Last weekend I was in Alabama to sing Mozart and Vivaldi with the Mobile Symphony Orchestra. The guest conductor was Patrick Dupré Quigley, the director of Seraphic Fire and a good friend who has given me many musical opportunities over the past 8 years.
I love all the different kinds of gigs I do — soloing with symphonies, choruses and period orchestras, collaborating with early music chamber groups, faculty recitals at ECU, and ensemble singing with some of the best choirs in the country — but for sheer pamper factor you can’t beat a solo appearance with a symphony. Symphonies are set up to host soloists from around the world with nice hotels, arranged rides and organized itineraries. Here are some of the things I encounter on a symphony gig that make me feel like a true diva:
Singing in a nice hall (here the Saenger Theatre in Mobile),
Being put up in style in a fancy hotel,
Ordering pre-performance room service in said fancy hotel,
Having my own dressing room with my name on the door,
Wearing a new gown and super-sparkly bling (this fabulous Swarovski set was my Christmas gift from my parents with teamwork selection from N),
Being asked to sign posters,
And getting beautiful flowers onstage during the curtain call (yup, this was a selfie and I’m not ashamed to say it).
The Symphony was wonderful to work with and I enjoyed my time in downtown Mobile. And N and baby A and Charlie the dog all survived back at home! It was a great weekend. At the end of it, as always, I was happy to land at RDU and drive home to my family, now expanded by one 18-pound little cutie.
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.
Baby 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.
It 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.
The 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!
As the Swara Sonora Trio began to plan our Indonesian tour, we decided that we wanted there more of a purpose to our travels than the personal excitement of performing on the other side of the world. It was late 2008 as we ironed out details. Barack Obama had just been elected, optimism was running high, and attention was turned to the United States’ possible deeper engagement with Asia and especially with a moderate Muslim country like Indonesia (where President Obama spent part of his childhood). We titled our project the Peace Tour. It was a little cheesy, but the name stuck.
We wanted the trio to engage in significant ways that might actually promote understanding between cultures, so we came up with a three-pronged goal for our tour: we would reach out to audiences by sharing our music and our talents in performances across Java and Bali, we would connect with young musicians by teaching master classes at music schools along our travels, and we would make the tour a fundraiser for an Indonesian organization. It was important to choose a reputable organization with international recognition, so that our backers in the US would be comfortable getting on board with our fundraising. After a brief discussion we decided that UNICEF was the obvious choice because of their international reputation and their efforts towards children’s health and education in Indonesia.
One of our most exciting days of the Peace Tour (it’s hard to name any one day “most exciting” because each day held new experiences, people, sights, sounds, and amazing foods) was when we visited UNICEF’s Indonesia Country Office headquarters in Jakarta. We’d been connected with Josephine Lapod in the office there, and had a formal agreement to turn over all our funds beyond expenses to support UNICEF’s children’s programs in Indonesia.
Josephine took us to the Dunkin’ Donuts (a very popular chain in Indonesia; the menu is similar to in the US except you can get durian-filled donuts and coffee with sweetened condensed milk) on UNICEF’s campus to get to know each other and to sign our contract. Then we toured their offices, met the rest of the kind and professional staff, and posed for photos wearing our UNICEF t-shirts. Unaccustomed to men as tall as Nathan, they’d had to special order his t-shirt size and it had arrived just in time for our visit. The staff told us that the last visitor they placed a custom order for was Bill Clinton!
Thanks to many generous donors in the United States and the help of our fiscal sponsor Fractured Atlas which allowed us to raise tax-deductible funds, we gave $1,500 to UNICEF’s Indonesia Country Office. In the scope of the organization’s total budget that wasn’t a ton of money, but in a country like Indonesia it can buy a lot of vaccinations and school supplies. At our Indonesian premiere concert at Jakarta’s Erasmus Huis, we presented the funds with our version of the oversized check you sometimes see given to organizations at charity events.
Thanks to the tireless efforts of Aryo’s mother Erni, who asked for support from friends, family and corporate sponsors there, and donations collected at our Jakarta concert, we raised another $1,500 in Indonesia which Ibu Erni brought to Joesphine after our Peace Tour ended.
I’m proud that our trio worked hard at fundraising so we could leave a lasting effect, however small, on the children of Indonesia, and grateful to all the people who helped us and gave to our project. We wanted to forge connections with our tour. One new relationship I didn’t expect was my own connection to UNICEF. Now N and I give a monthly automatic contribution to UNICEF, and I see that as being a lifetime commitment of mine. And it all began with a brainstorm about how to add purpose to our group’s travels. I think we found some purpose.
Five years ago, my performing travels led me on one of the greatest adventures of my life: three and a half weeks singing, teaching, and touristing in Indonesia.
11 years before that, I took a college course on Indonesian music. This in-depth course, one of my very favorites out of many wonderful classes I took at Brown, covered not just the traditional and popular music of Java and Bali, but also bits of the history, culture, and politics of Indonesia. I fell in love with Indonesia long-distance, and decided that somehow, someday, I would get there. During high school I’d developed a similar serious crush on Spain when I soaked up the thin, black & white volume that was our history and geography text in upper-level Spanish classes. I’m still waiting for my trip to Spain, but I’ve been across the world to Indonesia. That fact confirms that Indonesia was in my destiny.
