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.

Inviting Mystery (#247)

Last week, I had the incredible fortune of continuing my path towards life coaching certification with the Balance course, offered by The Coaches Training Institute. Each class affirms my unique and powerful skills as a coach and my talent for intuition and working with people. I fully believe in this path for my life to add to the wealth of experiences and creativity and work I already enjoy as a singer, actor, writer, and filmmaker. “Coach” seems to fit really well within that collection of wonderful hats I get to wear.

In training, because we gain so much experience as coaches by actually doing the work, we have so many opportunities to receive coaching from our peers and our instructors, and each of these classes transforms me from moment to moment. It’s just incredible. I’d love to share one of my biggest takeaways from these lessons – the realization that I want to invite more mystery into my life.

For months, I’ve considered the difference between planners and rebels and the extreme reactions people have to choosing events and filling schedules. I see the benefits of both. Planning gives me a sense of control and security, and with so many planners in the world, sometimes only making time in advance permits me to see people who live their lives with full calendars. On the other hand, I now know several people who refuse to make plans, for the most part, until each day arrives. This leaves tons of room for surprise and spontaneity, but planners often find these rebels, of sorts, unreliable and impossible to trust.

Admittedly, I lean toward planning, but I really miss the days when I first moved to NYC, before I eventually slid into an almost hourly reliance on Google Calendar to keep straight all of my appointments and connections. Before I had a network and a routine, when I used to try new things… with this blog, on a daily basis! So, in the spirit of inviting more mystery into my life and making room for unknown surprises, I have created mystery week!

By creating space on my calendar for one week per month (aside from important work commitments or contracts), refusing to make any plans until each day starts, I have decided to invite creativity and mystery back into my life. It just started Sunday. On day one, I had already gone on an impromptu shopping trip with a good friend at the MOMA design store (I had never been) and ran into a lovely friend from the neighborhood, riding the subway home and meeting her super fun daughter, who sang to me a song she had written and regaled me with a story about a girl and her braces. In case you’re still wondering, she was charming and delightfully unexpected.

Yesterday, I had an important meeting with a friend with whom I’ve been working on a big project for some time. He offered to drive me home on the way to a private indoor skydiving lesson, and when, on the way, he offered to take me with him and give me a few minutes of his lesson time, of course I happily agreed and had an absolute blast. By opening myself up to possibility, I had the chance to experience something completely new and both intellectually and physically exciting. Today, I went roller skating at a park in my neighborhood – something I’ve never done – and I haven’t skated, since I suffered an injury a few years ago. It felt triumphant and was a serious workout. So for this week, anyway, I may not know what tomorrow brings, but I really, really like it that way. Mischief – or mystery – unmanaged.

 

Time Machine

Lately, I’ve taken a bit of a break from writing at Skydiving for Pearls, to focus on my crossover efforts from opera to musical theatre and film and television. I’ve also started gearing up for a very big project to come, called The Peace of Persistence, which I intend to unveil fully in September. In the meantime, I’m singing and acting up a storm, excitedly awaiting the start of rehearsals for the New York Philharmonic’s Carousel while filling in for an injured friend in the opening weekend of the return of Don Cristóbal, now through Sunday.

Speaking of returns, Kara Morgan is back! She’s moved to Los Angeles to more fully pursue her dreams in acting and singing, while I miss her shining face, I wish her all the best. PS, Kara, feel free to hire me when you make it big out there. I couldn’t resist sharing her newest episode, Time Machine. Enjoy!

Alright Here

Despite the news of Hurricane Sandy and the NYC Marathon cancelation, I’ve kept a relatively low profile as I recover from a couple of unexpected blows. First, the marathon, and its cancelation that oddly leveled a sizable blow to my ego even to the point of feeling like heartbreak. Second, my knee, the same one I had worked so hard to heal after my training fall on the Queensboro Bridge, which I then re-injured by falling while dismounting my bicycle on the way to my church job last Sunday – ironically, the day I had planned to run in the marathon. In one week, I went from running eleven-minute-miles to walking eleven-minute-blocks along with the elderly with their walkers on Tuesday. I did vote.

As I sat at home for the rest of the week, nursing my physical and emotional wounds, I searched for answers and lessons to be learned; meanwhile, the universe threw funny moments and great visitors in my direction to remind me that I wasn’t and am never alone. Several friends came to visit, along with a photographer I had met while singing in the subway. She needed a place to stay when her plane was canceled due to the Nor’easter last week and gave me an opportunity to help someone displaced from the storm, from the comfort of my home. The strangest surprise came when a census bureau representative who had tried unsuccessfully to ask me questions for a financial survey when I was sick months ago returned at this uncanny time, with organic orange juice and flowers.

