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Art Art Bookshelf

Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon

BOOK REVIEW- Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon

The lure of the airport bookstore is a strong one for this traveler. While I read a plethora of book jackets or back covers, I rarely buy. On this particular occasion, my knapsack already bulged with five books keeping company with my laptop. In my trolling of the airport store, I happened on a small book with a black cover and large words scrawled across that simply stated, “Steal like an Artist.” My curiosity piqued, the bio revealed the author had also written a book on redacted poetry. I quickly made my way to the cashier, adding a sixth spine to my back-bound portable library.

“Steal like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You about Being Creative” by Austin Kleon is a rollicking good read for the creatively inclined and also for those who don’t think they have a creative bone in their bodies. Not only are the pages short, pithy and to-the-point, he chocks each chapter with convincing quotes from pop culture figures along with historical ones to support his ideas. I peeled through its pages during a leg from Manchester to Chicago with rapt attention.

That provocative title plays into a T.S. Eliot quote opening the book: “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different from that from which it was torn.”

Thus the book strikes down the notion of truly original artwork that’s devoid of any external influence. I’ve written before on the role of influence, and he elaborates on the importance of surrounding yourself with work that is meaningful to you that will then play itself out into the work you create. A main point of the book is visible in the title’s active call-to-action. It is not called “Steal Like An Artist When You Know Who You Are” or “Steal Like An Artist After You Have Something to Say.”

I can attest to the fallow ground of not being stymied to the point of inactivity. If you’re going through “writer’s block” or anything similar, I would wager you will find evidence and encouragement enough in “Steal” to get you through your rough patch. Instead of just writing what you know, Chapter 3 suggests to “Write the Book You Want to Read” exploring the possibility of fan fiction as a way to get you going. One of my own responses to “Steal” has been to keep a logbook calendaring the projects, get-togethers, books that have been filling my days and mind with ideas.

In the preface, Kleon comments that he writes this book as a letter to his younger self  and we get to glean from the benefits of this reflection. The book is laid out in 10 parts with sub-sections in each part. He begins in Chapter 1 with the notion of what it means to “Steal like an Artist” and the distinction between hoarders and how artists are collectors, saving only the “things that they really love.” (p 13) and that might in some way inspire future or present work through their presence.

Chapter 4’s call to “Use Your Hands” illuminates the necessary instrument of creative handiwork. I was particularly struck with the truth in how easy it is to hit the delete button when writing a first draft on the computer. Instead of the physical act of crossing out a word or phrase in a notebook, they no longer exist on-screen for the writer to consider later. It’s a good exhortation to write exploratory work first by hand and then in the final stages move it to the digital realm.

Pursuing your passions- the ones you do for sheer love and not for profit factor into Chapter 5’s focus that “Side Projects and Hobbies are Important.” Kleon says, “If you have two or three real passions, don’t feel like you have to pick and choose between them. Don’t discard. Keep all your passions in your life.” (p 68) This really struck a resonant chord as I have been trying to bring together two of my most vocal passions, food and poetry, into what I share here on the blog.

My musician friend Kenny and I were taking a long walk this weekend discussing what Kleon deems is “The Secret” in Chapter 6 to “Do Good Work and Share it with People.” If you are creative, the people you share your work with and the people who get your point of view and what it is you are bringing out of the ether and into existence are priceless. I am grateful and humbled by the readers who spend a few moments of their day perusing this blog. Your readers or viewers can often be the ones who take your work into places you might never have imagined.

This Steal like an Artist review, acknowledges that while touting itself as a book to unlock creativity, veers into the terrain of overall life wisdom. Sections like “Stay out of Debt” or “Marry Well” stray outside of just considering what composes a thoughtful creative life but into life lessons that include the art and importance of saying no, which lets you say yes to the better things later. Life and career decisions collide with the creative crossroads as Kleon suggests, “Whenever you’re at a loss for what move to make next, just ask yourself, ‘What would make a better story?’” (p. 47)

I could tell you about all the head-nodding during Chapter 8’s “Be Nice. The World is a Small Town” or how true Chapter 7’s “Geography is No Longer Our Master” are from my day job work alone. Perhaps we could dive deeply into the importance of Chapter 9’s “Be Boring. It’s the Only Way to Get Work Done.” Something tells me you might just be head-nodding along from the chapter titles alone.

I reckon the best I can do to encapsulate how this book can transform your life or give you a fresh perspective and chance to begin again is to pick up your own copy and pencil in your own jottings in the margins.  If you do, share a piece of the book’s wisdom that rang true for you from “Steal Like an Artist.” I’ll add it to my logbook.

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Art Conversations on Art

Do the Work: the Art and Soul of Craft

We think it should come easily.

kumquats_anneliesz

If we have a talent or gift, somewhere along the way, we become convinced that that, in and of itself, is enough. We think that wanting to write is the same thing as the act itself. Somewhere we forget how the craft and the art are swallowed up by the full life we dive into with an ultimately overly optimistic sense of expectations.

We think we don’t need to practice – that perfection comes in the first pass. We look at the face in the mirror and as we walk away forget how that face looked.

It’s too easy to slough off the imperative to create. It’s too easy to walk away from doing the work because the first pass didn’t work, neither did the second nor the third. Perhaps the 11th draft of a poem sucks the spirit dry with the minutiae of refinement.

We think it should come easily. We want a second and third life to accomplish the things that we think might make this life complete.

asparagus_eggs_anneliesz

When I started taking photos of food, I harbored an intent and desire to capture the color of blanched carrots, the snap of spring green asparagus. I found myself smitten with the expression of ingredients mingling together on the plate, prepared with the deft skill of a painter’s palette or the subtle intricacies of a perfumer making its way into the flavor pairings. My snap-happy finger started from wanting to capture the moment untouched before the moment was devoured. It grew into a passion for the interplay and conversation between shadows and light. Walking through my kitchen, that long shadowy glance cast on my countertop could stop me in my steps as heartbreaking appreciation of my San Francisco light swelled and came into focus.

How it still makes my heart skip a beat!

How it still makes me look for my camera and a willing subject!

rhubarb_cake_anneliesz

Poetry and food have cast their spell on me and so often I have little to feed my muses. Their mottled forms straggle out of the frame waiting for me to stop all the other things that wile away my time and pay homage. Poetry and food coalesced unexpectedly in conversation with New York Times photographer Andrew Scrivani late last year when we first met and became friends in New Orleans. We played the game, “who is my favorite poet based on my photographic work” and somehow I guessed rightly.

Which is to say, I cheated. All men like Bukowski.

Last month, a mutual friend posted that Andrew would be leading a food photography workshop in San Francisco and without skipping a beat and later fessing up to flaking out on prior plans, I signed up. He described food photography as “mastering the daylight as best you can.” He described the rote food photography style evidenced in so much of the media we consume. This referenced something Alexandra Peters of the Wall Street Journal said – if we were to define the contemporary art movement or style it could easily be called “commercialism.” In the same article reviewing the book “The Value of Art” by Michael Findlay, Peters shares a quote from Findlay that “[o]ne of the signs of a decaying culture is a reverence for form over content.”

