Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Turn

As 2008 turns into 2009, I take a pause from my party preparations to reflect on the moment.

This past year has been one of many moments both trying and rewarding, exciting and tough. As I have gone about my New Year's Eve preparations today, trying to get some work done before the festivities begin, I have traipsed around Manhattan with a lightness in my step and a smile on my face. I look forward to the 2009 with a sense of hope and optimism. On top of all the seemingly positive changes happening in the world-at-large, the knowledge that many changes are to come as I leave my twenties on Saturday and begin a new decade of my life fills me with excitement.

Here's to a wonderful, happy, healthy, fulfilling and fruitful 2009 for all of us.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Happy Holidays

All the best for an joyous and peaceful holiday! Or, as a friend in Houston always says, "Merry Ho Ho!" (yes, that's you, Bonnie Sue!).

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Innocence of Handel

About ten days ago, I sat down after beginning a performance of Messiah, and watched the audience. I had comforted the people and exalted the valleys, so I had a long stretch to enjoy the music and watch the faces in the crowd as they took in their yearly tradition of Hallelujahs. Some people obviously had experienced the piece numerous times, mouthing the words to their favorite choruses and swaying along with the music of their favorite arias, looks of happy expectation and excitement on their faces. There were also those clearly experiencing the piece for the first time – the most notable of which was an 8 or 9 year old, red-headed boy in the front row, looking at times interested in what was going on, and at other times, seeing exactly how far he could stick his tongue out or picking his nose.

Much like I assume it was for that little boy, my first experience with the music of Handel was his famously popular (and sometimes too taken for granted) work, Messiah. My parents took me to the yearly concert at Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor, which was packed to the brim with families taking in the beginnings of their yearly holiday season traditions. So began my love affair with Handel, who remains my stranded-on-a-desert-island composer to this day. My CD collection has had more works by Handel than any other composer since I began buying CDs, and my iPod's most frequently played playlist is a collection of my favorite Handel arias.

When I began to study singing, one of the very first pieces I was assigned by Rosie was "Where'er you walk" from Semele. It was with this aria that I learned the musical structure of most of the arias Handel wrote, and where I began to learn the improvisational freedom of embellishment. Rosie gave me some ideas with which to start, and I took those and ran – inventing slightly new variations each time I sang the piece. The piece actually won me my very first vocal competition, which named me the best high school age singer in the State of Michigan in 1996 and afforded me my very first chance to sing with an orchestra.

I first became acquainted with "Enjoy the Sweet Elysian Grove" when I was studying at Manhattan School of Music. A friend of mine who put on interesting concerts from time to time asked me to sing the one short tenor aria in Handel's The Choice of Hercules. While the complete aria had been written as part of the incidental music for a production of what was to be Tobias Smollett's Alceste at Covent Garden, the play was cancelled and never performed. Handel took the never-performed A section of "Enjoy the Sweet Elysian Grove" and used it again in The Choice of Hercules, where I encountered it for the first time.

The Alceste aria, which invites the listener to enjoy the utopian splendor of Elysium (the place where all souls went to dwell in the afterlife of the Greek and Roman Mythology), is almost a hedonist's anthem. There is nothing to do but enjoy and experience – all is pleasure, and all is blissful, innocent happiness. In the B section, the tenor refers to his listener as an "unpolluted shade" – where else can any journey or story begin but from an unpolluted, clean place? In life, we all start in this place – in a way, many times over – in which we are in a state of blissful ignorance, only to experience something and to learn more about ourselves and the world. This is the part before a layer of the onion is pulled away, inducing the tears that we experience as part of discovering ourselves and our lives.

Removed from its context, "Where'er you walk" seems like a simple prayer for protection from the hurts and growing pains of life and for constant happiness and delight. Even in its context, in which Jupiter seeks to distract Semele from her desire to see him in his true form, a lightning bolt (something that would kill her and which eventually does), these sentiments are layered in – removing it from its context just allows one to focus on the core of what is there. Jupiter seeks to protect her from experience and knowledge that will cause her hurt – a similar sentiment to one that parents feel for their children. As I enter that age in which my circle of friends are beginning to have children, I find myself thinking like thoughts to Jupiter's – may the world bend to your wishes, only show you it's beauty, may it protect you and may happiness always find you. May it not be too painful as you leave the paradise of innocence and gain experience. Thoughts I imagine that red-headed boy's grandparents wish for him on his own life's journey.

Monday, December 08, 2008

The Program or A Life’s Journey

Context is a powerful thing. In opera or even oratorio, the context is clear – one is part of a storyline, character is fairly well defined. In art song, context can be ambiguous. That is what makes it so challenging and, yet, potentially so impactful. The possibilities are seemingly endless, and, as a result, the individuality of a performer's personal emotional stamp on a song can be all the more extraordinary. Also, sometimes pieces in a recital have been removed from their original context, imbuing them with new poignancy not imagined before. Not long ago, I went to a good friend's cabaret show in Midtown Manhattan and heard every single song on his program in a new context – each song had seemed to have new meaning and brought me new perspective as an audience member. It seemed that, in a way, I was hearing each song again for the first time. That night, I felt like our worlds and our goals were not all that different.

