• Happy Holidays 2016

    Come on...who has ever really roasted chestnuts on an open fire? Who the heck is Parson Brown? And why in the world does no one EVER talk about how poisonous mistletoe can be if accidentally ingested? The holidays-- stress, bankruptcy, and a house full of toxins. No thank you. Oh and aunt Lisa's pudding--a culinary wonder somehow more green and less solid each season. Survival advice: find liquor, stay near it, and pretend to know NOTHING about the election.

    Then again, perhaps there is a little magic too. Soft falling snow, a fire place, huddled at the dining table--all the dishes are clean-- and team Mom and Brother are kicking ass in Euchre and Mario Kart. And good ol' aunt Lisa, drunk and wrestling Minx, her thirteen year-old, three-legged English terrier, hardly offended that ninety percent of the green goo remains. Instead, she's blissful to be nearest the ones she loves (who, coincidentally, can also drive her home in a few hours). Ah sweet mercy! What's that I hear? The gurgle-grumble of dad's full stomach as thick flatulent wafts suffocate, killing all who breathe. This is the capstone and truest endorsement of mom's 2-day marathon in the kitchen.

    Whether you've been naughty or nice; whether sleigh bells are ringing high and loud, or whether it's as simple as leftovers and a phone call, may your holiday be bright.

    I have an aunt Lisa.
    I will be hearing about this.

  • Gobble Gobble: Happy Thanksgiving!

    It's everyone's FAVORITE time of year, a no holds barred adventure into the highest caloric heavens; and at the helm-- Thanksgiving!

    As we enter a season of thanks celebrated by food, family, friends, and fun, remember the greatest ingredient of all is good ol' fashioned L-O-V-E. (...and anything that will give you brute strength to tackle every cheeky contender in your Black Friday crosshairs)

    No matter where you are this Thanksgiving day or at who's table you find yourself placed, embrace the spirit of thanks and share it with anyone you can.

    Gobble-gobble, fart, gurgle, burp!

  • Election Day: The American Milestone

    Whenever someone asks, "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?" I always respond, "...well, who was president?"

    Republican, Democrat, Lefties, Right-wingers-- Tea Party fans, Liberals, Conservative, or if Green is where you stand, today cast a vote for what matters-- to you!  

    No matter your political persuasion or in which corner of the country you live, get up, go out, and exercise your right to vote.

  • Happy Halloween: Be Scary!

    It's the spookiest time of year! Playing dress up and being covered in blood is not only super cool, but totally expected.

    Have fun this ghoulish season and make absolutely sure you'll eat enough candy to make any dentist turn in his grave!

    Happy, safe, and scariest of Halloween frights...
    Muhwa ha ha ha haaaaa!

  • 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.