Thursday, February 28, 2008

Snowstorms in Ithaca

Tuesday, it was as if we all woke up on the wrong side of bed. Strange, grumpy moods prevailed, and there was just a bizarre energy in the air from the get-go. We attributed it to the low-pressure system that was passing through. Grey clouds ruled the sky, and then the snow began to fall. At the microphone-check (we are mic-ed in this piece to balance our voices with the folksinger) the news came that our folksinger, Tim, was on a plane that had been re-routed to Philadelphia and wouldn’t make it to Ithaca in time for the concert. After the sound check, ACB and I headed back to the hotel to grab a late lunch and iron our respective clothes. Being like the good boy scout I never was, I had brought my shirt to the concert hall just in case we didn’t have time to get back to the hotel, and thus brought it back with me in the hotel shuttle, which is where it got left. We managed to chase the shirt down just in time for me to iron it and run back to the concert hall for our pre-concert rehearsal. Our conductor, Ken, was not feeling well, feeling feverish and having an upset stomach. During the dinner-break, Ken got stranded back at the hotel, because the taxis were running very late due to the winter storm. And yet, despite all of these annoyances and distractions, the concert turned out to be an incredibly moving and special experience.

Because Tim was stranded in the city of brotherly love, Evan Chambers, the composer of The Old Burying Ground, stepped in to sing his songs, the first two songs on the concert. We stepped out to take our preliminary bows and then took our seats and watched and listened as Evan transported us out of the horrible day, storms and all, and brought to life his own musical creation. Watching him perform was inspiring – all the trials of the day were left behind, and he magnetically locked us into the present moment, in all its emotional intensity and musical glory. It inspired all of us to follow suit and do the same, Ken and the orchestra pouring focused passion into their playing, and ACB and I giving our all, as well. It made for a very exciting and special moment. The strong start that Evan gave us carried all the way through the concert – the orchestra played an incredibly passionate rendition of Mahler 5 right afterwards.

Most of my musical life, I have worked to serve many dead composers ranging from Monteverdi to Mozart to Stravinsky. Occasionally, I have had the opportunity to serve living composers, which is so wonderful to not only get to go straight to the source, so to speak, with musical questions, but also to get to know them personally. Getting to sing a composer’s music with the composer as a fellow performer is an even rarer treat. Last night was one of those magical moments, made even more special by its unexpectedness. It was moment when everything about the piece became clear in a very special way.

Tomorrow we bring our work to Carnegie Hall, which will be the exciting culmination of our tour. It’s been an incredible week, and I’ve had the best time getting to relive a little bit of my University of Michigan days with Ken, the orchestra, and Evan. All the best to my colleagues for a great performance tonight, and… (I have to say it, proud Wolverine that I am) Go Blue!

* Top photo taken by ACB experimenting with my new camera. Second photo is of the concert hall in Ithaca, and the third is the principal cellist's beautiful cello.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Inpirations, Hopes, Dreams

I should be going to bed now so that I can be somewhat well rested to catch the bus with the orchestra at 6:30am, but I am not sleepy yet.

I’ve been entranced with awards shows this week. Occasionally, while wasting time on youtube, I dare to dream a little dream and watch excerpts from the Kennedy Center Honors from years past. I did so this week, and found myself inspired. I am inspired by the work, dedication, commitment and perseverance that so many of these honorees gave to their art. To think that Beverly Sills had to audition for New York City Opera seven times in order to make her debut there, that Leon Fleisher continued to make music despite not having use of his right hand for so many years, or to think that African-American honorees such as Leontyne Price, Ruby Dee, and Ossie Davis overcame prejudice and segregation in order to become artistic leaders is awe-inspiring. It takes unimaginable tenacity to overcome such obstacles and to have such an impact on the world at large. The sum of their work is greatness, and for some reason, watching these clips this week, it dawned on me for the first time that such greatness takes years and years filled with a commitment to daily, hard work. The tributes to these people are touching, and filled my heart with awe, as they inspire the soul to aspire to greatness. Watching a Kennedy Center Honor tribute to Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn, I discovered this poem attributed to Apollinaire:

"Come to the edge."

"We can't. We're afraid."

"Come to the edge."

"We can't. We will fall!"

"Come to the edge."

And they came.

And he pushed them.

And they flew.

Hearing this for the first time this week, and watching these people be honored for the artistic contributions over the years, I thought to myself, “Why don’t I push myself further? Closer to the edge of my own dreams?”

Tonight’s acceptance speech by Marketa Irglova for the Oscar for Best Original Song was also something I found inspiration in. She said: “I just want to thank you so much. This is such a big deal, not only for us, but for all other independent musicians and artists that spend most of their time struggling, and this, the fact that we're standing here tonight, the fact that we're able to hold this, it's just to prove no matter how far out your dreams are, it's possible. And, you know, fair play to those who dare to dream and don't give up. And this song was written from a perspective of hope, and hope at the end of the day connects us all, no matter how different we are.”

