Tag Archives: auditions

New Year, New Audition Outlook

Happy New Year again! The lunar new year was just last week on February 19th, and Baritone Boy and I enjoyed a wonderful if not-quite-traditional celebration at home after a long day of work for both of us. I lack the culinary skills to create a real Chinese New Year feast, but I did stop by Chinatown on the way home for groceries and successfully cobbled together a meal inspired by the foods that remind me most of home and family: noodle soup, potstickers, zongzi (sticky rice wrapped in bamboo leaves), and nian gao (sticky new year’s cake). Each course brings to mind very specific family memories, so this meal made me feel close to my family despite being separated by the width of the North American continent.

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A family-memories inspired New Year’s dinner. NYC, 2015.

It has been years since I spent Chinese New Year with my parents and brother, but I loved sharing this holiday with Baritone Boy and Dante and indulging in some delicious dishes. This New Year marked not only the start of the Year of the Sheep but also wrapped up what has been a very busy seven weeks since January 1st.

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Stay inspired: What will you leave behind?

Not long after I moved to NYC, I came across this thought-provoking question in downtown Manhattan:

An excellent question. Street art, NYC, 2013.

An excellent question. Street art, NYC, 2013.

 

This bit of street art seemed to be calling me out… The “you” in red. With extra swirls on the “y.” Underlined. It implied that others were leaving something (something good and beautiful, I assumed) and that I had a responsibility to do the same.

I freely admit that I get caught up on the practicing, the learning of repertoire, the scanning of YAPTracker announcements, the wondering of how I stack up against other sopranos (really, there are too many of us). In particular, this year feels more high-stakes since I’m in a new city, with a new teacher, singing new arias with a changing voice. I come down hard on myself if a practice session doesn’t go well because THIS IS THE YEAR THAT WILL MAKE OR BREAK ME.

And when I reach that point, I (or Baritone Boy) have to tell myself that this is obviously not a true statement.

Whether you’re a singer or pursuing excellence in another field, it is easy to feel only the pressure and momentarily forget the joy and the purpose behind all the toiling and struggling. Perhaps it’s cultural – we want to be better, have more, do more, win more, make more. We have a hard time just accepting and being happy. And for singers, this can be even more heightened as we go through daily (practicing), weekly (voice lessons), and annual (audition season!) routines that require a critical approach and, more often than not, focus on what we don’t do right rather than what we do well.

As I’m working on my audition arias and gearing up for the next round of auditions, I have to remind myself that, yes, I do have something unique to contribute to the world. We will not all have the same kinds of success – we won’t all sing at the Met or record for Deutsche Grammaphon – but we can continue to nurture the spark inside and share the joy we experience when working our craft. We all have something to leave behind in the lives we touch, the people meet along the way, the art we make.

And on those days when you do feel down about the slow progress you’ve made, the lack of results, the challenges that line up one after another, revisit a comforting little ritual — for me it’s drinking boba tea and watching a period drama with Baritone Boy and Dante for company — or an inspirational quote that helps re-energize you. And when that’s not enough, I know I have a fabulous circle of supporters who do see my skills when I don’t, people who will quote the inspirational quote when I can’t. I’m so thankful for the family, friends, teachers, colleagues, and mentors who have been there for me with a kind word, a hug, and their belief in me and what I’m capable of.

And at the end of the day, stay strong and stay inspired. And ask yourself what you’ll leave behind for others to enjoy.

Empowering Insight to Break the Nervous Cycle

Tonight, the lovely and impressive Patricia Wise led a master class as part of the BASOTI programming. I found out the day prior that I was singing in it – yikes – and decided to go with Giulietta’s “Oh! quante volte” because it had flowed so easily the past few times I worked on it. Ms. Wise complimented me on my Italian (which is amazing because I’ve never had a diction class; my first one will be here with BASOTI on Thursday!) and communication of setting and emotion (which I’ve worked hard on in order to set myself apart from the rest of the soprano population). I had to go first. Going first is great because you don’t lose the warmed-up feeling and can enjoy the rest of the show after your bit is done. Going first is less great when you can’t rely on someone else to set the tone for the evening – but someone’s gotta do it! It was my first public master class, and although Ms. Wise was friendly and not-threatening, the entire situation was intimidating.

