Monthly Archives: April 2013

Singing with orchestra

Some stuff you sing with piano. Other stuff you sing with piano in hopes of singing it with orchestra someday. Singing with orchestra is like graduation, a gold star, and a winning lotto ticket rolled into one because it is so cool. There’s a moment of stillness as everyone prepares for the beat. You can feel the energy as everyone comes together for this one piece of music. Singing with all this behind you is quite amazing, like surfing on a wave of glorious sound.

"And Open to All" concert with MusicaNova Orchestra. Phoenix, 2013. Photo courtesy of MusicaNova Orchestra.

“And Open to All” concert with MusicaNova Orchestra, conducted by Maestro Warren Cohen. Phoenix, 2013. Photo courtesy of MusicaNova Orchestra.

While I’ve been lucky enough to have a few opportunities to sing with orchestra, some smaller and some larger, I’m still getting used to it. This past week was a particularly intense learning period as I was singing in two separate concerts with two different orchestras: “And Open to All” with MusicaNova Orchestra and “Shakespeare in the Desert” with Arizona Pro Arte.   The actual concerts were fun and thrilling, but I’ll admit I was nervous during the rehearsals. 

As is the case with most singers still in school, almost all of my singing has been with piano. I love the process of collaborating and performing with a pianist. It’s intimate and immediate. It’s possible to respond to each other musically on the turn of a dime because it’s just the two of you. With an orchestra, it’s you, the conductor, and x number of musicians.

With x more variables in the equation, the dynamics of collaboration feel different even though the principle — to sing beautifully and with intention — is the same. I know I should focus on my legato, I know I should keep a sense of forward motion in the line and just sing how I’ve been practicing … but I’m trying to watch the conductor’s hands out of the corner of my eye, and I’m wondering, Am I with the orchestra? and Can you hear me with all this noise going on?  (I’m pretty sure that second thought is what was going through my head in the picture further down.)

Which brings me to another issue: As a lighter soprano, orchestras pose an additional challenge because singing over x instruments is more difficult than singing over one piano. I’ve been working hard to accept my lighter voice, but nothing makes me wish for a bigger voice more quickly than having to sing over an orchestra and wondering if I can be heard.

Allerseelen with MusicaNova Orchestra, "Open to All" concert. Phoenix, 2013.

Photo courtesy of MusicaNova Orchestra

Still, I felt the music carry me away during the performance. The rise and fall of the harmonies, which were so familiar from running through the pieces with a pianist, took on new colors and textures. To give your ears a chance to experience the difference: here is a version of Allerseelen performed by Irmgard Seefried with orchestra and conducted by Charles Munch, and here is the version with piano which I’ve posted before. Both are beautiful. Singing this song with orchestra was incredible, but that’s not to say I don’t love it with piano as well.

Pianos are capable of so many articulations and effects, but one thing they can’t do is crescendo on a single sustained note. A pianist can increase the volume by playing more piano keys at the same time (creating a more dense chord) or by re-hitting a key with more force, but there’s no way for a piano’s sound to swell the way an orchestra can.

PS. One of my teachers who attended the MusicaNova concert said he heard me despite the thick orchestration of the Strauss –success!


In the works update (April 22, 2013)

IN THE WORKS @ April 22, 2013

And Open to All with MusicaNova Orchestra, April 2013

  • Zerlina in Act 1 Finale of Don Giovanni
  • Allerseelen (R. Strauss) … with orchestra!
  • concert details here

Shakespeare in the Desert with  Arizona Pro Arte and Solis Camerata, April 2013

  • “V’adoro, pupille” from Giulio Cesare
  • concert details here

Opera Scenes, April 2013

  • La fée in Act 3 of Cendrillon (Massenet)

Vocal Duets Repertoire Class Concert, April 2013

  • Pastorale, soprano-baritone (Saint-Saëns)
  • Sub tuum praesidium, soprano-soprano duet (Mozart)
  • Mother Comfort, soprano-mezzo (Britten)
  • Die Schwestern, soprano-mezzo (Brahms)
  • Abschiedslied der Zugvögel, soprano-mezzo (Mendelssohn)

Shakespeare’s Circle of Love with Solis Camerata, April 2013

  • Where the bee sucks (Robert Johnson)
  • Cleopatra in “Ritorni omai nel nostro core” from Giulio Cesare

Opus with Society of Composers, Inc. and Classical Revolution Phoenix at the Phoenix Art Museum, May 2013

  • Dreams (Bethany Brown, world premiere)

Musical Merit Audition, May 2013

  • “Douce enfant” from Cendrillon (Massenet)
  • “Piangerò la sorte mia” from Giulio Cesare
  • Laurie’s Song from The Tender Land (Copland)
  • Morgen! (R. Strauss)
  • something in Russian (hopefully)
  • “Ich will dir mein Herze schenken” from Matthäus-Passion
  • Last rose of summer (Britten)
  • Pastorale (Copland)

Astoria Music Festival (Astoria, Oregon), June 2013

  • Belinda in Dido and Aeneas
  • Lauretta (study cover) in Gianni Schicchi

Happy Earth Day

And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.  Kahlil Gibran

Ireland, 2010.

