Soprano Grounded

Sadly, I won’t be going to Eugene next week to visit N at the Oregon Bach Festival. I’ve been looking forward to this trip all year — to reliving my two years singing there, to the music and the fresh berries and the gorgeous sunny weather and the plenteous meals in the cafeteria and to seeing all the friends who are also singing there this summer.

In January I hurt my back lugging a case of wine around the Phoenix airport, and I spent the first six months of this year pushing through my gigs and travels, ignoring how bad it was. I’m finally in physical therapy and doing better all the time, but flying cross-country wasn’t in the cards this soon.

It feels a little like cancelling on a gig. I’ve been very lucky in my career, and have only had to cancel once, which was last summer when I had pneumonia (really couldn’t sing through that one!). Cancelling is the thing singers fear most. It’s terrible to miss out on the music-making, seeing old and meeting new colleagues, and of course also taking home the paycheck. The fear is always there, but still we soldier, er, sing on.

I will not be boarding any airplanes for a few more weeks, but I did make a trip to RDU last week for a photo shoot to update my profile photo on the blog. Did you notice it? Thanks to N for his artistic fashion photography, and to my branding expert sister-in-law for coming up with the great idea. Here are a few of the shots:

Profile photo shoot collage

The 15 minutes in those gorgeous heels probably set me back two days in repairing my back, but it just might have been worth it. Do you agree?


Soprano Secrets: Headshots

Last week N got new headshots taken at Neil Boyd Photography here in Raleigh. I went along as bowtie straightener and smile consultant.

N Headshot

We saw the proofs and they look great. There were hardly any bad ones, because N flashed the same radiant smile in every shot. I was impressed by his consistency of gaze. My skills in that area are not as advanced.

Two years ago I had wonderful photos taken by Nick Amonson (you can view a few on my singing website here). We spent two hours with all kinds of poses and backgrounds. I made many a truly terrible face. Every attempt at “serious” or “intense” was a failure. My full-on natural smile always induces major eye squinting. But Nick took so many shots that there were plenty of usable ones, and a few that were amazing.

It’s important to have good headshots. A well shot, polished photo that captures personality makes a singer look like a true professional. I’ve gotten lots of compliments on my headshot since I started using Nick’s shots. Last December Santa Fe Pro Musica even blew up my face to become the background of a beautiful poster.


Here’s the back story on that fabulous photo with the green background. I’d gotten my hair and makeup (false eyelashes even!) done and they looked great. For my formal outfit I wore a nice velvet top but since these were just head shots, I paired it with jeans. The problem was that the top is short-waisted and I’m long-waisted, and the top didn’t meet up with my waistband. It looked awkward. Here I was, taking glamorous diva photos, but I felt like a midriff-baring loser. It took me a little while to loosen up and get into the shoot. Obviously I’d finally relaxed by the time this photo was snapped, but now that you know the story you can picture me as I was: diva from the waist up, dork from the waste down. Thank heavens for cropping.

Red-Eyes Are for Losers

Taking an international overnight flight is exciting. You’re on a huge plane full of eager travelers, you get served an actual hot meal on board, and you wake up in another country, bleary-eyed but ready for new adventures.

Taking a domestic red-eye is not at all the same. There aren’t that many late-night flights leaving from any given airport each night. In my experience, there are only a few, and maybe even only one, leaving from each terminal. It’s a surreal experience being in an empty airport late at night. When you check in for your flight, your body is telling you it’s time for pajamas and tooth-brushing, and you’re greeted by this:

closed coffee shot

The concourse is dark and quiet, and shops and restaurants everywhere are closed up. When I arrived at Phoenix’s United terminal at 8:00 p.m. a couple weeks ago on my way home from recording with Tucson Chamber Artists, even Wendy’s was shutting it down.