It’s too easy to create for sheer consumption. It’s too easy to let current trends and styles inform the direction your work might take. It’s easy to qualify and compare your craft to what sells. And this makes me wonder about creating for consumption, creating to conform, creating for cash as king.

pepper_calamari_anneliesz

In the food photography workshop, Scrivani described his appreciation for the Dutch painters as informing his sensibility of how he tries to capture light. That chiaroscuro moodiness made me smile remembering my multiple trips to see Rembrandt’s “Bathsheba” and how her luminous skin glowed amidst the darkening colors pooling around her and the darkening expression on her face from the letter she held.

His comment pushed me right out of photography into studio art and in its way, back into poetry. It made me think of Michael Waters‘ admonitions to keep a journal to keep notes and quotes from scouring articles on art to see how what’s being done in that medium might work its way into ours. This happened often during those five hours, whether he incited us to consider using negative space as a painter would or to use diptychs to convey the whole story through subtle details.

radishes_anneliesz

In the unlit back room of Noe Valley restaurant, Contigo, he urged us on.

“Learn your frame.”

“You should be taking photos with your eyes all day.”

When all is right with the world, I dwell fixed in what I call poetry mind. Instead of birds on the sidewalk, I see pigeons nervously loitering and pecking for an honest day’s wage. Instead of moving on to the next thing, I capture the possibility of the moment. When all is as it ought, I stop.

I smell the air and find it to be redolent of eucalyptus.

meatballs_anneliesz

We think it should come so easily.

I emerged from Andrew’s workshop intent to work on form, knowing the content will come like a maddening vixen of a game of tag between light and food. I am day five into immersing myself in the poetry calisthenics of a Week of Villanelles, a poetry form that is keeping me on my toes and making my pulse quicken.

A wise person once said, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” The art and soul of craft comes of conspiring and commiserating in community and then venturing off alone to go do the work.

chocolate_chip_cookies_anneliesz

As for me, I have so much still to learn. But isn’t that exhilarating in its possibility?

Categories
Art Conversations on Art

Do the Work: the Art and Soul of Craft

We think it should come easily.

CONVERSATIONS ON ART- Do the work

If we have a talent or gift, somewhere along the way, we become convinced that that, in and of itself, is enough. We think that wanting to write is the same thing as the act itself. Somewhere we forget how the craft and the art are swallowed up by the full life we dive into with an ultimately overly optimistic sense of expectations.

We think we don’t need to practice – that perfection comes in the first pass. We look at the face in the mirror and as we walk away forget how that face looked.

It’s too easy to slough off the imperative to create. It’s too easy to walk away from doing the work because the first pass didn’t work, neither did the second nor the third. Perhaps the 11th draft of a poem sucks the spirit dry with the minutiae of refinement.

We think it should come easily. We want a second and third life to accomplish the things that we think might make this life complete.

asparagus_eggs_anneliesz

When I started taking photos of food, I harbored an intent and desire to capture the color of blanched carrots, the snap of spring green asparagus. I found myself smitten with the expression of ingredients mingling together on the plate, prepared with the deft skill of a painter’s palette or the subtle intricacies of a perfumer making its way into the flavor pairings. My snap-happy finger started from wanting to capture the moment untouched before the moment was devoured. It grew into a passion for the interplay and conversation between shadows and light. Walking through my kitchen, that long shadowy glance cast on my countertop could stop me in my steps as heartbreaking appreciation of my San Francisco light swelled and came into focus.

How it still makes my heart skip a beat!

How it still makes me look for my camera and a willing subject!

rhubarb_cake_anneliesz

Poetry and food have cast their spell on me and so often I have little to feed my muses. Their mottled forms straggle out of the frame waiting for me to stop all the other things that wile away my time and pay homage. Poetry and food coalesced unexpectedly in conversation with New York Times photographer Andrew Scrivani late last year when we first met and became friends in New Orleans. We played the game, “who is my favorite poet based on my photographic work” and somehow I guessed rightly.

Which is to say, I cheated. All men like Bukowski.

Last month, a mutual friend posted that Andrew would be leading a food photography workshop in San Francisco and without skipping a beat and later fessing up to flaking out on prior plans, I signed up. He described food photography as “mastering the daylight as best you can.” He described the rote food photography style evidenced in so much of the media we consume. This referenced something Alexandra Peters of the Wall Street Journal said – if we were to define the contemporary art movement or style it could easily be called “commercialism.” In the same article reviewing the book “The Value of Art” by Michael Findlay, Peters shares a quote from Findlay that “[o]ne of the signs of a decaying culture is a reverence for form over content.”

It’s too easy to create for sheer consumption. It’s too easy to let current trends and styles inform the direction your work might take. It’s easy to qualify and compare your craft to what sells. And this makes me wonder about creating for consumption, creating to conform, creating for cash as king.

pepper_calamari_anneliesz

In the food photography workshop, Scrivani described his appreciation for the Dutch painters as informing his sensibility of how he tries to capture light. That chiaroscuro moodiness made me smile remembering my multiple trips to see Rembrandt’s “Bathsheba” and how her luminous skin glowed amidst the darkening colors pooling around her and the darkening expression on her face from the letter she held.

His comment pushed me right out of photography into studio art and in its way, back into poetry. It made me think of Michael Waters‘ admonitions to keep a journal to keep notes and quotes from scouring articles on art to see how what’s being done in that medium might work its way into ours. This happened often during those five hours, whether he incited us to consider using negative space as a painter would or to use diptychs to convey the whole story through subtle details.

radishes_anneliesz

In the unlit back room of Noe Valley restaurant, Contigo, he urged us on.

“Learn your frame.”

“You should be taking photos with your eyes all day.”

When all is right with the world, I dwell fixed in what I call poetry mind. Instead of birds on the sidewalk, I see pigeons nervously loitering and pecking for an honest day’s wage. Instead of moving on to the next thing, I capture the possibility of the moment. When all is as it ought, I stop.

I smell the air and find it to be redolent of eucalyptus.

meatballs_anneliesz

We think it should come so easily.

I emerged from Andrew’s workshop intent to work on form, knowing the content will come like a maddening vixen of a game of tag between light and food. I am day five into immersing myself in the poetry calisthenics of a Week of Villanelles, a poetry form that is keeping me on my toes and making my pulse quicken.

A wise person once said, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” The art and soul of craft comes of conspiring and commiserating in community and then venturing off alone to go do the work.

chocolate_chip_cookies_anneliesz

As for me, I have so much still to learn. But isn’t that exhilarating in its possibility?

Categories
Art Singing

Chanteuse: What the fach?

Katy daniel pirates of penzance

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fach.

Contrary to how this four-letter word looks and sounds, it is not a curse (albeit some opera singers might feel otherwise). Literally, it is the German word for “compartment” or “shelf,” and it is how singers’ voice ranges and types get classified – think Bass, Tenor, Alto, Soprano. But that is just the beginning.

