Friday, May 31, 2013


I am grateful because my week has included a lot of good things.  My weekend will be awesome too, because I get to sing.

Tomorrow, I'm going to New York (lookout Megabus) for a lesson and coaching, and it is my pianist's birthday, so I will be bringing him some treats, or else getting him a Wendy's gift certificate, either one. It's a hilarious quirk, but he LOVES Wendy's, of all things!  He is the one who saved me before my last audition by running out to get me copies of my piece!

Tuesday, I've got an audition which has required some brushing up of some old rep.  I'm intrigued by, and shall we say nervously excited, about this particular audition as the concept is interesting and requires movement and dance.  Ahem.  And now you understand my concern.  At any rate, I'll go in there and give it all I've got.  As long time readers of this blog have observed, I definitely know how to dance it's just that I'm not sure if my kind of dancing it out is the kind they want. :)

In these kinds of uncertain audition situations (and let's face it-- most are uncertain in some way! Anything can happen...), I just try to focus on giving a consistent and compelling vocal performance and keeping a very open mind and heart.

I'm the only person I can control.

In other news I'm excited to hear some Bach and Handel at this concert on Sunday, and have some guacamole after at Blue Agave.  It's funny, I have to keep reminding Joe that there are other foods and cocktails in the world in the summer besides guacamole and margaritas.  We eat out on our own really only once a week, and I have to say lately nine times out of ten it has been guac and margs!  But the fact is I love when you can walk everywhere, and living in our neighborhood, we can walk to the mexican place.  I am reminding Joe we can also walk to the pizza place, the thai place, the japanese, the  pub...oh well!  He is very cute about it.   And anyway, it is summer.

My food for thought this weekend:

It is not my job to school others and force them to think rightly, or to change their ways.  As a friend I must offer my support, and build them up, remind them of their inherent fabulousness, and  always be the ear for whatever is happening in their lives.  I must try never to make them feel less than, or that their feelings are wrong or unimportant.  Only when they ask for my advice will I give it.  Who am I to say, when I am still walking up and down the streets everyday with questions in my heart, my mind every minute.  I want to be a safe place for each and every person I know.  I have been teasingly referred to as "The Feelings Police," a title I am kind of flattered by because I hope people feel: Your heart is safe with me.

We have not just ended up with what we have.  At least as far as adulthood is concerned, our choices have brought it to us.  We can delight in the good we have manifested and ponder the bad, but it all comes back to us: we are the manifestors.  

The universal law of cause and effect is happening all around me, and I have to make sure I am causing the good and effecting happiness.  

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Ten Commandments of Summer for Young Singers

Inspired by this adorbs post from a gal whose style I adore, I thought we needed a version for the classical singing types out there...

1. Thou shalt love the lord thy voice teacher with all thy heart and soul and mind.
And of course by that I mean, don't let what's shiny and new and super complimentary at your summer program entice you away from the person who has been slogging along day in and day out, working slow-but-sure wonders with your singing, taking your frantic competition panic calls, giving you the same advice over and over again that you never listen to, replying to your endless stream of emails, telling you you can do it, and generally building you up.  Don't get poached.  Just don't.  Two voice lessons at a program do not a long-term strategy make.  Change voice teachers every five minutes and you will be a mess.

2. Thou shalt not compare thyself to other singers who are older, and more experienced.
You will feel bad all the time.  Be inspired by them, because they are making it happen, but don't be a victim and let their level of accomplishment get you down.

3. Thou shalt not condescend and give advice to singers who look up to you, just because you are older and more experienced.
They have people who they are paying to work on things with them.  Don't step in with your extensive knowledge of the repertoire and confuse them by saying who they sound like, that they are really a tenor, that they should be singing Handel instead, you know...yes, you know exactly what I mean.  What all the older singers did to you that made you feel weird and like you have no idea what direction your life is headed.  Be the supportive, uplifting person that makes them feel good about who they are NOW.