My loved ones and well-wishers have helped to soothe my soul and teach me some valuable lessons about striving, resting, and communing with life and the living. Here are five things I learned this week:

  1. The elderly aren’t just wise because they’ve accumulated a lot of experience. Having to move at such a slow pace makes you choose between living in the moment and going insane.
  2. When it takes you 2 minutes to walk past someone, you’re more likely to be friendly. Otherwise, every person you pass is an instant awkward moment.
  3. Although I value peak experiences, I placed too much stock in one day’s easily canceled event. I talked a bit too little about anything else but the marathon, and in it I laid my worth as a woman who could do anything. I can still do anything, and I will likely run another marathon, but each day has no more potential than the next to change my life or the world.
  4. Heartbreak is sometimes a gift to make you a stronger person.
  5. Regardless of fame, success, dreams, and all our striving, our best lives still end with those we love at home

Thank you to everyone who cheered me on, and especially to those who donated to Team for Kids on my behalf. It’s an amazing charity, and I’m so grateful to have still helped so many children with your gifts. Finally, a song from my dear and talented friend Trina Bass Coleman, called Alright Here. It reminds me of the most important lesson of all: regardless of fame, dreams, and all our striving, our best lives still end with those we love at home.

Lifetime Investments

Child's Play

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about how life has changed since childhood. We spend many of our days indoors, and most of us wouldn’t dream of recessing ourselves outside for any length of time in the winter, unless skiing or absolutely necessary. Most of us have our times at the gym or elsewhere to keep in shape, but the days of monkey bars and dangling by our knees feel like a lifetime ago (unless of course, you perform in Cirque du Soleil or hang out with the folks at the Circus Warehouse). Why?

Yesterday, I remeber waxing poetic about my fitness and flexibility as a child, receiving physical education and recess every single day, in addition to the time spent on the playground alone or with friends. Then, I decided to run over the Queensboro Bridge. I would, after all, have to run there during the marathon one month from now. As I ascended, I felt a sense of accomplishment and enjoyed the day, despite the overcast and drizzly weather and the somewhat inconvenient construction which had stripped away all of the pavement on the pedestrian/bicycle path.

Bam! As I flew through the air and promptly landed on my hands and knees, I tore the new capris intended for the marathon, bruised and cut my legs, and ripped open my right hand in a rather unattractive way. Looking up, I saw a concerned cyclist and the raised patch of metal that had caused my tumble and felt childishly offended, as though the universe had cruelly inured poor little me. Somehow, this felt oddly familiar.

Ah yes, it felt like childhood! Running another three miles after briefly cleaning up and begging for bandages at the nearest Starbucks, I pondered my silly though painful fall from grace. My ego cried a little about my mean and unfair boo-boos, and upon arrival at home, I had to take myself to the pharmacy for supplies, clean out my own wounds, dry my own tears, and wash the dirt and blood out of my own tattered clothes. After a few hours, I learned the lesson a teacher or parent no longer needed to instruct.

Kids run and play. They also bring home grass stains and broken limbs. With increased activity comes increased risk and investment. Take, for example, the ridiculous disclaimer I had to sign before skydiving. That said, while wounds may take longer to heal as adults, the lessons sink in faster, and the rewards are honestly priceless. As I sit today outside Lincoln Center, I know I will have many trials in life, more skinned knees, and likely bruised egos. Some years bring more challenges than others, and all of them bring opportunities for growth, investments, and action.

Here’s to the eight-year-olds on the playground and the octogenarian skydivers and triathletes – those who live all of their lives fully without excuses or fear of falling, or in spite of any such fear. Yes, I ran twenty miles in one day this week but a year ago, I wouldn’t have dreamt of it. I’m so glad I took the risk to run this amazing race of life. Yesterday, I fell flat on my face. Today, I took my bruised knees and bandaged hands to the Metropolitan Opera, put on a wig and a dress, and performed on one of the greatest stages on earth. Sometimes the greatest investment we can make in life is to get up, try again, and hang from the jungle gym.

Otello at the Metropolitan Opera

Gratefully Yours

Winston Churchill once said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” To those of you who have helped me raise over $3000 for Team for Kids for this year’s ING New York City Marathon, you have made possible one of the major experiences of my life and the motivation and encouragement of countless children who will benefit from your donation. Thank you! One of the many beneficiaries of your kindness left me a voicemail the other day… this is who you have helped.

Still haven’t had a chance to contribute? Meet Kristen Kasarjian, an amazing friend of mine running the race for the same amazing charity. Please help her reach her goal, since I’ve already reached mine! Anyone who donates at least $100 to her campaign can still sponsor a mile in mine (I’ll think of you during the marathon in the mile of your choice)… Just let me know when you do. In the meantime for me, lots of training continues, as I keep running to prepare for the 26.2 mile course I get to complete on November 4. Today, I ran 16 miles, and I get to train in some of the most beautiful areas. Here’s your bird’s eye view into some of my favorite runs so far. Thank you, thank you, thank you for making it all worthwhile. I can’t wait!

An Early Run at Bard
An Early Run near Bard College
Run in Palisades Park
Run in Palisades Park
Sunlight in Palisades
Sunlight in Palisades
Back in the city
Back in the city

Firsts and Seconds

Thank you SO much to everyone who helped me get more than halfway to my goal of raising $3000 for Team for Kids for my upcoming marathon in NYC this fall. Because of your support, I feel like I can do it… not just the fundraising, but the running itself! I run farther than I’ve ever run in my life every weekend now, and I couldn’t do it without you. This marathon is my first race, first marathon, first major fundraising event, and first attempt to make fitness a larger part of my life. Thanks for believing in me!

Now for the second… date! If you haven’t seen it yet, enjoy Kara Morgan‘s second installment of The Opera Sitcom. I love it.