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.

“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.

One Order of Fresh Perspective, Day 83

A sheep-shearer and an opera singer walk into a bar in Salt Lake City… no really, that actually happened today when I sat down between connecting flights for a California Pizza Kitchen pizza and a margarita. Richard from Glasgow had a thick Scottish accent, and I can safely say neither of us had ever met anyone else quite like the other. After hearing stories of his trips to Australia, New Zealand, and Italy to shear sheep, among some other colorful tales about parties and bars, Richard left me once again to wonder if perhaps I would enjoy traveling to perform more frequently.

Unquestionably, my trip to Tri-Cities, Washington brought with it some perks that I wouldn’t ordinarily receive on the road with strangers. Most notably, I had a ride to and from Spokane International Airport (the cheapest option but a couple of hours away) with the artistic director of the Mid-Columbia Mastersingers, my friend Justin Raffa. Although I didn’t spend too much time hanging out with Justin this week as buddies, we did see each other often, we strengthened both our friendship and our working relationship, and of course he introduced me to not only the soloists and conductor but the community at large. I have certainly made some wonderful friends in the Tri-Cities region as a result.

Before I diverge too far away from the main event, first I must report that Saturday’s Verdi Requiem added a successful and memorable piece to the already unforgettable moments in my career. Standing on stage in my dark aquamarine gown gazing out amongst new friends and strangers, I felt a rare peace that comes with embracing the musical and theatrical aspects of such a stirring piece of music without fear or much nervousness. Thanks to a feeling of preparedness and the open and vulnerable spirits of the people I’d met in the choir, orchestra, and audience (I even finally met a longtime online friend who drove all the way from Tacoma!), my nerves rested at a comfortable all-time low. The opening notes of the “Liber Scriptus” poured out freely with dynamic and emotional intent but no reservation and set the stage for me to enjoy all of the stunning moments Verdi has so graciously granted the mezzo soprano soloist.

As the chorus sang their sections, I enjoyed their full and excited sound while recalling my own experience performing the Requiem in the Metropolitan Opera Chorus almost two years ago. I had the benefit of singing directly behind Olga Borodina to watch as she prepared her fantastically expansive breaths for her role as the mezzo soprano soloist. Between watching her and the inspiring rehearsals with James Levine that preceded our tribute to Luciano Pavarotti on the anniversary of his death, I definitely felt transformed by that experience in 2008 and hope never to forget it.

Similarly, my Verdi Requiem debut as a soloist with the Mid-Columbia Symphony taught me so much and really transformed my confidence and potentially my perception and the direction of my career. Without too much arrogance or ego, I can honestly say that I feel proud to have delivered the total package as a singer and actor and professional colleague this week from a joint recital at the Batelle Auditorium to the rotary presentation at the Columbia Center Rotary to a very successful Verdi Requiem performance. I thoroughly enjoyed working with the other soloists and orchestra and especially the incredibly talented choir and conductor Nicholas Wallin, and I surely can’t fathom never having had the chance to meet and work with these amazing people.

After enjoying the results of hard work and an open mind, I ride the Bolt Bus back to New York to return home to some of my city friends and a Yankees game. Still, I carry with me the people I’ve met and with whom I’ve created such great work in the Tri-Cities. With the hope of singing again sometime with the Mid-Columbia Symphony and potentially their local light opera company, I hope to return to the region soon to revisit them and learn more about an obviously wonderful community.

Surprisingly, their hospitality and my enjoyment of this trip definitely rearranged my opinions about my career at large. I consider myself so blessed to have a home like New York; on the other hand, perhaps traveling more often in my career would enhance my life and career more than I previously thought. I’ll always have a great city and family of friends to come home to, so why not open my options even more as a performer and as someone who loves meeting new people in new places? Tomorrow will bring a fresh perspective (and one of the final episodes of LOST), without a doubt. For today I say, “Go Yankees!”

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.

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.