Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Audition mayhem, fingernails, and why Will Shortz made my audition better

I'm sitting at MacArthur airport in Islip, Long Island, blissfully using the free wifi and typing with my fingers, not my thumbs. Why Islip, you ask? Well, my faithful readers, the fare was cheaper by nearly half. Trust me it's not because I like taking a crowded shuttle bus (complete with a 900 pound gorilla of a driver)to a 90 minute train ride to Penn Station, to a Subway ride uptown. But, hey, I had the time, so it wasn't so bad. This audition trip is over my friends, and I'm heading home.

Over the past two weeks, I had 8 auditions. 2 were wholly mediocre. I got 1 offer. And the other 5 actually felt....good. I don't know that blogspot can convey the surprise in my typing. I'm not sure why I'm surprised, but I guess I'm not sure why they all felt so good either. Usually auditions are prime nail-biting time for me. But since my chronic nail-biting was cured by the Barber of Seville (see footnote below....or don't), that was no longer an option. But even if it was, I didn't feel as terrified this time around. Now don't get me wrong. I got nervous. I always do. But I wasn't looking for the nearest exit or anything like that.
I started with "Se vuol ballare" at nearly every single audition, so that had to have something to do with my comfort level. Also, there was nothing on my audition list that I really dread. That sounds dumb I know, but it seems like we are always putting things on our list that we think auditioners want to hear instead of doing arias we like to sing. It makes no sense, but hey, neither does Pelleas and Melisande.

I also had the good fortune of running into an old friend, a coach/conductor who, over many glasses of whiskey gave me a life coaching (mostly in the form of yelling) about what makes me special as an artist. You know, what is different about me, what do I have to say? It sort of threw me. What do I have to say? I didn't have an answer for him, and kept stammering. He kept pushing me so finally I yelled back "I'm a lover not a fighter Joe!"

Um. Ok.

It is true, but I don't know if it was the marketing angle/raison d'etre he was looking for. Anyway, fast-forward to my next audition. I'm singing Yeletsky's aria from The Queen of Spades, a gorgeous Russian aria. I love singing it, but because of the tessitura, sometimes it can get a little driven and forced when it should be lush, effortless and beautiful. As I sang it this time I thought, "You're a lover not a fighter. Why are you singing this like a fighter? Sing it like a lover?" This sounds like the thoughts of a crazy man I realize. BUT IT WORKED. It was the best I've sung that aria. Ever. In the world.

And then there's Will Shortz's contribution. One of this week's Sunday Crossword clues was a six-letter-word for intensify. DEEPEN. Whoa. You just blew my mind Will Shortz. You mean intensify doesn't mean 'get louder?' Deepen. Indeed. Deepen the support, deepen the resonance, deepen the breath, deepen the meaning.

I had some specific goals for this audition trip. Now I'm here to tell you that I will never be fully comfortable in an audition. I still feel like the whole process is a bit artificial and I wish there was some other way to do it (like a drunken singalong at Chad Johnson's apartment maybe...just an idea), but I feel like I closed the gap a little between where I am as a performer and where I am as an auditioner. And that's all you can ask for at the end of the day. I'm going to keep thinking about my life coaching and what makes me special. Actually, I know what makes me special already, and when I get back to Saint Paul I'm going to pick her up from day care.

Lover, not a fighter.


FOOTNOTE: Why opera cured my chronic nail-biting.

I had to clip my fingernails the other day. This sounds mundane, but it's kind of a new thing for me. I've never had the need to clip until recently. You see, I'm a nail-biter. 34 years of nail-biting. I tried to quit. It never took. My fingers looked like terrible, jagged, craggy anti-talons. It was kind of embarrassing.

But along came a little opera I like to call "The Barber of Seville." You may have heard of it. I may have blogged at length about it and how I had to play not one, but two guitars, one onstage and one in the pit. Part of my preparation for my guitar playing was to let the fingernails on my right hand grow out so I could have more dexterity and dynamic control. Fine. Well, that was a good 5 weeks or so of guitar playing, and by the time we closed the show, I no longer had the desire to bite. It kind of grosses me out now. So now I have to clip. So I guess what I'm saying is, if I quit singing tomorrow, opera would have enriched me and made me a better person if for no other reason than it cured my nail-biting. Thanks Opera!

Aren't you glad you read the footnote?

Friday, December 11, 2009

and after all that...

...I didn't end up crashing after all. I was in the middle of an appointment with my manager and by the time we were through, I had missed my window. I felt bad because I was going to meet a friend and sing the opening duet from Nozze with her, but she had already gone. It would have been fun- who gets to sing a duet in an audition right? But alas, it didn't happen. It's ok. I told you before, crashing is not my style and I always feel a little sheepish (I'm so ba-a-a-ad!) doing it.

