Category Archives: opera

Classes I Wish I Could Have Taken in Grad School

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It’s been awhile, I know. Rather than going through all the tired excuses and apologies, lets just all pretend I’ve been diligently posting for the last 8 months and leave it at that, shall we? Join me in a shared delusion that my posts have been interesting, informative, and inspiring. Ahhh.

I took a lot of wonderful classes in Graduate School, and many of them have proven to be useful in my professional life. But there  areas of knowledge and understanding that I feel grad school failed to address. Here’s a short list of classes I wish I’d been able to take during my Masters study:

 

MUS 522 Networking for the Socially Awkward: “But what exactly do you say to people?!”

For those who understand that they should be networking, but who have honestly not the foggiest clue how to go about doing it.

 

MUS 561 Taxes for Musicians: Can I deduct this?

An exhaustive course in filling out a schedule C and other tax forms so you don’t get audited for guessing.

 

MUS 547 Contract Negotiation: How much am I worth?

Suggested fees for every gig and lesson you might ever get asked to do given directly and in simple dollar amounts.

 

MUS 631 Getting Hired I: Get your foot in the door of academia

CV writing for every job that you think you might want in the future, and several you haven’t even considered yet. Includes frequent cover letter coachings.  (Prerequisite: MUS 522.)

 

MUS 632 Getting Hired II: Defeating the Experience Spiral

How to get college teaching experience without already having college teaching experience. (Course not open to TA’s, the lucky bastards.)

I expect to see these fabulous courses showing up on college campuses all over the country. What about you, faithful readers? What classes do you wish had been offered at your school?

 

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Double Rainbow…What does it mean?

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Double Rainbow…What does it mean?

I have this half-written entry about the Newport Folk Festival sitting in my drafts, and had every intention of writing updates from here in Steamboat Springs…but then I got busy.

Busy with what, you ask? Well, I’m an opera with this guy. And this other guy. And this gal. It’s been a pretty awesome experience so far, once I got (mostly) past the terror of being the least experienced person on stage. Woo!

So instead of a real post, I’m going to leave you with a couple of photos, and get back to work. We’re finishing staging the finale today.

When opportunity knocks

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This Spring, I was invited to participate in a summer program. It’s a good program, run by great people in a beautiful place. But, despite being offered a truly amazing deal, I couldn’t afford to do it. And that was a bit of a heartbreak, since it was something I wanted to do very much.

So, when I got offered a spot in another summer program for a similar amount of money, I turned it down easily. Not because I didn’t want to do it, or because it wouldn’t be a great opportunity–but if I couldn’t come up with the money fast to do a program I loved, I couldn’t justify coming up with it more slowly for a program I liked. I shut the door, and started looking ahead to the next round of auditions in the fall.

Imagine my surprise when this second program continued to pursue me, not once but three times. Opportunity wasn’t just knocking, it was fairly banging down my door, significant scholarships in hand. Trying hard to not be a total idiot, I finally accepted the insistent push of the universe, and decided to make it work.* And that was all at once terrifying, gratifying, and exciting.

So for the last couple of weeks I’ve been rapidly shoving Mozart recits, arias, quintets etc into my head in preparation to perform Marcellina in Le Nozze di Figaro. This is not a role that has ever been on my radar, but now that I’m getting to know her, I think Marcellina and I will get along famously. There have been a few shenanigans along the way to make me question whether this was actually a great choice for me…but I have to keep reminding myself of some simple, inescapable facts:

1. It’s not like I have a whole lot else going on right now, professionally. I’ve been teaching, and I did a production of The Mikado this Spring, but other than that, my stage time and professional development have been at a near standstill. I’ve been working in a vacuum, and that’s not a great way to grow as a singer.

2. This will go on my resume, not only as a Summer program, but as a performance of a role with a company. That’s good stuff, and my resume can’t take a year’s worth of nothing after grad school.

