Saturday, September 30, 2006


Before I left for Atlanta, I had a session with my therapist in which we discussed my anxieties. We talked about how it was going to be a bit of an adjustment to go back to work after such a nice, long, vacation, and we discussed my nervousness about a couple of auditions that I have coming up. As I sat in the sleek, black leather chair opposite her, complaining of my nervousness that I was going to fail at these upcoming auditions, she studied me and heard me out patiently. When I was done, she said something to me about gratitude. She pointed out that I am very lucky to be doing what I am doing for a living and to be at the level I am working at. She said that gratitude was something that I should think about in the coming weeks, because it would bring about a sense of humility. Her voice combined with my mother’s voice in my mind as I heard her say this, and memories of my mother screaming at me how lucky I was and how I was a spoiled brat ignited in the back of my mind. As I listened to her, I felt admonished. I felt like I was being proud and that my anxiety about my auditions was coming from a place that was ungrateful and spoiled.

Some of the cast here in Atlanta went out to dinner one night, and over our meal we shared stories of how we got into classical music and opera. As our sushi arrived, one person began to share his story about the first time he heard Mimi’s first act aria from La Bohème. A woman was singing it in a master class, and he just sat there in astonishment. After the class, he went up to her and asked her what it was. As he sat there and told the story, he remembered spreading his arms wide, his eyes widening, and saying, “What is this music?”, incredulous that something so beautiful and moving could exist. He ran to Tower Records immediately after the class, bought himself a recording of the opera, and went home and stayed up until 3 AM listening to it, tears streaming down his cheeks. The sense of wonder in his voice made me smile, as I remembered for myself what a blessing it is for us to make something so beautiful on a daily basis for a living.

Some weeks later, I am now realizing how my personal baggage really skewed the message that my therapist was trying to deliver in my session that day. It was not an admonishment, but kind counsel. Gratitude does bring a sense of humility to our lives, but humility is what brings us a sense of wonder and awe for our lives and the world we live in. It allows us to be open to the immense beauty of the things that surround us, and keeps us from taking those things for granted. Without that sense of awe and wonder, the sense of fun and adventure is lost in things, and it is too easy to focus on the negative and the little worries and anxieties that try to pervade our minds everyday.

Friday, September 29, 2006


When I think about auditions, I feel at times like I’m climbing a mountain, and I’ll never reach the top. They give me diarrhea, and I don’t often do them well. On some rare occasions, I don’t care, and I sing like a god. Most times, I do care, and I am so busy worrying about whether they like me or not, that I sing poorly. A colleague said to me in rehearsal the other day, “You have two options: think or sing – now which one are you going to choose?” In the coming weeks, I think that I am going to make the choice to sing. You’d think choosing not to think would be the natural tendency for me, since I am a tenor. Alas, I have this annoying tendency to let my thoughts run rampant through my brain. Silly me…

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Future

A few days ago I was walking to rehearsal with one of my colleagues, chatting about music, opera, and “the business”. At one point as we were nearing the rehearsal space, he turned and looked at me with tired, sad eyes, and said, “Sometimes it’s hard not to think that this art form is dying a slow death that is painful to watch”.

Something that has struck me about my colleagues here in Atlanta is their passion for their work. One colleague was telling me about how she would arrive at her high school at 7:00 in the morning in order to participate in her high school band and choir. Another colleague told me one night over dinner about how when he was younger, he would run to the nearest Tower Records and buy as many opera recordings as he could during his rehearsal breaks while he was singing in an opera chorus out west. He still has them all, in his garage, alphabetized. I, myself, was in 3 choirs and 2 orchestras in high school, and have amassed a collection of recordings of Handel’s operas. As any singer can tell you, when our voices don’t work because of illness, we go stir crazy and sulk around our apartments, unable to sing the music that gets us out of bed in the morning. As we struggle to balance life, friends, spouses, finances, and families with our careers in music, we cannot tear ourselves away from classical music and opera because of this bug that bit us at some point in our lives, infecting us with an incurable passion and love for what we do.

On the walk to work a few days ago, I was saddened by not only the look in this singer’s eyes and tired sound in his voice, but also by his words. Ever the optimist, I feebly said, “I don’t know – I think we have a future.” I didn’t know how to respond, because I know a lot of people agree with him, even though I feel in my heart that it isn’t true. In that moment, I felt young and naïve.

Today, while wasting time online, procrastinating in my effort to find a place to live while I am in Los Angeles, I was relieved to stumble across this article in the Boston Globe by their classical music critic, who is apparently retiring after having written for the newspaper for 33 years. It’s reassuring when people can articulate your hopes in print. Things are, indeed, changing – as demonstrated by the Met’s opening ceremonies this week – but change is good and natural. I just can’t believe that this music that we love so much and have dedicated our lives to is going to disappear from our cultural landscape.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Carmina Burana

I love singing Carmina Burana. The tenor solo is a hair stressful, being insanely high, but it is only about one minute and forty seconds of music. The rest of the time, I get to relax and listen to the music. We ran the piece with the chorus the other day in rehearsal, which was exhilarating. Not only is the chorus here precise and full of strong voices, but they also sing with a passion and commitment that is rare among opera choruses. As they began to sing the penultimate movement of the piece and then crashed into the recapitulation of O Fortuna, the hair on my arms stood up, my heart started to beat faster, and I felt an electric charge run through my body. Carmina is one of those pieces that help me remember how lucky we are as musicians to do this for a living. At the end of the day, it reminds me of the reason that I can’t tear myself from music and singing, despite all of the sacrifices we make for it.

Friday, September 15, 2006

The First Day of School

Do you remember what the first day of school felt like? I remember it vividly.

