Monthly Archives: July 2011

No more playing hooky; time to be a soprano again

Guilty, guilt as charged!  Yesterday was the first time I sang classical music since BASOTI ended last Saturday.

  • Sunday: Spent the entire day with my family
  • Monday: Drove to San Diego, CA
  • Tuesday: Drove to Tempe/Mesa, AZ
  • Wednesday: Apartment hunting, navigating through completely new neighborhoods, and feeling like a tourist
  • Thursday: More apartment hunting and hanging out with my brother, who made the drive down with me to help me adjust to non-California life
  • Friday:  Sang through “Adieu, notre petite table” and started “Ach, ich fühl’s.” Things felt a little rusty at first, but that might have been the milk and cheese from breakfast doing their best to gunk up my system.
  • Today: Started the day by watching lots of youtube to get new ideas and to get pumped!  Warmed up to an F6 and worked on “Se il padre perdei” because I still hate the scale up to G5 followed by three staccato G’s.

I realized that I lived the past week as a graduate student, a California transplant, a sister, and a homeless person trying to rectify the problem, but I did not uphold my commitment to living each day as a soprano.  Yes, I was busy traveling down the coast and into a new state, I had to find a place to live, and I wanted to spend time with my brother because I only saw him 3-4 times a year the past few years … but I should have managed all these activities a little better rather than letting five days go by without practicing.

I have to get my voice singing everyday again.  How much did I lose by not singing for a week?  How much did I regress and what progress did I miss out on?  These are good questions, and I feel guilty and unsettled to have gone so long without singing.  Well, I sang along with the Bruno Mars and Sara Bareilles my ipod played during the 12 hours of driving, but that doesn’t truly count. [Side note: I noticed how singing in my middle voice for popular music was a breeze and felt great, but it’s the same register that gives me trouble in my classical singing.  Some cross-over experimenting will occur over the next few days as I try to apply the ease of support and flow from popular music to my practicing.

I was approved for a one bedroom apartment this morning, so the hunt is over.  My move-in date isn’t until next weekend, though, which means I have a week of free time.  By “free time” I really mean there’s plenty for me to do – like get to know the neighborhood, study for my diagnostic exams, practice – but no set schedule to keep me in line.  In order to stay productive and to get all the above done, I have to put myself on a schedule and tell myself it’s an official schedule.  Otherwise, I take the path of least resistance and spend the entire day inside, sleeping, eating, reading, and catching up on all the shows I haven’t watched in about 4 months.  This feels great to my mind and body (which have been been running non-stop), but it’s not great for being a soprano.

Proposed Schedule, effective tomorrow:

Schedule parameters – must go to bed by midnight and get up by 8 AM (otherwise this schedule is doomed before it even gets a chance because I’m a night owl who stays up until 3 AM if no one stops me). Also, this schedule will probably be slightly different 3 days out of the weekbecause I want to insert yoga back into my life.

  • 8-9 AM – wake up, have breakfast, and appreciate life
  • 9-10:30 AM – study Music History
  • 10:30-11 AM – watch youtube clips/listen to music and warm up voice
  • 11-12 PM – work on a project (such as thank you presents/cards, writing for this blog, downloading music, organizing the contacts in my phone)
  • 12-1 PM – lunch
  • 1-2:30 PM – practice (focusing on Met 5 + Mozart for ASU opera auditions)
  • 2:30-4 PM – study Music Theory
  • 4-6 PM – errands and city exploration, rewards for being so good all day!
  • 6-7 PM – dinner



Getting High E into Shape

A few years ago, Mozart’s (concert) aria “Vorrei spiegarvi, o Dio!” was one of my recital pieces.  The tessitura is quite high, meandering around E5, and there are three high E’s (E6) toward the end of the A section.  Other parts of my voice are stronger now than in my UCSD days, but I don’t think I have the E6 lined up well enough to sing “Vorrei spiegarvi, o Dio” tomorrow if needed.  Here is the excellent Diana Damrau convincing us that this piece is easy to sing (with text following at the end of the post).

