Midnight on Broadway: NewYorkiversary #2

Under the fuscous canopy of heaven
Gold winking signs, facades of flickering fires,
Relentlessly proclaim the cheap-jack fame
Of Movie Stars and Chewing Gum and Tyres.
-Siegfried Sassoon, “Midnight on Broadway”

Two years ago, I did nothing “by the seat of my pants.”  I planned everything in detail,  followed those plans and let myself be guided by others’ plans for me. I liked operating with a safety net.  But I was getting restless.  My hometown, while not the cultural wasteland I had feared it would be when I moved back after grad school, offered limited possibilities.  My day job was increasingly irksome, and most of the people I knew had scattered.  It was definitely time for a change.

So, two years and 1 week ago, my parents and I packed up, coaxed my cat into the car, and set off on the Big Move East.  The last two years have been a rollercoaster, but the balance is so far on the positive side that the dips and stomach-churning loop-de-loops fade away.  I am more assertive, more certain of my path.  I have made major strides outward, pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone.  There is no question that I have honed my craft – my top has opened up, my low range is better than ever, and my middle is, slowly and surely, evening out.    I am less fearful – or perhaps just more willing to move past the fear.  I am finding stillness – vocal, physical, emotional – and moving closer to my dreams every day.

There is a lot to love about New York.  The sheer number and caliber of colleagues, the inspiration and affirmation offered every night in multiple concert halls.  The internationalism of the city – when I first came here, I found myself suppressing the impulse to speak in German or Italian, reminding myself that yes, I was in my home country.  The history.  The beauty of the parks and the endless opportunities for exploration.

For all of this, though, I am still not certain that New York is my forever place. There are plenty of things – important things – that NYC lacks.  My family.  Quiet.  The ability to forget, even for a moment, that you’re in the middle of a huge city.  I grew up in the woods; this time of year, the air is full of the smell of wood smoke and fallen leaves.  Last weekend, on my way to the train, I passed some kids making a leaf pile on the sidewalk.  For half a second I smelled the leaves, and was homesick.  Part of the reason I’ve had to fight so hard for interior stillness is that there is so little of it outside.  I’ve learned that I need the quiet, and I’m learning how to find it.

British poet Siegfried Sassoon is one of my favorite authors. A country man at heart, Sassoon visited New York on a lecture tour in 1920, and was initially overwhelmed by the city.  Yet he found his moments of stillness, as I do, in the company of the people who filled the streets.   “Sassoon’s best moments were spent with Sam (Behrman, a friend) in modest restaurants or cafes near Times Square, eating, say, a club sandwich while Sam lectured him on playwriting or journalism.  At such times he felt he was in touch with the ‘reality’ of New York.” (Jean Moorcroft Wilson, Siegfried Sassoon: Journey from the Trenches).   While the lack of certain people makes life in this city difficult, it is the presence of others that, more than anything, whittles the big, overwhelming city down into something that I can relate to and, yes, even love.


Lessons from the Other Side



It was a typical audition setup –decently-sized room; couple chairs in the hall outside; inside, an upright piano near the door and, at the far end of the room, a table with two chairs behind it.  The only thing that wasn’t normal was my place in this picture.  I wasn’t sitting in the hallway, waiting for my name to be called.  I was sitting behind the table, and I was the one *calling* the names.

It was an enlightening experience to say the least.  One of my coach/conductor friends urged me to share the lessons, so here goes:

1.)    Pre- and Post- audition demeanor is vital.  This includes any written correspondence with the auditors before and after the audition, as well as your conduct in the room.   Confidence and enthusiasm are great, but they have to be balanced by humility.  Yes, you want to do your research before auditioning for something, especially if it is for a new or unfamiliar work.  But digging for too many details (who will be at the performances, the specific rehearsal schedule, etc) before you’re even scheduled for an audition – be aware that your enthusiasm may very well come off as a sense of entitlement.  It’s a bit like your Miranda rights – anything you say or sing may be used against you in the casting process.

2.)    Don’t be afraid to stick your neck out.  When our audition posting went up on YAPTracker, it was for men only.  The project has three female roles, all of which had been previously cast.  Yet we received one submission from an enterprising soprano who wanted to know if we were sure that we didn’t need any women.  Because she expressed interest, we opted to cast covers after all (for all the roles, not just the three women).  Because she expressed interest, this soprano is one of those covers!

