Monday, November 11, 2013

My Life... November 2013

Wow, this semester is zooming by!

I can't tell you how many times I think I should call my family, update this blog, let people know what's going on, Skype with friends... But, of course the thought is swept away by a looming assignment, studying for another test, or the need to memorize more and more music every day.

October was filled with coachings, rehearsals and preparations for the Dawn Upshaw masterclass on the 1st, and my auditions for Young Artist Opera programs. In all the chaos, I managed to cram in a ton of music learning for the auditions, the opera, and my recital/qualifying juries for December.

Ms. Upshaw was such a wonderfully peaceful and beautiful woman. Her energy was incredibly positive and caring. Her artistry is so incredibly detailed, and learning her "secrets" or rather, techniques for success was invaluable to me as a singer, and I'm sure to the six other colleagues who were able to share in this amazing experience. The performance I gave of David Ashley White's song from Four Elizabethan Scenes was – I'm sure – less than perfect at the first run through. I've never been so nervous to perform in front of anyone before! She was gracious and kind in her critique, of course, and gave me lots of hints and tricks to better improve my singing and expression in such a modern and challenging song. I loved the experience of working with such a talented woman, and I look forward to more experiences like that.

The following Sunday, November 3rd, I had one of the best experiences in my life. The most wonderful, caring, adorable, strong, and most of all loving man I have ever known, my best friend, my confidant, Drew, proposed to me on our Sunday afternoon walk through the nature reserve.

With all the changes and growth I'm experiencing in my life, I am searching for the next path, once I leave Westminster. I had no luck with the SF Opera Young Artist auditions, so sorry to you West Coast friends, I won't be heading back to you this summer. I'm gathering materials for doctoral applications still, and may throw my name in a few more hats before the deadlines close. I'm nervous about spreading myself too thin in the spring with auditions, so I am limiting my applications some.

My next forays are in the Opera Scenes performance on November 25th, several scenes I am assistant directing, two I am in, and the cover performance of the opera on December 8th. Both of these performances are free to the public!

Monday, October 14, 2013

How I feel about Opera.

I began working on my application for Doctoral studies, I thought really hard about what I actually want in life and it began pouring out of me...

