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…

Casual Heroics, Day 136

Since last week, I’ve done countless “blogworthy” activities, from odd spa services to wine tasting to comedy and jazz shows and an impromptu trip to Portland, Oregon. As I began uploading pictures and video from my camera, I realized that while I’ve always loved and found myself drawn toward more idealistic people as a whole, a very common trait binds together so many fiercely amazing friends in my life. Generosity, especially of the passionate and sometimes stubbornly loving variety, easily hides under the rug below the pride, self-assertion, and individual rights our American society so often promotes.

As our beloved president would say, let me be clear. Fighting for our rights and the freedoms of others ranks high on my list of difficult but crucial tasks for humanity in general; however, sometimes the greater and less applauded challenge involves laying aside our needs, wants, and even liberties to support another person or passion. Take for example my friend who, like so many animal-lovers I know, brought in a stray cat fourteen years ago, only to spend years caring for him physically, financially, and emotionally as his cat aged, lost his sight, and developed diabetes. After his beloved friend passed yesterday at twenty-five years old, he volunteered his services for another funeral and comforted his friend at the loss of a close family member, all while preparing for upcoming concerts and gigs in a busy musical season in New York.

Out here in the Northwest, I can’t go a single day without personally experiencing and witnessing the care and generosity lavished upon her entire community by the woman with whom I feel so privileged to live these next several weeks. Ignoring physical discomfort or fatigue, she packs each moment with concerns for her family, local schools, arts organizations, community events, political issues, her wine business, and even some children in Africa who she supports and encourages to the point of visiting there and inviting them to come here to perform. I smile to think of how life and my perspective will change as they reside here with us at some point this fall.

Audience at B&N

In the meantime, I had the welcome but rare chance to set aside my own selfishness and volunteer my services to sing for several hours to benefit the Mid-Columbia Mastersingers this Saturday. Himself a devoted and tireless supporter and participant in the musical community of the Tri-Cities region, my friend Justin Raffa arranged a fantastic opportunity with Barnes and Noble to raise money for his talented and enthusiastic choir. From 9am to 9pm, Justin spoke with customers, sang again and again, introduced and promoted his volunteer singers and pianists, ran an hourly ticket lottery, and announced repeatedly instructions for customers to check out and tell the cashiers, “I’m here for the Mastersingers.” Each purchase donated a portion of the sale to the Mid-Columbia Mastersingers all day.

Justin and Mitzi singing at Barnes and Noble

Molly and Abigail Singing at Barnes and NobleI did my part, bought hot chocolate and tea and various goodies at the cafe throughout the day. For those of us in less of a position to donate financially to much of anything, we had the opportunity to sing. Singing arias, musical theater songs, and duets from both genres, I definitely gave my voice a workout, rotating with Molly Holleran, Mitzi Lundberg, Mark Barton, and Justin Raffa while Sheila Zilar Gephardt accompanied us for about five hours with little break. Karaoke was never so hard. Still, I had a wonderful time, trying out new songs, watching audience reaction to gauge whether or not to use a piece in the future, and enjoying the performances of my friends who tirelessly sang throughout the day.

We all have choices to make about how we spend our finances, time, energy, and talents. Doubtless without focusing on ourselves from time to time, we diminish our usefulness to others and ourselves. On the other hand, in terms of truly improving our happiness and quality of life within our communities, selflessness goes a much longer way than we as independent Americans often realize. Today and tomorrow, you have the opportunity to also support the arts in Washington and the Mid-Columbia Mastersingers. Anything you purchase at Barnes and Noble by bn.com/bookfairs from October 23-28 by entering Bookfair ID 10253680 at checkout will contribute a portion of your sale to support my talented friends. If you can’t do that, I encourage you to find another way to support another person, animal, or cause. I’ve started to see that it really does transform the world… and our lives.

Life outside of Groupon’s Reach, Day 135

Yes, I miss NYC.

Traveling to Southeastern Washington State, in the Tri-Cities region, I have a little more than six weeks remaining to rehearse, audition, and perform in a benefit event, a probable recital at a local vineyard, the holiday concert for the Mid-Columbia Symphony under Nicholas Wallin, and Handel’s (complete) Messiah with conductor Justin Raffa at Central United Protestant Church. This particular time offers me a chance to focus, practice, relax, and sleep in a stunningly beautiful homestay with a more than generous and fun host. Yesterday, her personal assistant asked me on what day I prefer to have my suite cleaned, and I filled up the vehicle provided for me with gasoline I didn’t have to buy, after making dinner from the food purchased on my behalf. As Annie said, “I think I’m gonna like it here.”

So no, I have not a single legitimate complaint. I do, however, miss my more active lifestyle and must find ways to keep myself fit and yes, entertained. I have plentiful sleep and rest, coupled unfortunately with more than plentiful available food and no magical infusions of self-control or discipline to refuse it. Haunting me daily, the filled-to-capacity storage closet calls to me with the alluring promises of Cheetos and chocolate. My heart complains of its lack of exercise, and I whimsically wonder if Dora (my Cannondale) misses me half as much as I miss her and the Hudson River Greenway. Despite the less than sophisticated, sweat-dripping crowd that populates my gym in NYC for only ten dollars a month, I would do just about anything for a solid cardio and weight workout at Planet Fitness today. Groupon hasn’t reached the Tri-Cities region yet, which makes affordable gym deals and inexpensive but fun and unusual events difficult at best to find. Truly, although my friends here keep me as busy and entertained as possible, the white space on my calendar gives me an oddly uneasy feeling, and even hunting for fun late night activity after rehearsal seems a bit futile, especially on weekdays otherwise easily filled in Manhattan.

What to do? Well, something! Alternatively, I sit on my behind eating too much candy and snacks and gain fifteen pounds, watching television like the sadly accepted view of an American couch potato. Ooh, even better: I can get drunk every night and find random flings to keep my attention off of my boredom and the potential career gains I might otherwise make with disciplined study and exercise. Yeah, not my plan.

View from Badger Mountain

Yesterday, my dear friend Justin helped me jump-start my starting-to-atrophy body back to life with a steep and challenging hike to the summit of Badger Mountain. I loved it! Of course, panting and sore joints accompanied the more challenging than expected climb, but it tuned my mind and body toward an attitude of stubbornness about finding what I need away from the city. Missing cycling far more than I could have anticipated, I began a hunt for an unused bicycle to borrow for the duration of my stay. Sadly, I discovered that many unused bicycles also suffer from neglect; however my friend Sam (I had the pleasure of making several friends last May when here singing the Verdi Requiem) promised to bring a borrowable bike to tonight’s rehearsal, and I truly can’t wait to give it a try!

For the rest, I have to learn to embrace quiet and occasional solitude. Countless opportunities for growth await me here if I use this time wisely to practice, audition, and even learn the steps necessary to work on my own publicity and possibly even my website. Truly, this region provides too much temptation to eat and drink, so I will have to funnel that impulse into trying good food and going wine tasting with new and old friends (the first pursuit of which I enjoy tomorrow!). As one of my favorite artists, Janelle Monae, would say, “I can’t complain about it, I gotta keep my balance and just keep dancin’ on it… whether you’re high or low, you gotta tip on the tightrope.” Wish me luck.

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.