Soprano in the Air does Airbnb

I’m an Airbnb virgin no longer. A couple weeks ago I was Skyping with my friends Alicia and David in London and bemoaning  my 80 mile, gas-wasting drive to Greenville, and David said “you should find a place to stay on Airbnb!” I knew what Airbnb was — a website that connects people with a spare room to rent and travelers looking for a cheap place to stay — but I thought it was only for big cities like London and San Francisco. Not true! I found several listings in Greenville, have friends across the country who’ve had good experiences both renting and staying through Airbnb, and so last week I booked a night to save myself one round trip drive home.

When I got to the door I was a little nervous, and it seemed like my host, who was new to Airbnb and had hosted only once before, was a slightly uncomfortable too. There’s something inherently awkward about walking into a stranger’s house, overnight bag over your shoulder, and being shown to their guest room and told the house rules. But the room was lovely,

airnbnb room

the bathroom immaculate and stocked with fluffy towels, and the bed ridiculously comfortable. There were even chocolates on the nightstand.

chocolate

My host invited me to watch TV with her downstairs so I did, and during commercials we chatted and got to know each other a little. She was nice, it turned out we have similar taste in television, and I got to catch up on the new season of Bones. Then I headed upstairs where I was lulled to sleep by a perfect mattress and the soft sounds of a rainy night in Greenville. All this for about 1/3 of the cost of an equally nice hotel.

The internet is amazing. In so many ways we’re less trusting now, and find the world a more dangerous place than it was a few decades ago. People don’t leave their front doors unlocked, and kids don’t get to run unsupervised all over the neighborhood after school. But you can go online, put in your email address and credit card number, and be welcomed into a total stranger’s house to spend the night. And the consensus is that this usually works out just fine.

And actually, I shouldn’t have found it so strange. I stay with perfect strangers several times a year when I travel for gigs and am placed in home stays. The initial meeting is always awkward, but then I settle into my new temporary home and enjoy learning about my hosts and their lives. I’ve met amazing people this way, and some of them have become close friends. In fact, some of the guests at my wedding were friends I initially met when they hosted me for a performance. It’s a wonderful thing that people, whether they’re doing it as patrons of the arts or to bring in a little extra income, are still willing to open their door and welcome a stranger across the threshold.

From BART to Bluegrass

Yesterday I had to make space in my wallet for my shiny new ECU ID card (so excited to be able to check out books and scores from a music library for the first time since I finished my masters at the U of A),

photo 1

and I stumbled upon a pocket containing fare cards from the public transit systems of a few cities I’ve sung in lately. It made me feel well-traveled and cosmopolitan to lay them on the table.

photo 2

They’re nice reminders of great music and fun times I’ve had in New York,

ch

San Francisco,

sf

and Boston.

bos

As I scanned through my photo collection to choose the city photos above, I got tired just looking at all the places I’ve been in the past year. I adore travel and it’s one of my favorite parts of my job. Sometimes though, it’s the best thing in the world to have a beautiful fall weekend at home and a free evening tomorrow to go hear some bluegrass music downtown.

A Tire Tale

I wasn’t expecting my weeks of teaching at home in NC to generate any travel-related stories for Soprano in the Air. But adventure can happen even on I-264 between Greenville and Raleigh. I offer this post as a cautionary tale:

If your Buick is pulling sharply to the right and shaking like CRAZY, it might be wise not to make the high speed, 80 mile drive home, even if the nice man at the tire store in Greenville checks out your tires and tells you they’re safe to drive on. Because if you do, you just might get stuck on the side of the interstate somewhere west of Wilson due to a blowout like this,

