Tuesday, December 8, 2009
I don't see many sunrises because I work mostly at night. However, my husband and I decided it wouldn't be such a bad idea to get up and see it from our apartment in Key Biscayne. All it needed were trumpets and the strumming of Jubal's Lyre.
The morning after our wedding we also got up to see the sunrise. It was exquisite. I couldn't tell where the sky started or where it met the ocean. It was one big blur of loveliness. I had two marvelous moments with my husband this year watching the sun come up to great us. The quiet solitude and calm was invigorating making me long for simplicity. We were in awe at the beauty of it all and at the joy we have in sharing it with one another.
Monday, December 7, 2009
Best of 09 Challenge. Blog Find. What is that gem of a blog find that you can't believe you didn't know about until this year?
This summer I was singing in New Hampshire and I was staying in Vermont on a horse farm near Woodstock. I went into a local bookstore one hot afternoon and was browsing through all the books. This bookstore was very eclectic in it's selection of books on display. You weren't likely to find the latest Dan Brown sitting in plain view but rather more unique and less box-office friendly titles. My favorite number is 37 and as I was perusing the aisles I came across a book entitled, Life is a Verb: 37 Days to Wake Up, Be Mindful, and Live Intentionally. I had to buy it for the title alone!
This book was one of those you buy hoping you will stretch it out to last at least a week but every extra moment you find yourself tearing through more of it. Each night I would plan to read only a chapter and then find myself four to five essays longer than planned. It's just that good. The author Patti Digh (pronounced like sigh)is a sensational writer with depth, heart, and a capacity to put into words what I feel so often can't be done. She is music. Her compassion and insight just tore at my heart. So, I googled her and found that she had a blog. Her blog is called 37 Days and it is just as captivating. Every day she has something thought provoking and profound to offer. Certain days there may be just a picture or a piece of "Found Art" by her daughter. Other days she leaves a poem. Thursday's are loads of fun because she offers a link to interesting articles or stories followed by a link to the world's sexiest man, Johnny Depp. She has a beautiful sense of humor and a deep sense of what is real and right in the world. I feel as if I know this woman. I wrote her to tell her how much I appreciated her work and she immediately wrote back. She was en route to Chicago and was looking at my website and commented that she hoped to get to hear me sing some time. I was so joyous that she wrote me back and I do feel, as she has said in one of her essays, that she hopes to meet everyone of her readers. Go to the link below and read some of her blog entries by clicking on blog. Some of my favorites are, Carry a Small Grape, See the Angel Beside You, and Stay in School. Study Hard. Set Goals for Yourself.
Patti makes sense to me. She makes me feel good and I enjoy reading her blog daily. Here is a Patti quote that I love. Enjoy!
"There is a power in the transformation that starts taking place when power surges heat us up from the inside out. There is a power in the knowledge that we have nothing to prove, not one damn thing. There is power in knowing that we have every single thing we need, that we need nothing else, that we are fully human and gorgeously odd and contradictory and beautiful just as we are. That we are hot in the very deepest, richest, metaphorically resonant use of that term. That we are not broken. That we don’t need to be fixed." --Patti Digh
Life is a Verb: 37 Days to Wake Up, Be Mindful, and Live Intentionally
Friday, December 4, 2009
I have been singing professionally since 2003. My career took off fast and before I knew it I was learning role after role, quickly, fervently, and often alone on the road. I was passionate about my learning. I was a good student and dotted every i and crossed the t's. I delved into my characters with gusto and total devotion. It was always easy to be motivated to work and to sing. Then suddenly things began to shift. I found I was less motivated, not because I didn't love my work, but because the fire had gone out of my love for myself in the work. What I mean by this is that it is easy to produce a product that has everyone's stamp on it. If you are a good student like me, it is easy to listen to every coach, conductor, and director and give them the product they want. It is easy to make every little adjustment when you are a work-a-holic and people pleaser. But pretty soon, as in my case, you will long for the little girl who just loved to sing because she had something to say. You will start to miss yourself in your work.
But, hallelujah, there is someone who gets it and she wrote a book about ten years ago all about the struggles of being creative and I encourage every artist to grab one and read it. Whether you paint, write, or sing, her words will resonate with you because we all need encouragement and tools to guide us to our best selves as artists/creators. There is a lot out there than can cloud us and get in our way from discovering and being the best we can be. The book is called the Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. In it she gives you tasks to help you find your voice and to help you lead with your heart and not your head. There are numerous quotes in the book from famous artists which inspire and help you know that you are not alone on this fabulous but somewhat daunting journey. Check it out. I downloaded it to my Kindle so that I can keep it fresh in my mind. Oh, and by the way, I still dot my i's and cross my t's and I am still a good student and generous collaborator. The only difference is now I do it with my wishes and artistry clearly defined and echoing in my ear. Here is a small excerpt from the Artist's Way by Julia Cameron:
"People frequently believe the creative life is grounded in fantasy. The more difficult truth is that creativity is grounded in reality, in the particular, the focused, the well observed or specifically imagined. As we lose our vagueness about our self, our values, our life situation, we become available to the moment. It is there, in the particular, that we contact the creative self. Until we experience the freedom of solitude, we cannot connect authentically. We may be enmeshed, but we are not encountered. Art lies in the moment of encounter: we meet our truth and we meet ourselves; we meet ourselves and we meet our self-expression. We become original because we become something specific: an origin from which work flows."
Thursday, December 3, 2009
Best of 09 challenge
December 3: Article. What is an article that you read this year that blew you away and that you had to forward to all your friends?
I read this article in several blogs this year and many of my artist friends have spoken about it and it has done it's world tour around the internet. It may be old hat to you by now as well, but if there are a few of you out there who haven't read it, here it is. It is all I could ever hope to say about the importance of music in our lives.
