Posts made in November, 2011

The Most Wonderful (Musical) Time of the Year

Posted by on Nov 30, 2011 | 0 comments

The Most Wonderful (Musical) Time of the Year

Tomorrow is December 1st which means that my family and I may now commence listening to and singing Christmas carols. I imposed this December 1st rule, or seen another way, the ban on Christmas music prior to December, many, many years ago when I actually burned out on Christmas music. How did such a terrible thing happen, you may ask? Well, I’ll tell you.

It all began when I was in the San Francisco Girls Chorus and we started learning our Christmas concert music in August, at camp, if you can believe it. Yes, in the middle of the California pines, dry, golden hills, 100 degree heat, and log cabins, we began to learn our Christmas repertoire. We learned it so early because it was often very difficult music, in multiple languages, with multiple verses and there was so much of it that if we didn’t start early, it would never have gotten learned, memorized, and polished to perfection if put off until, say, September. We started our Christmas concert season in late November and ended a few days before Christmas with our huge Christmas caroling extravaganza at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco. I had always loved Christmas music prior to my tenure with the SFGC, but the rigors of the Chorus and our evil maniacal director (definitely a post for another time!) tested my adoration for the entire Christmas carol genre. I never anticipated that “Stille Nacht” would strike such terror in my young teenage heart. (Come to think of it, “Silent Night” in either its German or English versions should only ever yield loving, peaceful feelings, don’t ya think?)

And then came my sophomore year of high school when I was in both the Girls Chorus and my high school chamber choir, which of course had its share of holiday concerts to do as well. In 1985, I sang in at least one Christmas concert every single  day between the day after Thanksgiving and three days before Christmas. When it was all over, silver and gold were my least favorite colors, there was nothing jolly about holly, and this angel needed to rest her voice!

By the end of college, I knew practically every carol and Christmas song known to man; every verse, in every language, every arrangement, every descant, every harmony, and almost every part from soprano to tenor! (Strangely, the one carol I always wanted to sing, “Carol of the Bells”, I never sang!) And I did love singing the Christmas music, performing in the concerts, the caroling, the Renaissance madrigal dinners… I loved discovering a new classic carol, a new 1940s tune by Bing Crosby, learning yet arrangement of Jingle Bells. (“Jingle Bells in 7/8 time” is one of my particular favorites.) The repertoire made me happy all by itself and sharing it with others made me even happier.

But then I started to grow weary of it; burned out from the arduous rehearsals, the demands on my voice and memory, the exhortations to look cheerful. I started to lose the joy that should always come with singing Christmas music. Even my favorite recordings stopped thrilling me like they used to. And I knew this was a problem because I did love it and I needed to find a way to preserve my excitement for the genre. And thus the Cheifetz rule was born. This way, limited to just a few weeks, the music I loved became special again. Now, I eagerly look forward to December, pulling out my CDs, dusting off the sheet music, awaiting the day when Christmas carols can burst forth with their beautiful sounds and joyous words!

And I am so happy to report that after far too long a time, I am going to sing in a Christmas concert at a retirement home here in Salem in a few weeks! I’ve started choosing my repertoire and it’s hard to decide what NOT to include, it is all so wonderful! Joy to the World!


Read More

“We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing; he chastens and hastens his will to make known…”

Posted by on Nov 22, 2011 | 1 comment

When I was younger, Thanksgiving was nice but not particularly exciting in my eyes. I always enjoyed watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, eating my mom’s delicious food, and of course having a few days off. But that was about it. But the older I got, the more important Thanksgiving became. I was suddenly acutely aware in my early twenties what the holiday really meant: a day to be grateful. Celebrating together with my family and friends and counting our blessings was just so very important and beautiful.

So when stress and fear and anger were threatening to overwhelm me last week, the impending last Thursday in November pulled me up short. Besides the menu planning, shopping and cleaning that needed doing, the meaning of Thanksgiving needed my immediate attention and intention.  I shut out the clamor of my stress, put the brakes on the speed of my anxiety and I sat quietly in the stillness of my beautiful home, surrounded by the two people I love most in this world and counted my blessings. I took deep breaths and breathed in how thankful I am for my life.

Since this blog is supposed to be about singing, it is appropriate that I say a few words about how thankful I am to be singing and performing again. It is a tonic for my soul to make music with my fellow humans again. Rehearsals are a welcome, badly needed workout for my voice, body, psyche and spirit. Thank you to friends old and new for your encouragement and support in getting me back to what I love. I can’t begin to tell you how grateful I am. 

Read More

New York…when civilization falls apart, remember, we were way ahead of you. -David Letterman

Posted by on Nov 12, 2011 | 1 comment

New York…when civilization falls apart, remember, we were way ahead of you. -David Letterman

“Do you miss New York?” is a question I get asked on a regular basis these days. Some people look at me with great pity that I am no longer there; others look incredulous that I ever lived there in the first place. Do I miss New York City? No. Yes. Depends on the day, really. Today I feel compelled to elaborate on the answer “no”.

I do not miss the constant defensive posture you inevitably adopt to live there and just get around on a daily basis. I do not miss the suppressed animosity just behind the surface of almost everyone, in the street, on the subway, in line at a store… the attitude that everyone is the center of the universe and you are the nobody who is in their way. I do not miss the total anonymity, the never meeting anyone’s eyes, the constant en garde. I do not miss the unceasing racket that no matter how high up you are reaches you. (Even on the 25th floor of the Waldorf-Astoria you still hear the sirens and the honks.) I do not miss the feeling in many shops and restaurants that you just don’t belong there because you don’t have the right clothes, enough cash, or ‘coolness factor’. I don’t miss the $20 hamburgers and $5 bottled waters and the rents that require more than 50% of your salary.  I don’t miss the whipping wind and rain through the artificial canyons the tall buildings create that destroys your new umbrella 5 minutes after you purchase it. I don’t miss the unrelenting pace set permanently on high.

