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.

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

April in Paris Press Release

We finally have a press release for our April in Paris Recital, thanks to the help of Kit Emory! http://www.abigailwright.com/FORIMMEDIATERELEASE.pdf

Abigail Wright
Photo by David Michael

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

March 10, 2011

CONTACT: Abby Walter at (347) 767-6476 or abbywalter78@gmail.com

http://www.abigailwright.com

APRIL IN PARIS:
A Romantic Recital by Opera Singer, Abigail Wright and Pianist, Eugene Sirotkine

Ah spring! Retreat to Paris this April 16th at 7pm with mezzo-soprano, Abigail Wright and pianist Eugene Sirotkine for a romantic recital with a French accent at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Teaneck, NJ. There will be a reception immediately following the event.

Ms. Wright is an accomplished singer/actor whose wide-ranging career has taken her from the Metropolitan Opera stage to modeling to the world of puppetry. She has been critically acclaimed for her remarkably wide vocal range as well as for her sensitive musicality while delivering intense and dramatic performances. Eugene Sirotkine brings his expertise as a pianist, a world-renowned conductor, and a composer to their rich collaboration, inviting Ms. Wright to perform at St. Mark’s and also to sing one of his brilliant compositions, Sensation (poetry by Arthur Rimbaud).

The evening also features the song cycle Le passage des rêves (“The passage of dreams”), an exquisite new work by composer Benjamin C.S. Boyle, exploring the lush poetry of French philosopher, Paul Valéry. Other selections include Claude Debussy’s Ariettes Oubliées, set to the poetry of Paul Verlaine’s Romances sans paroles (“Songs without words”), the magically evocative Shéhérazade by Maurice Ravel, and a set of English language songs – including Vernon Duke’s April in Paris, of course!

Tickets can be purchased at the door, for a suggested donation of $15, to benefit St. Mark’s.

SUMMARY HIGHLIGHTS:

What: “April in Paris: A Recital with Abigail Wright and Eugene Sirotkine”

Who: Mezzo-soprano Abigail Wright and pianist Eugene Sirotkine

When: April 16, 2011 at 7pm; reception to follow concert

Where: St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, 118 Chadwick Road, Teaneck, NJ
Directions:  http://www.stmarksteaneck.org/directions.php

Tickets: Purchase at the door.  Suggested donation $15 to benefit the venue.

Links/Info:
http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=204042609612475
http://www.stmarksteaneck.org/music/concerts.php
http://abigailwright.com/images/aip8x10web.jpg (8×10 flyer)
http://abigailwright.com/images/aiparisweb.jpg (event postcard)
http://www.benjamincsboyle.com
http://www.stmarksteaneck.org/directions.php

 

A Pinky-swear Beats a Resolution Any Day of the Year ~ 148

Pinky Swear

Six years ago, on a very memorable New Year’s Eve, I needed a fresh start more than oxygen. Traveling to New York City and meeting a friend for the ultimate ball drop in Times Square, I converted myself to the worship of this annual holiday and sought to celebrate each year in style ever since. As for resolutions, I’ve lost weight, changed relationship status, exercised more, visited grandparents, made fewer excuses, and oh yeah, started a blog.

Beginning a journey of writing about abandoning excuses and embracing change led to regular resolutions, which changed my life and path and made the need for an annual “New Year’s resolution” a bit trite and, after a busy season of work and travel, unnecessarily exhausting. This year, I felt a bit under the weather and actually turned down party invitations to (gasp!) stay in with someone special, rest, and watch the ball of newly swirling lights descend above the crowd from the comfort of my upper Manhattan apartment. Despite my best attempts, the relaxation and healing ended a bit prematurely as I traveled on Sunday to Philadelphia after my church job to hear my friends sing an incredibly worthwhile concert with The Crossing Choir, conducted by Donald Nally.

Still recovering from this cold that thankfully waited for a short break in gigs and rehearsals to attack, I have now have a bit of enforced downtime to reflect, and the concert proved well worth the extra effort and travel despite the minor health consequence. Having sung for several years in Philadelphia, I sat in the audience at my old church job and home at Chestnut Hill Presbyterian and missed the acoustics, the beauty of the space, the clear and inspired conducting of Donald Nally, and the uniquely beautiful voices of my friends who perfectly blended to give life to all of the recently-composed works. Afterwards, I refrained from alcohol but not from colleagues or good company, as I enjoyed the brief time to reacquaint myself with some dear and beloved musicians and friends.

Somewhere amidst the din of the reception, I stumbled upon the best and most motivational impetus for resolutions imaginable : the shared goals of my competition. You may imagine classical singers sabotaging one another’s auditions, withholding valuable advice and information, secretly wishing for the other to fail. Although I too have heard the urban legend of pianists booby trapping the pianos at Juilliard with razor blades, I literally can only remember one instance of another singer intentionally giving me bad information since I began singing (from the womb), and I didn’t know her at all. Very much to the contrary, other professionals in my fach (voice type) have given me good advice on agents, jobs, upcoming auditions, networking, and just about every opportunity imaginable.

A few weeks ago, my dear roommate and fellow mezzo soprano Ariana Chris began turning my accountability wheels when she suggested reminding each other about important goals, from sleep schedules to marketing. Sorry Ariana, but I have stayed up way past my bedtime tonight and will have to work on that one yet again tomorrow. In the meantime, I have spent a bit of time thinking about my successes with Skydiving for Pearls and realized that with a few small exceptions, I have not accomplished the very longtime and important goal of increasing my number and quality of auditions, one of the many demons I still hope to face here. Enter Super Maren.

Maren Montalbano sings and writes, brilliantly, in Philadelphia. While that somewhat places us in different markets, we each have sung in the other’s city, share the same voice type and interests, and could shy away from encouraging the other to succeed in order to maintain some kind of edge. Not for a second. Instead, we decided to keep each other motivated and auditioning with a pact. Actually pinky swearing, we pledged to initiate a minimum of five contacts per month, either applying for auditions or completing them. While this number pales in comparison to some incredibly motivated actors in New York who manage to audition at least that many times per week, I find it both realistic and a less overwhelming place to begin.

Born with a desire to perform in almost all aspects, I find my career bewildering at times with choices, options, obstacles, and rejections. On the docket for ways to improve my career this new year includes far more time in deep practice, improved preparation, and increased visibility in networks, auditions, and media. I sing, act, and write. Apparently, in the new year, I also research and learn as much as necessary to act as my own agent, publicity and press manager, and perhaps most importantly, strategist. Already swimming with infinite possibilities and fears, my brain has much to assimilate, understand, and initiate. Still, I hope it helps you as my readers if I share sort through some of it here, reporting my progress and findings along the way. In the meantime, I thank God for my friends who share my burdens, goals and dreams. In the end, you make each year and every day worth the reinvention and resolution.