Mozart Revisited

Last weekend I was in Arizona to sing Mozart’s grand C Minor Mass with Tucson Chamber Artists. It was a musical homecoming, and a chance to reflect on how far we’ve all come in the last seven years.

TCA concert poster

The last time Tucson Chamber Artists (TCA) did the C Minor Mass was in November 2006. It was an ambitious project for TCA and director Eric Holtan — the first large-scale concert for the upstart group then in its third season — and there was a lot of good publicity and excitement in the community in anticipation of the concert.

I sang in that performance, where the soloists stepped out from the choir and the pickup orchestra was made up of some of the best professional and grad student players in town. It was my second season singing with TCA, and I was used to seeing 50-100 people at each performance. We filed into St. Michael and All Angels church to begin the C Minor Mass and were overwhelmed to find ourselves facing a standing-room-only crowd. The excitement inspired everyone to give a thrilling performance, and the audience responded by leaping to their feet in appreciation. I remember getting teary during the final bows for applause that seemed to go on forever. That concert launched TCA as a force in the Tucson music community.

The concert helped launch my solo career, too. In 2006 I’d just finished grad school at the University of Arizona and was beginning to make my way as a professional. I’d had only a handful of opportunities to solo with an orchestra, so I was excited when Eric asked me to sing the “Et incarnatus est.” Here’s Barbara Bonney, one of my heroes, singing it:

I don’t think I knew then how difficult the piece was, and just concentrated on managing my breath as I spun Mozart’s impossibly long, luscious phrases. The ecstatic review we got for that concert (you can still read it online here) was my first personal review, and I still sometimes use the “glorious high notes” quote in my bio.

So here we were seven years later, marking Tucson Chamber Artists’ 10th season with another performance of the C Minor Mass. Now TCA has glossy programs, a CD produced by GRAMMY-winning producer Peter Rutenberg about to be released, and the kind of budget that allows Eric to bring freelancers like me into Tucson for projects. Now I fly around the country performing with orchestras and chamber groups, and have quite a few reviews to my credit. I’ve sung the Et incarnatus est in auditions and competitions — including at Carnegie Hall in this year’s Oratorio Society of New York’s Solo Competition finals — in the years since, but always with piano. This was my first crack at it with orchestra since 2006, and I’ve figured out a few things technically in the past seven years.

Everything came together easily this time. Rehearsals were a breeze. All the musicians were in good moods and excited for this musical celebration. The performances were truly excellent. Our audiences loved us. I was in good voice and felt like I sang both the meandering lines of “Et incarnatus est” and the crazy low notes of the “Christe eleison” about as well I possibly could. It was the kind of work week — musically, personally, and emotionally satisfying — that makes me marvel at the luck that lets me do what I love for a living.

TCA in rehearsalDress rehearsal on Halloween

In the past couple years my mother, who was at some of those very early concerts of Tucson Chamber Artists, has frequently said, “isn’t amazing how far you and Eric have both come since TCA began?” I’ve always agreed, but it didn’t fully hit home until the final minutes of our last performance Sunday. Seven years ago we were good, but this time we were very, very good. Here we were making incredible art for an audience whose love for the music was palpable, and I was surrounded both onstage and in the audience by good friends from different times and places in my life. At the last few bars of the “Hosanna” my eyes welled up, my voice cracked, and I had to drop out of the chorus for a few notes while I got my emotions in check. Every time I perform a great work of music, I wonder if I’ll be lucky enough to sing it again — you never know. To revisit a work under such meaningful circumstances, well, that’s another thing entirely.


Diva Dressed Down

Here’s one thing you might not know about the life of a freelance singer:

Sometimes we don diva gowns topped by glamorous makeup and hair, sing glorious concerts, great our adoring public, then retire for the evening to a luxurious hotel or homestay…

…and other times we spend seven frustrating hours at the Raleigh-Durham airport waiting for a hopelessly delayed flight and then, unshowered and grumpy, have to warm up in a NYC taxi cab.

Luckily RDU is a very nice airport (see photo below) with free wifi.RDU

Also luckily I had built several extra disaster hours into my itinerary in case of just such a setback as this. Still, it was aggravating to spend all those hours at my gate, awaiting the periodic announcements of further delays, knowing that I could have slept late and taken a nice shower and still have made it to the airport in plenty of time to wait hours for my flight. I was also worried the stress and extra time in canned air would affect my voice for the OSNY competition the next day, so I tried extra hard to stay chill.

It worked, partly thanks to a couple pleasantly distracting Freaks and Geeks episodes I watched on my phone. I landed at LaGuardia at pretty much the last possible second that would have allowed me to just barely make my already-postponed rehearsal. But without a minute to spare, which meant that I wouldn’t have time to warm up before singing the high Cs in my arias, unless I sang in the cab from the airport to Manhattan.

I spent the first ten minutes of the cab ride stewing about whether I should make a spectacle of myself that way.  And then I said to myself, “what the heck?” I warned the driver that I’d be singing a little so that he didn’t think there was a crazy lady in his backseat. He immediately turned off the radio, which I assured him was not necessary. And then I began to sing long, quiet tones through a stirring straw.straw


Rather than being annoyed, the driver was fascinated. “What do you call that thing?” he asked. He was incredulous that a lowly stirring straw was allowing me to make sounds he’d never heard before. He asked me several questions, and then left me to my warmup.

The straw is an amazing tool, taught to me by my wonderful voice therapist and illustrated by the great Ingo Titze in this YouTube video. This was the first time I used it to warm up right off an airplane, and it sure did a great job combating Airplane Voice.

I had a good rehearsal, sang well in the competition the next day, and won an award. Thanks, Ingo Titze/taxi driver/Freaks and Geeks!

on stage