Finding My Voice, #249

Photo by Michele Oh

Last year, I volunteered to work for six months at The Artist Co-op, a new co-working space with rehearsal rooms, geared towards connecting and supporting artists from theatre, film, opera, dance, etc. I met actors, singers, filmmakers, producers, directors, lighting designers, dancers, and most importantly, people who have and will continue to change my life. I’m grateful to be singing in a concert to support The Artist Co-op this Friday night, and I hope you’ll attend, if you’re in the greater New York City area.

On a couple of occasions, I mentioned to members of The Artist Co-op that I wanted to learn to expand my vocal abilities to include belting and musical theatre techniques. Although I’ve had a couple of really wonderful musical theatre gigs, I always knew I had work to do to really learn how to sing that repertoire at the best of my natural ability. Having several friends in an incredibly unconventional, grammy-winning group called Roomful of Teeth, I’ve been inspired for years to learn to expand my voice outside of the purely classical realm.

Growing up, I wanted to be Debbie Gibson. I learned how to sing like her, mostly with a pop mix and an unsophisticated teenage belt when needed. One night, at a karaoke bar in Koreatown, I reached the pinnacle of those childhood dreams when, while singing “Lost in Your Eyes,” a man dropped to his knees at my feet and shouted, “You ARE Debbie Gibson!” As a fully realized adult who had earned a living as a respected classical singer for two decades, I knew I could do far more if I trained my whole voice – not to mimic an 80’s pop icon, but to find the limitless possibilities within my own voice.

When the universe speaks, I listen. Personally, this means paying attention whenever more than one source produces the same message or advice. Several people mentioned the tiny street on which I now live, for example, as I was searching for an affordable apartment in Manhattan, and I cannot imagine living anywhere else. So when two different members of the Artist Co-op praised their teacher Jon Stancato and recommended I work with him on my much of a coincidence. “Are you Jon Stancato, by any chance?” I asked, and my journey began.

Since then, I’ve had several lessons, sometimes a week apart, sometimes spread out by months because of my performing and travel schedules. Now, preparing to sing everything from Troubadour songs to Alanis Morisette with medieval harp on an eclectic concert on Friday, June 14 at the Highland Lodge in Vermont with Christopher Preston Thompson and Heidi Lauren Duke, I have the privilege of meeting with Jon weekly. He’s an incredibly intuitive coach, working with me as we experiment together to find the authentic and meaningful sounds that color each song fully and appropriately.

On days like today, feeling raw with the emotions of loss and mourning and worn down by allergies and the thicker vocal cords that greet young women once a month, working with Jon reminds me so much of my intensely mindful work with Josh Pais, or training to become a life coach. I make sounds I wouldn’t dare to make in front of almost anyone, and Jon tells me that he can learn just as much from my voice on what I would consider a bad day. I relax into the present to play with what we have, which apparently is a lot more than I expected.

Singing, as a career, creates a life of wildly glorious and meaningful highs, coupled with social needs cut short, an unparalleled need for body awareness and physical health, and constant sacrifices to keep that voice, which earns me money and keeps me fed, fresh and strong. Today, I found a new way to play with it healthily and, as I so often do on this journey, I felt at turns vulnerable, scared, empowered, and exhilarated. Finally, we found a really rich resonance with which I can play across my range, and I felt good, as we heard a knock on the door, and the lesson came to an end.

As the door opened, a classical conductor with whom I’ve previously worked and who I respect walked in the absolutely not soundproof door. We briefly hugged, and I mentioned that I was working on some belting techniques, before he said, “I know, I heard. Sounds good,” and rushed off to setup for his rehearsal. Upon exiting, I passed by sixteen of my most talented friends and colleagues from the classical singer world, half happy to see them, half awkwardly mortified that they all heard my rather vulnerable exploration of self and voice.

Although I still wonder a bit how it all sounded and think perhaps I should start audio-recording my lessons, I trust Jon’s assessment, that I sounded great, and it’s a good thing they heard me. Despite a decent deal of stigma in the classical world about non-classical techniques, I’m nothing if not a proponent for change and plan to embrace the role of helping others to both embrace and seek it. If the three deaths I’ve experienced this month have taught me anything, they’ve increased my need for vulnerability, authenticity, and a mindful exploration of life. Finding my whole voice, accompanied by a talented and compassionate guide, fills me with just the right combination of nervousness and joy that tells me I’m on the right path. I’m glad my friends heard me, and I can’t wait to sing for that audience in June. This life is worth living fully, with every color, sound, and expression I can possibly find for the artistic manifestations of my spirit… Not just tomorrow, now.