3.)    Auditions are awkward things, no matter what side of the table you’re on.  As a singer, I find it particularly annoying when the auditors spend my entire audition looking at the papers in front of them rather than at me.  As an auditor, I found it difficult to watch someone perform so close, and without any of the costumes or sets that form a buffer between the emotional exposure of a good performance.  Getting past the awkwardness requires a total performance – the acting, the singing, the deportment.  Those are the singers whom we really enjoyed, and those are the singers that we cast.

4.)    The casting process is tricky; when you are auditioning friends and recent colleagues, the booby traps only get bigger.  Our decisions were made based on what was best for the production, and this resulted in some very hard-to-write notification emails.  Don’t assume that, because you aren’t cast, or don’t get the role that you wanted, you bombed the audition.

5.)    Manually proofread your materials.  Make sure that you use the right accents in foreign language titles.  Know the difference between “premiere” and “premier”.

6.)    Respond to any and all communications in a timely manner.  Don’t make the organizers pester you for responses.  We understand that everyone is busy, especially in the fall.  However, I refer you to point #1 on this list – your response (or lack thereof) will impact the auditors’ perception of you.

7.)    If you are sick, consider it a sign from the universe that you aren’t meant to sing the audition.  It is always better to leave no impression than a lackluster one.  (see “Singing Sick”).

Anyone else been behind the table recently?  Feel free to add your lessons learned.



, , , , ,

My biggest hurdle as a writer has always been the “crappy first draft”.  It’s part of the reason that I don’t post here as often as I would like, and the entire reason that the following post has sat in my GoogleDocs for over a month.  There will probably be another post coming, re: specific lessons learned, but for now, I find that the words I stumbled over in August actually sum it up pretty well:

Here we are again.

The other side of the curtain.  Monday, for the first time in months, I could leave my score at home – and not on the piano or the kitchen counter or tossed in the middle of my bed, but on the shelf, neatly alphabetized.  (I haven’t actually put it there, you understand, but I could.)   It’s time to say “goodbye” – for a while – to a character that I’ve lived and breathed for nearly the last five months.

Carmen closed last Saturday evening, putting the period to an absolutely amazing summer.  I’ve spent the days since in an expected but unusually intense bout of the Post-Production Blues.  Monday was a triple whammy – my parents left in the morning, I had to go back to work after an unexpected (but delightful) four day weekend, and I didn’t have the prospect of rehearsal to help me get through the the day.

I know what you’re thinking. “But – But – This isn’t your first show, not by a long shot.  Why are you  having such a hard time with it?”  I’ve been asking myself the same question.  There are a lot of reasons.  I haven’t done this – sung a full role, fully staged with orchestra – since the summer of 2008, when I made my farewell to mezzo-dom as Cherubino.  Le nozze di Figaro remains one of my favorite operas, and Cherubino was a dream character, but this summer with Micaëla was something special.

The “something special” starts with the ensemble that produced Carmen.  dell’Arte Opera Ensemble is a truly amazing organization, and one whose effect on me I will (I suspect) only come to appreciate more as my career develops.  I prepared Cherubino by myself.  My (no-pay, no-fee) contract for Micaëla included 6 private coachings with the conductor, Christopher Fecteau; masterclasses with Audrey St-Gil and Pierre Vallet; a week-long movement workshop with Chuck Hudson; coaching on the French dialogue with a native speaker; over a month of staging rehearsals; and two fully staged performances with chamber orchestra.

The process was not always smooth and there were tears along the way.  But here I come to the two cornerstones of how I think about singing: “It’s called a play for a reason” and “Make a joyful noise.”  This path is too hard if you don’t enjoy it with all your might. When I was teaching, I never promised my students an easy slide – but I did promise them that I would do my best to make the process as joy-filled and playful as it could be.  In the aftermath of this particular production, I am remembering to do the same for myself.

