Gigging on the rails

I spend an awful lot of time on airplanes, but my true love, transportation-wise, is the train. Relaxing in a quiet train car is so much more comfortable and civilized than being buckled into a tiny seat at 35,000 feet, the views from the train are wonderful and you have time to take them in, and then there’s that old-fashioned romance of riding the rails.

I was pretty excited, then, when my flight arrival in New Mexico last month turned out to be early enough for me to take the commuter train, the Rail Runner, from Albuquerque to Santa Fe. I’ve wanted to take that ride since the Rail Runner began service in 2008, but the timing never worked out and I usually have to take the Sandia Shuttle whose vans and drivers are perfectly nice but you know, it’s not the train.

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We left downtown Albuquerque on a gorgeous sunny morning,

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and began a scenic journey past mesas and arroyos,

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through Indian pueblos,

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and finally into sight of Santa Fe and the stunning blue of its Sangre de Cristo mountains.

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It was Spring Break week for Albuquerque students, so a lot of families were riding up to Santa Fe for lunch or shopping. Despite the happy chaos, the ride was relaxing and thoroughly enjoyable. Sometimes the Rail Runner’s tracks closely parallel I-25 and you can see the cars and drivers streaming up the highway to Santa Fe, but for a lot of the ride the tracks are hidden from view of the road and it can feel like you and the people you’re riding with are the only souls for miles around, the lone beings enjoying the quiet blues and yellows of the scenery in all directions.

In Bernalillo I got some seat mates, a woman and her two adorable young granddaughters who were on their way to Tomasita’s for lunch. It was fun to visit with them, and I told the woman about my concert with Santa Fe Pro Musica and what I was doing in New Mexico that week. She said she’d try to come. People say that all the time. But, lo and behold, she appeared at my final concert with her parents as her guests, and I was surprisingly delighted to see her there. It’s like sharing that train journey forged some kind of relationship between us,something more real than what happens when you chat with a stranger on a plane or in a checkout line.

It was the perfect way to kick off a wonderful, sunny week of great music in Santa Fe.

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This Gig brought to you by Green Chile

I am in Santa Fe — probably my favorite place on earth — this week for Baroque Holy Week concerts with Santa Fe Pro Musica. They’re in the magical Loretto Chapel, and I’m singing two great pieces: Pergolesi’s Salve Regina in C minor and Handel’s Gloria.

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In case you haven’t figured out by now, I like to experience places not just by their sights and sounds, but just as importantly by their tastes. And I have some favorite tastes from this favorite place of mine. Last summer I rhapsodized over Ecco Gelato, which scoops up arguably the best gelato in the U.S. Today I’m here to talk to you about green chile.

In New Mexico, chile — both the green made from fresh chiles and the red made from dried chiles — is a culinary staple. New Mexican cuisine features red or green chile sauce, or both (which is called Christmas), on almost every dish. And any self-respecting non-New Mexican restaurant will let you add green chile to your eggs or your burger or your pizza or your pasta.

New Mexicans put chile in everything, from nuts, to popcorn, to hummus, to candy.

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When I was in Indonesia five years ago with the Swara Sonora Trio, several people we met told us that spicy chile (also an important ingredient in Southeast Asian cuisine) was good for singing voices. I decided to take that questionable fact and run with it. I ate a lot of spicy sambal that month.

This week I am off and running again, moments after arriving in Santa Fe Tuesday morning. I checked into my hotel and then hopped down the street to the Guadalupe Cafe for a lunch of cheese enchiladas with Christmas.

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I used to think Guadalupe Cafe had the best green chile in town, but they’ve moved and the menu is different and it just didn’t taste the same. The red chile was pretty good but the green had little taste. Still, it was a tasty meal.

Unfortunately, like many singers I have problems with GERD (acid reflux), so I have to be judicious about my consumption of GERD-activating foods. I waited a couple days until my next green chile experience: a green chile grilled cheese sandwich at Luminaria, which paired nicely with their slightly spicy black bean soup.

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I was wondering whether I could squeeze in two more chile meals before leaving tomorrow, but yesterday I overdid it. I went to one of Santa Fe’s most famous restaurants, Tomasita’s, and ordered their vegetarian combination plate.

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I admit with shame that I scarfed down the enchilada, taco, most of the beans, rice and chile sauces, and then followed it with a sopapilla (which was really not a good choice — fried dough after all that cheese and chile? but it was soooooo good torn into bits with honey poured into the pockets). The red chile was very good, but I should stop kidding myself and ordering Christmas all the time, because I’m a green chile girl. Tomasita’s green was wonderful, and I’m sure I wouldn’t hurt red chile’s feelings by leaving it off my plate next time.

Chile may be good for the singing voice, but acid reflux is not. I spent the rest of the day getting mine under control with ginger tea, carrots, and a carefully timed lavender gelato. Luckily I still sang well last night, and finished the Handel Gloria at quite a clip!

