You Should Read This

Should I Stay or Should I Go?Sometimes, I just don’t want to leave the comfort of my apartment. Of course, that’s why I created this blog in the first place – to force myself out into the world I really do love so much. This morning, I awoke next to an amazing person and enjoyed breakfast and a ride to my gig at Carnegie Hall. I met with friends, sang with a world-class orchestra, and listened as they performed Notre Dame by Franz Schmidt, an incredible and rarely done opera.

Afterwards, having dinner with a friend with whom I sang and another friend who came to the performance, I remembered what it felt like to eat and enjoy company for hours without really ever needing the time to end. Yay. Then shopping for groceries with a friend? Still actually a lot of fun. Finally, while on the subway coming home, I met Paul and Eric, a lovely couple who live in my neighborhood, and we talked about local news channels, cantoring, donating televisions, and our lives.

Why did I not want to leave the apartment today? Between watching my boyfriend’s Aikido test yesterday and all the events of today, I enjoyed a very charmed weekend. I suspect I sometimes hesitate to actively live because I’ve done a lot of “shoulding” myself in life. Saying that I have to go to work or that I need to leave for my gig makes me forget or even dread the important parts. I LOVE MY JOB! Furthermore, I love my life. I want to everything I did today, and most days of my life. I like to sing and act, and I choose to enjoy friends who try new things and value living in the moment with me.

Some things require more effort, and I admittedly will have a harder time removing the musts, shoulds, have tos, need tos, am supposed tos, and ought tos from my vocabulary on my next task: taxes. For a little inspiration, Marshall B. Rosenberg provides a story in his book, Nonviolent Communication.

I recall, however, from my childhood how differently my father and grandfather felt about paying taxes. They had immigrated to the United States from Russia and were desirous of supporting a government they believed was protecting people in a way that the czar had not. Imagining the many people whose welfare was being served by their tax money, they felt earnest pleasure as they sent their checks to the U.S . government. 

I feel grateful that so many without jobs can receive extended unemployment benefits right now. My taxes support student loan programs, some healthcare, education, some of the arts, and so many other great initiatives. Granted, I may not agree with or even know all of the ways in which the government spends my tax dollars. I certainly didn’t study accounting and usually prefer people to numbers, so crunching them doesn’t usually excite me as much.

That said, I want to change the way I think, live, and speak, in the most positive way I currently know how. Whether I sing, act, prepare taxes, hang out with friends, exercise, work, or just live, I want to do it well and as joyfully as I can. So perhaps tomorrow I may not wake up wanting to work on my taxes, but instead of “shoulding” myself, I will choose to take on our annual national ritual of filing taxes, with the beautiful music of Notre Dame still ringing in my ears.

Tableau Slideshow Saturday ~ 176

Inhale, exhale, rinse, repeat. A fantastically busy week deserves at least an update. At least four posts to come include a great concert in which I sang on Valentine’s Day for the Cornelia Street Café, my first scuba diving class with Pan Aqua, a second StripXpertease class (this time an unbelievably challenging exercise class in heels – read about the first class here), and a concert I attended by Roomful of Teeth. I already know I have to use the word “badass” in my review of that night of singers and composers who perform fearlessly. Such an inspiration!

In the meantime, thanks to The Opera Insider for giving me the chance to attend and review an inspiring concert at Carnegie Hall last week! My friend Suzanne Schwing and I enjoyed excellent seats for Natalie Mann and Jeffrey Panko‘s recital at Weill Hall, and The Opera Insider has posted my review on their blog and Facebook page! Although I still have no news regarding my article on Sarah Small‘s Tableau Vivant, I hope to publish it here, if it doesn’t find a home elsewhere soon.

Because of a weekend packed with rehearsals for our upcoming puppet opera, Don Cristòbal, and next Wednesday’s performance of L’Africaine at Avery Fisher Hall, I’ll have to miss a fun event featuring Sarah Small and Tableau. In Brooklyn on Saturday at 7:30pm, 3rd Ward will host a slideshow, live bluegrass music, and a chili cookoff with beer from Brooklyn Brewery. Yum. Although the festivities start at 7:30, the slideshow itself starts around 9pm and features thirty images from our last Tableau Vivant at BathHouse Studios and a movie clip from the event. This short clip reveals the previously undisclosed location for Sarah’s largest Tableau Vivant in May, with one hundred twenty models in total.

Rehearsal Photo from BathHouse Studios Tableau Vivant
Rehearsal Photo by Glen Glasser

If you have the opportunity to venture to 3rd Ward for Saturday’s event, you’ll see work from at least twenty-five other artists now listed on the Facebook Event Page. Wishing I could join the celebration, I may have to live vicariously through anyone else who can attend. Please let us know here if you have the chance to experience it yourself. With so many great experiences for myself this month, I look forward to whatever comes this weekend and wish Sarah Small a successful slideshow and some excellent chili!

Sideluck Bushwick

Charmed by the Unknown, Day 132

Image by Paul Sottnik

Throughout the course of Wednesday, I rode my bike to and from Carnegie Hall mostly on the Westside Greenway Path, fifteen miles roundtrip, somehow managing to make it home to 183rd Street in only forty-five minutes despite five steep hill climbs from the northern end of the path to my street (panting fairly heavily, of course). During my break after rehearsal before the Ulysses concert, I donated a cart full of items to a church thrift store, dropped off items to my local cobbler, waited in the interminable line at our lovely post office for a package, bought some apartment necessities for my roommate’s stay when I leave for Washington, arranged a zipcar and meeting to pickup a new table and chairs tomorrow, complained to FedEx, showered, and ate a very hurried dinner before dressing for an evening concert and jumping on the subway to return to Carnegie.