4. Thou shalt NOT over-sing in Death-by-Aria the first night of the festival.  
It's a classic mistake.  Be the one who doesn't have to prove how loud they are.  And then you will have a voice the next day when it is time for the really important stuff.  What a concept.

5. Thou shalt absolutely use the summer to grow vocally even if you don't go to a program. 
Listen to Lucia all the way through.  Listen to something wild you would never normally want to listen to, like for me, that would include one of the Glass operas.  Learn a role.  Set up coachings with someone you have never worked with but have always wanted to.  Take your audition arias to an acting coach.

6. Thou shalt not feel bad about thyself if you choose not to go and pay $4000+ this summer for a program. 
The truth is, when you think about how long it takes a person like us to make that amount of had better be one heck of an experience.  So embrace your choice not to do it.  You are being prudent, and start a little savings account for your audition trips in the fall.

7. Thou shalt give a recital for free just to be nice. 
Get together with some friends and sing your audition arias, some new song repertoire, etc. for your church or a retirement community.  It's a great way to try out new stuff.  These kinds of things have certainly been invaluable for me in making discoveries about what is right and wrong for me to sing.

8. Thou shalt organize an aria club and call it Fight Club to be cool.
So, aria club could meet once a month, everyone kicks in for a pianist.  Every second month, you have to sing something brand new.  Sounds like good motivation to me!

9. Thou shalt attend an outdoor performance! 

10.  Thou shalt not forget to have fun. 
Remember how living life makes us better singers?  It does.  For heavens sake go to the beach or the pool or something and enjoy yourself.  Make dinner for friends. Be fabulous!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The past and the present

This weekend I was lucky enough to have an extra day off so that I could drive out to Pittsburgh for some time with family.  First of all, I have to say my new free Iphone made the trip more fun, as I was able to have all my fabulous tunes coming right through the stereo of my car!  I listened to Bach, Bellini, Handel, Beyonce, Fleet Foxes, soooo much music.  It was great.   There was a ton of traffic on the Turnpike, and when I stopped for gas, it was like the wild wild west at the filling stations, let me tell you.  I totally lost my cool with a lady who was beeping at me to hurry while I was trying to get gas, and I yelled.  But hey, it was a real Jessica moment, what can I say.  And let me tell you, everyone in the gas station heard.  :) Yikes.

I've said it many times here, I love being with my family, because I laugh and laugh and laugh.  I have a hilarious bunch of relatives, and laughter is the strongest medicine there is.  For my cousins and I, its a time of change and transition, marriage, family, babies, moving, and so there were a lot of tears this time too.  I was reminded that rejection and feeling like a loser doesn't just happen to opera singers... it's the way people our age tend to feel in general!  Whether we are attorneys, surgeons, dentists, singers or whatever.  We are all afraid that some part of our plan is going to fall through, and that we are going to let our parents, friends, spouses, and ourselves down.  We are afraid that we aren't good enough, and that everything we've accomplished up until now is all just a very lucky coincidence.  Also, it is very difficult to get a job in the current climate, even for those who thought their degree would provide them with a sure thing.  So we spent some much needed time commiserating, and lots of old stuff comes up, and the emotions you feel can be so intense. There were tears too, but it was a very healing and cathartic weekend.  When you are healing from a tough year, it is important to be with people who understand you from A-Z, who have seen the evolution of who you are and know the very unique nature of your challenges as only family can. 

It is true that our past does not define us, and that moving forward, we make choices everyday that can either reshape our lives, or keep us in the destructive pattern.  But what has happened is impossible to forget, and it will come back sometimes unbidden, and affect the present in ways we never could have imagined.  I am still trying to figure out how I can plan for those moments and keep them from affecting my performances.  As Leontyne Price said, "I would never let anything keep me from giving my very best performance for the audience." And lord knows she had some challenges!  But she kept it from getting to her in such a way that she was always in top form when she needed to be.  

I am working on this. 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Because today is my Friday!

It is a happy day.  I have lots of things planned for this weekend, and because I need some emotional recharging, it will be some time with the fam in Pittsburgh, and hopefully it will not be terrible weather and we can celebrate the first weekend of the pool being open AT the pool.

