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Color Me Vivid

When I was a little girl, Barbra Streisand did a musical special on TV called “Color me Barbra.” It was filmed at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and was a celebration of art and music.

Of course I didn’t watch it at that time, because my parents hated Barbra Streisand and wouldn’t let me – but I knew about it and heard the album a few years later. But here’s the opening number (the entire show is available on YouTube):

I grew up in a time of really ugly colors. Avocado green, harvest gold, sickly pale pinks, and muddy beiges pretty much dictated the color scheme of my childhood.

I always wanted more, or at least to do something interesting with the color palette that I had at my disposal. I remember convincing my parents to let me paint my ceiling gold. I don’t remember what colors the walls were, but the ceiling was gold (maybe they were green – my HS colors were green and gold). And I added accent colors in the form of two plastic lamps, one a emerald green and the other purple, that substituted for the black light or lava lamps that my parents wouldn’t let me have.

LAVA LAMP CUTOUT 6 FT PURPLE | Magic Special Events | Event Rentals near me... Richmond, VA, Henrico, Petersburg, Virginia Beach, Northern Virginia
What I REALLY wanted

That was the first time I paired green and purple together, come to think of it.

The next time was in a production of La Traviata with the Florentine Opera (when they hired me, before I was actually good). My gown was purple and green, with gold fringe. This was such a departure from the usual mud-colored chorus outfits that I’d had up to that point (and since then, mostly), that it thrilled me. I remember calling my ex-MIL-to-be and telling her how excited I was about the dress. (This was a woman who never met a shade of oatmeal or gray that she didn’t love – despite the fact that she had the bluest eyes and most striking white hair and any jewel tone would have looked glorious on her.) I remember her saying, incredulously, in her thick German accent:

“Purple und green? And you like it?”
“Yes.”
“Purple und green….. and you like it? Really.”

Yes, I did. Really. And I still do.

Opera costume
This is actually from years later, in Verlobung in Traum at Washington Opera, but it’s similar

When I remarried in 2003, my original plan was to get married in an off-white dress, because, it was a wedding. And on the way home, I realized — I hate off-white. I look terrible in off-white. So I called back the seamstress and said, “You know that accent color I wanted for the sleeves? I’ve decided that I want my dress to be that color. We can do the sleeves in off-white instead. And I want some purple in the embroidery. And maybe some gold, too.”

My wedding dress
Me with my bridesmaid, Caroline Widegren

(We look about 19 there, and we are both women over 30 – in my case, well over 30. Dang!)

Since then, my colors have skewed more towards purple and teal (which is closer to my eye color), and the purple is even starting to migrate more towards a violet. This can be demonstrated in the colors that I have put on my head in the last year and a half.

Teal and violet hair
Color by Theresa Zak of Crafted Hair Salon

I was reading in Susan Blakey’s blog Une femme d’un certain age about the idea of “dopamine dressing,” and how little pops of color can lift your mood, especially in the winter, when people are prone to seasonal affective disorder due to the lack of light. Susan tends toward dressing with a base neutrals with a little pop of color as an accent.

I suppose my head is my accent color, but I still like to wear colors as well.

This weekend, I am having the studio painted the colors I want. After 6 years of living in a house with an interior that is mostly shades of beige (although much more tastefully done than the muddy beiges of my childhood), we are both ready for color.

Three of the studio walls are going to be a shade of teal and the fourth wall a color called “passionate purple,” which also matches my front door. The curtains are a teal/turquoise tie-dye (another thing my parents wouldn’t let me have, along with the lava lamps). I’m thrilled by it.

Studio color scheme

The rest of the house won’t be quite as vibrant (some might say loud), but it will definitely reflect who we are. And we are not beige people. And this … this is decidedly beige.

BORING!

I can’t wait till my colors are up and my furniture is all back where I want it! Although I suspect not everything will make it back into the room….

How do you feel about color? Tell me in the comments!

*****
If you’d like to work on your vocal color, there are a few openings
in the studio beginning in February.
Find out how to work with me in 2022!

Why Community Matters to Me

We think of community in terms that may or may not be positive.

  • Community theater is often thought of as less than in quality and value than professional theater (NOT TRUE)
  • Community college is where you go when you can’t afford a “real” college (NOT TRUE)
  • A community choir implies that there were no auditions and they just accept anyone, and, again, it’s less than desirable (NOPE)
  • A community center might be considered a place for people to go if they can’t afford a country club or if they’re old and lonely (THAT’S INSULTING)
  • Barack Obama was derided in his first presidential campaign for being a “community organizer,” as if that wasn’t an actual job (and often, community organizers are volunteers, but in many cases, it is a professional, non-profit position that has skills and requirements – but more about that in a bit)

Last night I was interviewed by a student as an assignment for her acting class. She had to talk to someone interesting for 8-10 minutes on a particular topic. I was flattered, and offered several topics that I could blather on talk intelligently about till the cows came home for ten minutes or so. We settled on the idea of the importance of community, and how I’ve developed that idea over the course of my life. And when I finished, I thought, “This is why this matters.” So I thought I’d tell you.

As a child in Milwaukee, my parents were older than everyone else’s parents. And they talked funny. This set me apart from people, and not necessarily in a good way.

My parents were Eastern European, but from very different countries in Eastern Europe.