Needless to say, tonight’s concert required some caffeine and concentration, both of which I fortunately had by the start of our first piece by Othmar Schoeck. Although I haven’t the energy now to elaborate on the masterfully crafted program for tonight, feel free to check out Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim’s article in the Wall Street Journal, which insightfully explores James Joyce from the perspective of a “Portrait of the Artist as a Music Fan.” I will say, however, that at the end of a tiring day and a somewhat lengthy concert, I did not want it to end. As our premiere of Ulysses in particular came to a close, I wished wholeheartedly for a longer version of the work, several more performances, or at the very least some sort of promise that I might have the extreme pleasure of singing this challenging and exciting piece again.

Thank you, Leon Botstein, the American Symphony Orchestra, Collegiate Chorale, and Carnegie Hall, for providing an outlet for so many underperformed works of art. I never knew Ulysses by Mátyás Seiber existed, did you? Stunningly forgotten. Until once more we have the incredible fortune of experiencing Ulysses in symphonic form, art continues to evolve, and James Joyce lives on through the work and study of so many inspired artists. If you have time tomorrow, you can get an insiders view of the creation of the new comic Ulysses Seen with its founders and artists at the Irish Arts Center at 7:30pm. Either way, find some time to pick up the challenging book never read, to listen to a strange and unusual musical work (perhaps even by Seiber), and to allow yourself to believe that somehow you might even learn to appreciate the unknown. Congratulations to everyone who attended and participated in this magical performance at Carnegie Hall and did just that.

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.

How Can I Keep from Singing? Day 76 (16 of 25)

I did something tonight that I haven’t done in a very long while.  Why did I stop for so long?  Perhaps because I live in New York City, perhaps because I aged.  Either way, between cramming a South Pacific song in my head all day for an audition, seeing a bold and moving performance tonight, and generally a recent thorough enjoyment of life these days, I sang – outside in Washington Heights.

As a child, I used to walk, skip, or run around my neighborhood singing random songs.  Having lived in village in Ohio at a young age, I doubtless developed a sense of freedom around the mostly empty streets and carried that to my next neighborhood in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, more populated but still suburban.  Actually making up songs, I had a fantastic outlet for emotional expression, and no stranger ever really seemed to notice or complain.  In fact, I might have preferred it otherwise, since I specifically remember singing “On My Own” from Les Miserables, convinced that one day some Broadway director might drive by in his car and “discover” me.

Thankfully, it would appear I have discovered myself these days, and I have felt more stable and happier than ever this year and even more, as of late.  Apparently allowing that joy to creep in tonight, I prepped for tomorrow’s audition with a very silly, mostly quiet rendition of “A Wonderful Guy,” truly feeling as “corny as Kansas in August.”  I tried to avoid singing within one hundred or so feet of anyone, but that involved walking around the circumference of Bennett Park on a very funny path.  A little uncomfortable and potentially embarrassing, yes.  Silly?  Definitely.  Nevertheless, seeing the Empire State Building in the distance, singing South Pacific, I felt happier and more inspired than I have in a long time.  If I can carry that into tomorrow’s audition, I can imagine no better preparatory exercise.

For this I owe a debt of gratitude to my dear friend Nicholas Hay who brought me to see an incredibly inspiring Thomas Quasthoff in recital at Carnegie Hall tonight.  Thomas Quasthoff, an amazing bass-baritone with a stunning voice and a physical disability due to his mother’s use of Thalidomide, reminds me so much of recent readings from Eckhart Tolle‘s A New Earth.  Specifically, he once said in an interview with The Guardian, “In any case, who is really not disabled? I am in the lucky position that everyone can see it. But if you are never happy, if you are only concerned about money or success, this is in my opinion also a kind of disability.”

Tonight, in my opinion, Thomas Quasthoff had no disabilities in the least.  First and foremost, he had no reservations.  This man performs as himself, addresses the audience directly, genteelly, and with a fantastic sense of humor as if we were to attend a concert in his living room.  Oh, that we could all perform so truly as ourselves!  When the audience inappropriately applauded between songs within a set, he said, “I would be very pleased if there were no applause between the songs.  After, yes.”  Later, returning from the intermission to see several people crossing in front of the first row of seats after he had already taken the stage, I watched as the performance briefly turned into a comedy routine.  “Take your time.  Anybody else want to cross here?  Okay, my flight leaves tomorrow, so you can relax.”

Relaxing indeed, and so musically executed, his concert charmed me into an instant fan.  With an elegant performance of Schubert, Brahms and the Frank Martin Sechs Monologe aus Jedermann, Thomas Quasthoff and his stunning pianist Justus Zeyen delivered a moving and enlightening program of song.  Quasthoff’s first low note shocked me, as his higher register seemed so skillfully approached that I didn’t imagine he might also have such a full and unimpeded lower range.  Indeed, his overtones rang as clearly as his masterful diction through Carnegie Hall with utterly resonant depth.

Admittedly admiring his fantastic breath management, I listened intently as Thomas Quasthoff caressed every phrase in tandem with Justus Zeyen, both of whom had such a mastery of phrasal tension and release.  Zeyen supported Quasthoff with an energy that never overpowered, even as he perfectly placed even the syncopation in a way that wholly complemented the line of the phrase without ever interrupting the singer’s expression.  Overall, I could not have enjoyed myself more and agreed with the enthusiastic masses as we stood and applauded gleefully after his third encore (before the second, he said, “If you want to go home, tell me.”).  In truth, how could I not sing in response to such a lovely day and an inspiring concert, even if in the streets of Washington Heights?