In the German Fach system, each vocal category is broken down into sub-categories. For example, I consider myself to be a mezzo-soprano, BUT I’m still at a loss as to which kind exactly. Maybe a Dramatic Mezzo? Maybe a Contralto? I’ve even been told that (one day…) I could blossom into a Wagnerian Soprano. Basically, I sing what feels good and what works in my voice. You can’t force Fach. What you can do is develop and train a solid, healthy vocal technique, and see where your voice likes to sit.

But training is not the only thing that goes into Fach. Body shape, age, and even hormones can play a part. Body shape and size has is increasing in focus in today’s opera world (a subject for another posting), but where Fach is concerned, it becomes important in such things as casting pants roles (a male character portrayed by a female singer). For example, take two singers with similar voices and ranges – but one is slender and the other grossly overweight – whom do you think more likely to get cast as the youthful boy Cherubino in Le Nozze di Figaro?   Ninety-nine percent of the time, it will be the one more able to look and move as a youthful boy.

Age comes in to play with how the voice develops and matures. A young girl of 8 or 9 will probably be a light soprano or alto unless she is unhealthily forcing a more “adult” sound (see: Charlotte Church or Jackie Evancho). However, with age-appropriate training under a teacher who lets that voice mature, that same girl can discover her actual Fach might be a dramatic coloratura or lyric soprano, once she has a few more years under her belt. After puberty, men’s voices tend to fully mature a little earlier than women’s, and among women’s voices, the more dramatic  voice-types won’t be fully mature until mid-life. Sometimes, it is a waiting game (more on that below).

As for hormones – I’ve not had this experience myself, but my singer friends with children tell me that they’ve often gained a note or two on either end of their singing range after pregnancy. Sometimes, that two-note difference was enough to push them from a dramatic mezzo to a soprano.

Personally, I feel it is absolutely ludicrous to force a young singer to pigeon-hole themselves into a Fach. Especially if their voice is a larger voice which takes more time to get “on the breath” and develop range, simply because it is a more unwieldy instrument. Unfortunately, many competitions, auditions and young artist programs are geared towards younger singers – and have an upper age limit of 30 – thus leaving singers with larger voices in a sort of limbo, as they might not reach full maturity until their 30s or even 40s (if we’re talking Wagner). So, what’s someone with a larger, hard-to-categorize voice supposed to do if not take the route of college-YAP-competitions-Metropolitan Opera Star?

Sing what you can! And sing what makes you happy! And sing what you love! Actually – I would recommend that for any singer, not just those of us folks are unsure about *where* we fit, exactly.

My personal Fach-experience has had its up-and-downs (pun…intended). As a kid, I sang soprano, but moved to alto in 10th grade when I started taking voice lessons. In college, I was firmly planted on the mezzo route, though my technique only took me so far and I couldn’t sing above an E (top space of the treble staff) without difficulty. In graduate school, my technique had a complete overhaul – in a good way – and my top finally become accessible (as my professor would say “You didn’t have a break; you had enough space for a semi-truck to get through”). Mid-way through my graduate studies, I tried – tried – to switch Fachs from mezzo to soprano. It was one of the most difficult times of my musical life.

Not only was I suddenly attempting new repertoire as a grad student (when I was supposed to have learned everything in undergrad already, and just be “polishing up”), but I was shedding part of my identity and attempting to become something else. Throw in an underlying health issue and the fact that my voice was terribly unhappy at that higher range, and you have the recipe for disaster. Ultimately, after a semester of tearful voice lessons, stressful opera studio classes and (live!) performances through which I could barely make it, I went back to my familiar territory.  In retrospect, I am glad that I had that experience in school, because it made me realize how subjective singing is, and how important it is to base one’s identity on something other than singing. I am also thankful for the support I had from my colleagues and teachers at the time. For the most part, the pressure I felt to succeed in my new Fach was internal. Sure, my voice might one day blossom into a dramatic soprano. But, at that time, as a young 22 year old singer, I was not there.

So. What have I done in the past 10 years as a singer? I have embraced music that I love to sing, and that my voice is happy TO sing. Rep such as Gilbert & Sullivan (including my dream role of Ruth, in The Pirates of Penzance), which has been so much fun and taught me to act more than any class on the subject; works by Handel, and other Baroque and Classical era composers; wonderful Lieder by Mahler and Schumann; and a mish-mash of operatic nursemaids, mean old aunties and crazy people along the way.

My advice to singers: yes, Fach is important, but what’s more important is singing what feels good and what you feel you are best at performing.

More articles or information on Fach:
http://articles.sfgate.com/2011-07-20/entertainment/29793038_1_voice-soprano-repertoire-singers
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fach
http://www.scena.org/lsm/sm16-6/sm16-6_fach_en.html

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katy daniel opera singerKaty Daniel, our resident opera columnist for la vie en route, is a mezzo-soprano, depending on the day and the role. When she’s not playing a swash-buckling pirate, she’s an avid outdoor explorer and writes the blog Hikers Do It for the View. For more about her professional work, visit Katy Daniel.com.

Categories
Art Conversations on Art

5 Tips for Hosting an Art Salon

Host an art salon easily with these five tips.

1. Send out invitations to art creators and appreciators.

I got introduced to the wonderful thing that is pingg earlier this year, but of course there is always evite or cocodot among other online invitations to email. Then again, if you have time, there is something so delicious about opening the mailbox and finding a handmade invitation. This time, we went digital and enjoyed watching people comment and respond.

At art salons, go for small bites like squares of chocolate.

2. Make the evening fun by serving nibbles rather than plates.

The art salon is all about sharing your craft, so if you bake or cook, then go for the gusto. However, I’m here to tell you simple is classic and never goes out of style. For our first art salon, we served red vino and a host of chocolates. It was fun putting together the chocolate bar and incorporating favorites like Super Chile Chocolate Toffee Tiles, Almond Milk Chocolate and Sea Salt, and Wooloomooloo squares of chocolate along with bite-sized brownie squares. The best is when one of your guests brings a bottle of port… (Thanks Caroline!)

When planning an art salon evening, consider your space and how guests will mix and mingle.

3. Consider your space.

Do you have a small apartment or a rambling house with a big living room? Keep in mind that from your list of invitees, probably only 15% will come and that includes people who RSVP yes but something comes up at the last minute. I never let the fact that our living room is small get in the way of how many people to invite over for parties, but for a salon, you may want to consider the ramifications of mood. A smaller get-together lends itself to a more intimate ambiance. When sharing personal work, this is sometimes a great way to dive into getting together on a more regular basis to share creative work.

It's always a treat at our art salon for musicians like Karl Digerness to play an original song.Invite a mix of musicians and poets to an art salon. Poet Jay Rubin reads new work.