My recent repertoire has mainly extended to D6 (“Obeissons quand leur voix appelle” and “Willow Song”), which is quite comfortable and no longer nerve-wracking.  There’s an optional Eb6 in the final cadenza of “Oh! quante volte,” but I only include it in my practicing and have not used it in an audition or competition yet.  There are practice sessions when the Eb is easily accessed, but it’s not quite consistent yet.  Since my repertoire hasn’t required an E6, I do not routinely sing up there or warm up to E6 or F6.  That’s changing though, because I want “Vorrei spiegarvi, o Dio!” back in my active repertoire.  Plus, I want to do “Glitter and be Gay”, and I also plan on reviving “Durch Zärtlichkeit und Schmeicheln” – both of which are E6-happy.

I started vocalizing up to F6 during BASOTI and will continue to do so.  E6 and F6 don’t always sound great, and they haven’t gotten all the overtones ringing yet – but it is easier now than it was a month ago.  Although my recent technique is vastly different compared to the technique I used when I sang “Vorrei spiegarvi, o Dio!,” those high notes must still be inside me.  Let’s say they’ve been taking it easy and having a few too many relaxing drinks by the pool; it’s time to whip them into shape so they look good, feel good, and know to show up on-time, every time.

I’m going to give myself until the end of Fall semester to get the E where I want it and at least one of these E6 pieces ready.

text for Vorrei spiegarvi, o Dio!

Vorrei spiegarvi, oh Dio!
Qual è l’affanno mio;
Ma mi condanna il fato
A piangere e tacer.
Arder non pù il mio core
Per chi vorrebbe amore
E fa che cruda io sembri,
Un barbaro dover.
Ah conte, partite,
Correte, fuggite
Lontano da me;
La vostra diletta
Emilia v’aspetta,
Languir non la fate,
È degna d’amor.
Ah stelle spietate!
Nemiche mi siete.
Mi perdo s’ei resta.
Partite, correte,
D’amor non parlate,
È vostro il suo cor.

Changing my Met 5

When I first auditioned for and then signed my contract for BASOTI, my main expectation was to learn new music and have some more performance experience.  By default, I would also pick up some professional polish as I attended rehearsals and collaborated with conductors, pianists, directors, and other singers.  A few days into the program, after the first few masterclasses, audition workshop, and acting class, it became apparent that I could do more than just bulk-up my resume over the course of BASOTI.

Through a combination of singing, getting feedback, and hearing from experienced professionals their take on auditioning, I’ve decided to change my line up for the Met Auditions:

  • “Robert, toi que j’aime” from Meyerbeer’s Robert le Diable instead of “Deh, vieni, non tardar” – I sang “”Robert, toi que j’aime” for one of the BASOTI aria concerts, and the audience (including fellow BASOTI singers and faculty members) really liked it.  It’s a relatively unknown aria, but several people commented that I pulled it off even though they’d never heard it done before.  The rest of my list is more familiar, so “Robert” can be my one quirky, huh?-inducing selecting.  Also, the faculty said to pick repertoire so you show off what you do better than others (an obvious point but not always laid out in such blunt terms) and to start with a piece that lets you show off right away – which was not something I’d thought about.  With “Robert”, I get a chance to show off long bel canto lines and floating high notes.  My initial plan was to start with Manon’s “Obéissons quand leur voix appelle” because it’s got such great energy, but now I’m wondering if I should take a huge chance and open with an non-standard piece.  Will discuss this with a teacher…
  • “Ach, ich fühl’s” from Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte instead of “Mein herr Marquis” –  since I axed “Deh, vieni, non tardar,” I needed to replace one of my other arias with a Mozart piece.  Apparently it is very important to include a Mozart or Handel in your set; I knew they were good to have, but I didn’t realize it was more of a necessity until I talked to BASOTI singers and teachers.  My set already had plenty of Romantic representation, so I sacrificed “Mein herr Marquis.”  With “Ach, ich fühl’s” I still hit all four major languages with the added bonus of bringing something different to an aria that lots of sopranos sing.   After singing a Pamina scene for BASOTI, I have some very strong ideas about who Pamina is and how I’d want to sing her.  The challenges here are 1) keeping the forward flow despite a tempo that could be described as slow or even plodding, and 2) creating a compelling character despite obviously sad music and very little physical movement.  Can’t wait to start working on it!

