Tag Archives: old life vs new life

Farewell, desert!

I started this blog two years ago as I was preparing to move to Arizona. Now I’m in the midst of another big transition: leaving Arizona to move to New York. My belongings are in a U-Box, traveling across the country via truck, and yesterday I made the 11+ hour drive to the Bay Area so I could drop my car off with my family. I’ll be catching a flight out of San Francisco tomorrow, destination: New York City.

Some of the things I’ll miss:

  • The very supportive environment at ASU. I had wonderful teachers and mentors there and also lovely peers to learn and work with.
  • Arizona Opera. They are going through exciting growth and changes, and their 2013-2014 season is going to rock! I was very lucky to be a study cover in their productions of Le nozze di Figaro and Orfeo ed Euridice, and there are several roles in next season’s line-up that I would have loved to work on.
  • My church job. The music director and choir were some of the nicest and kindest people I’ve ever met, and we sang beautiful music ranging from Renaissance polyphony to contemporary songs.
  • Friends. But they’ll be auditioning in NYC, so I’ll see them soon!
  • The weather. It gets to be really, really, extremely hot in the summer, but the rest of the year is quite nice. The sky was blue more days than not, and the sunsets are gorgeous.
  • My quiet little apartment with its dishwasher, washer and dryer, closets, and storage space.
  • The rent on my apartment.
  • The ability to drive myself places.

Sun, clouds, and palm trees. Tempe, 2013.

Taking stock of where I am and who I am compared to two years ago:

  • I’m a little bit wiser and a little more experienced after my time in Arizona. I wish I was even wiser and even more experienced, but I’ll just channel that hunger into making the most of my time in New York rather than having regrets.
  • I’m a better performer (at least I hope so). The direction and coaching I received at ASU helped me expand my concept of performing from what the character is feeling at a particular moment to how the past, the environment, and the present circumstances shape a character’s thought process in the moment.
  • I’m more realistic in my personal goals of where and what I sing, and more aware of how hard it is to be a professional singer. I knew there were many steps in the road to becoming a successful singer, but I didn’t realize how each of those steps were comprised of many other smaller steps … nor did I realize over how much time those smaller steps would be spread out. I’m getting a much better sense of that now.
  • I know a little more about the business of singing. I’ve come to see that sheer determination and lots of practicing — as important as they are — aren’t enough.
  • I’m more passionate about education and convinced of its necessity. I think singers should see themselves as performers and educators concurrently, not one before the other, or worse, one and not the other (our education system makes this difficult).

Two years went by so quickly. I wish I could stay another year and be part of more productions, take more German, do more with Arizona Opera, coach more, learn more, strengthen friendships and professional relationships. I almost re-auditioned for the Arizona Opera chorus with the hopes of getting another contract and cover studying a few more roles, but I decided to make a clean break. If I’m going to be serious about making the most of my time in New York, I have to be in New York.

A lot of people ask if I’m excited about moving to NYC. Of course I’m excited to live in a new city, to be with my boyfriend, and not have to fly to auditions anymore. But I’m also nervous, apprehensive, and worried about money, finding a job, being so far from my family, surrounded by pavement and 8 million crazy people, and trying to balance work and singing.

I am very grateful for the opportunities I had in Arizona and appreciative of the people who have helped me grow along the way. I’m very thankful to have graduated with a relatively small amount in student loans to pay back (otherwise my stress level would be 10 times higher). Part of me wishes I could stay in Arizona where I have friends and where I know people, but I have to be brave and bold. My apartment is empty and my keys are turned in. All my library books and CD’s have been surrendered. Who knows when I’ll be back … my secret (well it’s not so secret now that I’m confessing to it) hope is that the next time I’m back in Arizona it will be because I’m singing in some fabulous concert or because I’ve been hired to sing a role or invited to give a talk about what it takes to make it as a singer.

Everything happens for a reason. Every step leads you to the next. So, farewell, desert! You have been good to me, but now it’s time for the next challenge.


So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen

I’m at home in the middle of the workday, having run three errands already while the sun is shining.  What a strange feeling to have accomplished so much in just a few hours where less than five days ago I could barely make even one move-related phone call.  How liberating, how productive!  And how not-stressed am I?  This is such a nice change, and I am savoring it here on the couch, with the light streaming through the windows and the front door open to let in the breeze.

How is this possible?  Well, Friday was my last day of work – I packed up acquired souvenirs, set my Outlook to forward all my emails to another staff member, and got my final paycheck.  It was time to say goodbye to the job that was often overwhelming and frustrating as I scrambled to get my voice back in shape while building up my music resume.  There were stretches of time when sleep was scarce and laundry neglected, but, ultimately, this job gave me the financial means to take voice lessons every week and a schedule flexible enough to audition, rehearse, and perform.  Many jobs are not as accommodating, so I am thoroughly grateful I applied for this position and hounded the HR girl until she called me back.  In fact, I even came out on top: I’m leaving with some savings (thank goodness!), good friends (yay!), and a tuition-fully-paid master’s degree (not bad!).