Here is the recital tour program:


THE PARADISE OF INNOCENCE – GEORGE F. HANDEL


Enjoy the sweet Elysian Grove from Alceste

Where'er you walk from Semele


LOVE'S YOUTH – GABRIEL FAURÉ


Le plus doux chemin

Chanson d'amour

Lydia

Nell


THE HEART BREAKS – ROBERT SCHUMANN


Liederkreis, Op. 24

Morgens steh' ich auf und frage

Es treibt mich hin

Ich wandelte unter den Bäumen

Lieb' Liebchen

Schöne Wiege

Warte, warte wilder Schiffman

Berg und Burgen schau'n herunter

Anfangs wollt' ich fast verzagen

Mit Myrten und Rosen


– INTERMISSION –


THE BITE OF EXPERIENCE – BENJAMIN BRITTEN


Winter Words, Op. 52

At Day-close in November

Midnight on the Great Western (or the Journeying Boy)

Wagtail and Baby (a Satire)

The little old Table

The Choirmaster's Burial (or The Tenor Man's Story)

Proud Songsters (Thrushes, Finches, and Nightingales)

At the Railway Station, Upway (or the Convict and Boy with the Violin)

Before Life and After


THE FINAL SIGH – HENRY PURCELL


How Blest are Shepherds from King Arthur

Olinda in the Shades Unseen

Evening Hymn


Thursday, December 04, 2008

The Recital Adventure

On the 16th of January, I will commence my very first recital tour in Mandel Hall at the University of Chicago. After my recital in Chicago, I will appear at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, and then finish the tour in Oberlin under the auspices of the Marilyn Horne Foundation.

When I began to study singing and started to shift my musical focus away from the violin, opera was largely not what captured my attention musically. At first, I had a brief brush with Musical Theater, but soon after that, it was the early Italian songs that many young voice students are assigned to sing and a lot of art songs. Opera was not much on my mind, and while I knew that I wanted to sing classical music for a living – I really had no idea of what that entailed. All that was important to me was that I had found a way to make music a central part of my life.

Once I settled on my first teacher, Rosemary Russell (who was a professor at the University of Michigan at the time), I applied myself to studying voice with the intensity that I had studied the violin previously. I still played in my youth orchestras and took violin lessons, but I added my solo voice work and a couple of choirs to the mix. In finding Rosie, I had stumbled onto perhaps the biggest blessing in my musical development. I found a voice teacher who saw the innate passion that I had for music and exploited that fire in me to spur me onwards to faster and faster growth. Having started out as an organist herself, she understood my instrumental background and showed me music that met my interests where they were and piqued my curiosity to discover more. As a violinist, my musical upbringing had been Bach and Vivaldi concertos, the symphonies of Mahler, Sibelius and Tchaikovsky, the string quartets of Haydn and Mozart. I didn't have a clue as to who Verdi was. My very first experience with Rossini was playing the second violin in "Una voce poco fà" – I kept getting lost, because it was just not music that made sense to me – it just seemed like an endless series of boom-chick-chicks. Rosie somehow understood this about me and started me off on the songs of Fauré, lieder by Schumann and Schubert, folksongs of Britten, songs by Purcell, Vaughan Williams and Finzi, and Handel arias. She would tell me to buy certain books of songs, and I would bring them to my lessons, where she would meticulously circle all the songs that she thought I should look at as a place to start. I would rush home after each lesson, devour the music as fast as my brain and throat could consume it, and come back the next week with more than we could get through in an hour. Each new song she guided me towards was like a new, shiny gem that entranced me – it was like there was an infinite amount of musical beauty in the world to discover, and I couldn't become familiar with it all fast enough.

The upcoming recitals feel like a bit of a trip to the past for me – preparing for them, I am constantly reminded of the passion for music that she nurtured in me and all the things I learned in those first six years of study with Rosie, who passed away in 2005. I'm also reminded of my many other mentors along the way, as well – but it is Rosie who has been popping up the most these past two weeks as Myra and I have started to dig into this material.

Having picked out the program myself (as with most recitals), I feel a stronger personal connection with this venue of performance and this music than other musical adventures I get to go on. So for the next month and half or so, the blog will mostly be devoted to my thoughts on the recital, the anecdotes that come up, and discussing the program itself. It's mostly what is consuming my thoughts these days, and it will be fun to ramble on about it as I prepare and swim through all of this music in the coming weeks.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Were the World Mine

Run - do not walk - to see this movie. It is charming beyond belief, and made me smile from the my inner core.
I'm not sure how much longer it's running here in New York City, but hopefully long enough for you to go see it.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Transitions

A number of the blogs I follow seem to have gone through some sort of transition over the past months. Posts became less frequent or never appeared at all, burnout seemed to be prevalent, and now these writers seem to have found themselves heading in a new direction or writing with a renewed resolve.

Looking at the course of my own blog over the past months, I've noticed that since my time in San Francisco at the beginning of the summer, the frequency of my entries has dwindled in frequency, sometimes with as much as a month in between posts. Even pictures have been completely absent from my entries lately. To be completely honest, much like those other writers whom I admire and avidly read, I just haven't felt connected to my own blog in the same way as when I started it.

When I started this blog, I had been out on my own, freelancing as a singer for a little less than a year. It was the first time in my life that I was outside of any structured existence, away from any sort of formal training program or apprenticeship. I was working in Europe for the first time in my career and learning how to grapple with the challenges of a musical life on the road. In some ways, I started this literary journey in an attempt to find some answers to the questions I had in life, to find a way to process my experiences, to attempt to feel a little less alone and a little more connected to the world.

Over the past two and half years, I have found many of those answers that I was searching for, and I have processed much of the huge transition that these past three years have been since I finished my formal studies. I've grown comfortable with myself and my nomadic, musical lifestyle, I am beginning to enjoy it, and I have felt myself spiral forward on the coils of both personal and musical progress. And yet, life, like time, has a fluid quality to it – it just incessantly flows forward, and with each answer acquired, more questions arise; with each step forward on the path, more forks in the road appear, and so the journey, the adventure, the discovery continue on.