Dr. Karl Paulnack, pianist and director of music division at The Boston Conservatory, gave this fantastic welcome address to the parents of incoming students at The Boston Conservatory on September 1, 2004:
“One of my parents’ deepest fears, I suspect, is that society would not properly value me as a musician, that I wouldn’t be appreciated. I had very good grades in high school, I was good in science and math, and they imagined that as a doctor or a research chemist or an engineer, I might be more appreciated than I would be as a musician. I still remember my mother’s remark when I announced my decision to apply to music school-she said, “you’re wasting your SAT scores!” On some level, I think, my parents were not sure themselves what the value of music was, what its purpose was. And they loved music: they listened to classical music all the time. They just weren’t really clear about its function. So let me talk about that a little bit, because we live in a society that puts music in the “arts and entertainment” section of the newspaper, and serious music, the kind your kids are about to engage in, has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with entertainment, in fact it’s the opposite of entertainment. Let me talk a little bit about music, and how it works.
One of the first cultures to articulate how music really works were the ancient Greeks. And this is going to fascinate you: the Greeks said that music and astronomy were two sides of the same coin. Astronomy was seen as the study of relationships between observable, permanent, external objects, and music was seen as the study of relationships between invisible, internal, hidden objects. Music has a way of finding the big, invisible moving pieces inside our hearts and souls and helping us figure out the position of things inside us. Let me give you some examples of how this works.
One of the most profound musical compositions of all time is the Quartet for the End of Time written by French composer Olivier Messiaen in 1940. Messiaen was 31 years old when France entered the war against Nazi Germany. He was captured by the Germans in June of 1940 and imprisoned in a prisoner-of-war camp.
He was fortunate to find a sympathetic prison guard who gave him paper and a place to compose, and fortunate to have musician colleagues in the camp, a cellist, a violinist, and a clarinetist. Messiaen wrote his quartet with these specific players in mind. It was performed in January 1941 for four thousand prisoners and guards in the prison camp. Today it is one of the most famous masterworks in the repertoire.
Given what we have since learned about life in the Nazi camps, why would anyone in his right mind waste time and energy writing or playing music? There was barely enough energy on a good day to find food and water, to avoid a beating, to stay warm, to escape torture-why would anyone bother with music? And yet-even from the concentration camps, we have poetry, we have music, we have visual art; it wasn’t just this one fanatic Messiaen; many, many people created art. Why? Well, in a place where people are only focused on survival, on the bare necessities, the obvious conclusion is that art must be, somehow, essential for life. The camps were without money, without hope, without commerce, without recreation, without basic respect, but they were not without art. Art is part of survival; art is part of the human spirit, an unquenchable expression of who we are. Art is one of the ways in which we say, “I am alive, and my life has meaning.”
In September of 2001 I was a resident of Manhattan. On the morning of September 12, 2001 I reached a new understanding of my art and its relationship to the world. I sat down at the piano that morning at 10 AM to practice as was my daily routine; I did it by force of habit, without thinking about it. I lifted the cover on the keyboard, and opened my music, and put my hands on the keys and took my hands off the keys. And I sat there and thought, does this even matter? Isn’t this completely irrelevant? Playing the piano right now, given what happened in this city yesterday, seems silly, absurd, irreverent, pointless. Why am I here? What place has a musician in this moment in time? Who needs a piano player right now? I was completely lost.
And then I, along with the rest of New York, went through the journey of getting through that week. I did not play the piano that day, and in fact I contemplated briefly whether I would ever want to play the piano again. And then I observed how we got through the day.
At least in my neighborhood, we didn’t shoot hoops or play Scrabble. We didn’t play cards to pass the time, we didn’t watch TV, we didn’t shop, we most certainly did not go to the mall. The first organized activity that I saw in New York, on the very evening of September 11th, was singing. People sang. People sang around fire houses, people sang “We Shall Overcome”. Lots of people sang America the Beautiful. The first organized public event that I remember was the Brahms Requiem, later that week, at Lincoln Center, with the New York Philharmonic. The first organized public expression of grief, our first communal response to that historic event, was a concert. That was the beginning of a sense that life might go on. The US Military secured the airspace, but recovery was led by the arts, and by music in particular, that very night.
From these two experiences, I have come to understand that music is not part of “arts and entertainment” as the newspaper section would have us believe. It’s not a luxury, a lavish thing that we fund from leftovers of our budgets, not a plaything or an amusement or a pass time. Music is a basic need of human survival. Music is one of the ways we make sense of our lives, one of the ways in which we express feelings when we have no words, a way for us to understand things with our hearts when we can’t with our minds.
Some of you may know Samuel Barber’s heart wrenchingly beautiful piece Adagio for Strings. If you don’t know it by that name, then some of you may know it as the background music which accompanied the Oliver Stone movie Platoon, a film about the Vietnam War. If you know that piece of music either way, you know it has the ability to crack your heart open like a walnut; it can make you cry over sadness you didn’t know you had. Music can slip beneath our conscious reality to get at what’s really going on inside us the way a good therapist does.
Very few of you have ever been to a wedding where there was absolutely no music. There might have been only a little music, there might have been some really bad music, but with few exceptions there is some music. And something very predictable happens at weddings-people get all pent up with all kinds of emotions, and then there’s some musical moment where the action of the wedding stops and someone sings or plays the flute or something. And even if the music is lame, even if the quality isn’t good, predictably 30 or 40 percent of the people who are going to cry at a wedding cry a couple of moments after the music starts. Why? The Greeks. Music allows us to move around those big invisible pieces of ourselves and rearrange our insides so that we can express what we feel even when we can’t talk about it. Can you imagine watching Indiana Jones or Superman or Star Wars with the dialogue but no music? What is it about the music swelling up at just the right moment in ET so that all the softies in the audience start crying at exactly the same moment? I guarantee you if you showed the movie with the music stripped out, it wouldn’t happen that way. The Greeks. Music is the understanding of the relationship between invisible internal objects.
I’ll give you one more example, the story of the most important concert of my life. I must tell you I have played a little less than a thousand concerts in my life so far. I have played in places that I thought were important. I like playing in Carnegie Hall; I enjoyed playing in Paris; it made me very happy to please the critics in St. Petersburg. I have played for people I thought were important; music critics of major newspapers, foreign heads of state. The most important concert of my entire life took place in a nursing home in a small Midwestern town a few years ago.
