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?


  1. Thats beautiful dude...nicely done. I feel like i continue to learn a lot about the life of a singer, and i am thankful i am not one, and enjoying your life at the same time.

  2. Loved this! Loved it!!!