Saturday, April 26, 2008

Unburnt Yet Well Done

We cast ourselves into the Fiery Furnace yesterday for the first time and emerged not only unscathed, but to a standing ovation, which was exciting. It was so wonderful to see Daniel's piece so well received by an appreciative and enthusiastic audience.

Now, having that dust-covered, warm, slightly sweaty feeling from wandering aimlessly and baking under the San Diego sun, I'm off to get ready for number two. Tonight, the goal is to try enjoy more and count a little less obsessively.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Silence

High Schoolers around the country today are participating in Day of Silence.

I was pretty blessed to come out into an incredibly supportive environment when I was in High School. Not everyone is so lucky, which is why I feel compelled to mention it here today.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Burning

As I have worked to prepare Daniel Kellogg’s The Fiery Furnace, which has its world premiere tomorrow evening here in San Diego, I have struggled to find common ground with my character. The piece tells the story of the fiery furnace from the third chapter of the Book of Daniel, in which three young Jewish men, in order to remain true to their faith, defy Nebuchadnezzar by refusing to bow down to a golden idol of the Babylonian King. Nebuchadnezzar punishes them by throwing them into the fiery furnace, where they are witnessed walking with “the son of God” and from which they emerge completely unharmed. My role in the piece is Shadrach, one of the young men who is cast into the furnace.

As I wrote in while singing Bach in Chicago, my relationship with my faith has been a constantly evolving one, and I have come to question it over the years, like I assume most people do. While I have always believed in a God, I question more and more the validity of the Bible being the word of God. I mostly take issue with how much focus there can be at times on the proscriptive and seemingly hateful passages in the Bible that seem to me to skew its larger message of faith, hope, and love. It seems to me that perhaps some human error seeped into it over the years. I’ve also come to question the idea of man’s unworthiness in the Bible – why shouldn’t we be worthy of God’s love? We are theoretically all God’s children, are we not? All parents’ love should be unconditional, and certainly God would be the one being capable of such greatness.

Daniel’s setting of this story begins with Shadrach leading a prayer of penitence, assuming responsibility for the sack of Judah and pleading for God’s mercy. He acknowledges that the wayward ways of the Jews were the cause of their current plight as they brought the wrath of God upon them.

As I set to learning this music, I had trouble reconciling myself to embracing this idea of a wrathful God – my emotional walls were instantly up, and I felt myself detaching from the piece. I wondered how I was going to find a way to commit to Shadrach and his logic. I judged Shadrach for being so misguided in believing that he and his people were only worthy of such incredible misfortune. I don’t believe that a performer can do proper justice to their character if they are judging them in anyway. Performing anything demands the utmost empathy and compassion.

This morning, after having struggled with this for weeks, I suddenly realized that Shadrach was not misguided at all, but actually wise and inspiring. Shadrach and his companions share my belief that God’s love for us is unconditional. He acknowledges what he feels are the mistakes of his people, and his wisdom is in seeing that the only way to move on is to learn from those mistakes with a humble heart. He does not in fact believe that he and his people are unworthy of God’s love, but are worthy of not only God’s love but God’s protection and mercy, as well. That he can maintain such faith that he is willing to risk his life by walking through fire after having endured the hardships of watching his homeland be conquered and then being held captive in a foreign land is inspiring. I would think that a lesser person would question the very existence of God after suffering hardships such as those.

We struggle with our faith in many things, not just God, and I found myself wondering this morning, if I maintained such faith in not only the good in the world, but also in myself during the times that are tough, what miracles could I accomplish? Every step would be a positive step forward, and I would never feel as if I had taken any steps back. I marveled that I was able to extrapolate a lesson from this Old Testament story. Sometimes it doesn’t matter what I believe when it comes to the Bible – lessons that apply to so many different aspects of our lives can be gleaned from its parables and stories, regardless.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A Little Patriotism

In this transition from East to West, I seem to have lost an evening. My eyes, bleary and bloodshot with fatigue, feel heavy, and I am overjoyed by my decision to not wear my contacts today.

Standing under the bright lights of the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater was an incredible rush yesterday. As we started the concert, the incredulous artist child inside me leapt to the forefront of my mind momentarily, and I thought, what am I doing here? A little patriotic murmur beat through my heart, and I firmly decided to enjoy every minute of my little debut and do my best to
contribute to the human spirit.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Bittersweet

My kitchen has become a disaster zone. It is the location where, earlier in the week, I burnt my arm on the iron in the midst of my cleaning frenzy. It is also where I cut two of my fingers when my knife slipped while chopping an onion for a dinner we hosted last night. Mildly annoying at most, but my left arm is now covered in Neosporin and Band-Aids.

