truth is, I spend a great deal of time thinking about what I should do in any situation, about what other people feel and think, what they will feel and think about me and my actions, what the “right” thing is to do, how my behavior will affect others, how my reputation will be affected by what I say and do.   I think about what is polite to say and what is appropriate to wear.  Lately, a lot of my feedback from teachers and coaches has had something to do with working on “letting go” and “letting myself just sing,” and I’m starting to see a pattern here!  Because of this aspect of my personality, very few people have seen the fun, silly, carefree Jessica that is a huge part of who I consider to be the real me. 

Don’t get me wrong, I am a rather straight shooter, people who I don’t like or don’t connect with usually know, although I am cordial.  When I am concerned, my concern is real.  When I am complimentary, my sentiment is real.  But I am almost always trying to be on my best behavior.  I’ve talked about this before on this blog—I try to make myself proud.  I know that life is what we make it, and the space that we live in and relationships we have are only as good as we take the time to make them.  Having a good life in that sense, does in fact take some serious effort. 

Which can be tiring.

So we need places we can be and people we can be with where no trying is necessary. 

In trying to find those people and places, I have often had judgement misfires, resulting in showing the wrong sides of myself at the wrong moments to the wrong people.  But they were honest mistakes.  And now I know.  Those are not my people, places, or moments.  I learned something.  (Oh, and there I go again—taking something seriously that was supposed to help me not take things seriously!)

In finding myself and my voice, I’ve discovered that singing is one of those places.  Not the work of rehearsal, per se -- but inhabiting a character, performing for an audience.  I can be silly, carefree wild pony Jessica lots because I have arias and roles now in my lyric coloratura-dom that require it!   It is almost painful for my spirit, though, that the minute I step off the stage, I know I have to be the other way again, that my actions and attitude are being observed by my colleagues, and that in classical music, taking yourself super-seriously seems to be the norm.   There is no room for error, little room for fun, protocol for everything, and we spend inordinate amounts of time making sure the conductor, stage director, and GD are consistently impressed by our professionalism.  But it is so much fun to share a part of who you really are, even if for just a few minutes onstage, that it makes up for all the time we have to spend paying attention.  

Monday, August 06, 2012

What I wish I could say

I lost my dear teacher of eight years on Saturday, completely unexpectedly.

He has pulled me back from the edge of so many cliffs vocally and otherwise I cannot even count them.  I was in vocal ruins when I showed up on his door step, having gone from a very high lyric coloratura to a who knows what with no high notes, no low notes and a fuzzy middle in the short space of a two year graduate degree.  I had no idea what to do.  I was working two jobs, exhausted, I had built walls of all kinds to protect myself from the pain of no longer being able to use my voice the way I wanted.  I was afraid he would hear one phrase and decide that I wasn't worthy of his time.  But not being able to sing when you are a singer is a kind of pain that you will risk a lot to try to fix. 

From the moment I walked in, he took me seriously.  He knew right away what to do to help me, and he never made me feel inferior, bad, less than, or without hope that my problems could be fixed.  He gave me the confidence to keep working.  I did what he said.  I practiced what he gave me, and it worked, slowly but surely.  He was not a "quick fix" teacher.  He never wasted his time with self-promotion or so much of the drama that we see with high-level voice teachers-- his students were his best advertisement-- the people whose lives he had changed. 

Those of you who have read this blog from the beginning may have an inkling of some of the intense struggle I have had with issues from my past.  I grew up unable to trust my father, alienated from my uncles, and lost my dear grandfathers when I was twelve and thirteen.  Male role models? Any male I felt I could trust? They didn't exist as far as I was concerned.  Until this teacher.  He was the one person in my life at that time that proved to me that kindness, honesty, and true caring could exist in male form.  I think that knowing him helped me to understand the kind of man I had when I met Joe (he and my teacher are very similar), and how it was these qualities that mattered most to me.  

When he saw that the pain I had grown up with was influencing my singing, he recommended the lovely Sally, my therapist that I speak of in my posts a couple years ago.  I took his advice and began seeing her on a regular basis-- a journey of unburdening myself that I am confident changed the course of my life.  It not only helped me to be happy again, it made my voice emerge.  Peeling back all the layers of armor I had been wearing, I began to remember who I really was and with my expert teacher's guidance, my singing responded.  He understood the connection between singing and soul. 

All I can think about is all the things I wish I could tell him.  That he gave me back my voice.  That he restored my confidence in myself.  That he taught me that a male could be trustworthy, patient, and kind.  That he modeled good musicianship without haughtiness or condescension.  How much I appreciated that I could always turn to him.  There were many frantic emails-- am I too sick to sing?  Should I cancel?  What did the judges at the Met competition mean when they said this in my feedback session?  Should I quit singing?  Is it all worth it?  Why am I doing this? 

His last email to me (after I had written to tell him about my program) contained these words:

"Just keep singing this new song in your heart and feeding your soul."

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Turmoil happens

It’s been a little tough to get a blog in edgewise this past week.  Life has been happening, stuff has been happening, at an alarming rate.  I have some singing this weekend, and lately it has seemed like dramas in life seem always to occur right before singing is supposed to be happening.  I’ll be in New York for a reading, then a recital on the weekend.  The drama in my life took a good three days out of my practice schedule and I resent it. 

There have been lots of social engagements with family and friends, that have helped to remind me what is important and not to sweat the small stuff, but still today I am left with the sense that I need a little time to heal.

I am looking forward to a night of going to the grocery store, cooking dinner, practicing, and maybe watching some of my new obsession: Breaking Bad.

This week has reminded me that taking time to rest is important.