2016 Greater Colorado Tour – The Prelude Day 2
Good morning readers! We got snow last night, did you? It’s a beautiful crisp morning in Gunnison. We have time to begin our day at our own pace. In fact, I don’t even meet up with the group until noon when we head off to the master class with the voice students at Western State Colorado University. What did I do with that time you ask? Practice my knitting? Learn to yodel?
Prep for my discussion with Danielle on the relaxing benefits of coloring? No. I don’t know how to knit, I do know how to yodel and that discussion needs no prep. So, I caught up on some emails and worked on vetting applications for next year’s auditions. I can’t quite believe it’s that time of year again. As the Director of a program like this, you sort of have to live in two seasons at once; the one you’re in and the one that’s coming. It’s a challenge, but absolutely worth it.
I meet up with the group in the lobby and happily see Danielle. She’s decided to join us for the master class. She gotten some rest, but I can tell she’s still not feeling great. We pile into the rental and drive to the spot where we’re conducting the masterclass; which is directly behind our hotel. Hey – I’m not from here, remember? Plus it’s really windy and I’d rather we all not look like an 80’s heavy metal band when we arrive. It sets the wrong tone. We’re greeted and shown the space and we get set to impart some wisdom. Really, when we do these kinds of classes, we just hope to help the singers we work with, to give them some things to work on and make them stronger than they were before they walked into the room. This time, I try and sit back and allow the Young Artists to take the lead. They do a good job. They’re positive, but honest and offering valuable advice. I’m a believer that there is a way to tell people what they need to hear and be constructive without being cruel. The singers listen and are very responsive; it’s clear they want to use this as an opportunity to grow as artists and that’s wonderful to see. I’m even able to stay in my chair for more than half of each session. I tend to have a lot to say. Emily gets physical with her student – and no – let’s keep those minds elevated readers… she talks about engaging your body and how that can help with breath and support. Will focuses largely on technique. He’s passionate about this topic and he even brings his own paraphernalia. It’s innocent enough. Straws. Singing through a straw can actually help the vocal cords do what they’re supposed to do and correct some issues in a really simple and effective way. Alaina isn’t play for these students, so she jumps in as a page turner. Our Alaina is nothing if not helpful in all situations. Charles jumps from topic to topic in his teaching, literally. He likes to jump. He also talks about singing in German and his very strong feelings on that, breath support and proper placement for hitting that sweet spot in resonance. Ben acts as our resident photographer and comments on diction and dramatic interpretation. Danielle works with another mezzo and helps her to relax her frame and get out of her head which is causing some tension and pressing of the voice. I work on various things and try to tie in everything the others have said to bring the session full circle and help the singer understand what direction they now need to work on their own. Have I confused you yet? This business of being an opera singer… it’s a very technical thing. I mean, we’re trying to communicate something that we do inside our own bodies. That’s where the voice lives and so much of this is how things feel. Getting that into words can be more difficult that you might think.
After the sessions are completed, we take time for a panel discussion and the students are able to ask us questions. We cover what it’s actually like in the opera world after you graduate and try to share some things we have learned in our journey. In what seems like no time, but was actually a couple of hours, our time is up and we have to move on to the next thing in our day. Now it’s on to the theater where we’ll be performing this evening for some rehearsal time. We tell the students goodbye and tell them we hope to see them there later. Danielle has wilted a little and isn’t feeling great again. She’s been a trooper though and it’s important that she rest, so I drop everyone else off at the theater and then take her back to the hotel. When we’re alone, I ask her how she’s really doing and the first thing she does is apologize. Yes, you’re reading this correctly. She’s apologizing for getting sick. The pressure that’s on you when your body is your instrument can be something to be reckoned with. We all deal with it in this business and it never gets easier. I reassure her that it’s OK and that my main concern is getting her well. Gigs and travel – those things can be figured out. She heads up to her room to rest and I make my way back to the theater.
At the theater, I come up with a plan for the program, now that there will be four of them performing. The trickiest thing is what to do for the finale. We don’t have anything prepared for a quartet. So, thinking on my feet, I ask if they can sing one of the new pieces I gave them last week and just do it minus Danielle. It will sound a little light, but it could work. They agree to give it a shot and we run through it. It will work and they can do it on-book since they’ve only had the music for 4 days. The rest of the program will be arias, a couple of duets and we’re good. I think the audience will love it. Everyone runs through one piece to get a feel for singing in this space and at this altitude. That’s harder than people might think too. You feel like you can’t get a good breath and you almost constantly need to hydrate. Emily runs through her piece and she really gets into it. It’s hard to describe – it’s like watching a mashup of opera and Saturday Night Fever. I think it could be a new thing… After we’re done running pieces, Alaina stays behind on her own for a bit to rehearse at the piano and the rest of us head back to the hotel for a brief break before we go to dinner. I use the time to make a few phone calls and decide what shoes to wear tonight. It’s a decision made easier by the fact that I was only allowed one suitcase on this trip. Emily can attest. So can Danielle. We have shoe conversations regularly.
