A Wet Blanket Approach, Day 143

As the snow continues to fall in Tri-Cities, Washington (and apparently on WordPress!), gigs and upcoming events pour into my inbox, voicemail, and facebook request list to keep me busy upon return to the city with no time for rest and recovery. With several nonstop weeks of rehearsals, shows, and performances in Richland and Kennewick, I have truly enjoyed my time here and all of the friends and work that have resulted from this trip. Thanks to my dear friend Justin Raffa and all of the connections made, I’ve performed musical theater, a Christmas concert, appeared on television and the front page of the local Tri-City Herald, and look forward to singing as the mezzo soprano soloist for this Friday’s concert of Handel’s Messiah, parts one, two, and three.

Of course, I’ve also had the opportunity to return the favor here and there, conducting part of a chorus rehearsal, waking up for a 5:30am call, shoveling a driveway, and buying a present or two. While I have benefited far more than given, I still find myself feeling a little overwhelmed from time to time trying to live life saying “yes” as often as possible. Occasionally, I have learned things the hard way and this time around, I’ve worked very hard to position myself for success and not an early burial in busyness.

The uncomfortable challenge for today? Saying no. With so many upcoming gigs and the need for a healthy voice and mind to perform at the top of my game, I decided today to sleep in, cancel two scheduled lunches, and abandon the idea of partying hard Sunday night before traveling home first to Philadelphia on Monday and then New York on Tuesday. Does this mean I may miss the opportunity to say goodbye to some incredible people before leaving town? Yes, probably. Unfortunately, I have to play the role of the wet blanket here and there, but hopefully it makes all the difference when I play the roles assigned to me as an artist when I take the stage Friday for the Messiah and again in New York and New Jersey the moment I return to town. Besides, if I sing well now, hopefully I’ll then have the chance to return to do it yet again so that “goodbye” becomes “see you again soon.” Fingers crossed.

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“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.

A Little R&R Goes A Long Way, Day 82

In his book, A New Earth, Eckhart Tolle talks a lot about the ego and how it tries to assert itself regularly in most of us daily.  Surprising to some, he also asserts that the ego doesn’t mind unhappiness so much, provided that it can continue to make itself bigger.  In growing up and sometimes as adults, we have all witnessed this effect when moaning over who has more homework, who feels sicker, or who has suffered the most from some ailment, injury, or tragic event.  After a long day yesterday and with an exciting but important concert coming up this Saturday,  I admit my ego began to rear its ugly head a bit last night to the point that I felt seriously upset over an early morning massage appointment about which I had forgotten.

Laughably, I literally lost a little sleep initially over the idea of not having enough hours to rest before the unusually generous massage appointment made for me as part of my fee from the symphony.  On the other hand, yesterday exhausted me generally and especially vocally, so I really did need to find a way to get enough sleep, chill out, and make my way back to my happy and centered self.  Thankfully, the orchestra manager, my friend Justin Raffa, understood completely and rescheduled my appointment for the afternoon.  I know it sounds ridiculous (even to me), but that extra ninety minute REM cycle made all the difference in the world.  Fortunately, so did the massage.

After a brief but great workout at the Columbia Basin Racquet Club, compliments of Fred La Mothe (one of the club’s owners, who I’d met at yesterday’s Columbia Center Rotary presentation), I enjoyed the best massage I’d had in a very long time.  If you ever make it to the Tri-Cities Region to vacation, enjoy some wine tasting, or work at one of the many research facilities, take some extra time to visit Connie DeHaan of Sage Massage (part of Maidstone Massage).  Located at a small office park in Richland, Washington, Connie as an RN and Massage Practitioner works very closely with her clients and communicates so clearly while stretching and massaging one’s muscles.  Although I certainly feel more relaxed and ready to perform as a result, I found most surprising her ability to listen and instruct in a way that allowed me to trust her completely without reservation.  That kind of relaxation makes the experience worthwhile even more than the rest.

An insistence upon extra sleep, an easy workout, a great massage, and finally a wonderfully grilled salmon at the Meadow Springs Country Club with the sweet and symphony board President Sandra Stanley, truly set me up for an excellent dress rehearsal to follow.  Finally feeling ready to embrace and enjoy tomorrow’s concert with some beautiful people and wonderful musicians, I smile just thinking about the silliness of stressing at the start of my day.  Sometimes the most uncomfortable action involves letting go to experience the day as one’s true self, without fear, reservation, or hesitation.  Hopefully tomorrow the trend will continue as I prepare to sing one of the greatest works I know.