But that will be my last green chile experience this trip. Unless I think I can swing a breakfast burrito at the airport tomorrow morning…

All Grown Up, and teaching to prove it

I have a lot to catch up on. My crazy traveling months of 2014 are over, with just a couple lovely gigs left before the 2013-2014 season calls it quits. I’ve been too busy to sit down and compose thoughtful blogs, but I’ve been saving up experiences and ideas to write about once I finally got to this quieter time.

One of my favorite — and most nerve-racking — experiences was teaching a master class at my alma mater, Brown University, last month.

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I’ve enjoyed my first year of college teaching immensely, and I feel like my ECU students are training me to become a better teacher each week I work with them. But a master teacher? I wasn’t so sure about that. The only time I’ve taught master classes was 5 years ago when the Swara Sonora Trio went on tour to Indonesia, and most of those were team-taught with my baritone friend and colleague Nathan Krueger. Even worse, I knew that my beloved high school and college voice teacher, Kathryne Jennings, would be there, and that I’d be working with some of her students. What could I possibly have to say to the students of — and standing before — the woman who taught me so much of what I know about singing and performing?

I figured I would probably survive, but I was nervous. Just being back in Providence on an unseasonably warm March day though, made me happy and more relaxed. There’s nothing like visiting your college town, returning to familiar haunts and sparking memories of those formative years when you were figuring out just who you were.

Before my class I walked around campus. Never one to miss an old favorite (or new and exciting, for that matter) food, I stopped along Thayer Street at my favorite crêpe & smoothie place,

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and then checked out how much has changed since I graduated. For example, the old Silver Truck upon whose questionable late-nite food offerings so many students of my era gambled their lives has been replaced by much more upscale offerings:

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and the recital hall, where I gave all my recitals and so many other performances of my college years, has gotten a very spiffy acoustic and aesthetic overhaul, including a sleek modern lobby:

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But many things look exactly the same. The music building, occupying the old Orwig mansion, didn’t seem to have changed at all.

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Looking for a place to compose myself before I taught, I ducked into the seminar room where I spent many an early morning class attempting be coherent. It seemed as if I’d last walked into the building (likely a couple minutes late) and made a beeline for that hallway just months ago.

I got to see Kathryne just before the class started. She gave me a big hug and assured me that I would do well.

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She was treating me like a colleague and I felt like one, but at the same time I was transported back to the comfort of our student-teacher relationship, when she created confidence by helping me prepare for every aspect of a good performance. I flashed back to so many words of encouragement before student recitals, and somehow it made me feel like a professional.

And I had a lot of fun. I realized I had something to say after all, and I worked on different things with each student, from phrasing and articulation, to different tricks and tools for increasing breath support, to interpretation and acting. All the students were smart and engaged, and reminded me why I loved my years at Brown, being surrounded by people like that, so much. I’m pretty sure I said some of the things Kathryne says to her students all the time but heck, teachers always like to hear someone else reinforce their ideas. My moment of triumph and complete assurance came when I noticed that Kathryn was taking notes on a few of the things I said. Some ideas I’ve picked up from other people along the way, and integrated into my teaching, were worth writing down!

It was my wonderful Brown Chorus director, Fred Jodry, who asked me to come back to Brown to teach a master class, and by miracle it worked out perfectly for my one free day while I was in Boston to sing with Musicians of the Old Post Road. Fred and I have kept in touch all this time (he’s good at that), and in fact in recent years he has just happened to be in several places I’ve performed, from New York to San Francisco. Fred was a young, cool professor when I was at Brown, and he still seems pretty young and cool to me. In fact, no one I saw seemed any different than I remembered them, but I suppose we have all aged and learned more than a decade’s worth since I was an undergrad.

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When the class had ended and I had answered the last student’s question, Fred and Kathryne and I went for a lovely dinner at the Waterman Grille on the river. It was warm, civilized and relaxed, and we hadn’t run out of things to talk about before I needed to hit the road back to Boston.

Only recently have I had experiences that made me feel like a “real grownup.” My transition from grad school to a performing career was so gradual that there was a never a moment when I felt “ah, now I am an adult.” Even getting married to N didn’t do it, because that just felt natural, and I moved into the house he’d already bought before he met me.

Shopping for flooring and installing hardwood in our house last fall finally did it. Buying our first-ever new car in December was further confirmation that maybe I was a real grownup. And this master class was finally a professional experience that made me feel like a real grownup, like maybe, just maybe, I know what I’m doing. So I’m really glad Fred asked me. And having not only survived but actually having had a pretty darn good time teaching a master class, I look forward to doing it again.

 

 

A Lifetime of Memories with Monteverdi

Earlier this month I got to perform Monteverdi’s monumental Vespers of 1610 with Seraphic Fire. Not only are the Vespers an awe-inspiring, joyful work that I could sing every day of my life, but all my performances of it have been under extraordinary and memorable circumstances.