4. It’s all in the blending.

Writers. Poets. Musicians. Studio Artists. Each brings such a great flavor to the salon at large. We had a fantastic blend with everything from original essays to poems and songs played on guitar. I think what’s particularly important here is ample time for each artist to share their work and then receive feedback. People want to respond, calling out a line in the poem that stood out or asking what influenced the musical riff.  So if you end up having a larger group, then you might want to ask for only one or two songs or poems shared. If the group is smaller (and if there is no dearth of work present) consider suggesting time slots.

So much truth here: without music life would be a mistake.

5. Rinse and Repeat.

Did you have fun? Meet or hear from artists whose work made you laugh or take pause? Are you wondering if there’s a CD in the works? Can I encourage you to think of this as both an evening of entertainment, revelry and art appreciation as well as an opportunity for creating community? When I think back to Hemingway, Stein and Pound or to Kerouac and Ginsberg, what comes to mind is proximity, frequency and friendship as much as a heaping amount of individual talent. Art is sharpened against the whetstone of being shared and discussed, giving the artist extra ears to “hear” their creation through the perspective of the listener and audience. At an art salon, you come away a little more engaged in the creative spark waiting to be ignited in the unseen bits of the world all around you. 

Categories
Art Singing

Chanteuse: Overture

I’m excited to share the first guest blog post with you! Katy and I met in college when she first began studying voice and from there, I had a front row seat to watch her opera career start and grow as well as listen to her voice expand in range and volume over the years. She is my touchstone on all things singing and I hope you enjoy and learn from her contributions here as well.
________________________________________

katy daniel opera singer

When Annelies first asked me to contribute about opera and life, how one informs the other,  I wasn’t sure where to begin. But then I started thinking about how *I* got into opera and classical music, and decided that perhaps that was as good as place as any to start.

My first operatic memory is from elementary school, when a friend’s mom invited me along to a Central City Opera production of Madama Butterfly. I was seven or eight at the time, and remember being entranced by the colors, the costumes, the sets, and the music. I didn’t understand everything that I was seeing, but I was engaged. I already listened to “classical” music on the radio, but up until that I didn’t know that there could be singing involved!  Flash forward to high school, when my awareness of opera blossomed. I attended another production of Madama Butterfly, and a whoosh of familiarity swarmed over me. I was pleasantly drawn into the story with fresh – and more understanding – senses.  After that, I went on to get my Bachelor’s and Master’s of Music in vocal performance, and started my professional singing career in 2005.

Now, you may be thinking to yourself, “I’ve never seen an opera. I just don’t *get* what on earth you’re talking about…” Well, okay, how about this: Have you ever seen Apocalypse Now? Or Pretty Woman? Have you ever watched TV? Then you’ve been exposed to opera and its emotional power.

Don’t believe me?

The (in)famous flight of the helicopters from Coppola’s Apocalypse Now would be much less memorable if not set to “The Ride of the Valkyries” from Wagner’s Die Walküre: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZpvLCptAHT8

Julia Robert’s Pretty Woman character cries at her first exposure to opera, the scene in which Violetta dies at the end of Verdi’s La Traviata:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qteu01dLfm4

And Carmen’s Habanera tune has been featured in more commercials than operatic law should allow: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g0nliPWaCvA

Whether or not you realize it, opera (and “classical” music in general) provides a soundtrack to our modern life.  It’s not an art form reserved for a snobby upper class, or grey-haired patrons. To experience live opera is to experience a breathing collaborative creature. Singers, orchestras, conductors, directors, costumers, diction and language coaches, stage managers, set and lighting designers, producers, theaters, rehearsal spaces . . . all combined to bring a composer’ s story and music to life.  At its best, opera is an intense, emotionally moving experience. At its worst, it can be an inconceivable, expensive mess. And if it causes a scandal? Even better!

I hope this overture has wet your curiosity. Future posting will cover operatic FAQ’s (What’s Fach? Are all opera singers fat? Why is it so loud?), and exploring what it’s like to be a singer, from the importance of keeping one’s instrument in tune – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually – to keeping life balanced as a working artist. If you have any particular thoughts, ideas, or questions, please leave them in the comments section!

_______________________________

Mezzo-soprano Katy Daniel recently moved home to her native Colorado after living and singing professionally in the San Francisco Bay Area for 10 years. When not traipsing about on stage as a mad woman, old lady or bloodthirsty ex-lover, she is most likely to be found out on a hiking trail, spending time with her family and boyfriend, or curled up with a good book.

Categories
Art Singing

The Ring of the Nibelung at San Francisco Opera- Part 2

Snacks.

I bet you’re not completely surprised that I’m starting here. This is an important topic when thinking about attending the opera. I must admit I was sad when my old go-to for opera intermission fare, Citizen Cake, moved to Fillmore Street many moons ago. Do not despair, but do think about snacks.

A few of note:

  • Arlequin (good to-go food from sandwiches, cookies, and prepared salads).
  • Peets (scones, cookies, packaged crackers)
  • SF Opera catering by Patina (nuts and fruit, cookies, etc…)
  • Blue Bottle (for that pre-opera cup of joe at the original location plus a treat for the road)
  • Whole Foods (this is a bit more of a pre-opera planned expedition, but very well worth it if cookies and such are not your bag.)

When tackling almost 10 hours of opera in two shows and four intermissions respectively, you want to be prepared. Side note: peppermints or cough drops are kind of a must for the opera. You never know when you might get a throat tickle or feel parched. They saved me during my “Siegfried” experience.

Now that we’ve gotten the nibbles out of the way, the show must go on…

SINGING- The Ring of the Nibelung at San Francisco Opera- Part 2

 

[Things that happen in the interim of the story, between Operas III and IV]

  • 18 years have gone by since the end of Die Walküre and Brünnhilde‘s punishment.
  • Sieglinde has died giving birth to the son sired by her brother Siegmund. The lad’s name and the focus of the third opera is “Siegfried.”
  • Mime, Alberich’s brother has reared and raised Siegfried and possesses the shards of the all-powerful sword (Notung!). His aim in all of this is for Siegfried to unwittingly steal the One Ring and the Tarnhelm from the dragon Fafner for him.

 

 

Siegfried opera art

III. Siegfried

Mime and Siegfried live near the dragon Fafner. There, Mime does his metalwork. Siegfried has grown into a strong and fearless man. All of the swords Mime has created for him have shattered. Siegfried insists that Mime reforge the shards of the sword his mother left for him (Notung!) but Mime can’t figure out how to forge it. Siegfried sets off in the forest and during his absence, along comes a Wanderer (Wotan) who puts Mime on the spot. They play a game of wits, where the Wanderer tells Mime to ask him three questions. Not taking his opponent seriously Mime does not make the most of his questions as the Wanderer tells him he should have asked how to reforge the sword- he knows that is Mime’s burning question. The Wanderer then tells Mime before taking his leave that only a fearless man can reforge the sword, which frightens Mime. When Siegfried returns, Mime sees that to save his life, he must teach Siegfried fear. But it doesn’t work and fearless Siegfried reforges Notung! for himself. The daft Siegfried follows Mime’s urging to go with him and find Fafner to learn true fear. All the while Mime has an ace up his sleeve with a poisoned drink intended for Siegfried after he steals the golden treasures from the dragon.