    • My mother was Estonian and from a Lutheran, urban background. She had a high school education. I don’t know what she did for work after high school. She left Estonia during the second Soviet occupation and fled to Germany (because “that’s the way the boat was going”) at the height of WWII, where she worked in kitchens, and wound up in a displaced persons (DP) camp when the war was over.
    • My dad was Slovenian and from a Catholic, rural background. He made it through sixth grade, as far as I know, and then left school to help his widowed mother on the farm. I believe he did that until he went to war. He was in an Italian prison camp and wound up in the same DP camp as my mother. After they met, he came to the US under the sponsorship of a Montana family and saved up to bring her to join him. They wound up in Milwaukee because there were a lot of Slovenians there and he could find work.

My parents had friends who were Slovenian, Estonian, and German (the German ones were married to Slovenians or Estonians). When we socialized with them, we only socialized with Slovenians OR Estonians. There was never a time that they mingled. They had no American friends except immediate neighbors, with whom we occasionally socialized.

I recall the Estonians being more welcoming of my father than the Slovenians were of my mother. That could just be because my father was more gregarious and social than my mother. The way she presented it was that the Slovenians thought she wasn’t good enough, and by extension, we half-breed children weren’t good enough either. The Estonian friends didn’t have any children my age. The Slovenians did, and I was friendly with one girl throughout most of my childhood and teen years (it helped that she lived a few blocks away, so it wasn’t an inconvenience to my parents for me to hang out with her).

I never felt as though I had a real community of friends until I moved to DC with my first husband. It took my becoming part of Washington Opera for me to find my tribe, and then, when I moved to Baltimore and went to Peabody, my sense of community grew further. (The first husband was not part of this process.) This isn’t to say I liked everyone and everyone liked me, but I had a group of people who respected me and respected my skills and talent, and some of them actually liked me. And vice versa.

Brené Brown said, in a recent podcast,

True belonging is being yourself. Fitting in is being who you think somebody wants you to be

[This was on a podcast I listened to recently, and I don’t remember which one – a version of it is also in her book, The Gifts of Imperfection]

When I returned to Milwaukee in 1996, I thought that I would live my life the way I’d lived it on the East Coast – that I would perform regularly, and find my tribe. Because I had a better understanding of myself, my abilities, and I had learned a lot in the years that had passed. I was chagrined to find that this didn’t happen for me. I didn’t belong and I didn’t fit in because that wasn’t being true to myself.

The original reason for the semi-staged studio showcases (say that fast 3x) I put on while teaching in Milwaukee was that I craved being on stage. But what I found was that it created community among my students. We did mostly ensembles, and I put people together based on how I thought they’d work together, rather than because they already knew each other and could arrange to practice on their own (that would’ve been easier). No, I would tell people, “You’re going to do a duet with X, and she has her lesson on Tuesdays at 5:30. I’d like you to come to one of her lessons, and she’ll come to one of yours, and maybe we’ll try to arrange another time as well. Okay with you? Great!” and it worked.

I have to admit there was one time I picked two girls who I knew for a fact did not like each other. They had gone to school together since kindergarten, and each one thought the other one was a pain in the ass. (Neither one knew the other one felt that way, and they still don’t, unless they read this. And if so — oops.) They were complete opposites, in personality and in voice – one was a very high soprano, the other a very low alto. That latter part was the ostensible reason for putting them together. But really – I wanted them to respect each other.

And I have to say that I got a kick out of their working together. Especially since the song I chose for them was “What is this feeling?” from Wicked, also known as “Loathing.”

It took some time to put it together, and they did brilliantly. Did they become best friends afterwards? No. That wasn’t the goal. The goal was to have them work together and respect each other, and that was accomplished.

It meant a lot to me that my students would go see each other in performance, whether that was sitting in the room at solo-ensemble or making the effort to go to a concert or show, and identify themselves as fellow studio members. And it broke my heart when I moved and someone posted on FB that, “I’ll miss Christine, but I’ll really miss being with all of you.”

ZipRecruiter defines a good community organizer as someone who:

cultivates relationships within the community and finds ways to reach populations that are at risk or in need. This includes working with activists and other groups to effect social change. Excellent communication skills are a starting point, but community organizers also need to be passionate about their work and try to connect with others. You should be resourceful in finding information and organized in documenting it. Most jobs also appreciate job seekers with the ability to speak and write in a second language.

So I guess I’m a community organizer, of sorts, my second language being that of music. I’m definitely passionate about my work, I’m resourceful, I work with others, and I hope that I’m reaching a population in need, if not necessarily at risk.

I did not have this sense of community growing up, and if I do anything of worth with people, it is to bring that sense of community to others. And I hope they will pay that forward.

Why Creating and Cultivating Community Matters to me (Yes, this is reused from World Voice Weekend)

*****
If becoming part of a studio community (and beyond) is important to you, there are a few openings beginning in February.
Find out how to work with me in 2022!

Memorization Techniques and Tips

Memorizing music and lyrics always came easily to me. Whether it was classical or musical theater, English or a foreign language, I could learn music and have it ready to perform just like that <snaps fingers.>

Not so much anymore.

Maybe it’s aging. Maybe it’s lack of practice – before I moved back to Milwaukee in 1996, memorizing was a regular part of my life, because I’d been on stage pretty much non-stop for the past 15 years. When the performing slowed down, I got out of practice.

But when I had to learn music for the Bernstein concert I did in 2015, and especially when I added three songs to my assignment a few weeks before the concert, I was able to do so with no problem. In fact, it turned out memorization was optional, but I felt that I had to do it for myself – it was my NYC debut and I was not going to do it on book. (If it had been an oratorio or something, that would’ve been different.)

