Thursday, January 31, 2013

Thursday already?

The days have been flying by in a whirlwind of well, everything.  It's high competition and second audition season, and my day job has been more stressful than usual, add to that the planning of the concert honoring my teacher from undergrad, memorizing for a gig, and you quickly realize there are not enough hours in the day.  Also, I haven't been sleeping well, because my brain just can't stop thinking.

To be honest, I'm a bit concerned about my audition on Saturday.  I can sing, but physically I am very tired.  Hopefully I can sleep the whole way to New York and the whole way back!

I am looking for creative ways to raise money to pay for my trip to the semi-finals of the competition I'm doing in March.  My teacher has had some good suggestions, as she feels its an important one for me to do.  And the truth is, I cannot continue to let financial constraints get in my way of doing these big things.  Where there is a will there's a way, and I am going to figure this one out.  It isn't the first hard thing I've done and it certainly won't be the last.

A home stay is not an option offered by the committee, but I am thinking about asking for one-- as that would take care of a big part of the expense.  

In the meantime, I'll be trying to sock away a few bucks to get a head start on it, and I'll need to purchase my flight soon.


Friday, January 25, 2013


It's another Purple Friday here in Baltimore where Ravens Superbowl spirit abounds!  It's too cool, seriously.  Never before have I realized the true deficiency of my wardrobe when it comes to purple.  I had to buy some more purple stuff.  Which, as you can imagine did NOT break my heart.

Lately I've been attributing my positive attitude to eating a good breakfast everyday.  Or to mindfulness.  But today I'm happy to have gotten through the recorded round of a competition and am off to the semifinals.  Who knows what the odds were, but a little encouragement in the form of a non-rejection is always nice!  And after all the drama that surrounded my recordings.  For heavens sake.  

Sometimes I wonder what I would do if I didn't have this blog and the community of singers with which it comes.  Writing things down is so helpful sometimes! Very cleansing.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Focus and Preparation

It is freezing.  Not as cold here as in Ohio where Joe is teaching-- it was 5 degrees this morning when he got in the car!  But it makes it difficult to move and even harder to get motivated to do anything other than sit under a blanket watching movies!

The air is very, very dry here, so I've been using my favorite "avoid getting sick tactics" like Vick's Vapo Rub all over my nose at night, saline nasal spray every hour or so, and washing my hands like crazy.  Which, sadly, is not great for my skin or my manicure, but a girl has to take precautions.

To be honest, this time of the year is busier with auditions for me than the fall and pre-Christmas, so I'm taking lots of time to get the new stuff up and ready to go.  I had a great audition on Saturday and it marked a huge change in the way I see auditioning.

I've decided that there is absolutely no room for uncertainty when it comes to auditioning.  You either really do an audition, like its your job, like you WANT the job, like the job is yours, or you don't.  And the difference between one and the other is two things: preparation and focus.

The preparation part of it should be obvious for most of us by now-- but for me it HAS to include the acting part as much as the musical part.  I cannot just wing it in terms of the character.  I have to know what my arms and hands and everything are doing, and where the person is that I'm talking to in the aria.  I usually force Joe to let me try out some of the acting moments and ask him what is more believable.  This is great, because sometimes I do weird-ass things that don't make sense, and having another opinion is key.  However, I have found that if I believe fully in what I am saying and doing and totally commit to it, everyone else believes it too, no matter how over the top the gesture.

The focus part is not so clear cut.  For me it is all about my mindset going into the audition.  I HAVE to have faith that I am up to the challenge.  I have to get to the place mentally where I can trust in my vocal readiness and preparation so that I can do both singing and acting at the same time.  Sometimes this is very difficult.  I'm not sure how I get there, but this Saturday, I did it by taking plenty of time before starting the aria to really get my breath and think about who my character was.  Often, the pianist will start and not give you the time you need, but this time, I was lucky to have a very sensitive pianist on my team.
The other piece of focusing for me is reminding myself that this is not an aspiration for me any more, and its not just a fun hobby.  This is a job, and I have to show the panel that I can do the job and that I want the job.  I have to project confidence.  And the only way to project it is to actually have it.  The only way to have it is to work very hard.
Another way in which focus is key is to be so involved with music making that I do not spend any time listening to my own audition.  When I listen to myself, I drag the tempo and sing with too much control and not enough freedom.  Trying to control each note is always a bad idea.  Of course, there are moments when a singer knows they must focus in on a vocally difficult section or group of notes, but not the whole aria.

Putting all of this into play at once really takes practice, but for me it is always mostly about believing I can do it, and mindfully carrying it out.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Find the ones that make you WANT to sing

I just left a coaching with a certain member of my "team."  I can feel it in every muscle of my torso!  I was pushed vocally and physically to the limit, and when I leave I am always near tears.

But not because I am upset or want to jump off of something high as has in fact happened before, but because it reminds me how much I love music, and WHY.  It is always a very moving experience that brings me back to visceral parts of singing, and the very personal reasons it would be impossible for me to quit now.

