Direction and Balance

ImageLately, I’ve had a struggle that I didn’t anticipate, although it’s an ongoing struggle for me–wanting to do too many things as a professional!  I have to admit, though, it’s kind of the struggle of my life that also reflects my personality.  I mean, the world and its inhabitants and experiences are so amazing and interesting, how can anyone possibly NOT want to explore everything?  Of course, the problem with this as a professional or student is that the more breadth you have, the less depth you have in a particular area. 

I’ll use my friend, Andy, as an example.  I know he won’t mind, and I’d say he’s fairly typical of the patchwork career that many of us musicians share.  First, he’s an amazing performer and plays piano with many different musicians in the area and as a soloist.  Then, he has his own private studio where he teaches piano.  He also teaches courses at one of the local community colleges–class piano, music theory, and so on.  Finally, he is the accompanist for a local church. Wow! That’s four distinct jobs right there.  And by the way, he just finished his D.M.A. in piano performance, so he had that in the mix until last year.

My teacher, Isola, has been harping at me (and I mean that in the most loving way) for going on two years now to stop spreading myself out in this same way–I’m the music teacher at a local school, perform myself as a singer, play trumpet in a local concert band, was conducting a local community band until a short time ago, and am trying to study opera and voice through college courses, lessons, and coachings.  Honestly, it’s exhausting, although exhilarating, most days, and the thought of doing one thing well (i.e., sing) is very appealing.  However, focusing on a single type of job is a totally foreign concept to me.

I asked Andy at a rehearsal we had yesterday if he thought he could only perform–no teaching, no accompanying.  He paused, and said he really didn’t know because he had always taught. 

After a bit of discussion, we both agreed that the cool thing about performing is that you are affecting audience members in that very moment. You are directly communicating with them and fellow performers and sharing what you are able to do as a fellow human being.  Perhaps, you evoke memories, emotions, or ideas that will mean something to them.  The present exchange is like no other, and you hope that the audience members will be moved and remember the moment.

On the other hand, teaching is having faith that what you do now with students will have a lasting effect.  Perhaps you will help to shape a future concert pianist or music teacher, but equally and perhaps more important, is that you will instill an appreciation and love of music in someone who will play an instrument for enjoyment or attend symphony concerts for pleasure.  You help students to think in a completely different way through music that doesn’t come from any other area of study.  While the present is certainly important, moments build upon one another to create significant connections that affect the future.

Certainly, teaching is a laudable way to spend one’s life.  The question remains as to whether teaching can be balanced with performance (and any number of other musical endeavors).  There are only so many hours in a day, so an hour spent teaching or prepping is an hour not spent rehearsing or performing.  I certainly can’t work on dentalizing Italianate t’s or supporting long legato lines if I’m teaching beginning flute or recorder fingerings.  Viewed as an opportunity, though, I understand recitative rhythms better because I also play an instrument, I am facile at singing different languages in part because my mouth is strong and flexible from playing a horn in particular,  I can explain relationships between culture, history, and instruments because I know the Hornbostel-Sachs system of classifying instruments, and so on.

Is it better to do many things fairly well or one thing extremely well?  Isola says that fear holds us back from going to the ultimate level with our talents, and she might be right, but, it might also be more complicated than that.  What does my heart say?Image

Does Weakness Make Us Stronger?

Some of you avid readers might have noticed that I haven’t blogged for the last couple days.  As it turns out, I had a great day on Thursday, working through some kinks in a lesson, teaching a few classes, and landing the role of Lucia in Lucia di Lammermoor for my opera scenes class.  Yay!

That evening, though, I went to band rehearsal and began to feel crummy through the evening.  (Did I mention that I play trumpet in a community concert band for enjoyment?)  At any rate, Friday morning I was feeling lousy–headache, body aches, sore throat, stuffy head and nose, and my voice was sounding froggy.  Saturday came, and I had a final rehearsal for a concert I was invited to perform for on Sunday.  I still sounded froggy, and now my head was in the clouds from taking cold medicine.  Today (concert day) arrived, and after not sleeping well for three nights due to a nagging sinus headache and a lack of oxygen (i.e., my nose was stuffy), I was exhausted.  How in the world was I going to perform three demanding arias back-to-back when I was getting winded walking up the staircase in our house?!