According to Dr. Noa Kageyama of The Bulletproof Musician, there are two types of memory on which musicians rely: 

  • Serial Chaining – basically memorizing the song in order from beginning to end. Pretty much how we learn songs – and if all goes the same way in performance as it does in the practice room, it’s … fine. I would imagine that it could leave you with a very rote kind of performance and one that relies on either visualizing the music on the page (photographic memory) or listening to an inner soundtrack in your head. But what if something goes wrong? Something minor, or something big? If that’s your primary way of memorizing, can you overcome those inevitable blips that might happen? What if they ask you start from some place other than the beginning? 
  • Content Addressable Access – in other words, finding cues or markers that trigger us. Dr. Kageyama says that there are four kinds (my notes below each in Italics):
  1. Structural cues are natural breaks or logical sections that form the structure of a piece. Like the exposition/development/recap, or where phrases begin and end. 
    For us as singers, this can be as easy as verse/chorus, or as complicated as a song that has multiple sections, like “I’m still hurting.” A dramatic key change, as found in Frank Wildhorn’s “Someone like you” is another example.
  2. Expressive cues are mood or character-based. Sections that you decide should be mysterious, or pensive. Or that communicate happiness, sadness, or sarcasm. Or involve characters who form part of a narrative in your head.
    Here’s where we have an advantage over instrumentalists – we have words! Now, that means we have an added layer of memorization, but it gives us something very specific to hold on to. All the more reason why, if we’re singing in a foreign language, we need to do a word-for-word translation of the text – and perhaps write out an inner monologue, even if it is in English (or whatever our native language is).
  3. Interpretive cues are also musical in nature, but related more to the hints that the composer has left us in the score. Like changes in tempo, phrasing, dynamics, and all those Italian words we suddenly realize we should have looked up when our teacher quizzes us in a lesson.
    Again, key changes, but also what is happening in the accompaniment? Is it transparent? Is it full? Is the melody doubled?
  4. Basic cues are technique-related, such as bowing, sticking, or fingering choices.
    For us as singers, this includes marking your breaths, based on not only your technical ability, but on the grammatical demands of the text. Also, approaching different notes in your range and knowing how you’re going to handle your passaggio, that high note at the end, etc.

I have an audition this Saturday for Washington National Opera, and I decided to learn two brand-spanking-new pieces for the audition. I picked them out on January 1. I have since decided, based on where I’m at in memorization and what I really want to sing, and with the advice of my teacher, Nicholas Perna, that I am only going to sing ONE new piece, and it is “O pallida, che un giorno mi guardasti” from L’Amico Fritz. The other piece will be something I’ve known for years, “Dido’s Lament” (aka “When I am laid by Henry Purcell”) from Dido and Aeneas. I suspect they will ask for the Italian, so that’s the one I will focus on. 

Here are the methods that I’ve been using over the last two weeks:

  • Week 1: Largely serial chaining-based for the first few days
    • Play it through on the piano
    • Sing it through and see where the technical issues might be Find a few recordings and listen to/watch them
    • Set up an Appcompanist track and adjust the tempo to where I am at (and adjust again when I’m stronger)
    • Type the text onto my laptop, erase, and retype (some people swear by handwriting it, and I used to, but I have thumb arthritis, so that’s not ideal anymore)
    • Work BACKWARDS – start on the last page, then go back to the prior one, then to the beginning. This “breaks the chain”* 
  • Week 2: Find cues, mainly based on the text/translation/interpretation
    • Look at the translation provided and break it down into word for word translation rather than the poetic one provided 
    • Break that down further into the vernacular (even if it’s amusing to me – that’ll help!)
      (For example – I decided to approach each line of the song like a fortune in a fortune cookie and add the words, “in bed” to the translation. It makes me smile and tweaks my interpretation so that it’s got a little bit of spice to it. It kind of reminds me of the “oh shit” method of counting that I created a few years ago – stay tuned and I’ll tell you about that another time).
    • Type that under the Italian translation
    • Erase the Italian text and sing it while looking at the English translation (this is a new technique for me and it’s working really well, because I’m really associating the word with its translation instead of parroting syllables with some vague understanding of the text)
    • Repeat without looking at the words
    • If I make a mistake, even if it’s minor, STOP and repeat the phrase correctly [PRACTICE MAKES PERMANENT SO GET IT RIGHT BEFORE YOU MOVE ON]
    • Rinse and repeat

*Speaking of “breaking the chain,” Dr. Kageyama has a really interesting exercise to work on that:

Sing the Alphabet Song but instead of starting with A, start with F. Can you do it without having to think “ABCDE” first? I’m not sure, honestly, if this is supposed to start with F on the first note of the song or F where it’s supposed to be in the song. But that could be another interesting way to look at it!

In an ideal world, you would have more time to work on memorization and internalization the song. And I should have planned further ahead, but I wasn’t honestly that sure that I would be doing the auditions this year, post-Covid. I do like this aria a lot, and Dr. Perna thinks it’s a great choice for me vocally and as an audition song – it’s short, which the panel will appreciate, and it shows what it needs to show. So – I think I’ll be ready for it. Assuming my Covid rapid test is negative tomorrow…..

(Watch them choose “When I am in laid” instead. Now there’s where I should add the words “in bed.”)

What are your tricks for memorization? Share them in the comments!

Grit and Creating a Practice

In the last year or so, I’ve heard a lot about the term GRIT, which is part of the title of a book by psychologist Angela Duckworth.

