Friday, December 2, 2011

Masking the Truth

Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth. -Oscar Wilde

I’m always being told that in any situation as a performer, the most appealing and engaging thing I can to is “just be myself.”  I was also told that throughout my childhood, battling a shy phase that lasted from age six to sixteen.  Sure, it’s great advice, but under extreme stress, I tend to lose a sense of my true self.  Recently, I discovered the best way to tap into inner truth is by acknowledging one’s outer masks.

This past Tuesday, I attended the “dance-theatre, non-linear Macbeth mash-up horror show,” Sleep No More. Audience members donned Venetian Carnival masks as they wandered through the McKittrick Hotel, viewing pyscho-sexual dance/theatre sequences that leave one in complete shock and awe.  The anonymity of the masks not only made everything look creepier in the dark space, but I found mine freed me to feel and express any emotion or reaction without fear of judgment from those around me.  Suddenly, feelings started bubbling up, aroused by scenery, performances, and internal baggage I thought I had left with the coat check.  Roaming in a dark and foggy setting felt all too familiar, like those days when I questioned myself and a career path that could not be any less clear.  Seeing others getting lost and panicked didn’t feel very different from the way I’d felt waiting to sing at Nola a few hours earlier.  We all looked the same, we were all trying to find our way on the same journey, and we were all suppressing our doubts and fears.  The main differences between Nola and Sleep No More were that the opera singers had much more clothing than the dancers at the McKittrick and wouldn’t be dawn into murder…no matter how many times a room full of sopranos may suggest such an outcome.

While being an anonymous observer brought out some intense emotions and truths in me, I’ve also had some similar experiences as a spontaneous performer.  I am currently studying improvisation at the Magnet Theater and I’ve noticed a day spent in my head as a vocalist leads to an evening struggling to get out of my head as an improviser.  My reaction times feel slow and my deliveries feel forced because they are passing through a judgmental filter before coming out of my mouth.  Then I have to spent more time masking my “That was stupid” face, taking me even further from the scene being created.  Just like Sleep No More, though, no outside judgment is involved.  Fellow performers cheer on peers in every choice and genuinely want everyone to succeed.  As a singer, I need to remember the audition panel wants me to succeed as well.  As adversarial as this business may feel, my only real nemesis is myself.    And if I say “yes, and” to a moment of happiness in a scene and wear that particular mask, I will eventually feel it, just as I have the power to say “yes, and” to an energetic and exciting aria.  Even if I don’t feel the emotion I’m wearing, in the end, I will feel a more truthful commitment to any real emotion simply by committing to express one.

So, underneath the mask of a strong, independent New Yorker, the questions, “Am I enough” and “Where am I going” are constantly running through my head.  Instead of ignoring them or compartmentalizing my life, as I am want to do, I can accept these inner voices, embrace the inner macabre, and find my way through this foggy maze.  During audition season we will have our dark moments and we will have our days when we need to fake it til we make it.  However, no matter what we choose, committing to any emotion and breathing into it will not only bring authenticity to what we do, but perhaps ignite something in those watching us, and illuminate their own masks that shape their views.  When we face our masks, we face ourselves.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Hurricanes, recordings, and other inevitable disasters…

 This weekend, New York City residents were forced inside by Hurricane Irene, and most experienced minor hardship aside from the drawbacks of being forced to stay in one’s apartment: indigestion from eating the contents of one’s entire refrigerator and pantry, eye strain from watching every TV episode saved on DVR, and mild psychosis from obsessing over the state of one’s operatic career.  Maybe that last one was just me.

Perhaps it was Irene, perhaps it was the looming date of my annual recording, but either way, a dark cloud was overhead.   I spend about one month of the year dreading my annual recording session, and eleven months out of the year critiquing the tracks uploaded to my website and exported to various opera companies.  What can I say? I’m an optimist.   I never feel recordings represent my work as a singer.  For instance, I don’t have my bag of tricks to distract the audience from any flaws that may pour out of my mouth.  I find great comfort in my distracting devices of gestures, jewel tones, and assorted illusions. I do not feel like myself when I can’t move around or mask myself in make-up.  Also, many people think recording for classical singers involves lots of pitch correction, auto-tune, etc., but for this purpose, it’s just the instrument with minimal effects.  I can cut and splice a section that may have tanked during the run of the aria, but other than that, it’s pretty raw and exposed.  And I can only run through those arias so many times before my cords wear out and I start sounding like a bass with bronchitis, so my type-A “we do it till it’s done” mentality is hardly productive.  If I had my way, I wouldn’t stop recording until I magically morphed into Diana Damrau and she polished off those cadenzas for me.  Alas, I have yet to develop that mutant superpower.