I sent frantic texts to my voice teacher, accompanist, coach, and mom, wondering what I should do.  I have never canceled a performance in my life–not as a performer and not as a teacher.  In fact, last year, I stayed up all night retching from stomach flu, but still made it to an 8am performance my students had for our annual school fundraiser breakfast.  I rarely miss any obligation I commit to, unless it’s because my children are sick.  It feels weak, and I don’t like being weak.

However, everyone I spoke with said it was better to cancel the performance and get some rest, especially since this week is going to be very busy with last rehearsals for a big concert on Friday.  I was disappointed because some of the musicians today were part of the AZ Opera orchestra, and it would have been great to connect with them.  On the other hand, it would have been awful if I wasn’t at my best in front of them.  So, in the end, I canceled.

My husband reminded me that although most people can slog through jobs when sick, singers are sort of like athletes.  If your body isn’t working at its best, you simply can’t do your job.  Your instrument is your body.  So, I guess it’s time to really pay attention to my body.  I’ve been sort of skirting the issue for the last year–working too much, not eating well, not exercising enough, etc.  *sigh*

My  mom reminded me that sometimes being weak forces us to pay attention and teaches us to be strong in other ways.  She should know; she’s certainly had her share of struggles in life.  I guess today’s canceled concert is a lesson in acceptance of a situation out of my control, forgiveness of myself for being human, and patience to analyze what might be out of alignment in life priorities.

I want to succeed at what I’m doing, but pushing myself will only cause stress fractures.  It’s important to pay attention on the journey.

Failure Is a State of Mind

Well, I just received word that I didn’t make the study cover program for AZ Opera for this season.  I’m disappointed, to be sure, but I just read my blog post from yesterday which stated I would not feel less about myself if I didn’t make the cut.  Hmm…sort of feeling unworthy right now, but did I expect to simply have everything magically work?  I guess not, but it sure would be nice.

Funny, when I was running down the whole scenario (i.e., lamenting) to my husband this evening, I said, “Just when things were going so well!”  He replied, “Things ARE going so well.  This is just a little bump in the road that you didn’t even have planned.  You just auditioned for a major regional opera company on 30-minutes notice!”

I guess that’s true.  At this point a year ago, I had just finished the second recital of my life, the first being about something-something years ago, in which I forgot all the German text and literally German scatted through the whole thing.  This month, I have three concerts–one as an invited guest and two paying full concerts–that’s pretty good.

Tomorrow, I have a voice lesson and my opera scenes class, so the the world really does keep turning.  I now have to decide if I’m going to make the most of these experiences or cave into self pity and insecurity.  I choose not to fail!

Wait…I Have What? Homework?!

Funny, going through all those years of school until high school graduation, I remember thinking, “Wow.  What will life be like without all this stinking homework?  Awesome!  That’s what it’ll be like!  I can’t wait to graduate”  Then, you go to college and wonder how you could have possibly thought that homework and class demands in high school were difficult because you don’t have time to go out with your friends and hang at all due to all the course requirements and working three part-time jobs to pay tuition.

Grad school comes along, and you knowingly shake your head at all the undergrads because they’re simply going through the motions, not really being expected to think and defend their ideas.  “They’re so naive.  Poor things.  They think they’re working hard, but haven’t a clue.  Look at me.  I’ve actually been locked in the stacks at the library and have developed carpel tunnel syndrome from writing so much!”  You think that once you have those three little letters after your name, all will be well.  In fact, some sort of miracle is going to happen where you are now recognized for the genius you are, and universities will fall all over each other offering you tenure-track positions so that you can graciously impart said knowledge on their fledgling students and write thought-provoking studies supporting their research-heavy institution at your leisure.

You do, in fact, get that job, although the position doesn’t have all the frills you envisioned, and no one seems to be excited that you’re there.  Instead, you work like a dog wishing you could go back to having the time to freely think and write about ideas like you did in grad school.  Instead, you’re attending faculty meeting after faculty meeting, correcting a hundred papers a week, and condemning all high school English teachers for not physically beating correct grammar into their students before they came to college.  You have no time for your own interests because you’re stuck teaching the low-level introductory courses that have 300 students enrolled and completing ridiculous teaching and research performance evaluations.  Just when you thought you couldn’t possibly work more, you have children.  Holy cannoli.

