Monday, March 31, 2008


I love Bach. I can't wait to do another one tomorrow!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Meditating on Passion

Today’s dress rehearsal was my first experience ever hearing the St. Matthew Passion live, start to finish.

Back in the Fall, when I had an unusually large amount of solitary time to think during my sojourn in France, one of the thoughts that meandered through my mind was wondering how would I feel about performing this deeply religious piece of music for the first time. Musicians are often called upon to perform music that is religious in subject matter, and musicians’ beliefs span a wide spectrum from deeply religious to atheistic. Thinking about this upcoming Bach project got me pondering about how people relate to this music and subject matter. The most common thing I hear to this subject is, “it is such great music.”

Growing up, my mother took us each Sunday to Church, and faith has always been important part of my life. As I grow older and traverse the path my life continues to reveal for me, my feelings and beliefs about religion and the nature of God have changed, and as they evolve the less clear they become. I have always believed in a God, but I have come to question the impact of religion on society, and its reliance on the Bible as a historical document as I have gotten older. I have no answers, some opinions, and a set of beliefs that continues to evolve as time goes on. Coming from this perspective, I wondered, how will I relate to this music that tells the story of the Passion of Christ, the story that is the base of Christianity?

At a previous rehearsal, one of our organists and Jane, our conductor, were discussing the meditative nature of the piece. Today was surely a meditative experience. I found myself finding a fresh perspective on story of the Passion as each soloist breathed an emotional life into the narrative that I had never been able to appreciate before. I realized today that between the structure he created, the texts he chose, and the music he wrote, Bach infused the story with a drama I had never considered. By the time we were half way through the piece, I was surprised to find myself profoundly moved and inspired. I began to realize that in some senses, what is true is not what is important, but it is the lessons that we can draw from the story that are key. What does it mean to be selfless? What does it mean to truly love? In a way, more questions were raised, yet, somehow, I was left with a feeling of peace and the sense that I had taken a journey that had somehow changed me. This is more than just “great music”. It is a great experience.

Friday, March 28, 2008


We braved yesterday’s gloomy weather to rehearse the St. Matthew Passion obbligato arias, which abound in this masterpiece. It was like creating our own musical sunshine, and the grey energy of the day was kept at bay. Together, we channeled our inner chamber musicians, weaving the musical threads that Bach left for us, and I was reminded of sunny days from last summer in Marlboro. Part way through our rehearsal, as we listened to yet another stunning aria being rehearsed, I turned to one of my colleagues and said, “There is no shortage of beautiful music in this piece, is there?” She chuckled as she said, “Indeed, no truer words have been spoken.”

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Indian Winter?

A lovely spring day in Chicago…so much for the nice, warmer weather holding out.

The dreary "wintry mix", as the weather channel refers to it, doesn’t lessen my love for this city by any means, though. As I walked down Michigan Avenue last night, searching for some dinner, a sense of homecoming settled in. While I have never lived in this city, I have spent a decent amount of time here over the years, and something about it’s combination of Midwestern-ness and big city scale strike the right chord in my heart. It has the right mix of sophistication and simplicity.

Off to see how it feels to sing after a couple of days of battling the flow of my runny nose (which has seemingly stopped today).

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Airport Zen

So far, today has been unusually calm for a departure day. Normally, departure days are fraught with bickering and tension between me and Jeremy, a panicked, frenzied packing session during which at least one item is usually forgotten, and then a mad dash to the airport. Today, Jeremy and I simply acknowledged to each other that we were sad to be apart until Tuesday and then had a lazy, loving morning and a sweet goodbye as he left for work. After he left, I packed calmly and efficiently (hopefully not leaving anything behind this time) and then arrived at the airport in an unusually timely fashion. Then I remembered that I was flying a United Airlines flight to Chicago.

For some reason, every single time I fly United there is some sort of travel hiccup. Luggage lost, flights delayed, always something. Today, I arrived at the airport to discover that my flight was cancelled. As I try to channel my inner zen so that I don’t make myself any sicker and can continue on my path to recovery, I am looking for the silver lining. The positives? Well, I now have enough time to enjoy some airport chicken noodle soup – the best remedy for a cold, they say. I was able to buy some cheap, airport sunglasses. I have time to reflect on my last airport experience with ACB. I also now have enough time to post my blog entry for the day.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Searching for Spring

Every time Jeremy walks by a tree lately, he asks me if I think it looks like it might be sprouting buds, desperately hopeful that Spring is awakening. Thankfully, it looks like it is so here in New York. The weather has begun to change and warm a little, and the sun is shining. Unfortunately, with the beautiful weather last weekend, a little cold/sinus infection has come my way, as winter makes a last ditch effort to make its mark on me before it recedes for another nine-ish months. I should be fine for this weekend’s performances in Chicago, but it is a nuisance and adds some unnecessary stress to my weekend away nonetheless.