The rest of the set would remain:

  • “I am the wife of Mao Tse-dong” from Adam’s Nixon in China
  • “Oh! quante volte” from Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi
  • “Obéissons quand leur voix appelle” from Massenet’s Manon

So much music to work on!!!!  These five and all the stuff listed on the “In the Works” page (which I updated today!).  I love it!  Just wish I had more time.  At least the 12 hours of driving down one state and into another are done.  Now I just need to drive around Tempe to find a place to live.

BASOTI numbers

The past four weeks kept me so busy that I did not blog as I BASOTI’d.  Here is a quick numbers-based summary as I find time (in between apartment hunting) to review and reflect on the notes I took during workshops, masterclasses, and meetings:

  • Weeks in program: 4
  • Scenes performed: 3
  • Masterclasses sung: 1
  • Masterclasses attended: 4
  • Voice lessons: 5
  • Coachings: 5
  • Hours rehearsed: no idea
  • Rehearsals crashed: 3
  • Conductors worked with: 4
  • Stage directors worked with: 2
  • Singers sung with not counting chorus: 10
  • Average hours of sleep per night: 7
  • New pieces added to to-do list: 5
  • Voluntary/additional solo singing opportunities taken: 6
  • Colds: 0
  • Grown-up beverages: 1
  • Fast-food meals: 0
  • Bus rides: many
  • Cars rides: 2
  • Scary interactions with homeless: 1
  • Days off: 1
  • Restaurants: 12
  • Coffee/tea shops: 4
  • Pages of notes taken: 12
  • Times I used my laptop: 4
  • Moments of doubt: 5
  • AH-HAH and YES days: 23
  • New friends made that I’ll stalk check-up on on facebook: 14

No rest for the wicked.

… Or is there no rest for the weary?

Despite my lack if Internet-presence over the past few weeks, yes, I’m still alive! The 12-hour days, a clunky laptop, and fear of exceeding my phone’s data plan kept me quiet. The iPad suddenly seemed so sleek and convenient, but I’ll do my best to fight the urge.

BASOTI came to a close just yesterday, and I’ve had a grand total of 24 hours with my family before taking the next step in my adventurous journey.

Part of my brain is reeling from the fact that BASOTI is actually over, and part of it is still mulling over new ideas and information. I took copious notes, and will type-up and organize them to be posted here.

But first, I need a few hours of sleep before heading out to Arizona tomorrow morning. I’ll make a brief one-night stop in San Diego along the way, but I’m trying to beat a couple of clocks: school starts in mid-August, and I’d like to find and move into an apartment by then. Also, I don’t want to pay for another month of storage. And while I look for an apartment, I’m house- and dog-sitting for a friend… So I better make it to her place for before she heads to Alaska!

More BASOTI-related musings to come! And hopefully very ecstatic posts about the drive being safe and fun, and apartments being beautiful and easy to obtain.

Setting Goals for the Met Auditions

It’s time for me to brush up on repertoire for the district Met Auditions.  That’s in just two months!  Do I expect to win?  I want to, but I don’t think it’s my time yet.  Just as there are some songs on the radio I can’t bear to listen to (and I can’t see why they get so much air time), there have been competition results I don’t understand.  But I do believe that the average of one’s accomplishments is a fairly accurate assessment of one’s skills.  It’s impossible to please everyone, but it’s equally difficult to displease everyone.  I’ve won in a few competitions (but not all), and I received offers from a few grad schools (but not all).   Some days  my voice feel great, and other days I worry that I’m putting too much pressure in my throat.  Sometimes I have a handle on my middle voice, and sometimes  it sounds fuzzy and feels fragile.  C6 is almost never a problem, but D6 and E6 aren’t always solid.  The average of all this suggests I’m good but not my best yet, and I think I would need to be at my best to advance to the regional Met Auditions.  So with this high standard in mind, I am not ashamed to say I don’t think I’ll win the district round this year.