They’ve all been with Seraphic Fire. Some great friends and colleagues have been along for one or two, or all three of our Vespers experiences. The first was in the winter of 2009, when we went to Kalamazoo, Michigan to record the work in collaboration with the top choir from Western Michigan University.

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It was my first really serious recording session, and the first of several I’ve done with GRAMMY-winning producer Peter Rutenberg.

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That album made it to the top of the iTunes classical chart, and garnered Seraphic Fire its first major national publicity with a story on NPR’s All Things Considered.

But long before the album was released, the epic recording session and winter weather we survived generated memories and stories we’re still telling today. We were all a bit younger then,

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With my “Pulchra es” duet partner, Abigail Haynes Lennox

and before the recording session we sang a concert in the middle of a Wisconsin blizzard.

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Gabby’s reaction to the blizzard (note snowflakes on hair)

Luckily we lived to tell it all, and most importantly to perform the Vespers again.

The next year, we sang the Vespers in Miami, Coral Gables and Ft. Lauderdale, and then took them on tour to Mexico City. We gave three very special performances, two in the Catedral Metropolitana at the center of the city’s Zócalo,

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and one at the splendid Art Deco concert hall Palacio de Bellas Artes, the Carnegie Hall of Mexico.

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This time I got to duet with the lovely Rebecca Duren, and it was when I first met the incredible lutenist John Lenti.

You better bet that tour yielded extra-musical stories and experiences, too. There was the manifestación (protest) that delayed our first rehearsal in the Catedral. There was our triumphant climbing of the pyramids at Teotihuacan,

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a day spent in Chapultepec Park,

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and of course all the delicious Mexican food we ate during our week there.

As Patrick always says, you never know when or if you’re going to perform a great work again. Lucky for me, Mexico 2010 wasn’t my last Vespers. Seraphic Fire was invited to perform the work at the ACDA Eastern Division Conference in Baltimore this month. We gave two overwhelmingly received headliner concerts in the beautiful – visually and acoustically – Baltimore Basilica, the oldest Catholic cathedral in the U.S. We also got to stay at the very nice convention hotel on the Inner Harbor, which certainly didn’t make the trip less pleasant.

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The view from my room in Baltimore

This time we collaborated with the fully professional choir of DC’s Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. They were wonderful. We did most of our rehearsing at the Shrine, and after our Baltimore concerts we returned to DC to perform the Vespers one more time at the Shine, an unbelievable 3,000-person worship space.

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Theorbo dream team of John Lenti and David Walker in the Basilica

Musically these were stunning and rewarding performances. The week was even more meaningful for me because I got to temporarily live and work in DC again. I lived there ten years ago, before heading to Arizona for graduate school. Even though I knew I wanted to go away and gain the polish I needed from grad school, I loved living in Washington and always thought I’d return.

While Seraphic Fire was there we stayed in an Embassy Row hotel (also amazingly nice – the ensemble is moving up in the world!) within walking distance of my old neighborhood. I got to eat at my very favorite restaurant, Sette, stop in at my old office and great the folks at the Association of American Colleges and Universities, and walk up to Woodley Park for brunch with my two best girlfriends from my days there. One of those friends, Susan Lewis Kavinski, sings in the Shrine’s choir and I got to see her all week long in rehearsals and concerts. It was quite a week.

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With Susie at the National Shrine

I sure hope this wasn’t my last chance to sing Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610. But I have to say, any future performances have a lot to live up to. They can’t be just ho-hum spectacularly artistic concerts, because the work has set a high standard for me in terms of life experiences connected to it, and memories to be made.

Mad Songs and Crazy Good Collaborators

A couple weeks ago I was in Chicago to sing concerts with the award-winning chamber group Wayward Sisters. I was friends with a couple of the “Sisters” — violinist Beth Wenstrom and lutenist John Lenti — and they asked me to join them as a guest artist. After a few days of great music-making, eating, and laughing together, I’d say all four of the Wayward Sisters are my friends now, and I can’t wait to collaborate with them again.

We rehearsed — in our socks, of course — in a beautiful apartment right on Lake Michigan, where recorder player Anne Timberlake and I also got to stay while we were there,

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went to see cellist Anna Steinhoff in her other gig that weekend, playing with the excellent period orchestra Baroque Band,

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consumed good food and hot drinks to stay warm,

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and gave two wonderful concerts of “Music Gone Mad,” including Handel’s fabulously wild early cantata Agrippina Condotta a Morire, mad songs by Henry Purcell and his brother Daniel, and Merula’s “Folle è ben,” which really isn’t that mad except for the word “folle” in its title, but as John says, is such a beautiful song that it just must be performed as often as possible.

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John, Anne, Anna and Beth are such skilled, sensitive and knowledgeable musicians, and plain old good people, that it was a joy to spend four days making music with them.

Oh, it snowed, of course.

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So I was grateful for my trusty down parka and amazingly warm Keen boots. And I’ll don them again anytime if I get to sing with Wayward Sisters.