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?

It’s die-dee-die-dee-time!

Yes, it is time for my semi-annual (sometimes annual) pilgrimage to Milwaukee Irish Fest to dance jigs, drink beer (none of which will be green), listen to Celtic punk and traditional (die-dee-die-dee) music, eat deep-fried food, and celebrate what is not my heritage, but what speaks to me much more than anything in which I was raised.

The studio will be closed from 8/14 (that’s today!) through 8/20. I will be teaching next Wednesday and Thursday and the following Monday. Then the studio will close for 8/27-9/2, and we will start back up on 9/3 with the fall semester.

If you are a studio member, please read your email. The studio policies and final packages are going out before I leave today.

Enjoy this video from Milwaukee’s own Tallymoore, which at the time this video was filmed (at 2014’s Milwaukee Irish Fest), included MezzoidMKE alum (and my original cabaret partner) Ryan Cappleman!

The Performing Teacher/Teaching Artist

The biggest reason I moved back to the east coast from Milwaukee was because I was not performing at all. Or hardly at all.

On the up side, this allowed/forced me to focus on developing my teaching/business skills, and I discovered that I’m really good at this. But performing was important to me, both because I am a performer, and I’m really happy on stage, and also because I think it makes me a better teacher.

This was reinforced in an article by Brian Manternach, a tenor on the voice faculty of the University of Utah’s Theater Department, and also a former resident of Milwaukee. (I think I might have judged him at NATS at one time….) This article appeared in the March/April 2017 issue of the Journal of Singing, and is titled “The Value of Performing.”

I’d like to summarize his points (in bold and italics) about why performing informs and benefits our teaching, and draw some conclusions of my own.

  • Teachers who perform may be better able to demonstrate the techniques they are encouraging their students to build. I know a lot of teachers who don’t demonstrate, just because they don’t want to encourage imitation. And I get that. If you are 14, you shouldn’t sound like someone who is… older. But if I can show you just what chiaroscuro is supposed to sound like, I will! I will also show you what it shouldn’t sound like. (There will be another blog in a few days about imitations/accents/funny voices and how this can help you find things out about your voice.)
  • Teachers who perform must maintain a regimen of vocalization that keeps their own instruments flexible, pliable, and healthyI “joke” that during the last  or so years I was in Milwaukee, I became really good at singing in E major. Because that’s where I started a lot of exercises. Whether it was a descending 5 note scale starting on B4 or an arpeggio coming down from E5, I’d demonstrate that, my students would sing it going down, and then I’d go to the same spot and go up. (It wasn’t a very funny joke.) I had no reason to practice. I intended to, but I had so many students (30 at home, 10 at colleges, plus teaching classes at Carroll) that I just didn’t have time. And it showed when I gave a recital in September 2011 at Carroll and realized that I did not sound – or feel – like myself. I had to work with Connie Haas to find the singer I had been and would be again.
  • Teachers who perform have the ability to thoroughly learn new repertoire. Again, I had no reason to learn anything. I had worked with a pianist in the early 2000s who introduced me to a lot of pieces that were wildly out of my comfort zone. Sometimes, they were exhilarating. But he took ill, and retired from performing. And my cabaret pianist was in high demand and became too busy to work on shows with me. I had a few opportunities through the MacDowell Club, a performing group, but they were few and far between.
  • Teachers who perform can empathize with their students who experience music performance anxiety (MPA). Boy, can I relate to this. I had terrible MPA (a new term for me). And because I didn’t have performance opportunities, I didn’t have the opportunity to conquer it. Each performance I did had so much riding on it. There wasn’t necessarily a “next time.”
  • Teachers who perform can bring first hand knowledge of age related voice changes to their studios. wish I didn’t have this … but I do. I’ve done pretty well so far, except for one 3 month period that coincided with a particularly bad bout of bronchitis.
  • Teachers who perform have additional opportunities to network and build relationships with other musicians. To a certain extent, I’ve gotten this from a lot of other sources:
    • NATS
    • Social media (performance/teacher FB pages)
    • Speakeasy Cooperative

But there’s a special bond between people who make music together. They inspire each other to do better, to take it to the next level.

Teachers who don’t perform aren’t lesser teachers than teachers who do. But, for me, I need to have both. Right now, I feel like I have a good balance of teaching and performing. Perhaps later, I’ll change the ratio (or have it changed for me).

I consider myself a teaching artist, and even when the day comes that I perform less, I will still consider myself that.

Milton Peckarsky, 1920-2017

I’m not sure exactly when I met Milton Peckarsky. It was probably around 1997, a year or so after I arrived in Milwaukee. I think I had sung on a MacDowell Club Concert, and he approached me to ask if I would be interested in exploring some contemporary music.

I had done a little contemporary music up to that point – I’d been in the world premiere of The Dream of Valentino at Washington Opera (before they added the word “National” to their name) and I had done the Elizabeth Vercoe “Jehanne de Lorraine” at a concert at Marquette University, but I didn’t really consider myself a contemporary musician. That stuff was hard.

Well, that all changed, and for the next 10 years or so, I was pretty much known as a contemporary musician because of Milton. He introduced me to composers such as Yehuda Yannay, Josh Schmidt, Sigmund Snopek III, David Bohn, Keith Carpenter, and Cornel Taranu. Because of him, I received amazing reviews for a piece that Yehuda wrote (not for me, but which I performed) as well as for pieces by Alban Berg. These were performed on a concert called Variety 2000: Expressionism and Surrealism – The Soul Turned Inside Out. THREE HOURS of music, film and theater (including pornographic puppet theater) celebrating what could be described as pre-emo navel contemplating (it was a real toe-tapper, as you can imagine). There were 6 performances of it and every single performance was sold out. These were on the Music Of Our Time series, which he had founded.

He also commissioned Schmidt, Snopek, Bohn and Carpenter to write pieces for the two of us to do together at a MacDowell Club recital at his home.

Milton also arranged for me to sing the Tzara Songs by Cornel Taranu, which were then recorded for a collection of Romanian music. The songs were based on the poetry of Dadaist poet Tristan Tzara and were not easy, either musically or interpretatively (cheminée, cheminée, les rois des poissons passé: Chimneys, chimneys, the kings of past fish). Listening to them as I write this – I am really proud of these pieces and would like to sing them again…. maybe with slightly better French….

He and his wife Vivian (who I just found out passed away 3 years ago) were also like second parents to me. They came to my wedding (and in fact, my mother-in-law apparently thought Vivian was my mother and embraced her warmly, much to the consternation of my own mother).

The pictures above accompanied a press release for an October 2000 concert called “Journeys,” which Milton and I did at Carroll College (now Carroll University), and included songs by Hugo Hartig, Arnold Schoenberg, Ned Rorem, Charles Ives, and Maurice Ravel, as well as my debut as a narrator in Theodor Ullman’s The Love and Death of Cornet Christoph Rilke. This piece was particularly meaningful to Milton as a Jew – it was the final piece that Ullman wrote while a prisoner at the arts camp, Theresienstadt, prior to being moved to Auschwitz. As an actor, it was particularly meaningful to me, because the actor for whom it was intended had been executed on the day of its scheduled performance.

I hope I gave something back to Milton as well – one thing I did for him was to arrange for Mayor Tom Barrett to declare September 14, 2012 as Milton Peckarsky Day. Milton had just been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at that time, and the MacDowell Club wanted to honor him while he was still cognizant of the honor. Rest in peace, dearest Milton, dearest Vivian. I will never forget you.

Milton & Vivian Peckarsky