Feeling Existential

Wow.  It’s been nearly a month since my last blog post, which says something about my daily life.  Somehow, way back at the beginning of the year, I thought I’d be able to juggle a thousand balls without dropping any.  Perhaps I could, if I was really determined, but at what cost?  So far in 2012, my family has been hit hard with two major illnesses costing the children and me many days off from school and work.  During the fall semester, we hadn’t missed a day!  I’m not saying that doing too much is the cause of illness, as viruses do as viruses do.  However, having days constantly filled with “stuff” certainly doesn’t make things easier for your body or mind.

What has surprised me about being home with sick children now for the seventh (yes, seventh!) day in a row is the sense of relief that accompanied me canceling, well, everything.  On any given day, I typically have lessons, rehearsals, and classes that I teach.  Combine that with taking care of my own kiddies and trying to make time for my husband, and I’m amazed each evening that the day is already over–this scares and saddens me.  Am I truly not present enough in my daily life to even notice as each hour passes?  Am I hustling my kids through each part of the day in order to “be on time” so much that I’m teaching them not to value what’s happening at that moment?

This realization has really prompted me to stop and appreciate what I have.  Now, I’m not saying that I’m not thankful for my life.  In fact, last Thanksgiving, I decided to give thanks on Facebook for something or someone each day until the New Year.  It was really a profound experience that prompted me to start this blog, in fact.  However, what I am still searching for is not just gratitude, but satisfaction–contentment in my life.  The concept of Hungry Ghosts in Tibetan Buddhism has always resonated with me.  Hungry Ghosts are often depicted as ghosts with tiny mouths and huge stomachs that can never be filled.  The underlying idea is that people often try to find fulfillment by meeting goals or physical desires that prove illusory.  I can’t tell you how much this metaphor represents me and how disturbing that is to me.  Let’s see…earn college degrees–check, get married–check, get a “good” job–check, buy a house–check, have children–check, do the best possible job I can do at everything I do–check, check, check, check, check…

It’s almost as if I “conquer” one thing in order to move on to the next challenge and that next challenge will be “the one” that will change my life.  Add to this obsessive goal-setting the need to be outstanding at everything I’m involved in and you have someone who cannot “stop and smell the roses” because she’s too busy making sure the roses are the right size, shape, color, etc. to compare to the neighbor’s and planning for next year’s blooms.

Back to feeling existential and connecting that to being an “opera singer.”  Notice that my blog subtitle is “Story of a music teacher turning opera singer.”  Why?  I’m actually already an opera singer–someone who sings opera–and have been for the last two years.  Now, I’m not employed by the Met and I’m not earning a salary playing roles on stages across Germany.  However, I’m learning and singing beautiful opera music.  My blog subtitle is very telling of my mindset, though.  Can this facet of my life simply be part of my life, part of who I am?  Does it have to be all or nothing? Perhaps I need to brush up on Kierkegaard’s and Nietzsche’s writings on personal life fulfillment and creating meaning for oneself from our daily experiences.

A good friend of mine who did have a fairly long first career as an opera singer is now in school studying to be voice faculty.  When I asked him why he decided to make the change, he simply stated, “I want stability.”  We chatted about how being on stage is thrilling and a huge boost to the ego and performing beautiful music with others is an amazing experience.  However, he also said that not knowing when your next performance is can undermine that thrill.  You’re left hustling for engagements, saving money because you aren’t sure when you’ll be paid again, and not having a stable relationship or family either because you’re traveling or don’t have normal working hours.  In essence, he wants what I already have.  Huh?

