Dining alone?

While I’m on a gig, sometimes my dinner company looks like this:

dinner at El Charro

Lovely singer friends, at the ever-tasty El Charro

And other times, more like this:

dinner alone

Catalina Foothills HS auditorium lobby – oh yeah!

Being a singer is the best and worst thing about being a singer. Making music entirely with your own body is an amazing thing. Minus the worries about cold bugs and Airplane Voice from dehydration, a voice is certainly an easy instrument to travel with (much less stressful than a cello or guitar; check out this blog posting on Alban Gerhardt’s recent experience, or Sons of Maxwell’s humorous music video for the instrumentalist’s take on traveling).

But, being a singer is also, quite frankly, a pain in the butt. There’s the aforementioned constant worry about sickness that turns you into a ridiculous germaphobe. And there’s the fact that the voice is produced by a delicate collection of tiny muscles, cartilages and tissues which must be treated nicely.

Part of the difficulty of being good to our voices is that we don’t only use our voices for singing; we also use them throughout the day for communicating by talking. Marathon runners don’t finish a training session and then jog around for the rest of the day. But that’s exactly what singers have to do when they rehearse or record for 6 hours a day, and then spend their breaks socializing over meals or calling friends or family back home.

So, sometimes we do “singery” things like being unsocial and eating alone quietly. We try not to make phone calls on a heavy singing day. Email and online typed chats are a godsend for staying in touch without losing your voice, but it’s weird to tell your best friend you’re free to talk but you’re going to have to gchat instead. After concerts, we do our best to keep our audience conversations short and low-volume, and we have to avoid loud bars and restaurants.

It’s hard for me. I’m social and one of my favorite things about gigs away from home is getting catch up with friends from around the country. But sometimes, ya just gotta’ eat your bag dinner, alone, in the auditorium lobby…


Fly on the Wall: Recording

This is my view for most of this week:

TCA recording view

I’m making a recording with Tucson Chamber Artists — all world-premiere recordings of music by American composer Stephen Paulus. It’s going very well so far. I enjoy the intensive, focused work that recording demands. It’s completely different from my usual performing experience. I’m in sneakers and jeans, making the very best sound I can at each moment, trading the spontaneity of connecting with a live audience for inner focus on musicality and perfection.

You’ve seen recording sessions in movies and videos; when you think of making a recording you probably imagine the musicians in a studio, wearing headphones and performing behind a glass wall, like in the great ’80s video We Are the World. That’s not how it works in the classical music world.

Classical music is usually recorded on-site in a concert hall or church. This week we’re at Catalina Foothills High School’s beautiful auditorium, the best small hall in Tucson. No one but the producer and recording engineer are wearing headphones. There are A LOT of microphones scattered about the stage:

TCA recording

The engineers will later be able to do some mixing of how much sound from each mic is used, but it’s not like pop music, where you can record one instrument at a time. Everyone plays or sings everything on every take. It’s exhausting but exhilarating too.

Our GRAMMY-winning producer Peter Rutenberg sits behind stage with the engineers and calls out his feedback and requests over a speaker, his disembodied voice commanding us to take it again, this time with more/less/better/higher/lower/softer/louder whatever. Peter requested several modifications to our usual mode of singing, including silent clothing and jewelry (no taffeta or jingly earrings!) and covering our stands with towels to reduce page-turning noise.

recording stands

Breaks are crucial to give the voice, legs, and brain a rest. There’s plenty of socializing and laughing during breaks, but sometimes we’re quiet too. Even during a one-minute pause when Peter and Tucson Chamber Artists’ conductor Eric Holtan discuss something, we plop down to go somewhere else mentally for a moment.

recording break

I must confess, I have spent a fair number of free minutes vegging out with this (darn you, Candy Crush, why are you so addictive?):

Candy Crush screen

One more day to go. I’m looking forward to the words “it’s a wrap!”, to celebrating with my colleagues tonight, and especially to hearing the album when it’s released this fall.

Music in the Jungle

One of my favorite things about singing with Seraphic Fire is spending time in Miami. As an Arizona girl I generally prefer dry climates and wide-open landscapes, but I’m also fascinated by tropical places. The sheer abundance of green, growing, creeping things amazes me. Last week I took photos of some of South Florida’s natural phenomena, including:

huge banyan trees
banyan tree

that form a canopy over the streets,
banyans over street

orchids growing outdoors on trees,

yards full of the exotic plants we keep in pots as house plants in the rest of the country (though my schefflera did flourish outside in Rhode Island one summer!),
outdoor house plants

plants growing into and onto each other,tropical plants and tree

and palm trees swaying overhead.
palm and banyan trees

Not a bad place to sing, eh?

Singing the Reasons I Sing

My life is not bad. A week ago I flew out of RDU into a quiet, silvery evening —view from plane


— and landed here to make some great music.Miami beach


Okay, we didn’t actually sing ON the beach. But in between rehearsals and performances with Seraphic Fire, my colleague-friends and I did get some beach time and some great meals together.

It was Seraphic Fire’s season closer, Cathedral Classics. We sang a sightly different program, drawn from some of the greatest hits of choral music, for each of the five concert nights.

Cathedral Classics program

For me it was a sweet musical trip down memory lane. Since my career has tilted more towards solo work, I don’t sing a lot of these pieces very often anymore. But back in the day I sure did.

When I was seventeen I stumbled into my first paying church gig, at S. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Providence. It was a serious music program, and many of the pieces above were in our regular repertoire. While in college at Brown I also sang in the Chorus which tackled a lot of interesting and challenging music. Singing the Duruflé and Rachmaninoff triggered memories of my undergrad days. Back then I was wide-eyed, each new musical experience expanding my concept of the world and what I could do in it.

Choral singing helped me find my way professionally as a young singer. I don’t know if I’d be the lucky woman I am, flying around the country to make great music with great people, if it weren’t for Byrd, Allegri, and Vaughan Williams. Thanks, guys.