I’ve been using the analogy of the trampoline lately in approaching high notes. If someone is on a trampoline and wants to go high into the air, do you stand in the middle of the trampoline and jump up? No, you jump into the trampoline and let the momentum “ka-boing” you into the air. If you just jump up, you won’t go very high and you’ll probably fall down and hurt something. Point being – ground yourself, support the lower note and the high note will be there for you (assuming your articulators are all free and nothing else is in your way).

Of course, I’ve never actually been on a trampoline, so that analogy is strictly from observation. I’m afraid of heights, so going up into the air is a frightening prospect, albeit less frightening than it used to be. I was afraid of high notes for the longest time, but they’re less frightening than they used to be also.

So now that I’ve had this big realization that opera and classical singing really need to be a part of my life, where do I take this?  I’ve decided that it is time to plan my recital for next fall. I’ve hired David Sytkowski to be my accompanist, I have a tentative date (September 23) in mind and will be finalizing with Dr. Harper at Carroll University in January, and I have a program in mind:

Rossini – the two pieces I sang this past Sunday and another
Marx and/or Zemlinsky
Either the Judith Weir pieces for the Classical Celtic program in March OR
Libby Larson’s “Love after 1950”
Two musical theater pieces:
   “Here alone” from Little Women
   “Fable” from Light in the Piazza
“Dodecaphonia” by John Corigliano (the only place you can do that piece is in academia)

So that’s the plan. I’ve taken a few practice bounces, and I have a couple more in mind. Now it’s time to go for the big jump.

Leap and the net will appear.


Opera Plus self-review

Today I had my MacDowell Club performance of the two Rossini concert arias. In the past few years, many of my performances and auditions have been compromised by performance anxiety which has frustrated me. It’s left me vocally dry, unable to unlock my breath, consequently affecting my legato and sostenuto. Sometimes I’ve gotten around it by emoting a whole lot at least to seem artistic. But sometimes, even that doesn’t work.

It has reminded me of when I was a legal secretary and would take pre-employment typing tests. Even though I could type at well above 80wpm, the minute that timer started, I felt as though I was numb, that I was out of my body, that the whole thing wasn’t real. And while I did well, I always felt that I could’ve done better, that my speed was good but my accuracy was not what I expected of myself, and that I would never be hired again. (And I always was.)

This didn’t happen today. As I wrote a few days ago, this was my return to operatic singing. I remember the last time I sang operatically and in Italian – it was 1999, Cosi fan tutte with Milwaukee Opera Theater (Dorabella). It was a great performance, but after that, I moved into my house in Tosa and really started to develop my studio, so that was pretty much it. I’ve auditioned for things in Italian, but performing? Nope.

Today, I felt, as I said before, at home in my classical voice the way I haven’t since Cosi. There was a sweet spot on stage that made me feel like “Hey, this is working! I don’t need to do anything but let it go!” And Carla Coonan played wonderfully for me. Even though she hasn’t accompanied a lot of singers, she was on the spot for everything I did.

So… no performance anxiety. No vocal fatigue. It’s kind of a miracle what your body will do for you when you give it what you need. In this case, what I need is Rossini.

This doesn’t mean I’m giving up cabaret or musical theater. I’d like to work on Margaret in Light in the Piazza and perhaps Madame Morrible in Wicked, Emma Goldman in Ragtime (no? too belty?), and I still want to work with Ryan on cabaret rep. But this has to be part of my life. It just has to.

Re-defining myself – again

When I came back to Milwaukee in 1996, I thought I had a pretty good idea of who I had become. I was an opera singer. Period. I also had decent skills as a legal secretary, but that was something I could do, not something I was. It paid the bills for awhile – and when I got a tired of typing, I thought I’d give teaching a shot. I figured it would be a little supplemental income between gigs, but that of course I would continue to audition for things and go off and sing wherever I could.

It didn’t happen that way. I found, much to my surprise, that I really enjoyed teaching. And more than that – I was good at it. Really, really good at it. And as time passed, my performing slowed down. Partly because I wasn’t putting myself out there – partly because this is Milwaukee (’nuff said) – and partly because I got married and changed my name and discovered that people thought I’d left town.

I haven’t sung in an opera in 2003 and everything I’ve sung has been either in English or an English translation. I stopped singing in choruses or church choirs because it interfered with my teaching.

So my definition changed. If someone referred to me as an opera singer, I corrected them and said I was a classical singer. As my interest in contemporary commercial music and the cabaret genre increased, I started to define myself as a singer, as a cabaret artist. And above all that, my professional definition was “teacher.”

I no longer thought of myself as an opera singer and I wasn’t even sure if I could sing in that style anymore, and wasn’t sure that I even wanted to. It is a lot of work to be an opera singer – I would liken it to being a professional athlete (without the salary). You are at a very high level of technical achievement, and you have to keep on top of it consistently. You need to keep in shape and my singing was largely limited to demonstrating scales in other people’s lessons. I thought my opera life was over.