Irene and cabin fever forced me to spend more time than usual delving into my fear of the demo.   I think one reason I love live performance as an art form is that it comes and goes without time to think, analyze, or self-destruct (though Lord knows sometimes we try).  I know that is why improv is my chicken soup for the soul.  I want to leave an audience with an impression, a feeling, not a tangible record of any flaws in my technique or diction.  I can safely say I’ve never given a perfect performance, but that doesn’t mean I’m comfortable displaying my imperfections.  I wouldn’t seek out photographers if I knew I had a giant blemish on my face!  Plus, this record of where I am vocally by September 2011 will help determine how many auditions I get for October, November, December of 2011, and 2012 as well.  The recording not only determines my activity in the upcoming months, but it is also a constant reminder that audition season is ahead and things are about to really intense.  Practice sessions will start alternating between singing my arias and whining “I Hope I Get It” from A Chorus Line.  Recording is just the slow uphill climb on the roller coaster that will soon accelerate, making my pulse pound, my stomach drop to my feet, and making me scream at the top of my lungs as my life turns temporarily upside down.

Now is the time to start facing my fear.  I studied improv at Second City this summer so I could say, “Yes, and” to any situation, and my skills are being put to the test.  Can you stand perfectly still and give your best performance of these arias?  Yes, and I will enjoy the process and embrace my imperfections.  Maybe others will find them as refreshing as I find cellulite on celebs in the tabloids! 

Irene may have lost her steam in Manhattan, but I plan to be at full force here.   She may not have broken my windows, but I’ll attempt some glass-shattering pitches, and more importantly, I’ll open those floodgates to my soul in song.  And if I’m lucky, maybe I’ll come out of it with my own little rainbow.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Improv to Improve

Seven years ago, I found myself in a required operatic improv class while I was attending the OperaWorks summer program in Northridge. The teacher and head of the program, Ann Baltz, told me after class, "You have a peculiar mind, and if you can market that, you will be golden." Wait, it’s OKAY to be weird? I’m useful for something other than high notes? Since then, Ann and I have worked together many times performing improv opera, or as I lovingly call it, impropera, and those performances have been some of the most rewarding in my experience.

I find the combination of opera and improv particularly fascinating and rewarding because it is merging of art an that is often seen by the public as old and outdated with the most contemporary art possible, that which is being created in front of an audience. It’s like a fireworks show in the Arena di Verona. However, I spend much more time developing as a musician than I do developing my skills as a spontaneous actress. To hone those skills, I decided to take an improv intensive at Second City, focusing on developing improvisational skills without the aid of a musical net. The class was a series of eight-hour days of non-stop participation, taking in incredible amounts of information with hardly any time to truly process it and let it sink in. I am now recalling old lessons from Ann, my operatic inspiration, and combining them with the new lessons I learned from Kevin McGeehan, my Second City Miyagi.

One of the principles that I love about improv is that the performer has everything he needs just by having a mind and a body. Kevin compared it to Green Lantern, who could create anything with the power of his mind (and his ring, of course). Guess what? That’s all a singer needs, too!  Sure, we add accompaniment, costumes, sets, props, etc., but our instrument is in us- IT IS US!- as well as our command of it. So, we’re practically superheroes…and I like that. I have the ability to create any effect without fussing, manipulating, or micromanaging my voice when I trust my magic mantra and metaphorical ring.

The most important rule of improv is acceptance above all else. Every suggestion is to be met with a "yes, and" attitude, accepting the offer, then building on it. (For a more complete description, as well as some reading pleasure, I highly recommend Tina Fey’s Bossypants.) As a singer (and as a human being), I find my main obstacle is getting in my own way, but saying "yes, and" to daunting passages is much more empowering than "I hope I can do this." Verdi has offered up a beautiful aria, "Caro nome;" I’m going to raise the stakes to make an aria from the page Gilda’s outpouring of emotion on the stage. Here is a half note. YES, I will sing the half note, AND I will use it to crescendo into the next phrase because I am yearning for Gualtier Malde! Here is a cadenza. YES, AND every black dot is simply a shorthand of Gilda’s specific subtext. YES, AND This high note is really an orgasm (sorry, kids, that’s what opera is about)!

