This was my first year away from home for Christmas, and it hasn't been nearly as depressing as I was afraid it might be. I've worked on a bunch of New Year's Eves and not really had my own party as a result, but amazingly, I've never been away from Mom and Dad on Christmas before. But I sort of have facebook to thank for saving me from crying myself to sleep alone in my bathrobe on Christmas night - once again the internets have proven themselves to be useful for more than just listening to my local NPR station from all corners of the globe.
A friend invited me to visit her and her family in Leipsig because she noticed on facebook that I was whining in my status updates about being all alone in Germany for Christmas. So I took the one hour train ride to the beautiful, historical city where Bach himself was busy making Christmas music 275 years earlier. It's kind of overwhelming to stand in the church where somebody like Bach actually stood, and to know that the music that was premiered in that very spot basically set the entire course of musical history as we know it today. I'm not religious, but I think that counts as a religious experience for a musician.
After I returned from Leipsig, I was lucky enough to be invited to Christmas dinner (on the 25th - the Germans have their big family celebrations on the 24th, but this friend happens to be Australian and celebrates like we yankees) by another friend with whom I went to Juilliard, but who now lives in Berlin. It was a dinner party with about 16 guests, and my friend cooked a gorgeous feast of turkey, ham, and stuffing, and fed us gallons of champagne and red wine, so any homesickness I might have felt was washed away by mountains of tryptophans and booze. I stumbled back to my apartment at nearly 2 in the morning, and my first Christmas away from home was complete.
I had another dinner party with some colleagues last night, and I'm always amazed at how often singers get together and dream about what it would be like to quit singing and have a normal life for a change. I was quizzing people about it last night, and the top two reasons that singers feel shackled and constantly stressed by the career are; the vulnerability of having your instrument inside your body and the constant travel. The vocal folds are so tiny and easily upset, and most singers are constantly worrying - to the point of obsession - about how their voices are feeling in any given moment, what might be happening around them to disturb the delicate balance, and being utterly paranoid of being within a 50 mile radius of someone who so much as clears their throat. It's a constant battle that goes on in your head; you're around a person you like, but you notice them coughing or sneezing a little. You, as casually as you can possibly muster, ask them if they are under the weather. They tell you they have a little cold. You instinctively back away towards the nearest restroom so you can scrub your hands til they're pink and gargle a bottle of purell. And all the while you hate yourself for being such a sissy and worrying so much about germs. Most singers would NOT miss that fun little head game they play with themselves. And then there's the travel; the fact that I'm family-less here in Germany for Christmas being a perfect example. And I don't even have my own children to worry about being away from - that adds a whole level of torture to being constantly on the road. Not to mention spouses, friends, elderly relatives, weddings funerals, birthdays - all of which you are often forced to miss because of work.
But in the end, the positives outweigh the negatives for most of us, and everyone finds their own way to make it all work. People wear hospital masks on planes and try to avoid shaking hands. They travel with nannies so their kids can come with them, and they watch wedding ceremonies on skype. They rely on the kindness of friends and facebook to find holiday cheer in foreign countries. And sometimes they quit and find something else that makes them happy. And then they gleefully toss their industrial size bottle of purell out the window.