Wednesday, September 22, 2010


A year ago I wrote a post about my best friend Georgia getting married. Well, my other best friend Will recently made the same lovely leap, and his was documented by the New York Times (and recently blogged by Perez Hilton). If you're a regular reader of my blog, you will remember my references to Will (I also wrote this blog post about Kim, his husband). Well, now they're famous. Hope they remember me when.... :)

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Daily Slog

Living the life of a musician - but particularly one whose instrument is housed inside their body - is such an odd existence. "Work" as we know it as humans (and especially as Americans, who are trained from birth at the fine art of HARD WORK) is a strange way to define what we do, even though that's how we make our livelihood. My last facebook status update said, "Does listening to a recording of a coaching count as practicing?" and although it was meant to be funny, I was also kind of serious. Is it possible that something as passive as listening to yourself sing could be productive?

I can only answer for myself, but for me the answer is HELL to the YES (maybe that phrase only works as HELL to the NO - in which case, I apologize for my obvious nerdiness in trying to employ it incorrectly). I've found that when I'm learning a new piece of music, one of the single most productive things I can do is to have a solid coaching on the piece, but one where I make whatever mistakes I am apt to make, and then listen to a recording of that coaching. All I have to do is hear myself making that mistake (whether it be diction, music, rhythm, style) a couple of times, and my brain miraculously fixes it. I don't know the science behind why this works, but it's a really handy trick for singers since repeating something over and over tires out your voice and can only be done for a certain length of time. I'm always totally amazed by how much better I seem to know a piece of music after having just one coaching and listening to it a couple of times. By the next coaching I'm in a completely different place with the piece and can actually start making it my own musically and stylistically.

So last night, feeling a little sedentary in my apartment (and also feeling guilty for not having sung a note all day but feeling a little too wiped out to actually sing through anything) I donned my raincoat and walked the 25 blocks it took me to listen to my last coaching of Kindertotenlieder all the way through, and then wash, rinse, repeated the whole procedure back up to my apartment. And today when I started singing through the pieces they really felt they were in me and I was barely looking down at the score.

I'm still having trouble internalizing the texts however. The only way to memorize a piece is to know what you're singing (trying to memorize something without knowing what the words mean takes much longer) and my brain just doesn't want to KNOW know what these words mean. I mean, of course, I have translated them, and I know what the words mean, but when I try to infuse my own emotions into the texts and connect my own feelings with them, I get very upset. It's partially because the poems themselves are just heartbreaking, but it's mostly the way Mahler set them that gets to me. His music is so incredibly nostalgic - most of the songs are remembering moments from the children's lives or imagining what the world would be like if they were still there. There's this one song where the poet is talking about how sometimes he forgets that the children aren't just out on a walk, and keeps expecting them to appear from behind the next hill, and Mahler does this horribly evocative thing where he doesn't let the singer finish the phrase harmonically, but just has the vocal melody stop in the middle of the harmonic phrase, allowing the orchestra to take over and finish. It's impossibly devastating. This idea of an unfinished life, so shatteringly illustrated with one small harmonic device. Honestly, if the songs weren't so genius musically, I don't think anyone would ever be able to listen to them because the subject is so horrible. It just demonstrates how transcendent music really is.

Oh, how I long for the day when I'm just singing The Barber of Seville again, and my blog posts can be about eating sugar and slipping on the ice in Berlin!

P.S. I'm fooling with some design options on my blog, so you might see some strange stuff going on in the coming days.....

Monday, September 6, 2010


Hi guys. Wow - I'm really sorry I haven't written anything in a long time. This could be the least I've blogged in the entire time I've been keeping this online journal. But it corresponds directly with two things - the end of the longest and hardest stretch of uninterrupted work I've had, maybe ever, and the beginning stages of a new relationship.

First of all, I had just a bit of burnout from a long intense period of very focused concentration. I kind of wanted to turn my brain completely off, including even the creative juices required for me to write a few paragraphs. The second reason is a little more complicated. I have said before that one of the reasons the blog is so vital to me is that I go off to all these places, and have all these experiences, and almost feel like they're happening in a vacuum because I'm all alone when they occur. There's a difference between walking down the street by yourself in Austria and suddenly seeing a man who is naked from the waist up, wearing horns and beer cans on his head, and seeing a sight like that when you're with someone. When you're by yourself, you wonder - did that just happen? Did I just see that? Am I in the twilight zone? Not having anyone to immediately explain that experience to feels strange, so I had gotten in the habit of recording weird or wonderful happenings in my brain like stories, and writing them down later on my blog. This sharing of my experiences really enhanced everything that was happening to me, and made it somehow more vivid and real. But when you have someone you're talking to every day come rain or shine, your stories become real when you tell them to that partner. It's funny; I always noticed that when I was on the road somewhere, if I had someone visiting me, I wouldn't feel like writing on my blog. Writers often say that they need to be isolated - even lonely - to get good writing done. I guess thus far, this has been the case for me as well.

But, bad news for my writing, I'm not feeling too lonely these days. I've been in Chicago for the past week and a half, doing little other than having a fun time. Although since Michael has a job during the day, I have actually been working on music for a couple of hours every day, learning the Mahler and keeping my business stuff in order. And no, I'm not going to stop writing my blog just because I have a boyfriend. Writing has become such an important and meaningful pastime for me these past couple of years, and in addition, I feel really connected to all of you who read what I'm writing and make comments. But like anything else, it becomes more difficult when I don't do it as often, and my fingers and my brain feel rusty and kind of slow. I just need to get back into the practice of being creative and find new inspirations besides solitude for putting words on a page.

One more note for now; as I have blogged about before, Michael does a podcast every week called OperaNow! where he and his co-hosts discuss the news about Opera in the world, as well as taking different operas and playing various recordings, and discussing vocal and compositorial style and technique in a very in depth and informative way. But Michael and his co-host Oliver also happen to be really funny and irreverent, which is very refreshing for a discussion about Opera. I've become a more regular panelist on the podcast, and was on last weeks show, and will also be on the one we will record live today, which will be up on the website and in itunes in the next day or so. If you're one of my blog readers who hasn't yet checked out the podcast, I would highly recommend that you do. Not because I'm trying to promote my boyfriend - just because one of the reasons we're compatible is that we have similar senses of humor, and if you like mine, you'll probably like his too.

And don't worry, I'll be back to blogging regularly now. I'm sure you were all crying yourselves to sleep every night wondering when I would be back. Dry those tears, friends. I've returned.