A 2007 mem blog from the diva from the depths of disillusionment

At the end of 2007, my little ibook is nearing full capacity. I spent last night cleaning out old files, pics, papers and blog posts, and found this one that I never posted from back in March. It’s actually quite relevant to what I want to say today. Bear with me, it’s kinda long, but somewhat entertaining….So, grab yourself a cup of coffee, or star for later if you’re a Google Reader type.

MARCH 30th 2007 I’m in hell…. Or Lime Rock CT

I should have known when I passed the giant wooden bear, the Haut Bois Farm, and the Land of Nod winery that I was in for quite a weekend. The wackiness that I’ve encountered seems a fitting ending to my two weeks of Handel and Haydn. In the past four days I have performed the Haydn Lord Nelson Mass, and the Michael Haydn Requiem, and Handel’s Israel in Egypt. I’m writing this blog from a small church in Lime Rock CT, where I’m performing Haydn’s Creation Mass and the Little Organ Mass, which has a killer soprano solo….needless to say I’m SICK of H&H, and could use a little R&R…

Lime Rock is in the middle of nowhere, as evidenced by my lack of a cell signal. I’ve been standing around for an hour already, in heels, and a skirt and even eyeliner ( I NEVER wear eyeliner, for crying out loud) … as a side note, I’m not sure who decided that you sing better in heels, but there was definitely a time where one did not show up to a rehearsal anywhere without 3 inch heels, gloves, and a hat. Gone are those days, but I still think it’s nice to dress up for an orchestral rehearsal. Granted, the instrumentalists are usually in whatever they feel most comfy in, but there is a singer mentality that states that you must be pimped out to be taken seriously. I’m not saying that I agree, or disagree, but I’m just recognizing the difference between the instrumentalists and singers. Or the “soloists and musicians” as the conductor called us, because, you know, singers aren’t musicians.

Well there I am decked out in my heels and skirt, and make up, and curled hair and was a little concerned that we wouldn’t be finished with our rehearsal by 9 pm… and oh my god, we soooooo were not. I did not sing a note until 9:30 (30 minutes after my contract stated that I should be finished.) I thought about leaving, but my other soloist colleagues were willing to wait. The orchestra had been there since 6pm, and finally, thank sweet Jesus, one of them spoke up at 10 pm and told her that they needed to stop, aka, she fully expected us to go until 11 pm, or however late we needed to go to get through it all….. No, I’m sorry, a dress rehearsal is for the soloists and the orchestra not for the choir…am I right??

A word about the conductor: She’s an Amazon woman from some Eastern European country. She must be over six feet tall and is incredibly intimidating and short in temperament. Most conductors adopt a certain gesticular vocabulary, she is all about “the claw”. Her hands are spread as if she were holding imaginary soup cans, but instead of dropping down into a beat pattern, she swings her hands at you…it’s the strangest thing I’ve ever seen. From the periphery, it seems like she’s beating the choir…and you can imagine how difficult it is to sing for that… she’s screaming at the altos for not singing with a relaxed and open throat, but she was pummeling them like they were a punching bag….. and this is Haydn!!!! If I was only watching her conduct and had to guess what the piece was, I would easily guess the final chorus entrance from Mahler 2….

I can’t follow a beat pattern, because there is no ictus… every once in a while she flips and starts stomping on her podium, which then begins to rock, and there’s some nice backbeat action which you can coast on for a few bars, but then it’s back to this nebulous beating… honestly, this is what happens when harpsichordists/organists get up to conduct. It also occurred to me that she’s not conducting an actual beat pattern, but is conducting the choral entrances. I figured this out during the fugue section of the final chorus of the Creation, when what seemed like the closest thing I had seen to an actual downbeat in the past 48 hours happened on the upbeat of two…hmm??? I finally just stopped looking at her, and the four soloists just decided that if it slowed down, we would pick it back up. The four of us are also not sitting in front of the orchestra. We are sitting on this small stage over to stage left, so when the conductor is facing the choir, beats 1 2 and 3 are all in the same place, I have recently figured out that when she raises both arms and makes what seems like a “closing the trunk of the car” gesture, it’s her 4… (the actual closing of the trunk is the 1, but with no definitive “slam”)