A bittersweet day today, as I put my aunt in a taxi to the airport after an incredible visit and then said goodbye yet again to Jeremy and headed to Penn Station to journey to our nation’s capitol, my first stop this week. It is bitter to say goodbye, but sweet to think onwards to visiting with a close, childhood friend who is like a sister I never had in Washington, D.C., singing at the Kennedy Center and then the excitement and adventure of unveiling a world premiere in San Diego.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Working Thoughts

An older, more experienced colleague and I were talking about growing up artistically the other day, and he talked to me about observing many artists of my generation and how many have a difficult time growing from their “talented twenties” into more mature artists. It is a difficult transition, I conceded. We leave our conservatories; if we are lucky, we launch ourselves into the professional world; we struggle to establish ourselves as professionals; we start to speculate about things like career trajectory. It’s hard not to start feeling as if we have arrived somehow and the sense of expectation that comes along with that. Our dreams get bigger, and our desire to achieve them increases in its intensity. At the same time, it is easy to forget that there is still work to do. With a foot firmly planted in the hypothetical future, we too easily lose our footing in the present and the work that is at hand.

A thought occurred to me: The more we grasp for what we want, that which we already have slips more and more through our fingers.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Good Day

Walking around the neighborhood catching up with my aunt, a productive rehearsal with Jeremy, a visit with a best friend, a concert in Carnegie Hall with wonderful colleagues. I couldn't really ask for more.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Visit

My day today:

- Brunch at Community Food and Juice (I've fallen in love with this place)
- Laundry
- Ironing
- Accidentally burning my arm on the iron
- Dishes
- Yoga
- Coaching The Fiery Furnace for an hour
- Dusting
- Cleaning the Kitchen
- Cleaning the living room
- Running the robotic vaccuum, Gus
- Organizing the music on the piano
- Cleaning the bathroom

And then the family visitor arrived.

Finding Reality

The door opened, we glided out onto the stage, took a bow, and then I noticed that there were people in the audience. I began the first song of the evening.

"Don't do that!" a voice inside my head screamed as I began a gesture with my arm, "People will think that you aren't being genuine."
"That wasn't so pretty - you really can make more beautiful sounds that that."

The inner dialogue between neuroses continued as I navigated my way through the first song. Nightmarish visions of forgetting the words flew through my mind. I struggled to focus on what was at hand and stay in the text and in the present moment. I tried to base myself in reality.

The song was over. I left the stage to relax before my next set of songs. I realized that my inner critic was out of control and needed to be stopped. I listened to my colleagues sing this incredible, deep, intense Russian music, and remembered that I had a job to do, which was to share this music with the audience and offer myself in service not only to them but the music itself.

I walked out to sing again, found the reality of the song, and suddenly the unimportant surreality of the voices in my head wasn't such a distraction anymore.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Late

I grabbed my suit and rushed out the door, turned the key in the lock and flew down the stairs. Once I got outside, I realized with a jolt that my tax extension paperwork that needed to be mailed today was sitting on the lid of the piano. After mad dash back up the stairs, I frantically unlocked the door, grabbed the stamped envelope, a pen, and the necessary papers, and rushed down the stairs again. I rushed across the street and hailed a cab, annoyed that I didn't have time to take the train. I asked the driver to take me to Carnegie, and then I noticed his clock. 12:55. Please tell me your clock is fast, I muttered. I looked at my phone only to discover that it wasn't. I wanted to be at the hall at 1:00 for my 1:15 rehearsal. Now I would be lucky to make it on time. I muttered the expletive of choice, and sank back into the chair, trying to distract myself with the new TV contraption that is ensconced in most of the cabs now only to remind myself that watching it makes me carsick.

Lots of jerky starts and stops later, the clock read 1:11, I was throwing a wad of cash at the driver and sprinting down the street to the stage door. The elevator ride up to Weill felt like it lasted an eon. I bounded out of the elevator and glanced at the clock. 1:13. Enough time to drink water, throw my stuff in a dressing room, and run to the stage.

Rehearsal started. I still had that rushed feeling. That irritation that is seemingly caused by the nuisance of everyone seemingly being in the way, when in reality one is annoyed with oneself for being late in the first place. I had the burning urgency of needing to just get to the next event coursing through my veins, impatience radiating out of me at like an aura of crackling electricity. Then it dawned on me - I am where I need to be. I can relax now. I eased into the flow of rehearsal, and decided with conviction that I will be on time for our performance call time tomorrow.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Sunday

Today was an attempt at being restful, with only a relaxed rehearsal work-through for our NYFOS concerts next week. Most of my relaxing involved consuming an inordinate amount of food throughout the day. The other part of relaxing involved trying to repair my desktop computer, which has been out of order for months now. It stares at me from across the room when I wake up in the mornings, imploring me to fix it. I heeded it's call today. Now that I'm overstuffed with food, I'm telling myself that at least I'm stocked up on energy for the week ahead. The computer is still on the fritz, but at least I have been trying all day.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Swamped