April in Paris Press Release

We finally have a press release for our April in Paris Recital, thanks to the help of Kit Emory! http://www.abigailwright.com/FORIMMEDIATERELEASE.pdf

Abigail Wright
Photo by David Michael

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

March 10, 2011

CONTACT: Abby Walter at (347) 767-6476 or abbywalter78@gmail.com

http://www.abigailwright.com

APRIL IN PARIS:
A Romantic Recital by Opera Singer, Abigail Wright and Pianist, Eugene Sirotkine

Ah spring! Retreat to Paris this April 16th at 7pm with mezzo-soprano, Abigail Wright and pianist Eugene Sirotkine for a romantic recital with a French accent at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Teaneck, NJ. There will be a reception immediately following the event.

Ms. Wright is an accomplished singer/actor whose wide-ranging career has taken her from the Metropolitan Opera stage to modeling to the world of puppetry. She has been critically acclaimed for her remarkably wide vocal range as well as for her sensitive musicality while delivering intense and dramatic performances. Eugene Sirotkine brings his expertise as a pianist, a world-renowned conductor, and a composer to their rich collaboration, inviting Ms. Wright to perform at St. Mark’s and also to sing one of his brilliant compositions, Sensation (poetry by Arthur Rimbaud).

The evening also features the song cycle Le passage des rêves (“The passage of dreams”), an exquisite new work by composer Benjamin C.S. Boyle, exploring the lush poetry of French philosopher, Paul Valéry. Other selections include Claude Debussy’s Ariettes Oubliées, set to the poetry of Paul Verlaine’s Romances sans paroles (“Songs without words”), the magically evocative Shéhérazade by Maurice Ravel, and a set of English language songs – including Vernon Duke’s April in Paris, of course!

Tickets can be purchased at the door, for a suggested donation of $15, to benefit St. Mark’s.

SUMMARY HIGHLIGHTS:

What: “April in Paris: A Recital with Abigail Wright and Eugene Sirotkine”

Who: Mezzo-soprano Abigail Wright and pianist Eugene Sirotkine

When: April 16, 2011 at 7pm; reception to follow concert

Where: St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, 118 Chadwick Road, Teaneck, NJ
Directions:  http://www.stmarksteaneck.org/directions.php

Tickets: Purchase at the door.  Suggested donation $15 to benefit the venue.

Links/Info:
http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=204042609612475
http://www.stmarksteaneck.org/music/concerts.php
http://abigailwright.com/images/aip8x10web.jpg (8×10 flyer)
http://abigailwright.com/images/aiparisweb.jpg (event postcard)
http://www.benjamincsboyle.com
http://www.stmarksteaneck.org/directions.php

 

“Why Don’t You Sing Something Right Now for Me?” Day 142

Living an admittedly unusual life with incredibly varied talents, friends, and interests, I sometimes forget that I don’t fit the standard late-twenties/early-thirties American female mold. I speak my mind sometimes without sugar-coating, insist upon quality products and services and fair treatment of workers, try new things that scare even myself, and make a living doing just about everything I love. Occasionally, this results in quizzical looks and responses, unfortunate misunderstandings with friends and acquaintances, and the ever-popular request to perform on command.

Some of my favorite people do this often, cheekily saying, “Sing something for us!” Knowing better, they deliver the line as a partial joke, hoping they might actually get me tipsy enough to oblige. These things have happened. Still, born with a desire to perform professionally, I have always dreaded the request to perform my profession, immediately upon request, without preparation or accompaniment, with no hope of such a performance benefiting a cause, furthering my career, or truly artistically inspiring anyone. On the other hand, I do sing, act, and model for free on occasion. For purely selfish reasons, sometimes I trade my services as a way to learn a new role or skill or network with exceptional leaders in my field. In cases of high quality art, to further the cause of an artist or organization in whom I believe, I happily have donated my time.