And then – Alan Nathan came to UWM to play for a recital for Melanie Helton. Alan had been my chorusmaster at Washington Opera and a major musical figure in my life. I hadn’t seen him for 14 years and as I watched him play, I remembered, “Oh yeah… I was an opera singer. I sang at the Kennedy Center Open House, I had roles in operas and sang in the chorus of two of the country’s best opera companies. I forgot. That’s who I was.”

And I missed that part of me. So I started thinking about doing a recital next year, just to see if I still had it and thought about it as possibly a farewell performance, at least to the classical repertoire.

In the meantime, I was asked to be on an Opera Plus program this Sunday with the MacDowell Club. I decided to sing two of the Rossini pieces I was contemplating for the “farewell” recital.

Much to my surprise, it all came back. Despite not having sung in Italian since I don’t know when, not having sung in an operatic style since 2001 (there was not enough singing in Viva la mamma to count, really), it all came back to me and boy, did it feel good. I felt at home in my classical voice for the first time since I left Washington. I have no doubt that I will feel the same way in Sunday’s performance.

I am an opera singer. I am also a teacher. I am also a director. I am also a cabaret artist. I am a wife and a puppy mama. I have organizational skills I never dreamed I had.

I don’t know where I’m going with this new (again) definition. Do I go out and audition again? For opera chorus, for roles? I don’t know if I need to do anything. But I know one thing.

I am an opera singer and don’t you (or I) ever forget it.

A musical colleague lost, but a musical memory remains

At 7:30 Friday morning, as I was sitting in the lobby of UWM’s recital talking to friends about the upcoming day of the NATS auditions, I got a message on my phone.

A high school friend of mine, Bruce Adrian, had died. I don’t know all the details of his passing, but Bruce had battled diabetes for some time, and a mutual friend had expressed concern about him earlier in the week. Especially when Bruce, who I once referred to on Facebook as “liberal firebrand,” did not respond to the results of the midterm elections. There should’ve been at least 10 links on Wednesday decrying the GOP taking back the House! When there were none, we were all concerned.

Bruce sang with me in Milwaukee Hamilton High School’s swing choir and concert choir, and we were in all three musicals together – Music Man, South Pacific (I’ll never forget his coconuts in “Honey Bun”), and Guys and Dolls. He was, as someone else said, “Larger than life.” He could imitate a bicycle horn and often did ad nauseum. He made this sound — “Haugh!” — that bears a striking resemblance to the sound my dog has been making recently….

After high school, we went our separate ways, as I did pretty much with everyone in high school at that point. We really did not see each other again until our class reunion in 2001 and really reconnected on Facebook a couple of years ago.

I remember him getting into a Facebook argument with a conservative ex-friend (long story, I didn’t really know the guy, he was married to someone from HS and was using her FB name to write stuff on other people’s walls and I unfriended him not because he was conservative, but because I didn’t really know him and he insulted my real friends). The two of them went back and forth debating a topic, with me interjecting a few things before I got tired and went to bed. When I finally did that, there were 16 comments to the original post… when I woke up the next morning, there were 64. All between Bruce and Larry.

Bruce apologized for cluttering up my wall. I said I felt like the hostess with the guests who wouldn’t leave, and I left them in the living room and went to bed, only to find them both passed out on the floor surrounded by overflowing ashtrays and empty beer cans. (Which kind of sounds like a swing choir party I remember way back when…) But I didn’t mind.

Today I taught a girl the song “All the things you are” by Jerome Kern. As she was singing it, I had a sudden flashback to singing it in swing choir and saw Bruce in my mind, at 17, dancing and singing and full of life.

I wish I’d gotten to see him one more time. I had told my husband how much he would like Bruce – they had the same taste in music and politicians – and I’m sad that neither of them had the opportunity to meet. They really would’ve liked each other.

Rest in Peace, Bruce Adrian… you are missed.

NATS 2010 – good news!

I am thrilled to announce that, for the 9th consecutive year, the studio had finalists in the Wisconsin NATS auditions. This year, the competition was held at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and there were 6 contestants from the studio:

Kat Geertsen
Jane Engelking Heer
Lissa DeGuzman
Leah Vogel
K.C. Rasch
Stephanie Kritzell

Kat & Jane were both finalists in the HS Girls Musical Theater division, and Kat took 2nd place! All the other singers received excellent comments from the judges, offering constructive advice largely echoing the advice I’ve been giving for months. 🙂

All the musical theater singers were accompanied by Ryan Cappleman, who did his usual outstanding job of providing a musical foundation for them to soar above. Stephanie sang in the HS Girls Classical division and was accompanied by Madison pianist extraordinaire David Sytkowski.

Congratulations to everyone involved. This was probably the best prepared group I’ve had yet in terms of knowing their music backwards and forwards well before the competition – subsequently, a good time (and a good experience) was had by all!