Mime isn’t the only one after the golden booty, as Alberich is stationed nearby looking for his opportunity. The problem is Fafner has used the Tarnhelm to transform himself into a form that is invincible. Wotan also happens by to both warn Alberich of Mime’s plans and incite Fafner. Shortly after Wotan leaves, Siegfried and Mime show up with the intention of instilling fear. Quite the opposite happens as Siegfried listens to the birds and creates a pipe to mimic their call. Fafner emerges and Siegfried kills him. As Fafner is dying, he warns Siegfried of Mime’s scheme and his blood allows Siegfried to understand the birds. Alberich and Mime go to blows over the golden bounty and then hide as Siegfried comes out with the Tarnhelm and the Ring. A bird warns Siegfried not to trust Mime. Mime approaches and tries to give Siegfried a drink, but Siegfried now understands what Mime is actually saying apart from his words. Siegfried does not drink the poisoned beverage and instead kills Mime.  The bird then encourages Siegfried to break through the wall of fire and rescue his intended wife, Brünnhilde. They set out in pursuit.

Wotan visits Erda, aware of the impending doom of the gods’ future. He visits in hopes that this doom awaiting them can be averted. Her advice to him is to seek counsel with their daughter Brünnhilde. Wotan then tells her of the fate of their daughter because of her disobedience. Erda is stunned and refuses to share more of her oracle insight with Wotan. He then tells her he will leave the world to Siegfried after the gods are no more. On the way to rescue Brünnhilde, Siegfried stumbles upon Wotan unknowingly. Wotan begins plying him with questions about his sword. Siegfried becomes irritated and tells the old man off. Wotan then tells him he severed the sword in his hands which Siegfried then takes to mean that the old man killed his father. Wotan tries to block Siegfried from going farther and uses his spear to bar the way. Siegfried shatters the mighty spear of Wotan. For a god purported to be the all-father, our last view of Wotan is him gathering the shards of his spear. Siegfried, the noblest of men, the fearless one breaks through the wall of fire and awakens Brünnhilde. She wakes up aware she is now a mortal and must submit to this man. She gives in willingly.

[Items of Note:]

  • “Siegfried” was first performed in New York City at the Metropolitan Opera on November 9, 1887.
  • The first performance of “Siegfried” in San Francisco occurred on November 6, 1935.

IV. Göetterdämmerung

This final installment in the Ring Cycle opens with Erda’s three daughters, the Norns, weaving together the rope of fate. They are able to see that Valhalla will fall at any moment and as they perceive this the rope begins to fray. They desperately try to pull it tight which only snaps the rope and they go down to be with Erda. Siegfried and Brünnhilde awake at dawn after a night of connubial bliss. She urges him to pursue adventure for both of them and leave her behind. He swears his love to her and as a sign that he will return he gives her the One Ring.  (Now, excuse me for inserting myself into this bit, but keep in mind the curse and the intent behind the ring. I think there is a bit of magic in this juxtaposition as you’ll see later.)

(New characters alert: hold tight with this next storyline…)

Gunther, the leader of the Gibichungs and his sister Gutrune scheme how to win the Ring. Hagen, Gunther’s half-brother and the son of Alberich suggests Gunther should marry Brünnhilde. They begin conspiring how to make that happen and Hagen paints the picture of Brünnhilde locked in a ring of fire and that only the noblest of men can rescue her. Their plan includes giving Siegfried a love potion so he will fall in love with Gutrune and forget his wife Brünnhilde. They conspire to trick Siegfried in winning Brünnhilde’s hand for Gunther in exchange for Gutrune’s. Siegfried’s horn signals his arrival. They offer him a drink and he toasts Brünnhilde, his love, even as he drinks the love potion that will make him forget her. After coming up from his sip, he locks eyes on Gutrune and the Gibichung plan is in motion.

Meanwhile, Waltraute, one of the Valkyries, visits her sister Brünnhilde imploring her to return the Ring to the Rhinemaiden and then warning what will happen if the Ring is not surrendered. Brünnhilde refuses and her sister leaves distraught. Siegfried arrives wearing the Tarnhelm and disguised as Gunther. He takes the ring from Brünnhilde and claims her as his bride.

While Hagen is asleep, Alberich visits him, inciting his son to acquire the ring from Siegfried. Dawn breaks and a triumphant Siegfried returns letting them know he has won Brünnhilde for Gunther. Thus ensues a meeting of the couples before they are to be married: Gunther and Brünnhilde, Siegfried and Gutrune. Brünnhilde sees her ring on Siegfried’s hand and begins a tirade (worthy of fanfare) as she begins to plead her case that she is already married to Siegfried and trickery is afoot. Under the spell of the love potion, Siegfried has no recollection of his vows and as such denounces Brünnhilde. She is grief-struck and angry, believing Siegfried has betrayed her. In her desire for revenge, she ends up revealing Siegfried’s area of weakness to Hagen. Little does she know about the ulterior motives and scheme in play by the very men she has just delivered her husband.

Siegfried ventures out among the ruined and dirty banks of the Rhine (quite a poetic juxtaposition from its original state in Das Rheingold). The Rhinemaiden plead with him to return the Ring but he pays them no heed and so they depart. The hunting party, led by Gunther and Hagen arrive. Siegfried proceeds to tell them about his upbringing by Mime, the slaying of Fafner and takes a drink from Hagen infused with an anti-potion that rouses him from his drugged state. As he comes to, he talks of rescuing and falling in love with Brünnhilde. He remembers his wife and vows just before he is stabbed in the back by Hagen, on the principal of avenging Brünnhilde and the Gibichungs. Siegfried dies. As the hunting party returns to the Gibichung hall, Gutrune nervously awaits. In comes the party and with them a woeful Gunther and Hagen who explain to Gutrune that a boar killed Siegfried. Gutrune doesn’t buy that story and instead accuses Gunther of killing him and then Hagen pipes up, accepting responsibility for the deed. Gunther and Hagen go to blows for ownership of the Ring and Gunther is struck down. Siegfried’s arm shoots up from his dead body, the Ring glittering. Hagen shrinks back in fear. Brünnhilde arrives beholding her dead husband for the first time and orders a proper funeral pyre for the noblest man who has lived. She returns the Ring to the Rhinemaiden, understanding at last what must be done- that through her death and through the gold going back to the Rhine, Alberich’s curse can be broken. She walks into the flames and the world lights up on fire. Hagen is pulled to his death into the Rhine by the Rhinemaiden as the banks of the Rhine overflow.

 

FINI. C’EST TOUT. THE END.

 

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[Final Notes]:

You’ve stuck it out.