3. I get to work up some new arias in preparation for the fall audition season–which, by the way, has already gotten underway. Not a moment too soon. I needed some fresh blood on my Top 5 (the five arias that I will consistently offer at auditions this year) to make me competitive.

4. While this is still going to cost me some money (y u so e’spensive, plane tickets?), it is money being well spent on my craft.

5. It’s going to be seriously scary and new for me, process-wise. This is going to be the shortest turn-around I’ve ever had for a show that isn’t a musical. I’ll be performing with people who are legit working professionals, singing at major houses all over the world. And I have to not only keep up, but prove that I deserve to be there. Nothing motivates quite like fear of failure, and this is good for me.

6. Thinking is fine, but over-thinking/worrying about crap that doesn’t matter in the long run will make you crazy. So don’t do it.

Right now my Figaro experience is mostly one of barely-contained terror as I learn this role (and it’s not a big one, so it’s going pretty fast) in a very short period of time. Italian does not come naturally to me, and it is some serious work getting it to stick in my head. I couldn’t ask for a better way to improve my skills than this.

Meanwhile, Husband’s job ends at the end of August, his dissertation is still 4 guys short of a full data set and we have no good job prospects on the horizon for a briefly ABD psychologist. Whee! Upheaval and change! This seems to be the name of the game for 2012. I’m slowly learning not to fight the uncertainty, but, instead, to ride the current and see where it takes me.

 

*If anybody would like to make a donation towards my living expenses during this 20 day program, I certainly wouldn’t turn it down.

Californication

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Good morning from Los Angeles! I’m sitting in Terminal A three hours early for my flight out to San Jose, sipping a giant earl grey (yay!) and reluctantly munching on a really bad bagel (boo). It’s been an eventful couple of days out here on the west coast!

Until this weekend I’d never been further west than Oklahoma City, unless you count South Korea, which is, of course, considered the far east. So this week, I decided to combine a competition in southern California, a visit to see my friend Abby and meet this beautiful baby:

and another competition in North Carolina into one airport-heavy vacation week.

My adventure started with a 4 am drive to the Philadelphia airport, which I have to thank my husband for. He’s a champ. The flight out was uneventful, but seemed very long. I’ve been on a number of double digit-hour international flights, and, while they are always long, this one seemed to drag on more than those. I can partially blame this on the lack of in flight food and entertainment to distract me. Delta apparently doesn’t offer its passengers with food beyond the obligatory bag of peanuts or cookies and half a can of soda. You can buy things like Pringles, or sandwiches or little cheese and fruit platters for an exorbitant amount, of course. Just as you can pay $6 to watch a movie in-flight. I opted to play on my phone and knit instead.
That, and an ongoing game of “your neighbor’s thigh/shoulder/arm are hot lava” with the dude sitting next to me, which got old pretty fast. At first, this stranger seemed like an eye-candy gift from the airplane gods, but his manner, the fact that he wore sunglasses the entire flight (even while watching movies) and that he spent a goodly amount of time digging in his ears and flipping the resulting ick to the floor did a lot to take the shine off his looks.

I will admit to being That Tourist, taking pictures out the airplane window as we flew. But honestly, Iowa from the air is so damned surreal that I just couldn’t help myself. An endless, perfect grid of farm lands as far as the eye could see, interrupted only by the meandering of rivers, and little snarls of town. Bless you, Iowans. Your state looks hypnotically boring.

I had also never really seen deserts in person before (and I guess I still haven’t, really) so the sight of all that orangey red dryness was amazing.

I really didn’t expect to like L.A. In fact, I thought I’d probably hate it. But when I imagined the city, I had always left out the mountains. They provide this sense of scale and beauty to the city. Honestly, even though it’s enormous, and crowded, and the traffic is horrible and the smog oppressive… Los Angeles really is a beautiful place. I can see why people gravitate here. I would never want to live in this city, but it’s  place that I would love to come back and really explore.