Wendy's PHX

In the moment it just seems pathetic. Taking a red-eye does not make me feel like a jet setter.  That night I even got a little panicked because I knew I’d arrive at PHX a couple hours early and I planned to get a nice late dinner there before boarding. Luckily, there was exactly one business open — the sports bar next to my gate — and they had exactly one vegetarian option on the menu:

PHX veggie burger

You know how I hate disposable plates and utensils, but desperate times…

I arrived in Newark four hours later after having slept not a wink. Never have I been so happy to see this airport posted at a gate:

RDU bound gate

Usually I fantasize about jumping aboard a different plane but on that morning, even Pike Place Market and the Space Needle could not tear me from my intended path. I arrived in Raleigh, exhausted and grumpy but gloriously happy to be home. Of course, then I had to teach a couple lessons because of my brilliant planning (“It’ll be fine; I’ll sleep on the plane and this way I don’t have to reschedule my Tuesday students!”).

Once or twice a year I lose touch with reality and become convinced that a red-eye flight is the perfect solution to my travel needs. It is true that they’re often cheap, and you don’t lose a whole day to cross-country travel, except that you do, given the quality of life on the day you arrive. I have one more red-eye on my calendar ahead, the trip back from my visit to the Oregon Bach Festival this summer. Maybe it will be my last. What do you think — can I avoid future red-eye temptation? I know one thing: if I do it again, at least I’ll bring my dinner.

Old Faithful Gets a Tuneup (er, tuning)

I’m home for five whole weeks – joy! I can’t remember the last time I was home for so many consecutive weeks, but I think it was late last summer when I had pneumonia so that doesn’t count.

The time at home affords me the opportunity to actually see my lovely husband and our hilarious dog, and to take care of things around the house such as a much-delayed tuning of the household piano:

piano and Charlie

My dog Charlie poses reluctantly with the piano

The nice tuner from Ruggero Piano, like every (I swear, EVERY) tuner who has ever tuned this old Kawai, told me what a nice piano it is, and that I should hold onto it. He echoed past tuners in telling me it was an exceptional version of this model, and that they just don’t make ’em like this anymore.

This is amazing. I love this piano, but it has not lived an easy life. Unpractically and unfrugally, I have moved it all over the country. Each time I’ve moved I’ve considered selling it and buying a nice electric, weighted-key piano which would make all future moves easier, but I can’t part with the Kawai. It has a nice touch and a warm sound, and there’s nothing like a real piano.

The cabinetry is worse for wear. There are nicks all over the legs from being tied to too many trailers. The finish has faded to a weird cloudiness around the Kawai name and key hole. The middle pedal long ago turned a frightening dark, matte color.

piano blemishes

signs of wear & tear

But the instrument inside has weathered it all well. The piano still sounds great, and it holds tuning very well, which is bad for piano tuners but good for my finances. Despite its many scuffs, the piano remains a beautiful piece of furniture that holds a place of honor in our living/dining room.

Here is the history of the piano’s many moves:

c. 1990: moved from factory to unnamed music school in Providence, RI, possibly with layover at piano store

c. 1992: moved after two years’ service at music school to Providence piano store, where I play it and convince my parents that if I am to be a serious musician we need to replace our probably perfectly decent Baldwin spinet and buy this piano

c. 1992: moved by piano store to our house outside Providence

Dec. 2002: moved by U-Haul truck to 300-square-foot Washington, DC apartment, following command by my (clutter-averse) parents to take the piano to my new residence or they will sell it

Aug. 2004: moved by moving company (but not piano movers) cross-country to Tucson, AZ, in SUMMER

Sept. 2004: moved by friends (near-deaths ensue) in open-air trailer from short stay at my parents’ new Tucson residence to my grad school apartment

May 2006: moved by piano movers across Tucson for temporary storage at my parents’ house

August 2006: moved by piano movers across Tucson to my new rental house

July 2007: moved by piano movers BACK across Tucson for another stay at my parents’ house (have you noticed how the piano they thought they got rid of in 2002 keeps coming back?)

January 2008: moved by piano movers only a few miles away to my new apartment

July 2010: moved by piano movers back to my parents’ for one last stay!

April 2011: moved by piano movers into storage container, where it sits outside for several days

April 2011: moved in storage container cross-country to Raleigh, NC, where it is unloaded by friends and my husband-t0-be (no near-deaths but I vow never to do this again)

May 2013: piano gets a tuning after having not moved at all in over two years!

That was longer than I expected. Poor piano.

I’m not much given to naming things, but after over 20 years it might be time for a name for my trusty musical companion, which always waits faithfully at home. Do you have any ideas? Leave me a comment below.