Thursday, December 25, 2008

Still playing

O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum....

    In Germany right now (going on about nine o’clock in the evening), the Ghost of Christmas Present is already getting briefed for his new job of Ghost of Christmas Past. Here, the festivities begin on the first Sunday of Advent, and although December 26th is also a holiday, the party is pretty much over.
    There is also a much more prominent tradition here of young children playing recorders (Blockflöte, fipple flutes), most often poorly, for their families at Christmas time. Although all three children of my family, as well as my three step-brothers, played various musical instruments at varying levels of ability, I am eternally grateful to my parents and other family members for never making me perform at home (more on this topic to come in 2009!). 
    My first musical instrument was an old player piano in the basement of our house in Williamstown, West Virginia. I remember working the pedals,  watching the perforated paper roll, and listening to “Born Free” and “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” pretending that I was playing all by myself. I think that is actually my earliest memory.
    Back in Tucson, I started piano lessons at age 8. Although my brother also played the piano at that time, and he even jammed with me using the Liberace Big-Note Songbook (to which I genuinely attribute my knack for music theory), I must’ve thought my sister to be much cooler, because I wanted to be just like her and march in the marching band. Have you ever seen a piano in a marching band? Hence began my love affair with the clarinet - a nice, light instrument compared to the big, heavy drum that my sister had to carry.
    After a short time I was among the best, constantly vying with my best friend for first chair in the school band (not marching yet, remember, I’m still only nine years old). I even played the tenor saxophone in the junior high jazz band. Then came high school. I had reached my goal, marching in the mighty Catalina High School Trojan Marching Band. 
    Soon after achieving it, my interest in this goal seemed to wane. Was it because my fellow band members were geeky? No. For the most part, they were much cooler than me. Was it because the thrill of the quest is better than the conquest itself? Mmmmaybe. Most likely, it had to do with the fact that our band director just wasn’t that inspiring. 
    I don’t even remember his name. He was not like Mr. Steele, my sister’s marching band guru. He was not like Mr. Messing from Doolen Jr. High, who had us reciting the order of sharps and flats every morning at 8 o’clock! F-C-G-D-A-E-B!! B-E-A-D-G-C-F!! (Liberace can’t take all the credit). He was not Mr. Plotner, the CHS choir director who continued to challenge me creatively, having me accompany our choir on the piano a few times, encouraging me to enter a composition contest (which I won, by the way), helping me with important soprano arias like “O Mio Babbino Caro” and “Rejoice Greatly, O Daughter of Zion” and urging me to audition for Regional and All-State choir.
    In fact, it was then, after two years of playing second clarinet in the band at Regionals - not second chair, but second row - never making into the orchestra or into All-State, that I auditioned for choir at Regionals and made first chair, right off the bat. The following year I even made it to All-State. Eighth chair. Thanks to Liberace and Mr. Messing, my sight-singing scores were off the charts. That and the God-given gift of a voice, combined with inspiring choir directors like Mr. Plotner and Mr. Mayhew, started me upon a path I have yet to leave. 
    I finally took leave of my clarinet when I was forced to choose between marching band and being features editor of our school newspaper. Since Mr. Carlton, the advisor of The Trumpeteer,inspired me even more than my musical mentors, the choice was clear. As you see, the urge to write hasn’t left me yet, either.
    But back to the clarinet. It seemed fitting last night, the night before Christmas, to have some music in the house, just like the Germans do. After singing “O, Holy Night” in a church service (which in itself was a well-needed lesson in humility), I came home and decided to have a little Christmas with my roommate. She’s not really family, but for all intents and purposes she is. So I pulled out my old clarinet, its musty smell and the taste of the reed bringing me back many years, and I played “O Tannenbaum” (“Oh, Christmas Tree”). I felt like I was nine again. And I sounded that way, too.

Frohe Weihnachten!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Still, Still, Still...

... one can hear the falling snow. For all is hushed, the world is sleeping, holy star its vigil keeping ... .

    Truth is, I’m not much of a Christmas fan. Today I sat in a Thai restaurant in Germany, and was forced to listen to Frank Sinatra’s Christmas album. What the... ?