One game played in improv class is a scene performed with a moderator freezing the actors and requesting a new choice for the most recent line or action. I found this game especially helpful when working on my Baroque and bel canto arias with limited text being repeated for several minutes. "Si, Lindoro mio sará" first sung elated, now-new choice!- paranoid, "Si, Lindoro"- new choice!- smug, "Si, Lindoro" –new choice!- drunk, "Si" – new choice!- standing on one foot, holding a banana. I have found since I started incorporating this game into my practice sessions, I have stopped judging the characters, especially the ingénues whom I used to deem "weak" or "whiny." The possibilities are endless, and who is to say what is wrong or right, especially if it’s fun?! As Tina Fey said, as well as my teachers, Ann and Kevin, "There are no mistakes, only opportunities."

Since the course ended, I’ve been breathing new life into once-static pieces, and feeling like I’m creating music that hasn’t been sung before because I’ve never sung it THIS WAY before. And I won’t sing it that way the next time. Or the next time. My mind and my body will be different every day, and if the core resources are constantly changing, the product they create will be as well. And isn’t that the beauty of live performance?

Special thanks to Ann Baltz, Kevin McGeehan (and Tina Fey) for their guidance and improvisational inspiration. If you are a singer interested in improvisation, I highly recommend OperaWorks, Second City, and Bossypants!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Final Fortnight on the Farm

Less than two weeks remain of the Castleton Festival, and it is a very interesting time in the process.  After five weeks of living on this surreal farm of llamas, zebras, zonkeys, sows, and singers, it has become home.  I never thought I would call a town that is thirty minutes from civilization-- and by “civilization,” I mean Starbucks and Target-- home.  However, when thinking about returning to the urban jungle that is New York City, where I am surrounded by neighbors and noise, it feels unfamiliar and slightly overwhelming.  I am going to miss my lunchtime salad bar and the entitlement it gives me to gorge on my three vices: cake, cookies, and caffeine.  I’m going to be astounded when people communicate with me via text message instead of a Facebook post or a wild goose chase to find me in person.  I will miss warming up first thing in the morning, just in case someone needs a high D on command or a new opera chorus is being thrown at the CATS.  And most of all, it will be hard to let go of the new family that has been created in this petri dish we call Castleton.  A family that eats, sleeps, sings, breathes, and binges together, creating a loving bond and the kind of rivalry/dysfunction that can only be achieved with true intimacy.  We are at the point of the festival of “I love you, but I don’t have to like you right now” moments and hook-ups that seem almost incestuous.  Trying to respect who called dibs on whom and who’s mad at whom and who we’re not liking because our ‘bro’ doesn’t like whom is getting so complicated, we need some sort of social roadmap.   Plus, there’s a kind of final dash mentality that sends those who have been more reserved throughout the festival into hormonal hyper drive.  I thought this was something that only happened to younger people, since it reminded me so much of college, but it turns out, this can happen to anyone who has been cooped up in one place too long without outside stimulation like internet or television to provide an escape from reality. 

In my final fortnight, I try to reflect on the process to see if I can avoid having any regrets when I leave.  They are my least favorite souvenirs.   One looming doubt I have about the way I’ve conducted myself during the festival is the amount of interaction I’ve had with my peers outside of the dressing room and rehearsal hall.  I have always considered myself a good colleague, trying to abide by the same standards that I have observed in those who have more experience than me.  But perhaps part of being a good colleague involves a certain amount of commitment to one another when offstage, which is where I’m concerned I may be lacking.  I have not partied as much as my peers, who have an amazing ability to function on very little sleep and levels of very high decibels.  My allergic reaction to alcohol doesn’t help, since it seems to be a prerequisite to a good party.  However, sitting up on my high horse about being healthy and well rested for morning rehearsals means I’m separating myself from the people with whom I should be bonding.  I already feel uneasy when looking at Facebook pictures of my peers at parties and wonder, if they party, but aren’t capable of remembering it, is it the same as never being there at all?  In this sweltering heat, I do not want to be remembered as the one cold part of Castleton.  After all, Virginia is for lovers!