My friend, Philip, and I were out for drinks one evening at the end of August, discussing various things musical, when he said to me, "Well, what do you want?" I paused, mid-sip, looked at him blankly across the table and found myself not knowing what to say. What I found so challenging about the question was that I suddenly saw that so many of the goals I had worked so hard towards these past couple of years, I had accomplished. Find a manager – check. Get my career going – check. Figure out how to manage life on the road – an ongoing process, but check. Move back North – check. Marry Jeremy – check. Having accomplished so many of my goals, having made the transition from apprentice to artist, having achieved a new rung on the stepladder of maturity, I didn't where to go from there. While I had been thinking that I was settling, I had actually been aimlessly drifting, and I had no idea what was next.

So, inspired, I pondered what I wanted to be next, and I quickly saw that I still have dreams that I want to fulfill and goals that I have yet to achieve. In a couple cases, the goals that I did achieve are not how I imagined they would be, and I need to figure out how to adjust. In order to get to where I am now, I needed to let go of some of my grander fantasies for a while – I needed to put the cart before the horse. But perhaps it's time to think big again and see just how much closer I am to those larger-than-life dreams, and try to find some new intermediary goals to try to accomplish in between.

While I have often wondered why I keep this blog, I always come back to this answer – it brings me happiness. I feel good and virtuous after I've written an entry, and it is rewarding to feel like I have created something. At another point, Philip (my inspirational muse as of late) pointed out to me how charmed the lives that we lead are. "We should enjoy all of this," he said. I am beginning to see that part of the point of this blog is just that. To enjoy my life and the adventurous journey it takes me on.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Prince Charming

This week marks the end of perhaps one of the longest musical gestations of my career.

When I was in high school, just discovering opera and just how cool it can be, the very second opera that I fell in love with was Rossini's telling of Cinderella. It was hearing Cinderella's final aria, Non piú mesta, on an aria disc that I had pilfered from my father's extensive collection that drew me in. I was entranced with the vocal acrobatics and the fun, champagne-like music that radiates joy with every note. I searched harder through my father's recording collection and discovered that he owned the complete opera, and I devoured it as fast as I could. I tried to learn the Prince's aria as best as I could from listening to the cd, not even thinking to look for a score, and sang along as best I could with the recording for days.

My fascination with La Cenerentola fell by the wayside as I started to study voice formally, and I became engrossed in the assignments given to me by my teacher – Handel airs, lieder by Schubert, art songs by Fauré, Finzi, and Vaughan Williams. I didn't think about La Cenerentola until I arrived to begin my interrupted Master's studies at Manhattan School of Music, where Tom Muraco immediately instructed me to learn the Prince's aria after our first coaching together. For my first months in New York, I worked diligently at getting the piece into my voice and used it at my audition for the Houston Grand Opera Studio. Shortly after arriving in Houston, I was offered the opportunity to cover the Prince at the Lyric Opera of Chicago – an opportunity that I would have a little over two years to prepare for. For the next two years, I slowly learned the rest of the score in my spare moments between my assignments at HGO, nervously preparing for a chance that seemed like a dream come true.

My first days at the Lyric, I walked around in a nervous, overwhelmed fog. My colleague who I was understudying fell ill for the first days of rehearsal, and I had the chance to rehearse for those first few days. He recovered, and I enjoyed the rest of my time in Chicago stress-free. A year later, I was offered my first actual performances here in Atlanta. Since then, I have periodically pulled out the aria and sections of the duet to keep it somewhere in my voice, knowing these performances were approaching. My preparation intensified over the summer as I gradually shifted more and more of my focus back to the Prince, and then for last six weeks before rehearsals began, I focused solely on the piece again.

Having studied, practiced, listened to, and thought about this opera for over ten years, Rossini's Prince Charming feels like an old friend even though I am only getting to take him out in front of an audience for the first time this week. The highest compliment my colleagues have given me throughout the rehearsal process is asking me at different times if I've performed this role a lot before. After so much time living with this music, it seems hard to believe that this is a role debut for me. The best part of it is, I've never been able to enjoy taking something so challenging out into public for the first time so much.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Can we, really?

History was made last night. Here in Atlanta, the cars were honking their horns, people were screaming in the streets, waving Obama signs until almost 2:30 in the morning. It was unbelievable, and I have never seen anything like it. Watching tear-stained faced chant, "Yes, we can!" as President-elect Obama gave his victory speech last night was a moving sight to behold, and yet, I found that in my elation, worry was still nagging at me. In my eyes, the election wasn't over – I was still very concerned about the results for Proposition 8 in California.

This morning, with 91% of precincts reporting, the proposition is passing, 52%-48%. The exact wording on the ballot was as follows:

"ELIMINATES RIGHT OF SAME-SEX COUPLES TO MARRY. INITIATIVE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT. Changes the California Constitution to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry in California. Provides that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California. Fiscal Impact: Over next few years, potential revenue loss, mainly sales taxes, totaling in the several tens of millions of dollars, to state and local governments. In the long run, likely little fiscal impact on state and local governments."

So far, it looks as if a majority of people voted in California today to ELIMINATE civil rights. They looked at their ballot, read what was above, and voted "Yes".

So, it looks as if, no, I can't.

I know that there are larger issues at stake here, and I know that there are so, so many reasons to rejoice.

The fact remains that it looks like I am losing civil rights in the state of California (a state where Jeremy will be almost half the year this season) due to a measure that was well-supported supported financially nationwide in an election with record-breaking voter turnout (82% of registered voters voted in Los Angeles County – a county in which Prop 8 passed quite comfortably and also the county where we got married a month ago). Seeing that anti-gay marriage proposals also passed in Florida and Arizona is, while unsurprising, adding insult to the injury. I try hold out hope that as the final votes are counted in California that the tides will turn, but in the face of these numbers, it is hard to maintain that glimmer.