Sleep, sleep, sleep, ‘tis the eve of our Saviour’s birth. The night is peaceful all around you. Close your eyes, let sleep surround you ... .

    Truth is, I am yet to be convinced of the whole “Jesus is the reason for the season” thing. Recently, I have engaged in very fascinating discussions on religion -- partially due to preparing the role of Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar and partially due to defending gay marriage to Mormons. I find each side of the story has validity and historical meaning. But as for my own conviction ... I’m still working on it.

Dream, dream, dream of the joyous day to come. While guardian angels without number, watch you as you sweetly slumber ... .

    Truth is, when I hear this song, “Still, still, still” and the other two dozen or so choral arrangements from my time in choirs at Northern Arizona University, I just have to bawl my head off a little bit. 

    They say the first four years of your life are your formative years. To be sure, I learned a lot in the last four years at the theater in Coburg, but that somehow pales in comparison to the middle four years between 18 and 22 in Flagstaff. This was where the power of music was instilled in me. (In fairness, I’d probably have to tack on the four years prior to that, where I spent each summer at music camp in the same magical, mountain city). 

    When I hear the sounds of the NAU Choral Union, my head reels with memory overload. Just to name a few.... 

    • Parties in my fabulous kitchen, in my wonderful house on Grand Canyon Avenue, held together with spackle and paint. This was where Jeff Erby (the world’s shyest, but most amazing bass) had his first drink, by the way. Triscuit treats, anyone?

    • Speaking of bass, Brandon Jovanovich used to sit behind me singing  bass in Chorale. Now he’s a world-class tenor. Who knew?
    • Dr. Cloud knew, that’s who. She was my very first voice teacher, and to this day I call upon her for advice - vocally or otherwise. I hope she remembers the time I told her, “You planted the seed. All I had to do was grow.”
    • We sang Shelley’s “Music, When Soft Voices Die.” I remember Rodney Laulo telling us how meaningful that text was to him, shortly after his father had been tragically killed in a work accident. Rose leaves, when the rose is dead, are heaped for the beloved’s bed... .
    • Dr. Copley conducted Verdi’s Ave Maria so elegantly, despite grieving her father’s death. With her back to the audience, she let the tears freely flow, and we were met with the challenge to sing as beautifully as possible - not for us, not for the audience, but for her.
    • Singing through tears became almost routine, at least for me and the other graduating seniors, during choir tour in the Eastern United States and Germany and Vienna. I remember Kit Bellamy and I trying to make each other laugh during concerts so that we wouldn’t cry. This of course resulted in our not being able to sing because we were laughing too hard. Surely, neither of us sang the final refrains of Set me as a seal upon your heart, for love is strong as death. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it.
    • At the time of writing I’m listening to the NAU Choral Union’s “Simple Graces” recording. Brennen Maynard’s jazzy tenor telling me to have myself a merry little Christmas. Hard to believe that one of us is not with us now.

    For the most part, it was a joyous time. After all, I found my first “big love” at NAU. 
    And my second. 
    And my third (okay, this is just getting embarrassing now).
    Here are some random quotes for your amusement. Do you recognize them?

    • “Where’d you get these croissants? They’re so buttery and flakey!”
    • “F-I-N-E  fine!!!”
    • “Nice Sandals. And look at that ass!”
    • “Don’t call me ‘honey!’”
    I could go on and on and on.... I haven’t even mentioned my entire core group of friends yet, at least not by name - I hope you know who you are. 

    I am anxiously awaiting the day where I feel so at home as I did back then - where, no matter what happened, there was always a part of my day where something made sense, where life was in tune. From 3:00 to 3:50pm. Eternity shut in a span...

Summer in Winter, Day in Night
Heaven in Earth and God in Man!
Great little one, whose glorious birth
lifts Earth to Heaven, stoops Heaven to Earth.
To Thee, meek Majesty, soft King
of Simple Graces and Sweet Loves!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Running to Stand Still

 Up and running. Where to? Maybe the following statistics will give you an idea.
    I’ve been a so-called professional opera singer in Germany for 10 years now. Not including the miles flown over the Atlantic for my very first audition in Düsseldorf, which is where it all started, I’ve clocked almost 11,000 km (6835 miles) just traveling to auditions by train or automobile. I’ve always made a joke about wanting to drive to China. Turns out, I could have. 
    To China. 
    And back.
But that’s another story.