I was reminded of the term in listening to a not-so-recent podcast, Dare to Lead, by Brené Brown, in which she interviewed Dr. Duckworth. I haven’t read the book yet, just an interview with Dr. Duckworth in the Costco magazine, so I was interested in hearing more about it. I had associated the idea of grit with being strong, not giving up, and keeping your eye on the prize. And those things are part of it, but, as Dr. Brown said in her introduction,

some people say, “Well, grit is sticking with it whether it’s for you or not.” And that’s not what grit is, and that’s really important, I think, for parents and for educators and for us, personally, where we’re like, “Wow, I tried this.” I think we shared examples about our kids trying to finish seasons of sports they start. You know, “I tried this, I hated it. I don’t want to do it again. Does that mean I don’t have grit?” No, did you learn? Did you get closer to what you might love by trying things that you don’t?

The full title of the book is Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. You can read a sample of it at this link or watch her TED Talk here.

The elements of perseverance and passion are essential to the definition of grit and to success. But this doesn’t mean that you have to stay toiling at a hobby, a job or career, maybe even a relationship, if you don’t like it and if it’s not serving you.

In the podcast, both Drs. Duckworth and Brown talked about their children pursuing a hobby or sport that they, ultimately, wound up dropping. But they didn’t drop it after a week, after a month – they stuck it out till the end of their time commitment and then decided not to continue.

Through perseverance, they were able to discover whether or not
that activity was their passion.

(This makes me think of an old adage I heard that said, “Persevere, ye perfect men, ever keep these precepts ten,” which is an exercise about a sentence that only uses one vowel)

One of my students, who I won’t name, is a great example of that. In her freshman year of high school, she was a cheerleader. And oh, did she hate that! She came in every week and told me how much she hated cheerleading, and I said, “Why don’t you quit?” and she said, “No, I made a commitment and I’m going to see it out.” And after that semester, she never cheerleaded (cheerled?) again. But she persevered.

She perseveres at other things – singing, acting, reading, studying Chinese – and those are her passions. But the fact that she sees through her commitments, even though she might’ve disliked the activity – she is a testament to grit and I admire her for that. And I give her mom total props for raising her right. (Wish mine had – mine never met an activity she couldn’t abandon if it caused her any discomfort, whether that was emotional or physical.)

I am trying to attain grit at this relatively advanced point in my life. I’ve just committed to a 30-day yoga challenge on YouTube. I’ve tried yoga before but always dropped it because it hurt, or I didn’t have time, or …. yeah, I’m not that gritty.

Except in my knees. The level of arthritis in my knees and the resulting crepitus is quite astounding – I sound like I have grit, if nothing else.

Perhaps my 2022 word – focus – is akin to grit, but I suspect there’s more to it.

  • I am committing to 30 days of yoga, and whether I continue or not after that will be based on whether or not I find it rewarding, if I can find a passion it. Also if my knees hold out.
  • I am committing to an eventual goal of 96 oz. of water per day – I’ve started with 48 and have hit that goal and am upping it gradually by 8 oz. I may decide that’s too much.
  • I am committing to reading 25 books this year. I may read more but I won’t read less (and I’ll try to get Dr. Duckworth’s book on that list, as soon as I finish the ones stacked on my nightstand).
  • And I really should commit to my own vocal practice, even if it’s just warming up my own voice before teaching. Right now I’m preparing for a WNO audition this Saturday, but I need to get back into a steady practice.

Do you have grit? What are some examples of things you have persevered at and decided that you were or were not passionate about? If you weren’t passionate, how do you feel about abandoning that pursuit? Tell me about it in the comments!

Grit and creating a practice

 

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If you would like to find out whether or not singing could be a passion for you (and you promise to persevere), why don’t you find out how you can work with me? Mezzoid Voice Studio has a few openings for passionate perseverers (not a real word)
beginning in February!

When the light hit them

“I came from nothing. I came from the most isolated place in the United States: Hawaii. And I spent most of my time reading books in libraries. And I had a mediocre education. But somehow or another I was mesmerized by the idea that someone would get up in a pool of light and be completely and utterly transformed. And transfigured. And beautiful. And that, when the light hit them, they had something not just to say—but something to reveal.

And I remember when I was a kid I saw Édith Piaf on television, and I saw her… I think it was the first time I’d ever seen a human being do what she did. Which was to completely unzip her skin and show her soul. And I… I never really recovered from it. I really felt that I understood what that was. And that I could do it.
Bette Midler, 44th KCHonors recipient

I don’t have much to add to this except that I was glad I found this quote from her acceptance speech on Facebook, because it was not televised on the Kennedy Center Honors on CBS. Which I think is a travesty.

Bette Midler is someone I would add to the list of my musical mothers. Her performances really define for me what is “curiously strong performing,” which I define elsewhere in this site as “Singing and/or performing that takes risks.”

(Oddly enough, I had a dream about two of my other musical mothers last night and it inspired me to create something, which I’ll talk about later.)

Specifically, I always think of her versions of “Superstar” and “Do you want to dance” as two examples of making a song your own. Karen Carpenter sang “Superstar” as a love-struck fan. It was very nice. But you thought, “Ah, she’ll get over it.” Bette Midler sang “Superstar” as a crazed groupie who saw too much into a one-night stand – and you thought, “That girl’s damaged for life.”

See for yourself and tell me what you think:

She shines a light. And she reveals. She shows her soul.

Bette Midler: When the light hit them
Photo from the Divine Miss M

It’s not enough to have something to say. What sets you apart is that ability to “unzip [your] skin and show [your] soul.”

Can you do that when the light hits you?

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I can help you find that light.
But showing your soul is up to you.

So How DO I Actually Focus?

