Wednesday, October 31, 2012


I have them.  You have them.  Not the ones like not having enough money.  Or needing a stronger middle voice to be viable in your fach.   Or being in a lackluster relationship. 

Not those kinds.

The very personal things about yourself that are holding you back.   You know they’re there but you can’t quite put your finger on exactly what they are.  And yet, if you asked your best friend, or a person you didn't even know who stood in line at the grocery store with you for ten minutes, the could probably accurately name at least one of them.  You know, the things that I am not really aware of but that everyone else knows about me.   They are the attributes that everyone probably talks about when I come up in conversation.  They are my quirks to my friends and what makes me really annoying to my enemies.

Sometimes you can see glimpses of them when you watch a video of yourself performing, and they bubble even closer to the surface if the concert includes you giving any kind of synopsis of the pieces.  You begin to see these patterns.  

And I am sure I have more, but the one that is becoming really obvious for me is:  lack of self-assurance.   And it really reads.  And I need to work on that immediately.

Do you have the courage to figure out what your obstacle is?  Do you have someone you can trust to ask?  Someone who is really on your side?  

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Hurricane Sandy

Hello everyone!  I hope all of you that are on the East Coast weathered the storm well, and with no damage.

Since I know lots of folks have suffered, I almost feel bad saying I very much enjoyed the time spent at home, with nothing better to do than cook, practice, and write. I baked lots of bread (see pic!), so that we have some for the freezer, made soup, two big dinners-- half of each went into the freezer, and tried something new: I made caramel corn!  It was great fun, and I only slightly gave myself third degree burns. I also made lots of headway on the article I'm writing-- thank you all so much for our input via email!  You are wonderful, and I hope to share some of what you shared here soon.

I worked on music for my recording-- it's scheduled!  and for my All Souls gig on Friday.  Today, I'll be focusing on the programming for a Christmas gig, and going out for a drink with a friend later.  Esepcially since I've been inside for two days, wearing sweats and no make-up!

Have a wonderful day.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Readers: I'd love your input!

Hello my dear friends!  I am working on an article for a new opera magazine, which I will tell you lots more about coming soon, but I'd love your help!

Please comment or write to me at, if you feel so inclined, answering one or more of the following questions:

1. What is quirky, hilarious, or weird about you in the context of your pursuit of classical singing? Like, how do you prepare for a performance, protect your throat and voice, stay healthy, learn music, what are your pre-preformance rituals and superstitions?

2.  What do you think makes you want to be the next Joan Sutherland instead of the next Rihanna?  Why did you pick classical music?

3.  As a singer, what scares you?  Do you have performance anxiety? Are you worried about the future of opera in our culture?  Are you worried about finding a job?

Thanks for helping, gang!  Have a wonderful weekend!

Finally Friday

Friday has never felt so welcome or so wonderful, and for so many reasons.

Today, I am excited to attend a masterclass with Thomas Hampson!  What an opportunity, and it's right here, and free!

One of my dearest friends (from San Francisco days) now works for Mr. Hampson and so after he is safely gotten onto the plane, this friend and I will have the chance to catch up for dinner, and meet my dear Ms. S!

Friend time is much needed today, and a singing pick-me-up!  Maybe I will even go to yoga tomorrow-- I think my soul needs some attention.

Those of you with day jobs, how do you feel by the end of the week? Exhausted? or energized and ready to practice and sing, and enjoy time doing fun stuff?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

What I do when I'm nervous

Okay, so I had a trial run of some new arias on Sunday night.  Two of my friends and I give a couple of these little recitals a year to get our new pieces on their feet, and brush up old ones.

My rehearsal for said little recital was Saturday-- it did not go well.  I felt like a true disaster after it was over-- my voice was tired and I was exhausted.  In short, I was totally freaked out about the performance.  To top it all off, the next morning for church, I had a new seven page anthem that I'd never sung before, and I always fund that vocally and mentally taxing.  Its almost like they plan it this way!  Although they are kind people and I'm sure they didn't.

Saturday night of course I couldn't DO anything to take my mind off it.  I was supposed to be resting.  It would have been inadvisable to drink a lot, although I did think about it.  I needed a project, so I started going through the cookbooks.  You know, it occurs to me that the weight loss thing would go quicker and easier if I started a needlework project instead, or if I had the patience to just read the whole night, but I was antsy, and sitting with a quiet, calorie-free project wasn't going to be an option.

So I made caramel.

