Defeating the Seasonal Funk, Day 147

In a funk, not quite functional, preoccupied and a bit derailed – so I felt a few days before Christmas. We all have known a stray day here or there like this. I suspect the homeless man currently ranting across the subway car at another passenger who somehow insulted his honor has had quite a few himself.

Last week, I experienced a much lesser version of such a day, bewildered by past emotions from months and even decades past in the face of present and future circumstances. Wondering if I would regret the choice to RSVP to attend Nancy Wertsch’s caroling-centric holiday party on my only full day off from singing in weeks, I dragged my issues and attitude up to Riverdale nevertheless. My good friend Alex asked, “How are you?” “Fine,” I responded not terribly enthusiastically.

We went to a local nursing home, Schervier Nursing Care Center, and donated our time and talents to wander the halls singing carols. Given the quality of the singing, we discovered many patients who seemed surprised to hear such caroling streaming through their rooms and corridors. It didn’t all go smoothly, of course. After cleaning vomit, into which I accidentally stepped, off my new boots, it seemed that one of the residents who requested our presence in their room really wanted to watch Family Guy instead. On the contrary, the patient loved us despite the background noise of the television, and everyone we encountered from the elderly to the nurses, supervisors, and maintenance workers greeted us with kindness and gratefulness.

On the fourth floor, a lovely pale-skinned woman in a wheelchair thanked us, offered to pray for us, and insisted that she would include us all in her will. Another woman painstakingly left her room with her walker to greet us in the hallway and listen. On the fifth floor, after a fantastically talented whistler couldn’t remember what carols he liked but kept whistling “Silent Night,” we began the song again for likely the twelfth time that evening.

Reminding me of our earlier encounter, my friend Alex said, “Why don’t I give you a ride home after this, and you can explain to me why you just feel fine?” At least an awkward twenty seconds later, I finally remembered to what he referred  – my mood upon entering the nursing home. “Oh, I had forgotten all about that! I’m actually doing something productive and worthwhile,” I responded, insisting upon basking in the goodness that for an evening filled the Schervier Nursing Care Center.

In an instant, I remembered caring for my grandmother for a couple of days in a similar center in Malone, NY years prior. Unlike most of the patients with whom we interacted at Schervier, she couldn’t walk by herself or even operate a wheelchair to sit and socialize with the others. Most often alone in her room, she began to lose her sense of reality, and I found it incredibly difficult to help her in conversation. Finally, on my last day visiting, I gave her a back massage. As she sat there, moaning a little and thanking me profusely, I thanked God that I could do something to make one moment of her final days just a little more livable.

Living at a much more rapid pace this year upon my return from Washington, I launched immediately into the hustle of a classical singer’s Christmas in New York, rehearsing or working at least two and often three gigs per day. I honestly forget how many Messiahs I’ve sung these past few weeks, and I know some of my colleagues worked more. Between performing in Amahl, the Messiahs, the Mozart Requiem, three Christmas services, and two temple services and recording a voice-over and with a choir for an Iranian composer,  I had plenty of stimulation. Friends somehow still managed to schedule time for lunches and coffees, two operas, overnight conversations, and a social media party. My apartment morphed a bit further, with new lighting fixtures and a few new shelves and pictures on the walls, and I survived an exhausted trip to visit family in Pennsylvania for Christmas and a blizzard that dumped a foot and a half on our Washington Heights roofs and vehicles.

Ultimately, after a moment to pause and reflect, I have so much for which to be grateful. What a wonderful, if hectic, season I’ve had! I feel infinitely better about the present and optimistic about the future. I’ve had a chance to let go of expectations and longings and, perhaps more importantly, to embrace the grand gestures of those interested and willing to make investments of time and effort in my life. Such time and effort spent for free on my only day off at the nursing home caroling party, after all, turned out to give me even more joy and fulfillment than any of the truly wonderful gigs for which I received payment.

Unfortunately, the time between Christmas and New Year’s has a reputation for inciting more depression and suicides than any other throughout the year. During these days, we pause, we reflect, and sometimes we don’t like what we have or lack. Another friend tonight confided in me that he often doesn’t feel good enough or worthy of affection from loved ones. Once we sense ourselves entering such a holiday funk, we have to climb out in ways that sometimes seem to make us uncomfortable, challenge us, and help us to refocus. I may have stepped in some vomit along the way, but giving joy to those gorgeously happy faces in a nursing home made every minute worth my time and investment. This truly is a season best spent in giving.