And the interesting thing about a Cycle is that at the end it can start up again. The dress rehearsal schedule allowed us to see Operas 3 and 4 before seeing 1 and 2 respectively. It enabled me to see the workings of a Cycle in opera at play.

I have to give a thank you to the wonderful San Francisco Opera for their helpful translations of the libretto. They helped me fill in the gaps of memory and make sure to stay on track with including the right and important details. I continue to be smitten with Nina Stemme as Brünnhilde all the way to the end. Her character really feels like it might be the one opera heroine with the depth, independent spirit and verve I admire most in opera. To sing the role, I am told by opera singer friends, it takes a very particular kind of singer. The soprano must be a dramatic soprano with the ability to carry depth into that high range. My dear friend Olga actually ended up having a bit of an identity crisis when her voice teacher told her that she wasn’t really a Mezzo-Soprano at all- that if she kept at it, she had the makings of a dramatic soprano, perfect for Wagner. I have seen this in action as her rich and full voice grows and heightens over time. The voice is a marvelous thing. Hagen for me held my attention. Andrea Silvestrelli played such a good villain in Hagen with such a beautifully deep voice. I could talk about so many of the singers in these operas- the cast truly was stellar. Just as I found myself smitten with the ballsiness of Brünnhilde, Siegfried got no love from me. I found him daft and completely devoid of common sense or wisdom, then again he was fathered by a brother and sister duo…

In “The Ring of the Nibelung”, Wagner has written a compelling drama to span the ages. I do not get into his politics but simply take the story at face value and find it an enchanting if weird ride at times. It is one that creates a lasting memory, worthy of any bucket list.

If you have had a chance to see the Ring Cycle of Wagner- the “Ring of the Nibelung,” please share your experience with this epic from favorite moments to characters.

Categories
Art Singing

The Ring of the Nibelung at San Francisco Opera- Part 1

SINGING- The Ring of the Nibelung at San Francisco Opera

Opera.

Before you roll your eyes or yawn, I want to ask you a few questions. Does a good drama make you cling to the edge of your seat in anticipation of what’s going to happen next? How about love stories- do you find yourself getting caught up emotionally in the outcome of what happens when two characters lock eyes for the first time? Not your thing? How about a good sword fight- there aren’t enough sword fights with the actual clash and clang of metal ricocheting on metal…

The opera is so much more than meets perception.

Let’s take another pass at this, shall we? Were you in line for the midnight showing of all three “Lord of the Rings” movies? Can you quote whole sections of the movie? Are you the rightful owner of the sword Arwen wielded holding back the Nazgul? Did you get married in a church that rather resembles the great Hall of Rohan?

Answers for this last section: a.) Yes- all three, but not in costume. There are limits. b.) It sounds like a noble endeavor. c.) A certain man we will call Beck does possess such a prize. d.) Yes, yes, a hundred times yes, though Theoden did not officiate.

the ring limited edition poster san francisco opera

For all you Lord of the Rings fans out there, let me present to you the original story of The One Ring. It comes from an opera by a German composer, Richard Wagner, entitled “The Ring of the Nibelung.” Several things of note here: Wagner is known for his use of leitmotif, which Merriam-Webster online defines as “an associated melodic phrase or figure that accompanies the reappearance of an idea, person, or situation especially in a Wagnerian music drama.” The Ring Cycle” as it is known consists of four operas, which rarely get played back to back by a single opera house.

If you act quickly and happen to live in the San Francisco Bay Area  you can see the entire Ring Cycle at the San Francisco opera for a limited time.

san francisco opera

Before I get ahead of myself,  I got initiated into opera at a young age.

My dad lay on the couch and I toddled into the room as he watched Placido Domingo in the role of Alfredo singing of drinking and living the good life boisterously as he locked eyes on new lady love Violetta. “La Traviata” holds a special place for me still today as my first opera with me lying beside my father crying at the end and wondering if the music had inspired the tears or the plot line. You can imagine how incredibly memorable it was then when friends, Katy, Alan, Raina and JoVincent sang several arias at our wedding reception. I smiled looking on and thinking how much my dad would have loved it.

Do you have a bucket list? During one conversation my Dad told me in that very Dad tone he took on when he stepped into the role of sensei-Dad, “I would like to go see the entire Ring Cycle before I die. Annelies, it’s loong, but if you can do it once, it’s worth it.” He never got to fulfill that desire and surprisingly the San Francisco opera opened its doors to lucky little me.

san francisco opera

I must admit that the San Francisco opera house is stunning inside. I snapped a few pics to bestow some of that glittery gloriousness to you. Dear Alastaire, one of my favorite tenors and a good friend, bestowed the honor and gift to me of attending the final dress rehearsals to “The Ring of the Nibelung.” For two weeks, my life revolved around the War Memorial house and I must say it was an exquisite escape from the everyday… I even took a half day vacation from work to see the rather lengthy “Göetterdämmerung”.

san francisco opera

That’s about 17 hours of opera. My dad wasn’t kidding, but here’s the thing- the storyline is fascinating, if not weird in certain parts that an hour breezes by without batting an eye.

Can I applaud publicly the San Francisco opera for running all four at the same time? *Applause* As someone transfixed when in a good tale, you really do miss something to see them years apart. Instead, if you’re able to see the four around the same time period, then it allows for a greater immersion into the story. (This reminds me of my renewed desire to watch all LOTR movies in a row sometime soon. If that appeals to you too, leave a comment. Maybe we’ll make it a party.) I’m going to try to succinctly summarize each of the story lines of the four operas today and tomorrow. So let’s get started…

I. Das Rheingold
II. Die Walküre
III. Siegfried
IV. Göetterdämmerung

 

Das Rheingold cover art

I. Das Rheingold

The Rhine maiden sing about the gold glittering at the bottom of the river. Suddenly a man appears entranced with them. As they are teasing him, one of them spills the secret of the gold in their river: if it is gathered and forged into a ring, the owner of that ring will rule the world. The thing is, they sing, you have to renounce love. This man turns out to be Alberich, lord of the underworld. He steals the gold and takes off much to the devastation of the Rhine maiden you hear bemoaning their lost gold later.

Wotan, the all-father (like Zeus) and his wife Fricka await word on the construction of Valhalla. Giants, Fafner and Fasolt, who are brothers, come bringing good news of the completion of Valhalla. With the good news comes the bad as they require the payment agreed upon by Wotan and the giants: Fricka’s sister Freia. Wotan never intended to pay by giving Freia to the giants and he begins looking for an alternative, waiting for the arrival of Loge, lord of fire. Loge tells them of Alberich’s deed and how he has forged the ring of power. Wotan and Loge contrive a plan to steal the ring on behalf of the giants and in exchange for Freia.

All goes as planned after Wotan and Loge visit the underworld. They watch Alberich boast of the magical properties of the Tarnhelm, crafted of river gold by Alberich’s brother Mime. When someone puts the Tarnhelm on, they can shapeshift or disappear. Loge tricks Alberich into turning himself into a toad and they whisk him and the treasures away. As they steal the ring and Tarnhelm from Alberich, he curses the ring and proclaims anyone who owns it will die.