Tonight there is a work event.  But I've painted my nails and done up my do, and will help to send the graduates off in style.

After we will meet up with friends to toast to the weekend of fun.

My yogurt and bread turned out amazing!  Not that you care...

And so did my practice session, although since my little break, my stamina is not what it was!  It is truly crazy how quickly you can lose ground.  We gotta keep moving forward!

Happy Memorial Day weekend, everyone!


Wednesday, May 22, 2013


This is a kind of a boring post, but I'm having the best day.

I've got some new things to practice for, and some new things to practice for those things!.  Super great.

Tonight, I've got it all planned out:

1. Practice
2. Make pork loin with asparagus (come on over!)
3. Make bread
4. Make greek yogurt

I know it sounds weird.  But it is a great night for me of creating things.

Edible things.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


When you tough it out, hold the line, and stay the course, Jessica, I promise you there will soon come a day when you look back over your shoulder, shake your head in dismay, and seriously wonder what all the fuss was about. 

Just like all the other times,    The Universe

Friday, May 17, 2013

This week

It started off a little sad, with the close of a show that had a quite a story, a lot of emotion, and a very close cast.  It was hard to say goodbye to that.  I was experiencing some of the typical post-show ennui.  I didn't feel like singing, and I told myself, "Self, no problem.  Don't practice again til you feel like you want to. It's called taking a break." And guess what.  By Wednesday I was practicing the days pass...I'm starting to get my mojo back, I have to admit.  I am back to being totally obsessed.  Obsessed with singing, singers, opera, song...all of it.

This week's posts included:

- A poem on Wednesday called Opening Night

- yesterday's self-motivational post called Coaching Team You.  It was by far the most popular this week.

Tonight Joe and I are off to Lyric Opera Baltimore's Rigoletto-- one of my very favorites.  I'll be on pins and needles all through "Caro nome." Otherwise known as the best aria ever!  We will be fuleing up first with margaritas and guacamole.  And between now and then, of course, I'll have to figure out what spectacular outfit to wear... I'm going back stage after...maybe I'll get to meet Bryan Hymel!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Coaching Team You

I love watching the ESPN show Hard Knocks, which follows one NFL team a year through their pre-season training camp.  Its a grueling process, and many players are disappointed when they just can't be explosive or consistent enough to compete with other stars on the team.  Dozens of players are eliminated throughout the course of camp, and in the end, usually one is chosen for each open position.  It's a fascinating thing to watch, and feels oddly familiar for a person like me who has chosen a path with a similarly competitive atmosphere.  I hate to say it, but I think even sopranos have it easier than some of these players...

What the NFL does have built into their system that we do not (besides the obvious billions of dollars), however, is constant encouragement, ass-kicking, support, and camaraderie.  There are coaches with each guy before every play, in your ear, reminding you what to do, how to do it, helping you to keep your focus, telling you you CAN.  I've often said to Joe-- "God, can you imagine if there was someone who would do that for us that we didn't have to pay?"  How much more fabulous would I be every time I auditioned, performed, opened my mouth!  If I could afford it, you better believe I'd have a person who loves my voice standing next to me telling me how freaking fabulous I was up until the moment I stepped into the audition room! 

Okay, ultimately, we're all on Team Opera, but rarely do you walk in the door for rehearsal and feel the single-minded focus that seems to be present in a football locker room.  We're all thinking about our own voices, mostly, right?  How it feels today, what's happening in there, whether I know my words, who my character is-- it ceases at some point to be a team sport, even though it probably shouldn't.  Not up until a work is performance-ready do any of us really become able to focus on the piece as a whole and telling a larger story.  We have to focus on getting our own stuff right. 

In the absence of a team of coaches standing on the side-lines yelling instructions(or heck, even one would do), whose sole job is to be sure I perform in that moment the very best I can, I've got to be my own teacher, coach, cheerleader, therapist.  In the face of rejection and negativity, and the constant newsreel about our "dying art," how do we wade through all of it and become the kind of singer we can get behind?  