I was playing with a very dear friend of mine who is a violinist. We began, as we often do, with Aaron Copland’s Sonata, which was written during World War II and dedicated to a young friend of Copland’s, a young pilot who was shot down during the war. Now we often talk to our audiences about the pieces we are going to play rather than providing them with written program notes. But in this case, because we began the concert with this piece, we decided to talk about the piece later in the program and to just come out and play the music without explanation.
Midway through the piece, an elderly man seated in a wheelchair near the front of the concert hall began to weep. This man, whom I later met, was clearly a soldier-even in his 70’s, it was clear from his buzz-cut hair, square jaw and general demeanor that he had spent a good deal of his life in the military. I thought it a little bit odd that someone would be moved to tears by that particular movement of that particular piece, but it wasn’t the first time I’ve heard crying in a concert and we went on with the concert and finished the piece.
When we came out to play the next piece on the program, we decided to talk about both the first and second pieces, and we described the circumstances in which the Copland was written and mentioned its dedication to a downed pilot. The man in the front of the audience became so disturbed that he had to leave the auditorium. I honestly figured that we would not see him again, but he did come backstage afterwards, tears and all, to explain himself.
What he told us was this: “During World War II, I was a pilot, and I was in an aerial combat situation where one of my team’s planes was hit. I watched my friend bail out, and watched his parachute open, but the Japanese planes which had engaged us returned and machine gunned across the parachute chords so as to separate the parachute from the pilot, and I watched my friend drop away into the ocean, realizing that he was lost. I have not thought about this for many years, but during that first piece of music you played, this memory returned to me so vividly that it was as though I was reliving it. I didn’t understand why this was happening, why now, but then when you came out to explain that this piece of music was written to commemorate a lost pilot, it was a little more than I could handle. How does the music do that? How did it find those feelings and those memories in me?”
Remember the Greeks: music is the study of invisible relationships between internal objects. The concert in the nursing home was the most important work I have ever done. For me to play for this old soldier and help him connect, somehow, with Aaron Copland, and to connect their memories of their lost friends, to help him remember and mourn his friend, this is my work. This is why music matters.
What follows is part of the talk I will give to this year’s freshman class when I welcome them a few days from now. The responsibility I will charge your sons and daughters with is this:
“If we were a medical school, and you were here as a med student practicing appendectomies, you’d take your work very seriously because you would imagine that some night at two AM someone is going to waltz into your emergency room and you’re going to have to save their life. Well, my friends, someday at 8 PM someone is going to walk into your concert hall and bring you a mind that is confused, a heart that is overwhelmed, a soul that is weary. Whether they go out whole again will depend partly on how well you do your craft.
You’re not here to become an entertainer, and you don’t have to sell yourself. The truth is you don’t have anything to sell; being a musician isn’t about dispensing a product, like selling used cars. I’m not an entertainer; I’m a lot closer to a paramedic, a firefighter, a rescue worker. You’re here to become a sort of therapist for the human soul, a spiritual version of a chiropractor, physical therapist, someone who works with our insides to see if they get things to line up, to see if we can come into harmony with ourselves and be healthy and happy and well.
Frankly, ladies and gentlemen, I expect you not only to master music; I expect you to save the planet. If there is a future wave of wellness on this planet, of harmony, of peace, of an end to war, of mutual understanding, of equality, of fairness, I don’t expect it will come from a government, a military force or a corporation. I no longer even expect it to come from the religions of the world, which together seem to have brought us as much war as they have peace. If there is a future of peace for humankind, if there is to be an understanding of how these invisible, internal things should fit together, I expect it will come from the artists, because that’s what we do. As in the concentration camp and the evening of 9/11, the artists are the ones who might be able to help us with our internal, invisible lives.”
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
December 2, 2009-- Restaurant Moment
I love to eat. Who doesn't, right? But I love strange foods...foods that I didn't grow up with. I like little bites that burst into your mouth with flavor. I like a production when I am eating, being served like an elegant Italian Principessa. I like eight course dinners with fabulous wine. My husband likes these things too and although we can't eat like this daily, a few times a year we indulge. Yum!
I failed to mention in yesterday's post how fabulous the food was on the Little Palm Island Resort. My husband and I had five star dinners cooked by the famed chef Louis Pous every night of the week and on the evening of our wedding I had the most incredible dish...Fois Gras Ceviche. Now, I am not a chef but I do dabble in cooking and to me this is a very strange combination. Foie Gras = fat liver of a duck or goose and ceviche = citrus marinated seafood. It was dark outside, so I am not even sure what it looked like, but when I popped that deliciousness in my mouth the choir of angels sang and the heavens parted. I don't really understand how you combine fat liver with raw fish cooked in acidic juices but I certainly didn't need to understand it to covet every last bite. I am reminded that cooking is an art and someone having the sense to combine nontraditional foods is a risk-taker. Let all our art and food making be risky and fabulously, deliciously, savored.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Whew y'all. December 1st, 2009. I blinked and the whole year just passed me by. I swear that 2009 must have been the fastest year on record. Please let the next years slow down! I enjoy my time and love life and wish it would pass slowly like it did when I was little. All I had was time when I would sit on my Grandmother's porch in the summer and we would shell peas while my sister and brother and I guessed at what color the next car would be when one passed down the road. Yes, that's how I grew up and it was eternal. Everyday was long and the summers were epic. So, to help me hang on a little longer to the wonders of 2009, I have decided to participate in a blogger challenge set forth by Gwen Bell. Blogger Gwen Bell is hosting a challenge to recap the year in 31 days. I'm excited, and what better way to express why I sing and do what I do than looking back and reflecting on my successes, favorite things, and challenges. I hope you will enjoy the journey, too!
December 1: Trip. What was your best trip of 2009?