This penultimate week is also an important time because we’ve reached the point where  “So what happens now?”  enters the picture.  To finish my Evita reference, I do find myself getting lost in “Where am I going to…” and luckily, my pianist and dear friend has found a way to lovingly tell me, “Don’t ask anymore.”  Physically, I know I’m going back to California for a short stay, where I will cuddle with my German shepherd (with whom I sing many duets) and study/perform with Second City Improv of Hollywood.  After that, a return to NY, and then the questions arise.  I have a strong desire to change the way I’m living my day to day life, more coachings, more practicing, more yoga, etc., and not a clue as to how that could be financially or physically possible.  I’ve started pondering going back to school someday, somewhere, and wondering if it should be for singing or something else entirely.  I haven’t thought such thoughts in a very long time and they are scary, but perhaps necessary.  I am facing the terrifying questions of “Am I making enough progress?”  “Am I on the right track?”  “Am I wasting my time?” ”Am I too old?”  “Will I end up one of those scary spinsters with too many cats and embroidered pillows saying OPERA IS PURRRRFECT?”  This is when I need a slap in the face and a “Don’t ask anymore.”  This is when I decide to just live out each moment of these next two weeks and cross that terrifying bridge when I come to it.

So a few more operas, a few more concerts, a few more coachings, and a few more cookies remain.  I officially give myself permission to go big or go home in every endeavor, because the latter is bound to happen in the blink of an eye anyway.  I can focus all of my energy on my resonance and my relationships, and refuse to worry about my life plan until I’m so far away from Castleton that I start to get cell phone service again.  I’m going to lick the icing off of my fingers and count my rhythms, not calories.  And by golly, I will embrace all things Southern: overly friendly locals, catcalls from tractors, and a Monday-Saturday love affair with Chick-Fil-A.   This coloratura will go out on a high note!

Sunday, July 3, 2011


 Eleven years ago, I had my first taste of classical music as a baby soprano at the Boston University Tanglewood Institute.  This summer, I am savoring that flavor at the Castleton Festival, and if you have ever been to this festival you know, it tastes like cake.

I am here as a member of the Castleton Artists Training Seminar, understudying Le Feu and Rossignol in L’Enfant et les Sortilèges and singing in numerous choruses, as well as opera scenes and the usual young artists’ classes.   I haven’t had the luxury of being away from my day job in years, and it is very liberating to spend my day thinking only about “la voce” and not about how I will pay “la rent.”  (Thank God for la sublet.)

I am one of the older artists in this training program, and it has thrown a few curves my way.  I find myself somewhat jealous of the college and grad school-age singers who not only are used to singing full-time without balancing the demands of living independently, but also the fact that they have not yet experienced the reality of harsh audition seasons and the nagging question that keeps me up at night, “Will this ever happen for me?”  They talk about how they’re going to be stars by the time they’re twenty-five and how it must be terrifying to be twenty-seven (gasp!) and not yet singing at the Met.  As a twenty-seven-year-old coloratura, I do not need to be reminded of my vintage status and of some invisible deadline imposed on those with lighter voices.  Did I miss my chance? I already lost sixty pounds to accommodate my fach, do I need to discover a way turn back time as well? 

(Not pictured: Laura Diane Parker)
The program is seven weeks long, but I am confident that I experienced the highlight of the summer over the past two days.  One of the great blessings is the opportunity to work with Maestro Lorin Maazel, who has more energy for each performance than I have after an entire case of Diet Cokes.  The female singers and the orchestra had the great pleasure of performing under his baton with two Academy Award-winning icons, Jeremy Irons and Helen Mirren, in two performances of Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  I have always been a fan of Mendelssohn, due to my affinity for Swedish nightingale, Jenny Lind, but now the piece will be forever etched in my heart.  I worry I may walk down the streets of New York singing the wedding march to myself, which will only make my chances of looking normal to a single man that much more doubtful.   Mirren and Irons’ performances were beyond inspirational, they were transcendent.  They raised the stakes for the musicians and in turn, we did our best to support them with our talents.  The combination of exquisite actors and a superb conductor created an energy that was palpable.  Oh, and yes, the actors were very attractive in person.  Their beauty in their sixties makes me almost ashamed of whining about being in my late twenties.

Castleton is also a memorable experience because it requires a dramatic change in lifestyle.  I knew I would have to make the adjustment from living alone in a big city to living with many roommates on a farm. I lucked out, they are wonderful girls, so crisis averted there.   How many houses hold six sopranos that peacefully coexist?  I thought it was pure urban legend.   I did not know I would be spending the summer without cell phone service and very limited internet.  I’d call Castleton a monastery, but there’s far too much wine flowing for that to be the case.  I’ve learned here that many singers are able to party like rock stars while still singing like angels.  Where’s THAT class in the young artists’ curriculum?  We also sin through our stomachs, with an endless amount of decadent desserts that are almost, ALMOST as velvety as our Boheme Mimi’s luscious voice.   I must put my title of “starving artist” on hold for the remainder of the summer.