If I know I've done the work, had the right attitude, put in the time, and I'm there for the right reason (MUSIC, hello), I have no reason not to believe I'm great.  No reason not to be one hundred percent in favor of me. No reason not to say myself in lieu of anyone else being there to do it: GO get em.  You are fabulous.  You love this, you work hard at this.  Show them what you're made of.

Let's win one for Team You.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


Opening night

Into the size and shape of answers that
I’ll never have
I plunge

I ask the question and live in the realm
Of wondering

Where is she
Who the world tosses up on shore
and harshly polishes with all the
moments come and gone
an entire night that lasted only seconds
gulfs waded through
cliffs over the side of which she may have
stupidly looked down
catching herself
When roughly chipped or thrown and landed
Then, all of the sandpaper words

And the mail still comes
Or maybe doesn’t
She waits

But I will always wait

It goes in waves, first a shell,
broken through raw and soft,
Then perhaps a scab forms
Always battered, with fractures
though never quite cracked through
love and hate and such sadness
surge ever closer to the surface

Tonight I bring it all to you

Friday, May 10, 2013

Friday is here... what a month

And you know what that means...opening night.  It's been a crazy month.  As I look back to the day I agreed to do the opera that opens tonight, so much was different.  I was ill, I was depressed.  I got through it, and I didn't give up, and somehow I will find the courage to stand on the stage and sing tonight.

By the grace of the universe, I wasn't really allowed to quit.  I had to keep going...there were more things and more things so I knew I couldn't slow down to feel sorry for myself.  What would have happened if I had?

I've been really inspired to write lately, because I'm learning things.  So here are some topics I'm hoping to address in the near future:

- Choosing teachers and coaches

- What is really worth our money

I hope you will all keep me in your thoughts tonight, and have a WONDERFUL weekend!

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Update to Audition/Performance Prep page: Repertoire for Auditions

Hello singers-- for any of you that are interested, I've just posted an epistle about my take on choosing pieces for auditions and strategy.  Check it out to your left in the Audition/Performance Prep page.

Have a great Wednesday!

Diva Style

My thing has always been that glamor will get you noticed before you even open your mouth.  and I've often said this here-- but I feel so GOOD when I look good.  I'm building my brand, right?  We must be gorgeous of voice and of countenance.  

Note: I said countenance. 

And to me to be gorgeous of countenance is to have a glow, a projection of inner joy, a sense of pride in our appearance and our product.  It does not mean being stick thin, it does not mean wearing drag queen make-up (although I do love my fake eyelashes).  

The other day when i was getting ready for my audition in my teacher's studio, asked her: "Do I need more make up?  I feel like I need more.  I need to be more glamorous."

She looked at me like I was crazy.  It was quite hilarious, especially since my teacher is always very well-turned out herself, great make-up, perfect lipstick.  Then she said:

"Jessica, this audition is about your voice."


Monday, May 06, 2013

Tired Panda

New York this weekend was wonderful, refreshing and tiring all at the same time.  Even if I don't live there, I am glad I live close enough to go often.  I feel free and happy and surrounded by possibility in New York.

My friend Jared and I had the best time catching up Friday night, then we had breakfast at my favorite diner on 52nd before my lesson at 11 AM.  My teacher really excels at preparing me for auditions.  Whenever I can have a lesson before an audition, I make an effort to schedule one.  During my lesson we began exploring a few arias that had not originally been on my rep list for this audition, and discovered that, wow!  One really worked!  Really really worked!

It was the end of the lesson when dear Max, the pianist said "Do you have a copy of the score for the pianist?"

The answer was of course no, because I hadn't planned to sing it.   But my schedule was very tight-- I was planning to change into my dress at the studio and then take a cab to make it to the audition just in time.  Oh no!  I started to panic...

"Change slowly," Max said. "I'll run down to Office Max on 8th Avenue and make you a copy! We must never forget the pianist!"