    I often visit the local public and charter high schools when I am able to go home to California. While I cannot consider myself a full-fledged opera professional, I know many of these students have never heard an aria, so performing for them is something I can personally offer to the local music teachers (who gave me my first introduction to singing and the theater). The local choir and drama teachers of these schools lack any kind of significant funding or parental support for their programs and often struggle to simply buy sheet music for their chorus, let alone hire any kind of outside performances from an opera company. The majority of these high school students had never heard an aria outside of a spaghetti commercial, so for them, hearing music making at this level was a glimpse into a world of music they never knew existed.
    In all of my studies performing and studying pedagogy, I find my heart lies in education of these students. Despite this amazing wealth of new resources for voice and choir teachers, there is a continuing discrepancy of music literacy and familiarity with the arts in public education. Private and Preparatory schools in the United States are able to offer their students choir and orchestral programs, music and art history courses, and curricular and after-school drama and musical programs. Many of the public schools are not able to offer these. I am an advocate for incorporating arts into the academic curriculum of multiple disciplines and someday hope to work with academic outreach programs to bring professional-level opera, theater, and classical music performances to children whose families would otherwise not be able to attend such performances. If I were to have some kind of access to funding and some singers willing to participate, I would be the first in line to work on some kind of reduced-length opera outreach program (English versions or opera vignettes) to travel to schools. Not only could such a program offer opportunities to schools and at-risk students,  who would likely never be able to afford to go to an opera house, but also give undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity to study roles, learn arias, incorporate staging and acting into their singing, and provide student accompanists with excellent repertoire to add to their resume. Many conservatories already participate in such a program, and with the right backing and support from the university, could be an excellent tool to recruit new students who may have never considered a career in music prior to such an experience. – To see the look on the face of even one student in the class who realizes that they may have found their new favorite type of music? It is the most rewarding feeling in the world.
    Throughout performing in school, learning voice pedagogy, and through the application of teaching I have learned much about myself and where I belong. While I enjoy the art of singing, and the presentation of characters on stage, what is most rewarding for me is bringing music to people who truly appreciate it. The value of art in our society is constantly diminishing into the world of digital downloads and low quality internet videos, but there’s no intrinsic reward in having a YouTube video with 10,000 views. Does anyone really care? I want to promote live performance to kids who couldn't otherwise go see shows at the Metropolitan. San Francisco Opera offers free and open dress rehearsals to schools. They give tours of the large opera houses and many family performances in English. This is wonderful, but the theater isn't full of students (usually it is full of bank partners and investors who got comp tickets for their company by the company donating $1 million to the house to hire miss $5000 per night soprano-whats-her-butt). But the bankers and the investors don't necessarily want kids in the theater (Now, they may say that they are ALL FOR Arts Education, but they think that kids will put gum on seats, talk during the opera, kick the backs of chairs - and they're right they probably will... they're KIDS: BUT HOW DO WE TEACH THEM HOW TO ACT IF WE NEVER TAKE THEM OUT TO THE OPERA IN THE FIRST PLACE??? Let them hear a well-done, show-stopping aria. I guarantee you FIRST HAND they will shut up).
    I want the 16 year olds taking lessons now to hear someone who started at their age singing live in an opera production, at a recital, in the theater... I want these kids to see what advanced music making can look like when they spend time focusing on it. I see videos of children in the dirtiest, poorest third-world countries building orchestras out of recycled instruments, I see conductors like Gustavo Dudamel reaching out to the youth of that country, where parents cannot afford to take private lessons, but yet they have found a way for their orchestra to tour the United States. I was able to sing with Westminster Symphonic Choir when this orchestra came here and performed in Carnegie Hall. Where were the American teenagers (and I apologize to the perhaps 10 American teens who came with their music-loving parents to the concert)? Did they come to watch? Do teenagers in this country even know how many kids in the world want what they are given for free here? (And if not free, for relatively little cost to them). Likely, the teenagers in the local high school marching band were texting their friends and watching Modern Family or some such.
    With all the money that the aspiring opera singers in the United States spend on their pay-to-sing summer programs, their coaches, their teachers, their audition fees - usually $50 each (most auditioning for at LEAST 5 programs) - the train or plane tickets to get to New York City, WHAT COULD THAT MONEY DO IF IT WAS PUT TOWARDS ARTS EDUCATION?
    In this country we UNDERVALUE the arts in our society. When I see what all these other programs (in places so much more in need) do for the kids, for the families, and for the betterment of their own society and culture, I realize that what we do here - as performers - is selfish. It's not that we want to be selfish, we are not looking to take away opportunities from others. We WANT to better our society with promoting and performing "higher" art. We WANT to help kids get off the street and bring them into this little nest we call "OPERA" or "Classical Music" - but how can we? We are all broke and have to ask YOU out there for money to pay for (see above) .... yada, yada, yada.
    I raised money for CoOperative. I did (what I perceived to be) some great singing and coaching with some people who gave me a lot of insight into the world of professional opera performance. But with what I paid for that program? I could have been teaching a children's choir. I could have gone back to my hometown and offered free voice lessons to students I KNOW would have been eager to take them. I could have organized a community opera performance to a community I think would appreciate it.
    I don't want to sing at the Met. I don't care about YAPs. I don't want to sign an album contract. I want people to hear music. I want to touch people's souls. I want to bring a part of HUMAN HISTORY to PEOPLE. Because THAT'S what it's about.Singers, performers - I beg you: Go somewhere that you can share your art, no matter what level you are. Offer it for free (or very low cost, or free-will donations - if you have to pay the venue and of course the pianist) PIANISTS, do the same thing. Find an hour or two to go visit an elementary school or middle school and practice that sonata or that aria or that Schubert piece in front of THAT audience before you do it at your recital. It's like doing FREE ADVERTISING! Why wouldn't you want to do that?! It's not about making $5000 per show. It's not about flying to Milan or Paris or New York City every week. It's about sharing YOUR MUSIC with the WORLD.

Friday, July 12, 2013

My CoOPERAtive Experience

I can say that the biggest reward is to become aware of what you already know. The nice thing about CoOperative program isn't that they're giving away "secrets" or things that are "magic tricks" or "illusions" of great singing, but they are assimilating the different elements of singing – the tools we already have: our technique, our acting skills, our imaginations – and they are being assimilated in one place. They're taking all the ingredients you have in your kitchen and lining them up so you can see what you have before you make the dish. There's nothing that's shocked me, yet, it's great to have it all put right out there in front of you so that it is more accessible in my thinking.

