Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Do you read poetry?

Do you read poetry? I can honestly say that I did not exercise my right to read and enjoy poetry until it was introduced to me in such an honest way by such a glorious and talented woman. When I attended Opera NUOVA last year, other participants and I had the pleasure of being instructed by the humble and down-to-earth mezzo soprano, Marianne Bindig. She taught our poetry analysis class for singers. It was basically Poetry Analysis 101. I didn't expect to fall in love with poetry as fast as I did there. 

The majority of my current thoughts are focused on my trip to Edmonton, and although the poetry class won't be taught this year, I found myself looking back and remembering great moments I had while being there last year. 

I remember Marianne handing out a poem to each of us that we were to live with and analyze over the next couple weeks. I pulled a poem called Juventud (Youth) by Pablo Neruda. I remember falling in love with the words and insisting that I wanted to present the poem in Spanish, rather than using the English translation. I remember sitting outside in the hot sunshine at Leva cafe with my poetry group, and reading this incredibly erotic spanish poem while we all got a little googly eyed. I channeled my inner-Latina in that moment. 

Finally, I remember discovering the poet Rumi, purchasing one of his anthologies and sitting in a park surrounded by lilacs in full bloom to read some of the most exquisite words I've ever read. 

In honour of all those beautiful moments that I fondly look back on, I'd really like to share a poem that I have recently read, one that has stuck with me. I hope you enjoy :)


The Silent Articulation of a Face

Love comes with a knife, not some shy question,
and not with fears for its reputation.

I say these things disinterestedly.
Accept them in kind.

Love is a madman, working his wild schemes,
tearing off his clothes, running through the mountains,
drinking poison, and now quietly choosing annihilation. 

A tiny spider tries to wrap an enormous wasp.
Think of the spiderweb
woven across the cave where Muhammad slept.

There are love stories,
and there is obliteration into love.

You have been walking the ocean's edge,
holding up your robes to keep them dry.

You must dive naked under and deeper under,
a thousand times deeper. Love flows down.

The ground submits to the sky and suffers what comes.
Tell me, is the earth worse for giving in like that?

Do not put blankets over the drum.
Open completely.

Let your spirit listen
to the green dome's passionate murmur.

Let the cords of your robe be untied.
Shiver in this new love beyond all above and below.
The sun rises, but which way does the night go?

I have no more words. Let the soul speak
with the silent articulation of a face.

From the main work 1. Odes (Ghazals), 1. Al-Fattah (The Opener) by Rumi.


Today, I let these beautiful words and memories replace any fear, doubt or guilt.

Sweet dreams, friends.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Living in the Present

Ok. So I took quite a long hiatus from writing on this blog. After some time away, I've realized how much I missed writing here. Things got busy, priorities got skewed, that's life.

This summer of development is fast approaching and I can't believe it begins with something as challenging as Ariadne. When I got the role, I couldn't wait to begin, and I did. I have been working intensely on this role since November 2011. Its only now, getting into the spring months (March, April) where the artistic rut starts to set in. I've done so much work on this material for so long that I have been practicing less in the more recent weeks. The singing is coming along nicely, and now it is time for me to practice in a different way. Knowing the role doesn't just involve singing. There are many other factors as many of you know.

  It turns out that I am not quite as good at balancing my work and my social life yet. This is something I always struggle with. The idea of balance. I am also working on letting go of this fact. The past is in the past. Onward and upward.  Instead of worrying about it here, I have decided to share a tool that is helping me along.

A very good singer friend of mine has a set of these and they are awesome to have around when you need  some words of inspiration. Its also very interesting that we seem to draw the card we need to read that day. They are called Power Thought Cards. They have a short message on the front, then a longer more detailed message on the rear of the card. The message I got today is one that I definitely needed to hear:

Front: The point of POWER is always in the present moment.

Back: The past is over and done and has no power over me. I can begin to be free in this moment. Today's thoughts create my future. I am in charge. I now take my own power back. I am safe and I am free.

