• Summer Vacation! Blog returns Fall 2015

    Voice Within blog remains on its yearly hiatus. This year's blog vacation has been longer than years past and somewhat extended. However all regular publishing and posts will restart in August 2015. In the mean time, please enjoy posts from previous months, stop by on Facebook, and of course, check your inbox for the Voice Within newsletter. Happy summer and see you very soon!

  • Porgy and Bess: love and relationships

    She's tragic, addicted to drugs, and surrounded by men that are no good. He's poor, physically weak, and isn't the ideal age to start a new life with a young lover. Together they are Porgy and Bess, the Gershwin's iconic duo who make large waves in the small fishing town of Catfish Row.

    Life is not easy in this community. People have next to nothing, it's hot, and there is no easy way out. In fact, it's the type of town where most live, and later die. Catfish Row is filled with every character one would encounter in a large city-- a manipulative drug dealer, an ill-tempered bully with a violent streak, young lovers, the devout, bible thumpers, drunks, saints, the entire lot of human personality live within its four walls.

    At the helm, live two of opera's most beloved and complicated individuals--Porgy and Bess, one oil and the other water. In spite of their differences they unite, build a relationship, plan for a future together, and consider life beyond the confines of the community as a duo, as partners, as lovers. They challenge fate's odds and share some of the most tender moments on opera's stage-- "Bess, you is my woman now" and "I loves you Porgy." Having been part of this production and witness to life on the Row, I will testify it's not an easy place, no matter how comfy my dressing room or fictional my experience: I sweated. I lifted. I took iburprofen. Now that all the nets have been emptied, the storm shutters opened, and all the residents back to our ordinary routine, I'm left with questions, questions that explore what romantic partnerships mean.

    Romantic kinship is one big mystery, like a Rubik's cube in the pilot seat of an aircraft that's vanished behind a big red curtain, in Atlantis. It makes sense that people break up, fight, divorce, go separate ways. That makes sense. After all, we quarrel, we harbor animosities, and we settle grudges. It's shocking when a friend tells you that they've parted ways with a lover, despite the length of time they've been in cahoots; but after time we can accept that splitting up is normal, simply something the species does, regularly. In fact, it's less a mystery why people separate than is it to understand how we stick together! The couple who endures decades, buys a pug, shops for the other's parents on holidays all while building years of togetherness during the various stages of life-- well, that's perplexing, nestled somewhere between quantum physics and whatever the hell makes Jimmy John's so god damn fast.

    In the case of Porgy and Bess, we learn a lot about love and relationships. She leaves him, for the high life in New York city. No real goodbye, no I'll wait for you--simply here one day, gone the next. But, aren't these characters who've seen each other at their worst, at their most fragile and most vulnerable states? In the end, before parting, did it matter? They slept side-by-side, offered protection from the harsh life on the Row; they thought about the future together, a child came into the picture. Yet, no white horse, no picket fence, no portrait window, and certainly no lhasa apso named Mips. Suddenly, just like that, they are no more. The curtain falls.

    Granted this duo is merely one of the hundreds we could consider when it comes to challenges of love and life. It's not so uncommon, the difficulty of relationships. So what's it supposed to mean, being with someone, sharing life together? It's a truly beautiful question and an antagonizing inquiry all at the same time. Looking back at Porgy and Bess, fortunately, it's easier to recall the love and goodness more so than the conflict. An orchestra and libretto help a great deal with that. I interpret love between these two as healing, healing from transgressions of the community and from the past. And just like you and I, when we've done the best we can and have hopefully patched each other best way we know how, a bittersweet postlude gives cadence to our time together. And again, another curtain falls. This time, no ovation to follow.

    Much like relationships in life, no different from Bess or Porgy, it's simply not intended--or likely-- that we remain hand-in-hand with every partner invited into our lives. Maybe, through the strife, the doubts that pang our hearts, and even the bitter discourse we encounter, instead, perhaps it is meant that we learn higher exponents of kindness and the vast expression of tenderness. Perhaps then, we become better suited for our next adventure in happily ever after.

  • Words: something from inside out

    Words--our most powerful tools. They can be used to uplift a friend, provide comfort, or even inspire a generation. Words are everything, the very base of how we translate expression. Walt Whitman once conveyed in his poem Eidolons that it's not the words themselves that even matter in reality; in fact, it is their intent and meaning that arouse something far more important. Words represent the rich gamut of our greatest joy and our deepest fears. Therefore by using words, we are able to communicate what we feel.

    It takes practice, being able to express what we want and successfully convey meaning to an intended audience, loved ones, and friends- not forgetting syntax, style, and structure all play a weighty role in the way we communicate. And as singers, we have additional parameters to respect, those of the music. Fortunately, most of the groundwork is already laid. For example, Ferrando's aria will always begin, Un aura amorosa....