So, to my eye, not much has changed. Sure, there is some progress. We have elected a President into the White House who is partially black and who is opposed to my marriage, and instead supports a separate-but-equal policy towards my civil rights. While I can appreciate that it is a step forward from where we were, the irony of the situation is not lost on me, and I am left feeling skeptical of his promise of "yes, we can".

As a citizen, I can rejoice for a great many things today, but a second-class citizen I remain, nonetheless.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Blue Weekend

Last Thursday, I had the good fortune to be able to attend the final dress rehearsal of Dr. Atomic at the Metropolitan Opera. For the first twenty minutes of the piece, my eyes were glued to where a spotlight was shining up in the top center of a wall of cubicles that housed a colleague and friend from my days at the University of Michigan, waiting for him to sing his opening phrases that would be his Met debut a couple of nights later. He sounded beautiful and was wonderful to watch – it was exciting to watch him be on that stage that we all dream of singing on, and it got me thinking of our times at Michigan, where we cut our musical and vocal teeth together, learned the basics of our craft, laughed about our educational missteps along the way and congratulated each other on our successes. I was proud to see him up there, an important part of such a moving and powerful event at the Met, living his dream.

After an adventurous Friday, I actually ventured back to Michigan for a quick trip to attend another college friend's wedding. Leaving the airport, I was surprised to see just how colorful the trees were – after so many years of missing Fall in Michigan, I had forgotten just how breathtaking a Michigan Autumn can be. A couple other UM friends and colleagues were there, and we provided some music as we watched our friend tie the knot. Seeing her come down the aisle in her wedding dress, I couldn't help but remember that it was the end of one my relationships in college that cemented our friendship as she held my hand through that terrible time and helped me move on. After all those deep, intense discussions about the nature of love and relationships, my heart swelled to see her pledge herself to the man that she loved.

To see how far we have all come was overwhelming – I was filled with nostalgia and memories, happiness, giddiness, and pride. I was also anxious to see how much farther we will all grow.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

An American Musical Challenge

While I have to devote much time right now to getting my Rossini chops back into shape for my sojourn next month in Atlanta, I also have a set of Ives songs that I have to prepare for a small, private Salon concert next month with a very special and interesting organization that presents innovative and fascinating themed chamber music programs in New York. A year ago, the challenge I faced was fastiduously attempting to get my Rossini chops in some sort of order. Now, in many ways, the Rossini feels almost easy and like greeting an old friend, and these mysterious, eccentric, and intricate songs by Ives are proving to be the challenge this I face fall. In all honesty, I haven't even thought about Ives since my freshman music history class at U of M – odd, considering that I am an American musician. What is amazing about them is that they seem so accessible and familiar on one level and so challenging and strangely alien on others. Deciphering his musical landscape is proving to be a slightly slower process than I am used to or expected. Unexpectedly, I find myself being pushed into new musical territory that I, much to my surprise, never really explored.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Nuptials

I escaped to LA this weekend to visit Jeremy, and to do something that was to both of us extraordinary. We got legally married. To be able to do it was something beyond our wildest dreams, and the most overwhelming part of the whole experience was the amount of love and support we received and felt from around the world. For a variety of reasons, we decided upon doing this in California and because of both the time period that Jeremy was going to be working out there and the impending threat of Proposition 8, we ended up having a small ceremony on short notice. Even though only my brother and Jeremy's sister were able to be there, our small ceremony turned into something beautiful. A friend suggested another friend's mom who is a judge to marry us, and we ended up pledging our lives to each other in her beautiful backyard rather than in some courthouse with some officiator who was a stranger. People everywhere from Beijing to Kentucky called and emailed with their love and support, and our phones were constantly buzzing for the entirety of the day with messages congratulating us. When I thought about weddings, I always imagined that they were only about the love and union of the two people involved. I never realized that they are as much about the love and support of our communities around us, as well. Never have I felt so loved and adored, and never have I been so full of love – not just for Jeremy but for everyone who I am blessed to call a friend or a family member.


In case you are interested in supporting the movement against Proposition 8 in California go here.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Resurrection

As we were winding down from an intense yoga class today, our teacher shared the following with us as we lay in relaxation pose.

"Resurrection. The reversal of what was thought to be absolute. The turning of midnight into dawn, hatred into love, dying into living anew.

If we look more closely into life, we will find that resurrection is more than hope, it is our experience. The return to life from death is something we understand at our innermost depths, something we feel on the surface of our tender skin. We have come back to life, not only when we start to shake off a shroud of sorrow that has bound us, but when we begin to believe in all that is still, endlessly possible.

We give thanks for all those times we have arisen from the depths or simply taken a tiny step toward something new. May we be empowered by extraordinary second chances. And as we enter the world anew, let us turn the tides of despair into endless waves of hope." - Molly Fumia


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Season Starts

Sunday and Monday's performances with Music of the Baroque marked the start of my 09-10 season, which is filled to the brim with exciting repertoire that I have been wanting to work on for a long time. Hercules is a piece filled with dramatic music that is Handel at his best, and I have been dreaming of getting to perform Hyllus for many years. A rarely performed piece, my last week in Chicago was an incredibly fun opportunity to live out a dream. Of course, one can never have enough of what it is that one wants, and I find myself thirsting even more for another chance to step into his shoes again. As I am looking forward to almost every project that I am working on this season as much as I was Hercules, I wonder if I am going to feel this way after every performance this season.

