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!

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.

Puffy Down Perfection

This week I’m heading to Chicago for two awesome concerts with Wayward Sisters. Lucky for me, I’ve missed the Polar Vortex, but it’s still going to be Chicago cold there, with wind chills in the single digits. And that means it’s time to break out my puffy down parka.

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I’ve had this coat since the summer I graduated from high school. I grew up in cold places — the mountains of eastern Arizona and apple country in northern Rhode Island — but when I chose to start college at Northwestern University just outside Chicago I knew I’d have to prepare for a different kind of cold.

I headed to EMS at the Emerald Square Mall in North Attleboro. My friend Anthony happened to be working there that day, and he helped me choose the warmest possible coat to protect me from the single digits and brutal winds of Chicago’s winter. It worked. Back then I wore it with a huge fleece hat and full-size earmuffs underneath said hat. I survived an especially long, cold winter in Evanston thanks to my parka.

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sporting my fleece hat during a college-era visit with my best friend Lauren

I ended up transferring to Brown after that year, and in Providence I only had to break out the puffy down parka for the few coldest days of the year. After one year in Boston post-college I headed south, and haven’t lived north of the Mason-Dixon since. The parka lives in my closet most of the time now, only making an appearance when I travel to far northern climes. The big fleece hat is long gone, and this month I’ll probably pair my parka with the woolen Peruvian hat I bought on a cold night in Querétaro, México four years ago:

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Now they make parkas that are just as warm but more stylish and less, well, puffy. I suppose I could replace my trusty blue parka but it works great, has lots of pockets of just the right sizes and locations, and there’s nothing wrong with it.

Well, except for the fact that the zipper pull snapped off in the wash a couple years ago, and it now requires some complicated and dexterous maneuvering to get it zipped. But I’m loyal to my puffy down parka, and it’s taken me lots of places. Just in the past few years it has kept me toasty in Kalamazoo, Green Bay, Chicago, Minneapolis, South Bend, Milwaukee, and Moline. The coldest thermometer reading my coat and I have ever experienced was -15 one night in Green Bay.

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with Seraphic Fire at Notre Dame

I’m not a person who needs four seasons. I’d be perfectly happy living somewhere where I could wear skirts and sandals 365 days a year. I hate the cold, but I know how to bundle up against it. And this week, bundle up I will.

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the puffy down parka and a Dala horse in Minneapolis

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.

Caroling towards Christmas

It’s the busy time of the year. A lot of freelance singers make a substantial portion of their annual income during the month of December, singing the Messiah and other holiday concerts. It’s a fun season, but it can get overwhelming and stressful to have your busiest professional time coincide with the limited weeks to run around buying gifts, visiting loved ones, baking cookies, and juggling holiday parties. That confluence of events isn’t unique to singers or even musicians. Retail workers have it a lot worse, because they’re extra-busy and they have to deal with grumpy, beleaguered shoppers. At least we get to sing for happy audiences who tell us we’ve made their holiday season more special.

And the music is great too. Singers love to complain about the 15 Messiahs they have to sing this year, but really they love it. And though there are plenty of terrible Christmas carol arrangements filling the stores all month, some of those carols are dear to our hearts, and are woven into old and cherished memories.

Christmas carols are some of the earliest songs I can remember singing. The past two weeks I was in Miami singing Seraphic Fire’s Candlelight Christmas concerts. One of the pieces we sang — and recorded for our new Christmas album — was a new arrangement of “Angels We Have Heard on High” by the group’s director, Patrick Dupré Quigley.

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I was reminded that this was my Number 1 Favorite Carol when I was a very little girl. I don’t think I knew most of the lyrics or even the carol’s name, but I loved singing that long, melismatic line on the word “gloria.” To a girl of 4 or 5 that “gloria” seemed to cascade up and down forever, and it was just so beautiful. I think I called the carol “Gloria.”

My very favorite carol now, as a grownup, is Gustav Holst’s “In the Bleak Midwinter.”

Christina Rossetti’s evocative poem and Holst’s spare and loving musical setting create a magical moment in time. It’s almost like a mini-movie, capturing the wonder of the nativity scene. Seraphic Fire also recorded a new arrangement of “In the Bleak Midwinter” by the young Minnesota composer Abbie Betinis.

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Her setting is for choir, harp, mezzo-soprano solo, and soprano/mezzo-soprano duet. It’s really lovely — in one section you can hear the snow falling in a gentle repetitive pattern in the alto line — and I was lucky to sing the duet with the incomparable Amanda Crider. I can’t wait for the disc to come out so I can share the piece with you all.

Until then, enjoy the season and all the carols, old and new. What’s your favorite?