Back on the Road

You might have noticed a lull in the postings on this blog…

For the past five months I’ve been up in a different kind of air: the whirlwind of new parenthood.

Kathryn & Baby ABaby A was born on September 17 in perfect health and he’s a joy, even if he doesn’t like to go to sleep. Right now he’s into playing with his toes and EATING — he loves food and now that he has tasted rice cereal and sweet potatoes he thinks he should get to try everything N and I eat.

Before he was born, I had no idea how long to take off before hitting the road again for performances. Would I be ready for Messiahs in December? Could I keep that awesome opera gig that would happen just 6 weeks postpartum? I’m sure it’s different for every singer, but as it turns out I’m glad I was conservative. When the weekend of that opera rolled around, sad as I was to have cancelled on it, I couldn’t imagine being out singing when I was sleeping only a few hours a night and having trouble carving out time to practice.

Eventually I got a practice routine going — well, depending on the day and nap schedules — and my voice snapped back into shape. I started slow with local performances in December and January, and then last week took off for my first away gig, a thrilling Haydn Lord Nelson Mass with Seraphic Fire. Thanks to dear friends there who hosted us, I was able to bring A and my parents came to watch him while I was at work.

Patrick and orchestraIt was a lovely week. It felt great to be back doing what I do, with great colleagues who are friends too. It was more exhausting than usual since I had to tend to baby at night, and I couldn’t go out after concerts and socialize with my friends, but it was really fun to have A there and nice that I didn’t have to leave him behind for my first trip. The richness that came into my voice last year — whether it was because of pregnancy or a result of the work I’d been doing with my teacher, or both — has remained, and I felt vocally strong. The concerts were a collaboration with the New York-based period orchestra The Sebastians, and all three nights were big successes. We got an excellent review (I got a shout-out for my solos in paragraph 7). And being in Miami in February was not bad either.

MiamiThe main difference in singing for me now is sleep. I used to be so uptight about sleep! If I got only 6 hours before an important performance I would be super grumpy, and try desperately to nap before the concert so that the reduced sleep hours didn’t ruin my performance. After singing that first gig in December on only three hours and discovering that my voice worked just fine, I have a fresh new perspective. The anxiety and hours-of-sleep counting have diminished. I hope that outlook remains once A is sleeping through the night, which I pray is soon, though I’m not counting on it…

This weekend it’s off to Alabama to sing with the Mobile Symphony. It’s a short trip and I am leaving Baby A at home, so wish N luck on his own!

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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.

 

 

New Year, New Journeys

Happy New Year, all!

It’s 2014, and that means a whole new year of music and travels for this soprano. The coming months include gigs in Chicago with Wayward Sisters, Raleigh and Durham with Voices of a New Renaissance, Baltimore and Washington with Seraphic Fire, at Duke with the Choral Society of Durham, and across the San Francisco bay area with American Bach Soloists. And that’s just the first 2 months of 2014. Oh, and I forgot to mention the faculty Liederabend at East Carolina University. Don’t tell my mother; she thinks I overschedule myself and unfortunately, as usual, she’s right.

But there’s a gelato-flavored light at the end of the tunnel. In May after I finish my last gig of the 2013-2014 season I get to fly to Rome on a journey purely for fun — to join N on his choir tour, visit dear friends, and eat again at all our favorite restaurants. Serious quantities of frequent flyer miles are a not insignificant consolation prize for all those hours in cramped airplane seats. Just two years ago it was miles that made our Roman honeymoon possible.

I’ll fly right from that last gig (in Miami with Seraphic Fire) to Italy. I’m super excited about this because every time I arrive into Miami’s beautiful terminal,

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I’m happy to be there but partly wish I were connecting on to somewhere else. You see, MIA is the gateway to Latin America and the Carribean. From Raleigh there are 3 direct flights to Miami every day on American, and they’re usually full. But most of those travelers don’t have South Florida as their final destination. They’re either getting on cruise ships to sunny, beachy places, or they’re connecting to another flight to somewhere even more exotic. Here’s are the places I hear as we’re landing and they’re announcing the connecting gates for everyone on the plane:

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I know, it’s obnoxious to whine about going to Miami when most of the country is daydreaming about mojitos on South Beach, but it’s hard to walk by departure boards like this:

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and not indulge in a few dreams of my own. So in May I’ll be wheeling my little suitcase up to a departure gate, passport in hand, making a dream a reality.