Remember the ring has tricks of its own and a power no man can resist. Wotan struggles with giving the ring to the giants and receives heavy words from Erda, the lord of the earth. (Her voice was like hot buttered rolls. Silky, rich and smooth!) Wotan relents and watches as Fafner and Fasolt fight over who gets to wear the ring. Fafner kills his brother Fasolt and all are privvy to see the power of the ring. Fafner leaves with the newfound golden booty, the Tarnhelm and the ring. The gods set off for Valhalla.

[Things that happen in the interim of the story, between Operas I and II]

  • Fafner has turned himself into a dragon and is guarding his golden stash.
  • Wotan fathers his warrior daughter Brünnhilde and the eight other Valkyries, daughters of Erda
  • Wotan goes to earth and sires the mortal twins Siegmund and Sieglinde.

 

die walkure cover art

 

II. Die Walküre

A fugitive seeks refuge in Sieglinde’s house. She invites him in and feels herself drawn to this stranger, but lets him know he can stay only until her husband Hunding returns from a hunting expedition. Of course this doesn’t go over well with Hunding who hears this man’s story of woe and realizes the man he’s been searching for is now in his house. He offers a night of shelter to the fugitive and challenges him to a duel in the morning. The fugitive is unarmed but remembers something his father once told him- that there will be a sword in his hour of greatest need (Notung! I love the leitmotif used to sing about the sword!). In the middle of the night, Sieglinde has drugged Hunding and comes down and frees the fugitive. She tells him of her unhappiness and of the sword thrust into the ash tree in the middle of their house. An old man put it there saying only a man of noblest honor can pull it out. Sieglinde tells him Hunding and all of his cronies have tried and failed. She watches as he pulls the sword out, having a moment of clarity and recognizing her long lost twin brother Siegmund in this fugitive. They flee. (This is where it gets weird people. I’m not going to lie.) Siegmund and Sieglinde pledge themselves in love to each other as brother and sister AND in the husband and wife sort of way.

Meanwhile Wotan is happily ensconced in Valhalla, charging his warrior daughter Brünnhilde to take care of his mortal son Siegmund. (You are also introduced to the leitmotif for Brünnhilde which is an easily recognized bit of opera music in non-opera settings.)  Their meeting is cut short as Fricka enters upset and wheadles Wotan to strike down Siegmund by letting Hunding triumph. As the patron lord of marriage, Fricka requires it and is disgusted by the incestuous relationship that has destroyed the marriage. It’s also a barb at her philandering husband. Brünnhilde comes back in and her father tells her she must let Siegmund die in the duel. Ever in his mind, Wotan is constrained to take on the ring of power on his own. He has decreed he won’t and yet the ring remains in his thoughts. His Plan B of grooming Siegmund as a free mortal to seek out the ring is foiled.  Siegmund and Sieglinde are on the run from Hunding. As Sieglinde is resting, Brünnhilde appears to Siegmund in a dream and calls him to follow her to Valhalla. He refuses to go once she tells him that Sieglinde cannot accompany them. Brünnhilde finds herself moved by the twins’ devotion to each other and decides to go against the plan Wotan laid out. She decides to protect Siegmund and pledges to protect Sieglinde. We learn later that as the arm of Wotan she knew his conflict- wanting to protect his son, but being forced into an agreement with Fricka. Even as he clung to the agreement with Fricka, she tries to protect Siegmund. Hunding arrives and all hell breaks loose. Wotan shows up furious and shatters Siegmund’s all-powerful sword into pieces. Siegmund is struck and dies. Wotan has kept up his end of the bargain with Fricka and thus kills Hunding. Brünnhilde and Sieglinde escape with the shards of (Notung!) the sword. Wotan is seething with anger and looking for Brünnhilde.

Brünnhilde’s eight sisters, the Valkyrie head to Valhalla and learn of this rupture in their sister’s relationship with their Father as Brünnhilde shows up to Valhalla with Sieglinde. She tells them she is on the run from Wotan and asks them to help shelter her from his wrath. The Valkyrie are horrified and refuse. Brünnhilde tells them that Sieglinde is pregnant and they are roused to help her. Sieglinde beseeches them with a rousing plea and she escapes for the woods with the sword (Notung!) to dwell near the dragon Fafner, where Wotan is sure not to look. Wotan arrives looking for Brünnhilde intent on punishing her. He takes away her immortality and her role as a Valkyrie. He sentences her to a long sleep to be woken up by the first male that awakes her. (Lest you get all Snow White or Sleeping Beauty here, this is the worst thing she can imagine. As a warrior daughter, she is losing her independence to whoever rouses her. Desperately, she asks Wotan to let it be a man of honor and for an obstacle to be put in his way. This particular set of music is so poignant. The father and daughter talking through the difficulty of parting forever, of what went wrong. Wagner might as well hit me over the head with a two-by-four at this point.) Brünnhilde falls asleep on a rock and Wotan summons Loge to circle the rock with a ring of fire only the noblest of men can penetrate.

 

[Final notes:]

Nina Stemme who plays Brünnhilde could very well be the quintessential characterization of this role. Through her acting and vocalization, the audience is emotionally drawn into this heroine of heroines. Her lush and dramatic vocals both summon tears at times and smiles for her early bravado. Mark Delavan as Wotan carries the role well vocally and gives a commanding performance. I bring these two up because their synergy on stage is palpable. Together you sense the depth of their bond that is then inextricably severed.

At this point, you’d be 7 hours and 40 minutes in over two operas and several days. I say this because I feel like I skated over the storylines and left out the incredible subtleties worked into the operas.

Stay tuned tomorrow for Part 2!

Categories
Art Grief Singing Spirit

Finding My Voice

SINGING- Finding My Voice

Olga once told me the worst thing you can do when you lose your voice is to whisper.

Instead, she said, you should either stay silent or try to talk normally so as not to damage the vocal chords. Clearly over the past year, I chose silence.

Just like talking about losing my voice found its appropriate time to be spoken aloud, this new season I am walking into is surprising. With the silence broken, I find myself immersed again in music and it brings joy not sorrow. Well, not every time because sorrow lingers in the corners of words and holidays.

Last week, I found myself at church singing as if no one else might be in the room. My voice has grown stronger and in that, so has my range… Olga, one of my repositories of information on all things vocal and musical once mentioned that the voices of women establish themselves in their thirties. I think it’s kind of magical really. Her own vocal transition is testament to that. The voice is an interesting animal.

In being silent from singing for a year, my voice is making itself known now.

Several Christmases ago, I encouraged my Dad to sit at the piano and play carols so we could sing them. It had been years since we had sung together. He chuckled and his eyebrows unexpectedly shot up with a “really?” This dormant part of me wanted to sing with my Dad like days of yore. And we knocked out a few songs together before retiring to the living room with the rest of the family. Singing had been our language early on and somewhere along the way we had set it aside.

