It’s hard, on the last few days of the year, to avoid end-of-the-year self-assessments: How did I do musically this past year? What kind of projects did I work on? Did my singing improve? What am I avoiding that would be good for my art? Am I singing what I’d like to be singing? I ask myself all these questions. And, I think these kinds of questions help us grow and get out of artistic ruts. I hope everyone who takes voice lessons with me in my Marin County studio will ponder these and others.
Personally, the past year has been very exciting. I continued my voice lessons with my teacher Erin Neff, culminating in a lovely concert with my sisters and brother-in-law at the Bruno Walter Auditorium at Lincoln Center in New York. Not only did the concert go great, but I was very honest with myself in terms of preparation and repertoire. I do love singing opera but as a soloist it would have been a bit overwhelming to prepare two arias. Instead, I chose two musical theater songs that showed off not only my voice, but my comedic side. I love making people laugh and performing funny songs is very fulfilling. Then I sang many operatic duets with my sister Barbara and their guest artist Alexandra Lang, a wonderful soprano who did the operatic “heavy lifting”! What I learned from that concert was to be true to myself and not stress myself out by over-reaching in the repertoire: Arias are at the top of my technical skill. Musical theater comes easier. It was a wise choice.
Another area I branched out in was with my piano playing. This summer I was the rehearsal accompanist for Marin Musical Theater Company’s production of “Guys and Dolls.” I have music directed shows and led the band from the keyboard, but I had never been the main pianist in the band following a conductor. This was challenging both musically and technically because I had to rise to the occasion pianistically. I have played piano since I was very small but never formally studied the instrument aside from a year of jazz piano, which was mostly music theory. So, it was amazing to see how much I improved when I PRACTICED! LOL. I started writing in fingering and working challenging sections. It was, all in all, successful except for a few “crash and burn” sections. Luckily, I had a big band and very kind conductor to support me.
That show led to my playing a fund-raiser for that same local company. I accompanied a large group of singers in solos, duets and ensemble pieces – about 40-45 songs. Again, this challenged my piano-playing because it was a wide variety of music – from shows like “Rent” to oldies but goodies. I learned that I enjoy not being the music director but just playing the show. And, most fun was popping up from the piano myself to sing “I Could Have Danced All Night.” I had to totally rely on good vocal technique for that because it’s tricky to physically be playing piano and then switch to singing and focusing on the breath. Not sure I’d do it again!
That show then led to my being hired as an assistant music director and piano accompanist for a local amateur choir called the Mayflower Chorus. They had lost their conductor, so their much-loved pianist stepped into the choral directorship and I took his spot at the keys. That was a very new, wonderful experience for me. I had been a church choir director for years way back when, but I had never been a choral pianist. This season I taught the sopranos and altos the music and then would accompany when the whole chorus got together. Such lovely people, beautiful music and musical challenges. For instance, the chorus sang “Time of the Season” by the Zombies and there is a jazz organ solo in the middle that I had to conquer. Honestly? It was a bear. When I first tackled it, I couldn’t even find the beat but little by little it came. Aside from the opening night, where I got nervous in the first song and the Zombie solo was way too fast for me, the weekend of concerts went beautifully. (I learned to take my “power” back – since I was leading the band in that solo, I thought – damn, I’m going to do it at MY tempo. The director was fine with it if we went back to tempo after I finished. Yay!)
The other big project I’m working on and will be continuing in the new year is helping to create Alexander Technique for People Living with Parkinson’s classes. As part of the Poise Project, created by Alexander teacher Monika Gross, I will be flying out to North Carolina in January to teach the vocal portion of these classes to Alexander teachers there. The Alexander Technique has been found to be very effective for this population as an alternative to exercising and in their activities of daily living.
What else happened this year? Well, aside from the New York concert, I didn’t do an awful lot of vocal performing myself. But that is fine. I realize that my musical life is like a tree with many branches: Singing is one branch, music directing another and piano-playing yet another. One “aha” I had was in the area of playing auditions. Since I sight-read quite well, I am often asked to play local community theater auditions. It’s always scary but fun – you never know what folks will put in front of you and you want to help the person auditioning to shine. I have decided, however, that I may bow out of these kinds of jobs. It will depend on the show. Now that newer shows are being performed, actor/singers are starting to bring in music that I have never heard with complex rhythmic structures. It’s good to honor my musical limits and interests.
So, all and all, a great year. I look forward to more new students, a production of “Grease” that I’m music directing at a local middle school and more vocal exploration. I encourage all of you out there who take singing lessons for kids and adults in a choir or perform in shows, to look back. Was there anything you did this year that doesn’t need repeating? Was there something that excited you that you must continue into the new year? (For me, it was a non-musical activity: aikido classes!) Have you longed to sing a different repertoire or do something musically that you tell yourself you can’t possibly do? If so, don’t listen to that voice. Do it. Life is too short to be spent on musical activities – any activities, for that matter – that don’t inspire you. Say “yes” to something wild and crazy and you might, just might change your life for the better. Happy New Year, all!!