Monday, June 27, 2011
Sunday, June 26, 2011
Friday, June 24, 2011
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Friday, June 10, 2011
As my yoga practice has intensified over the past few years, I’ve been thinking a lot of that seemingly simple advice from my Opera Workshop class at University. Just about every yoga teacher tells their students to focus on their breathing – it’s integral to the whole moving-meditation aspect of yoga. As I flow through my practice, I do my best to make sure that my feet are grounded, my knees in line with my middle toes, and my sacrum properly aligned all while I try to twist my body and my arms in all sorts of directions – it's a lot that one has to be mindful of as one flows from one pose to the next. I’ve found that in the midst of trying to achieve these crazy contortions, it’s been that focus on the breath that allows my panic and frustration fade way to clear-headed mindfulness, allowing me to ease my way into deeper realizations of the poses.
The ceiling of the Théatre des Champs-Élysées
The ceiling of the Théatre des Champs-Élysées
While I was touring Handel’s Ariodante with Il Complesso Barocco last month, I found myself in a rather extraordinary situation in which I was making three major debuts in three very famous venues in three different countries within the space of a week. People often ask me if I ever get nervous – I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t that week. While I was excited about all of those concerts, I think that the one I was most excited about was our performance at the Théatre des Champs-Élysées, which marked my Paris debut. After dreaming for so many years of getting the chance to sing in Paris, I found myself making my debut there with some of the most fantastic colleagues I have ever had the pleasure of working with on the very stage where Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring premiered 98 years earlier. Getting ready for the concert, I kept marveling at how incredible it was that I was getting to make a debut in Paris in such style.
Sitting on stage as patiently as I could until the end of Act I, waiting to sing my first aria, I felt my excitement turn slowly into nerves, the voices in my head starting to shout out thoughts of unworthiness and painting out scenarios in vivid detail in which everything went awry. As my mind would start to wander off into some alternate universe of doubt, I found myself constantly coming back to my breathing, letting the sensation of the inhalations and exhalations carry me back to the present moment, which was in reality, one to savor and enjoy. When I finally got up to sing my first notes of the night, it was that focus on the breath that allowed me to completely clear my mind of its crazy inner dialogue and open myself up to letting Lurcanio’s story flow through me. My breathing didn’t just help me sing well, leading my expressions and emotions, but it also helped channel my thoughts to the present moment and focus on the task at hand. Funnily enough, the advice that I initially thought was so silly in college proved to be the one thing that enabled me to enjoy our performance that night.
I’ve been watching a lot of the archived TED talks lately in my free time here in Florence, and I stumbled across this one given by the soprano, Claron McFadden, last year, in which she sings a cool piece by John Cage – Aria. Her story about her experience at a meditation retreat in Thailand is what really struck me about her talk – I loved how her host compared singing to a meditation. My experiences over the past few weeks have made me think of singing the same way lately.
Friday, June 03, 2011
Wednesday, June 01, 2011
In the meantime, for your viewing pleasure, here's a picture of one of the many sunsets I've been enjoying here the past few days in Florence, Italy.
It's a rough life, I tell you... :-)
And for your reading pleasure, here is a repost of my most recent entry at the Collaborative Institute of Chicago's blog, Collaborative Musings:
WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DO?
Let’s start this entry off with a few statistics. In these first 5 months of the year, I have given 28 performances of repertoire ranging from Bach to Britten. In those 28 performances, I performed 2 operas (Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia and Handel’s Ariodante), 6 oratorios (Carmina Burana, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, Bach’s St. John and St. Matthew Passions, Bach’s B minor Mass, Mendelssohn’s Elijah), a ballet (Stravinsky’s Pulcinella), an orchestral song cycle (Britten’s Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings), and a song cycle for harp and tenor (Britten’s Birthday Hansel). It’s been a very exciting first half of the year so far, filled with incredible music and music-making colleagues.
The main reason I list all of these statistics is simply to give you a snapshot of how intense my musical life has been like since New Year’s. With so much wide-ranging, diverse repertoire to keep abreast of, it’s been quite challenging to keep abreast of it all without tying my throat in knots. The most intense period was when I found myself singing 8 concerts in 3 different cities in the first 9 days of April. At the beginning of week, I found myself wailing at the extreme heights of my range for Carmina Buranas in Denver, only then to fly back East to jump back and forth between Stravinsky’s arrangements of Pergolesi’s delicate vocal music for concerts in Philadelphia and the intricate twists and turns of Britten’s last song cycle for recitals in New York. In those 8 days alone, my vocal cords musically spanned 250 years.
In my efforts to stay on top of all of this diverse music and the packed schedule of the past few months, I’ve spent as much time as possible checking in with my voice teacher in New York during my days off between concerts. In our lessons over the past five months, I’ve noticed her asking me a musical question with increased frequency that has rarely been posed to me: “What do you want to do?”
Every time she has asked me that question in a lesson lately, it has inevitably been because I had no idea what I wanted to do in that particular place. It was a spot that I had glossed over or taken for granted. It was a phrase for with I had no specific plan. The best part is that each time she has asked that question, it has forced me to find an answer. It’s forced me to make choices. Both the grueling schedule and my teacher’s insistence on decision-making have forced me to take even more ownership of my musicianship.
In so much of our training as singers, we are taught how to sing by our teachers, taught musical styles and phrasings by our coaches, taught how to enunciate text by our diction coaches. Then after all of that preparation, we begin to rehearse with conductors who show us with their batons how they want the music to be sung and directors who shape our performances through their stage direction. But in the midst of all of that, it’s important not to become too passive. It’s important to keep thinking about how all of this information allows us to enhance what we are already trying to do. Both the grueling schedule and my teacher’s insistence on decision-making have forced me to take even more ownership of my musicianship.
Going back to my blog post a few weeks ago about – I have been finding that so many young singers are incredibly focused on trying to plan out their careers. Lately, I’ve found myself musing again on what I wrote back then – career plans are important, but it is our musical plans that are of the highest priority. When it comes to the music – do you know what you want to do?