Sometimes I wake up groggy on Mondays… but not today! Coincidentally, it is Earth Day. A friend shared a great article by Bill McKibben about our earth, our environment, global climate change, and what we can do, which you can read here. McKibben founded the grassroots climate campaign (350 refers to 350 parts per million, the amount of carbon dioxide that scientists say is safe for the atmosphere to hold — we are nearing 400 parts per million).

McKibben points out that the environmental concerns of the last century are different from the ones we face now. Air and water are cleaner, and more people probably recycle now (I’m certainly a product of reduce, reuse, and recycle). Unfortunately, invisible pollution has gone up, and the next challenge is how to address what is less easy to see. McKibben directs us to look inside ourselves to find the drive to make this world a place where we can continue to live and make beautiful things happen.

That’s where our passion, spirit, creativity, and love come in. We’re being forced, at high speed, to redesign our world; to imagine, and then build, a better future. It’s a test of whether humanity’s big brains were really a good adaptation. But, even more than that, it’s a test of whether we, collectively, have a big enough heart. – Bill McKibben

I’m not a scientist, but I have passion, spirit, creativity, and love. We can make a difference and be part of this epic adventure. Use whatever skills you can to reach whatever audience you can. There’s enough art song about nature to program a recital about the beauty and mystery of the world! Start with Debussy’s Green and end with Wolf’s Kennst du das Land? Just an idea.. and not a bad one!

…show the whole world that you are not afraid…

All I insist on, and nothing else, is that you should show the whole world that you are not afraid. Be silent, if you choose; but when it is necessary, speak — and speak in such a way that people will remember it. – W. A. Mozart

La Jolla, 2012.

La Jolla, 2012.

Launching “Ask/Suggest”

I was never great at keeping a diary, though I’ve tried many times. There is something so noble about regularly recording thoughts and events by hand, an old-fashioned practice that suggested discipline and eloquence. Back in the day, people really had nicer penmanship, better grammar, and more interesting vocabulary; when I stumble upon my old diaries and read my entries, I cringe at my messy scribbling and the silly drama that once seemed diary-worthy.

Since I’m not good with diaries, it makes sense that this blog is less a diary for me than it is a place for documenting discoveries and trying to put into words what music does to me and for me. It is a lot of fun to tinker with the layout and say what’s on my mind, but my loftier goal is for the content to be interesting, informative, and maybe even inspiring for singers and non-singers alike.

To make this blog more interactive and responsive and not just a one-way outlet for me, I added a new section: Ask/Suggest. This is where you — my readers, family, friends, strangers, curious visitors — can drive the content by asking a question or suggesting a topic. If it’s something I have had experience with, great! If not, it’ll be a learning opportunity for everyone! It’s a win-win-win situation. One reader has posted a question already, asking about the benefits/impact of yoga on singing. Which brave, inquisitive, resourceful soul is next?

In all matters of creativity..

In all matters of creativity, rules are meant to be broken when necessary. – Haley Langford


art on campus

Side effects of Beyond Talent

I’m about 10 pages into a new book, Beyond Talent. It’s been sitting patiently on my desk for months, and I finally accepted the fact that the only way I was going to read it was if I sneaked a few paragraphs or pages at a time whenever the opportunity presented itself. My preferred methodology is to spend an entire afternoon reading and finishing the book in one sitting, but this hasn’t been a viable option for a while now.

My boyfriend, who gave the book to me as a gift, has this wonderful habit of always being in the middle of some book or another. (He reads a lot because he loves to read, but let’s not overlook the fact that he spends hours riding the subway to school/work/rehearsal/everywhere.) He always throws a book into his backpack, so I decided to emulate him by taking Beyond Talent with me whenever I leave the house.


A beautiful afternoon with a new book, ASU, 2013

I’m not as far along in reading the book as I would like, but I’ve noticed some positive and unintended side effects to having the book with me. I leave the music building more often during the day to get fresh air and to take a walk. Most of these breaks start off with the intention of reading a bit, but sometimes I get distracted: I’ve reconnected with old friends over coffee and had heart-to-hearts with new friends. I’ve asked for help and exchanged ideas with my peers. I’ve been smiling more. I’m more calm (but maybe that’s just because my recital is over). The frequency and the number of minutes spent socializing have both gone way up, and I feel much less guilty about “hanging out” when I should be doing something “productive” such as practicing. I see that spending time with people is productive because I’m learning from them; I’m learning about music, and I’m learning equally important things about being a good friend, a good colleague, and a happier person.

I just really hope I get to read more pages because 10 pages in three days is agonizingly slow!

Play keeps us vital and alive

Play keeps us vital and alive. It gives us an enthusiasm for life that is irreplaceable. Without it, life just doesn’t taste good. – Lucia Capocchione