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.
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.
As I practiced tonight for tomorrow morning’s audition, I felt just a little tired and slightly off my game. With a morning audition completely on the other side of town, of course the temptation to worry (and not write) rose for a moment, until I put on some solid headphones, stopped listening and agonizing, focused on my technique, and thought of my inspiring friend Nadine Sierra and her recital this past Sunday evening.
While sitting in front of her fantastic voice teacher Ruth Falcon, I received the surprising insider information that Nadine suffered very recently from the flu. To add to any concerns she might have had over phlegm or performing after an illness, Nadine must have realized the attendance of so many people both important to her personally and potentially to her career. Thankfully, the recital (and a dear friend in attendance) gave me the opportunity to meet a very charming and influential agent in the city, Robert Gilder. Regardless of her awareness of him or anyone else, Nadine showed no added nervousness at his presence and of course received him along with all of the other attendees in the kind and graceful manner she so consistently exudes.
Having the rare pleasure of witnessing that grace for an entire summer as her friend and onstage sister in IVAI‘s Little Women, I couldn’t have felt more blessed to sit in the audience and bask in her voice, beauty, and charm. I truly regretted that I couldn’t attend the Metropolitan Opera’s National Competition in 2009, where she appeared and won, but I loved having the chance to witness first hand how she continues to compete well in the race to succeed as a singer. After a full evening of song, my friend David Salsbery Fry and I discussed how much she impressed us with her ability to remain cool and committed under pressure, completely focused on her technique. May we all find that victory of doing our best in auditions and performances.
On her program, she sang some wonderful and traditional sets of songs from Handel, Schubert, Debussy, and Barber. Her Schubert selections sounded legato and also connected in intent, while the Debussy danced and rang through the incredibly exposed acoustic of Christ and St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church. For some more unusual Spanish language pieces, Nadine presented Joaquín Rodrigo‘s Cuatro Madrigales Amatorios and Heitor Villa-Lobos‘s “Bachianas Brasileiras Aria (Cantilena) no. 5.” To experience a small taste of my favorite and most soulful singing from the recital, enjoy this video of her Cuatro Madrigales Amatorios.
Although one must truly catch her live to enjoy the full benefit of her sound and luscious overtones, this video also displays a moving performance between Nadine and her talented guitarist Joao Kouyoumdjian. Her vocalise at the beginning filled the room with such a gorgeous tone, but she surprised me most by her impressively free humming and the stunning final note – definitely worth waiting for the end of the video to hear.
Nadine thanked the audience sincerely and gratefully and sang us her encore, Edvard Grieg’s “Ich Liebe Dich.” Obviously emotionally moved and a lover of the piece and attendees, she truly gave us a gift both in the encore and in her entire recital. Thank you, Nadine, for allowing us to take part in this chapter of your enchanting journey. I can only hope to sing with the same commitment to technique and emotional connection to my music, tomorrow and every day.