And then, when I've gotten in my car, and begin to drive away afterward, I realize how lucky I am to have a person like that in my life!  My circle of "people" that I go to for advice is small, but every single one is a person whose studio I leave reminded of why music is literally the best thing since sliced bread, leggings, and champagne.  That is not to say I don't often have to process hard truths about my singing and myself.  But the music...the music-- when you realize that you are there basically to sing it in a way that others will love it as much as you do, to represent it honestly and as the composer would appreciate-- it makes it easier to swallow the harder pills about a certain aspect of my technique, say.

Sometimes as singers I believe we all get a bit of the "shiny and new" syndrome sometimes.  We go from coach to coach, teacher to teacher, hoping to finally find THE ONE who, upon entrance to their studio, the calls will start coming in.

We know how dumb we are being, right?

True, it has taken me a long time to assemble the team.  Number one criteria: you have to believe in me, and I have to feel like any criticism is coming from a place of repsect.

And here is what that does not mean: letting me get away with shoddy musicianship, ridiculous mistakes or bad diction.  It also means telling me if my audition dress is unflattering or if I need to lose twenty pounds to be believable in my fach.  Essentially, you have to believe I am worth telling the truth to.

Now that we have that cleared up-- I can tell you that each one is in the circle for a specific purpose.  At least in my own mind.

-I have my vibrato and resonance nazi.
-I have one that makes me sing out and be generally fabulous and expressive.
-I have one that forces me into rhythmic submission makes sure I am singing stylishly.
-I have a german diction/Bach/oratorio/mother person.
-I also have a husband and those are much harder to come by, especially with advanced degrees in piano.

Spend some time thinking about your people, who you need, what you need.  And remember that it is never worth it to spend money and time on something that is not really helping you love singing more.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Bliss on the bus

Yes, you heard it right.

I'm enroute to New York, sitting in my favorite place on the bus, two seats to myself, reading about Paris' demimonde listening to Murray Perahia play Bach keyboard concerti very loudly in my earphones.  I am seriously rocking out.

I don't know how, but along the way somewhere bus trips to NYC went from dread status to seriously fabulous time to myself.  If I do this enough, I'll get through all six solo concerti, and the double, triple and quadruple ones too!  Utterly amazing and they block out all the annoying video game sounds from the kid in the next row.

Listening to Bach couldn't hurt my Verdi and Puccini, could it??  If anything I will be metronomically more powerful when I arrive.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Today's Note from the Universe

Life rewards effort, Jessica, exponentially. No matter how small the effort, nor how daunting the odds. 

That's a lot, 
    The Universe

Monday, January 07, 2013


And...we're back!

Oh man.  Monday comes tooooo quickly, when you've had a wonderful weekend and then, bam!  It's back to work.

My time with my family was spectacular.  There were babies and kids galore, and only one person asked me when I was having one!  It must be a record of some kind.

Yesterday was a day of wonderful things-- church was rather a breeze, the Ravens were amazing and Joe and I ventured to DC for a fabulous recital performed at the Phillips Collection by one of his old friends.  I have never heard Book IV of Albeniz' Iberia suite quite like that.  It was stunning.  I love going to concerts.  Sometimes I forget how cathartic listening to live music can be.

This weekend, I'm in New York again.  I can't wait.  I miss it!

Friday, January 04, 2013


So far, it's been a productive short week of work, and I feel set for the semester to start.  But not really ready to have Joe gone three days a week when his artist in residence stint begins next week!  We have been one of very few music couples who haven't had to spend lots of time apart. So now it's our turn.

So many great things have happened over the Christmas season, but I haven't had much downtime...lots of singing, tons of travelling.  So I am coming to you from my recliner in front of the tv...and although there is practicing to be done, and dinner to be made, and presents to prepare for our family get together tomorrow...I think I am here for the next few hours at least.

As the new year begins, I have some goals...get that high F in absolutely sound working order, stop eating so much refined sugar, oh, and all my resolutions!  And I really want to figure out how to get myself hired to sing the soprano solo in the Brahms requiem. It's a new goal to perform the piece because I just love it so very much and it suits me.  Brahms is definitely my homeboy.

I have learned lots of lessons this past year.  One of them is that singers so readily participate in their own abuse by going back for more to gigs that don't pay a professional wage, or pay on time. Part of this is that we need to keep singing and can't be sure that we'll be hired anywhere else.  I've been in that situation and it is endlessly frustrating.  Another way we perpetuate it is by patronizing coaches, pianists and teachers who do not treat us with respect.  The bottom line is that there is always a respectful way to say something to a person, and just because you have sung a wrong note or have made a rep choice someone doesn't understand does not mean you should be brow beaten.  We always know when there is something wrong, but sometimes it is easier to believe that we are truly horrible or a bad musician than to believe in our own ability and say no and walk away.  If you consider how truly immoral it is in any other area of life, outside the music business, to be rude to someone who respects your expertise enough to pay you for your time, and has come to you for advice, it puts the whole thing in perspective.

Okay... Back to my documentary watching... :) happy Friday!!!

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Resolution day!

Happy new year, singers!

Have any resolutions today?  Anything you want to work on in the coming year?

Here's mine!

1. Learn to let things go and not over analyze.

2. Perfect my audition technique: attitude, focus, prep.

3. Always choose quality over quantity: especially when it comes to food, clothing, friends.

4. Cultivate true discretion, in speech and behavior.  Sometimes less is more!

5. Become a better listener.