And the funny thing about all of the above is that I didn’t realize that it bothered me so much or how it was affecting my psyche. (I always hated the untimely demise of umbrella after umbrella.) I lived there just over 12 years and enjoyed much of my time there- most of my time there. I won’t say all because that would be disingenuous. It is a hard place to live at the best of times even with all the money in the world (not that I would know about that). Even the rose-colored haze that came with falling deeply in love didn’t hide all the city’s flaws. But the noise and high octane pace- it actually gave me a great feeling of energy, action, get up and go excitement. The staccato, vivace rhythm and even the never-ending clamor invigorated me a good deal of the time. I developed a New York City walk to keep up, to sometimes even out-distance. It gave me a (false) sense of strength and importance at crucial times. The noise became a pleasant background chatter that kept me company when I was feeling lonely. (Except for the jackhammers. There is always a jackhammer yammering away when you are longing for QUIET!) I even thought I liked the anonymity. No one remembers you at a store or restaurant so it doesn’t matter if you buy something embarrassing or have to go back a third time when you forgot yet another item. The 8 million people zooming by you just don’t care that you are having a bad hair day-they aren’t paying you or your hair one whit of attention. And yet…

Now, here in the relative calm of Salem, I don’t miss what I thought I didn’t mind, liked, even. I love going out of my front door each morning to get the newspaper and breathe in the wonderful clean, earthy smells, see the beautiful foliage and changing sky, and hear the birds, the wind in the trees, the occasional car going up the street. I feel calmer after this ritual even when I’m feeling totally stressed out. I feel more connected to the natural world, more with the world rather than against it. I didn’t even know I felt so disconnected. A friend who grew up on a farm visited me in the city once and he thought it was an amazing place but said there was just not enough nature for him (no place for cows). And I remember that I replied that Central Park was enough nature for me. Apparently not anymore, I am discovering. All that concrete was wearing out both my soles and soul. And human connection is what I had been missing as well. Don’t get me wrong, I had wonderful friends, wonderful students and of course my beloved Kenneth, but that’s not what I mean. The anonymity that I had once so enjoyed- to never be remembered, to hardly ever be acknowledged as a person- had been eating away at my psyche. And again, I didn’t realize it until I experienced the opposite: Ken and I ate at the same sushi restaurant in our old neighborhood at least twice a month. We were always waited upon by the same one or two servers and we more often than not ordered similar menu items. Not once were we ever recognized or did the servers ever acknowledge that they remembered us. We were strangers even after the tenth time dining there. (The restaurant did have the most incredible view of the city but that would fall under what I do miss about my former home which is a topic for another day.) We now go to our new neighborhood sushi place (yea, Fuji Ricetime!) with about the same frequency and on our third visit the waitress greeted us warmly and remembered what we wanted to drink. I had not realized how important and valuable this human interaction, connection and recognition is to me. You do have pleasant, human interactions with strangers in New York City but in my experience they are few and far between. We’re all in too much of a hurry, too wary, too too. And we have to be because if you slow down too much or in the wrong place, you’ll get run right over, literally and figuratively.

So for now I will savor the soft gentle sounds of rain on my window, the shush of the leaves in the trees, and watch “When Harry Met Sally…”. For now, that is all the NYC I need.


Read More

One size does NOT fit all

Posted by on Nov 1, 2011 | 0 comments

One more post about repertoire:

One of my favorite things to do is find repertoire, both for me and for my students, for anyone, really. It can be a wonderful treasure hunt. You never know where it will lead you or what you will find! I think I like the search as much as I like to work on the resulting gems. As exciting and interesting as it can be, the search can also be frustrating and dispiriting. It helps if you can leisurely discover what is out there. It loses its fun, and in fact can be incredibly stressful, to have a looming deadline.

There are so many ways to approach your search. My favorite path to start down is listening to one of my favorite singer’s recordings. This is especially good if your favorite singer and you have similar voices. This avenue can also introduce you to new composers and shows which in turn might acquaint you with a new performer who could become a new favorite. And while we are on the subject of performers, if there is a particular performer that you think you sound like/look like/act like, looking up what other roles they have played and repertoire they have sung is a great way to find songs that might be a good fit. This in turn will make you aware of other composers and shows which in turn…you get the idea.

One thing I try to remember and always tell my students when on the repertoire hunt: the process of finding great repertoire is like shopping for a great outfit to wear. Yes, a song is like a good piece of clothing; one size does not fit all. The question is: what “fits”? Scenario:  you walk into Macy’s to buy clothes. There is no question that more than one item of clothing will fit you somewhere in the store. But do you buy everything that fits? No, because not everything is exactly right. It might just be a tad too long or too short, the color is slightly off, the neckline not perfectly flattering, the fabric not exactly what you feel comfortable in; it just isn’t “it”. Or when you look in the mirror, in that outfit you see your mother or grandmother (or father or grandfather for that matter!) staring back at you! Horrors! Or you try on something that suddenly makes you see a whole new side of yourself- sexy, powerful, silly, whatever… Like your favorite go-to outfit that you love to wear, that will make any day better, the right song should make you feel excited to sing it; it is so “you” it is as if the song sings itself. Warning: usually you will start to refer to this song as “yours” and guard it zealously. You can’t imagine anyone but you singing this piece. Be sure to hide this slightly irrational personality trait. For some reason, it can be misunderstood… (Reason #457 why singers are CRAZY.) 

It may be hard at times to find the perfect fit in a song, but it is worth the search. When you sing a song that you love that also suits your voice, personality and temperament, singing is even a greater pleasure than it is normally.

Read More