I'm swimming in a lot of music right now. Between my upcoming On Wings of Song recital, the NYFOS concerts next week and the week after, and a world premiere in San Diego the week after next, I am a little overwhelmed. Oddly, while I am completely exhausted at the end of each day, I feel like I'm on top of things and everything is where it needs to be. I feel prodigious, disciplined, and diligent in my work ethic, and even though I wake up each day feeling like I am the foot of a mountain I need to scale, I have a great sense of accomplishment when my head hits the pillow in the evening. I'm so grateful to have so much to do. It feels like it is a blessing to be busy.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Tired

It's the end of a long day, so I am going to go to a movie and have a proper date with my other artist, Jeremy.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Lost Time

This is how I spent my morning today.

(Thanks Felice!)

Op-Ed

A colleague from the tour with the University of Michigan Symphony in February, the poet, Thomas Lynch, wrote an op-ed in the New York Times last Sunday. Read his insightful commentary here. How often, as we strive to make a living and careers, we musicians forget that music actually brings us all together to create beauty and the lesson that provides.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Trying Out

I woke up blessedly before the alarm this morning. I hate alarms - waking up to their blare so jarring. It is the closest experience I can imagine to the trauma of being forced out of the warmth of the womb into the cold bite of reality when we are born.

After the purge of morning pages, I flushed my sinuses and did some yoga, my neck, shoulders, calves, and hips screaming in agony as I tried to stretch them out and get blood flowing through them. I vowed to get a massage by the end of the day. I fried an egg , toasted an english muffin, and, annoyed that we were out of fruit, checked email while I ate. After ironing my shirt and making sure my suit wasn't too wrinkled after being neglected in a suitcase, I began to warm up as I got dressed and then rushed off to my audition.

Hopping out of my taxi, I saw that the sun was struggling to win it's battle with the clouds and ducked into the building where my audition was. A soprano was warming up, the Queen of the Night's high notes bouncing off the marble walls of the women's bathroom. I sat with my manager's assistant, and we discussed how the recital went on Sunday. Jeremy arrived from playing another audition elsewhere, and then the appointed hour arrived. We climbed the stairs up to the ballroom, introduced ourselves and began to sing. Two arias later, a couple of questions were asked, some compliments given, we said our goodbyes, and the waiting game began.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Onward

The shrill, piercing bleat of the alarm shockingly announced that it was time to wake up. I saw that it was still dark outside, and rolled over back to my dream, choosing to believe that the alarm was lying.

Five minutes later, the second alarm exploded, imploring us to get out of bed and catch our plane home.

We made ourselves presentable for travel and staggered to the airport shuttle, which whisked us to the airport in a timely fashion. Security was surprisingly not much of a headache, and we breezed to our gate where we boarded the homeward-bound plane. Ensconced in our seats, I envied Jeremy as he proceeded to fall back into a peaceful sleep, as if his slumber had never even been disturbed. I decided to cleanse my conscience by doing my morning pages, and then reached down and pulled out the green notebook that contains the music for New York Festival of Song's concerts next week. The Oklahoma airport shrinking to a series of dots as we ascended, I proceeded to continue my efforts to wrap my mind in the Russian and French songs that are Steve's gifts for me to enjoy discovering over the coming days.

We landed a couple minutes early, Jeremy ran off to play an audition for someone, and I took our suitcases home. I pulled out the yoga mat and made an effort to get my body warmed up, nibbled on a sandwich, sat at the piano to review the songs one more time, and then traipsed off to Steve's to rehearse our musical journey through Russia and France and all that connects them.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Jumping in

After breakfast, we scrambled to get ready to leave for our rehearsal and our recital that was to happen immediately after. We met Jeremy's page turner, and then dove right in, trying out various parts of the program, feeling out the acoustic of the hall. We debated about whether the piano lid should be at at full or half stick, we ran through the portions of the program that caused us stress, we warmed up the appropriate parts of our bodies needed for performance, and then we waited. While I waiting, I wrote out some song texts, trying to make sure I had them in my memory. I exercised that silly singer habit of testing my voice to make sure that it hadn't left me even though it felt fine thirty seconds ago. Jeremy sat and calmly read. We tied our ties, and then headed out to the hall, and without ever having run the program start to finish, plunged into Purcell.
Suddenly, it was over, our encore finished, Jeremy and I taking our final bows. It felt like a good performance. For a first run, it felt miraculously incredible. Our focus was intense, our hearts expressive. There were some things that we would like to fix, but that is the magic of live performance. It is perfectly human in it's imperfection and must be left behind. Until the next time.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Study in the Air

The puddle-jumper door closed and the flight attendant informed us in a tired, canned monotone that it was time for us to shut off our cell phones. The moisture was immediately sucked out of my nostrils now that we had been sealed into the tiny cylindrical body of the plane. I noticed that I was in an infinitely better mood than I often am when I have to fly, and then I looked over and realized how much more pleasant it is to travel with Jeremy in tow, as opposed to leaving him behind in our haven on the Upper West Side.