This morning, I had the rare opportunity to wake up ridiculously early in the morning and sing choral arrangements of Christmas tunes on KVEW, a local television station in Tri-Cities, Washington. Of course, the music? Lovely. The other three singers? Fantastic musicians and friends. The anchors Jason Valentine and Crystal Costa cheerily made the snowy early morning worth the trip, and we all supported the talented Mid-Columbia Mastersingers to promote their upcoming Big Band Christmas concert (how fun is that?). Worthy cause indeed.

Spending time with other musicians like Molly, Reg, and Justin this morning comes so easily, and I truly adore my fellow artists in crime. Still, as a huge fan of nerds, social media, and scientists, I have yet to come up with a good way to explain our differences clearly to avoid future pleas for spontaneous private performances. Thanks to the glories of Facebook news feed and my friends Julia and Jared who posted this video by Soprano Marcy Richardson, whose adorable friends expose our fantastically awkward moments as classical singers, I don’t have to. Enjoy and share, please! We need all the help we can get…

Tonight’s Rare Chance to Hear James Joyce, Day 131

Frame from Ulysses Seen by Robert Berry
Frame from Ulysses Seen by Robert Berry

James Joyce follows me. In my high school Honors English class, I fell head over heels for A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and his stream of consciousness style of writing. Shockingly, since then I’ve only enhanced my Joyce background with Dubliners and have diverted my attention from reading in general.  Sad, I know. This summer, my friend Josh Levitas piqued my interest once more (arousing international curiosity as well with an iPad application) when he and his colleagues Rob Berry, Mike Barsanti, and Chad Rutkowski created a stunning comic adaptation of Ulysses, designed to aid readers in their exploration of the infamously difficult novel. Although I have delayed my plans to read along with the comic, I hope to reinstate that goal soon after returning from Tri-Cities, WA in December. In the meantime, the creators of Ulysses Seen will visit New York City this Thursday evening at 7:30pm at the Irish Arts Center on the west side at 51st Street to discuss its process and evolution behind the scenes. If you can’t attend but would like to support their endeavors, visit their Kickstarter profile to donate to the completion of their project.

How now has James Joyce happily haunted my days? In my participation in the U.S. premiere this Wednesday night (tonight, in essence) at Carnegie Hall in the cantata by Mátyás Seiber, a Hungarian-born composer who brilliantly set his text to music. Taken from the section entitled “Ithaca” from Joyce’s Ulysses, these words create both unspeakable inspiration and challenge for a composer to undertake. Sieber has risen to the challenge, and this piece excites me as both a professional and a lover of choral and orchestral music. I have already waited too long to promote this performance, but if you have the time in your schedule and can make it to Carnegie on October 6 (tonight, for most reading this), go. A rare treat, you will miss out by staying at home for the premiere of this setting which I could never, without having heard it, ever have imagined. Either way, enjoy the text, as I have during every rehearsal with the American Symphony Orchestra and Collegiate Chorale.

From Ulysses, as set by Mátyás Seiber…
What spectacle confronted them when they, first the host, then the guest, emerged silently, doubly dark, from obscurity by a passage from the rear of the house into the penumbra of the garden?

The heaventree of stars hung with humid nightblue fruit.

With what meditations did he accompany his demonstration to his companion of various constellations?

Meditations of evolution increasingly vaster: of the moon invisible in incipient lunation, approaching perigee: of the infinite lattiginous scintillating uncondensed milky way: of Sirius, 10 lightyears (57 million billion miles) distant and in volume 900 times the dimension of our planet: of Arcturus: of the precession of equinoxes: of Orion with belt and sextuple sun theta and nebula in which 100 of our solar systems could be contained: of moribund and nascent new stars such as Nova in 1901: of our system plunging towards the constellation of Hercules… ever-moving from immeasurably remote eons to infinitely remote futures in comparison with which the years, three-score and ten, of allotted human life formed a parenthesis of infinitesimal brevity.

Were there obverse meditations of involution increasingly less vast?

