Thursday, April 17, 2008

Blue lips

"Be careful what you wish for..." goes the saying, no? My stay at home last week rushed by me with the force of a full-on Midwestern thunderstorm: powerful, furious and over in a flash. As I was cramming music, laundry and paperwork (taxes filed on time for the first time in YEARS, thank you very much!), I kept saying, "I need two more days! JUST TWO MORE DAYS!" Well, they came - but I sincerely hope at not too steep an expense.

I had arranged to stop over in Geneva on my way to Brussels to work for three days with an exceptional coach quite well-versed in Handel's language of chromaticism, emotional depth and those fierce fleeting passages; we had a wonderful, immediate rapport during Ariodante and I knew working with him would be invaluable for this project. When I hadn't heard from him in the days leading up to my departure, I started to worry, and sure enough, at 6:00 am on D-day I received an email with news that in fact, he was quite ill. I send him ALL my positive thoughts to make a full and quick recovery, and ask you to do the same, should you feel so moved. After a few moments to collect my thoughts, a quick phone call to Continental followed, and I was able to change my flight with relatively little expense. VoilĂ : two more days at home were gifted to me, and I gladly took them.

It was as if immediate relaxation washed through me, and I was allowed to breathe deeply again!!! While I know that I missed out on some wonderful work, (and sincerely hope that missing it won't affect my performance, for you see, to acquire that final 1-2% of polish on any work is immeasurably important, and I believe is what sets apart the truly great artists. I'll soon find out, won't I?), what I gained in being at home without the stress of rushing to accomplish everything under a gloomy, persistent stopwatch is priceless. I was actually able to attend my niece's 5th birthday party ON her actual birthday. It may not sound like much, but I miss nearly every single birthday, anniversary, graduation, reunion - well, you name it. So to actually be in attendance and take a photo like the following:

well, it quite simply makes my year! Lest we ever forget the unadulterated JOY that accompanies most 5-year olds on their big day, it's worth it to revisit it occasionally. When does that kind of pure bliss become "uncool"? Why does the world ever ALLOW that kind of light to be diminished? That's insanity. Oh, I'm so grateful I got to be there and witness it - I'm still smiling crazy! (And my lips just might still be stained from the blue frosting, as well!!)

I also was able to attend another niece's big night, as she was a backstage hand for her high school's production of "Beauty and the Beast". I was not at all prepared for the high level of excellence - from the great dialects, compelling acting (they each had their physicality down perfectly), and singing in tune without forcing! That thrilled me to no end. Seriously. I was duly impressed. But the thing that really got to me, was watching the chorus members -especially the ones who weren't fighting to be noticed; my eye kept going to a few that were obviously not 'stars' but were singing with their whole heart and soul, as if their very existence depended on it - I could read it a million miles away as if they were backlit with screaming, streaming neon lights. Their eyes were on fire - pure and electric, unapologetic and unashamed; as opposed to a few of the 'stars' who knew all the public's attention was coming to them, who performed as if they deserved such attention - forgetting that applause is something that should be earned. I know they were 'just' school kids, but I also know how seriously they take it, and it nearly brought me to tears to see those stand-outs who had obviously caught the bug - it was making their LIFE to be in this production, and they were giving it their ALL without question. It was such a beautiful thing to behold - and it put me right back into high school, singing in the choruses of "Godspell" and "Brigadoon" as if nothing else in the world existed! It was the perfect 'check-in' I needed before starting this crazy period of "high-profile/pressure" jobs: I never want to forget why I do this. I never want to forget that it's not about getting the attention - it's about doing the work, purely for the sake of doing the work. It's about the music. And THAT is where the fire comes from - THAT is what lights the eye and ignites the heart. I saw it in their 16 and 17 year-old eyes: eyes that haven't lived half of what they THINK they have lived, and yet eyes that point the way to abandon - just like my 5 year-old niece's blue lips! I love being taught by unexpected experts!

The extra days also afforded me the time to stop and smell the roses, or the blossoms in this case:

Not only the blossoms of all the pear trees bursting into bloom across town, but the blossom of the ROYALS boasting the bragging rights to things like: "The best bullpen in the Major Leagues". What? Yes - that's right. My Boys in Blue are having a great April. I'm in Heaven.