I have just under a month left of this program, and aside from taking in copious amounts of baked goods, I hope to continue to take in inspiration.  I am surrounded not only by food and farm animals, but also by incredible musicians of all disciplines.  I look to the mainstage singers to see what I can learn from their performances and career paths and the conductors and coaches to refine my own.   I listen to beautiful music, instead of subway sounds and cell phone ringtones.   I sing scales instead of advising those stepping upon them.  I miss the paycheck, but I’m loving the payoff.  It’s the icing on the cake, perhaps.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Embracing the Unknown

As graduation robes flood the city, I have become aware that I am upon commencement season.  I was caught off guard by this annual event, as New Yorkers seemed to have missed the arrival of spring and instead will be thrust from winter to summer with a rainy period to mark some semblance of a season in between. Apparently, school’s out for summer, which means for me, “school’s” almost in.  I will be a young artist at the Castleton Festival starting in just over two weeks, running through June and July.  I will be away from my day job for two months, studying and singing, and I have reached the point where I am beyond terrified of the unknown that lies ahead.  I have the back to school jitters over summer camp.
For as long as I can remember, the first day of school has caused a great deal of anxiety.  My mom would find pleasant distractions the week before, such as a trip to the San Diego Zoo or my personal favorite mother/daughter activity, shopping.  Fortune happened to bless me with a singing gig in Southern California next week so I can have some maternal distraction to calm my nerves, and possibly add to my shoe collection, before I head to Virginia.  Thank you, Universe (and Ann Baltz). But I’ve decided at the age of twenty-seven that I will no longer hide behind my mommy when I worry about an approaching unknown.  Especially when that unknown is an opportunity to which I’ve looked forward ever since I received word of my acceptance back in December. 
It’s amazing how I can turn a wonderful opportunity into something about which to worry.   Perhaps I should dilute my lunacy a bit for my reading audience but I suspect my frequent readers probably have a touch of the crazy, too, if they are still keeping up with me after all of these rants.  I would love to hear back from singers, though, if anyone experiences similar fears.  My go-to, glass-half-empty negative thought is “Ohmygosh, what if I’m the worst one there?” Well, let’s address that.  What if I AM the worst one there?  Well, first of all, I don’t even know what that really means.  We’re not walking in with a rating of 1-10 listed over our heads.  Everyone must have something to offer, and I may just have to challenge myself to bring my unique something to the table.  So, there’s that crazy voice tackled.  Then there’s the question of “What if I can’t learn the roles I’m covering in time?” The answer to that is “I will.” I have to.  Not an option on that one, so quit worrying and plunk out those pitches.  When I rationally tackle such issues, my mind works furiously to find more issues over which to obsess.  I am currently sweating the subject of my weight (pun intended).  After maintaining a sixty pound weight loss for six years, I am starting to worry about relinquishing control of my food, eating habits, and availability of a scale to a cook with an unknown menu and no Weight Watchers center in sight.  A lot can happen in two months.  I find I have to trust my ability to make wise choices and maintain a healthy lifestyle without my dietary crutches, just as I will have to trust my technique without my New York “team” of coaches to keep me in shape vocally.  Then I ask the same question I’ve asked since I was a painfully shy grade-schooler, “What if nobody there likes me?” Well, I just need to shove that fret into the 1992 trapper keeper where it belongs.  Either that, or I’ll resort to sharing the equivalent of a Lunchable with the person sitting next to me.
To combat my overwhelming insecurities, I find myself longing to do a lot of shopping. (Cue Alicia Silverstone in Clueless…as if) In my mind, it is an all-purpose solution.  First of all, it involves physical activity, so it helps me calm my body image and weight issues.  Then, I start to justify that if I have the appropriate outfits for any situation, I won’t seem as off-guard and unaware as I feel.  I also combat my fear of not being able to make friends quickly by asking, “who wouldn’t want to be friends with the girl with the fierce espadrilles?” Really, Laura?!  And if my rationales could not get any crazier, here’s the umbrella statement that calms me like retail lithium: “If I LOOK really good, maybe no one will hear the flaws in my SINGING.” How much time has been wasted on this insanity that could have been spent practicing L’Enfant et les Sortilèges?  How appropriate, since infantile could not be a more perfect word to describe my way of dealing with such insecurities.  Dealing with the credit card bill I will have to face after my retail therapy…that’s another story.
So, now you are all aware of my paralyzing fear of the unknown.  However, I am going to tackle it Saturday with the best shock therapy I know: unbridled musical spontaneity!  I will be joining Ann Baltz and two very gifted performers in Los Angeles in an afternoon of musical improvisation for the Classical Singer Convention.  I’ll still need to plan an outfit (shopping, anyone?), but I am relinquishing control of all of the other elements, and I know I will have a blast.  And when I return to NYC, I’ll tackle the very real beasts of preparing my apartment for the summer sublet, fitting all of my insecurity impulse buys into one suitcase, and nailing those tricky Ravel pitches.  I plan to continue celebrating all of my neuroses and new experiences during my summer, so I hope you will come along with me, blog-ically speaking. 