I started at Greenhills in the sixth grade (one of Ann Arbor’s private schools – grades 6 through 12) as an outsider. A lot of the other kids at Greenhills knew each other from having been in the public school system for elementary school, or from playing in the neighborhood. Since my parents had sent me to a tiny Montessori school in the middle of the woods (the utopia of my youth) and were anti-social, I didn’t know anyone on my first day of school at my new school. I remember feeling terrified that no one would like me, everyone would think that I was a freak, and that I would have no friends. I managed to realize my fears by being so paralyzed by them that I only made one or two friends for the rest of middle school. It wasn’t until I came out of the closet about 4 years later that I became “popular”, ironically. Still, I vividly remember fretting over what I should wear, about what people would think of the lunch I had brought with me that day, about my hair, and then sitting timidly in my homeroom, waiting for my turn to introduce myself to the class, and praying that no one would notice how much of a freak I thought I was.

Often, people refer to the first day of rehearsal as the first day of school. Lucky for me, I get to relive the traumatic experiences of adolescence quite frequently, as a result. Yesterday, I agonized as I tried to get ready for my first day of rehearsal here in Atlanta over what I should wear. Images of a certain former Studio director admonishing us not to wear jeans or “look schlubby” at the first rehearsal flashed through my mind as I got dressed for the day. (Incidentally – I wore jeans to rehearsal. Call it rebellious, call it defiant – I simply think of it as comfortable). As I warmed up, I worried about whether people would like my voice or my singing. In rehearsal, I sat in the chair farthest away from the conductor and most of the cast, hoping to blend in with the floor. At lunch, I felt self-conscious about what to order, and instead waited to see what other people were eating before I made a choice. My heart beat with the same anxious flutter as it did in my sixth grade homeroom as we got close to my parts of the opera.

In the end, I managed to keep my nervousness and insecurities in control enough to maintain the illusion that I am a confident and sane person – but it was an exhausting day, all told. It’s energy-consuming to keep one’s inner dialogue from voicing itself outside.

As I understand it, we re-live these experiences for as long as we need to until we are able to grow past them. When am I going to learn that I am not that chubby 11 year old boy entering the sixth grade? I’m all about staying in touch with my “inner child”, but there are some parts of him that I am really ready to let go of.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Five years later

I tried to ignore the fact that yesterday was the fifth anniversary of the acts of insanity that occurred on September 11, 2001. I taught a master class at the High School for Performing and Visual Arts, I took my car in for a 90,000 mile service, I had a coaching with Jeremy, I saw The Illusionist. I did a series of mundane tasks that were on my to-do list. Planned events. The reminders of what yesterday was were ubiquitous - most notably the flag at flying at half-mast at the car dealership. Still, I did my best to remain numb.

Then I saw the cover of this week'’s New Yorker -– a man balancing on what seems to be a tight-rope, but in a white void. Turn the page, and there is the same man, in the same space in mid-air, but above the empty lot that used to be the World Trade Center. Something about the cover disturbed me -– it made me think of the images of people jumping out of the towers to their deaths below in a desperate attempt to not burn.

Five years ago, my roommate, Yvette, woke me up just in time to see the second plane hit the Trade Center on NBC. We watched -– Yvette on the couch, and me standing bleary-eyed in the door to my bedroom -– as our world changed. I didn't get to any of the events or mundane tasks I had planned for that day. Instead, we climbed to the top of our apartment building and stared dumbly at the cloud of smoke and dust that was rising from the other end of the island.

May those who lost their lives that day be resting in peace. May those of us who survive them pray for peace and love to invade the living world.

Monday, September 04, 2006


I dreamt last night that Peter, my European manager, gave me the responsibility of tending a little indoor garden. He set me up with some potted plant seedlings and a two tiered shelf with fluorescent lighting and left me to nourish the plants. The first task at hand was for me to arrange and repot the plants so that they would get optimal light and have enough space to grow into a little, potted, indoor herb garden. I needed to get all of this done in time catch my train (I have no idea to where). I stood there, staring at the little plants, the potting soil, the terracotta pots, the fluorescent lighting, and the stress of getting it done in time overwhelmed me. I simply could not do it. Jeremy appeared out of nowhere and tried to help – I got defensive and snapped at him. I felt paralyzed with indecision. My heart raced, and the clock ticked on. What was I going to do if I missed the train?

Then I woke up. Immediately, anxiety-ridden thoughts of upcoming auditions and projects flooded my brain. I tried to sleep more, but I realized that the longer I lay in bed, the more I was going to worry. So, I crawled out of bed, and began my morning pages in an effort to dump all of the anxiety out of my brain and into my journal.

When I returned from Germany in July, fresh from my successful European debut, I was confident, happy, secure. Two months later, I find that the little green goblins of anxiety and worry have found their way back to the forefront of my mind again. I recall the director of the Voice department at Manhattan School of Music telling us that most singers have an average of a 5 year career. I’ve been singing professionally for five years now, I think to myself – is my time up? What if this is as good as it gets? I think ridiculous things like this even though I look at my calendar and find it filled with good work up through 2008. Is it normal to doubt one’s self this much? In a sense, I really don’t have much to worry about – I have so much in my life already. Why, at times, can’t I let it be enough?

I often get caught up in the big picture of life and career, but what I realize now is that I have no idea what the big picture is yet. I won’t know what it is until I’ve finished the journey through it, really. That I can’t know until it’s done scares the living shit out of me at times, and it fills me with wonder and excitement at others. Perhaps, right now I am filled with terror – hopefully, tomorrow I’ll remember that there is excitement inherent in the journey, too.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Disturbing and Saddening

I just finished watching Why We Fight - it is one of the most disturbing, tragic, moving, and poignant documentaries I've seen. Please go to your video store or netflix or whatever and rent it and watch it. It must be seen.