This question would normally be hard to answer. I travel a lot and get to go to a lot of very interesting places for my work. This year was no exception. I spent a lot of time in New York City and Miami and they are two of my favorite places to be. But the best trip I took was a surprise. My husband, who planned this all by himself, surprised me by taking me to Little Palm Island Resort in Florida for our wedding and honeymoon. Yes, I know, I am a very lucky girl. You see, I spent a lot of my years in high school and college working for flower shops and planning other peoples' weddings. I almost quit singing to be a flower designer for weddings. I have done a lot of them and let me just say, they are very beautiful and special but mainly weddings are just time consuming and the details are forgotten in less than a day. Plus, trying to coordinate family schedules is daunting especially for us given the fact that my husband is from Canada and Venezuela and also has family in Florida. It just made sense that we 'run off', as my people say, to an isolated island and seal the deal. And that is exactly what we did, just the two of us. It was everything I could have ever wanted.
Little Palm Island is a five acre oasis of heaven. The luxurious resort is plopped right smack in the middle of a nature preserve. The island is surrounded by the coastal waters of the Keys making it very languid and buggy but also very warm and romantic. It is bountiful in tropical birds, fish, and little key deer. There are no televisions on the island, no phones and no internet. Cell phones have little to no reception, so you really can escape into the beauty and serenity of the place. They hold one wedding a day and they take care of everything. All you have to do it show up. That's just what we did! It was everything I have ever thought a wedding should be. We had an intimate sunset wedding that really, sorry to be cliche, took my breath away. The sunset was spectacular. As the sun was falling almost completely away, the light changed to gold, much like you see in the morning. Then, as if on cue, the little key deer came out on the sand and I fed them my bridal bouquet. In all my years of planning weddings and coming up with ideas for other people, I had never dreamed of something so spectacular, unique, and jaw droppingly gorgeous. It was one of those moments where things align themselves and you have everything just as you want them and all without even trying. I think about that day often and am so grateful to my husband for giving me the wedding that even I couldn't have dreamed or planned.
Friday, November 20, 2009
I often get asked the question, "How does that big sound come out of that small body?" This question also goes along with another one of my favorites, "Wow, you don't look big enough to be an opera singer. Where are your horns?" That question was actually said verbatim to me not too long ago. I just love these questions because wondering about the answer to them is exactly what got me hooked on being a singer! As I have said before, I started singing church music and country music as a youngster and it was easy for me. I had my microphone and my little amplifier that plugged into my Yamaha keyboard and I traveled Lincolnton with it, singing at all the weddings, funerals, and banquets I could find. I never thought there was much difficulty to it at all. Then I went to college and found out that there were these opera singers who could project their voices into a theater of four thousand seats and still be heard while singing over an orchestra of thirty to seventy players. I was hooked! How did these people do this and do it without losing their voices? Better yet, how did they do it and make it look so easy? Thus began my passion with opera and the classical training of the voice. To my surprise I learned that singing really is nothing more than just breath. Really. Of course, putting that concept into your body and brain isn't all that simple and singers spend their lives coordinating the three wonders: body, breath, and mind. You see, to be a singer you must understand music, of course, this is evident but the true difficulty comes from not learning music or memorizing music or speaking foreign languages. It comes from the precise understanding of how the body works with the breath in order to produce sound. It is difficult because the feeling is different for every singer. Every teacher and every student has different words to describe the sensations and at times the 'correct production' of sound can seem as elusive as world peace. After all, everyone has their idea of what that sound should be! This quest for your own sound and physicality of sound is really what singing is about, along with the deep desire to communicate. Making these sounds and learning to sing is the equivalent of learning to be a gymnast or an Olympic swimmer. It is a quest for authenticity and simplicity. It is finding comfort in your own skin, being connected to your body through breath and it's so darn simple, it's hard. Breathing is what we were all born to do. Singing is like relaxing but not falling asleep. It is being able to stand on your feet and feel every muscle in your legs relaxed but supported at the same time. I imagine it like standing in the middle of a see-saw with each foot able to lead off center and you constantly shift ever so slightly, never losing balance. Singing moves! It is a balance and it is just plain ole fun and it feels good. Above is my favorite soprano, Eleanor Steber. Here is a clip of her singing Pace, Pace, mio Dio, from La forza del destino. Listen all the way to the end and you will see breath and body balance come jolting out of your computer screen!! Enjoy!
Monday, October 26, 2009
Growing up I was always dancing, singing, or moving around. I would get in trouble for not being able to sit still and I was never really that great in school. I was a B student but I never failed to practice my music. I was absorbed by my music. I would play music constantly in my bedroom recording the Top 20 Countdown and would make mixed tapes and I would also spend countless hours in the living room at the piano playing pop songs, country songs, and church hymns. I never was interested in Math or Science. I loved to read and did well in English classes and languages but I was bored with much anything else. I tell you all of this because I remember so vividly wanting music lessons and wanting to paint pictures but my school didn't offer those types of classes. Those classes stopped in the 8th grade and on the elementary level were taught only once a week. I agree with Mr. Ken Robinson from the above video. A lot of the times we squander the talent of children. We recognize it early in their lives and then we try to focus their attentions elsewhere. Artists only survive usually because they fight hard and/or they simply can't do anything else. I was such a case. I couldn't focus on anything else except my music and I knew by the time I was 13 years old that I would make my living doing music. I am thankful I had an outlet for my music and people who encouraged my talent. Mr. Robinson says in his speech, "My contention is that creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status." He also goes on to talk about how we are teaching kids OUT of their creativity. This is a very interesting speech and one that I related to quite well. I encourage you to pay attention to the young artists of the world and encourage them. If your child can't stop moving, give them some dance lessons. If your child can't keep quiet, get them singing songs. If your child draws all over the house with crayons and markers, get them in an art studio. Nurture a child's innate creativity.