Here's to living in the moment and letting go. To a summer of learning, meeting new people and personal and professional growth.

I'll be sharing my thoughts over the next couple weeks before I leave for Edmonton. I plan and look forward to sharing my experiences when I am out of the province and prepping for Ariadne.

Have a great day.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Sometimes You Just Need To Take a Singer's Day

Sometimes you just need to take a singer's day. That is today for me! It is the kind of day where a lot of work gets done, but a lot of recharging can happen. Most of us young singers are working one, two or three jobs on top of all the work we have to do for our art, so sometimes instead of "fitting in" a practice session, it is nice to take a day to focus on all things singerly.

For me, the day must begin with an extended pajama wearing period. I wake up, drink some water, make breakfast, write on my blog, etc, but I do it all in my pajamas! Somewhere in the day, I always like to do something physical, so my plan (once I am out of the pajama wearing stage), is to go for a lovely walk in the neighbourhood and listen to music. You know, enjoy nature, soak up local colour, get the blood pumping a bit. All of that.

The rest of my day is going to be devoted to text work, learning, memorization (I have two roles to prepare for the summer) and relaxation. I honestly don't even know if I will physically be singing. You never know.

All I know, is that a quiet house plus Mozart and Strauss seems like bliss to me.

Now, for those of you still in school and reading this, you may be thinking "Well, I go to school 5 days a week and work to make money on my two days off". To this I say, no one ever went to hell for playing hooky for a day. When I was at Laurier I definitely took singer days even though I had class. Sometimes you just need it! Having said that, I usually chose a day where I had a lighter class load. If you have a fantastic teacher, like I do (and did at the time), they will understand.

I will conclude by reminding you that this is something we all need to do from time to time. Take a day, lose yourself in your art and recharge!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Day 54: Audition Mode

So I may have gone on a month hiatus from writing on my blog. To my followers, I'll just say it was a blogger's vacation. Life got very busy, especially because 2012 has turned out to be an amazing year so far and it's only February. This is my year of good change.

I wanted to talk today about the mental prep for auditions. I have my U of T Opera school audition on Saturday and I am in prep mode. What usually happens: about 2 days before the audition I begin to think of nothing else. You will find me withdrawing from conversations because my mind has wandered to a certain section in my aria. I will be found hiding in a corner at work (I work at my grandparents clothing store) trying to sing quietly through my aria. Sometimes, you'll even find me staring in one of the mirrors there while I speak through the text in my aria. Basically, there is a lot of humming or singing quietly in corners or what looks like me talking to myself in plain view of the public. I basically look a little crazy. Haha.

BUT this is all in the name of my art and to have a successful audition.

I find that the most important work I do before my audition barely involves singing. It is taking the time to truly sit with the text and know it inside and out. This is what informs the singing. I have always known that I don't sing well unless I am fully in the moment. My emotion drives me dramatically and vocally.

I'll share my day before audition prep.

1. Sit down with the score and read every word as well as your translation. Be confident that you know it's meaning and remind yourself of some words that you sometimes forget the meaning of.

2. Speak the text as a monologue (in the original language). How would you say these words if this were you? Yes you are portraying a character, but this audition also needs to show who you are as an artist.

3. Repeated text. This is it's own category because it is something we all struggle with. This is the part I find most challenging when trying to keep an aria fresh. Make sure that you are finding different ways to say each line of repeated text. When in doubt, look at how it is set musically. Composers like Mozart, Strauss, and Verdi knew how to write for the voice and how to really set text. The answers will always be in the music if you seek them!

4. Put on a recording of the aria and lip sync your way through it to solidify musical entrances and such, but to also have a dramatic run through of how you would perform it.

5. When all that is said and done, sing through trouble spots. If these arias have been in your top 5 for a while, singing them 800 times is not going to make a better audition. The singing is there. That's why we study technique.

What will set you apart as an artist is how you communicate your story to the panel. Always keep at your technique and singing, and TRUST that it will be there for you when you call on it! There are a lot of pretty voices but too few competent communicators.