The past month has been a much-needed moment of extended repose, reflection, and preparation. Marlboro's influence and infectious energy has bled into my life in the real world, and I've been able to miraculously keep up the intensity and focus of work that I had in Marlboro in my schedule as I have readjusted to life at home. The things that I discovered, the technical progress I began, and the discipline that I honed there have continued to flourish and grow outside of Vermont. It's been a great way to set a tone for this next "school year" of work, and I felt the effects of my newfound dedication in Chicago. I felt relatively relaxed and yet intensely focused, and as a result I was able really enjoy myself in performance. It's inspiring me to keep on with the new routine, and I am rediscovering just how much I love the process of making music and honing my skills. I almost love it more than the actual performing at times, and I am finding that it gives me energy that feeds itself with each new, progressive step I take.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

From the Mouths of Babes

The last few days since Ravinia have been heavenly. Thanks to the magic of plane travel, I was able to spend some time with Jeremy, who is in Los Angeles right now, working on their exciting upcoming production of Il Trittico, as well as catch up with good friends who are also working with Jeremy. Thanks to the magic of the internet, I was able to catch up on all of my Olympics watching (I am an Olympics fanatic), catch up on all the blogs I have been ignoring, and generally waste time. Thanks to the magic of LA weather, I was also able to go for a swim everyday, which felt decadent.

Ravinia was also an incredible experience. Getting to sing with the Chicago Symphony again was a real luxury – they are such an incredible orchestra, and being the group that I made my concert debut with a while back, it is always a special experience to be with them. Mozart and the CSO – I am not sure it can get much better than that. Except for maybe Stravinsky and the CSO – but I am getting a bit ahead of myself (I can't help myself there - I am really excited).

Another thing that made Ravinia so exceptional was a moment that occurred while I was at a friend's house in Chicago for an exceptional dinner. I met my friend's 16 year old niece, who confessed to us a burgeoning interest in music and singing. At one point during the dinner, she said, "Imagine if going to work meant singing every day – I can't imagine anything better than that." I looked at her, taken aback and humbled at how easy it is to take this life and all this opportunity for granted, and felt gratitude overwhelm me that this is my life.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Emergence

For my month in Marlboro, I was insulated in the wooded slopes of Vermont, surrounded by friends practically every waking moment. We shared communal meals together, rehearsed together, and relaxed over a glass of wine together before collapsing and commencing our daily cycle again the next day. Time stood still at the same time that it felt like it was flying by. It was magical, profound, moving, life-changing, educational, intense, and exciting. I found some of the innocent joy that music-making can bring me that was so constant and natural when I was a teenager and that is sometimes forgotten in world of professional music-making.

Part-way through, a fellow Marlboro participant in his first year expressed surprise that he had spent so little time alone, able to work on the personal projects he thought he would have time to focus on while sequestered away in the woods. I, myself, even though I knew to expect the all-consuming quality of Marlboro Time, was a little caught off guard. Many things fell by the wayside that weren't my immediate musical projects – the book I've been reading, emails, phone calls, dealing with plans post-Marlboro, this blog, among other things. My life went off-kilter, and any pretense I attempt at trying to find some sort of balance in my life went out the window. In a way, balance wasn't necessary – I was on a vacation from the real world. That is why Marlboro is so isolated, so remote. It allows us to pretend that it is almost possible leave the worries of the real world behind, that it is possible to push them away to the outskirts of our concern, and to immerse ourselves in a sort of musical think-tank. It will take me months to sort out all that I gleaned from my month there, although I am already starting to be able to see some ways in which I have grown. My heart is more open, my ears are sharper, my technical brain more precise, and my musical focus clearer.

The transition back is always a rocky one, though, and as I struggle to adjust to going from living in a commune to my solitary hotel room in the suburbs of Chicago, I see how I can't carry on so imbalanced in the "real" world. Thankfully, I have to focus much of my energies on the performances we have of Abduction here in Ravinia this weekend. Luckily, my colleagues here are open, generous, and wonderful, and they make the transition ever so much easier as I ease back into the routine of my "normal" life.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Return to Paradise

As I suspected would happen, I've been swallowed alive by Marlboro. Time seems somehow timeless up here in the green mountains Vermont, reality unbelievably and blissfully distant, and music, being the only thing that really matters, is ubiquitous. It feels both great and strange to be back here, life having ground to a screeching halt, and an unceasing, nagging need to practice and study as much as possible tugging at me. It's a summer of Schumann for me, as well as a couple of other treats (some Britten and some Vaughan Williams), all of it happily unfamiliar territory that leaves me wondering with each rehearsal why I have never explored it before now.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Happy America

Fireworks illuminated the infamous fog here various colors last night, and we took a break from partying to step up to a friend's roof to watch. All the best wishes for a Happy Independence Day weekend.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The Dance

A friend and respected colleague sent this to me on Monday, and it put a huge smile on my face. In a way, I thought, it's kind of the essence of what we musicians get to do, and it made me happy to be reminded of what is important in this livelihood of ours.


Where the Hell is Matt? (2008) from Matthew Harding on Vimeo.



More information on our dancing hero
here.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Distance

We are given so much as musicians and performers. The opportunity to live a life immersed in music, to sing for a living, to play a professional version of dress-up, to see the world – the list goes on. The single hardest challenge – greater than any of the nerves, the criticisms, the competition, or the uncertainty of the future – is being away from our husbands, boyfriends, wives, sons, daughters, girlfriends. We miss our loved ones terribly, then, slowly, we grow accustomed to maintaining our own schedules, grocery shopping for one person, sleeping alone. Then we reunite, we are happy to be together again, and we then have to readjust to combining schedules, grocery shopping for two or more, and sharing the bed again. As soon as we readjust, we have to leave again, and the cycle begins anew.