On a personal note, I have a very dear visitor from Washington this week and may not have a chance to write again until after the new year. May yours excite and enliven you, give you joy for the present, and show you infinite hope for the future to come. I can’t wait for us to share next year’s challenges together.

A Season to Supply My Needs, Day 145

Ah, dear blog, how I’ve missed thee!

Seriously speaking, I returned to my home in New York City only a week and one day ago; however, I feel as if I have lived three weeks worth of time, travel, and gigs. Having allocated any supposedly extra time to finding Christmas presents, decorating a little, and reorganizing the apartment that still feels slightly like someone else’s, I feel a bit out of sorts without writing or exercising daily. As a classical singers at Christmas, my many colleagues and I share a happy load of holiday concerts and performances, Messiahs and Amahls among the hodgepodge of musical offerings to usher in the wintertime. Running to my fifth gig this weekend across two boroughs and states in the rain with a gown, I saw three friends scarfing down dinner after two previous gigs before our recording session and felt somehow better to have company. Despite the little rest and less time for real meals, a few beneficent contributors to my sanity have welcomed me home and kept me going like the most helpful and addictive of all drugs imaginable through this holiday season. For them, I give thanks.

 

  1. Choral contractors, unions, and thoughtful managers and directors: Jacquie Pierce, Nancy Wertsch, Margery Daly, AGMA, AFTRA, Sony, Justin Raffa, Anthony LaGruth, David Shuler, Bradley Brookshire, and Dino Anagnost have all contributed to keeping me and my colleagues busy and paid while keeping their performers at their peak ability levels with sensible breaks and kind considerations.
  2. Incredible people with whom to share a home: Jo Brodzinski, who allowed me to enjoy her company and home for seven weeks in the Tri-Cities, and Ariana Chris, who took incredible care of my NYC apartment while I traveled and keeps me entertained like a sister this week before returning to her first home in Canada.
  3. Public transportation: Despite complaints these several years of construction with the MTA, the subways have improved, with signs in now over one hundred stations to finally tell passengers when to expect the arrival of the next train. The monthly unlimited Metrocard has yet to increase again, which keeps me very happy for now, especially after three weeks of traveling at the mercy of others when snowed-in in the Tri-Cities. I now fully appreciate snow plows (apparently an oddity there) and the incredible freedom I have at my fingertips every time I swipe my Metrocard and wait for the train on my twenty-four hour, seven-days per week metallic travel companion.
  4. Worthwhile compositions: Last Saturday, I had the opportunity to sing in a performance of Handel’s Messiah at a Seventh Day Adventist Church in Brooklyn as part of their services. Although I could have possibly run a marathon in less time, the gratefulness of the congregation and the smiles on the faces of even the smallest children as they all joined in for the “Hallelujah Chorus” made the trip worth every minute. Last night, my dear friend Jenny Greene offered me her complimentary ticket to see her dress rehearsal of Thomas Pasatieri‘s new opera, God Bless us Everyone, a new sequel to Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, following the life of Tiny Tim as a grown man. Although as a new production it has a tiny bit more distance to travel toward standing alone as a finished work, Di Capo’s director, orchestra, and cast seemed well up to the task. Furthermore, its themes of love, peace, and forgiveness ring as true as the well-composed music itself for a lasting holiday classic to come.
  5. Loved ones: Although I already miss my dear new friends in Washington state, I so gratefully return to those I left here at home. Not having seen everyone yet, I have so much to look forward to these next couple of weeks and into the new year. My family at my sister’s home in Pennsylvania to see over Christmas weekend, my musical friends I have yet to see, a new connection from the Tri-Cities who visits me for New Year’s Eve, and my new colleagues and companions from an upcoming puppet film and puppet opera.

Doubtless I have much to do and many more challenges ahead this season, even as I rush off for tonight’s performance of the Mozart Requiem with the Dalton Chorale. Regardless of the difficulties, I am more sure than ever that I have exactly what I need, here, now, and in the future. Thanks to all of you who make my reality well worth living.

“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…