Friday, October 23, 2009
Monday, October 19, 2009
So, in honor of all the street musicians who have accompanied my travels over the years and who continue to do so, I would like to offer on my blog some excerpts from my private collection that I like to call, Found Music. Once a week or so I will leave a clip of some of the Found Music either from my visit here in New York or from my archives. I’d like to start the series by showing one that I recorded last week at 42nd Street Subway Station. I was on my way downtown and I heard Bluegrass music. When I found the musicians I was astonished that they were African American! They even had a sign behind them letting us all know who they were. So, here, enjoy this clip from the Ebony Hillbillies and remember to always stop and hear the music and be sure to carry some money in your pocket to drop in their instrument cases.
Sunday, October 18, 2009
I woke this morning in disbelief that it was October 18, 2009! I am not sure where the month has gone. Actually, I am still wondering where September went. I get like this sometimes where my body and mind refuse to accept the passing of time. It usually happens this time of year as the cold creeps upon us and my inner clock just simply refuses. After this cold weekend in New York City my body is screaming, “Let it still be summer!”
Last weekend ended all too soon. The Elixir of Love with the Atlanta Opera closed last Sunday and Monday morning at 5:45 a.m., I was on my way to the Atlanta airport to take a flight to New York. I really just wanted a few days to let the fabulous weekend pour over me. It was truly a wonderful weekend. After Friday’s performance the Mercer University Alumni Association in conjunction with the Townsend School of Music, gave a reception in my honor. I must say that I was completely overwhelmed with this gesture. Honestly, I kind of felt how President Obama must have felt when he received the Nobel Peace Prize. I was very excited and honored, but at the same time I wanted to shout, “Just wait though, my best is yet to come, I promise!” I really feel that way. Even though I know that I have accomplished a lot in a very short time, I have huge ambitions for my future and I certainly don’t want anyone to get the idea that this is all there is! But seriously, I did appreciate being recognized. It was sheer joy to see all of my former professors and to meet the new ones who have joined the faculty. I met alumni who were there to support the School of Music and saw a lot of old friends. It is an indescribable feeling when you realize that you have an enormous support group. I had so many emotions Friday night. It is easy to be distracted by the pressures of performing and the negative reactions some might have towards your performance. It is so easy to forget that although there may be a few who criticize and want to wear you down, that there is a much larger group that wants nothing more than for you to succeed. Friday night was a fabulous party at my favorite Wine Bar in Atlanta with my cheering squad. These were the people who helped me get started, who saw something in me and encouraged me, who saw I wanted to know music so badly and paid for those piano and voice lessons (THANK YOU MAMA and DADDY!) and I wouldn’t be where I am today without any of them. It is just that plain and simple. (Some were missing, like Mrs. Betty Campbell from Lincolnton who left us too soon, but her spirit is with me always.) It was thrilling to have so many special people all together in one room. I’ll always cherish that night and even though it was fast and I didn’t get to spend tons of quality time with everyone, I hope that they will know how much they mean to me and how supported and loved I feel from having that wonderful evening.
Sunday was the matinee performance and I had more family and friends attend. I was especially happy that my nieces and my cousins little girls were able to come. These girls are my shell seekers. We were at the beach not too long ago and all these girls walked with me along the beach and we found some of the most gorgeous shells. We must have had four gallons by the time we left the beach. I was so intrigued by the way the girls selected their shells. They weren’t always looking for the most perfect. Of course, it was really special to find that perfect conch shell, but I loved that they were happiest just walking along and searching. I also really loved watching how different they each were with their selections. It was a lesson that taught me that beauty and preference is different for each who seeks it. So, my shell seekers came to the opera and I hope that they will remember as they get older how important it is to seek your dreams.
Monday morning I flew to New York on the worst flight I have ever had. I won’t go into details, but at one point I found myself arm and arm with the woman next to me. A lot of things were going through my head that morning and the most wonderful part was that I concluded that it would be the best time as any to fall out of the sky because I had just had the most incredible, loving weekend imaginable. I had seen most, not all, of my loved ones, visited with lots of people I always cared for and appreciated, sang some great music, drank fabulous wine with my friends, kissed my husband before I left the airport, and was happy. I realized when I landed that I loved my life beyond words and am so thankful for all the people who have come in and out of my life and for all the wonderful opportunities I have to sing and contribute to some sort of beauty in this sometimes chaotic world.
Thursday, October 8, 2009
I am packing. Again. I can’t believe that it is time to leave Atlanta. It all went by so fast, preparing a new role, rehearsing a new role, and now there are only two performances left. I am really proud of the work I did on Adina. She is such a fun character to play. Her spirit is light and playful and I find so much joy becoming her on stage each night. Now it is almost time to put her away and dig back into Rosina. I start covering Joyce DiDonato at the MET next week. So, yes, I have emotions right now that are at once happy about the last two performances and excited for all the people coming who I haven’t seen in a long time, but I have some sadness because I am leaving home. However, I know now that packing up time always makes me a little melancholy, which is to be expected. Although I am sad to be leaving the working comforts of home, I am very excited to be going back to New York City. It wasn’t always a trip I looked forward to. I had a hard time adjusting to New York. How could I not? I came from a small three stop light Georgia town. I like trees and space and quiet. You just don’t get much of those things in New York and I was like a scared cat the first time I arrived there. Really. All the traffic noise combined with all the mobs of people just over stimulated me and I was worn out trying to take it all in. Plus, I just couldn’t fathom the grit stuck to my face at the end of the day from all of the dirt and other icky things flying through the air. I have gotten LOTS better since that first visit back in 2001 and actually look forward to my stays in the fabulous bustling city. I am really looking forward to being back there and exploring more of the different areas of the city and plan to post blogs about my adventures. After all, I am always looking for inspiration and I always find it in the most surprising places in New York. You’ll see.
