Singing for Hope

Living in New York City enlivens, pushes, and challenges me. In a subway car, you might find me working on my attitude toward life, reading a book like The Fifth Agreement by Don Miguel Ruiz and Don Jose Ruiz. The other day, I stumbled onto a concept that confused me at best. In the book, the Ruizes combat an often heard saying, “Nobody’s Perfect.”

In their Toltec beliefs, “the truth is that everything in creation is perfect, including the humans.” Continuing to explain the concept, they further insist:

“Everything about us is perfect, including any disability or disease that we may have. Someone with a learning difficulty is perfect; someone born without a finger or an arm or an ear is perfect; someone with a disease is perfect. Only perfection exists, and that awareness is another important step in our evolution.”

Perhaps I present these inspired authors unfairly by dropping you in the middle of a probably unfamiliar and weighty concept; however, after my morning volunteering at The Cerebral Palsy Center of New York, I can honestly say I met some amazing people, perfect in their current state. About a month ago, my work as a soloist began with a concert at Mt. Sinai Hospital for some incredibly grateful patients and staff. On that day, my definition of an audience changed forever.

Audience at Mt. Sinai

Today, singing with Jacqueline Ballarin, I caught a glimpse of happiness in handshakes, stories, and wheelchairs. George and Karik came in early and talked with us about puppies and trips and asked what we would sing. The pure joy oozing from Karik’s face when we shook his hand melted my heart.

When looking for a quiet concert venue, do not choose The Cerebral Palsy Center of New York, where the inhabitants laugh, sing along, and joke uncontrollablly as they experience the emotions we usually temper and control with a beautiful abandon. Jacquie boldly navigated the crowd as she sang, making them feel wanted and entertained, and they responded with exclamations of “Wow” and “I wish I could sing like that.”

After our songs had ended, Timothy showed us to the front door, pulling his wheelchair along with the wooden railings installed on every wall. Smiling as brightly as the applause that had rung through the corridors, Timothy thanked us, laughed, and corrected the staff member we passed who insisted that he raps. Apparently, he writes poetry and sings R&B. After seeing the paintings along the walls done by artists in their community, I don’t doubt it one bit.

Perfect? I suppose that depends on how you define the word. Despite their illness, these stunning people find and share joy by the mile – a talent we could all stand to develop further. Personally, I cannot imagine a better way to have spent my day. I don’t know for whose hope I just sang – theirs, or my own.

A Night at the Museum

Times in my life quite like the present don’t present themselves terribly often. Never before have I had so many varied jobs and gigs at once. Within the coming month, I rehearse and perform an intensely musical puppet play, prepare and perform April in Paris (my French-themed recital featuring Eugene Sirotkine and Benjamin C.S. Boyle), rehearse new music written by Sarah Small for our Tableau Vivant and a music video, and begin rehearsals at the Metropolitan Opera to revive our production of Orfeo ed Euridice with Mark Morris.

Meanwhile, because many of these gigs still leave me mostly unemployed, I’ve taken a side job or two in art modeling, in focus groups, and with the charity auction ibidmobile team mentioned in last week’s post. With little money and only two fully open spaces on my calendar between now and April 25, every second, penny, and friendly face feels almost painfully precious. Given the recent news of earthquakes, tsunamis, radiation leaks, and explosions, all from one unexpected event, perhaps I ought to continue this attitude throughout and beyond each of my busy days.

Last evening, I had the chance to earn a little money again with ibidmobile, a somewhat tiring but important job helping to facilitate silent auctions for charities. Five hours on my feet with an ipad, talking over music and hundreds of guests? Not a situation I generally would seek out as a singer who needs to rehearse in the morning. I could have grumbled about at least a handful or two of things, as any work provides such an obviously tempting atmosphere for complaints. I may have even heard one or two from other employees in passing.

Instead of joining in, something came over me tonight in a very exciting way that required no alcohol whatsoever, and I hope to take it from last night into each of my every endeavors this month. No, at last evening’s Nightingale-Bamford School charity event, I chatted with friends about fun auction items near NCG 1350 and the Andromeda Galaxy at the American Museum of Natural History while waiting for the guests to arrive. I helped at least a few people win their coveted experiences, wines, and lunches, ran into a friend who works at the school, and met a drummer interested in hearing me sing for his world music group. When for a brief moment signal interference paused the auction, we danced with incredibly fun and generous guests under the blue whale. At the end of definitely my favorite of these events thus far, a great girls’ school had raised a very significant amount of money for tuition and scholarships.

Tomorrow brings more recital rehearsal and an evening of running from a puppet with a club. I hope you’ll join me here and in person for the rest!