I ended meeting some friends for coffee and had one of those only-in-Nueva-York moments where I met two old friends whom I hadn't seen in years crossing the street. I guess if you're hanging around Nola you can't throw a dead cat without hitting three or four singers...Still, it was great. Coffee turned into beers. Beers turned into a college basketball game at Madison Square Garden which turned into more beers and a late night sing-a-long at a friend's ridiculousy huge apartment in Midtown. Oof.

So. No crash. But I have been to Nola twice since then. Toxic my friends. Toxic. Ah well- it's kind of like the Christmas fruitcake-no one really likes it, but the season wouldn't be quite the same without it.

In Figaro news, I had a delightful conversation with my friend and conductor of the upcoming Skylight production, Jamie Johns. It's in English and it's a brand new translation for both of us so we chatted about word changes, cuts, cadenzas, credenzas, credentials, well you get the point. This will be the first Non R and T Martin English production I have done and am slightly terrified that I may just launch into the wrong text at any time. Well, it will add urgency to my character if nothing else. "Hmmm- Figaro seemed anxious, as though he was trying to remember something."

All right friends. My thumbs are tired.


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Audwatch: Watching auds


I mentionerd that I sat in on a few of Minnesota's young artist auditions last Saturday. It is quite educational to be on the other side of the table. Whether the singer is feeling confident, terrified, unprepared or cocky it is instantly telegraphed to the panel. You can almost always tell if they are going to be any good LONG before they open their mouth to start singing. Watching the interplay between singer and the provided pianist was also fascinating.

It has given me some food for thought about my upcoming auditions- how I want to present myself.

Speaking of auditioning, there is a certain time in our lives as singers where we find ourselves, by necessity, in the darkest of the dark, the most toxic, the dankest underbelly of the audition world: NOLA studios (cue Hammond organ glissando and spooky diminished chord).

For the unitiated, NOLA is a small little hallway in midtown with 7 or 8 studios in it, all of them bangy and loud, like you're singing in a racqetball court. The real ugliness of NOLA however is the hallway. It's sort of like a micro-mini singer version of the New York Stock Exchange. Dozens of singers crammed into it, all making (faking) nice, trying to quietly vocalize, finding a place for their coat and boots, angling for information about who else is auditioning this week, buttering up agents, and, most importantly, attempting to CRASH. That is, worm into an audition without an appointment. It happens al the time, and most panels are usually cool with it if things are otherwise running smoothly. But it can be dicey.
I'm going to attempt a NOLA crash today. I think I've maybe crashed one audition ever in my career. It's not my style and I don't like it. But today I'm throwing caution to the wind. I'll keep you posted.

My thumbs are tired. I might need to buy a wifi card.


Sunday, December 6, 2009

Audwatch '09

Hello faithful readership. I have been putting of writing because as of yet I have no internet here in NYC. It seems since the last time I stayed with my Aunt on the upper west side all her neighboors have put passwords on their wireless routers. Thay must have seen that same Today Show expose I saw about open networks and identity theft. So please excuse these entries- I'm blogging on my phone, typing with my thumbs, I have no spellcheck, and my L key is sticky. So if I use a lot of abbreviations or talk about riding in a "yeow taxi" please cut me some sack. Slack. Damn.

I don't want to jinx anything, but I'm off to a great start on this little audition trip. I had two on Friday. I had all the normal neuroses going in- wondering if I would remember my words, wondering if my voice would hold out, if I had drunk enough water, if I had drunk too much beer, if I had warmed up enough/too much et cetera. Also, every year I seem to forget that other singers audition too. What I mean is every time I come here and walk into my first audition I seem shocked to see a dozen people I know in the hallway, preparing for their auds as well. I see them and think 'O crap, HE'S here? I hope he doesn't hear me. And I hope I don't hear him.' Stuff like that. Of course there are also friendly faces that put you at ease too, but before I sing I kind of don't want to talk to anybody.

I did a few things differenty this time too. Aside from the vocal goals (about which I've talked wayyyyy too much here), I had a few other things I wanted to accomplish- namely to close the gap between my normal performance level (good) and my normal audition level (sucky). I went in there with a plan of how I was going to present myself, what I was going to do if my voice felt weird, and I have to say I stuck with it. Not having to focus so much on my voice (cuz I had a plan) freed me up so I felt like I could play a lot more with it thus giving me the feeling that it was more of a performance than an audition.

Going in with a plan helps. I also spent a lot of time beforehnd focusing- something I know should be a matter of course, but requires discipline all the same.

I have no idea what my auditioners thought of me, but it's nice to feel like you've nailed an audition.

I visited my Minnesota Opera friends yesterday afternoon as they were auditioning new Young Artists. What an education that is. I only stayed for a little while, but you see so much from the other side of the table. So much...

But more about that later. My thumbs are tired. Hopefully I can keep this process working!