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old Silver Truck upon whose questionable late-nite food offerings so many students of my era gambled their lives has been replaced by much more upscale offerings: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.

 

 

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.

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.

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,

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

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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.