La diva leggente: “The Metropolis Case”


, , , , , ,


If I wasn’t a musician, I would be an English teacher.  I started my undergrad intending to double major in English Lit and Voice performance; when I contemplated giving up on a singing career after grad school, Library Science was my alternative.  Books about music and musicians – occupy a special place on my bookshelves.  Like a big cat at the zoo wondering what the creatures on the other side of the bars are thinking, it’s often enlightening to read how we’re viewed from the outside.

I read The Metropolis Case by Matthew Gallaway during my two months of blogosphere silence (see Flying and Thud).  Although alluding in both title and plot to Janacek’s The Makropoulos Case, it is actually Tristan und Isolde to which the characters continuously return.  No fewer than three major characters sing the leading roles, while another character’s passionate love of opera  is kindled by a performance of the work.  The various threads of this story span two continents and three centuries – for a freshman novelist, Gallaway handles these threads well.  Sometimes the book struck me as too tidy and at others as too diffuse, but on the whole this is a good read!

With almost every book I read, there are moments that jump out at me – that demand highlighting or underlining and further contemplation.  The Metropolis Case  is no exception.

“I used to kill myself preparing for roles.  I read philosophy and psychology, I studied the Eddic myths – I spent hours in the library – I wanted to be an ‘intellectual’ singer…. It finally dawned upon me that I was thinking too much, that I needed to tell my story instead of the history of the world…”

In some ways, I’m a lot like this.  It’s fun to do all of that research, to spend all of those hours in the library or online looking up pictures and maps, reading source material and digging for background.  In the end, though, when I walk onstage for my first Micaëlas next month, it won’t matter where Jose and Micaëla’s hometown is, or how different the terrain is in Navarra and Andalucia.  When I get up there, I’ll do my best to keep the thinking to a minimum and just live.

“We’re born with a gift… and for a while it seems magical and gives us great pleasure, but there comes a time when it no longer satisfies us, except unlike a toy or a dress it’s not something we can just outgrow, because it’s part of us….  And though you can never go back, you have the option of really learning how to use it in a way that will still bring you – and countless others – a lot of joy.”

If this character is right,  and there is a time for all singers when their talent ceases to satisfy, I have yet to reach that point.  There has come a time where the ‘play’ of singing has become ‘work.’  There are some days when I don’t want to practice, but I have to practice in order to achieve my goals.  And it still does bring me “a lot of joy.” It is that thought that gets me to work after I’ve been at work all day.

“…while countless others share your love of the opera, only the very best can expect anything resembling a civilized existence in return.”

This one made me laugh.  First of all, the line is spoken by the eastern European princess who is Lucien’s earliest patron.  Her standard of “civilization” is probably quite high.  I’m certain she would not view sleeping on a slowly leaking air mattress and doing my teacher’s laundry in exchange for lessons as civilized.  But the thing is, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

And, lastly (for this post), is a quote that sums it all up.

“‘But how do you know if it’s good – if it’s really original and not contrived – when you’re doing it…?’

‘In my experience, you never really do,’ Eduard mused… ‘You just have to trust a gut feeling – an intuition – and hope.’”

NY Philharmonic in Central Park


, , , , ,

I have lived in New York for the better part of two concert seasons and I played violin for 8 years in one of the best school orchestra programs in my home state.  How is it, then, that I only attended my first NY Philharmonic concert on Friday night?  I have absolutely no idea.

What was even more shocking to me, as I listened to Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 and Respighi’s Pines of Rome and Fountains of Rome, was the realization that I have not been to a symphony concert since undergrad.  I have attended and sung in numerous operas and large works for chorus and orchestra, but I don’t think that I have sat down and listened to a full program of music, unadorned by text, in the last seven years.

Given those circumstances, I’m not really going to “review” the Phil’s performance in the traditional sense.  I don’t feel qualified.

It is always intriguing to be in the minority, and I was on Friday night.  I met my friend Sophia, a flutist, at the 81st St. entrance to Central Park and we walked to the Great Lawn together, meeting up with a large group of other instrumentalists.  There were points – in particular, the pizzicato strings that open the third movement of the Tchaikovsky – when I felt compelled to shush them so that I could really hear and focus on the music.  Maybe part of it was the wine that they had been passing around, but I also realized that their ears and mine are differently tuned.  Had we been listening to an outdoor opera performance, they would have needed to dedicate more energy to focusing on the performance than I – my ears being used to listening to that type of sound.