Oh my word.  I tell you it takes a village to get this soprano ready for an audition.  It was so sweet of him, and I felt very loved.  I was ready, copies in hand, in plenty of time.  Took a cab, walked in, and sang a really great audition.  Exhilarating.

Then I changed back into jeans and ran down to catch my bus.  I was back just in time for our orchestra run of the show I'm working on now.  Sunday was a marathon of church and rehearsal, but praise be to god, it culminated in a Cinco de Mayo margarita and guacamole.  I haven't had hard liquor in so long that I woke this morning with an upset stomach...but somehow pulled off a great rehearsal of musical theater and opera hits for my concert tomorrow...

Where am I?  What am I doing?  What is my name?

Dress rehearsal tonight.  Ahhhhhhh!

Find what you love and let it kill you

Fabulous blog post, right HERE

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Thoughts from the choir loft

1. There is always a new solo that is hard the day that I have had hours of rehearsal and an audition trip the day before.

2.  I have to pee

3.  It would have been good to drink more coffee

5.  Why are people joking about this hymn being very German and minor when it is definitely not in a minor key??? I don't get it.

Friday, May 03, 2013

On achievement

So okay, I get what all the fuss about taking the train is about...this is truly luxurious compared to a bus...sigh...loving life at the moment.  I bought a new song on I-tunes today, which I do periodically in an effort to stay sort of current...still have a long way to go...but hey.

I love this song, I've listened to it like 12 times already because it does all the things a good pop song should do.  It reminds you what it was like to be carefree.   What it was like when you didn't have to earn a living, be a good wife, when you cared less about achieving.  This song reminds me of the  summers at the barns at the 4-H fair, taking care of animals...when the most important thing I had to do was make feeding times, and in between it was a never-ending string of fun complete with events, concerts, crushes and falling madly in love with boys, every friend ever, so many pick up trucks, the music was always up loud in the barns, punctuated by soft serve and grilled cheese from the dairy bar.  I swear the best grilled cheese in the world was a dollar.  I want to be there again sometimes...  How weird would that be?? Would they all be there? The bull-rider I kind of dated, who was missing a finger from an event accident( would you believe he got a scholarship to a college in Wyoming for bull-riding? Now he is a bonafide blacksmith who shoes horses. awesome).  Yes. That happened.  So many characters.

Okay, let's reel this in.  Enough with the reminiscing.

It got me to thinking about how sometimes I feel self-righteous that I left. I went out into the world to  cultivate my talent and gosh darn it, DO something with my life.  I used to really feel better when I could say that and lift myself up in by making my journey *special* if only inside my head.  As opposed to lots of my friends who stayed and got married and had babies and kept getting up at four am to feed their animals like they always did and things.

Where did the need to achieve come from? And am I really doing anything?  Maybe? I don't know.  But it sure feels like I am running around a lot.

So I have to ask: who is Jessica without Jessica's story?  Who am I without the endless striving to achieve?  Is it even possible for me to completely forget about what I *should* be doing any more?

Can I sit with myself and be Jessica without trying to be a singer for five seconds?

Thursday, May 02, 2013


Oh my goodness, it feels like spring, and I am so grateful for today.

Last night was a marathon rehearsal, and I thought I might not make it, but somehow, with the help of  coffee and a huge blueberry muffin (my bad), I did it!  The music for this show is stunning and I am really starting to get excited about the performance.  I think the audience will react very strongly because the emotion is so clear in the score.  There are some moments when even now, I am afraid I'm going to cry!

It's great to have a night off tonight to regroup and rest my voice before leaving for New York Friday night...I have an audition and lesson, and I'm going to try to catch a new production of Don Giovanni if I make it in time.  

It's a busy time, and I have a concert Tuesday morning (morning after my first dress) with completely different repertoire... stressing about that just slightly.  Different and VERY wordy.  I need to make my flash cards and get to work immediately tonight.  I'll be cramming words like crazy on the train and bus and probably during the church service Sunday morning!