Jeremy and I have a rule in order to cope. It's more of a guideline, really. We never spend more than three weeks apart if we're both in the states, never more than four when one of us is abroad. From time to time, on very rare occasions, we stretch the rule a bit, but we do our damndest to honor it. The reason we have it is that all too often, we can only scrounge out a day or two to make our visit, and it is all too easy to say to ourselves, it's too short a time or it's too expensive. By having the rule, we force ourselves to invest and prioritize our relationship and ensure regular time together. No matter how short or ridiculous our trips to visit each other have been in the past, we have always, without fail, found that it was more than worth the expense and effort. Time together is, as they say in the MasterCard commercials, priceless.

This weekend was my turn to make a crazy trip from coast to coast to visit Jeremy. After the show ended on Friday, I packed a small bag and then tossed and turned, paranoid that my alarm wasn't going to go off in 4 hours and that I would miss my early plane. Feeling like I had just fallen asleep, I awoke to my alarm chiming, and I made my groggy way to the airport to fly to Washington, DC, where Jeremy is working at Wolf Trap, where he has spent the last three summers. Leaving the plane, the humid heat of a Washington summer enveloped me, and I smiled, thinking that I would be able to envelop Jeremy in a big bear hug in a matter of minutes after weeks of waiting.

Our weekend was fun-filled, with a romantic dinner-date in Dupont Circle after I arrived on Saturday evening, watching some of his rehearsals at Wolf Trap for what promises to be a really lovely production of Alcina in which Jeremy is playing continuo, catching up with some very good friends on Sunday evening, and a relaxed day in DC on Monday before I headed to the airport to head back to San Francisco. Being back in Wolf Trap was a treat, the memories of finding my operatic footing during my own summers there mixing in with my glee at being able to actually touch and see Jeremy in person. After a quiet lunch today near Wolf Trap, I dropped Jeremy at his afternoon rehearsal, and we had a lingering goodbye in the parking lot. He walked in to play more Handel, and I made my way into the District.

Sitting in a café near George Washington University, while I sipped on my lemonade, a close friend from my childhood and I were chatting about life and her relationship with her current boyfriend. She, an anthropologist, looked at me and marveled, "I think all the time about how you and Jeremy manage to sustain your relationship when you are apart so much of the time."

"It's not like this all the time, just a lot of the time."

"Still, it's a lot, and it must be hard," she said.

"It is hard," I replied, "but we manage and we make it work. You just have to make it work, in the end. That still doesn't stop me from feeling sad on days like this when I have to say good-bye."

After our lemonades, I made my way to the airport. Sitting at the gate, waiting to board my plane, I gazed out the window at the pinkish-blue sky, thankful, despite a little sadness, for the days with Jeremy. It's beyond priceless to feel this re-centered, recharged, and reminded of how much I am lucky to be loved.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Voyeur


One of the most incredible blessings and greatest challenges of having this opportunity to cover here in San Francisco has been to watch my colleagues who have been at the top echelons of this profession for some time now work their craft. Since I have been here, I have seen one performance of Lucia di Lammermoor, one performance of Das Rheingold, and 8 or 9 complete run-throughs/performances of Ariodante plus a couple of staging rehearsals and two orchestra rehearsals. It’s been a great opportunity to watch a lot of opera and a lot of opera singers – something I don’t actually get to do very often. The blessing is that watching these people has been an incredible way to learn. My colleagues here, while all very different, are masters of the art form in their various ways, and it has been inspirational and educational to watch them deal with the pressures of live performance.

The challenge has been that watching them also shows me how far I still have to go. All this time spent watching has provided a lot of time for reflection. On the one hand, it is great to see how far I have come – one of the first assignments I had in the Houston Grand Opera Studio six years ago was to cover Ariodante, with many of the same cast members that I am working with now. Then, I couldn’t imagine how my colleagues dealt with the pressure – now I’ve come a long way in learning how to cope. On the flip side, I also see many directions that I need to grow into and work towards, which is a bit daunting and humbling. I am seeing how endless the possibilities are in finding details in the text, I am realizing what I need to work on vocally, I am understanding how much more of my body I can use in performance. It all inspires me to get my butt into the practice room. On the days that I don’t, my inner critic’s voice gains volume and plants bitter weeds of self-chastisement for not being good enough already that start to choke out my confidence and drive. I try to remind myself every day that I do this for the journey by going to the practice room, because any sense of having “arrived” is illusory and fleeting, at best.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Apologies for the Heat

In the months before I got here, every time I mentioned that I was going spend part of the summer working in San Francisco, people would warn me about how cold the summers are here. Jeremy forced me to buy a jacket and pack warm clothes for this trip, quoting Mark Twain's famous comment about how the coldest winter he ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.

To a point, everyone's warnings proved true - it does get chilly here, and while I have yet to experience the infamous fog, I have had to make use of the layers I take with me everyday to brace myself against the sudden changes in temperature. Until the last few days, in which we have experienced a heat wave. Suddenly all of my friends who live here are apologizing for the hot, 90 degree weather (which to me is still much cooler than a humid 100 degress in the East village), wondering how I can manage to stay cool.

Google weather tells us that the weather should drop back down to it's usual 50-65 degree span tomorrow, and the city seems to wait with great anticipation for a return to the chilly summer normalcy that they are accustomed to kvetching about with hidden glee.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Marriage

When looking for an apartment to rent for my month here in San Francisco, I wanted something that was close to the Opera, as I have never really spent any time here before, and I don’t know the city very well. As I am practically across the street from the Opera, I am also across the street from City Hall, where gay couples have been getting married this week now that the California Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage has taken effect.


Walking to work Tuesday, I saw a lesbian couple waiting to cross to my side of the street to get to city hall. They were both wearing nice dresses, and holding small bouquets of flowers, a couple of their friends armed with cameras, anxious to witness the ladies tie the knot. One of the ladies turned to her partner and smiled as the orange hand imploring us to stay on our respective side of the street became a bluish-white figure inviting us to walk. Her partner smiled back, took her hand, and they ventured across Van Ness Avenue to get married.