Fate made that clear when I arrived at the University of Arizona for graduate school in 2004 and was introduced to my teaching partners, baritone Nathan Krueger and pianist Aryo Wicaksono. That first day, I excitedly and correctly guessed from his nametag that Aryo was Indonesian. We three taught together for 4 years in the Opening Minds Through the Arts program in the Tucson schools, began performing on recital series around Tucson, named ourselves the Swara Sonora Trio, and then commissioned a cycle of songs from Ananada Sukarlan, a prominent Indonesian composer and pianist who now lives in Spain but receives rock star treatment whenever he returns to his homeland.
After our successful premiere of Ananda’s Love and Variations, we decided to take it on tour to Indonesia and premiere the work there. We were crazy, but we pulled it off, thanks to many donors in the US and Indonesia and to Aryo’s mother Erni who coordinated most of the logistics on the Indonesian end. The planning and handling the donations that so generously came pouring in became an extra part-time job for me and almost killed me (and probably Ibu Erni too), but it was worth it. So very worth it.
In the coming weeks I’ll write more posts about my reflections looking back on our Peace Tour. In the meantime, you can visit the trio’s blog; we posted almost every day along our journey to keep our supporters back home engaged with our amazing experiences and work there. Click here to access our blog, and find the August 2009 postings in the sidebar on the right.
And now I have another paradise to add to that list — Western Montana. N and I were just there for the biennial family reunion of his big and wonderful extended family. Each family had a cabin on Seeley Lake, a place where the sunsets looked like this (this was actually the view from our cabin):
The temperatures were in the 80s every day but dry, and at night it would dip into the 40s. Besides the family activities, meals and singing, there were many things to do in the area, like canoeing on the lake, hiking to stunning waterfalls,
and visiting nearby Glacier National Park, which might be the most beautiful place I have ever laid eyes on.
Being more accustomed to the arid Southwest — a different kind of beauty — I was amazed by the abundance of lakes, rivers and streams, full of crystal-clear blue-green snowmelt.
The bugs were few and the air smelled fresh with tamaracks and other conifers. It really couldn’t have been more perfect. Lest you fear that this was a nature-only trip and that I missed out on indulging my love of food and of ice cream in particular, a trip into Missoula (a very hip town) for the farmers market yielded ripe local cherries and huckleberries, and on the way back from Glacier we stopped in Bigfork for highly recommended, absolutely delicious huckleberry ice cream.
The days were long — darkness didn’t fall until 10:00 pm and the sky began to lighten around 4:00 in the morning — and we were there for the full moon, so nights were bright enough to walk along the lake listening to the cries of the loons. I’d never before heard the eery but entrancing call of the loon, and it added a soundtrack to the smells and sights of the cool Montana nights.
As I fantasized about moving to Montana, I had to remind myself that winters there are long and cold. And snowy. I’m pretty spoiled living in North Carolina where the weather is survivable all year long. North Carolina is nice. But it’s not paradise. And so I know for sure I’ll be back to Montana someday.
One of the best things about my trip to Rome last month was that I got to see a lot of my best friend Lauren, who is living and working there now.
On my last weekend in Italy, N had to head home and I stayed with Lauren and her adorable family. On Thursday that week she texted me that they were thinking of going to the beach in Tuscany that weekend, and was I interested? I had to think about that one for oh, half a second. Probably less.
So Saturday morning they picked me up in their shiny red Fiat 500L, and we drove north. We were headed to Capalbio, their favorite beach town — really a collection of villages scattered across the green hills that roll into the Mediterranean — in southern Tuscany. After only an hour and a half on the road we came to this:
the customs-house-turned-B&B where we stayed overnight. Look idyllic? Check out the view from the grounds:
There were ostriches and donkeys on the property so that the B&B could qualify as an agritourism venue, as well as an olive grove and a beautiful rose garden.
We spent several hours each day on the beach. The setup was just like N and I experienced in Rome — we rented chairs and bought lunch (wonderful cheese and fried calamari; slightly different fare from what you’d get at an American beach snack bar) at the bar. The beach was much quieter and less crowded than in Rome, and the Mediterranean sea even bluer. There was an exhibition of kite surfers all weekend, and while the kids ran and played we sat in our chairs and watched the kites float across the sky.
We drove up to the old town, perched atop a high hill, to get views of the landscape below,
to walk around its sweet stone buildings,
and to enjoy an afternoon snack, including my last gelato of the trip.
The entire weekend I felt like I was in a movie, or maybe a tourism brochure. It was that beautiful, sunny, and peaceful in Capalbio. And being led around by friends who know and love the area and took me to all their favorite places made it even better.
Everything was lovely. After an amazing long night of countryside sleep, I woke up in the bright morning to find this gorgeous crostata which the innkeeper had left for us in the living area and Lauren had delivered to our little apartment:
We ate well, saw a lot, and relaxed plenty. Even the somewhat horrific traffic on our way back into Rome couldn’t dampen my happiness on my last night in Italia. It was a perfect ending to a very special vacation.