When I was a junior in high school, my orchestra was invited to a statewide conference in Ann Arbor.  We played two movements from Pines of Rome on that concert – Pines of the Catacombs and Pines of the Appian Way.  I remember being onstage at the Powers Center, looking past the conductor to the offstage brass ranged across the balcony.  The moment when they began to play made me wish that there were many more people in the audience than there were! It was one of the “voice of God” moments in my musical life – up there with the second movement of the Brahms German Requiem, the opening of Vaughan Williams’ Sea Symphony, and the Dies irae of Verdi’s Requiem.  And I had forgotten about it until Friday night. Being on the outside of a piece that I had known on the inside reminded me of why I kept playing violin after deciding pursue voice in college: For the fun of it!  Choir and voice lessons were college prep.  Orchestra balanced the equation by allowing me a time to just enjoy the music making.

Walking down Central Park West after the concert, I resolved to attend a minimum of one symphony concert a year from here on out.  I need to remind myself of the joy that I had in the second violin section of the JHS orchestra.  I need to remind myself that you can communicate without words.  I need to keep my ears open.

Diva Power


, ,

I’m conflicted when it comes to the word “diva.” On the one hand, I can hear my high school choir director saying (emphatically, of course – he never did things any other way): “There’s one thing I don’t ever want you girls to be, and that’s a diva.”
Then there is my post-grad school teacher’s support for “the proper use of diva power.” Do not hesitate, he told me, to advocate for yourself, to stand up for what you need to put forward your best performance. One of his favorite stories: During rehearsals, the principals were kept waiting while the director and conductor worked with the chorus at length. The leading lady informed them that she couldn’t sit in the frigid rehearsal room any longer and was going back to her warm apartment; they could call her when they needed her.
How do you stand up for yourself, believe in yourself, protect yourself – without resorting to the kinds of antics that got Kathleen Battle fired by the Met? Self-centeredness is, to an extent, necessary– our bodies are our instruments, and that instrument is the only one we will ever have – but so is humility. I snorted with laughter when I read the opening of Gheorghiu’s bio for her Carnegie Hall Adriana Lecouvreur last season (paraphrasing): “Angela Gheorghiu is the greatest and most glamorous opera singer of our time.” While she is one of the few singers who might legitimately be able to make such a claim, it speaks of a ridiculous amount of egotism. I doubt that amusement was the mood Ms. Gheorghiu wanted the audience to have as they awaited her entrance.
In January 2011, Sondra Radvanovsky and Dmitri Hvorostovsky made an appearance at the Met Opera Shop to celebrate the release of their new album of Verdi scenes. Despite a blizzard the previous evening that left drifts on the plaza so large as to block the fountain from view, I was there. Radvanovsky is a long-term favorite of mine – we both started out as Midwestern mezzos and I am headed for some of the same rep. Hvorostovsky, as many know, is my “Russian Friend”. It would take a lot more than thunder snow to keep me away.
I kept my mouth largely shut once I made it to the table where the two stars were sitting, joking with each other and signing CD covers and programs. It was the only way to keep the giggly fangirl in. If I had trusted my ability to speak without gushiness, though, I knew exactly what I would have said. To Sondra, I would have expressed my sorrow that no one has yet written an opera for two (lirico) spinto sopranos. To Dmitri, who I had just seen twice in the title role of Simon Boccanegra, I would have wished aloud that he continue singing Simone until I was ready to sing Amelia. (Tatiana to his Onegin would be ideal, but as he’s retired that role, I shall have to content myself with the thought of a severely Oedipus-complexed Amelia… *sigh*)
And here we come to the careful line that I try to walk on the “diva” issue. None of us are in this business to be mediocre. I have to believe that I am in every way capable of singing at that level – that the possibility of singing the Recognition Scene with my Russian Friend is a real one. Am I laying in some kind of elaborate plan to make this specific dream a reality? No. Will I be heartbroken if it never comes true? I hope not. The balancing act is figuring out how to have diva-like faith in your potential without pinning your entire happiness on a narrow definition of professional success.

