Monday, May 24, 2010


When I told my mother that one of my best friends from elementary school was now working for border patrol, she said in astonishment, “Really? She was always so glamorous.”
True enough, Christi E., one of the five Christies in our class (see previous entry Caro Nome de Plume) had a natural beauty. She was very popular and had a number of suitors. Every boy I ever had a crush on ended up going out with her. In fact, one day in the classroom Tyler had me pass her a note on which he had written: “Will you go with me?” She asked me to pass it back, but before she folded it up I saw her answer: “Yes, but don’t tell Alejandro.”  It was the sixth grade, for crying out loud, and it was already complicated.
So, anyway, I guess one could be surprised to hear that she ended up on the border patrol and I ended up becoming an opera singer. Who’s glamorous now, huh?  
I’m a far cry from the level of those demanding seven bottles of Evian in the dressing room, and riding to performances in a limousine. But truthfully, the people I know who have stellar careers aren’t making those kinds of demands either. Admittedly, their lives might be a tad bit more glamorous than mine. 
The general public seems to stand firm in their belief that all opera singers, no matter what level of experience or artistry, are glamorous people leading glamorous lives. I don’t know why I’m so hellbent on dispelling that myth, especially since I would then have to confess that I actually enjoy dressing up and being treated thusly. But that’s just me rising to the occasion. 
At one such occasion many years ago, there were 20 of us singing at the regional level of the Metropolitan Opera National Council competition in Seattle. We were all teeming around the green room area waiting for our turn to sing. A tenor grabbed a cookie off the refreshment table and seemed to be enjoying it. One of the ladies in charge of babysitting us looked at him as if he were a cookie she would like to nibble. “Oh, isn’t it just amazing how he can just nonchalantly eat that cookie right before he sings?”
It’s a cookie, woman. Not a shot of Jägermeister. A cookie. Calm down.
Her giddy excitement for the cute tenor turned to abhorrence when she glared down at my feet. I had brought some Birkenstocks to lounge around in backstage, because I knew I would potentially be waiting around for hours until it was all over. Gasping for air, she couldn’t even finish her sentence, “You’re not... you’re not going to...?”  
“No, no,” I reassured her. “I have fancy shoes that match my dress for the stage. They’re just uncomfortable.” I was annoyed to have to put up with this woman’s pre-conceived notion of how we young opera singers should dress and behave, but vindicated at the end of the day when I won the competition. One of the adjudicators said, as he was giving me my critique, “When you walked out on that stage, it was pure class.”
See? I can be glamorous when I need to be.
If you have a fest contract in a German theater, being an opera singer is akin to having a 9-to-5 job. Fans awaiting your signature after a performance seem either put off or charmed by the fact that you emerge in jeans and a T-shirt, then hop on your bike to go home, as if you’ve just finished your shift at the Dairy Queen, not to mention gone crazy, killed a tenor and died.
At least in the theater you have a place to change clothes. My favorite moments of glamour vs. grunge are when you have to sing at someone’s wedding, or similar function. There, the people in charge of organization are not always aware of your needs as an artist (for example, a tuned piano, a bathroom, a drink of water, etc.)
Just the other night I had a gig (yes, I call these kinds of concerts “gigs”) for the annual convention of some of Europe’s finest lawyers. When my accompanist and I arrived, we were told to sneak in around back, and we had to sit at one table in the huge recreation room together with the band who was scheduled to go on after us. Not that I don’t like mingling with the common folk --  it was just that the other 20 tables were already set for the next day’s wedding ceremony and we weren’t allowed to potentially smudge the tablecloths with our water glasses.
After our part of the program was over, I had several lawyers come up to me and tell me how much they had enjoyed our performance. I liked that they could appreciate what I do - most of them seemed well-versed in classical music, and we shared an affinity for schmalzy operetta arias. Truthfully, although I would love to land me a young, rich handsome man (most of the lawyers present were rich, and some were young, but few were actually handsome...), beyond the music I could not relate to them at all on a personal level. I had a blast with the guys from the band, though, probably because they didn’t know much about opera, weren’t expecting me to be glamorous, and talked to me like I was a human being (albeit in a fabulous dress).
At another lawyer function, I sang a short program of Brecht/Weill songs together with a mezzo-soprano friend of mine. We were both given bouquets at the end of the evening and treated to a tasty gourmet meal and fine wine. While she caught a ride home with her lawyer boyfriend in his Jaguar (the only handsome single lawyer in town was already taken, see?), I rode the subway home as usual - but this time, wearing a very elegant dress and clutching my bouquet. Nobody in that subway car had any idea what I had just accomplished.
I can walk the walk and talk the talk. I always rise to the glamorous occasion. I know which fork to use, I like fine wine, and I have quite a few pretty dresses. But the reality of it is, once you leave the building, you’re no longer Elvis.

Watch the music video ("Femme Fatale") that accompanies this article on my other blog:
Grahamophone's Bad Guitar Channel