Looking over at this sweet, generous, loving man that I share my life with, I felt our impending first recital together looming in the back of my head like a child screaming for attention. Ignore the recital-child, and he will create problems when they are least expected. Devote a little thought to him, and there is a greater chance that a crisis will be averted. I dutifully and a little grudgingly pulled out a sheet of paper and a pencil to write out the texts of the songs that comprise our program. My immediate thought as I began writing was to admonish myself for not having done this simple exercise sooner. Somehow, a gentle and forgiving voice managed to find its way to the forefront of my mind, reminding me that I had been planning on having another month before putting this program up in public. As the plane took off, I regurgitated each poem onto the page through my pencil, and my anxiety about remembering each word and entrance slowly transformed itself into excitement for this unexpected opportunity to perform tomorrow.

Friday, April 04, 2008

The Unexpected

A short entry today, as Jeremy and I have found ourselves needing to pack for an unexpected, last-minute trip to Oklahoma where we will fill in for two ailing colleagues' recital on short notice this Sunday. Very exciting stuff for us, although we hope our colleagues recover quickly and are feeling better soon.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Spiritual Sweep

Immersed in Bach last weekend in Chicago, I began to notice how much my ego has come to play a role in my music making as of late. Part of it is the nature of singing oratorio pieces as opposed to opera. We show up to rehearse, rehearsals are short and to the point, and then we perform. The focus is on the music, and on the group as a whole and less on people’s voices and how high or fast they can sing (Carmina Burana excepted). The operatic world can be very focused on things like fach (a vocal niche in terms of repertoire), the size of a given role, how well you sing the high note in the aria, etc. Part of this is because opera is a form of theater, while oratorio work is a more musically focused event. I feel blessed to be able to do a healthy mix of both.

On top of this more musical focus, there is the incredible music of Bach. I found the energy of performing this masterwork to be different from other performances. Part of this is the story, of course, but I was also keenly aware of how great the music is. It is pristine, clear, meditative and yet passionate and expressive – so human and so divine. I wanted to perform well not to feel good about myself and my work, but because I felt that Bach’s music demanded it of me. I felt that it was a privilege to sing, and I ended up coming to the stage from a place of humility. It was a great relief, and I felt like it was a form of spiritual spring cleaning in a way. I certainly feel fresher and more ready to work now that I am back at home.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Dating my Artist

Why am I so bad about going on Artist Dates? I never do them. I'm devout about doing my morning pages - I have been for years. But the dates? I either forget to do them or try my damnedest to avoid them. I even tried to invite someone to go along with me on my artist date tonight. The first artist date I've gone on in months.

I'm not sure what my deal is - a lot of the time I never even think to go on one. But today, I reluctantly did it. I went to a movie all by myself at the Tribeca Cinemas (Shelter, in case you are curious). Even as I approached the box office to buy my ticket, I nearly turned around and went home. I felt a little giddy, like I was going on a first date with someone. I was even almost late for the movie - I almost showed up late for a date with myself. What kind of way is that to treat anyone, let alone yourself?

I really enjoyed the movie, and I was surprised how good I felt as I made my way home. I felt lighter, skipping to the station to catch the subway, my head in a dreamy state. It felt good to treat myself to a movie that I had been wanting to see. Going to movies by myself is one of my favorite solitary activities to do, actually, and I found myself wondering why I don't do it more often. Perhaps I will now. Perhaps this relationship with my artist is going somewhere wonderful.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Home Sweet Home


Another drainful experience on United today - my flight was canceled again, and what should have been a straightforward, easy trip home became a long sojourn at the airport. A friend pointed out to me that perhaps my "touched" relationship with United is brought on by my own negative thinking every time I need to fly them. Perhaps she's right...I'm sure The Secret would tell me so.

Happily, the sun was shining when I landed back in NYC, which brightened my spirits considerably.

Either way, I am happy to be back in my own bed, thinking about what a great experience I had this weekend.

Another Short Post

The St. Matthew Passion lasts about 3 and half hours. Today was also my last day in Chicago. Thus, a short post.

I had an even better time tonight, having one performance under my belt. I love singing Bach, and I want to sing more. Thankfully, I get to sing more in a few weeks in LA. Still, this experience is leaving me hungry for more and more Bach. So, here I am sending that energy out into the cosmos.

Off to pack and try to get a few hours of sleep so I'm not too much of a disaster tomorrow.