My aim for the district round is to put on a good show and make a splash in the Arizona scene.  If Arizona’s district has encouragement awards like San Diego, I would be very happy to snag one of those or get an honorable mention.  Given how competitive opera singers are and how intensely you must WANT this career, my goals for the Met Auditions may seem puny and weak.  Go big or go home, all or nothing, aim for the moon and at least you’ll end up among the stars – okay, but these all seem like gambling statements.  I’m not interested in betting on an uncertain outcome and hoping for the best; my approach is to work hard as hard as possible to ensure I feel good about the outcome.

I think small goals get a bad name because critics take it as a sign that you don’t even believe in yourself.  I don’t want to get lazy or be lax, but it’s no good to be hit with disappointment and then have it turn to doubt.  Since so much of singing well and performing well is mental, losing your confidence is a dangerous things.  It’s a snowball that grows bigger and bigger, a stone that gathers no moss as it gains momentum tearing downhill.   Setting manageable and doable goals is a form of self-preservation.  Also, I think I’m pretty good at setting reasonable but challenging goals since I hit some but not others.

For those who may feel pressured to have flamboyant, dramatic, goals: let’s not dismiss the importance of effective goal-setting.  Those big wow-factor goals are inspirational, but a functional plan of realistic and progressive goals is just as necessary.  We need to keep both types of goals in mind every day, the big picture to help us stay on track and the day-to-day accomplishments that help us improve and keep us feeling good and thinking positively.

The Met Auditions require five arias, and here’s what I have in mind:

  • “Oh! quante volte” from Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi – Romantic, Italian, lots of drama and coloratura
  • “Obeisson quand leur voix appelle” from Massenet’s Manon – Romantic, French, attention-loving and exciting
  • “Deh, vieni, non tardar” from Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro  – 18th century, Italian, middle voice, lots of legato line
  • “Mein herr Marquis” from Strauss’ Die Fledermaus– Romantic, German, up-beat, humorous
  • “I am the wife of Mao Tse-tung” from Adam’s Nixon in China – 20th century, English, lots of tritones, and plenty of G, A, B, and D’s

This set hits the four main languages and give a good mix of tempo, major/minor, style, and character.  “Oh!quante volte” has been getting some workouts, but the rest need some attention.  “Obeisson quand leur voix appelle” should be up and running in no time since it’s the aria I have the most experience performing; the trick is keeping it fresh despite all the repetition.  “Deh, vieni, non tardar” is like a winter sweaters in the summer: comfortable but we haven’t hung out together lately.  The last two will probably need some extra attention.  “Mein herr Marquis” because I don’t remember the German and I wasn’t completely comfortable or satisfied with the physical characterization when I learned the piece last year.   “I am the wife of Mao Tse-tung” because it is a stamina challenge and the vocal line is not really pretty (lots of repeated notes and outlining of chords, not much melody).

Don’t worry; I haven’t forgotten about the list of new arias I want to learn!  I have the music for “Un cenno leggiadretto,” I am working on “Quel guardo il cavaliere” and “Adieu, notre petite table,” and I am still looking for the right versions of “Durch Zärtlichkeit und Schmeicheln” and “Che fiero momento.”  Although I’d like to use some of these for the Met Audition, I think it’s smarter for me to stick with familiar repertoire.  This way I can focus on polishing instead of stressing out.  Once again, self-preservation!  It’s a way of life.

Singing The Tempest and Relearning How to Breathe

Well, my wardrobe is not exactly prepared for a summer in San Francisco.  BASOTI warned us it would be “chilly” – they should’ve gone with “downright cold” and “as windy as Chicago.”  I was a little too optimistic packing dresses and flowing summery tops, and now I wish the luggage space had been used for sweaters and coats!