Too often, I find myself succumbing to a severe case of tunnel vision, and forgetting what a wonderful director once told me : “You have to have a life to portray one on stage.” Part of having a life is populating myworld with a lot of different interests, a lot of different paths. Overriding passions are great – define them too narrowly and you can end up the kind of bitter, egotistical person who gives the rest of us stage gods and goddesses a bad name.

Flying and Thud


, , , , ,

“I can’t help flying up on the wings of anticipation.  It almost pays for the thud.”

“I would rather keep my feet firmly on the ground and do without both flying and thud.”

Anne of Avonlea (miniseries)

La diva nascente has been una diva mancante (a missing diva) for almost two months now – a fact that can be put down almost exclusively to a cycle of flying and thud.  Some of the repetitions of the cycle are on my shoulders – some of them are on others’ – and some of them aren’t on anyone’s in particular.

After cleaning out my desk, I walked to a nearby DMV office.  I had all of the paperwork, documentation, identification prepared and ready to go.  I waited in line to get a number only to be told upon reaching the counter that I was missing a document that was not listed anywhere on the DMV website or materials.  Michigan drivers, take note – if you want to switch your license to New York, you must have a copy of your Driver’s Record.  This is a special requirement for us because the MI licenses don’t have a date of issue printed on them.  I called the MI Secretary of State and requested a copy of my record be sent to my home address in MI.  One week, tops, they said.  I still don’t have it, and yes, I’ve called again. So far the only major wrinkle to my not being legally identifiable is an inability to buy Sudafed, so I’ve been able to let that slide.

I signed up with a temp agency and quickly found myself wondering why on earth I did the job search entirely on my own last fall.  That is not to say that my return to the work force was/has been completely smooth.  I had an assignment that was supposed to be temp-to-perm last one day through no fault of my own; I was called in for a second interview for a permanent position and didn’t get the job.  I’ve now been temping for over a month at an architect’s office in Soho.  This is the largest firm I’ve ever worked for – something that is a definite plus.  The increased pace and heavier workload help the day go faster, even as they occasionally gets stressful (I have a feeling that it will be a rite of passage the first time my boss swears at me.)  Overall, work-wise, I’m flying at the moment. That may change in 10 days or so when Carmen goes into rehearsals – there are several days on which I’ll have to leave work early to arrive at rehearsal on time and ready to go.  If the office can’t be flexible, I will miss them.  Day jobs should help, not hinder.

I’ve had the flying/thud cycle going with Carmen as well.  Micaela is a dense role, especially given its brevity – only four numbers!  I have learned to think harmonically, to practice far more methodically than has been my wont, to analyze character and text in exacting detail.  One scene in particular has been the bane of my existence.  Rough coaching…  strong coaching…  rough coaching… FABULOUS coaching…  Coaching this evening that will keep the fantastic streak going.

It isn’t that I’m 100% confident about tonight’s coaching.  I’m actually quite nervous.  I want so badly for all of the work that I have been putting in to finally show.  Over the weekend, I decided that an attitude adjustment was definitely in order.  As described in Two Frenchmen…, my junior year of HS was not a happy one in terms of my choir participation.  Infighting and overcrowding resulted in a determination that I would rather quit choir than endure a second year in the mixed chorus.  My only choice was to join the Chamber Choir, and in order to do that, I had to audition.  One problem: my choir teacher terrified me.  When he was my audience, I became a chunk of ice, stumbling on things I did perfectly every day in rehearsal.  So junior year, I didn’t audition:  I simply laid claim to the place in Chamber Choir that I already knew I deserved.  This is the attitude I’ve been trying to maintain as I go forward with Micaela. I know this score, and I sing it well.  If I want that to show, I have to let it show.  It is not perfect or finished, but it’s good.  I just need to get out of my own way.

As far as my health goes, I have fought through yet another sinus infection.  For those of you keeping track, this is number FOUR in this calendar year.  I was unable to get to the clinic – and skeptical as to whether or not they would have medicated me in any case.  An aggressive campaign of vitamins, sleep, and mental practice got me through.  Heaven only knows why it has taken me this long, but I am in the midst of a serious re-evaluation of my lifestyle – from what I eat and how much I sleep to how aggressively I am working towards paying off my debts.  I am making the effort to spend more time with friends and to expand my circle.  I am on a mission to get more people to hear and know my singing.