I’ve picked my Word for the Year, and it’s

FOCUS

And that’s all well and good, but exactly what steps am I taking to facilitate this? It’s not enough to say, “This year, I’m going to focus,” or even to establish on what you’re focusing, but what am I doing to ensure that this actually happens? What steps am I taking??

So how DO I actually focus?

(And yes, I’m one of those people who starts sentences with “so.” So what? Deal with it.)

Here are the things I’ve done so far to try to create an environment for myself that will allow me to focus on things and achieve the goals that I want in 2022:

  • I closed all my tabs on all my devices except the ones for Gmail, Facebook, and my calendar. (I probably should close FB but that’s not happening.) It’s amazing how many tabs I had open between the iMac, MacBook, iPad, and my phone. I am making an effort to close tabs as I finish using them. Or even if I’m not finished. If I haven’t gotten to it before I close my computer, it’ll be in my history. Or I can email it to myself to look at later.
  • I deleted Bejeweled from my phone. Because it was really easy for me to say, while waiting for something to download or while I was eating, or upon waking up, to say, “I’m just gonna play one game,” and then “Okay, I’ll play till it stops to reload hearts,” only to find that I had wasted an hour on Bejeweled. Honestly, I was wasting more than an hour. According to my Screen Time app on my phone, I would waste up to twenty-four hours in one week on Bejeweled. That is equivalent of one full day. I even tried to set daily time limits, only to ignore them. There is no reason for that unless I am bedridden. 
  • I am enrolled in Sara Campbell’s Savvy Masterminds group, and in our first session, we were encouraged to list all our goals for the first quarter and then ruthlessly pare them down to a maximum of three, based on what was, in fact, the most important in our lives. What if everything I’m doing is in service to specific goals? My three goals for this quarter are:
    • MDDC NATS – both preparing my students for the upcoming auditions and my service to it as secretary/programming chair for the chapter
    • My weight/health – this goes along with the personal goal of “hydration” that I set for myself. I gained weight in the back half of 2021 (and in my back half as well), partially because of some hormonal issues and partially because I got ticked off at the hormonal issues and said the hell with it. (Figures, just as my face healed from last year’s accident, it blows up from weight gain. Merp.) 
    • Setting up studio classes/studio recitals – pre-COVID, I always had venues and dates in place before I sent out the policies at the beginning of the school year. Because things are so in-flux right now, I fell out of that habit and I don’t feel like I’m serving people in the same way that I was. I need to set up studio classes for my MVPs and the final studio showcase of the year. 
  • I’ve purchased a new Rocketbook/Panda Planner for the year that is erasable and has places to indicate my goals and the steps to implement them, as well as evaluate my progress (which is reinforcing the steps above). The jury is still out on this planner – I’m very used to my Weekly Planner with the time slots and nothing else, and I’m not sure I’ll keep up with this and remember to scan the pages to the Cloud before erasing them and starting the next quarter, but I’ll try.
  • I’ve set up lessons with Nick Perna to work on improving my own singing (vocal health). I’ve worked with Nick before but I haven’t had anything to focus on. I’m going to set intentions for my lessons before he asks, “So, what do you want to work on?” instead of saying, “Oh, I don’t know. Can we try belting today?”
  • I’ve set up meetings with various people to discuss event dates and venues, beginning this week.

I’m starting small with some of the steps I’m going to implement.

  1. I’d like to go 2/3 plant-based in my eating. I’m going to start with 50% and see how I feel after this quarter. I’ll have a doctor’s appointment on my birthday in June and we’ll see how this impacts my bloodwork.
  2. I’d like to drink 96 oz. of water per day. I’m starting with 48% (I have an app on my phone that tells me to drink water and I’m not going to ignore it.)
  3. I signed up for a 30 day free yoga class online. So far, I’ve watched Day Zero, Breathe. I’m going to try to get 30 days in consecutively, but that might not happen.
  4. I want to walk 7500 steps 3x/week. That’s about 2 miles. If I only make 1 mile right now because of the weather, so be it. In any event, I’m going to commit to doing a minimum of 15 minutes of movement of some kind every day, with the intention of increasing it to 30 as time goes on.
  5. I have an audition set up for WNO next Saturday and I picked out two brand-new (but short) songs to work on with Nick this week (today) and next. If I don’t have them learned to my satisfaction, I can pick out two different songs. The work I do on these should inform anything else I sing.

I’m a list-maker but I’m going to try to make lists that aren’t random vomiting of things to do onto the page (how’s that for colorful imagery?) but are, rather, cohesive plans with end-goals in mind. I still can randomly vomit ideas onto a page or onto post-its, but I need some structure to accomplish them.

How are YOU going to accomplish your goals in 2022? How are you going to facilitate your ability to

FOCUS?

How do I Focus
(Or whatever you’ve determined your own personal word to be)

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If one of your goals for 2022 is to get back into a course of vocal study, perhaps one of your steps would be to start taking
voice lessons – and I know just the person who can help!

 

 

2021 In Review

Well, THIS was a year.  Let’s review it, shall we?