Of the eons of geological periods recorded in the stratifications of the earth: of the myriad minute entomological organic existences concealed in cavities of the earth, beneath removable stones, in hives and mounds, of microbes, germs, bacteria, bacilli, spermatozoa: of the incalculable trillions of billions of millions of imperceptible molecules contained by cohesion of molecular affinity in a single pinhead: of the universe of human serum constellated with red and white bodies, themselves universes of void space constellated with other bodies, each, in continuity, its universe of divisible component bodies of which each was again divisible in divisions of redivisible component bodies, dividends and divisors ever diminishing without actual division till, if the progress were carried far enough, nought nowhere was never reached.

Which various features of the constellations were in turn considered?

The attendant phenomena of eclipses, solar and lunar, from immersion to emersion, abatement of wind, transit of shadow, taciturnity of winged creatures, emergence of nocturnal or crepuscular animals, persistence of infernal light, obscurity of terrestrial waters, pallor of human beings.
His logical conclusion, having weighed the matter and allowing for possible error?
That it was not a heaventree, not a heavengrot, not a heavenbeast, not a heavenman. That it was a Utopia, there being no known method from the known to the unknown: an infinity, renderable equally finite by the suppositions probable apposition of one or more bodies equally of the same and of different magnitudes: a mobility of illusory forms immobilised in space, remobilised in air: a past which possibly had ceased to exist as a present before its future spectators had entered actual present existence.

The Inestimable Value of Vulnerability (A Tableau Vivant), Day 128

Powerhouse Arena

The Powerhouse Arena fills with people, their chatter and curious glances, and a subtle scent of wine and excitement amidst the still few but consistent camera flashes. On Saturday at the DUMBO Arts Festival, I make my final dash to the restroom in my green satin robe, take one last gulp of water, and join the line of clothed and nude models waiting to take our places. Leah, Morgan, and I excitedly wish each other luck, and as we descend the wide cement stairs to our places and static poses, I feel equally vulnerable without my water bottle as without my robe. Listening to Kamala Sankaran sing “Caro Nome,” I feel the defiant but calm confidence that comes from a performance that teeters on an edge with other talented and committed actors. My hands behind my head, resting on the column behind me with a frozen but intentional look of shock across my face with bit lip, I know Christina wraps elegantly around the column behind me, Liliana stretches her tattooed body back to a casual but beautifully dressed and supportive Donna, Des and Dragonfly kiss, Dashiell stands looking dapper in an early century suit, and CJ Boyd keeps me company to my right, as the only other disrobed musician, clothed only by his upright bass.

Kamala ends “Caro Nome” stunningly mid-aria after sensing the arrival of all of the other players and for a few minutes, we hold our charged but quiet poses to the din of flashes and growing whispers. Six plucked notes on the cello signal the singing of a Bulgarian folk quartet by members of Black Sea Hotel dressed in traditional wool attire, adorned with flowers in their hair. Half of their song about awaiting death and love ends as every model continues to carry the key to a single drowned pitch. The first pulsating and repetitive melody begins, one cycle of keys completes. The cello enters, another cycle finishes. My turn. Each group of models enters on their soli lines to add a layer to the now undulating round and at the height of our crescendo, our inspiration stands and enters the tableau to interact with hers.

Photographer and creator of this Tableau Vivant, Sarah Small ascends each cement stair and signals to various groups and individuals to activate their poses and more fully interact. Christina and I embrace and separate in a repetitive motion that somehow enhances our already connected singing until Sarah comes around once more to return us to our (connected) solitude and decrescendo the action and vocal dynamic.

As Sarah takes her position amidst us to sing her solo within the Bulgarian folk tune, I thank God that I remain as one of the few voices to support her in the background. I enjoy few things in life as much as supporting, literally and figuratively, an artist as talented and a human being as sensitive and creatively giving as she. Despite a week-long cold and directing rehearsal alongside Adam J. Thompson since 8:30 that morning, Sarah Small sings fully and with a clear, beautiful tone above the drone and few softer solo voices. As she fades away, the drone diminishes to nothing throughout the final section of the Bulgarian folk quartet who hauntingly and skillfully end the piece with the word “umre,” meaning death.

“Umre” resonates through the spacious arena as each model intones the word for death and passes it along to a neighbor while finding an audience member upon whom to rest his or her gaze. I sing the final “umre,” and we all relax our positions, standing straight toward the audience, with whom we interact for the first time as a group. For a heart-pounding minute and a half, we remain in silence this way as the noise-level amongst the non-performers in the room begins to rise. Unable to decide if waiting longer would make me more or less nervous, I end the standstill. “Vois sous l’archet frémissant…” I perform Massenet‘s passionate plea to the poet from Les Contes d’Hoffmann, and the models and other singers begin to exit the stairs.