But it's also back to work. Yesterday I had the first rehearsal with Christophe Rousset and his orchestra, Les Talens Lyriques. It's really happening! This recording project which has been in the pipeline for some time now is finally blossoming in honor of the long-anticipated Spring. It's always a strange day, that first encounter with a new orchestra. I don't know anyone in the group (aside from one bassoon player), and have only met Christophe once for a quick discussion of the disc. I find it startling to have to try and emit such intimate, wide-ranging emotion in front of a group of total strangers - but that is where music comes in. It unifies, not separates. It allows, not prohibits. It encourages, not discourages. I still found the group a bit quiet - but I also found them quite serious about the music, and this is a good sign. We're spending a lot of time together in the coming months, so I anticipate a wonderful relationship.

Hopefully I'll manage to report often on our progress - as I did during the "Alcina" project. This, however, is a very different format: we record two concerts live, with a few patching sessions. I have no idea of what to expect, for having a live audience will surely CHARGE the performance, but I also know that I never give a perfect, 'recording-ready' performance (...I get lost, I say all the wrong words, sing the wrong cadenzas - I get carried away, let's say...) I suppose that's why we have the patching. But I fully anticipate a palpable energy from the audience to lift me up and hope that translates brilliantly onto the disc.

So I've landed safely here in Brussels (where's my chocolate?), ornaments are in place, characters are bubbling up, this Handel project is ready to be born! Let the fury begin!!


Chicago Usher said...

Love the blue lips! And yes, all my good thoughts both to that coach and to yourself.

Oh, how I loved your description of those young singers! Medicinal today, just as seemingly blase older singers' attitudes would cloud my world.

Yes, the heart-wrenching beauty of the music is why we ALL do this crazy thing!

[Lilith] said...

Ah, I wish I had had an aunt like you taking photos at my 5th birthday party! So cute ^^

I've just arrived from a concert myself. It was great, but I'm exhausted. And tomorrow I'm leaving for Ibiza because I have to rehearse for another concert on the 27th. And they say we artists don't get stressed! lol

I've got wonderful news! I'll start my singing lessons soon! :D The soprano soloist who's sung in this concert is so charming she'll introduce me to her teacher. She says I'm really young, but her teacher may accept to teach me. Isn't that amazing? ^^

And Joyce, if you ever need a violinist, remember I'm not the best violinist in the world but I will play with all my might, just like those guys in the chorus. That's the way music works!

Lots of love and all the best for your new album!


PS: Don't take that fury part too seriously lol

Samantha said...

That was so beautiful. Passion is so important! Best wishes on the Handel concerts/recording. I must ask you a question, though. Forgive me for it being ridiculously off the wall, but how do you pack for your long stays abroad? I just can't figure out how I'm going to do it. You see, I am currently studying for my Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance and will be spending the fall semester abroad at the Kodaly Institute of Music in Kecskemet, Hungary. (I leave in 134 days!) I just have no idea how I'm going to pack for four whole months in one suitcase!

Susan said...

I am a firm believer that things always work out. It's terrible that your special vocal coach is ill -sending positive healthy vibes out!! But you got those extra days and best of all, you were able to go to the birthday party!
I was one of those singers in the chorus in high school. Never the lead, but always in the chorus and thrilled to be there. I know exactly what you mean about the kids who thought they were the Big Stars. Fast forward 20 some years... my son goes to an early childhood music class. His last teacher told me that she could tell that "the desire to sing is burning inside me" and she urged me to take lessons. So I started voice lessons last fall at the age of 40 and my only regret is that I didn't start sooner - for the psychological counseling sessions the lessons become as well as the vocal techniques I'm learning!
Happy Birthday to your adorable, blue-lipped niece! :)

Olga said...

I was also one of the singers in the chorus, however in elementary school - my music teacher told me to lipsync, wonder why? ahahahahah .. :-D

Yankeediva said...

I love how everyone has a story - so many of them go back to choir days!!! (I kind of miss choir, actually!)

As far as packing - LAYERS! And I anticipate that I'll be able to find anything I REALLY need on the road, so I don't overpack too much. (it's the scores that really weigh down the luggage - if you can carry those on, it might be better?)