Greatness is a road leading towards the unknown. -Charles de Gaulle

Monday, April 18, 2011

Zen and the Art of Laura Parker Maintenance

In case you may not have guessed from my previous posts, I will come out and admit that I am Type-A.  I am a perfectionist and tend to lean toward the neurotic.  I am a soprano.  In my constant quest to improve my technique and artistry, I have shied away from the word “maintenance.”  To me, it always seemed the antithesis of improvement, and would lead to an inevitable backslide in my progress.  However, I have been looking at the word differently lately.  If something is great, you want it to continue to be great.  Maintenance is not floating along, but rather treading water until the next great wave approaches.

When I say maintenance, what comes to mind for many is the term “high maintenance.”  As a sappy fan of the romantic-comedy genre, I feel the need to quote When Harry Met Sally here:
Harry: There are two kinds of women: high maintenance and low maintenance
Sally : Which one am I?
Harry :You're the worst kind; you're high maintenance but you think you're low maintenance.
Sally: I don't see that.
I’m not quite that bad because I know I’m high maintenance.  I have so many food allergies and intolerances that I spend hours in restaurants ordering everything on the side or with my own creative substitutions.  I value my beauty sleep and make rest an important priority in my upkeep. I care more about retouching my roots than restocking my groceries.  And then there are the standards I hold myself to as a singer…

When I started college as an undergraduate voice major, I was given an informational handout on maintaining vocal health and hygiene.  Many of the advisories were helpful and remain a part of my life: avoid loud places, avoid eating before bed, avoid smoke, stay hydrated, etc.  However, some of them seemed a little silly, particularly the suggestion to “avoid making engine or animal noises.”  With all vroom, vrooming aside, it made me realize at a young age that I was going to be making some major sacrifices during a period when most people are feeling the freest they will ever be.  The change wasn’t easy, but took an infinitesimal amount of time compared the longevity I have been given by maintaining good health.  I just have to remember those benefits of healthy cords when my “civilian” (non-singer) friends mock me for my Sally-esque lifestyle choices.

Maintenance isn’t only about bringing my best body to the studio, it is also about keeping the projects that are not in the foreground constantly in my peripheral view.  I have to maintain quality in my older repertoire while trying to improve new pieces because if I neglect something for a period of time, it gets rusty.  Nothing frustrates me more than asking my teacher to help me apply some technical WD-40 to my arias because I left them unattended in my vocal storage closet.  I am constantly challenging myself to keep things in shape to avoid the extra time going back and re-fixing phrases that were ironed out during the initial part of the process. 

Now I’m facing the challenge of maintenance in a new part of my life.  After incurring a spinal injury eight months ago, I am at the point in my rehabilitation process that I will soon graduate from physical therapy.  I will soon be responsible for maintaining my spinal health. Alexander Technique has made a tremendous impact on my recovery, and I plan to continue my study of inhibiting and redirecting.  I am returning to my yoga practice to keep everything malleable as well.  It is a daunting transition, and it makes me realize the idea of maintaining my health on my own may be just as challenging as achieving it with a team.

Maintenance has not only allowed me to regroup between milestones, it has given me the fantastic opportunity to examine the journey I’ve made and map out the road ahead.   I am currently looking down the path at my rapidly approaching summer at the Castleton Music Festival, when I know growing-- and perhaps some growing pains-- will be inevitable, and I want to arrive in Virginia at my best and ready for two months of intensity.  If the recipe for a successful summer requires my next six weeks to be operating at a slow burn, then I will patiently simmer until I can be one piping hot Parker! 

Maybe I’ll just take my animal noises on the side…

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Diva or Dyson? The voice versus the vacuum

My life has felt extremely hectic ever since Thanksgiving kicked off the 2010 holiday season.  I felt like I was spinning the plates of auditions, rehearsals, performances, lessons, coachings, and- oh, yeah- the day job that makes it all possible.  However, with the closing of Dicapo’s The Saint of Bleecker Street on March 6th, I’ve had a dramatic increase in spare time and decrease in plates to keep in motion.  I thought once I had free time, I would spend endless hours in a sea of bubbles in my bathtub, but my hands are far less pruny than I’d anticipated.  Turns out the old saying was right, nature does abhor a vacuum…even if it’s freeing up time for me to vacuum.