Just this morning, we had an audition workshop with the magnetic Hector Corerra (he’s also directing an opera and several scenes, two of which are my Pamina and Miranda scenes). He shared inspiring words about staying in control in situations where we tend to become nervous: when we show up at the audition or the performance, we are the party, the main event. It’s not about the other singers or the panel; it’s about being well-prepared and confidently presenting your abilities to see if people have the good taste to like what you do! Go only if you can deliver what they are asking for (no one asks to bake the wedding cake if they don’t know how to bake or if they only know how to make one type of cake). Know the rules so you can break them intentionally. If you are knowledgeable and ready, none of their questions or expectations will throw you off. Since you are there on your own terms, then you’re the one in control. Don’t give your power away. What an amazing way to approach these situations, and I kept repeating this to myself leading up to the master class.

And what happened? There were no missing notes or words, and I was happy with my characterization and presentation. Yet, I couldn’t seem to get myself out of the unsettled, nervous feeling. I came in at all the right times, but my breath and, therefore, my voice were not fully engaged. The rounded warmth I’d enjoyed the past few weeks was missing – and I was aware of the breath issues but couldn’t find the reset button. I tried technical fixes: breathing lower in my ribcage, riding the breath through the intervals, keeping the vowels Italianate to prevent wasting the breath. I even tried non-technical things to get myself out of my head and into the character more: changing my gazing point, seeing Romeo (literally because the mezzo-soprano with who I’m singing the Romeo and Giulietta tomb scene was there tonight), focusing on the text. This second strategy helped me put on a good show, but it didn’t solve the breath issue. I wanted to sing with complete abandon, but I know I didn’t quite achieve that level of immersion: I recall thinking, “This isn’t working,” which means I was still in my head instead of Giulietta’s.

My breath was better when Ms. Wise made suggestions and I sang again. I think most singers know the second time is usually smoother, as if we need the first take to get the nerves out of the way. Why can’t we make our first opportunity our best showing? I gave up some of my power and didn’t get it back right away. What a reminder that I have a long way to go still. But in the spirit of keeping my power, I’ll say I am still fabulous but needing a little more polish. I have a one-on-one voice lesson with Ms. Wise later this week. No audience, and now that I’ve already had a chance to interact with her, there better not be nerves. My voice can come out the way it’s supposed to, and I hope to gain more insight from her regarding breathing, space, and coloratura.

Much less nervous and ready to sing tomorrow,

Joyce

I have a mask, and I’m not afraid to use it.

I was never a germ-a-phobe until I began spending a lot of time with a dear, dear friend who got her bachelor’s and master’s in biology.  Actually, that’s not entirely true, let me try again.  I became slightly more aware of germs when I began spending a lot of time with a dear, dear friend who got her bachelor’s and master’s in biology.  I became somewhat obsessively afraid of germs when I started to sing more seriously in competitions and auditions.

There is a bottle of hand sanitizer in my car, and I also store a travel-sized one in my purse.  Per the advice of my dear biology-researching, DNA/protein-innovating friend, a Master of Science, I try not to touch my eyes or my nose.  I hate handling cash, and I look at door handles with disgust.

How serious am I about keeping germs out?  During my six-week stretch of summer and graduate program auditions, I put Neosporin around my nostrils and wore a Grey’s Anatomy-style mask on every airplane.  A few people gave me strange looks, but I simply smiled with my eyes and stared right back at them.  My roommate assured me she always saw at least one person on each flight wearing a mask (she travels a little more frequently).  I had an inkling she was trying to make me feel better about having bought disposable surgical masks in bulk … because I have never seen anyone with a mask.  She’s a good friend!

My poor boyfriend; every sneeze is met with narrowed eyes and a suspicious, “Are you getting sick?”

My poor coworkers; I cringe at each cough and think about bringing a mask to work.  It hasn’t come to this (yet), but the hand sanitizer and Neosporin are sitting on my desk.

I drink Emergen-C and/or Airborne almost every day.  My diet includes a multi-vitamin, calcium, fiber, and omega-3 supplements (in the form of delicious gummy candies).  I also take a wellness formula to give my immune system an extra boost.  I use a netipot to rinse out my sinuses, and I recently bought an air purifier.

Germs, in case you didn’t get the memo: stay away. No, we can’t be friends and you can’t come over anymore.

Stoically,

Joyce