Brothers and sisters, you have not felt the wrath of God until you look with wide eyes into a bowl of roiling, boiling hot sugar and butter, and then try to pour it into a pan all the while fearing that if you slip, you will without a doubt melt your entire hand off.   That is real fear.  Singing Violetta for an audience of critical travel-weary amateur musician old people?  Not even close.  

But once it was in the pan, oh, the beauty.  I sprinkled sea-salt on top and let it set.  Then I read a couple chapters of Diana Vreeland.  Then I came back and carefully cut it into squares and twisted it into wax paper.  Oh my I was so proud.  It was the most beautiful little pile of rustically wrapped caramels I have 'ere seen.  Looking at that all my worries faded away, and I slept well that night, knowing that whatever the outcome of the try-out recital, I had my caramel career to fall back on.


Monday, October 22, 2012

The recording thing

The hardest thing I've ever had to do was listen to myself sing.

No, seriously.

I absolutely hate it.  But I have been forcing myself to do it as an exercise nearly everyday.  You know how they say do one thing that scares you everyday?  Well, I can't imagine this wouldn't count.

And you know what is happening?  I am learning to have more compassion for myself.  I am no less critical, but I am beginning to hear myself as I would hear someone else, almost to separate the person singing on the recording from me as I listen to the recording, hearing both the good and the bad.  When something comes across as horrible, I beat myself up less, and start to think of all the ways I could fix it.   In other words, it's becoming a less world-altering experience.  And I am learning how to be consistent in my singing by listening and noting the moments when I lose focus, let my support go, all of those small things that work together for a unified whole voice sound.  No one could give me feedback as strong as hearing all of it for myself, everyday.  Everyday.  I mean it is really lighting a fire under my a**.

I used to basically assume the fetal position and rock back and forth keening whenever faced with the necessity of hearing a recording of my singing.  I mean it would really ruin my day.  Maybe I am just improving...oh joy and rapture!...but I am so critical of myself it is unlikely I will ever hear myself and absolutely love everything.  I think I'm just seeing it more matter-of-factly, knowing that none of it is unfixable.

My teacher said to me the other day: "You don't have any vocal problems.  We just have to perfect a few things."

And I thought for as second, and realized that no one had ever said that to me.  I don't? I thought.  Wow.  So maybe that makes listening easier too-- knowing (hoping) that maybe I am past the major overhaul stage, and I can get to the important task of just singing.  But better and better everyday.

Friday, October 19, 2012


This weekend, I'm happy to have Saturday off except for two hours of rehearsal on six arias...yipes.  Must make new recording... ammm soooo behind!!!!!!!  Also, friends and I are getting together a couple of casual recitals to get our arias up to snuff, since we have lots of new ones.  This time last week I was still frozen with horror at the prospect of singing Sempre libera in public, but by now it is less scary, and feeling more natural.  It has been lovingly placed in the program with two other more familiar arias, though not much easier, since one is Ach ich liebte, but it comes a bit more naturally to me.  After last Saturday's lesson and coaching, when I was verbally bludgeoned into submission (hello tempo, hello rhythm!) in the best, most caring way, of course, I've listened to those "tapes" as my teacher would say.  They've helped a lot to bring awareness to my little weird things that I do.  So I'm trying not to do them any more. :)

Ideas for this weekend:

1. Start a new book (I strongly recommend D.V. by Diana Vreeland or Stolen Innocence by Elissa Wall)

2. Apply to at least one audition.  Some of you are already applying to long lists of things, but some of you are waiting, holding back, not doing it.  DO it!!!!!!!!  Remember, we fail at one hundred percent of things we don't attempt.

3. Go to Rite-aid and buy yourself three things for your audition/gig trip kit: Downy Wrinkle Release spray, a mini hairspray, and an extra pack of hose.  That way, you will have them when its time to go.  Better yet, make a dedicated bag thats always packed with these things, and the shoes that go with your audition dress.  If you're like me, you're usually leaving at 5:30 in the morning, when cognitive function is not exactly the best.

4. Spend an hour scanning all your audition arias to pdf, and any new scores you are working on.  Then, if you have one, send it to your Ipad or Kindle, and keep a copy in your email account at all times.  You never know when you'll need to send it to a pianist, or work on it on the bus!

5. Buy yourself a pair of these: Old Navy Snakeskin Ballet Flats
People, they are so cute, under twenty bucks, and look way more expensive than they are.

6. Make this: Pasta with Pancetta and Leeks
I know I've mentioned this before on the blog, but I made it again Wednesday night and it is impossible to underestimate the deliciousness, especially when you use real parmigiano reggiano.  Also, I don't use pancetta-- just plain old bacon.  It is an unbelievable treat.