    But after the translating, memorizing, and rehearsing what's left? What on earth are we trying to do up there? Naturally, we want to sing well. We want the notes in place. We want a beautiful sound, but what are we trying to accomplish today any different from those performers of opera's past, or present for that matter!

    Answering these questions, I think of an interview after Renée Fleming answered what she did in her spare time. She explained that she spent a lot of time at the opera-- seeing it, watching performers, simply enjoying the art as a spectator. She further described that when she visited places like La Scala, The Metropolitan, or Lyric Opera of Chicago she anticipated great productions, but wanted above anything else to feel moved by the performance. She described her desire to be touched by the story, the characters, and the events on stage.

    The same is true for each of us. We visit a new restaurant, we want new tastes; going to the cinema, we want a film to entertain or move us to tears. The same holds true in opera, and the golden rule of the stage is remembering that the biggest part of our jobs relies on how effectively we engage our audience. It's a pedantic thought and theory, but it will forever remain at the center of what we do.

    But, how are we breaking barriers and asking an audience to participate and become involved with our stories? Their invitation is through words, the cornerstone of how these very characters communicate, live, and relate to individuals on the other side of the curtain.

  • What's the problem-- conflict and drama

    Long before the blockbuster hits of Hollywood, hundreds of years ago--and well before that too-- came the concept of theatrical drama. The word itself infers a few different definitions, and in popular culture, can sometimes construed. Drama can refer to the literal production of theatrical work, the development of subject matter over the course of a book or opera, or even the aftermath in a courtroom once a verdict has been announced following a long and tense trial. Drama manifests in several forms and elicits specific connotations in our minds. In fact, its such a broad idea that, when asked, 100 people could probably offer 100 different meanings and interpretation of this centuries-old idea.

    In the context of this post, drama pertains to the more traditional artistic meaning--a story involving conflict or contrast of character, especially one intended to be acted on the stage; a play.

    This definition contains a critical word when referring to drama not merely as a concept, but also as a tangible and evolving element within a story. The word is conflict. Metaphorically, conflict is a branch stemming directly from the larger trunk of drama. And much like an oak or mighty redwood, conflict also contains its unique layers, its specific levels, and even its own momentum.

    It can be challenging to put into words or place a finger on exactly what's standing in a character's way. Therefore, below are questions one might consider regarding conflict and its relationship to a larger dramatic framework.

    1. What do you perceive the conflict to be?
    Sometimes its obvious, sometimes not. Maybe the conflict is internal, a character at war with himself about old habits that must be changed; is it an institution-- a job, a school; perhaps its society itself, or maybe its simply other characters?

    2. How is the conflict introduced?
    Often times there is a key moment when something is identifiably wrong or against the grain of the happy-go-lucky events of a story. Every story needs this element; therefore, conflict is introduced into every story line. There is no specific way conflict arises and we generally become more aware of it after response/reaction from principal characters. Sometimes it is introduced right away, sometimes it's not until 30 seconds before a story will end. In whatever case, conflict exists in every story. The main skill is isolating exactly how it weaved into the story.

    3. What is the character(s) attitude towards the conflict?
    This question is best answered when a clear identification of the conflict is established. In fact, the answer from question two and this one fall hand-in-hand. This question ultimately asks, how does the character feel about that cheating spouse; a dying child; a militant king, or adulterous princess?

    4. What is at stake?
    As a last step. If possible, identify what exactly is at stake. The answer to this question is the arch at which point conflict and drama meet vis à vis and encounter each other head on. For example, a character looses her job. She fears she is no longer be able to afford the medication needed to save her mother's life. Therefore, her mother's life is at stake, not to mention the main character's peace of mind, feelings of remorse, etc... This is a simple example but its intent is to highlight the steps of identifying stakes/conflict and their relationship to dramatic structure.

    To acquaint oneself with conflict movies are a great resource, acting books, and of course opera! These mediums tend to be the most teaching and the most exact. Besides, there's always a bookmark or pause button somewhere close by if you need to stop and ponder. I discovered, we all love drama, no matter how frequently terms like "drama queen" and  "...so dramatic" are tossed back and forth. It's through drama and specifically conflict that we relate, sympathize, and identify with one another or the characters in a story. Identifying conflict, however, isn't always easy as pie. Hopefully these questions can offer a little food for thought.

    By the way...since when are "pies easy"?
    This idiom provides a major conflict for me.