Being in my blocked funk and away from the blog, I am now out of the habit. In order to get the flow going again, I’m going to try one of those 30-ish day projects and blog everyday for the next month. Even if it’s just a sentence or just a picture, even if it is terrible and vapid, I will be here attempting to unclog daily until April 25th. I’ve got a lot going on this month, so hopefully it won’t be too hard. Wish me luck.

The top photo was taken by Jeremy while on his quest for the budding trees.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Independent thinking

It has been almost three weeks since my last confession. I mean, entry.

I’ve been blocked. Not just blocked about my blogging, but blocked about everything – my taxes, my inbox, my laundry, cleaning my house, my grant applications, my singing – everything.

Traipsing through my former stomping grounds as a student and young artist the past couple of months, I have been forced to confront many artistic demons. Just like any person who dreams, I encountered some rather hurtful and harsh criticisms along with the valuable nuggets of wisdom that I gleaned during my studies, and while I had the luxury of revisiting some of what inspired me, I also revisited some of those the moments that dampened my artistic hopes at various times. Those discouraging moments quickly became many of the choice insecurities that are magnified by my inner critic/censor, that oh-so-tiny voice inside one’s head that can manage to ring loud enough to induce a flood of such depression and hopelessness that it can deafen one artistically. Normally, I can drown out that critical voice with a voice of positivity and hope so that it recedes into nothingness for the day, and so I can find the courage to take a few artistic steps forward. It is more difficult to wrestle that oh-so-tiny voice into submission when one is standing in the very rooms where the comments that have become the critic’s fodder originated or when one is standing face-to-face with one of the people who came up with one of those choice pearls of so-called wisdom. Dealing with that kind of internal negativity and hopelessness has been overwhelming despite all of the inspiration and nostalgia that came along with the experiences of being in those places.

About a year ago, I was on a break from rehearsal at Chicago Opera Theater, doing some work on The Artist’s Way, when a colleague peeked over my shoulder and asked what I was reading. I explained how it was a kind of 12-step program for artists with the goal of unblocking creativity, and he asked me if I actually thought that singing was a creative profession and if I believed that singers were actually artists. As we debated, (because, of course, I do believe both of those things to be true) he pointed out that it is really the work of the composers that is creative and that all we do is regurgitate their creations and then bow to the whims of the director or the conductor. I debated that our artform is a collaborative one – the composer, conductor, director all need us to realize their part of a vision, but we also are the ones who bring to it our hearts and minds, therefore infusing it with our own person. That is why performances of the same song or role by various singers vary so much from performer to performer. It is the singer who creates the live moment, the performance. Regardless, this mini-debate pointed out to me how much we are talked at and told what to do as singers.

We go to school and conservatory where we learn (if we are lucky) the beginnings of how to master our voice, how to pronounce and possibly speak various languages, music theory, music history, how to act, how to be on stage among so many other things. Then, as American-trained singers, we battle viciously to get into various young artist programs where we are told what to sing, what to wear, how to behave, how to sing, how to market ourselves, how to format our resumé. There is a tricky aspect to learning through this process, because while so much valuable information can be gleaned, nowhere is it taught how to think for one’s self – that is a lesson that is our responsibility for us to learn on our own, and in many ways, it has to be that way. After all, no one but you can teach you how to think for yourself. I think that those who do figure that lesson out are the ones who bear the mark of a true artist.

As my mind clears and my artist clears the block of negativity and fear that has clogged the flow of my creativity, a slowly widening ray of light is shining into my heart, and it is making me realize that the words of my inner critic are just limiting factors that hold me back from achieving my dreams. Thinking for myself means that I have to be able to truly and completely let go of the comments that don't ring true to me or that spread a wet blanket over my dreams. The more that I allow my inner critic, my mind's chief representative for what other people think, dictate my decisions and restrict the choices I make, the less risk I'll take and the less my work will flourish. The shadow that it casts is even preventing me from seeing all the dreams that have already come to fruition, and what use is it achieving your dreams if you can’t even enjoy them once they are realized?