Monday, January 29, 2007

Inner Children

Two things of note happened in my life yesterday.

Firstly, Jeremy and I went to see the last day of the Paul Klee exhibit at the Menil Collection. I was impressed by the prolific variety of styles he painted in. I thought to myself about how so many singers try to box themselves into a certain repertoire or “fach”. Why the need to be locked into the box? For the illusion of safety that it provides? Why not do like this man did and simply paint what was clearly in his heart and mind in whatever way he felt it was best expressed?

At the exhibition, I also discovered that Diego Rivera wrote that Klee was "one of the wisest painters and one of the greatest child/poets of the world." This juxtaposition of wise and child struck me as so vital to being an artist. How we need to balance staying in touch with our inner child (that part of us that holds the passion for what we do), and how through that child we discover the wisdom our art provides us.

The second event of note was the fun evening of music-making that we had in our apartment last night. We began the evening with a trial run of the first half of my upcoming chamber music concert for some musician friends, and then everyone began to read through some music that they all brought. It was an eclectic evening, including everything from Rigoletto arias to Debussy piano duets to Schumann pieces written for viola and piano. It was so fun to see people let their hair down and let out their little inner child that drew them to music in the first place.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Licking the wounds

It is very hard for me to talk about upsetting things publicly. It’s scary, frankly.

That said, here we go.

I found out that I didn’t get a project that I had auditioned for recently – one that I really wanted to work on. I wanted to work on it for a number of reasons – primarily, the music is insanely beautiful, but also because I knew that a few good friends were involved already (making music with friends is always fun), and the conductor was someone I wished to work with again.

As being turned down can go, this was as good as rejection could be – it was mostly for logistical reasons and I was told that it had nothing to do with me or my singing. In fact, I was told that I made a very positive impression when I auditioned. Still, it was disappointing to hear that it did not work out this time.

So, in an effort to recover, I felt sorry for myself for a bit, and then I made sure to practice a lot today and I’m in the process of cleaning my apartment (which is a disaster...). Tomorrow, I'll remind myself of how much I have to be grateful for.

There – I’ve admitted that I’m human and not perfect. What a relief…

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Wonderful Town

There was a time in my life when I couldn’t wait to get out of the Midwest. I deplored its mundane-ness, its suburban lack of luster. I applied to conservatories located only in or near big cities – two of them in New York. I ended up choosing Manhattan School of Music, excited to go the city I had dreamed of living in for years, thirsty for its hustle. I got here and was exhilarated by the energy of its fast flow, seduced by its bright lights and never-closing diners, and dazzled by its self-importance. I would return home for holidays, and get frustrated by what I perceived as the Midwest’s provinciality. When I moved to Houston, all I could do was fantasize about packing my things back up into boxes and U-hauling all of it back up to the restless, electric bustle of New York.

Visiting here in Manhattan for a long weekend to audition for various people, I find that what I am longing for is the soft gurgle of the fountain in our courtyard, to cook dinner for Jeremy in the tranquility of our kitchen, to look out at the trees from our living room window, to sit in one of the caf├ęs in Montrose and quietly work on translating Il ritorno d’Ulisse, to have a game night in our living room with our Houston friends. Fighting people to get on the subway exhausts me, and I long to see a hint of plant life somewhere – something other than the ubiquitous grey that surrounds me.

I never thought I would question my desire to move away from Houston, but I find myself wondering: Am I really so different from before, and longing for a quieter, simpler life, or am I simply longing for “home” – my furniture, kitchen, Jeremy, friends, and regular haunts – regardless of where those things are?

Monday, January 08, 2007


Is what we do as opera singers important?

I distinctly remember once saying to Laura Claycomb, “Oh well, it’s just opera – it’s not like it’s really important,” as we walked to the parking garage after a stressful rehearsal sometime during my first year in the HGO Studio. She stopped walking, and turned to me and said, “But it IS important – it has to be. Why do it otherwise?”

It’s a moment that stuck with me, because it was a question I had never really asked myself before so pointedly. Why bother?

I’ve heard a lot of debate surrounding the subject of artistic integrity lately. Many of my colleagues (at all levels) are very concerned about the quality of our art sinking as people strive to make classical music “accessible” and “save” us from the impending “death of classical music”. They complain about a lack of artistic standards. They note that some of the most visible artists in our field don’t feel obligated to sing the notes on the page or to be in rhythm.

Then some people ask: are these things important?

As I see it, the answer is many-fold. Yes, we must maintain a perspective on what it is that we do. One could argue that music is not necessary for survival. But that point is moot – this is not the situation we face as a society today. Our art is part of what defines our humanity – some would argue that it is our culture is that makes us civilized. What we do as musicians, performers, opera singers, etc. is therefore important – and it is important that it be high quality. I’ve always been taught that technical precision serves artistic expression. People (whether they be “lay-people” or “purists”) will not enjoy a performance if it is out of tune, not sung with the utmost beauty and technical ease, or if it is inaccurate, because those things serve as distractions that keep an audience on the edge of their seat in a bad way. The artists who really sadden me are the ones who consciously choose not to sing the notes on the page, stretch rhythms egregiously and with poor taste, and chase publicity events in lieu of rehearsals in an effort to be more “accessible” or to make what we do more “popular”. What saddens me about those choices is the inherent lack of faith in our art form to touch people, to move the soul, to be relevant. It is vital that we maintain our standards and take our artistic integrity seriously, because if we don’t, we cheapen the message behind the music, which is generally an important message to convey.

Sunday, January 07, 2007


I dreamt last night that I was in Frankfurt, working on my first Don Giovanni. We were about to begin a rehearsal in the theater (which oddly looked like a small, high school auditorium) and I was sitting in the back of the house with my colleagues, holding my score. As rehearsal began, I realized that I didn’t know Acts II and III. I began to panic. I started to flip through my score, looking for Act II. All I could find instead were pages from a 1950’s knitting magazine. Where was Act II? I looked up at the stage, and it was getting closer and closer to my entrance. How embarrassed was I going to be if I had to hold my score in my hand as we did this technical rehearsal? I went to go look for my dressing room so that I could bash some notes out on a piano quickly. I didn’t have a dressing room. Not that it mattered – I didn’t even have a score – I only had my knitting magazine from 1950…

Nothing like a nightmare to motivate me to practice and learn all of the new music I have coming up. Every single gig I have is new music for me up until mid-May. Oddly, I still don’t have music for one of the concerts, too (I don’t think that the organizer has finalized the program yet). I am glad that my subconscious is cluing me in to my feelings about all of this new music…off to put my nose to the grindstone.

Photo by Jeremy Frank