I hope this helps some of you with an alternative for audition prep. These are things that seem to work for me! Try some if them out if you'd like. Now I am off to practice what I preach!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Day 24: The Dawn of a New Era

Since the change from "bunny ears" to digital cable, I smile to myself because I realize that I haven't been watching that much television anymore. Even though I could watch whatever I want online, and I have a very good movie collection, I still would rather read. I find myself buying many more books and reading for hours. I feel that my vocabulary has expanded and my writing has improved. I go on the computer for the same amount of time as I did before, but I view different things. The good old regulars are there (facebook, email, youtube, this blog) but I've recently joined twitter and its opened up a world of possibilities. I am able to keep on top of, and up to date of what is happening in the operatic world. January is my new favourite time, because all the opera companies are announcing their seasons for the upcoming year. Not only are these exciting productions to look forward to, but I'm also retaining valuable information that applies to my job. Its a very exciting thing. It is the dawn of a new era for me.

On Thursday evening, I am embarking on a four day long journey to begin my training in the healing art of Reiki. I will be doing the Level 1 class for certification at the end of those 4 days. For those of you who don't know what Reiki is, I will include a blurb from a great book that I own. Feel free to google it and a read about it. It is an astounding method of healing that most people do not believe could possibly exist. But in fact, it has existed for thousands of years and was brought to the Western world in the early 20th century.

"The word Reiki means universal life energy. It is defined as being that power which acts and lives in all created matter. The word consists of two parts. The syllable "rei" describes the universal, boundless aspect of this energy while "ki" is in itself part of "rei", being the vital life force energy which flows through all living beings....The Usui system of Reiki is not only the most simple and natural healing method we know of, but it is also the most effective way of transferring this universal life energy. Once a person has been opened up to become a "channel" for Reiki, concentrated life energy will flow through his/her hands of its own accord and he/she will retain this ability for the rest of his/her life...Many scientists reached the point in their work where there is only one explanation left, namely that a superior intelligent force does exist: a universal spirit which is continually creating the universe out of itself...The therapist is only a channel for this energy, for it is not his own, limited energy which passes through him when he lays his hands on a person, but rather a universal one, which leaves him strengthened and harmonized afterwards. Reiki also makes its own way to the area of the body in need of treatment. It is obviously endowed with a greater wisdom than our own, for it seems to know where and how and to what extent a patient needs it without our being able to add to or subtract from the effect it produces....The fact that Reiki has enabled many people to arrive at a more comprehensive understanding of religious matters while enabling them to experience spiritually in a more profound manner speaks for its universality."

This is slightly vague, because it does not talk about how the treatments are done, but I will leave that for you to explore. All I know is what has been done to me in my sessions. You have to remember that the energy will tell the practitioner where and for how long they need to treat a certain area of the body. The other most important thing to remember, is that each person's experience will be completely different from the next person. All I know, is that in my treatments I have had glorious epiphanies and I leave feeling energized and refreshed. Its an amazing feeling to know that all that bad energy and those toxins are leaving you.

Reiki was brought to my attention in my first year of university. My voice teacher at the time came with me to my audition for Laurier and he brought along his friend Susan, who happened to be a Reiki master. My 18 year old self had never heard of Reiki, but I would find out that it is something I would never forget. Throughout my undergrad, it came up here and there, and it was when I was taking part in the opera production at that time that I began to really understand the concept of energy and how powerful it was. I actually had two experiences on stage where I could feel the audience's energy and I could almost sense what they needed from me. It was very exciting and I didn't really know how to explain it to anyone. Now, I get it.

In my classes this weekend, I will be opened to channeling this energy and be able to treat friends and family members. I also hope to open a Reiki treatment business at some point, once I am confident in my abilities. I am incredibly excited and can feel the changes in my life that are just around the corner. I feel myself growing mentally and spiritually and becoming a whole person as well as a good singer. A new era begins.