I am currently in singer limbo, in between performances, auditions, and competitions.  I am trying to use this time to learn new repertoire and polish the old, but more often than not, I jump at the chance to work more hours at my day job, a place where my life is structured and simple.  I hide behind my persona of the weight loss guru because I feel like less of a singer when my only audience consists of those in my building, listening to my shrieking through the walls.   I think some of this comes from a type of post-partum depression of finishing a performance.  Bleecker was an almost two-month long labor of love, and I think I’m suffering from withdrawals of friendships and falsettos.    The beauty of Dicapo Opera is that I know I will see most of the artists in residence again, so I don’t have the letdown of not knowing if I will again come across these performers with whom I’ve already bonded.  I’m just floating around until that day comes.

I’m trying to fill the bleak Bleecker void with experiences as an audience member, as opposed to a performer.  Many wonderful plays, musicals, and operas are opening this season, and if I weren’t such a starving artist, I would see all of them!   Though I am limited to those performances that offer rush deals, I am determined to experience as much as possible.   I am hoping that seeing Natalie Dessay’s Lucia this week will reignite that coloratura flame in me that is slightly in need of stoking. 

Perhaps this agitation, restlessness, and anticipation is fueled by my desire for spring to arrive.  I think there is a general desire all around New York to shed these heavy coats and debut the warm weather wardrobe.  Easter is very late this year and the sun seems to be as well.  Mother Nature tempts us with previews of brighter days ahead, but then a chill comes back to remind us we are not there yet.  It is very hard to get excited about my summer gigs when I can hardly remember what summer feels like (though my family in San Diego is always eager to remind me over the phone).  I am ready for the apple cider stands and the Union Square Greenmarket convert to lemonade stands.  I am ready to see fireworks instead of frost, tank tops instead of turtlenecks, and iced tea instead of an icy me.    Then I’ll truly have something to sing about!  

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Mirror, Mirror, on the wall…Dysmorphia

I was first introduced to this word by hearing about body dysmorphia.  Body dysmorphia is defined as a psychological anxiety disorder in which the affected person is excessively concerned about and preoccupied by a perceived defect in his or her physical features.  This problem is significant in my life for a number of reasons.  For my day job (that little old thing that pays for the apartment and the voice lessons!), I work for a weight loss company, and have been passionately helping people improve their health and confidence for over five years.  Having lost sixty pounds myself over six years ago, I can always relate when clients say, “I still see my old body when I look in the mirror.”  Despite losing weight, they see their body at its heaviest, thus the necessity of a scale giving concrete evidence of weight loss.  This altered perception is very common among those who have lost weight or undergone a dramatic physical change.  But is this affliction limited to the body, or can we have skewed perceptions of other aspects of ourselves?  Is there such a thing as voice dysmorphia?

My Google search for voice dysmorphia proved unsuccessful, but I have decided it is real in its own way and use it in my own lexicon to describe two different issues: 1) hearing my own voice with perceived defects 2) hearing others sing and deciding their sound is absolutely perfect when compared to my own.  Both of these tend to occur in stressful situations such as auditions.  I recently auditioned for a panel that included musicians who had heard me in the past, but not within the past five years.  I became so preoccupied with wanting to demonstrate improvement since the last hearing that I became distracted and imagined having all of the same problems in my technique that were present when I was an undergraduate.  It didn’t matter what came out of my mouth; in my head, my high notes were spread, my vibrato inconsistent, and my middle voice non-existent. This was combined with the other aspect of my self-defined voice dysmorphia, I was convinced the woman singing before me was Jenny Lind, back from the beyond.  Needless to say, I psyched myself out of nailing that audition. I would have moved past the experience without discussing it, but the more I talk to singers, the more they open up about their own dysmorphias.  We all have altered perceptions about one thing or another, and we all know we need to move past it in order to be our truest self in performance and in person.

So, how do we alter the mirror so it is no longer a fun house reflector?  Well, for my weight loss clients, I suggest having something tangible to remind them of reality.  Since my proportions have remained the same despite my dramatic weight loss, I have to put on one of my old dresses to see that I have an improved body.  When I really need the difference to be shocking, I put on the dress from my eighth grade formal and marvel at the fact that I smaller now than I was at age thirteen.  It’s like electro-shock therapy.  How do we hold on to evidence of vocal improvement?  The only way I can get a grip on reality is to listen to my voice lessons and compare them to what I’m hearing in my head. (Just to clarify, it’s not that I’m hearing voices in my head, just the one.) I will probably always hear my high notes as slightly reedy, just as I will always resist the urge to ask, “Does my butt look big in this,” but I will continue to strive to listen to my gut and not my reflection. 