With the refrain and a final return of the chorus remaining as I stand alone on the top step, vulnerable, unclothed, and with only a bass player to my right and the cellist and violist (diversely talented and skilled music director Rima Fand) far to the left, everything stops in a moment of surreal suspension. In the span of one short second, I see a friend or two and strangers packed into the large space from each wall all the way to the door, watching, snapping photos, taking videos, and ordering wine. I remember the long rehearsal day of singing and interacting with incredible and emotionally available people, from the models to the musicians, to the makeup artist who donated her time and cosmetics in part to “glam me up” with big hair, hot pink lipstick, and pretty little flowers in my hair.

Considering the lyrics, I share a deeply held belief of mine with the audience of strangers and friends, that music and love do heal and console all of us. For one brief moment, I allow all of them to see all of me, as I share my voice in a way I have never done and transcend a lifetime of countless barriers in performance. This, and the interactions shared in time spent with the creative team and models, makes every second of preparation and performance worth my time, talent, energy, and heart.

When I receive the video of Saturday evening’s Tableau Vivant of the Delirium Constructions: Part II, I will post the link here as well. Having learned so much about vulnerability and nudity, I have at least one more post to contribute on the subject from this experience. In the meantime, I can only say thank you. My most loving thanks to my dear friends Rima Fand, Charlene Jaszewski, John Rose, and Leat Klingman for your sincere and supportive presence on Saturday. Sarah, you inspire me to no end. Adam, thank you for your clear direction and kind friendship. I hope to work with both of you again soon and often. To all of the other performers, I feel so blessed to have met you and your beautiful spirits. May we all embrace the giving and vulnerable energy we shared on Saturday throughout our lives together and apart. Until our next meeting, all my love and gratefulness…

Stylist Melanie Randolph's Concept Rendering of Tableau Vivant
Stylist Melanie Randolph's Concept Rendering of Tableau Vivant

A First Lesson in Bearing All, Day 121

Photo by David Michael

“You shouldn’t have sung opera to me.  Now I want to see you nude.”

Many months ago, a friend read my post on Sally Golan’s Naked Painting Party and passed along a harmless link to Spencer Tunick‘s website, offering me yet another potential prospect for my newly redesigned, open-minded life. A project involving a sea of bodies might make for a profoundly interesting but somewhat anonymous experience. Hoping to learn another lesson, I signed up to receive updates for future dates in the area and opened an unexpected window overlooking a beautifully unique landscape of expression.

Enter Sarah Small.  A master of fusing unexpected combinations of subjects and emotions into her art, she breathes thought and vitality into an incredibly unusual exploration of life.  Thankfully, Spencer Tunick’s email list informed me of her need for models, musicians, artists, and actors for an upcoming project appropriately named Tableau Vivant.  While at Bard this summer, I sent in the application form to participate as a clothed singer in this mixed concept involving nudity. I rode my bike downtown to the audition, not at all knowing what to expect last Friday afternoon.

What I discovered surprised me in more ways than I can articulate. Sarah’s assistant immediately put me at ease as I awaited my turn to interview and audition. Somehow I hadn’t thought to prepare a song to sing and allowed my thoughts to find a quick solution to my a cappella interview dilemma, resting upon a fairly obscure but wide-ranged song that unfortunately didn’t work so well when started in the wrong key. Hopefully Sarah and her director Adam J. Thompson forgave that awkward-at-best choice and enjoyed the remainder of my tryout.

Interviewing with a talented male model, I had a chance to pose with him clothed while he contorted himself in the nude. We made faces, stretching them into shocked expressions for the camera and thrashed about the room. I sang at him angrily (definitely not a standard audition request) while I repeatedly lost character in my amusement and astonishment from the experience as a whole. My partner dressed, and we continued to interview as Sarah and Adam discovered some extra time for our process. I repeated a Hungarian folk melody in mostly chest voice and then sang an entire Bach recitative and  aria with no accompaniment.