Have a WONDERFUL weekend!!!!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Wednesday has come again

My sister was on a show on the Style Network last night called "Chicagolicious," and I am still kind of wide-eyed and giggly about how she was really on the show!  Like a lot!  She was a big part of the episode.

Well, at least one member of the family is having some impact on the world at large.

In other news, in case you hadn't noticed, it's a rough day at work and the only thing I can think about right now is the pasta I'm planning to make for dinner tonight.  And the wine I'm going to need to drink.  And reading more of the amazing Diana Vreeland memoir I started this weekend.  I will put it in the book links-- this is a must read!!! She was such a fascinating woman with real chic.

One thing I've been doing during the work day that makes me feel connected to my singer self, even when I'm overwhelmed with work, is to listen to my lessons on my i-pod while working.  It's absolutely astounding how much I forget from a two hour lesson and how important the refresher is!  It's truly the only way I can really get my money's worth for those lessons!  Next, I'm moving on to coachings, etc.  I hate listening to my voice, but it is making it painfully obvious what my weaknesses are and what I need to focus on.

Tomorrow is my four year anniversary with Joe!  The marvelous, the miraculous.  He is taking a break from practicing so that we can go out for a nice dinner.

Happy Wednesday, singers!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

New York Trip

Hey gang-- I'm off to New York again Saturday.  It has become my weekend destination of choice as I work hard to prepare for this season's auditions and opportunities.  As stressful as I have found my day job to be of late, getting away to the City is refreshing and restores my focus, even though it does involve traveling on a bus :)

I have to tell you about something I bought the other day that is really awesome for this sort of thing--
This blazer from H&M!!! I bought a black one on my last trip because I was freezing, but it is so classic looking and comfortable that I think for $39.99 I'm going to have to break down and get the one in tan. It looks adorable with a fun scarf and dresses up jeans and t-shirt for rehearsals or work.  I'm wearing mine again saturday with skinny jeans (with stretch, mind you, nothing binding around the stomach area) and a grey turtleneck and flats, of course.  I never thought I liked Old Navy's jeans, but I have found an inexpensive pair that is great to fill in the gaps while I am waiting til I am at my goal weight to  buy my new wardrobe!  This pair is fab, and the black looks a bit more polished!  It also has extra stretch, more than the other colors, which is why they are so comfortable.

I have finally decided to break down and have a two hour lesson since I do come from so far...and I took a risk and scheduled a coaching too.  I'll be getting a lot in in one day, and hopefully will get enough done to really make up for how broke I'll be!  In a couple weeks, I'll be doing two recitals of arias with a couple friends to force myself to polish my audition arias and get the pieces up on their feet. I never feel guilty about investing time and money in my voice.  For me it is and has always been worth every penny.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The importance of friends

I am inspired by the women in my life, and pat myself on the back every time I think about my small circle of good friends.  I'm not sure quite what I did to deserve them, but I'm not asking any questions!
Among them are several excellent singers, an amazing mother and teacher who has been bravely but successfully moving forward during a hard time for her family, another is the model of tenacity and resilience as she follows her dream of singing even when its not easy, one just moved to New York City and is keeping her attitude positive as she looks for a job and tries to make ends meet while at the same time trying to keep auditioning and her voice in good shape without money for lessons, one is a brilliant writer and business woman who was able to meld her vocal talent and writing ability into an outstanding libretto, one is an independent business woman who is one of the hard-working few that have had the smarts and virtuosity to make music her full-time career, successful even in a tough economy in which music is viewed as a luxury by many.  You can't be a shrinking violet and accomplish all this.

It has taken time and effort to build friendships with people I respect and admire.  They are a resource for me, providing advice and counsel that has never steered me in the wrong direction.  They are the ones who came to my house to eat pizza with me when I thought I bombed a singing engagement and was a crying, sobbing mess, listened to me complain about the challenges at my day job, and checked on us when we're sick.  I suppose that good fortune brought these people into my life, but it has taken effort on both ends to keep each other there-- the trick is that we both know that.

Do you find yourself disappointed or annoyed by the people you spend time with (your friends) more than you are uplifted and inspired?  Decide that you are going to be an inspiring, uplifting person, and then go looking for others that are too.  I have not reached my goal of being one hundred percent inspiring and uplifting altogether, as I am human, and sometimes I freak out, vent, cry, and have bad days.  Nonetheless, I do try not to leave a conversation with a friend on a downer or a low note.