I was thinking just now as I was packing about how many times over the past ten years I have packed and unpacked bags. I would really love to know that number. It used to drive me crazy. I would over pack and then under pack. It certainly hasn’t gotten any easier with all the weight restrictions and extra baggage fees. But, that just makes us more creative. I have the special gift now of being able to look at a pile of clothes on the floor and know whether or not I will be able to fit them into a bag and I am also pretty accurate about the weight of the bag and know exactly how many shoes to remove if the bag is overweight to make it the strict 50 pounds. But there is also something very comforting about packing and unpacking so much. I have found that I only take what is necessary and what I truly love. I have to truly love an item to take it with me on the road because if it isn’t special I know it won’t get worn or used. The same goes for books…..however, I now own the fabulous Kindle which has changed my life! No more boxes of books thank you very much! I have even started incorporating this lightness of load into my home life. I simplify and don’t shop as much as I used to because I always think, “Can you carry that around with you? If you buy this are you going to love it sitting at home without you for six months?" There have been times that I forgot that I already owned something because I hadn’t seen the inside of my closet in three months! These questions have really helped me lighten the load which in turn helps out my bank account!
Tomorrow is our penultimate performance and on Sunday we have our final performance. I have several things I want to accomplish with this role before I close the score and put it away. I am glad I have a few more chances to dig deeper into my character. I am never finished with an opera, there is always something more to discover and I love it when out of the blue, something new comes to me on stage because I am committed to the moment and to my text and emotions. I love surprising myself like that when I unconsciously go off script, so to speak, with the staging. It happens when my impulses are free to flow. It happens when I am relaxed and well rehearsed too! I wish we did opera like musical theater at times where we have 8 shows a week. I just feel as though I could shed a lot of expectations and needs if the performances were more of a routine. However, it just isn’t possible because unlike musical theater, opera isn’t amplified. We don’t use microphones; therefore our voices need rest between performances just like an athlete needs rest between marathons. Alas.
Well, it is transition time. The next few days are going to be busy, filled with singing my last two performances and visiting with friends and family and my husband. Monday starts a new adventure in which I will blog about extensively in the upcoming months, COVERING at the MET! But first, Adina and then I will think about Rosina. Just like my darling Scarlett said, "I can't think about that right now. If I do, I'll go crazy. I'll think about that tomorrow."
Monday, October 5, 2009
The above photograph is simply why I sing. It is a card from an 8 year old who plays little Nemorino in The Elixir of Love. He is a darling boy and so very thoughtful. This goes to show you that you never know who you may inspire when you open your heart to sing. A huge thanks to Alex for taking the time to let me know how he feels. I see a true artist in the making! How can I Keep from Singing?
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
I have been in heaven for the last three weeks. So many wonderful things have been going on and even though we have had roof people at my house to fix leaks and we have had county water people here to fix roots growing in pipes….I have been ecstatic about being at home. For the first time EVER I am working in the same city in which I reside! It has been heaven to wake up in the mornings in my bed and have my coffee in my favorite coffee mug. And it has made me very joyful to sit out on the patio and have wine with my husband after a long day of rehearsals. (Not that I sit around other places and have wine with other peoples husbands....ha ha ha) It has also been a wonderful thing to drive my car to work every day! You see, I never get to do these things. I know they probably seem like small things, but when you travel as much as I do, you start and long for the familiar and you certainly cherish the moments when you are with your stuff on your own turf. (And your stuff is free of bedbugs, see earlier post for that great story.)
My heavenly time is about to end because we are in dress rehearsal week here in Atlanta. That means that I have only 11 days left before I must head north and end my blissful time at home. However, I must tell you all that if you have never seen opera before, the production of Elixir of Love that we are performing starting Saturday night at the Cobb Center for the Performing Arts, is a knock out. I guarantee that you will enjoy yourself. The music is very festive and upbeat and is filled with wonderful choral singing. The Atlanta Opera Chorus is to die for and the orchestra is splendid. There are gorgeous duets and I am thrilled with my wonderful colleagues. Now, I don’t usually toot my own horn, but this show has really come together beautifully and that is because everyone involved cares about the production. That may seem simple but let me tell you that I have worked in situations where no one seemed to care and that friends, is a difficult position to be in.
Opera is about team work. Yes, we learn our music alone and we as singers spend a lot of time preparing on our own, but the final product takes a huge amount patience and people working together. There are stage managers calling the shots backstage who are crucial to things running smoothly and timely. We have the great Sherrie Dee Brewer running our show and let me tell you it is like the Marine barracks at Parris Island! (I would know, my Daddy was a drill sergeant there during Vietnam.) There are costumers and make-up and wig people who work to make sure everyone looks the part but also that everyone is comfortable in their costumes and that their wigs stay put. There are props people making sure wine bottles, handkerchiefs, baskets of corn, and various other sundries are making their way on stage and back off stage in the proper place. There is the fabulous orchestra who gives 2 ½ hours of their complete attention and devotion to the music, counting for entrances and working towards making the most beautiful music as possible. There is the director who has worked for weeks with us all giving us stage direction but most importantly giving us input into our characters and our motivations for movement around the stage. (I love it when that happens, the part where the director makes it make sense, thank you David Gately!) There is the conductor who stands in the orchestra pit and keeps us all together, on the same page. He probably has the most difficult position of all because he has to know what everyone is doing. He has to know not only all the music but also all the staging and has to be able to anticipate the needs of a singer and also must be quick to recover if something drastically goes wrong on stage. He is also there to inspire us and encourage us which Maestro Yoel Levi does magnificently. It is a thrill to be working with him after not so many years ago seeing him conduct the Atlanta Symphony when I attended my very first symphonic concert back in ……oh………should I say……1995?? Wow, where does time go?
So, I am proud of this production. We have worked hard but most importantly we have had a good time. It is my first time singing Adina and usually the first time I prepare and perform a role I have an extra bit of anxiety because everything is new. However, this experience has been a bit of fresh air and not just because I am home in the fresh Georgia air. It’s because people care and they are working together to present something we can all be proud of. Please come see us if you are in town. You will be enchanted, I promise!