I meet up with Emily, Charles, Ben and Will for dinner. Alaina has decided to stay at the hotel and Emily will bring back something for Danielle so she can continue to rest. Having supportive colleagues, people who have your back, that makes all the difference – it’s something you never take for granted. We choose another local spot for dinner that was highly recommended. Last night’s Mexican feast was enjoyable, but later in the night it turned from a fiesta to more of a used piñata feeling for some of us. We decide lighter fare might be better this evening. The place is busy and as we enter, a little girl at a table by the entrance shouts at the sight of us. She looks at Charles and yells, “I know you!” Charles looks alarmed. This is quickly followed by “From yesterday.” That clears it up for us, but not her father who is looking a little concerned about why his daughter knows these strange people from yesterday. As we head to our table, we overhear her telling her Dad that we are from Opera Colorado and we came to her school yesterday. Dad is relieved. We’re all grinning like Cheshire cats. How cool – we have fans!
We peruse the menus and Charles and Will share their mutual love of the word “sammiches.” Emily and Ben help each other decide on which salad is ideal. We order and as we wait for the food, we notice that there are balloons at each table and birthday hats. What’s the occasion? The restaurant is celebrating its 12th birthday and we’re all guests at the party. Now, if there are hats, that means that they must be worn, does it not? I mean, that is a hats reason for being. Not one to deny anything its purpose, Will and Charles don the chapeaus and I snap a picture for evidence… I mean to remember the occasion. The food arrives and we dive in. Good choice because it’s surprisingly yummy. We talk about favorite games. I’ve never played Cards Against Humanity and it’s a table favorite, so I ask for an example. Emily provides one. It involves a word that corresponds to a part of the male anatomy. Right as she says it, with volume, our waitress walks by and the looks she gives… oh if only this was a video blog. After Ben and I stop laughing, we move on to the topic of favorite actors. Ben and I are both fans of Ian McKellan and he tells me about a spot on the Graham Norton variety show where the actor does an impersonation of himself; sounds pretty great. Then we delve deeply into favorite movies, separated by genre because we can’t choose just one overall favorite. Because everyone deserves a treat now and then, we decide to order a dessert to share – a freshly baked snickerdoodle cookie topped with ice cream, whipped cream and caramel sauce. Now you want one, don’t you? I only took one bite, but it was totally worth it. I can tell by the glazed expression on the happy faces at my table that they think so too.
We leave the restaurant and head back to the hotel to change and grab Alaina – the piano needs a player! We leave, realize that music has been forgotten (a Director’s job is also to be “the rememberer”) and we go back to the hotel, get it and head off again. We arrive in time to get things set. The audience arrives, takes their seats and I go out and begin the performance. It’s a really good turn out and they’re clearly happy to be here because they’re laughing at my opening comments (they’re supposed to so that’s a good sign). The program goes beautifully and everyone steps up. Given that we’re down a team member (we miss you Danielle), we’re at the highest altitude yet for the year (and it will get even higher in May) and they are performing several new pieces tonight, they give it everything they’ve got and it pays off. An especially special moment comes in the duet that Emily and Charles sing from the opera Three Decembers. It actually brings me to tears and that’s rare when you’re the Director because you tend to knows what’s coming. I can see the audience is reacting the same way. It’s a very successful Arias & Ensembles program and there are “bravos” all around. After the performance, we do a question and answer session with the audience. It starts off very slow which is often the case with adult audiences. Kids aren’t shy; they can’t wait to ask us questions. Adults often hold back. I think because they don’t want to ask something and seem like they don’t know a lot about opera. But here’s a little insight – we want that. We want you to ask us and we love if you don’t know a lot or if you’re new to opera. That’s a chance for us to share what we love with you. So – adults – when you get the chance, ask us questions! Things pick up after we talk for a bit and we get some wonderful questions; chances to talk about opera, Opera Colorado, The Scarlet Letter and more. One question cracks us up – “Do you have inside voices?” Well… we are regularly told we are the loudest people in the room, but we can be quiet if the situation calls for it. It’s just that in our line of work, the situation rarely calls for it. Will says he has two volumes, loud and silent. We end the evening with a heartfelt thank you to the people who helped bring us here (Nancy and Heather – thank you!) and invite anyone who wants to speak to us one-on-one to the stage. We get quite a few takers and spend another 45-minutes talking to people individually. The students from the school we went to yesterday made us thank you cards and their teacher brought them to us. We lay them out on the stage and spend time reading every single word. We love getting these. I wonder if I can tell you how much. To read in a child’s own words what they felt about hearing you sing, working with you, just meeting you, that’s magic. I snap a picture of the Young Artists with the cards and then we bind them up so we can take them with us and show them to Danielle.
It’s gotten pretty late but there’s still a bit more to do. Back at the hotel, I have a quick meeting with everyone about tomorrow’s schedule and we set a plan for the day. We’ll be driving to Alamosa where we’ll be for Wednesday and Thursday working with students at Adams State University and performing for students and the community. After ingesting some late-night snacks we bid each other goodnight and everyone heads to their own rooms. I begin the task of blogging about our day and getting myself organized for the next leg of the journey. Just like I predicted, this day had its own story, as will the next. So readers… keep reading. There’s sure to be a lot more to tell.