  • It's the rehearsing after all

    We've heard the singing career is difficult. The voice must to rise to the occasion, meeting vocal demands night after night; the mind must to be strong and conditioned like a olympic athlete; and bottom line, we simply have to show up ready to sing. It's all true in one form or another. But, there is a part of puzzle that's remains somewhat underscored, perhaps the most important bastion upon which successful performance rests--rehearsal.

    Live performance is something every singer wants to successfully master. It's not by magic or voodoo that we stand before an audience and sing well. Actually, it's not even through sole practice that we achieve this either. Instead, rehearsal becomes the opportunity we have to put practice into play.

    In one hand we hold a score. The score is filled with notes, words, musical cues and literal instructions all created by librettist and composer. Essentially a score is the framework from which a greater creative work extends and contains the building blocks of spontaneous and consistent live singing. To the best of our ability we learn everything we can within the score and commit our effort to memory. This is the process of practice, the exploration and tackling of musical and linguistic rudiments.

    Then...the first rehearsal. We meet colleagues and begin the arduous process of putting all that good practice to work. Rehearsal is important for many reasons, the main one--it's the joining road between practice and performance. Much like a street with gates on each end, rehearsal is full of its own unique sites, sensations and even potholes. Eventually we reach the end and open the door to a waiting audience.

    Usually, the practice-rehearsal-performance highway isn't always cut and dry; in fact, we performers have a saying "by closing night, we'll be ready to open." Often we're still perfecting phrases, counting beats, and repeating text long after the first curtain has risen. I've witnessed even world class singers check a note or two during a break. It's a process at every level.

    Point is, rehearsal is an important navigation tool. It's the compass with which we gauge what we've practiced well and where we might improve for the next time. And even then, chances are there's something more we'd like to make just a little better.

  • A busy blogger I have been

    A busy blogger I have been

    I feel like a mean boyfriend, the kind that loves you like mad but occasionally forgets your birthday? So as a make up gift, enjoy a few pics from the last few months on the gallery page. Just as soon as the season slows, I'll be blogging like crazy. 100s of topics have been floating through my head.

  • Approaching change: 3 questions to understand

    We accept on some level that, change, is an inevitable and necessary occurrence. After all, what good are we to ourselves or each other if nothing requires us to endure new choices, start a relationship, get a new apartment, or go on an audition. In fact, there is perhaps something intrinsic within each of us that demands change, demands that we discover more of what we are made.

    Regardless, change is still scary. Sometimes we are unaware it has happened, other instances we recall with exact precision when we felt differently or simply approached an issue in a new manner. Speaking frankly, no matter how exciting, change is often embraced with some degree of resistance or curtailed by even our smallest fears. By changing A, what guaranty is there in B, C, or beyond?

    It's comforting to know none of us are alone. Change occurs around each of us daily, more often than running water or winds over the sea. It happens essentially at every moment. But, what compass steers us toward the doorstep of change--in our lives, in our relationships, or in the way we perform and sing? I suspect most answers are personal and surface from reason that only the individual might fully understand.

    When considering change, to whatever extent, personally I ask myself three questions. The first of which I derived from Oprah Winfrey during her farewell episode; the others, as byproducts of personal experience.

    1. What is your life saying to you?

    This is a necessary place to begin and is the springboard from which we are able make change. Oprah described that the universe constantly gives signs. In the early stages these signs appear as subtle hints. Over time, they become more obvious because the signs become more apparent. Therefore what is life saying to you? Take more chances; buy a car; try a simpler aria; save some money, move overseas? By simply listening to the manner in which life speaks, we derive the impetus for change.

    2. How important is what you hear?

    For example, we all know with clarity when life says something like, "get a some food." The body is tired, we become cranky, energy is low, and we simply feel like the tank is empty. So in order to recharge, feel better, and make it throughout the day we assign high value to our body's signs. We listen acutely and understand the messages to be important and valuable. It is important to assign a value to the messages life, technique, or daily habit brings to us.

    3. How well is the current way working?

    Use the road trip analogy. If you need to get from Pasadena to Sandusky but the map you're using lands you in Chattanooga, you might want to consider resetting the GPS or asking for directions. There's no shame. In fact, by introducing change into a plan we consciously decide to participate in habits that make an end goal more manageable.

  • On Vacation: Returning in August

    Hey gang. I want to let you know, I am taking a little vacation and the blog will be on hiatus through August 1st. Until then, feel free to search other posts, watch clips, and enjoy other areas of the website. I'll be sure to fill you in just as soon as I am back!

    Facebook is the interim place to hear from me, see funny pics, or simply see what's been going on. If you haven't seen or LIKED the Travis Whitlock fan page, now's the time! HERE's a LINK

    Thanks and see you soon,