I made the drive out to San Bernardino, where I had Pricelined myself a hotel…and was a bit bemused to find that it was in the sketchiest part of town, and seemed to be home to a large transient population. On the way in, I witnessed a colorful altercation in the parking lot, and a dude staggering in to his room clutching a 40 in a paper bag, plus the belongings of some local homeless person stuffed behind a bush by the front door. Good times. I didn’t feel unsafe, though, and having lived in Old Louisville for awhile, this kind of population was not a strange sight to me.

After wandering forth to find my first meal of the day (it was 4:30 EST, and I was about to starve to death or fall asleep or both), I headed to Redlands to rehearse with my pianist. The campus is beautiful and tiny. My pianist was friendly and patient with my exhaustion-addled brain. After a fruitful rehearsal, I went back to the hotel and slept for 12 hours straight.


Since my body, though confused, was still basically on EST, I got up early Sunday morning, and, since I didn’t sing till 3:45, I decided to go on an adventure up into the mountains. I drove up a somewhat terrifying, though incredibly beautiful highway called the “Rim of the World.” I stopped on the way up, climbed a hill and took these pictures of the valley:


This is the kind of road they use in sports car commercials–curvy, narrow and clinging to the edge of a mountain. There had been a snow storm up there the night before, and the trees were still snowy and glorious. It was interesting to start out the morning among palm trees, and within 20 minutes be amid snow-covered pines. Lucy, my rented Nissan Versa, was a champ, and we got to the top without incident.

My destination was Arrowhead Lake Village, an extremely touristy little lakeside town that seemed to be mostly rental cabins and a very nice shopping plaza. It was basically deserted, though, on a Sunday morning between ski season and the summer boating folks. I had breakfast at a waffle place on the boardwalk, and enjoyed the view.


I tried to stop and get some good photos of the snowcaps on the way down, but since it was a little later in the morning, more folks were out and there were 4X4 trucks impatiently riding my tailpipe the whole way down. I got a few pictures, but none of the massive snowy mountains off to the sides.


I went back to the hotel, did my hair and makeup, then headed to campus to walk around and explore some more before my performance time. The campus is very sweet, with lots of big trees (palm and not) and big green lawns. I ran across a sizable
orange orchard next to the tennis courts…because of course. The smell was amazing, since most of the trees were still in bloom. The bees thought so, too, so I kept a respectful distance.

I performed pretty well, despite having some ensemble issues in my Bellini aria. There was a red-headed baritone from CCM who sang right before me, and who offered that damned Figaro aria. He sang it very well, and since its hart to beat something so familiar and humorous, I wasn’t sure I’d make the final round.

While waiting for the results, I went out for frozen yogurt–and shattered my phone when it fell from a bathroom sink. Blast. Amazingly, the touch screen still works, so I went and bought a roll of packing tape, and taped over the shattered glass. It only has to last till later today when I can get to an Apple store in San Jose. Bummer, but I’m lucky that it didn’t die completely, since I’ve been using it not only to keep in touch, but as a map to get around.

I bought some microwavable stuff for dinner, and headed back to the hotel, not expecting to make finals. To my happy surprise, I did, and my dinner was abandoned while I went back out to sing again. I had not been totally happy with my afternoon performance, so I was happy to get a second shot. I killed it the second time around, though I got cut off by the timer just as the story in the aria was getting really good. The red-headed baritone from CCM also made the finals, and sang extremely well, so I wasn’t sure which of us would prevail.

Fun fact about competitions with pianists: they all play the same damned piece. Sure, it’s by different composers, and different musical periods and all that, but every single one of them will play something bombastic with a million runs and acrobatic dexterity. Its amazing, sure, to hear all those very talented musicians at the top of their game. But look…9 people is a lot to hear the same kind of piece over and over again. Naturally, the ones the audience seemed to respond to best were those that chose something a little off the beaten path–the teenager who played Ginastera’s Cajun Dances, for instance, or the one who just went for the direct approach and played Debussy’s Fireworks. At any rate, it was midnight EST by the time everyone had performed, and I was sleepy enough to not care much who won. I just wanted to go back to bed.