Soon = Wolfy’s Journey DVD Release
March 31 – April 10 = Don Cristóbal
April 16 = April in Paris, A Recital with Abigail Wright and Eugene Sirotkine/
(April 17 = Private Music Video Filming with Sarah Small)
(April 23 = High Fall Stunt Class)
April 29-May 14 = Orfeo ed Euridice
May 23, 24 TBA = Tableau Vivant at Skylight One Hanson
(June TBA = Skydiving trip #2 – join us!)
July 29-August 7 = Das Liebe der Danae

Leaving the Whining to the NYC Heat Pipes, Day 144

Big heavy suitcase equals insansely high overage charge from Delta. $90? Oh yeah. Two planes, two car rides, a bus trip, and a taxi… All before going to work. Less than adequate sleep, only a few minutes really spent with Mom and Dad before having to return to rehearse for a gig with a conductor who, because he’s never met me, clearly doesn’t yet trust me either. Oh, and Tri-Cities “high desert” friends? You’re right. A few degrees warmer here does feel colder.

My real challenge today? To stop complaining and whining like my New York City heater, inside and out, right now. Hey, I can see some blue sky and sunshine already after almost three weeks of grey skies. As much as I’ll miss my new friends back west, I’ve missed some seriously beloved folks here too, many of which I’ll see in just a few hours, in rehearsals today and tomorrow, and around my favorite neighborhood home.

So, at least for the next five minutes, I take a page from a song I used to listen to in my far more conservative days that still holds true.

I can reminisce about the already.
I can worry and fret about the not yet.
When it all comes down, you know it really, really all comes down to the right now,
So right now I’m living the next 5 minutes
Like these are my last 5 minutes
‘Cause I know the next 5 minutes may be all I have.
And after the next 5 minutes
Turn into the last 5 minutes,
I’m taking the next 5 minutes and starting all over again.

Oh, and before you judge the song, I find complexity most often lies in the simplest of messages (not to mention it employs 7/8 time). Off to find the beauty in today, in the cold, heavy bags and all.

Whose Life is This? Day 123

After only eight months of revising the role of Yes Man, pursuing like Alice the white rabbit down his hole, I find myself seriously asking, “Whose life is this?” Tonight, I stood soaking wet on a crowded bus to the Bronx, surrounded by screaming passengers as lightning struck nearby on my way to discuss modeling for a body art and face painting workshop at Frank Bee Clown Studio. Before dying, my phone delivered to me an email from Chrissie Rouse (Program Manager for Sarah Small), informing me that Sarah wants to use me as a nude singer in her Mini-Tableau Vivant next weekend. Losing the blog post I had written for Thursday (now Friday) when my phone died, it seemed every odd accident happened around me this evening. When we finally passed an MTA bus on fire on the third leg of my trip, my mind exploded simultaneously, landing somewhere between feeling overwhelmed and unbelievably blessed.

Somewhere in the midst of the madness of embracing change, I’ve stumbled upon a surprising stability previously unknown. Sleep sometimes escapes me as I try to balance learning new skills and abandoning excuses in my life with actually earning a living and paying bills. With little room for recollection of upcoming events, I rarely know what tomorrow holds for me until just before bed when I remind myself with Google Calendar. Strangely, it doesn’t matter; I feel safer, stronger, healthier, and happier than ever (knock on wood), not in spite of my newly open-minded and action-packed lifestyle but as a direct result of it. I even felt more confident at an early music audition on Wednesday because of the nude audition I performed on Friday for Sarah Small.

Moving to New York City three years ago, I felt a certain desperation to land a full time job or a lasting relationship. When I couldn’t seem to achieve either goal, I maintained the expected “young opera singer” appearance physically and relationally and felt uneasily unlike myself spiritually, emotionally, and mentally. Now even I sometimes don’t recognize my life on the outside! Yes, actor and singer still dominate my career definition and personality, but nude model? Skydiver? Puppeteer who likes to frequent social media events? Musical theater singer and member of Actor’s Equity?

I love it! Internally, I have never felt better, and the energy I’ve gained opening up my life to so many new possibilities leaves me breathless and yearning for more. A chronic abuser of excuses, I used to fear the unfamiliar and sometimes still do; yet, somehow change has become my constant, and that gives me more peace than I could have ever expected to feel. My advice to anyone still afraid of change (including myself as I prepare to sing, nude, for an audience on the 25th of September):

  • Acknowledge your weaknesses (including fear)
  • Realize that you can almost always find a way to overcome or subvert them.
  • Make a plan that will inspire you to seek change beyond your excuses. I chose writing with a goal each day to leave my comfort zone. Milton Sheppard started a clown studio in the Bronx to teach others how to bring joy to their own lives and the lives of others while earning a living. My talented friend David Michael continues to learn to master photography and creates a new business for himself on top of his opera career while helping to raise his family. To each his own. Find yours.
  • Keep going. Phyllis Greene, at ninety, writes a blog to keep life joyful and productive during hospice care.

I have a lot to learn. Life presents its difficulties, and one never knows the future. Somehow, direction changes everything though, and optimism enters my mind even at the end of this bizarre and never-ending day. May tomorrow always be as fruitful .