So, it’s ok to dare to hope, and sometimes dreams do come true. And at the end of the day, the choice to do the work each day is what combines that hope and those dreams and brings them to the next level – faith.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Where does the time go?

Have you ever been in an airport and felt that time was passing like this?

Thanks to ACB who pointed out this handless clock as were making our way to the baggage claim at the airport in Cleveland yesterday.

For the forgotten items ledger, I've also discovered that I left my toothbrush and one shirt at home. I hope I brought my pants for the concert I'm about to sing in an hour...

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Home to Home

While it feels like a lifetime ago, the recordings at the beginning of this week went pretty well – I found that I was able to relax and just make music. The pressure of the microphone being right in front of me added a nice adrenaline to everything and actually pushed me to give my all in every take, which turned out to be more of a fun challenge rather than a stressful nightmare.

Making music again at the University rekindled some of the musical fire within me. Almost all of my musical beginnings were there, from my childhood violin lessons, to youth orchestra and youth choir rehearsals during my teenage years, to my time as a voice major in college. I was reminded of how hungry I was to learn when I was a student there, and how I was so passionate and voracious in my quest to learn, study, and perform as many songs and concert pieces as I could. It was like I was swimming in lieder and chansons, luxuriating in the myriad of ways each composer set the texts. It was a time when I was beginning to understand the mechanics of how music worked and how much beauty and emotion it was capable of conveying, and I immersed myself in that wave of discovery. With some recitals that need to be programmed looming over my head, that refueling of the fire couldn’t come at a better time. More importantly, it was a great feeling to revisit my musical roots and be reminded of what brought me to devote my life to this art-form in the first place.

I returned from my childhood home to my adult home Tuesday, and the days at home before the tour flew by. I resumed immersing myself into my newfound New York home life, with much more success this time. I have discovered that it is vital to get myself out of the house early on, otherwise the day escapes me and I find too many items on my to-do list left undone, leaving me with a rather unpleasant feeling. The biggest drama of the week turned out to be a horrifying experience at a hair salon in Chelsea where apparently there was a miscommunication, and most of my hair was cut from my head. I’m still recovering.

The brief sojourn at the homestead ended with cooking a friend a Greek dinner for his 30th birthday and then a frantic packing episode before rushing to meet ACB for our journey to the airport. On the plane to our first stop in Ohio, I found myself wondering exactly what it is that I left behind that I need…it turns out it was my scarf.

Saturday, February 16, 2008


How do you feel when you lean into the mirror and look really close at the skin of your face? I imagine that if most of the world is anything like me, looking closely in the mirror involves noticing every single imperfection (large pore, zit, blackhead, redness, and missed spots shaving) in the skin of your face and cringing. Then you realize you can’t cringe because that only makes matters worse.

Recording can be a lot like that – especially when recording something for public consumption. It is like examining oneself under a microscope and seeing EVERYTHING. The good, the bad, and the ugly. The most challenging thing about this is that it becomes really difficult to not monitor every single gesture, tone, rhythm, phrase, and vocalism during a session. It becomes difficult to follow the adage, “leap and the net will appear.”

Oddly enough, the net is already there thanks to modern technology. And the best part that is so easily forgotten is that if something goes wrong, we can always go back and fix it – a feat that is impossible in a live performance.

I’m looking forward to recording tomorrow. While I don’t have tons of experience doing it, the little I have has generally been a fun experience. It is recordings that really fertilized my interest in classical music when I was first discovering what it was to make music. They provided me with inspiration to become better and better and kept my dreams to be a professional musician alive. So it is exciting to be involved in a project like this – especially one in a familiar place where so many of those dreams began as well as with a new friend that I have been wanting to sing with for a while.

Friday, February 15, 2008


After a fiesty farewell (why is saying goodbye always SO hard? In a way, I guess that is a good thing), my darling Jeremy bought me these to wish me a Happy Valentine's day as I whisked out the door to catch a plane to Michigan today. I feel really guilty that I had to leave for work on Valentine's Day, even though it is a holiday that I find to be a little too Hallmark-y these days. Regardless, I am so lucky to be with someone so understanding and so exceptionally sweet and loving.

I'm in Michigan for a couple of days to work on a project with the University of Michigan Symphony Orchestra and ACB, which I am very excited about. The most luxurious thing about this is that I get to spend sometime with my parents and aunt while I work here.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Art and Politics

Read this piece in the Washington Post by Leon Fleisher if you have a chance. (Via ACB at The Concert and Will over email)

Wednesday, February 06, 2008


As I try to turn the page and begin the next chapter of my life, boldly stepping forward into my new world here in New York, I am forced, yet again, to take a trip down memory lane. The American people are in the heat of the presidential Primary, Super Tuesday has just passed, and we all look anxiously (and excitedly, in many cases) towards the future of our government, whereas our government would like me to take a look backward. I am being audited by the IRS.