My lovely coworkers-turned-friends surprised me with a cake and card, and I teared up at that moment.  They represent the best of my experience working at the company, both professionally and personally.  So much of my time was spent getting really, really good at that job even though it wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life.  Those souvenirs I mentioned?  They’re actually about 20 lbs of awards I accumulated over two and a half years.  What am I going to do with then now?  No idea.  They are hardly relevant to my new life, which is why I am glad to be moving on and in a position to focus on music 100%.  Yet my relief at letting go of those job responsibilities was tempered by a wistfulness as I said goodbye to the people who I supported and whom supported me.  I thought I would be ecstatically happy to say goodbye, but it was more of a quiet satisfaction of a having successfully completed a project.

I drove by the building this morning while running my errands and thought, when people ask me what I do, my answer is completely different because I no longer work there.  I need a new elevator pitch (as salespeople call it), a 30-second summary with just enough juicy and enticing details.  Poor graduate student and starving musician don’t hit the right note (a pun!), but coloratura soprano pursuing graduate studies in performance and pedagogy has a nice ring to it (another pun!).

One goodbye down, about seven more to go before I make my way up to San Francisco.

The birds are chirping madly like there’s no tomorrow – but there is!



PS. A few other updates: the choral director at my new school asked me to join his top group – they are performing at the National Collegiate Choral Organization’s national conference in Colorado.  Don’t know what the concert program will consist of, so I’m very curious and excited.  I was also invited to sing Fauré’s Requiem this summer but had to decline as I would still be in San Francisco for BASOTI that week.  The invitation came from a director I deeply admire and respect, so I hope he will consider me for future pieces.  I haven’t crawled, climbed, clawed my way to the Met yet, but this is a good start!

No shame in strategizing

Learning roles.  This means preparing all music for a character in a given opera even if you haven’t been cast yet.  This is how we pad our sparse resumes when actual stage-time is limited.  Am I speaking just for myself or are there brave souls out there who will admit to this strategy?  There’s no shame, just ruthless practicality.  No one can argue against the marketability of having a role ready to go:

– “Would you like to hire me?  I already know how to do this job.  I’ve spent hours studying, memorizing, and practicing.  And I won’t charge you extra for showing up perfectly qualified and super prepared.”

– “Sure.” (no arguments here)

HR experts and self-help/motivational speakers push us to dress for the job we want, not the job we have.  An opera singer puts on the Viking helmet of her dreams in the privacy of a practice room, and improves her odds by already knowing the notes and the characters.

It’s standard for applications, teachers, and other singers to ask what roles you have prepared.  Thinking fast, I say I’m working on what’s-her-name … because the straightforward answer is: I got nothin’.

The majority of my recent singing centered around local competitions and graduate school auditions.  These situations call for range in languages, time periods, and style.  It’s 15 minutes to show how much bang someone can get for their buck/endorsement/praise.  This versatility has its place in the real-world (I’m guessing here since my experience as a paid singer consists of two – count ’em, two! – contracts), but learning a role speaks of commitment.  It’s like getting your bachelor’s compared to taking some classes at the local community college; no one hates having credits in basketball and basket-weaving, but most of the praise seems to come around graduation time.

Working full-time, and going to school full-time (but not for music) left me very little time to prepare roles.  Thank the singing gods I’ll be an opera performance major in three months.  My existence will revolve around opera.  I’ll have the incredible luxury of spending 8+ hours a day on music rather than 8+ hours thinking about music.  I have a lot of catching up to do.  Many singers younger than me either have more experience or more impressive looking resumes.

I am singing a little of Pamina and Giulietta over the summer in San Francisco. I like a Giulietta with the guts to circumvent her family’s wishes and the maturity to balance out her emo youthfulness.  Does Pamina have the same fire?  She seems gentler and less terrifying to tackle, whereas Giulietta sounds like she could kick you in the face.  But Mozart is a trickster.  He strings notes together in straightforward progressions.  He says it’s okay to let down your guard and it’s absolutely possible to learn this piece in 30 minutes.  His lines float, but you realize you have to work to make it sound so effortless.

Pamina is a good place to start since the voice doesn’t have to fight the orchestration.  But the type of movement and control in Giulietta’s part is what I specialize in as a coloratura.  These two ladies will need to battle it out over the summer.

Plotting and scheming,


Born again

My name is Joyce, and this summer marks my transition into life as a full-time soprano.  The classical music scene is a tough one.  There aren’t many tattoos, piercings, gun-fights, or gangs, but it’s cut-throat, under-funded, and over-saturated with sopranos.

Sopranos.  They’re everywhere.  I trip over them.  I even live with one (but she’s wonderful).  And I have voluntarily signed up to compete with them for the rest of my days.  Voluntarily may not be the right word – let’s say my own sense of preservation forced me to re-evaluate my life on a grey cloudy morning while running on a treadmill.  It was not a pretty day, and my mood was just as uninviting and uninspired.  The thought of repeating the same routine was breathtakingly depressing, so how would I go through the same motions the rest of my life?

Something had to give.  That something turned out to be my job because I was laid off later that month.  The universe truly works in mysterious ways.

That was the turning-point, the moment when I stopped digging myself deeper into a pit of emptiness and accepted singing as my passion.   2.5 years later, I am getting ready to move to San Francisco for a summer opera program and then to Arizona for my master’s in opera performance.  It will be a busy transition, but it’s only the start.