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Caro Nome de Plume

The ONE, the ONLY ....
Oh, crap... somebody already thought of that. Okay, let’s try Zerbinetta. Nope, taken. Off-Coloratura. Next! Desert Diva. Nope.... Come on, let’s really think about this now.  What REALLY describes who I am? A-ha! I’ve got it!! My actual name [typing happily...] Christine Graham!
Unbe-fargin’-lievable. Not available (searching in vain for available blog titles...).
But Christine Graham is ME. Grahamophone is ME.  In certain circles, I’m somewhat of a celebrity under that name. How can these anonymous deadbeats (people who don’t even use their blogs) deprive me of my own name? I’ve been writing under that pen-name for over four years now, which is an eternity in the blogosphere. (Did they even have blogs back then? It started out as my CB handle)
Did Madonna ever have this problem? Sting? Cher? Buddha? 
Even the title of this blog post has already been thought of (albeit by only one person - I looked up the phrase on Google, and he seems to be rather cool). Last week, I thought I made up the word “flawsome” until Urban Dictionary showed me otherwise. The phrase “love me, love my blog” is also not original Grahamophone material.
It just goes to show that every great idea I’ve ever had has already been thunk. In fact, I’d venture to say, any idea anyone has ever had has already been thought. Just ask my mother.
I was one of five Christies in the second grade. There was Kristy D., Christi E., Christy G. (that’s me!), Christy M. and Kristie Z. So sharing my name is nothing new to me. At least we had four distinctive spellings, however, which most often prevented confusion.
How is it, then, that we distinguish ourselves from others? Great accomplishments? Exquisite voices? Opera singers who are enjoying international careers don’t sing that much differently than those people who sing day in, day out on the stages of German state opera houses. They’ve just somehow gotten lucky, or worked harder at getting their name known. 
In this spirit, I have decided to stand by my name - Grahamophone - and apply the pre-existing title of my blog from my website - Christine’s Voice - no matter how many people have come before me, or who have yet to know me by my name.
That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!
Grahamophone’s Blog “Christine’s Voice” is now being published on as well as Please follow me, because I’m going places.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Totally F*ckin' Flawsome!

 "Imperfection is beauty, madness is genius and it's better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring." 
--- Marilyn Monroe

    It’s a long story how it all happened, but last week something special came into my life. And it came in the form of a child-sized guitar. I can hardly believe that it’s meant to be anything other than a toy, but it has six steel strings which follow the same tuning of a regular guitar; what’s more, I can hardly believe that it’s for children, because if one of those six steel strings gets wound too tightly - well, let’s just say it’s all fun and games until somebody loses an eye.

    When I first had this guitar in my hands, I took out my tuning fork (which I keep in my purse - you never know when you’re going to need an A) and tuned it up. Then I strummed a G-major chord. 


    The trouble was, unlike a regular guitar, when I pressed down onthe first fret it resulted in not quite a whole-step interval, instead of what should have been a half-step. It was like what one of my former choir directors used to refer to as not sharp nor flat, rather, “G-crack.”

    Then I figured, if this instrument, this toy, this .... thing was indeed made for children, then perhaps I shouldn’t be pressing down so hard on the strings (since children’s fingers have not yet developed the strength). This was indeed a factor leading to better intonation, but by lightly pressing on the string, the sound was muffled and not sustainable. What to do?

    Well, for starters, don’t take this little guitar so seriously! It is obviously flawed. It is not meant to perform in the conventional way.

    Why I didn’t realize the importance of that message right then and there is a mystery to me, but I’m thankful to have recognized it now, seven days after creating the “grahamophone bad guitar channel” series on YouTube. 

    I never set out to create this monster, nor would it ever have occurred to me to do what I did, had it not been for several factors lining up simultaneously:

  1. 1)I was in the possession of a kid-sized guitar.

  2. 2)My Internet access was down for four days. 

  3. 3) I am currently in between jobs and thusly have what some might consider to be too much time on my hands. 

  4. 4)I happen to be a creative person with a quirky, yet intelligent sense of humor.

    The fourth factor is the one that often gets me into trouble professionally - many people don’t quite know what to do with me. But mostly, I stumble over my own desire for perfection. When I was lucky enough to be employed full-time, I got into several spats with my superiors over the type of work they were giving me. What with all the screaming I did in the office trying to convince them that I was perfect, it was a wonder they didn’t believe my voice to be big enough for certain roles. I was feeling artistically (thereby creatively) impeded, and they were just downright annoyed, understandably.

    Like my little guitar, despite being tuned to perfection, if you play it in a conventional way and expect conventional results, you’re going to be disappointed. The flaws do not lie in the tuning, rather in the mechanics. My problem was not a musical flaw, but rather a lack of skill in crisis management. (Then again, I was hired for the former, not the latter, but let’s let bygones be bygones, shall we?)

    Luckily for the little guitar, it fell into my hands - someone whose imagination is expansive enough to recognize its potential and turn it into its own guitar hero. The same applied to me. Shortly after being fired from my aforementioned job, a new employer entrusted me with the very same role I would have been singing had I kept my former position. Not only was I worthy of this role, but with each performance, I got better and better. I was by no means perfect - in some places I would push too hard, forcing my voice -  dare I say it? - out of tune, but I was always heard. The applause at the end of the evening, accompanied with the director’s compliment, “It’s like Verdi wrote it for you,” was enough to convince me that I was perfect enough.

    During the rehearsal period for that show, I once got really frustrated with the conductor who was being especially picky with me. “I make mistakes, too!” I whined.  “No,” he replied. “You should avoid them.” He was right, perfectly aware of the standard I set for myself. 

    You should always do your best, and not make lazy mistakes, but you should never deny yourself your imperfections - your right to be absolutely flawsome.

    As for the little guitar, I love it. For some reason, I can completely let loose and be nowhere near perfect, yet with perfect results. The feeling seems to be mutual. I embrace its flaws. In fact, if you don’t cringe while listening to grahamophone’s bad guitar channel, you’re either tone-deaf, or I’ve done something wrong. 

    Be patient and you will find those who accept and cherish you for who you are -- strengths, foibles and all. 

    In parting, a few more words of wisdom from Marilyn Monroe:

    "I'm selfish, impatient and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am out of control and at times hard to handle. But if you can't handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don't deserve me at my best." 

Tune in (or tune out) next time to the Grahamophone!