    I don’t even want to get into the amount of hours I spent traveling from here to there (not China), because time is money, and I don’t want to be reminded of how much time I have on my hands and how much money I have in my pocketses.                             
    Notwithstanding, it is worth mentioning how much time I actually spent standing on the stage auditioning. So, let’s review:

    10,984 kilometers travelled to
    25 cities for
    25 auditions, where I sang 
    1-3 Arias, averaging
    5 minutes each, putting me at approximately
    10 minutes per audition, ergo
    250 minutes spent actually singing.

    A little over 4 hours. 10 years and 11 thousand kilometers for 4 hours?! I suppose takes a bit longer than that to drive to China.

    Now you know the numbers, and here’s how they really add up. Out of those 25 auditions, 3 turned into jobs. It hardly seems worth it, does it? On the other hand, audition number 15 eventually lead to 5 more jobs and a circle of friends where I now live (Frankfurt). Audition number 20 lead to 4 years in an Ensemble where I sang well over a dozen roles and made very good friends. And the very first audition in Düsseldorf, which I didn’t even include in my mileage chart, also brought me several performances, kicking off 10 years of experience, professional, personal and otherwise .... That’s priceless. 
    So, yeah, it’s worth it.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Up and Running

 Willkommen, Bienvenue, Welcome...

    Well, this is it! My very first website is up and running. Now I officially exist. What’s more, I exist in a world that I create. In mywide web world, I am neither too soft nor too loud. Too short nor too tall. Too classic nor too rock. I am exactly the way I imagine me to be. What a wonderful world!
    The purpose of this website is not only to give me presence and exposure in my profession, but also to give me a forum to express myself in my own way -- a way which usually clashes with the more traditional ways of typical opera singers.
    Of course, no opera singer thinks they’re “typical”. Practically every one of them I know (and I know a lot) says that at one time or another about themselves. 
    Guilty as charged! 
    It’s true, though. Despite the many traits which identify us as a group, there are seldom any two of us alike. We make up a microcosm of the world at large.
    There are fat opera singers, yes indeed. But there are also skinny ones (and the skinny ones sing just as loudly, if not louder. Just busting a myth, there). There are even opera singers who don’t sing particularly well. Seriously.
    There are opera singers who won’t even enter a smoky bar (then again, hardly any bar is smoky nowadays), and others who smoke, who drink, who don’t spend all day taking care of their voice.             
    While every opera singer is exposed to classical music, some do not listen to it in their free time. Others do not listen to any music at all. Some opera singers are shy. In fact, I’d venture to say that most opera singers don’t like to sing at birthday parties, or in the middle of dinner at an Italian restaurant if you ask them to. Would you?         
    Give us a stage, an orchestra, a costume and some lights, however, and you’re in for a treat.
    This is where opera singers seem to agree with one another without exception. If only the rest of the world -- the macrocosm, so to speak -- could be just as acquiescent. If only there were an Earth-sized “stage” where everyone could agree on something. Then, perhaps, there would not be so much strife in the world.
    In light of current events (elections, et al) it is plain to see how desperate humans are to take one side or another -- how we love to see things as black or white, straight or gay, classic or jazz, sun or moon, and nothing in between. 
    Nevertheless, I notice more and more that people are having a harder time conforming to the norm, or what used to be the norm anyway. On the other hand, I suspect there never has been much of a norm. Take for example majorities winning elections, passing laws, selling products, what have you.... In reality it’s just a diverse bunch of individuals who happen to agree on one thing at any given time. Totally random. Like a winning lottery ticket. Still, I have admired the tenacity of those groups who have held on to their convictions so tightly, who have clung to their side of the story through fire and brimstone, protests and name-calling, victory and defeat -- of those who don’t think it’s over until the fat lady sings. 
    Imagine their disappointment when the skinny chick steps up to the mic.