Wow...I sound like a hippy. Peace :)

I will leave you with the Ethical Principles of Reiki:

Just for today do not worry. 

Just for today do not anger.

Honour your parents, teachers and elders. 

Earn your living honestly.

Show gratitude to everything.

-Dr. Mikao Usui

This is the book that was recommended to me by my Reiki master Susan. It is very clear and concise. It is older, so the drawings are a little dated, but the drawings are obviously not the important part. Haha. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Day 17: Demystifying the journey of an opera singer

I just read someone's facebook status the other day that said, "This is a career that, I swear, takes years off your life, but oh Mama is it ever fulfilling sometimes." There are an abundance of people in this world that only know the first part of that sentence to be true. When I tell someone I'm an opera singer, I am usually asked if I've auditioned for Canadian Idol or if after being done university I have graduated to become a "certified opera singer". The truth is, our job is a complete myth to those who don't live in our world.

The most important thing that anyone has to remember is that everyone's journey is different. Not one singer will walk the same path as the other. This is not a 9-5 job that is the same day after day and that is what it is so extraordinary. For those reading who don't quite understand the "formula", I would love to enlighten you. I will again stress that everyone's journey is different, but there are a couple important landmarks that most singers visit.

1) University/College/Conservatory

The majority of opera singers find a love for their art somewhere in high school or earlier, and they seek out a post-secondary institution that will train them in the art. This profession is a very academic and cultured one. We study musical skills, theory, music history, acting, vocal literature, languages etc. First and foremost, we must become skilled musicians. In this day and age and with a recession, gone are the times where singers can get away with being poor musicians. Simultaneously, during all that academic study, we have our voice lessons. Someone once told me that an undergraduate degree in music is equivalent to a pre-med program, and trust me, it felt that way at first! We focus mostly on art songs, which are basically poems set to music by different composers--opera usually comes later in the learning process.

Now this is the path I took, but others study in conservatories where the academics are, for the most part, absent. The conservatory setting deals with mostly "hands on" training (voice lessons, coachings, rehearsals). Many people attend conservatories after they are done a degree as well.

2) Masters/Diploma

Because students go to university at 18, the majority of them decide to opt for more schooling. The voice is one of those tricky things that takes time to develop. I personally took the Diploma route, because I felt I was done with academics. This doesn't mean I don't still try to feed my brain, for I am a life-long learner! At Laurier, the diploma program was a one year program that focused specifically on opera. I sang all operatic repertoire and performed roles in excerpts, as well as a full role. I also performed in a self-produced year-end recital with my fellow Op. Dip. colleague.

3) Summer Programs

These are programs designed for singers to continue their training in a facility outside of a school setting. They are usually paid for by the singer (some are free, or partially subsidized). The majority of them produce operas and the singer is cast in an opera, as well as being able to take part in many classes. I am attending a program in May (that I have attended in the past) called Opera NUOVA. Along with my rehearsals for the show, I get to take part in voice lessons, acting classes, master classes, dance classes, yoga, tai chi, professional development classes, poetry classes...the list goes on. It is quite an extraordinary program. These programs allow the singer to get "on the job" experience, as well as to continue their training. Some last six weeks (like this one) and some are as short as one week. Not only do you get to take part in this fantastic training, but professional singers, pianists, directors and conductors make up the faculty, so you are also building a network of people that are already successful in their careers. Some singers attend these during their undergrad as well as after its completion.


4)Young Artist Programs

These are training programs created by specific opera companies. There are usually a very small amount of singers accepted (about 7-12). This allows for a singer to continue their training whilst being paid and being immersed in a professional environment. They usually perform the small or "comprimario" roles and also cover (or understudy) the lead roles being sung by professional singers. People in these programs can be anywhere from the age of 21-35, depending on their voice type. These are very competitive to get in to, and many singers audition two to four times before being accepted, or deciding not to audition anymore.