The Tempest.  Yesterday was the first music rehearsal for my scene from Lee Hoiby’s The Tempest.  This opera was written in 1986, and the libretto is based on Shakespeare’s play.  Hoiby uses a combination of old and new to great effect.  The lyrics are from another century; the themes are very real to a present day audience.  Traditional harmonies are organized into clear structures and patterns; a few bars later, voices are woven together in a free exchange and exploring a less obvious tonality.  A phrase starts off with unusual leaps and steps to create musical tension before moving to a shiver-inducing resolution.  Of my three scenes, this scene contained, without contest, the most challenging music to learn because I could not always predict where the vocal or instrumental line would go.

The first half of the scene has Ferdinand and Miranda (me!) in a duet.  They begin with shy, round-about expressions of concerns for each others’ well-being, which evolve into declarations of love and hopes for marriage.  Propero, Miranda’s father, is the orchestrator of this affair, and he calls three goddesses to bless the couple.  The three goddesses, Iris, Ceres, and Juno, then sing unending blessings and bounty onto Ferdinand and Miranda’s lives together.  The second half is structurally and harmonically very different from the first, which gives the scene such depth.

The music rehearsal went more smoothly than I think most had anticipated.  The fact that the opera is in English made it easy to memorize, but I find it difficult to keep the core of my voice engaged in this language.  After some reflection, I think the issue is approaching the beginnings of each phrase from below rather than above.  Coming from below suggests a lack of preparation; I know what note to aim for, but I am leaping up without a foundation in place to help get me there.  Coming from above means a well-executed inhalation acts as a springboard to create the energy needed to start singing on the right pitch.  Too many years of listening to pop music has lead me to associate singing in English with a lax initiation of the voice.  Just listen to all those pop singers scooping their way up to their notes and putting so much air into their sound.  It’s emotional and expressive, but it’s not a good way for The Tempest to be sung.

Breathing.  Apparently, my concept of breathing has been wrong this entire time!  Or it may be more accurate for my to say my conscious concept of breathing has been incomplete.  There have definitely been times in lessons and competitions were my breath clicked into place and none of my phrases felt like a breath-holding contest.  But most of my performance anxiety stems from not knowing what kind of tone I will produce when I’m feeling nervous.  The simple solution would be for me to never get nervous, but that may not ever happen so I need a way to improve the consistency of my tone instead.

Singers always hear, “Don’t breathe with your chest, use your diaphragm, support, engage your core, fill your lungs, your ribcage should expand, breathe deep, let your belly hang out!” While none of this is wrong, these comment made me forget exactly where our lungs are located:

Location of the Lungs

Ah, our lungs!

Lungs are big; the extend all the way up into your upper chest and under our collar bones!  For so long I concentrated on keeping my upper chest and collar bones still, trying to fill the bottom half of my torso with air.  I let go of my pride and stopped sucking in my stomach.  When I took a deep breath, I imagined my rib cage expanding to the left and right sides, and even to the front above my stomach …  But what about the rest of my lungs?

Our Alexander Technician pointed out that our ribcage is a dynamic column that can expand in 360° and is subject to the laws of volume and pressure. When the ribcage expands, volume increases, internal pressure drops, and air rushes in to equalize the pressure.  Now I have no reason to worry about orchestrating a good inhalation because the lungs will naturally fill up the “right way.”

When I allowed this natural inhalation to take place, I feel the expansion from the bottom rib (a few inches above my hip bone) all the way up to the base of my neck (the area between my upper shoulder blades).  The muscles between my rips and attaching my ribs to my spine lengthen, which is an amazing feeling.  When was the last time you were aware of those muscles?  I’ve spend so long breathing low I forgot how to breathe wholly.

Of course, I am going to incorporate this into all my singing, but I am particularly curious to see how this changes my English pieces.

Breathing deeply and fully,