As singers we have many people in our lives that are important to what we are trying to accomplish.  Directors, conductors, coaches, teachers, mentors, fellow singers, reviewers, pianists, etc.  We are kind and respectful to each of them, but I always found it hard not to confide in everyone.  Singing and creating music with someone is such a personal experience, that it is easy to over-share with collaborators.  I have made this mistake so many times, not realizing that I was becoming annoying, or perhaps that the person I was working with professionally was not necessarily someone I could trust personally.  Which is why I finally figured out that its important to have good friends and a long-suffering husband, so that we have outlets for talking through our issues that are appropriate and keep us from not being asked back!

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Truth= Respect

On Friday I had a coaching that I'd been looking forward to for a long time.  It was with a respected professional in the opera world whose honest opinion about my singing I was both afraid and excited to hear.  He's heard me sing on several occasions and I always wanted to know what he thought, so when he invited me for a coaching, I was excited to take him up on it.

First of all, I took an aria that is very new for me, the rationale being that if he found it a ludicrous choice for my voice, I would put it away immediately and pull out another that was more polished.  I knew the choice was controversial, and it was just because of that that I picked it to work on.

I made some mistakes, I was embarrassed, there were a couple stressed syllables that I didn't stress-- but that is why we have coachings, I suppose.  To figure out what needs to be fixed.  However, all in all, I felt he was very hard on me, brutally honest about the part of my voice that needs real work.

But then, he told me how to fix it.  And I fixed it, and it worked.  And he then proceeded to goad me each and every time I reverted back to the old way, forcing me to notice and correct.  At first I hadn't been able to hear the difference myself, but by the end, I started to understand what I needed to listen and feel to get it right.  His tough love approach worked.

But I left feeling very weird.

I felt like I should have been perfect.

I felt like I shouldn't have given him anything to fix or correct.

I felt like he thought I was less than wonderful, even though at the end he assured me I sounded great, but needed to work on these things.

For a day or two I was in a funny place about my singing, having those familiar old negative thoughts, like "Will I ever be able to get this right?"

Then I started to think that maybe the best compliment he could give me was the effort he made to help me correct the things that he heard were wrong or could be much better.  If I could correct it while I was standing there, how bad could it have been?  The best thing he could do with me was not to gloss over the things he heard, but to tell me and force me to listen and notice what I was doing wrong.  Surely, it would have been easier and more fun for him to simply play through the rep with me, telling me I sound great, while I smiled and giggled and felt great about myself.

While I do think that teachers and coaches owe it to singers to find respectful ways to communicate tough truths, and that incivility is never okay, I think I sometimes choose to see things the wrong way.  The other thing is that we instinctively know whether what is being said is true, or whether it is coming from a mean place.  But assuming that we know that we're being told the truth, rather than spending the rest of the day thinking "I suck,"  I should have focused on how lucky I was that he thought I was worth telling the truth about my weaknesses, and how quickly we had been able to fix the issues.

Now I guess I better go practice.

Thursday, October 04, 2012


It's one of those weeks when so many things are going round in my head that I start to have anxiety because I am absolutely certain something is going to be forgotten or left out.  There have been many fires to put out and many things to fix and smooth over.

But then there are all the singing things and they are so super wonderful.

My lesson last week was nothing short of wildly uplifting and so special.  Studying with a person who sings my rep is a strange and wonderful experience, and one that I know my dear voice teacher who left us is looking down on with glee.  I feel so energized and ready to work after I see her.  She is one hundred percent behind me and excellent with the gentle nudges I need.

Tonight I am seeing Mother Ruth for some advice and some Bach.  When probably, if I would just spend all my time singing Bach, I wouldn't ever need advice.  All my problems would just work themselves out because my brain would be so finely tuned by the counterpoint.  :)  ummm... well...
Another major break through from this year of life: I can sing Bach.  And I can sing it the same way I sing everything else, just with a tad less vibrato, and more silent prayers for mercy and breath control.

Tomorrow, I know, how lucky am I, another coaching with another person I've been wanting to work with forever, and I'm going to whip out some Violetta.  They won't know what hit them.

You ask yourself, how does this poor starving artist afford all these coachings and lessons?  And I say unto you: birthday money.  Yes, I could've had a pair of really nice shoes instead.

ALSO: I heard Sondra Radvanovsky for the first time live last night and she was a true wonder.  I have never heard an audience erupt like that-- when she came out to bow, everybody went wild.  And rightly so.  The voice is natural, full, colorful, and supremely resonant.  She blew everyone else out of the tub with apparently no effort.  What a singer.  I adore her.

I love singing.

I do.

And the amazing thing about it all is that I am starting to love my voice.