The unabashed joy in the air was infectious, and I smiled as I skipped up the curb and made my way to the stage door, awed to see dreams I had never imagined would be possible begin to come to fruition after so many years of struggling and waiting.



Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Just In Case...

As I took my seat next to a fellow understudy, settling in to watch the opening of Ariodante on Sunday afternoon, it suddenly struck me how paradoxical a situation covering is. What is difficult about it is that covers must sit, be silent, watch, and be ready just in case. Having prepared for the job just like any other – studying, practicing, and coaching the music within an inch of its life – there is a significant part of you that wants to go on, that wants to sing. As a singer, the choice to do this as a profession was a choice made from our passion for music and performing – that fire still burns hot within us, even when we are the understudy.

At the same time, my colleagues on stage are the singers whose recordings I have listened to day in and day out for years, they are my heroes in whose steps I wish to follow. I look up to their artistry, musicianship, and passion as examples of how I want to be as a performer, musician, and singer. The opportunity to get paid to watch, listen, and learn from them is a gift. So, as much as I want to sing, I never could wish anyone ill, let alone these people that I respect and admire so much. I only want to watch my colleagues succeed, flourish, stay healthy, and make their magic on stage as they mesmerize the audience.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Beefy

Pulling my tongue out as far as she could with a piece of gauze, the doctor peered into my mouth and pronounced the back of my throat a "beefy red". Most likely strep, was the conclusion, and the appropriate drugs were prescribed. Thankful for her generosity in squeezing in my appointment time, I headed home to continue my efforts to nurse myself back to health. Thanks to the magic of modern medicine and some intense napping, I am quickly beginning to feel like myself again.

My body has cried out very vehemently for a rest, the past couple of weeks still feeling like a blur. Why does time feel like that so much these days? The concerts in LA feel as if they were a lifetime ago, as opposed to last week, and while I have only been in San Francisco for a week, it feels as if I've spent months here. I should have known that I was headed for a crash, the hazy passing of time a warning signal.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Summer Camp '08

In my mind, although I am not suddenly been freed into three months vacation anymore, Memorial Day marked the arrival of summer. Since Portland, life has been a blur, flying by with that stressful feeling of tying up loose ends before the semester ends. Those Camrina Buranas seem like they happened months ago. Carlos' incredible energy on the podium, the orchestra's passionate playing, the chorus unable to stop themselves from dancing along and singing with unabashed joy, and the unselfconscious, smiling faces in the audience that reminded me of why I love being a musician are all distant memories now. The concert up at Tannery Pond last weekend felt in some ways like my final exam of the semester. After we were done and in the car on the way home, I felt the sudden rush of my mental seasons changing. Returning home Sunday night, I had the sensation that I was about to embark on some summer adventure, as if I was about to head off to Interlochen Arts Camp again for the summer.

My summer "music camp" experience is spread between four places this year. My first adventure is actually almost over - the American Premiere of Jake Heggie's new song cycle, Friendly Persuasions, was yesterday afternoon. As always with premieres, it felt very adventurous, but really gratifying, Jake's music is always full of an incredibly wide and fun range of emotional drama and humor, and I am looking forward to pushing the envelope even further with the next two performances.

After our final concert on Tuesday, I head up to San Francisco Opera to be a cover for their upcoming production of Ariodante. Having a month to focus on Handel, revisit Lurcanio, watch and learn from an incredible cast, and explore San Francisco is something I have been looking forward to for a long time. Next comes a month at an authentic music camp experience at Marlboro. I've been waiting to go back since I left last August, and every time I speak of Marlboro, I do so dreamily and with that tone of someone who has had a life-changing experience. My final stop will be at the Ravinia Festival in August, where I will get to step into Pedrillo's sweet and rambunctious shoes again.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

It, again

I've been tagged again, much to my delight (Thanks, Joyce!).

The meme is below:

Rules:
The rules of the game get posted at the beginning. Each player answers the questions about himself or herself. At the end of the post, the player then tags five people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know they’ve been tagged and asking them to read your blog.

Ten years ago:

Ten Years ago, I had just finished my freshman year at the University of Michigan. I was in Ann Arbor, living at my parent's house, riding a bike to my two summer classes everyday (Psych 101 and History of the Old Testament), taking voice lessons with my teacher (Rosemay Russell), and working as a waiter at the Cottage Inn. I met David Daniels for the first time around this time, because he came in to the restaurant pick up his take out order one afternoon. On Sundays I would commute into downtown Detroit to sing at my church job (the Mariner's Church). My waistline was about 4 inches bigger than it is now. I was single, blessed with great friends, and could barely bring myself to speak to my parents because I still hadn't come out to them yet.

Five things on today's "to do" list:
- Write this blog entry
- Rehearse with
Pedja for our concert this weekend
- Practice
Jake's new piece for it's American Premiere next week as well as the Bach arias that are on that same program.
- Unpack from the Portland trip (see the photo above)
- Do laundry

Things I'd do if I was a Billionaire:
- Buy a small-ish house or an apartment or both, depending

- Donate a lot, probably to children's charities, to gay youth organizations, and to AIDS and cancer research.