(Buckle up, there’s a lot – although it’s still shorter than Dave Barry’s annual year in review)

  • January:Sang for a televised Mass in honor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton at Mount St. Mary’s in Emmitsburg (masked)
    • Started taking Peter Jacobson’s Alexander Technique Teacher Training program
    • Tripped on a bunched-up rug and broke my face open on the back of a chair. Stitches in my gumline, chin, finger (?), and I broke my kneecap. Weirdly enough, the last part was really no big deal and required no surgery or even physical therapy.
  • February: Recorded and submitted virtual entries for MDDC NATS competition, resulting in two second-place finishes for Juliet Jones (Upper HS MT treble voice) and Sasha Kostakis (Lower HS MT treble voice), both of whom continued on to regionals the following month
    • Began planning World Voice Weekend (WVW)!
    • Applied for WVW funding from Maryland State Arts Council (MSAC) – rejected and encouraged to reapply
    • Returned to some choral singing at my church job (masked) at Cathedral of Mary our Queen (CMOQ) Catholic Church for the first time in nearly a year
  • March:Saw a dermatologist for the scar on my chin, and oh, by the way, what’s going on with this mole down here?
    • Diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma, involving MOHS surgery (all is well – it was early)
    • Saw a plastic surgeon for the scar on my chin and began steroid injections
    • Reapplied for MSAC grant for WVW, following all the guidelines outlined earlier – missed by one point
    • Interviewed by Nikki Loney for the Full Voice Podcast regarding WVW!
  • April:Holy Week/Easter services with a small ensemble at CMOQ (masked)
    • Reapplied for MSAC grant for WVW, incorporating recommendations from previous application – missed by 11 points (???) and asked why I was applying so late
    • Second COVID shot!
    • Put together virtual choir for World Voice Day featuring studio members past and present!
    • World Voice Weekend – went extremely well and I learned a lot for the next time I do it (2023)
    • VACATIONcross country drive with the dog in the car to Arizona and back (also learned a lot, including add one more day on each end to this trip)
  • May:Resumed lessons gearing toward the end of the school year!
  • June:Second annual Studio Recital on my back porch to an enthusiastic audience of parents, friends – and cicadas
  • July:Audited masterclass with Christian Borle, hosted by Izzie Bauman and featuring Mezzoid Voice Studio student Kay-Megan WashingtonNew music director started at CMOQ
    • Booked hotel stays for trips to New York in December 2021 and January 2022 because COVID will be over by then, right???
    • Began coordinating Back to Whatever program for end of August/beginning of September
  • August:Began lessons with Dr. Nicholas PernaWent to Milwaukee for Milwaukee Irish Fest!Presented Back to Whatever program with guests Aimee Woods, Phyllis Horridge, Heather Statham, and James Valcq
  • September:Back to in-person lessons for people vaccinated!
    • Signed contract for WNO concert in November
    • Adopted Spike & Charlie
    • Auditioned for Baltimore Concert Opera – first audition since January 2020 (it was…okay)
  • October:Attended Wit at Fells Point Corner Theater (masked) with Kay-Megan Washington in the lead (first theater since 2019)
    • Began Branding Bootcamp with Sara Campbell/Savvy Music Studio
    • Began rehearsals for Come Home with Washington National Opera
    • Sang for Toby Bell’s memorial service in Alexandria, one week after attending a Mass in honor of my late mother-in-law, Barbara O’Meally
    • Transcribed a song from YouTube for an upcoming show
    • Wrote chart for last year’s 25 Days of Caroling arrangement for same upcoming show
  • November:Put together the 2021 version of Ding-a-ling, I feel so Christmas-y! for a December performance and sent it to my pianist
    • Six performances of Come Home with WNO at the Kennedy Center
    • Started rehearsals for Messiah with Baltimore Symphonic Chorale
    • Re-did hair with a little lighter purple (amethyst) for more contrast 😀
    • Made a video of 5 Tips for Giving a GREAT Golden Age Audition, followed the next day by a free class on preparing a specific Golden Age song, which I also captured for posterity on YouTube (I think I’ve hit my quota for embedding videos)
  • December:Performed Messiah with the Baltimore Symphonic Chorale and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra at the Meyerhoff (masked)
    • Presented Ding-a-ling, I feel so Christmas-y at the Three Arts Club in Homeland
    • Lessons and Carols at CMOQ for the first time (live) since 2019
    • Went to the Ravens/Packers game at M&T Bank Stadium (first professional NFL season game!) and the Packers won!
    • Christmas Eve gig at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Crofton, Maryland (6pm), followed by 10pm Mass at CMOQ
    • Cantored for the eve of the Feast of the Holy Family at St. Leo’s in Little Italy
    • Signed up for Sara Campbell’s Mastermind group to help give me some FOCUS  (see below)
    • Cancelled New York trip for December because COVID isn’t over yet (January trip TBD)
    • Wrote this blogpost!

In review, it was a tough year, in many respects, but a busy one and often rewarding. I learned that I sign up for too many things and then don’t schedule enough time to complete them (see BDTR, June) which means that I probably need to decide that my 2022 word is going to be FOCUS, because I think I have boldness to spare. But without focus, how effective will those bold actions actually be?

MVS Year in Review But wait, there’s more!

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What did you accomplish in 2021? What do you wish you’d gotten done? If voice lessons are on your bucket list, why not find out how you can
work with me in 2022?

What’s My 2022 Word?

For the last few years, I’ve chosen a specific word to be the focus of my upcoming year. So now it’s time to figure out my 2022 word.

  • Last year, my word was SYSTEMSThat worked pretty well, overall. I’m still working on the email marketing part, which I kinda hate.
  • For 2020, it was RECREATE, pertaining to both re-creation and recreation (some of that went better than the other)
  • In 2019, I RELEASED things from my life
  • Don’t recall what I did in 2017 or 2018 (although it looks like “Clarity” and “Present” were ones I was kicking around on Facebook for 2018), but in 2016 it was ORGANIZATION with a side of MARKETING

Karen Michaels, singer/pianist, voice teacher/vocal coach, social media maven and founder of The Social Butterfly (and a fellow Speakeasy Cooperative member) put out her 2022 words last week. She has two, one for personal and one for business.