Now, you are working in a salaried position with bennies (i.e., waaaay more than 40 hours per week) and trying to juggle some sort of a stable home life for your kids.  As a childless adult, let me tell you, you can go without washing laundry for quite awhile, and it doesn’t matter if you eat popcorn for dinner.  With children, it’s not quite so simple.  You actually worry about food groups or the nutritional pyramid or whatever it is these days and you try to provide structure with morning routines, preschool, dinners, baths, bedtimes, and so on.  Wait a minute…when’s the last time I even read a book for enjoyment or went to a movie?  (They still have those, right?)  Then you remember that “this is the life,” and quickly thereafter wonder if the originator of that phrase had a career AND kids.  Probably not…

So, where does this rant leave us?  Present day.  You begin to realize that work is both a purpose for humans and a black hole of industry.  No matter what kind of work it is–homework, housework, childcare, or a job–it never ceases until you do.  When I had a brief panic attack tonight realizing that I had not done the homework required for this new college class because I was on load seven of laundry after doing dishes, getting groceries, picking up everyone’s “stuff” around the house (about 50 times), washing the car, and so on and so forth, I wondered whether I was really committed to pursuing my passion.  I mean, it’s one thing to “love” something you do, but a completely different story to be committed enough to work, really work, at it.  *sigh*  Do I have the energy for this?  It would be so much easier to not add one more thing to my plate!  (I think my husband and I had this same conversation before bambino numero due.)

But before I had time to really pity myself, I just sat down at the piano and started singing.  Yes.  I do love it…a lot.  Before I knew it, an hour of solid rehearsal had passed while my daughter was running all over the house playing dress-up and my husband and son were cleaning and organizing the garage.  And guess what?  The laundry was still there waiting for me, but didn’t explode from me not getting to it immediately.

I guess the point of this exposition on work is to remind myself that work is important, but prioritizing work is more important.  A body and mind can only work so hard, so make sure that what you are putting your efforts and energy into is worthwhile.  If it is, then give it all you’ve got.  If not, well, clean bathroom mirrors are overrated…

Hope for Tomorrow

This evening, my husband and I went out on “date night” to hear the Phoenix Symphony and pianist, Gabriela Montero from Venezuela, play a bit of Gershwin and Porgy and Bess.  They played in Symphony Hall, of course–the same location (currently) of Arizona Opera.  It was the strangest feeling to walk into Symphony Hall (run actually, because we were very late) and contemplate the possibility of rehearsing right there in another month if I am lucky enough to have placed in the study cover program.  Perhaps I’m just a bit melodramatic, I’m afraid that it’s the opera singer in me, but how amazingly cool!

I suppose it’s best not to dwell on hope because you’re most likely to get disappointed.  However, simply thinking about possibility brings me joy right now.  It also helps to think about all the musicians up on the stage in human terms, “Hmmm…not a good choice for performance attire.  He sounds as if he’s using a large bore trumpet.  Did that bassoonist really just use a mute?!  Do those even exist? Wow. Beautiful glissando.  Whoah. A bit heavy handed on that phrase.” Etc. etc.

I do think it’s important, though, to visualize possibility as reality not YET actualized.

Indeed, there was a time when I adored graduate students and professors.  Adored, as in worshiped in awe.  I thought that they must be so dedicated to understanding Truth (capital T) and amazingly smart.  I couldn’t imagine being in the upper echelon like them.  Here it is almost exactly eight years since I completed my doctorate, and I’m quite disappointed to realize that it’s not all that impressive.  It’s simply hard work.  You pay your dues (and your tuition), take the classes, write about a hundred papers, read about a thousand books, talk people’s ears off, and there you go.  Certainly, you must have a certain level of skill and knowledge, but in the end, winners are those who work hard.

So, I’m trying to remind myself that assuming I have an adequate skill and knowledge base, which I do now believe I have, then it’s all up to dedication and work ethic.  This is a good thing because if there’s one thing that grad school taught me, it’s that I can slog through grunt work like nobody’s business. I’m also trying to remember that if this particular opportunity doesn’t pan out, I didn’t even know about it before Thursday, and up until that point, I was quite content with the trajectory of my performance career.  I have lots of balls in the air with two upcoming concerts and a couple of upcoming recitals, regular rehearsals now with a great voice teacher, wonderful opera coach, and two excellent associate musicians, and participation in a new university opera scenes class.  Life will continue regardless.

I read a great (and appropriate) quote today at, of all places, Wildflower Bakery & Cafe when I was having lunch with my daughter while shopping:

“Learn from yesterday.  Live for today.  Hope for tomorrow.” ~Albert Einstein

Here’s to hoping for tomorrow, my friends!