I've been writing down some of the best quotes and tips from this experience in a notebook that I've been carrying around.

Lecture & Masterclass #1 with Susan Ashbaker -
Vocal Toolbox 10 Rules
10. You must have solid and consistent technique of singing.
9. Leave your insecurity behind.
8. Take care of yourself.
7. Know what you're shopping for (in life, careers, music, etc).
6. Start building a network now (never be rude to anyone you meet on the path, you never know where they may end up).
5. Ask questions and keep your ears open!
4. Engage, engage, engage! Listen to what you're being told (or be aware of what you're NOT being told - trust).
3. Always give 100%
2. Don't CANCEL... suck it up and have the courage to go through with it.
1. Have fun! :)

Anthony Manoli : "Don't try to please everybody ... sift through the information."

Three concepts from Amy Hutchison –
1. Own the stage through the WHOLE ARIA - hold everything all the way to the end.
2. Open up your sphere, the whole universe is included, not just you.
3. Make the emotional changes in the music with your breath and face.

Amy Hutchison:
- Utilize your "Magic Words"
- Fill a small space with your ENTIRE presence.
- It should seem as if only your actions could inspire this specific music. 

Sean McCarther: "extending chi" - extend your physical energy outward, ground yourself.

Kathleen Kelly:
- Allow yourself to be simple sometimes.
- On fermatas: "Sing it until you start to hate it."
- Challenge the piano line to suit good vocalism.
- On postludes: "Keep saying the words - but with your mind."
- Make sure you're giving yourself specific instructions.

Martin Katz:
- You don't always have to rely on counting - you're making music - sometimes you can rely on SOUND!
- When a conductor is TOO LOUD: SING SOFTER! (In that fight, the conductor will always win).

Mark Moliterno: Build strength, then you can relax around that strength. (Meant for yoga and vocal stamina, however this applies to many aspects of life - as my grandmother would say "Can't have fun 'til the work's been done!").

What I have learned:
- Open your heart and mind.
- Have patience with yourself, but don't be lazy.
- Give yourself over to the text and languages.
- Don't make music for anyone's benefit but your own. It's a plus if they like what you're doing, however, you don't NEED to please anyone but Number One.
- Be enlightened by the music evoking the story and the story evoking the music.
- Maintain healthy balance of all things in your life and you will find grounding and stability.
- There's no need to over-complicate things. Allow life to be simple.
- Music is a form of play: embrace your inner child, let loose, and use your imagination!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Counting the hours, watching the funds...

So it's only a few more days (seriously, DAYS) until classes get out... I can't wait. Symphonic is performing Elijah this weekend. It's alright I guess. Slave-o-phonic Scream Fest. But, it is a great opportunity for student soloists (of course, I didn't bother to audition. Stupid me.)

Then one week of classes, Sweeney Todd performances (Drew will be an awesome Sweeney and I'll be backstage for special effects make-up/costume emergencies/emotional break downs), and finally juries and finals. Whew.

BUT after all that is done, I'm home for 10 days to California! Soaking up sun... Eating Mexican food... Boating (hint, hint, Dad...) and loving life.  :)

Of course, it will be short-lived and I will have to come back to work and to do CoOPERAtive... and watch my bank account dwindle (I just sent them $1000... good-bye shopping sprees). [P.S. You can STILL contribute to my Go Fund Me account, visit] Then three solid weeks of opera coaching, master classes, recitals, private yoga, Alexander Technique sessions, and a recording session! Yes - I will give CDs to friends and family when I get them.

Okay. Almost time to go to Scream-o-phonic *ahem* Symphonic Choir. Ciao!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Less than 10 days to the opera ... Amazing Easter!

Looking forward to the opera yet? I am... Hoffmann goes up next week! ALREADY! I feel like this production swept me up by the seat of my pants, but it should be great. We're getting it all together now, as stressful as those first stagings were.