So what’s my point, besides venting about shitty gigs? A gig can be shitty in many ways: 1) it pays shit, but the music’s great 2) it’s shitty music, but pays great, 3) the music’s great, the pay is great, but you are being demoralized by an incompetent idiot… that’s my gig this weekend. The rep is fantastic, I have a trillion solos, and as much as it’s hard to get along with this conductor (who may not be aware of how rude she seems, it could be a cultural thing, I need to keep reminding myself) the orchestra sounds great, and if I can keep my cool, and show them that I can do my thing, and cope with a conductor who gets her jollies making up for her lack of musicianship and confidence by musically beating her soloists, then I’ve proven to them that I know the game, that I’m a seasoned player, and that they should pass my name along.

But seriously, this is why we have unions. I was seriously debating walking out last night, and for a second, I thought that maybe I should, for the sake of all our professional livelihoods. But I guess these are my dues to pay for now, until I can afford to say no to a few gigs, or hold out in hopes that a better one will come along. Regardless, I’m learning a lot about how to get what I need out of the orchestra in order to make the most of these long phrases, and also learning how to do that without damaging the incredibly frail ego of “Thor”, and there will be many more “Thors”.

I realize that I’m incredibly lucky to make a living on what I love to do, in fact, I’m the only one from my Yale quartet that is currently making a living purely on singing, and that’s not something that I should take for granted. I recognize that I may not be able to do this forever, and so I need to take this shitty gig, and myself seriously, and that includes behaving as a professional at all times, smiling sweetly when I am being reduced to the status of a mere singer, and not being given the title musician that I have worked so hard for. And from now on I’m only taking gigs with reliable cell service.


Wow, a lot has happened since March. Some great gigs, some not so great gigs. In May when I moved to the city I had the same naive idealistic dream every musician has, I would unpack my stuff and immediately start gigging. Obviously it doesn’t work that way, and on some level I knew that. I spent the summer scrounging for gigs, as every musician does during the summer. My big highlight was covering a role at the Lincoln Center Summer Festival, great music, fantastic pay, great team of musicians, and a little shout out in Opera News. However, I had run out of steam in terms of the early music scene. I didn’t want it anymore. All that work last year was great for me professionally in terms of networking and all that, but it had been a long time since I had enjoyed myself while making music, and that my friends, is a BAD place to be.

This summer I started collaborating with Mafoo on a musical called The Little Death. We’re still busting ass on it. Collaborating with a loved one is intense, but it’s proven to be incredibly meaningful and fulfilling. It was the first time I had approached singing from a creative place, and not from the educated and historically informed place. I can’t tell you how liberating it was to sing, and not think about technique… and technically it kind of freed me a little bit…

This musical opened the doors for a lot of other things too. I began messing around with electronics, and am now performing in three electronic operas. Talking about the theatrical element of The Little Death led the way to Ensemble de Sade stuff, which I’ve already posted about many times over.

K, I’ll sum up. I’ve written about my son Jack, who is four and fucking brilliant. He is by far the most important part of my life. If I were this age and not a Mommy, I’d be cool with eating apples and oatmeal and waiting for the checks in the mail, but at this point, I’ve come to the realization that my life is so incredibly not about me right now, and so the compromise that I’m making is taking on a real day job in order to pay the bills, save up for a brighter future and all that, and take the gigs that I want to take, that feed me spiritually and musically, and not just financially.

This is the moment that I realize that this post was more for me and not for you… Good for you if you’re still reading!

Oh yeah, and the day that I was offered the job at DC Comics, literally an hour after I got off the phone with HR, I was offered a whole bunch of concerts with the ensemble NEWSPEAK. That’s one of those gigs I’m gonna say yes to, and I’m totally psyched for those concerts. How’s that for a little karmic yummy for the crunchy ???

I’ve already said enough. Here’s to a great 2008 everyone. Cheers.

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