I have decided that my personal word is going to be

HYDRATE

I don’t really like water that much. I tend to put a splash of Bai in seltzer, and that mainly in summer. I drink regular water more when I’m in a rehearsal or working out, neither of which I’ve been doing as much during this decade two years of COVID. And I can feel it.

But I think hydration is more than just drinking water. It’s about refreshing, replenishing, and renewing yourself. I thought I’d made up the term emotional dehydration (and was patting myself on the back for it), but nope, someone else wrote a blogpost about it here.

So I need to refresh, replenish, and renew myself and the first step in that process is going to be to increase my hydration. Through intake of water, of course, but also through more steam, regular use of the humidifier, maybe more relaxing baths, and finding more things that fill my emotional tank as well.

Now on to the business word. Originally, I was going to choose

BOLD

And I was going to choose that because Deborah Conquest of Conquest Voice Studios (also a Speakeasy compatriot) said, in regards to my logos, that she liked them before she even knew me because they were “suitably bold and somewhat quirky,” which I thought pretty much sums me up. I even made a graphic about it.

Various emojis of Mezzoid Voice Studio
That’s me to a T!

So I thought, “Oh! Bold! That’ll be my word. Because I want to take bold action in 2022!

But …. now I’m thinking that what I’ve lost in the last few months – and I’m not sure why – is what I really need to get back. And that’s:

FOCUS

Because I have these systems in place, I’ve released what I don’t need and re-created things in this new environment, but now I need to find some focus.

I’m still torn between the two. What do you think?

What's my 2022 Word?

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What do you think my business word should be? Bold or Focus? Drop it in the comments!

Creating Your Own Holiday Traditions

I have written before that I grew up without any real holiday traditions.

My dad was Slovenian (or at least that’s what I was told – in recent years, I’ve been told secondhand that he was born in Slovenia to Croatian parents) and my mother was Estonian. You would think that my childhood Christmases would have been filled with wonder, with opulent nativity scenes, burning incense and fortune-telling (Slovenia),  slippers filled with candy each night of Advent by elves, a Christmas sauna (!), and reciting Christmas poems that we made up on Christmas Eve before we opened each present (Estonia). I think the poetry portion is particularly exciting. These would have been fodder for great and memorable childhood holidays, right?

NAH.

But the food! Certainly we would have had great ethnic food, right?

My mom did make sulze for New Year’s Eve, which was head cheese. It involved a pig’s head that sat in our sink with its eyeballs in a cup on the edge of the sink. My mom would boil that down into a gelatin and put overcooked vegetables in it. Then she and my dad would eat slabs of it with white vinegar.

I never touched it. It was GRAY. And I couldn’t get past that pig’s head in the sink. Or the eyeballs. Thank GOD she didn’t make the other Estonian holiday favorite, blood sausage. It’s amazing I’m not a vegan.

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Sült (also known as Sulze, meat jelly or headcheese)

We did go to church – my dad’s Catholic church, not my mom’s Lutheran one (as agreed upon when they got married), and we did put up a Christmas tree and the house was filled with Christmas music, especially the Andy Williams Christmas album. It wasn’t Christmas to me till I heard “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”

But we didn’t have any family to spend time with. And most of my parents’ friends did have extended family nearby, so they’d spend time with them. My parents immigrated with no other family members. So Christmas was, mostly, just like any other day. Except the stores were closed. And somehow, we always managed to get into some kind of bitter argument during the day, and it never turned out the way I hoped.

Nevertheless, the idea of Christmas still gave me a lot of joy, and it was because of two things that became my lifelong holiday traditions:

  • Music – both recorded (see Andy Williams, above) and live (usually church or school concerts)
  • TV Specials
When I was a child, there were several options for Christmas on television:
  1. Regular TV shows that would have a special Christmas episode – and sometimes the stars of the show would get to sing and dance (which they never did during the regular season – a great opportunity for the musical theater actor who left Broadway behind for the steady paycheck of television to show who they really were)
  2. Christmas movies from the 1940s-1950s that were shown on TV every year (White Christmas, Holiday Inn, The Bells of St. Mary’s)
  3. Variety shows – the Bob Hope Christmas Special (usually from a military base), Bing Crosby Christmas Show, Julie Andrews Christmas Show – a kind of Vegas-y revue format featuring the stars, sometimes their families, and famous guests
  4. Animated Christmas specials, the most famous of which is, of course, A Charlie Brown Christmas, but many others.

Of the animated Christmas specials, the one that brought me joy, and introduced me to the Charles Dickens classic, A Christmas Carol, was the 1963 Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol, which had music written for it by Jule Styne and Bob Merrill. Styne and Merrill also collaborated on another animated project, The Dangerous Christmas of Little Red Riding Hood, starring Liza Minnelli in the title role and contributing this gem to the world (which is also the title song of my holiday cabaret show, with different words written for my collaborator, because the Wolf’s aren’t quite appropriate out of context):

In Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol, the character of Belle bids farewell to Ebenezer Scrooge when his dogged pursuit of money changes him and their relationship. It is said that the song that was supposed to be sung here was “People” from their 1964 musical, Funny Girl. Instead, the song “Winter was warm” was written, which I honestly did not appreciate as a child. But it’s really beautiful – and it’s also in my holiday cabaret show.