Lately, I have talked to all my close associates in music about their opinions on my career–continue as a music teacher or make a break as a performer?  Inevitably, they have all asked me in response, “Well, what makes you happy?”  Easing my anxiety, they have all been kind enough to add that I have the required “equipment” to do either job, as long as I’m committed to putting in the work needed to succeed.  The funny thing is that I haven’t been able to answer the question.  I assumed that once I’d progressed enough to have professionals in the opera world tell me I had chops, my decision would be a no-brainer, but this is confusingly not the case.  I’ve realized that if I’m going to plunge into performance and leave all the rest behind, that I will be abandoning a flourishing music program that I started (at my own kids’ school no less), juggling schedules with my family in which I won’t be seeing them as much since rehearsals are often at night, existing on little to no pay (which our family could manage, but I’m not sure I could accept), and relinquishing teaching.

My surprising reaction to this potential change is reluctance.  Certainly, fear of the unknown is also involved, but for the first time in my life actually, there is little struggle.  Sure, there is the daily struggle that everyone has, but I mean real struggle, like moving across the country, finding a job, finishing a college degree (out of state), facing a major health issue, fighting to adopt a child (twice), making ends meet…you get the idea.  Do I want to create struggle where it doesn’t exist?

Perhaps even framing it this way is wrongheaded. Perhaps, the issue isn’t all-or-nothing.  Perhaps, a long-term goal requiring a sacrifice of everything and everyone isn’t needed.  Maybe, just Imagemaybe, it’s okay to simply take each day at a time without judging myself; accept that I’m actually successful at lots of things and so are other people, which should be celebrated.  Enjoy the fact that I can teach, sing, play, and be a good wife and mom without being perfect at any of them.  The only need to be “the best” exists in my mind, which is the same place where contentment resides.  Which cause do I want to give space to grow?

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…

What Time Is It?

Apparently, blogging takes a lot of time.  I thought that I might be able to spend each evening relaxing and cogitating a few random ideas that would coalesce into goal-oriented behavior in a sort of Zen way.  Already, I can see that I can become completely obsessed with grammar, word choice, coherence, yadda, yadda, yadda.

Thus, after having a very productive day at work and rehearsal and spending the last couple hours editing and fine-tuning bios and programs for marketing and upcoming concerts, I am going to bed.  10:00 is already too late to go to bed when up at 5:30.

Tomorrow should be a fun day, though.  Kick the day off with a rehearsal. Work on some translation.  Teach some classes.  Meet for a university opera scenes group.  End the evening with a concert band rehearsal.  (I play trumpet.)  Somewhere in between all of this, I try to be Super Mom to two wonderful children.  Well, at least super mom, little s, little m.  I’m also super wife sometimes, too, but that’s typically second in line to being mamma.

Wannabe opera diva signing off.  Thank you.  Good night!

The Hard Part

I’m good at inspiration, motivation, philosophy, psychology, analysis, discussion, and generally working myself (and others) up into a passionate lather.  The hard part is accomplishing the mundane details of a project (read: life).  *sigh*  I would love to go from nascent-singer-selects-repertoire-and-trembles-through-first-recital to extraordinary-opera-star-emerges-on-the-main-stage-to-wild-applause.  Unfortunately, the real story is that fairy tales don’t tell you what Cinderella did every single hour while waiting for the prince, from washing the dog to trimming her nails, nor what the reality was when Jack cut the beanstalk down and the giant died. (I mean, did they bury him?  Did they need permits from the city? Did Jack go to trial? What happened to the poor giant’s wife?) Apparently, when you’re human, real life happens just like real life.

Prior to this realization, however, I practically flew out of bed this morning in anticipation for my new life, only to realize five minutes after my alarm went off that I still don’t like to get up when it’s dark outside and that my children somehow don’t share this incredible enthusiasm for a new beginning because they also don’t like to wake up when it’s dark outside.  Hmm…

Never fear! I maintained the excitement about my new resolution throughout the morning while completing task after task at work (school) until time for my weekly voice lesson, only to realize that I still didn’t get enough accomplished for my job and was then running late for my lesson.  However, I was not worried because I would be singing!  What could be wrong with that?  Absolutely nothing, save that I was “working on” the same &^$%!@# aria that I’ve been “working on” for the past year and a half.  While better, I still come in wildly at the high Eb midway through the piece, my French vowels are still weirdly modified in various phrases, and I continue to cluck through the staccato section if I don’t get a big enough breath, which I usually don’t.  Ugh.  I kind of hate this song… Then, the lesson is over.

