Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Go Team!!

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

Arts Matter!

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."

"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.”
Michelle Obama

Thursday, September 24, 2009

International Find a Way to Encourage a Young Artist Day

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

Giving Back

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. 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

It's a long hard ride


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.

Birds on the Wires from Jarbas Agnelli on Vimeo.

Thursday, September 3, 2009


My sister declared to me once that I have the most glamorous life she could imagine. Well, I think she was exaggerating, but considering we come from a three stop light town in GA where when there are more than three people lined up at a stop light we refer to it as traffic, this nomadic life with all of its famous places and fancy parties does make a country girl feel like a celebrity. For the most part, the life of an opera singer is quite glamorous. When we sing we wear fancy dresses and people fuss over our hair (wig) and fuss over our faces and we even sometimes get nice things written about us in the newspaper. We are often never in the same town for more than a month and we meet all kinds of neat and different people. Yes, it is my life and it is my job. I love it and appreciate it. However, there is always something that can make you long for simplicity and normalcy. That my friends are BED BUGS.

Yes, you heard me right. You may be thinking, “Gosh, I remember Betsy Sue and them having those years ago when we were little but I haven’t heard of Bed Bugs in a coon’s age.” Well, they are back and they are in full blossom in New York City. Ick.

Last year I was singing at the MET and rented an apartment on the Upper Westside of Manhattan that I had seen advertised on Craig’s List. All of my singer friends had been getting great deals on apartments that they booked on Craig’s List. So, after much trepidation I decided to join the Craig Listers and do the same. I found a very cute apartment in my budget, met the guy, saw the apartment, PAID THREE MONTHS RENT UP-FRONT, and moved in. The first and only night of my stay I was lying in bed watching Saturday Night Live, one of the Tina Fey as Sarah Palin nights last year, and a roach crawled across my chest in the bed. Now, I am from GA. We have roaches that can make the New York City roaches look like picnic ants. Anyone who has lived in Macon, GA and has walked the Mercer campus at night knows what I am talking about. So, I was alarmed and completely grossed out, but I remained pretty cool. I jumped up and only screamed ever so softly as I turned on the light to find the pest and as I threw back the covers I realized that little, wimpy, sad New York roach was not alone. To my horror there were tiny little bugs in the bed that to this southern girl looked like ticks. I actually said out loud, “Why would there be ticks in New York City? There are no deer here!” I picked one up and gave it a good pinch test the way we do down south and it was easy to kill unlike the hard backed wood ticks of my youth. I didn’t know what they were but I knew I didn’t want them as sleepover guests. I quickly ran to the kitchen and began rambling around for some bug spray to at least kill the pansy roach. To my dismay, I only found a tall red can of spray that cheerfully read, “Kills Bedbugs, Lice, Dust Mites, Ticks, and Fleas”. I was horrified. Out of all those fabulous options I knew it could only be Bedbugs. When I returned to the bed the little blood suckers were crawling on the wall and over the pillow cases. I didn’t sleep a wink. I sat in the chair all night and the first thing the next morning I was out the door.

It took weeks for me to stop feeling as though I had things crawling on me and I bet you feel that way right now just by reading this and for that I am truly sorry! I checked into a hotel and would change rooms every three to four days because I feared that those bugs were still with me. I managed to out run them and finally found a new apartment and sang La Charmeuse at the MET with as much grace and glamour as I could muster.

It will probably come as no surprise to you that the young man who rented the place had left the country and refused to return my money. After a month he was even accusing me of having put the bugs in the apartment and accused me of stealing from him. I picked quite a lucky apartment, huh? I hired an exterminator to go into the apartment and verify whether or not the apartment was infested with Bedbugs. The exterminator showed up in a hazmat uniform minus the face mask in order to inspect the apartment. He said it was one of the worst cases he had ever seen. Go figure. I concur.

Today I finally had my day in court. I filed a civil suit against the Bed Bug Bandit and reported downtown where they film the Law and Order TV show today to try and win my money back. (Did I mention it was three months NY rent?) He was a no show which meant that I got to present my case to the arbitrator alone. The arbitrator ruled in my favor and is demanding payment plus interest. Whew. He then mentioned that the Sheriff would be going to collect. Do they have Sheriff’s in New York City? Are they the ones on the horses in Central Park? I guffawed at thinking of the Sheriff of Lincoln Co. showing up at this young man’s door. What I wouldn’t give if that were the case!

I have learned quite a lesson during all of this. Don’t rent apartments on Craig’s List and don’t get too glamorous for your britches, you just may end up with Bedbugs in them.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Well, I finally did it. I have made the leap into the information age as of today September 1, 2009. I am officially a Blogger! It is a good day for me to start something new as today is my birthday! Today I start a new hobby. Well, writing for me is an old hobby, but now I start sharing it with YOU cher public! Over the years I have been asked by family, friends, and fans to come up with a way to inform them of my journeys, performances, and many stories that I have while I am on the road. I have been in the process of a website and blog for nearly four years. I have hesitated too long for too many reasons. One reason is that there are many good blogs out there written by really good writers and there are also many good blogs out there written by really good opera singer writers. I have felt that I wouldn’t have much to add to the conglomeration of information that is out there on travel and on singing and on, well you name it. Then not too long ago, it dawned on me that I had some stories and things to share that just might be important to that special someone out there. It could be my aunt or cousin or my long time friend from High School. Regardless, I decided it was worth it because I love this life and love what I do and want to share my stories in the hope that it might make you smile or curious or it may even help you in some way. I am only a writer in the sense that I have written in a journal nearly every day for at least fifteen years. I write for my personal pleasure and to remember. However, I must be honest. There is a fear that my freshman English teacher will read this and cringe. (Hopefully you will not, Dr. Cass!)
This blog is entitled, “How Can I Keep from Singing?” This title comes from a hymn written by Robert Wadsworth Lowry. I sang the soprano solo in an arrangement of this hymn when I was a senior at Mercer University with the Mercer Singers. It has been a huge part of my life ever since. It reminds me that whether it is a triumph or tragedy, music helps us express that which is often difficult. This is why I sing and why I have dedicated my life to music. I’ll be sharing with you in this blog my stories and snippets from my life. It is an amazing life. How can I keep from singing?

My life flows on in endless song:
Above earth's lamentation,
I hear the sweet, tho' far-off hymn
That hails a new creation.

Above the tumult and the strife
I hear the music ringing
It sounds an echo in my soul
How can I keep from singing?

When tyrants tremble, sick with fear
And hear their death-knell ringing
When friends rejoice both far and near
How can I keep from singing?

In prison cell and dungeon vile
Our thoughts to them go winging
When friends by shame are undefiled
How can I keep from singing?
And while the tempest loudly roars
I hear the truth, it liveth
And though the darkness round me close
Songs in the night it giveth.

No Storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that rock I'm clinging
Since LOVE is Lord of Heaven and Earth,
How Can I Keep from Singing?