It’s been a busy  couple months.  The next couple promise to be just as intense.  Bring it on. 🙂

(Dejá vu) All Over Again



I wore my sparkly shoes on Friday.

I wore my sparkly shoes, Pride and Prejudice t-shirt, and a soft, rosy-pink hoodie.  I did my makeup, which hardly ever happens unless I’m performing.  I grabbed an empty, brightly colored basket and went to work.  When I got there, I packed up my desk, dropped off my keys, and left again.

Thursday night is church gig night.  I meet my ride at 125th and Broadway at 6 o’clock, which means I have to split from my desk immediately at 5:30.  Last Thursday, I was already running behind, finishing up a small project for one of my coworkers.  I’d already donned my jacket and grabbed my purse when my boss poked his head out and asked if we could “have a word.”  I almost said, “I really can’t, I’m running late as it is.”  But I went, despite my running late and, now, feeling like I was walking a tightrope without the benefit of a net.  I sat down, and they closed the door.  The tightrope got thinner.

We’re going to have to lay you off…  It’s not performance based…  We’re thrilled with the work you’ve been doing…  We just don’t have enough work for you to do…  Here’s some information about COBRA…  You can put me as a reference…

I knew that, sooner or later, I would post about unemployment.  I did not imagine that it would be this soon, or in the context of being laid off for the second time in less than a year.

Perhaps I should have seen this coming.  After all, I had enough completely empty time at work last Wednesday to mark my Carmen score with all of the cuts and begin reformatting the dialogue so that I could tape it into the appropriate pages.  There really wasn’t enough work to keep me busy.    Yes, it was “just a day job” –  but it was a paycheck and health insurance, and those made life a lot more comfortable.  Not to mention that he people were fun and there was an unlimited supply of free cappuccino.

What I’m going to miss most, though, is the schedule.  The regularity of getting up, getting ready, and having someplace to be at a certain time, and something to do when I get there.  My goal will be to keep myself accountable to something resembling a working person’s schedule.  Up by 8, working on the job search by 9, switch to musical work after lunch.  I’m making lists – what I want to accomplish, what I have accomplished.  I am trying not to go insane, cruising the internet for job postings all day and late into the night.  I have a self-imposed finish line:  I want to be re-employed (hopefully in a larger company where I’m not the only person at the bottom of the ladder!) by the time church choir season ends in early June. Today is May 1st.  Aaaaaand GO!



, ,

Right about the time I moved to New York, insomnia became my body’s dominant response to stress.  Money, roommates, work – you name it.  Absolutely anything out of the norm meant lost sleep, and since I had just moved, nearly everything felt out of the norm.  I do have a history of difficulty getting my brain to shut off.  My grad school teacher walked up to me in a lesson once and pretended to turn down a volume knob on the side of my head.  “I can hear you out here!” she said.  When I was in undergrad, the doctor at the university health center told me take a Benadryl before I went to bed.  Benadryl, warm milk, tea, hot shower, reading time, cuddles with a purring cat – I know all the tricks and I used them regularly that first winter in NYC.

About a year ago – maybe a little more – I found myself awake after midnight and clueless as to why.  I’m not really stressed about anything… Work is pretty calm with the bosses out of town… Auditions have been going well…I sat at my desk by the window, looking at the building across the alley and trying to figure out what the heck was going on in my subconscious.

I can do this.

The thought flashed, unusually clear, into my mind.

I can do this.  I can sing at the highest level, whatever that is for me.  I can make a living from my music.  I can do this.

People talk about light bulbs going on.  My junior high English teacher called them “aha” moments.  This was mine.

Let me clarify a moment.  Of course I knew – academically – that I could sing before that night.  People had been telling me so for over a decade by that point.  What changed was the kind of knowing.  I knew, of my own knowledge, that I could succeed.  Not because somebody else told me I could or said I should.  Because I knew.

For months in the fall of 2007 I gave serious thought to throwing in the towel.  I started looking into Library Science degrees even as I plodded through my first real audition season solo.  The details of those months will be worked through in another post; I mention them here because it shows how huge a step that after midnight revelation was.