Annoyance aside, as I go through all of the receipts that I held on to for dear life from that year, I am remembering various purchases and trips made. The most shocking part comes from remembering how much I paid for the large number of audition trips I made that year, and how few tangible results I ended up seeing from them. Out of 21 auditions in the US and Europe that I spent over $11,000 on planes, trains, hotels, and other travel expenses for, I received 6 offers (4 of which turned into actual work) and 1 grant. That is actually a very good rate of return, and I should even be grateful that I eventually made that money I invested back. Nonetheless, putting financial numbers to it is sobering. Aside from the one or two auditions that didn’t go well, I had a lot of “we like you” responses, but no actual bites for employment. Yet. The years have taught me that patience is a virtue (one of those 6 offers didn’t come until almost 2 years later), so I still hope. Also, it’s not like I have had any room to complain about not working yet (gratitude abounding here) – so obviously some of that investment paid off. Especially when I remember that the audition tours I took to Europe that year were my first. So, I choose to remain positive.

There are nice memories, too, like the incredible Falstaff that was my last show at HGO as a studio artist, or how I spent my first “free” summer in years, my two weeks at the Steans Institute at Ravinia making chamber music for the first time, my first gig out of the HGO Studio covering at the Lyric Opera of Chicago and starting to feel like a “grown-up” artist there, exchanging rings with Jeremy as the year drew to a close. While it was a scary year of transition, I find that I must concede that it was a really incredible year.

Now that I feel all warm and fuzzy again, I should stop procrastinating and get back to those faded receipts.

Monday, February 04, 2008


I was woken up this morning by the car horns blaring outside.

I did the requisite morning pages, and then Jeremy made me a welcome home breakfast, which was sweet. After, he hopped in the shower and got ready to rush off to work. I sat on the couch and began to check email, continuing the ritual I go through every day. Jeremy then gave me a quick kiss goodbye and rushed out the door for a day of coachings. I watched him go, and then proceeded to start unpacking my suitcases full of the last four months-worth of my stuff.

Then I sat down, unsure of what to do.

At the beginning of October, which feels like forever ago, I was freaked out about being away and alone for so long. My therapist told me that it would all be ok - it was just a time that I needed to focus on my work. Now, I guess, is the time my focus has to shift back to a more balanced place - to my relationship with Jeremy, to my home, to my friends in New York, to getting re-settled into this city.

Today, I am finding this shift pretty overwhelming. I find myself struggling to find the answer to the question: After being away for so long, how do I be at home?

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Adieu or Until the Next Time

I am sitting in Houston Intercontinental Airport, hot, humid, and sweaty, with a stiff right shoulder from lugging about 10 pounds of carry-on luggage through the speckled-white halls of the Continental terminal. I’m a little tired from not getting quite enough sleep last night after a nice dinner with the cast after our final show last night. For the first time in over 5 years, I don’t know the next time I will be coming back down here.

After the show last night, I said some good-byes to the people who were in the audience: some guild members who have been so generous with their time and resources, Amanda – the incredible woman who has cut my hair for the last almost 6 years, as well as some of the staff at HGO who have become friends over the years. I also was greeted and congratulated by a some of the fresh-faced singers who have just arrived for the semi-finals of the Eleanor McCollum Competition – the competition from which the opera finds the singers who populate the Houston Grand Opera Studio. As I ended a chapter of my life down here, I wished these other young singers the best of luck for this week that could possibly be the beginning of a new, exciting, tumultuous, and Southern chapter for them. In a way, I felt like I saw a snapshot of myself from this time of year in 2002, nervous, excited, eager, awestruck, fiercely ambitious and full of unbelievable hope.

As is always the case as the end of any sojourn nears, I was unable to say my goodbyes to some loved ones who have become incredible and close friends over our years down here, but I take solace in my faith that I will see these people again sometime soon, either on vacation or when they visit New York. That’s the beauty of being a renewed New Yorker – people will always come to visit.

It’s been an incredible time here – as I did while I was in the Studio, I learned a great deal about stagecraft, Mozart, singing, and myself here as we tried to escape from Turkey/the Orient Express these past weeks. I consider myself so fortunate to have had this opportunity and this chance to properly say goodbye to my life for these past years in Houston.

Now, I turn the next page and begin a new chapter that begins with me returning my new home that I worked so hard to put together in September and haven’t seen for the past four months. It’s time to get settled anew and take the next steps forward. My first step will be to finally buy some curtains for our bedroom.