World Keeps Turnin’

Yesterday, I was on top of the world!  I had the guts to audition for a program that sounded very cool on no notice, my kids and hubby were very proud of me taking a risk, and I also received much needed affirmation of my skill by getting a call-back audition for today.  After the experience of the call-back audition, the difficulty is that the world just keeps turning.  Please, allow me to elaborate.

Last night was a frenzy of me taking a crash course in the upcoming operas that the cover study program would include in the spring–Orpheo ed Euridice and Aida.  I was somewhat familiar with the stories, and it helps that all opera stories are similar in most ways–unrequited love, betrayal, hatred, death, and drama to the extreme in all cases.  Anyway, then came the character/role assessment.  I mean, yesterday I auditioned for roles I’ve never even looked at for Pete’s sake!  I basically asked someone in the corridor what roles were closest to a coloratura fach (specific voice type, which is mine) and trusted that she was correct!  As it turns out, no roles in either opera are for a coloratura, but beggars can’t be choosers.

Then, I spent an hour on the phone with a dear friend who picked apart my résumé and head shot and basically revised everything from what I included to the font color, arguing over whether cream colored paper was appropriate and if I could add my name to the head shot.  Details!  (Seriously, I wonder whether Joan Sutherland ever did this?)  Ok.  Finally bed time, and I’m exhausted…except that I can’t sleep.  I am not an insomniac, but I swear that last night I woke up every hour on the hour until it was time to get ready for taking my children to school and teach kindergartners for three hours.  Right.  Put a bit of extra espresso in the Moka pot this morning.

I went to school and sort of taught, but couldn’t keep my mind on anything except the audition.  Then, I raced to the university to get any feedback I could from yesterday’s faculty judges.  Got it.  Ok…beautiful voice, great coloratura, but you seem to conduct yourself like you’re in a band.  Ugh.  I know.  I’m trying to correct it, but what can I say?  I’m a music teacher.  I conduct my husband’s snores in my sleep!  Crimine!  Ok…accept feedback in grateful way, and absorb the message.

Then, I had to run to the store to pick up new prints of my head shots.  The man at the counter selected his favorite as my least favorite, so then I had to ruminate over my choice for the next hour.  Next, I went home to correct and print out my resume and bio and get dressed.  Resume and bio work fine…good!  I begin getting dressed and realize I have multiple runs in the nylons I selected and my freshly dry-cleaned dress has a spot on the front from the cleaner!  Argh!  I decide nylons don’t matter, especially since it means that they make my feet slide in my shoes anyway, and I use spot-cleaner and a hair dryer to take care of the dress; no time for changing the whole line-up at this point in the game.

I take off from my house only 10 minutes later than I’d planned only to get stuck on the highway due to an accident.  Ack!  However, I played AC/DC all the way, so I sped and made up time on the road.  Parking spots were plentiful, and I sent a prayer up that no parking attendant would notice that I hadn’t put one dime into the meter because I was fresh out of coins.  I’m actually 10 minutes early!  Yay for me!

I get to the audition space and realize that everyone’s already there.  Whoah.  Is this normal?  I thought I was doing well.  Anyway, everyone’s prepared or preparing, but I feel good that I don’t look as panicked as some.  If you’ve never been to an audition area before, it is truly a sight.  People do the weirdest things, and the weirdest part about that is no one finds it weird.  Know what I mean?  People talk to themselves, do yoga, stare absently into space to “get into character,’ change from sweats into gowns and back in the blink of an eye, and even have attendants for support.  Then, they all vie for the next spot in the audition line-up because otherwise they will vomit, pee, or pass out from nerves.  It’s all quite interesting actually, if you can detach yourself from the situation.  One girl had a plane to catch, so she had been given the privilege of going first.  After that, all bets were off.  Since I have the advantage of a degree in psychology, I thought to myself, “I should go last.  They will remember me…for better or worse.”  So, I volunteered to go last.  It’s good to be last, too, because you get to hear everyone, which is quite educational, as long as you can breathe through the anxiety, which is quite difficult.

Lots of lyric sopranos and mezzos later…

It was finally my turn.  I was going to walk in front of people from AZ Opera, give them my materials, and audition.  People don’t typically get this opportunity unless they’re under management!  Carpe diem!