I know that writing a post about my belief in myself will scream “DIVA!!” to some people.   And you know what?  I don’t really mind, to an extent.  One of my teachers talks about the “proper use of diva power.”  He means standing up for what you need to put out your best performance – polite, professional, but firm.   In order to do that, don’t you first need to believe that you are capable of putting out your best performance? And that your best performance is just as good – and in some way (however small or obscure) better than anyone else’s?  What keeps the inner diva in check is the knowledge that all of my fellow singers has something that they do better than everyone else.  And I’d wager that most of us have had an “Aha” moment.  Comment on this post if you’ve had one you don’t mind sharing.

Two Frenchmen, a Soprano, and some Presbyterians…


, , , , ,

Most of the time, my church gig feels completely separate from the rest of my musical life.  For one thing, it’s the only regular item on my calendar that is not in the city.  For another, despite my soprano-ness, I am the alto section leader.  The good Presbyterians I sing with every week only know a small part of what I can do.  Last week, in the midst of what an actor would call “Hell Week,” they also helped me remember how far I’ve come.

In lieu of a regular spring concert, we prepared Fauré’s Requiem and performed it during the service on Palm/Passion Sunday.  The extra rehearsals meant four trips to Connecticut in one week – Monday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday.  Monday and Thursday meant not getting home until nearly midnight.  Saturday meant getting up half an hour earlier than I do during the work week and giving up my only lazy lie-in morning.  I. Was. Exhausted.

I woke up from my second Saturday afternoon nap with snippets of the Requiem floating through my head.

…ne cadant in obscurum…

…Te decet hymnus, Deus in Sion…

…Libera me, Domine, de morte aeterna… 

Scored for solo baritone, mixed choir, low strings and horn, the Libera me is arguably the Requiem’s most dramatic movement.  It’s also the only part of the work that I’ve sung before.  I was a junior in high school; the long solo was split up into several parts and the chorale was joined by the best players from the school’s symphony orchestra.  The church where we had the concert was so full that the there were people standing in the narthex. Until last weekend, I’d almost forgotten this performance because of another that happened that same evening.

Every spring concert, one or two people from each choir were chosen to sing a full length solo.  It was usually pop or broadway, with a smattering of jazz.  I, una diva nascente even then, chose something completely different: the Habanera from Bizet’s Carmen.  I’d gotten permission to change from my boring black satin uniform into my red-and-green “Carmen dress” – because no one can be a sensuous gypsy goddess in a princess neckline.

To be honest, I don’t remember much about the actual performance.  I remember walking up to the mic, and I remember my voice teacher playing that distinct opening motive.  I remember finishing, bowing, riding the current of adrenaline out of the sanctuary to change back into my uniform. According to my parents, the general feeling in the audience was one of watching Cinderella disappear at midnight.

That Habanera was a big step for me.   It showed a lot of people a side of me that they had never seen before.  My brother’s friend Gerald, who was in the chamber choir, told my Mom, “I didn’t know she could do that.”  One of the cellists on the Fauré had previously made a habit of giving me grief during orchestra rehearsals (I also played violin). After the Habanera, he backed off.  But the biggest change in perception was my own.  Yes, this is who I am, this is what I do, and you know what?  I’m pretty durn good at it!

As I mentioned in Die Vampire Die, I’m really not a Carmen, vocally or personally.  A few weeks ago, I accepted the role of Micaëla – Carmen’s rival for Don Jose’s affections – in a production of the opera later this summer. Part of me still can’t believe the transition I’ve made – gypsy seductress to “the good girl”.  And yet, Micaëla is more than that.  I was absently writing her aria text one night…  I say that nothing scares me; I say, alas, that I can take care of myself, but I am only pretending to be brave; in the depths of my heart, I’m dying of fear… My pencil stopped.  I have said these same things to myself more times than I can count.

So, what happens when two Frenchmen, a soprano, and some Presbyterians walk into rehearsal?  The soprano gets some perspective? Yes.  She gets excited about the production process ahead? Yes.  I cannot wait.

Luckily, I don’t have to.  First coaching tonight!