The Bach St. Matthew Passion was so amazing last weekend. The music, which was written for Good Friday services in the Lutheran tradition, is such an incredible retelling of the death of Christ. Not having been raised in any denomination, I do not consider myself to be a person of faith, however - this incredible performance touched my heart. Not only is the music an incredibly crafted masterpiece, the singers brought in to sing the arias were absolutely amazing. The mezzo-soprano had the richest, most creamy and glorious sound I have ever experienced. The "Buß und Reu" toward the beginning of the piece was heart clenching, and it just got better from there. I was brought to tears by the Bass aria in the second half, mourning the death of Christ. My entire row of sopranos was sniffling by the end. Such amazing musical experiences are the reason I came to Westminster Choir College for graduate school. What a privilege it is to sing with such amazing musicians like the Philadelphia Orchestra, and to have such wonderful colleagues to sing with, whether or not the New York Times says we are to young to understand the experiences in the Passion. I think that the Westminster Symphonic Choir is made up of some of the most tender and caring musicians in the business, and we can't ask for more than that. Yannick is one of the best conductors I've had the chance to see and perform with. I am truly honored to be a part of all this.

This time of year I really do miss Yuba City, the blossoms, the trees, the mustard flowers. Though, I know Joaquina Johnson would be proud of what I am doing here (I heard today would be her birthday, I continue to think of her every day). Without the musicians of that town, I would never be where I am now, and every day I am thankful.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Opportunities, Auditions, Risks and Benefits!

Friday night is just another night on a Westminster Choir College schedule. Normally, I'd be looking forward to a glass of wine and some pizza about now, but with Westminster it seems there's never a weekend break! That's a good thing... I think... Tonight I'm rehearsing Hoffmann again. Last week was the staging rehearsals, a little rougher than I had expected, without opportunities to musically rehearse with anyone else in the cast before staging... BUT the work being done by everyone in the cast is fantastic.

Last Saturday I left the rehearsal a bit early to rush to the Princeton Junction and catch a train into NYC for the audition for the summer program my voice teacher teaches at in Houston, TX. The audition process is always a little jarring, especially when New York is pouring rain. Luckily, the boyfriend came with me and auditioned as well! It makes the task of traipsing around in the rain a little more fun. These New York rehearsal spaces fascinate me! They're always bustling with people of all kinds, from classical singers, dancers, even Broadway stars (Newsies was having a rehearsal right across the hall).

Though I don't know the results of Saturday's audition yet, I feel really great about it (and Drew's too!). It was a great opportunity to sing for conductor/coach Ted Taylor. Nova was happy and that's really what counts! :) The best part was leaving the audition, Nova stops to hug me - then tell me I better not risk taking New Jersey Transit "in that dress!!!!" Haha. I felt like I chose the right outfit! And the heels to match.... little things I've learned from my voice teachers....

AND I was accepted again this year to the CoOPERAtive program here at Westminster - and this time offered a scholarship. I've planned to go ahead and do the program this summer. These types of Young Artist Development programs like Le Chiavi in Houston, and CoOPERAtive, offer young singers (usually between ages 20-30) opportunities to coach with world-renowned conductors, coaches, teachers, and singers from around the world. Many of the coaches who will be working with this year's programs have coached and sang at the Metropolitan Opera House and San Francisco Opera among others.

If it's possible to contribute a little to my tuition, even a few dollars, please visit

This summer, I feel, will prove to be a very exciting one!!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Spring Semester begins

Third week in and already things are crazy! I have rehearsals beginning this week for Tales of Hoffmann, for which I'll be sining the role of Antonia. The role is a beautiful heroine who, in fact, sings herself to death. I am pretty stoked about it.

Of course, like last semester, we had to postpone our first meeting due to the crazy weather here! We had a good snowstorm. It was absolutely beautiful. Less than 6" of snow, but that's enough to make the town of Princeton into its own little winter wonderland. The colonial style homes, and the quaint streets make for a very picturesque first winter on the East Coast. I do really love it here, and have no regrets about moving to Princeton. I've been so incredibly happy doing what I love. I have so much passion for everything I'm doing here. This is the one career that I truly feel I can embrace who I am. The artistry of performance, the nuance of the texts and languages, the science of the voice and the art of teaching. It's all rolled into one amazing experience that allows me to express not only who I am, but what composers and poets felt should be shared with humanity. The music, though occasionally born of a philosophy I do not subscribe to, still speaks to the humanist that I am and allow me to see humanity and people for the good and the love and the joy that they inspire. The beauty and the depth of the music takes away from the diatribe I so strongly fight against, so it helps me believe in what people can be.

A Busy Singer is a Happy Singer

The days tick on, and although it's January, Springtime is rolling in! Not just green trees and wild flowers, but the spring opera seaso...

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