In retrospect, he never knew my penchant and love of singing harmony. We didn’t have mutual songs other than those that breathed of childhood and thus tasted musty and out-of-date in my high school aged mouth. I fretted over sentimentality and he could appreciate it. I embarrassed easily when singing alone.

And then came college. And Choral Union with Ms. T. Later followed by singing more with church after church and while at college with another student group.

SINGING- Finding My Voice

The voice I have today reminds me of the three grey strands of hair poking out from the crown of my head. They are mine. They come at a cost.  See, for anyone who likes to sing (or run or swim or bike) the limitations stop us in our heads first. To climb over that wall, conquer that impasse is to forge a new path and perhaps take a risk.

As Beck says, “you can go higher than that” to me when we sing and play together, I have passed it off with a glib rebuff.  I am now scampering over those walls with delight and unabashed glee.

It feels good to sing again. Infectious. It feels good to know my Dad would want it so.

Categories
Art Grief Singing Spirit

Losing My Voice

Grief does weird things to a person.

You don’t exactly know the when or the where, but you know to take this visitor at its word, when it says it will drop by. Right after my dad’s funeral, people kindly sent emails, texts and phone calls. In the void and silence not to be filled, each word felt like a buoy to anchor me from the weightlessness that threatened to carry me deep into the sky. What is it about that levity that drains time of its usual punctuality, letting present ebb into future and blurring the lines of the past? Except for the event itself, when each detail can be recalled with rote precision.

Some of my earliest memories of my dad bring to mind two voices singing in unison. My starbird voice trilling in that high pitch special to children. His bass would carry the bottom like a firm foundation upon which the house could be built. He would take me out “driving” on his lap- hands latched onto the wheel, steering our way straight from the veering and careening he would do, I thought, so he could see Mama’s face contort into that of an irritated mime. In choir, his deep sonorous bass distinctively stood out from the lighter sopranos, mezzos, baritones and tenors. At one point in time, I equally spoke into existence my intention to be opera singer and fashion designer. My parents taught me to dream big and I did not disappoint.

I started really singing in church. Like Axl Rose. Like MC Hammer and probably scores of other singers. During high school, I auditioned for a youth singing group and made it in, though my point of pride settled on me being the only female rapper one year for choir tour. I wove the words around one another in rhythmic time and felt myself all the more impressive because of my cap worn backwards. Ah, youth. It’s no surprise really that my best friend is an opera singer and I casually took up karaoke.

The week my Dad died, I emailed Karl, our church music director, explaining I would not be able to sing with the church band, that I was in Texas, that my Dad had unexpectedly died. This was soon followed with a conversation that included the words “hiatus” and “not sure when”. Three months bled into six that later became eight and finally almost a year. I couldn’t get up the gumption to sing- it was like the song had been stolen from my mouth.

Months after his death, I would find myself alone in church, wearing a hat, feeling the part of the walking wounded. It didn’t take much to be bowled over emotionally- from the turn of a lyric, the chord progression, the violin playing pizzicato. And that surge of sorrow swept over me anew. There is nothing more mortifying than weeping in a crowd full of singers or trying to unsuccessfully stifle the growing storm. There is also nothing more humanizing. I would catapult myself out onto the street where the austere sun would shine its cold rays of sunlight upon me. The ambient street noises muffled against the backdrop of this particular kind of loneliness.

I say this because it needs to be said.

Last year, I learned a specific way to take care of myself- that it’s okay to seek out solitude and crave it greedily. It’s okay to sob because a silhouette on the street resembles that person. It’s okay to be embraced and sat with and prayed for and cooked for because sometimes your body wants you to stop and take heed.

Then Easter changed everything.

It did not bring back my Dad. It’s hard to explain in words really. It did remove some of the burden of the loss and the lungs that had felt unsturdy weeks prior began to feel stronger. I emailed Karl and said I thought I might be ready. Perhaps I could try and sing again? In his kind, gentle way, Karl told me there was no pressure. I could practice with the band and if I didn’t feel up to it, I didn’t have to stay and sing.

SINGING- Losing My Voice

The lights blazed on our faces. The microphone blared until the sound was equalized. My nightmare of crumpling emotionally on the platform during a song went unfounded. And something about losing myself in the harmonies strung around the melody, around the guitar rhythms, the hand-tapped drum beats on my thigh somehow brought my Dad closer. Music- the very thing that had for months felt too painful and too approximate to the forging and physical extinguishing of our relationship, now became sealant and mender.

I stopped singing for a year because it felt like the right thing to do and because I had no choice. My body began telling me how to interpret “take care of yourself” and once I started listening to my body, I began to find my voice again.

Categories
Art

Coloring Book: March

My gift to my favorite now 3-year old youngster Dadi this year is a coloring book with a page released on the blog each month for his mama, my cousin to download and print so he can color his way into the things that make up 2011. No one’s looking- you can print it out too even if it’s for your inner toddler to color outside the lines…

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I can just imagine you: the squeals of delight ripping from your tiny  body as the big grey mouse comes on stage with a microphone in hand. You might forget the pizza, the friends who have gathered to celebrate you turning one year older. I hear it on good report that the gift of choice this year was Play D-oh, which after our mornings and afternoons of playing with it, I call Play D’oh! I bet you can’t guess what I’m bringing you for a much belated birthday gift… Your mama sent me a photo of you at bat for your first T-Ball practice. Did you know my own Beck is an avid baseball fan? This will be something for the two of you to share when you get a little older.

March was marked by a big event and how do you explain the life-altering state of things in Japan to you rightly? Let’s just say that because of an earthquake, many people are sad and trying to figure out what life looks like after it’s been shaken upside down. Such a big event has brought about big love though and as you may have noticed from earlier this year, a theme I would want you to know about life is that often the bad and the good overlap. I’m doing a small part to help convey my love to Japan, knowing every bit helps.

This month I draw you a birthday cake surrounded by cherry blossoms with a cake stand that says “love” on it in Japanese. Maybe one day you will get to visit Japan and spread some of that sunshine that is yours alone Dadi.

– Your Tia in San Francisco loves you.

MARCH_coloring book

Categories
Art

Coloring Book: February

My gift to my favorite 2-year old Dadi this year is a coloring book with a page released on the blog each month for his mama to download and print so he can color his way into the things that make up 2011. No one’s looking- you can print it out too even if it’s for your inner toddler to color outside the lines…

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We pull up to your school and you leap into your mama’s arms. Me, you look at with those big wide eyes, appraising. It still takes you a little while to warm up to me, where I know a few hours in, you’ll be just fine. This February is going to stand out to your family for some time to come. See Dadi, we can’t ever prepare for some things in life. Hard things will come and good times will too. If I could tell you one of the biggest secrets in life, it’s this: Love big.

You, who are so full of life and energy and boundless amounts of care at such a young age, hang tight to it. Loving big is not something you have to grow out of. So this one is dedicated to you and your best friend Violet.

february coloring book