Why I DIDN’T Sing – For Far Too Long

When I lived in Wisconsin, I spent about 8 years in a sort of vocal quarantine. I suddenly found my private studio taking up more of my time and energy, and I chose to stop seeking work in Chicago, where I’d been doing the bulk of my singing, and reduced my performing with professional choral ensembles in Milwaukee and auditioning for local companies.

And my performing work dried up. Some of that was my choice, since I wasn’t actively pursuing gigs the way I had been, and some of it was … not. I was active with the now-defunct MacDowell Club, with which I did some performing of pieces that appealed to me, as well as programming concerts for them (which I discovered I really enjoyed!). I organized recitals for my students and did some singing on them as well. I started writing cabarets, which was fulfilling, albeit poorly attended. As I got busier and busier with the studio, I convinced myself that it was okay that I wasn’t performing that much.

But because I didn’t have regular shows to work towards, I have to admit… I didn’t practice that much. I learned the music I had to do, but I didn’t do the technical work. I didn’t keep up the chops that I had so carefully cultivated during the years before, during, and after my years at Peabody and in my first few years back in Milwaukee. And I became very aware of that when I listened to a recording of a recital I gave, as I described in a blog last year. It was a kick in the pants. I realized that I wasn’t doing any vocal self-care. For the next year that I remained in Milwaukee, I made a concerted effort to get back to where I’d been.

And when I moved back to Baltimore, it paid off! I got work as a singer.  I got work as a teacher. I left the college gigs to focus on my private studio. My studio grew and my performing grew, and I was in a place where I had the perfect balance between singing and teaching. I was practicing regularly. I was even turning down work because I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to keep the balance that I’d come to appreciate. I realized my ideal clients were those who wanted to perform, whether it was at a pre-professional level, professionally, or in community theater, and I was starting to attract those people to the student. I was satisfied. I was content.

And then COVID-19 came. And all the performing was gone. Lessons moved online. Life as I’d come to know it had changed, possibly forever. It’s not comfortable.

What do I do now? What do we all do now?

This blog is called Why I Sing, and the subtitle includes the words “and why you should, too.” In my next post, I’m going to address the immediate future of singing and the path forward, based on the current information from a variety of well-informed sources. I want to talk honestly about why we should sing — even when there’s nowhere to sing.

What if I had just stayed “comfortable”?

If I never did anything new, I’d still be:

  1. Working at Fleet Mortgage Corp. as a customer service rep
  2. Living in Waukesha in a townhouse I didn’t really want to buy in the first place with my first husband
  3. Singing in the Florentine Opera chorus
  4. Dreaming of doing more with my life

I wouldn’t have:

  1. Moved to DC in the first place
  2. Sung with Washington Opera
  3. Moved to Baltimore to go to Peabody (which involved leaving my first husband)
  4. Met and married my second husband
  5. Moved back to Milwaukee (there are some quibbles about that but…)
  6. Sung in Chicago with Lyric and other groups
  7. Become a voice teacher
  8. Started my blog
  9. Run a 5K (twice)
  10. Started singing cabaret
  11. Moved back to Baltimore
  12. Sung in New York
  13. Opened Mezzoid Voice Studio
  14. Started the Curiously Stronger Performing series of workshops
  15. Met an incredible number of phenomenal friends, colleagues, and students (and students who became colleagues, colleagues who became friends, etc.)

I would have been:

  1. Unhappy
  2. Unfulfilled
  3. Incurious

I am now:

  1. Happy
  2. Fulfilled but looking for more ways to branch out
  3. Still curious

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    What are you afraid to try?

Cabaret as Personal Musical Theater

I was looking through my past blogs to see if I’ve defined cabaret before and couldn’t find anything.

This past Friday, I was thrilled to reunite with Ryan Cappleman to perform a revised version of my first cabaret, “Oh! To Be a Movie Star!” at Germano’s in Little Italy (the revision includes the addition of the exclamation point after “Oh!” where there had previously been a comma). We had a terrific turnout, unlike the performances that Ryan and I did back in Milwaukee, and it was extremely well-received. It’s nearly a week later and I’m still re-living moments that I felt went particularly well and not moments that went badly (this never happens).

There was one friend who had planned to come but didn’t because he said he had a hard time getting his fiancée to go to concerts on Friday night, which is their date night. I was surprised that he said that, because he’s a musician and actor as well. He thought that the performance was going to be something along the lines of a recital, rather than – well, what it was.

So I’ve done some more musings on exactly what cabaret is. And the title of this article is from something that was said to me by Amanda McBroom at a cabaret workshop I attended in Brookfield, Wisconsin, when she was asked to define cabaret. She thought a bit and said, “Cabaret is personal musical theater.” It’s taking pieces that mean something to you and developing a narrative from those pieces. It might be that you have a theme in mind, or it might be that a theme comes from the pieces you’ve selected.

In the case of this week’s show, my theme was movies and movie stars, and the songs I chose reflected that. And more important, what movies have meant in my own life.

Another definition that I came up with was that creating a cabaret was like writing a script for a jukebox musical. A jukebox musical is a bunch of songs by one artist or composer around which an often-lame script is written. Now, I generally hate that genre. My own personal idea of hell would be sitting through endless productions of Rock of Ages, Jersey Boys, and Pump Boys and Dinettes. But a cabaret is picking songs – perhaps by the same composer, perhaps based on a theme or an era – and putting them together with a narrative of some kind.

However, in a musical, there’s a full cast of characters. In cabaret, all the characters are played by a single performer (or a small group of performers) who might have some specific lines that she wants to say to introduce a song, but the songs are the script. They are what tell the story, through the singer’s interpretation.

In Oh! To Be a Movie Star!, Ryan and I told stories of wanna-be actors, both from a humorous and a tragic perspective, of fans who admire and obsess over the object of their affection, of up-and-coming stars and those fading into obscurity. It wasn’t a single narrative following one person from beginning to end. That’s a different kind of show. And maybe it’s one I’ll do someday.

All I can say right now is that cabaret continues to be one of the most rewarding and creative outlets I have as an artist these days. It’s not the only outlet, which it was in Milwaukee (and why not having an audience was so demoralizing to me), but it’s the one that makes me feel the most like myself. It’s personal. It’s musical. And it’s theater.

"A creative adult is the child who survived."

Two blogs in one day!

Last night I did a cabaret show at Germano’s Piattini in Little Italy – “The Not Here Cabaret” with Michael Tan. This was a reprise of a show we did at Spotlighters in June. It went, very, very well. I felt so at home in the format, with the audience, and with the music I’d selected.

This morning I saw this posted on Facebook:

89-Year-Old Japanese Grandma Discovers Photography, Can’t Stop Taking Hilarious Self-Portraits Now – Japan Inside

One of the comments I read (and I know, you’re not supposed to read the comments) was: “A creative adult is the child who survived.”

That’s how I feel about doing cabaret. Creative. Fulfilled. Happy.
Oh, and I made a tidy little sum doing it last night, which was even better. #MakingMoneyAsASingerFTW (do hashtags work in blogs)?