Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Moment of Peace

Best of 09 Challenge: Moment of Peace

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

37 Days

December 7
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 did it my way

Best of 09 Challenge: Book. What book, fiction or non, touched you?

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

I give it to you again...

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:
Karl Paulnack

“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

Just EAT it.

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

Little Palm Island

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.