In the Air Again

Lately I’ve had the luxury of gigs at home in the Triangle, and it’s been almost eight weeks since I’ve been on an airplane. But today it’s back up in the air. Judging by my trips listing on aa.com, it looks like I’m back to my old tricks, or uh, travels.

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RDU is a beautiful airport, and its spacious, aviation-inspired lobby welcomed me back this afternoon.

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It’s back to back gigs in Michigan and Arizona for me, and I have one of those complicated multi-city itineraries that I delight in planning.

I’m a great flyer. I have perfected all the routines and neurotic habits of a frequent traveler. But even for the best of us, even for those lucky enough to have elite status on an airline or two, air travel is exhausting and frequently unpleasant.

Yesterday American had a flash sale on one-day passes for the Admirals Club, and on a whim I bought one. I decided to use it today because after all, one doesn’t have to jump feet first into the travails of travel, does one?

The glass doors silently slid open to welcome me to an oasis of quiet and free drinks at O’Hare:

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Where I whiled away a refreshing two hours and enjoyed a Niçoise salad served on a real plate.
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But now it’s on to Grand Rapids and then Tucson, and some great music at both destinations.

Fruits (and pastas, and soups) of Labor

During my time on the ground I’ve been busy…making food! When I arrive home from a gig one of my greatest joys is getting back to cooking and baking. Food is my only real hobby, in the sense of something I do regularly outside of work (music, although it’s my greatest passion, doesn’t qualify since it IS my work). When I started this blog I thought that a lot of postings would be about food, and I imagine that day will come soon, but so far delicious edibles haven’t featured much except in the case of my tragic smoothie disaster.

I love cooking, eating, and dining out. And taking photos of food so I can remember it or post online or email to family to share. The (very amateur) food photography offshoot of my hobby began during my 2009 tour to Indonesia with the Swara Sonora Trio, when I couldn’t help but document every amazing meal we shared.

But back to the present. Over the past two weeks I’ve made:

my best-ever fried rice (turns out you need a lot more oil than I usually cook with);

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my favorite made-up soup, curry lentils and greens;

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a pasta with meltingly roasted eggplant and sautéed squash;

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spice cupcakes (The Joy of Cooking’s quick spice cake recipe is a standby for me);

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Cacio e Pepe, a favorite from last year’s honeymoon in Rome;

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the tastiest 100% whole wheat bread recipe I’ve tried (thank you King Arthur);

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half-sour pickles (Parenthetical Aside 1: N and I love these so much and we get the best pickling cucumbers here in NC. Parenthetical Aside 2: This recipe is great but I recommend halving the salt unless you want to start taking blood pressure medication);

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And bagels! (Really Bruegger’s are better but these were fun to make and I might try again with proper bread flour instead of all-purpose).

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That’s not to mention the chocolate chip cookies, peach caprese, oatmeal cookies, from-scratch microwave popcorn (did you know you can just put kernels in a glass bowl, top with a plate, and press Start?) ravioli–not from scratch–with olive oil and sage, and probably some other things I’m forgetting.

I thought cooking was okay for my back since it involves neither sitting nor standing still, but I think being on my feet that much, twisting around to stir and chop and transfer things, isn’t ideal. I decided to cool it for a while and eat my leftovers. The decision was also precipitated by a fridge that looks like this:

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Good thing my mom swept into town to help me eat them. But more on that later. Right now I need a snack.

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:

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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.

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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:

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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:

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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.

Dining alone?

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

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Lovely singer friends, at the ever-tasty El Charro

And other times, more like this:

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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…