I made friends with a pianist from Loma Linda at the reception waiting for results, and was dismayed to note that none of the vocalists seemed willing to speak to each other. C’mon people. I know that it’s not unusual for singers to act like this at competitions or at auditions, but an air of aloof superiority really isn’t very attractive. The results came in, finally, and I was thrilled to find that they had chosen two winners from the vocal category instead of one! Both the CCM baritone and I will be returning this summer for the festival concert. My pianist friend won too, and rushed over to share a big congratulatory hug. 🙂

So I’ll be spending my 30th birthday back out here in California at the 61st annual Redlands Bowl Summer Music Festival! I can’t wait. 🙂

Now, this blog entry is going to be quite long enough, and though I still have an hour and a half before my flight, I’m going to sign off here and go start the book I bought, Fenny on the Couch. More updates to come from San Jose/San Fransisco, and then from the Long Leaf Opera competition in NC!

Learning Curve

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Weeeellll shit. The Fabulous Eden linked to me on her delightful blog (hi Eden!), so I guess now I have to post something. GEEZE. GAH. OK FINE.

I’ve had this entry percolating in the back of my head since *mumblemumbleoctobermumble * and its relevance has possibly already passed its expiration date, but this is My Blog, so I can do what I want! Ha!

The real world is hard for a singer. I’ve talked about this before. In school you have auditions and shows and juries and recitals and whatnot, but really it’s all planned for you. You just have to pay a little bit of attention and show up. But after graduation you are suddenly the captain of your own destiny, and it is scary as hell. In fact, the sheer number of options, the nuances of opportunities available/appropriate for a fledgling professional are paralyzingly vast. For most of us, the solution is endless hours spent looking at this:

YAPTracker, (Young Artist Program Tracker) is a website that offers singers a handy way to research, apply for, and track opportunities of all kinds (mainstage, competitions, young artist programs, summer programs, pay-to-sings, graduate programs, agents, etc.). We use it constantly.

This fall I had four auditions within a couple of weeks, three in Philadelphia and one in NYC. The first was a young artist program, and was held at the Academy of Vocal Arts. I had never been to AVA, had never driven around in downtown Philly, and this was my first audition out in the Real World. Needless to say, this was a nerve-wracking experience for a million reasons that had nothing at all to do with my singing. So it was particularly thrilling that the night went so very well.

I got there in plenty of time, despite the rush-hour traffic, and found street parking that didn’t make me cry. I found my way to AVA with no drama, found a place to warm up, was in good voice…really the night could not have gone much better than it did. The panel was friendly and energetic, and had me sing three pieces. This is a Big Deal. If they don’t like you at all, you might get cut off halfway through the first piece you offer. If they like you ok, but don’t really want you, you get to finish. If they like what they hear, they call a second piece. If they call a third, you can bet that they are hearing something they like. They asked me about my German, thanked me and sent me on my way, euphoric and triumphant, out into the night. Huzzah!

The second two auditions were also at AVA…but they went much less well. Circumstances conspired against me from the moment I woke up, and the whole day passed in a frantic rush peppered with small disasters. I had to hire a pianist on the spot, which is always a bit stressful in an area where you know no-one. I accidentally paid $20 to park instead of $6 because of a failure to read. The list at my first audition was all screwed up, and I sorta cut off a tenor who the judges knew at the door thinking it was my turn, and was turned away. Crap. My singing for both auditions was ok. No disasters, but not really anything that would set me apart. I left knowing that I wouldn’t be hearing anything good from them. I didn’t have time to worry about it, though, since the day continued to be a little heavy on Murphy’s law. It took two and a half hours for me to get home, had to push back a lesson I was teaching, was late to church choir in Delaware and never got to eat a meal. A day I’d just as soon forget.