But my favorite special Christmas episode was that of my favorite childhood TV show, The Dick Van Dyke Show, which showcased the writing staff of the fictional Alan Brady Show singing and dancing (with the help of head writer Rob Petrie’s lovely wife, Laura). Most of the songs in the episode are ensemble pieces, including the well-known “I am a fine musician” (not on my cabaret show, but I would like to put it on a holiday studio recital someday):

However, there is one solo piece sung by the lovelorn Sally Rogers (Rose Marie), which I just incorporated into my cabaret show this year. I had to transcribe it myself because there is no sheet music to be found anywhere.

These shows formed my ideas of holiday traditions. They are traditions of music, of laughter, of love, and of finding your own tribe or family where you can.

I have been fortunate to find my tribe among my fellow artists in a variety of genres – opera, cabaret, church – and with my husband, Bill, and our current menagerie (Seamus, Spike & Charlie) as well as our loved and lamented Mittens, Dave, and Pippin.

For those of you who grew up with families that enveloped you with the love and joy of the holidays, and to whom you are still close, you are very fortunate. Hold them close to you in your hearts and have a wonderful holiday season, full of music, and food, and love.

Holiday traditions - food, music, and TV

 

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If my holiday cabaret show sounds interesting to you for next year’s holiday season (or if you’d like help creating your own holiday cabaret), find out how to work with me in 2022!

 

Happy Holidays (all of them)

Saying “Happy Holidays” at this time of year does not mean that you have sold out and are part of the so-called War on Christmas.

It is an acknowledgement that there are multiple holidays at this time of year and different people celebrate different things.

Sometimes Hanukkah is at the same time as Christmas. This year it was earlier.

Kwanzaa comes after Christmas. It’s not a holiday that I celebrate, because I am not African-American. But I respect it and can appreciate it (if not appropriate it) and acknowledge it as another holiday in the cycle.

Today is the Winter Solstice or the Yule Festival, a pagan holiday celebrating rebirth and new possibilities. It is the shortest day of the year and after today, the days grow longer until its counterpart, the Summer Solstice, on June 21 (which is also my wedding anniversary). On this day, at 10:59am, you are supposed to:

Light a candle. Be grateful for what you have. Dream of where you still wish to go.

Sounds to me like a New Year’s tradition.

We think of December 21 as the first day of the winter, and bemoan the months ahead of cold and darkness, but really, it’s the season where the light is just beginning. June 21 is the beginning of summer, and we celebrate the warmth and sunshine, which is one of the reasons we chose it as our wedding day. But really, it’s the beginning of the dying of the light. (Rage, rage, against the dying of the light.)

I have a very strong affinity for the Pagan holidays, even though I was raised in a Catholic household. The traditions speak to me as much as the ones from my Catholic faith tradition, and I don’t think they’re contradictory. Christmas is set when it is because it was a way of attracting Pagans to the Church – the Winter Solstice festivals were very popular, and they were appropriated in order to make Christianity more “fun.”

[This reminds me of when I moved back to Milwaukee and a stage manager at the Skylight showed me a picture of her child in an Easter outfit. She said, “Of course, don’t celebrate Easter,” and I said, “Oh… Jewish or Pagan?” and I was serious. I wasn’t making light of her faith. Well, everyone looked at me and she said, “Jewish. What a weird question to ask?” and I was taken aback. I said, “I’m sorry – don’t you guys know any Pagans?” and everyone said, “NO!” and I said, “Oh… well… I do….” 

And I wonder why I didn’t fit in.]

Christmas is also important to me, even though I didn’t grow up with a lot of traditions. You would think that, growing up with Eastern European parents, I would have had a veritable wealth of interesting and meaningful ethnic traditions as part of my holiday celebrations.

And you would be wrong.

We did nothing. We had no family in the area, so it was just another day. Except the stores were closed.

But I still loved the lead-up to Christmas, despite the fact that the day was usually one of disappointment and recriminations. And part of that reason – if not all of it – was because of the music and the television specials. Which I will write about on Thursday.

As far as music, because the Winter Solstice is from the Pagan traditions, most of it is of the New Age genre, with a sound that is vaguely medieval, even when the songs are original. A song that I found that is very popular is “Solstice Carole” by the Canadian group, The Wyrd Sisters (which may or may not be a reference to the Witches in the Scottish Play). These are the lyrics for the first verse.

A fire is burning

The long night draws near

All who need comfort

Are welcome by here

Here are two videos of the song. One by the original band, which includes the lyrics as well as some beautiful images. The second by a contemporary a cappella group, who have put a more contemporary spin on the song.

And now I’m going to go off and light a candle,  say a few words in gratitude, and jot down some of my dreams for the upcoming year. (I’m also going to change my toothbrush heads, because that’s what I do on both the Solstices and the Spring and Fall Equinoxes – we all have our own ways of celebrating). I’m also going to go clean my house to get prepared for the holiday and when my husband comes home from work tonight, we’ll decorate the tree, which has been sitting up undecorated for over a week to allow the cats to get used to it.

I think it’s working, although not as I planned. They were both sitting IN it yesterday.

I will write more about the role of music in my Christmas traditions on Thursday.

Whatever holidays you have celebrated or will celebrate this season, they are all valid and important, and worthy of respect without exclusion.

And so I wish everyone:

Happy Holidays for all faith traditions
If I left any out, happy holidays to you too!

Or – as I wrote in a song parody for my Christmas cabaret two years ago:

“Christmas, Solstice. Kwanzaa, Yuletide, Festivus and Hanukkah,
A season that’s for everyone from Betty to Veronica
I haven’t felt so festive since Chandler married Monica
Christmas, Solstice. Kwanzaa, Yuletide, Festivus and Hanukkah
fa la la lalalala fa la la, fa la la lalalala fa la la”

CAN YOU NAME THE TUNE?