- Have a big savings/investment portfolio

- Pay off Jeremy's school loans
- Have a wedding/gay-marriage-party somewhere fun, fancy, and elegant

Three Bad Habits:
- My addiction to Google Reader - I lose countless amounts of time every day on this thing
- My addiction to fried foods - I never know when to stop
- Being impatient in voice lessons and coachings - I don't listen as well as I could as a result

Five places I've lived:
Hartford, CT
Ann Arbor, MI
Houston, TX
New York City, NY

Out of my suitcase


Five jobs I've had:
Restaurant Host
Waiter
Tower Records (I forget my official title, but I worked there while I was in College)
Voice Teacher
Opera Singer

Five People I'm Tagging:

Lou, Peter, Slater, Jim, Jason

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Broadcast Bicoastalness

The recital that Jeremy and I performed at the beginning of the month with the Marilyn Horne Foundation will be broadcast tonight at 9pm Eastern Time here.

If you're in Portland, OR - I'll be singing three high D's at about that time on the west coast here.

Portlandia

I am having the time of my life here in Portland - the weather is perfect, the city is green and lush, my colleagues are lovely, the hall is beautiful, and this is one of my favorite cities in the world to visit. It's mostly a favorite because one of my dearest friends lives here, and getting the chance to spend practically unlimited amounts of time with her is priceless, just like the Mastercard commercials. When I haven't been in rehearsal, we've been exploring the city's various restaurants and haunts, catching up, laughing hysterically, and just feeling giddy at being able to see so much of each other after not seeing each other for so long. I've firmly decided that Portland needs to be a regular stop in the future - I love it here.

A slightly intense day tomorrow - an early morning dress rehearsal, and then the first performance in the evening. While my duties as the dying swan are intense and quite difficult, I am glad that they are minimal and that I can sit and let this fun and exciting music wash over me.

Oh, and just so I can fit an inside joke in here - Hi, Lisa!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Parting

The house is a wreck. Clothes are strewn all over the bedroom, Jeremy’s suitcases lie open empty on the unmade bed, papers cover the piano, music is randomly piled all over our living room, my suitcase from my jaunt to Italy is half unpacked and awaits a repacking for my trip tomorrow. I found myself saying to a singer who came to work with Jeremy today, "I'm sorry - I promise, we don't really live like this." Jeremy is trying to fit in his final coachings before he relocates to the Washington, DC area for a summer of work at Wolf Trap Opera. I leave for Oregon tomorrow for a weekend of Carmina Burana with the Oregon Symphony. What makes this trip unusual for me is that instead of coming home to an eager, excited, smiling Jeremy like I usually do, I will come home to an empty apartment next week. We both stare down what seems like a long tunnel of time apart, not looking forward to feeling lonely for each other.

I recently rented the DVD of HBO’s Tell Me You Love Me, a show about four couples in various stages of their relationships. Being a thought-provoking program, it prompted some domestic debating. Relaxing on the couch, watching the pilot episode with Jeremy, we got to talking about the biggest issue that repeatedly causes tension in our relationship – our working schedules. It is almost impossible for us to feel that we get enough time with each other. It’s something we struggle with constantly, and while we have our rules about seeing each other, it never feels adequate. Either I am on the road or he is at work most of the day and night if I am home. We blame each other at times, or we blame ourselves, or both. It leads to endless frustration.

We do make some progress, though. This is our passion, and we are blessed to be able to call it our vocation and make a living at it, let alone work at the wonderful places we have the opportunities to work. With that blessing comes a bit of a price, it seems, but in the end is it much more of a price than anyone else pays? Most of us have to go to work and have what seem like endless responsibilities that tear us away from our loved one at various times. The plus side is that we get to experience the sweetness of reuniting that much more frequently.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Recitalings and Weddings

Sunday afternoon is both a blurred swath of memory and vividly imprinted with detail on my mind all at once. I remember rolling up pieces of prosciutto for the little post-recital party we had at our place for my parents and some family friends at around 12:30, thinking that it was an odd way to prepare for a concert that was to take place in two and a half hours. I remember seeing the sun break through the promised grey sky, burning it to a clear blue, surprising us happily. I remember pacing furiously backstage, trying to channel my nerves into positive places. I remember moments that I felt fiercely connected to both the text and the music, time seeming to stand still. I remember some moments where time seemed to rush by as I desperately tried to catch them so that I could enjoy them. I remember wishing I could go back and have a second chance at some things. I remember feeling happy and proud of how it went overall.

Now it is off to the adventure of a wedding and a mini-vacation. I am to be a bridesmaid in Italy this week, standing for a great friend that I’ve known since we were little twelve year olds sawing away in our respective string sections in youth orchestra. I am kicking and screaming at the thought of some time off, my conscience nagging me to stay home and sit down at the piano to woodshed some of Jake’s new piece that I am performing at the end of the month along with some Bach that also needs some attention. Alas, other parts of me are screaming for some much needed rest and relaxation after such an intense April. Looking at my suitcase, fantasizing about my weekend in Italy, I wonder if I can squeeze in my electric keyboard.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Meme and Shameless Self-Promotion


Tag, I'm it. Thanks, ACB.

The rules of this game of tag:


1. Pick up the nearest book.

2. Open to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.

4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people, and acknowledge who tagged you.

The Life of Rome's First Emperor Augustus

"Like other fashionable people of the time, Livia owned little slave boys called
deliciae, or darlings (often Syrians or Africans), who ran around naked and amused people with their chatter. Like court jesters, they had license to say the unsayable. On occasion, one of these boys saw Livia and Octavian sharing a dining couch and Tiberius lying on another alongside a male guest. He went up to Livia and said: 'What are you doing here, mistress? For your husband [pointing to Tiberius] is over there.' "

Ancient Rome sounds like it was a fun place.


I tag
Joyce, Kim, James Roe, Hobo Camp, and my brother.

On a completely unrelated and shameless note - I do hope that all you New York readers can make it to the Marilyn Horne Foundation recital that Jeremy and I will be performing tomorrow at 3:00 PM at Christ and St. Stephen's Church at 69th and Broadway.