The Atlanta Opera ticket info
Monday, September 28, 2009
I know I sound like a broken record but… The Arts Matter!!! I can’t help it, so let me rattle on a bit about it. I just came across the speech given by Michelle Obama at the G-20 in Pittsburgh and I really appreciate this speech being given at such a turning point in our nation’s history. So often the arts are forgotten. They are thrown to the side, cast out and referred to as past times of the upper class. The arts are the first thing that we cut in budgets and are often thought of as a bonus, as the fluff. In the last twelve months we have seen major cuts across the board from opera companies and several opera companies have shut their doors for good. I lost two jobs this past year due to the economy and many singer friends are in the same boat. I love the fact that during a time of economic crisis our First Lady is talking about the arts and their importance to our society. It is something that I am most passionate about not just because I am an opera singer and I make my living in the arts, but because I feel that truly the arts allow us to express ourselves and when we express ourselves honestly through art, we better understand one another. Understanding leads to talking which ultimately and hopefully leads to peace, even if only for a moment. It gives people an outlet and lets them know that they are not alone. It makes them stop and think and I mean really stop from the busy work schedules and sit and hear something beautiful or something different. It requires stopping and looking at a piece of art and contemplating why it is there or what the artist was trying to say. It gives us space in our busy lives and helps us relate to one another and that is why I believe we need more of it, not less. Whew, there. I promise, I am almost done with my soap box!
I challenge you to a week of seeing what art can do for you. Get out your paints or your knitting. Dust off that old clarinet or that old piano and spend time daily playing something. It could be just making noise. Write in a journal for a week and see if you find clarity or maybe a story that needs to be told. Get up and dance in the mornings to your favorite music. Be creative. I believe that by allowing your creative juices to flow you become more attuned to yourself and more attuned to others. Give it a week and you will see how it will change you and who knows, it may stick for the rest of your life!
"And ... people who might not speak a single word of the same language, who might not have a single shared experience, might still be drawn together when their hearts are lifted by the notes of a song, or their souls are stirred by a vision on a canvas."Michelle Obama
"That is the power of the arts -- to remind us of what we each have to offer, and what we all have in common; to help us understand our history and imagine our future; to give us hope in the moments of struggle; and to bring us together when nothing else will. That is what we celebrate here today.”
Thursday, September 24, 2009
Monday was International Find a Way to Encourage a Young Artist Day. I had meant to write a blog entry informing everyone of this fact but was really busy earlier this week with all the flooding in Atlanta. Thanks to all of you who offered to help or just inquired whether I was floating down the Chattahoochee. I think it is only appropriate that we celebrate International Find a Way to Encourage a Young Artist Day all week or even next week. Don’t the arts deserve a month? Use the moment that you read this blog and let your week or month begin and find a young person who is passionate about an art form and encourage them. Purchase their art, attend their play, hang a young persons’ art in your home or office, give words of encouragement, praise the piano practicing, be grand or small but find a way to support the arts.
Arts are important to society. Whether it is written or sung we relate to art and we gravitate to art. It helps us express what is deep inside of us, joy or fear. A speech by Dr. Karl Paulnack, Director of the Music Division at the Boston Conservatory has made its way around the internet. When I read it I finally felt that someone had put into words how I feel about my job. Why do I sing? Why do we write? Why do we paint? Why do we need any of it? Mr. Paulnack writes,
"I have come to understand that music is not part of 'arts and entertainment' as the newspaper section would have us believe. It's not a luxury, a lavish thing that we fund from leftovers of our budgets, not a plaything or an amusement or a pass time. Music is a basic need of human survival. Music is one of the ways we make sense of our lives, one of the ways in which we express feelings when we have no words, a way for us to understand things with our hearts when we can't with our minds."
"If we were a medical school, and you were here as a med student practicing appendectomies, you'd take your work very seriously because you would imagine that some night at two AM someone is going to waltz into your emergency room and you're going to have to save their life. Well, my friends, someday at 8 PM someone is going to walk into your concert hall and bring you a mind that is confused, a heart that is overwhelmed, a soul that is weary. Whether they go out whole again will depend partly on how well you do your craft.
You're not here to become an entertainer, and you don't have to sell yourself. The truth is you don't have anything to sell; being a musician isn't about dispensing a product, like selling used cars. I'm not an entertainer; I'm a lot closer to a paramedic, a firefighter, a rescue worker. You're here to become a sort of therapist for the human soul, a spiritual version of a chiropractor, physical therapist, someone who works with our insides to see if they get things to line up, to see if we can come into harmony with ourselves and be healthy and happy and well.
Frankly, ladies and gentlemen, I expect you not only to master music; I expect you to save the planet. If there is a future wave of wellness on this planet, of harmony, of peace, of an end to war, of mutual understanding, of equality, of fairness, I don't expect it will come from a government, a military force or a corporation. I no longer even expect it to come from the religions of the world, which together seem to have brought us as much war as they have peace. If there is a future of peace for humankind, if there is to be an understanding of how these invisible, internal things should fit together, I expect it will come from the artists, because that's what we do."
Wow. That’s a great job to have. Every day I get to make music. I hope that it calms people after a hard day, inspires other artists, encourages love, makes connections, splits the heavens wide open with positivity. We need it. Artists need encouragement and support. I wouldn’t be an opera singer without the tons of people who helped me along the way and who continue to encourage me. Let’s celebrate this month the young artists who are growing up to be our inspiration!
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
On Monday I had the privilege to sing for the Atlanta Rotary Club. The Rotary Club is an organization of business people who meet once a week to focus on service and high ethical standards in business. They give scholarships and also give awards to members of the club or members of the community who have excelled in the Rotary principals. It was a very energetic group on Monday. I met lots of prominent Atlanta business men and women and was especially fond of the busyness of the group. Everyone seemed to be in a hurry but also seemed to be very excited to be there. These people all seemed to have such a purpose and direction and it felt as though the room was bursting with ambition and intelligence.