I race back to school only to realize that I’ve forgotten to do about five important tasks that I should have done when loftily thinking of the new, amazing career I’m going to have as an opera singer.  *sigh*  Why do I always do the tasks that I prefer to do, rather than the tasks that are important?  I think that’s called productive procrastination, or some such thing, and I always find myself in that inefficient cycle.  Anyway, I teach for the next few hours.  I have a chamber wind ensemble rehearsal where only one in three of my students shows up prepared, a general music class of 15 students who learn a dragon dance from Indonesia despite six students being absent, and a concert band rehearsal that has to stop after 20 minutes because a former teacher came back to visit from China.  While I should take all of the classes in stride because that’s what good teachers do and embrace the organic nature of learning, on the inside, I’m screaming, “I CAN’T TEACH UNDER THESE CIRCUMSTANCES! DOES JIMMY LEVINE DEAL WITH THIS?!”  Then, I wonder how in the world to balance my role as teacher with my aspiration as performer.

I need to tally up what I AM accomplishing towards my goal of singing professionally.  Otherwise, I will lose my path.  Ok…what have I done in the last few days?

  1. revised my résumé
  2. revised my bio
  3. answered various email about two upcoming concerts in January
  4. obsessed about two upcoming concerts in January
  5. had a voice lesson
  6. scheduled rehearsals
  7. started a blog!

Wow.  Looks like practicing isn’t really a big part of what I’ve done lately.  Rehearsal must be a higher priority; beautiful singing is the key to success.  Upon reflection, my job can easily consume all my time, even in a part-time position.  While I want to do my best as a teacher, I have to devote more time to performing.  Otherwise, I’m sunk before I start.

Life lesson #1: There is no shortcut to success.  Hard work and time are necessary for improvement.

Whole Lotta Rosie has just become Rosie the Riveter.  Roll up your sleeves, girl, and start working!

Whole Lotta Rosie

So for all of you AC/DC fans out there, you’ll know what I’m talkin’ about.  Rosie is my alter ego when I need back-up.  I decided today that there’s no way to get things done, except to get things done. So, I’m brushing the dust off the rock-and-roll boots and getting on stage.

I began the journey back to singing in June 2010.  It began simply enough with me wanting to “brush up” on my skills by taking some voice lessons during the summer in order to be a better music teacher.  I met my teacher, the amazing Isola Jones (yes, she sang at THE Met with none other than Pavarotti, Sutherland, Domingo, etc. etc. etc.), and she looked at me after I began some scales, and said, “What are you doing?!”  Somewhat chagrined, I replied, “Well, I’m trying my best.”  She clarified, “No, what are you doing with your LIFE?!”  Right. Wake-up call!

Since that lesson, Isola has been a dogged supporter of me doing what I set out to do when I left high school, which was to perform.  Life took many turns back then, and somehow I ended up with a doctorate in educational psychology studying music learning and a teaching credential in music, rather than continuing down the path to performance. I have no regrets for going that route, but I can say right now that the passion for performing has been reignited, and I simply need to fan the flame.

Well, I say that now, but the last year and a half has been one of me wavering back and forth over whether or not to pursue this dream.  I keep thinking of all the reasons why I can’t, shouldn’t, won’t–I am the mother of two young children, my husband needs me to stay put, I don’t have the talent, people will think I’m ____ (fill-in-the-blank…nuts, bad, strange, old, etc.), it’s too scary to change, I won’t make any money, and so on.  Wow.  With all the energy that I have put into NOT succeeding, it’s amazing I’m still singing.

Sooo…I have decided to do the opposite, and challenge myself.  WHAT in the world are your scared of?!  Failure? That’s the oldest, most banal trick in the psyche book, and I’m not buyin’ it. Rosie’s back, so step off…