The last was in NYC, which was very exciting to me since it was my first trip to the city. I grabbed the Mega Bus at the butt crack of dawn and snoozed my way through New Jersey. Got an awesome bagel for breakfast, took the subway without incident and found Shelter Studios really early. This place was way out of my experience. I hadn’t really given much thought to the venue, and had never been to an audition space that didn’t include some kind of warmup space, so I had naturally not called ahead and reserved a room to sing in beforehand. That was…embarrassing and disheartening. I for sure felt like I was suddenly in over my head, a yokel from some little backward nowhere who had no idea what she was doing. This feeling faded, though, as I listened to some of the other auditioners chatting in that quietly aggressive and intimidating way that performers have about their other auditions, name dropping like mad, only to go in and sing like absolute crap. Despite the setback, I sang well and left happy. I spent the day walking around and enjoying the city, then hopped the bus home.

So what did I learn from that first round of auditions that I can take with me as I move forward?

1. Buy different shoes, or put something sticky in the heels. These fall off your feet when you put on panty-hose, and you look like an idiot walking in them.

2. Hurry up and  learn a couple new arias that are both faster and happier. All your arias are kinda the same thing right now. (This is not news, but is reiterated every time I have to put together my top 5).

3. No one wants to hear all of Stride La Vampa, ever.

4. You have to reserve space to warm up for some auditions. Find out which ones. Plan accordingly.

5. I can sing Voce di Donna totally cold, and sing it pretty darned well. It serves as a good warmup for the other pieces on my list, too.

6. If you are tempted to schedule an audition into a day that looks insane, DON’T. Chances are it will NOT go smoothly, and you will have a vague sense of panic holding you back all day long. Change your schedule.

7. If you are ahead of schedule, don’t keep singing in your warmup room out of boredom. It’s a fast track to not only thinking/worrying too much, but also to wearing yourself out. You may remember this lesson from EVERY OTHER TIME YOU’VE SUNG FOR ANY AUDITION EVER. Don’t be dumb.

8. You are not the best person who will sing today. You are probably also not the worst. If they didn’t want to hear you, they wouldn’t have given you an audition slot. Don’t get intimidated.

I haven’t gotten any offers from the auditions I did this fall, but they were all still valuable time spent  if for no other reason than that they gave me the opportunity to work out the kinks. As we move into the Spring audition season, I am feeling much more prepared. Seasoned. Confident. Forward on the Foe!

Tis the season…for auditions

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For an aspiring opera singer, auditions are like the bread of life. (I’d love to say that PAYING GIGS are the bread of life, but they’re much rarer for newbies like me, and we’d all starve to death.) To get these dream-nourishing chances to sing in front of potential employers, we spend most of our time sending out application packages. Lots and lots of application packages.
Each one costs us money–not only for postage ($2-5), the cost of a recording ($300+ for multiple pieces, $10 for a stack of CDs and cases), and headshot prints ($300+ for the photo, $70 for a stack of prints), but also in application fees, which range anywhere from the $15-40. Some are free. Those are awesome. And rare.
Most packages will be rejected. This is why you send out so many. But sometimes you DO land the audition. Then what?
If you’re like me, you’ve been drifting along in a haze of rejection and the day job slog, and the offer of an audition is not only surprising, it’s a little terrifying. Holy crap this means I actually have to/get to sing for someone! Simultaneous euphoria and terror!
I’ve gotten two auditions so far this year, both coming up in December. One is in Philly, at AVA. I’m
Pretty stoked about that one, and I feel confident about getting there with minimal drama and cost.
The other is in NYC. I’ve never been to New York. Not on a high school band trip, not with college friends on an adventure, not to sing for a coach or teacher… It’s a very intimidating thing for me. I’ll be taking the plunge for the first time on December 10th, and if any of y’all have suggestions or tips about how best to plan and proceed, I welcome them.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go hyperventilate for a bit, then suck it up and get to work in the practice room.