I tried my best to get into the character of the Queen of the Night–furious, insane, powerful!  I sang my heart out making sure NOT to conduct myself, but to be focused on rage.  Two minutes, fourty-three seconds later, I’m done.  Then, I have to try to stuff all of those emotions into a bottle quickly in order to smile and thank my accompanist and judging panel.  It’s very discombobulating…kind of like using smelling salts.  The judges say, “Thank you.”  That’s all.  Thank you.  I’m expected to walk out without any more feedback or comment.  So, I do, and it’s over.  I’m told that the company will be back in touch probably within a week or so.  A week or so?!  Now, what do I do?!

Now, I have to go back about my business.  “The world keeps turnin’. Oh, what a day.  What a day, what a day!”

Perhaps once I’ve done this about thirty-seven million times, I’ll be able to turn the switch on and off.  Right now, though, I’m obsessing about the results, having residual character emotions, and feeling life to be mundane.  What the…?!  I’m hoping that a good night’s rest and shopping on a Saturday will help.  Shoes are always a good bet.

So, there you have it.  Pretty good audition.  Fairly normal life.  Absolutely confused and tired singer.  ‘Til tomorrow, my friends!

When Opportunity Knocks, You Open the Door

Wow.  What an extraordinary day!  I am exhausted and in much need of sleep, so brevity will be key in this story…

Today was much like any other day, except that I enrolled in an opera scenes rehearsal course at the university and attended our first meeting of the semester this afternoon at 3 o’clock.  After the faculty finished briefing us on the expectations for rehearsals and the class, the director casually reminded everyone that auditions for the study cover program for the spring productions of the large opera company in Phoenix–Arizona Opera–were at 4.  (You see, everyone in the course is enrolled in a graduate program in voice at ASU, except me, and had received notice about the audition.  Well, technically that’s not true.  I have, for the purposes of the course, enrolled as a non-degree graduate student.  But, suffice it to say that I’m not “in the loop.”)

After the announcement, I think to myself, “Pfew! I bet people are nervous waiting around right now for such a cool opportunity!”  Then, I realize, “Wait a second.  This could be my opportunity.”  Then…hot flash, throat-gripping anxiety, need to vomit, have to pee, can’t breathe…and back on planet Earth. What followed was an argument between me, myself, and I.

Me: “We have to audition!”

Myself: “There’s no way we’re auditioning; we’re totally unprepared and haven’t spent nearly enough time agonizing over it.”

I: “We’re not going out there, are we?”

Me: “Of course we are! Would Rosie sit this one out?!”

Myself: “Well, Rosie hasn’t studied the roles and operas for the audition.  She doesn’t know dates, places, nor composers. She has done any character analysis or emotional imagery.  She’s not prepared at all.”

I: “I think we’re going to pass out.”

Me: “I’m raising our hand to see if we can audition.”

As it turned out, I happened to have my handy-dandy audition binder with me thanks to seeing the “big girls” carry one around at a competition in the spring that I was fairly unprepared for, and Rosie won.

So, I auditioned with a dozen other hopefuls.  They were really good, and I went last, so I should know.  When I came out, I wasn’t dressed appropriately, having come straight from teaching middle-school band, and I hadn’t taken care of my voice that day, having rehearsed, talked, and taught all day.  Somehow, I still managed to seem composed enough (I think) to recall the roles that were appropriate to audition for and greet the judging panel.  And I didn’t burp, hiccup, giggle, or come out with toilet paper on my shoe as I walked to the front, so I was already ahead of the game.

I decided to sing my favorite aria, the Queen of the Night’s famous, “Der Holle Rache.” It’s always a crowd-pleaser, assuming you can sing it well.  As I got into the fun, yet killer, runs of coloratura, I was so happy that my Fs were pinging off the walls that I went to my Happy Place and flubbed the words in one measure.  Then, I winked, yes winked, at the judges acknowledging my mistake and bravely going on because I was actually having fun!  I have no idea who took over my body.  I finished the aria with dramatic aplomb (i.e., I waved my arms a little bit).  At least I’d like to imagine that I was the Queen at least for those three minutes.

I left wondering if I’d just done a good job or made a mistake by auditioning too soon.  (I have very little audition experience, in case you hadn’t guessed.)

Well, it turns out that I did something right because I got a call-back for an audition again tomorrow at 4pm!  Tomorrow, though, I’ll make sure to show up with resume, head shot, and high heels.  Send positive energy this way, please!

I guess brevity isn’t my strong suit…