I realize I’m revealing a lot about myself and my quirks here, and I hope you’re not comparing me to Natalie Portman’s character in Black Swan, though I now use Black Swan as a way of describing a case of severe perception issues.  (eg. I don’t know how it sounded, but I’m not Black Swanning about it) I was relieved to hear other people feel this way at times, and I am starting to think the desire for a sort of altered perception is what attracts us to the arts in the first place. Of course I like to suspend reality- I’m an opera singer.  I believe people must break out into song to express their feelings!   The important thing to remember is not to get too involved in reflections or we will end up like Narcissus, being undone by them.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Happy New Year, Happy New York

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice.” –T.S. Eliot

I am on a plane back to NY.  I am no longer in California, not yet in New York.  I am geographically in limbo and mentally as well.  As soon as my plane touches down, I will have to return to auditioning, rehearsing, putting in hours at my day job, and wearing a winter coat.  When I'm in the routine, I feel great, but when I step away and think about it, I think, "Wow, this is a hard life."  When I'm in California, I move at a faster pace than those around me, but when I return to NY, I will have to run to keep up with the tempo of the city.  

I like to tell myself life is easier in Southern California, but the truth is, going home can be equally challenging.  Suddenly, I'm quoting the online video "you should take voice lessons" (, in complete truth, not in the satirical way it was intended.   Everyone I encounter asks, "So what are do you doing with your life in New York?"  And I can't give the standard answers people my age give, like, "buying my own place”, “earning a promotion," or "getting married."  In a way, I'm glad I have my story of getting hit by a car five months ago, because it provides a distraction and escape from the "well, I think I'm improving, but it takes, the pay isn't great, yada, yada, yada…" conversation.

Going home also means facing the life I willfully gave up to pursue my dream.  This year, I spent the first half of my winter break with my brother who, at one time, lived the New York performer life before he decided teaching, marriage, income, suburbs, and stability were more rewarding to him than the "starving artist" badge of honor.  He talks about the home he just bought, the new car he wants to buy, the pets, the wife, the retirement and health insurance benefits, and I have to pat myself on the back, saying, "you don't need that. You have your art!"  And just as I feel pangs in my gut when he discusses the things I worry I may never have, I know my tales of travel, training, and tenacity salt his wounds.  Two siblings who were so alike they're often mistaken for twins are now strangers.   I guess it's true, you can't go home again.

Actually, I will always be eager to go home.  Home is where the dog is. My German shepherd is not only a beautiful and loving beast, but he likes to sing duets with me and can almost match pitch with his lovely baritone howl.   If I don't make it using my own talents as a singer, maybe I can exploit his musical gift!  I could also try taking him to auditions to intimidate companies into hiring me. You don't want this coloratura?  Fine.  But you'll have to tell that to my agent here and his razor sharp teeth.  

Going home is also good for the occasional ego boost.  I sang Christmas Eve services at my little hometown church, and was very refreshing to sing for people who were happy to hear a joyful noise, rather than an audition panel who have endured hours of nervous noise.  It felt great contributing to the congregation’s good cheer, and I hope I can take their positive feedback and encouragement with me back to NY, where the occasional pep talk comes in very handy. 

I have to look forward to my return to NY not only for the auditioning, the day job, and the daily grind, but also because 2011 has a lot of artistic promise.  I can't wait to see Diana Damrau at the Met again after she left me in awe from her Fille du Régiment performance last year.  I am also looking forward to some exciting contemporary operas, like Nixon in China at the Met and Stephen Schwartz's opera, Séance on a West Afternoon at City Opera. Plus, I'll continue to sing, performing 3 more operas with Dicapo Opera Theatre, operas with a summer company (which I will discuss in a later post), and improvisational opera, impropera.  That's right, I plan to improvise.  Does that really surprise anyone?

Eat, Pray, Love?  That's been done.  I want 2011 to be the year I sing, play, live.  I will heart NY and heart me in it.  And when I venture back to San Diego at this time next year, I won't say, "I'm going back home to see my family," I will say, "I'm leaving my home to see my family."  I can't go home again, but I can embrace my newer one, and more importantly, embrace my place in it!