I was very excited to be in attendance because I got to meet and sing for two of my favorite Atlanta Companies. Truett Cathy, founder of Chic-fil-A was honored with the Legend award and the keynote speaker was Muhtar Kent, CEO of the Coca-Cola Company. For those of you who are not familiar with legends in the south, Chic-fil-A is the BEST chicken sandwich you can find. There is nothing better than a fried chicken sandwich on a buttered bun with pickles. When I come home from a long time of travel, the first meal I have is a Chic-fil-A meal with a large sweet tea. It just tastes of home! I even know exactly how many Weight Watcher points a Chic-fil-A sandwich has and you may be surprised, but it isn’t that many! As for the legend of Coca-Cola, I don’t need to really say too much, after all as Mr. Kent declared, “Coca-Cola is the most recognized term in the world only next to the word, Okay.” However, I have a fond connection to Coca-Cola in my family because my Grandfather worked at our local pharmacy in Lincolnton for years which meant he also ran the soda counter. It was one of those old soda counters you might see on Happy Days episodes. He told us stories of how Coca-Cola used to be mixed there in the store and that it was created by an Atlanta pharmacist much like himself. He could remember his first Coke and he collected old Coke bottles and Coke memorabilia that I have since inherited. I even have the old Coca-Cola sign that hung at my Great Grandfathers country store. The Scott Grocery part is very faded but the red and white Coca-Cola part looks nearly brand new. If you grew up in the South and especially in Georgia, you grew up drinking Coca-Cola.
I was very inspired by Monday’s meeting. Here I was, a Georgia girl, singing opera for some of the largest companies in the South and world and getting to meet people like Mr. Cathy and Mr. Kent. This is one of the things I love about what I do! The most inspirational part of the meeting was when Mr. Truett Cathy received his Legend award. He is 88 years old and quite a character. He thanked the Rotary Club for such an honor and said something I found to be very profound. He said, in a very beautiful southern accent, “I had the privilege to grow up in poverty and now the joy to have wealth and I enjoy sharing it with others.” Wow. The privilege of poverty. Let that one sink in your brain for a moment. Here is a man who embodies the American dream. Here is a man who took his lemons and made lemonade!!! He grew up in poverty, worked hard, and became the founder of the chicken sandwich and one of the best fast food restaurants ever. I love his story and I invite you to read about all of the wonderful things he has done with his success. www.truettcathy.com He has given scholarships galore and created the Winshape Foudation which supports a variety of programs, including a long-term foster care program, a summer camp for more than 1,900 kids each year, a scholarship program in conjunction with Rome, Ga.- based Berry College, and marriage enrichment retreats. Another remarkable aspect of the Chic-fil-A company is that it has never opened on Sunday. That day is a time for the employees of Chic-fil-A to spend with their families, rest, or go to church. Think of all the money Mr. Cathy could make on Sundays which is one of the busiest days for the fast food industry during the week. For him, it wasn’t about money. I wish more companies would follow his leadership and give back to their employees in this way. I also love it when I go to Chic-Fil-A and say “Thank you” to an employee. They respond with a hearty, “My pleasure!” I have never received bad service at a Chic-Fil-A restaurant. Take a moment and read about Mr. Cathy's business principles and quotes about life. My favorite is, "Nearly every moment of every day we have the opportunity to give something to someone else – our time, our love, our resources. I have always found more joy in giving when I did not expect anything in return.”
After the meeting I found Mr. Cathy and asked him if I could have my picture taken with him. He was delighted and told me that he truly enjoyed my singing. He said he didn’t have any talent and that it had skipped him in his family. I told him that he clearly must have used his talents elsewhere! He then asked me if I knew the song, The Impossible Dream. He said it was his favorite. I can see why. If I ever get to sing for Mr. Cathy again I will be sure to prepare that song. Thank you Mr. Cathy for all of your hard work and dedication to others and for being an inspiration to me.
Above photo: Craig Kier, pianist, Leah Partridge, soprano, S. Truett Cathy, founder of the most delicious chicken sandwich and great Humanitarian
Thursday, September 10, 2009
Today was my first day of rehearsals for The Elixir of Love with the Atlanta Opera. We started at 10:00 this morning with “sing and tell”. This is where the entire cast assembles and we sing through the entire score with the conductor. It can be a daunting experience because as a picky perfection singer, I am always trying to get everything just right and my expectations are usually way high. I know better than to expect perfection. How boring is perfection anyway? And whose perfection are we following? My idea isn’t always the idea of my conductor or director! As I was sitting in rehearsal today I kept reminding myself to not try and create what I had done in my private coachings earlier in the week. I know the goal is to create in the moment and to turn lose of any expectations. This is when we are truly free and can be the most convincing. It is when we are truly committed to the text and emotion. I know these things, but on “sing and tell” day I always tend to try to recreate rather than create. I get caught up on giving the conductor what I believe he wants instead of what I feel. Towards the end of rehearsal an old song popped into my head from the vast collection I have cosseted up in my brain. It is an old country song by David Allen Coe called, The Ride. The chorus of the song rang out loud in my head in the middle of rehearsal drowning out all of Donizetti’s bravura. “Drifter, can ya make folks cry when you play and sing? Have you paid your dues, can you moan the blues? Can you bend them guitar strings? Boy can ya make folks feel what you feel inside? ‘Cause if you’re big star bound let me warn you, it’s a long hard ride.” That’s it. That’s the key. Forget trying to manipulate a soaring, swooping phrase or subtle word colors every other measure. All of those things happen naturally when we risk feeling something. Can you make people feel what you feel inside? There are tons of technical ways to achieve feeling, but I think coming to it from a more natural and simple place works best. Hmm. Maybe, just feel.
When I got home this afternoon I found the following clip while browsing around the internet. It made me laugh because it is chance, so random, and very expressive. It doesn't follow rules or have any expectations but manages to sound as if it were on purpose and thought out. This composer was reading the newspaper and saw birds on a wire and thought of what their random placement on the wires would sound like as music. Pretty beautiful to me! My goal is to be like these birds and sing with no expectations other than what the moment gives me. I’ll just land on that wire with commitment, feeling, and gusto and sing until my Partridge heart is content and I believe I just may make the most beautiful music yet. Enjoy.