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and you might have to wait an hour for AAA to come and change the tire you can’t change yourself because of your dumb back but thank goodness it’s not too hot and it’s daylight and you have snacks and you used the restroom before you left ECU and you have a smartphone to tell you where you are because honestly you were cruising along listening to NPR and you only know you passed the I-95 interchange, or at least you think you did,

and then you might have to amble on your spare donut down pretty country highways at speeds under 50 mph, heading ever westward in a vain search for a tire place with 70-15 size tires that is still open that time of day because you will never get all the way to Chapel Hill on country roads at under 50 mph (plus you’re not supposed to drive far on a donut) in time for your rehearsal that night,

and so you might have to continue west all the way to your beloved (but closed) regular garage which luckily is east of Raleigh, where you leave the car and keys when your calm husband, having driven exactly the wrong direction from his work to Chapel Hill, picks you up but not before you do something terrible,

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but hey, desperate times…and anyway a biscuit and cole slaw isn’t the very worst vegetarian pre-rehearsal dinner you could consume,

and then you and your husband who btw is the director of the group might get to your 7:15 rehearsal in Chapel Hill miraculously only 15 minutes late, but only because you left an uncharacteristically generous amount of padding time when you first started this journey at 3:00 p.m. in Greenville.

So, check those tires.

Life, Balanced by Work

One of the very best perks of my job is getting to combine work travels with visiting friends and family all over the country. If I had to plan them as stand-alone trips, I’d never be able to schedule in all the visits I get every year by staying late or going early to a gig. Even during a gig I can sometimes squeeze in a lunch or coffee date with a long lost cousin or college friend, and it’s special to be able to give comp tickets to loved ones and have them in the audience for performances that are far from home.

Last weekend I combined rehearsals in the Boston area with a family reunion at my Auntie Sue’s house in Connecticut. She used to host these late summer BBQs most years, and her place is perfect for a whole day of visiting and playing.

horseshoes

There are horses and fields, and room for horseshoes, croquet and volleyball, or just running around. As usual, this time there was great food, including veggie burgers on the grill, snappy fresh corn on the cob, and delicious homemade desserts baked by various members of the family.

I haven’t able to attend a summer BBQ in probably ten years, and I didn’t even know until I arrived that this was the first one in five years. Since families have grown and schedules gotten full, it’s been harder to get everyone together at once. Even last weekend not everyone could come, but there was still a large, rowdy crowd, with lots of laughing and teasing and a very competitive, all-afternoon game of horseshoes.

Despite the intermittent rain it was a beautiful day, with people sliding from eating to talking to playing at a leisurely pace, and thoroughly enjoying each others’ company.

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Soprano Grounded

Sadly, I won’t be going to Eugene next week to visit N at the Oregon Bach Festival. I’ve been looking forward to this trip all year — to reliving my two years singing there, to the music and the fresh berries and the gorgeous sunny weather and the plenteous meals in the cafeteria and to seeing all the friends who are also singing there this summer.

In January I hurt my back lugging a case of wine around the Phoenix airport, and I spent the first six months of this year pushing through my gigs and travels, ignoring how bad it was. I’m finally in physical therapy and doing better all the time, but flying cross-country wasn’t in the cards this soon.

It feels a little like cancelling on a gig. I’ve been very lucky in my career, and have only had to cancel once, which was last summer when I had pneumonia (really couldn’t sing through that one!). Cancelling is the thing singers fear most. It’s terrible to miss out on the music-making, seeing old and meeting new colleagues, and of course also taking home the paycheck. The fear is always there, but still we soldier, er, sing on.

I will not be boarding any airplanes for a few more weeks, but I did make a trip to RDU last week for a photo shoot to update my profile photo on the blog. Did you notice it? Thanks to N for his artistic fashion photography, and to my branding expert sister-in-law for coming up with the great idea. Here are a few of the shots:

Profile photo shoot collage

The 15 minutes in those gorgeous heels probably set me back two days in repairing my back, but it just might have been worth it. Do you agree?

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:

closed coffee shot

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.

Wendy's PHX

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:

PHX veggie burger

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:

RDU bound gate

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:

dinner at El Charro

Lovely singer friends, at the ever-tasty El Charro

And other times, more like this:

dinner alone

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…