“You shouldn’t have sung opera to me.  Now I want to see you nude,” mentioned Sarah, as I took a short second to decide that I would in fact participate nude for the sake of such a project in which I could believe and find purpose. Feeling a bit nervous as I removed my fabric barriers, I talked and laughed to compensate before standing before creator, director, and interviewee to sing the Habanera from Bizet‘s Carmen. I sang fairly well, and I have to say that this certainly trumps every audition I’ve ever given in terms of vulnerability; yet, the experience gave me a feeling of life and enjoyment that both awakened and stunned me simultaneously.

I don’t know if Sarah Small will use me for her mini tableau in two short weeks, her larger project in 2011, something else entirely, or nothing. In that overall vulnerability I experienced, I opened myself up to their judgment and possible acceptance or rejection (objectively, of course, they may or may not need me – decisions are rarely actually personal in nature). Physically, vocally, and dramatically, I displayed my flaws, mistakes, successes, and strengths together as they presented themselves with no apology. I can only hope they blended together for a successful audition and look forward to the hope of working with such open-minded artists in the future.

In life as in art, honesty hides nothing and can inspire joy, awe, disgust, and pain. What we decide to hide behind our clothing or in conversation frames our lives and the perceptions of strangers in the audience and our dearest friends next door.  As we interact within our society, covering everything next to another of life’s players who perhaps exposes too much, the unexpected will ultimately occur. Sometimes I err on the side of revealing myself inappropriately and must take a step back to judge my own motives.  Today, I awake grateful to the possibilities explored by Sarah Small, who combines the beauty of all extremes with human beings in a safe and somewhat controlled environment. May my study and potential participation only teach me how better to enact my role in the all-enveloping and expansive arena of existence.

You can witness Tableau Vivant live on September 25 at the DUMBO Arts Festival from 7:30pm-9:30pm at the Powerhouse Arena on 37 Main Street in Brooklyn.  Free admission.

Seeing Stars, Day 81

I feel as if I haven’t stopped for more than a long nap and a couple of meals since last night’s recital and intend to remedy that in a few short minutes with a very long sleep and a more hermit-like existence before tomorrow’s dress rehearsal.  Today, I performed the Habañera from Bizet’s Carmen to a very appreciative and fun audience at the Columbia Center Rotary.  So far, I have a perfect record on standing ovations out here – did I mention how much I like the people in the Tri-Cities region?  I spent some time having coffee and chatting with one of the rotary members before our first afternoon rehearsal with the tenor and bass soloists and then attempted a dinner with the soprano soloist and her mother and my friend Justin and his father afterwards.  Of course, all of this culminated in far more talking than eating, so I have a lot less talking and much more food on the docket for tomorrow.

Finally, we had our first rehearsal onstage with the orchestra and choir tonight, and I can honestly say that the Mid-Columbia Mastersingers have thoroughly impressed me in their preparation, tuning, and spirit.  Of course, I forget that the talents of a chorus master like Justin Raffa go such a long way when applied to a community of smart and down-to earth individuals like these.  For a supplemented and fully-volunteer choir, they have a well-blended and remarkable sound, and I look forward to singing with them on Saturday.  Of course, tonight’s rehearsal had many technical difficulties that require ironing out, and I felt myself having to tape my mouth shut and sit on my hands to patiently allow the people in charge to handle the issues they deal with so well on a regular basis.  Hopefully my fatigue didn’t override my sensibilities, though I definitely struggled to keep my energy high and positive.  Perhaps next time I will learn to replace the afternoon coffee conversation with a nap alone.

After the rehearsal, I did manage to come to my senses and continue with my original plan to go stargazing instead of attending a party with one of the incredibly fun and gracious board members.  Although a little networking and hanging out never hurts, my voice enjoyed the trip to the desolate Coffin Road far more than it would have a noisy wine-enhanced gathering.  Led by Roy Gephart, a local scientist and astronomer and the husband of our accompanist Sheila, we traveled to a beautiful and quiet country road to enjoy the night sky and see some old and new constellations.  Since I usually use some kind of dark sky finder to hunt for dark skies on vacations, this fantastic astronomy lesson made my night, despite my exhaustion.  We saw some meteors and several satellites, all while hunting the night for some pictures of gods, animals, and zodiac signs.  Not a bad end to my day.  Now to bed – the best part of it all.