These programs offer a lot of exposure because you are performing on the main stage for an opera company. This usually opens up the possibility to sing for management (agents). Now, you don't need to do a YAP, as we call them, but you can sing for management elsewhere. All in all, YAPs are a great opportunity, plus you are getting paid to sing! Woo hoo!

From then on it takes time. Management will hopefully get you work and you will continue to climb the singer career ladder.

If you are interested in reading more about how a YAP program works, or to read a great book about being backstage at the opera, pick up Fortissimo by William Murray. It is about the Lyric Opera of Chicago's young artist program, where journalist William Murray follows these 12 young singers for a year and documents their experience.

I hope this de-mystifies what we do as singing artists. Yes, it is a long hard road, but it is so incredibly rewarding. Plus, if you love what you do, why do anything else?

Fellow singers, please pass this post on to any of your family and friends if you don't feel like explaining why you don't sing in a band or have any desire to audition for Canadian Idol! Haha.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Day 14: Enjoying the process

My friends and readers!

I took a couple-day hiatus (audition, work etc) and I can honestly say I really missed writing here. The past couple of days have been a whirlwhind of things for me.

On Wednesday I had a voice lesson and it was just a glorious continuation of the discoveries I made the week before. Not only do I feel that my technique is becoming secure, but I feel that I am understanding singing from the business side of things. It isn't until you are immersed in the operatic singing world that you understand what its like. I am so thankful to know more and more people each time I attend an audition or a concert.

On Friday I had my audition for the Highlands Opera Studio that takes place in August in Haliburton, ON. It is a fantastic program headed by the well-known Canadian tenor Richard Margison, and his wife and co-artistic director, Valerie Kuinka. It was so lovely to show up there and see so many familiar faces, I even made new friends. I was chatting with someone about how fun auditioning actually is now, because its like a reunion every time. Valerie and Richard really make the auditioning process worth your while. Not only do they listen to you, they give you a large amount of feedback while you are in the room. These are no "drive-by shooting" auditions. Here is a recent article about the program and about why it was established in the first place:


I was very nervous to do this audition because I was living in my own head and determining what the outcome would be. Then I remembered what I had read in The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari: it is about the process, not the outcome. It is so important to enjoy the process. I am so thankful I did just that. It was an amazingly positive experience and a privilege to sing for Val and Richard.

After my audition, it was so nice to spend time with three of my favourite people in the entire world and have dinner with them. Two of them are singer friends, and my university roommate and close friend. I consider myself so lucky to know them because they are all beautiful strong women. We had dinner at my absolute FAVOURITE Toronto restuarant called Fresh at Bloor and Spadina. It is a vegetarian restaurant that makes some of the tastiest dishes and smoothies I have ever had. I think my friends are going to start getting sick of that place because I always ask if we can eat there.

Last night I had the privilege of seeing Opera Hamilton's Popera at Theatre Aquarius in Hamilton. I have briefly met two out of the four singers that were involved and it was great to see them in action. I was incredibly impressed with how the Opera Hamilton Orchestra sounded. A personal highlight for me was baritone Phillip Addis singing the Count's aria (Hai, gia vinta la causa) from Mozart's Le Nozze. I'm telling you, if there was any role in the operatic repertoire that I could sing--ignoring voice type and gender--it would be the Count. I would kill to sing that aria. As my friend Jan would say, "It's one of my shower arias." Maybe one day I can make a gimmick out of that...reversing genders in opera. It would prove to be a very interesting show I think!

I definitely took the weekend to relax and I may have had a forbidden treat or two, but onward and upward I sometimes say (hopefully soon it will be always). I still fight with myself on being stuck in the past and regretting things...but I'm working on it. Tomorrow is a new day. Until then, a lovely quote for you to ponder:

"Courage allows you to run your own race. Courage allows you to do whatever you want to do because you know that it is right. Courage gives you the self-control to persist where others have failed. Ultimately, the degree of courage you live with determines the amount of fulfillment you receive. It allows you to to truly realize all the exquisite wonders of the epic that is your life. And those who master themselves have an abundance of courage."