Thursday, August 17, 2006

Hello! Well this is it... my last entry about Graz. It was a wonderful experience and most importantly, I met a lot of wonderful people! It was so great to be in a place where those around me loved music just as much as me.... and not just the musicians. The citizens of Graz are huge opera fans, so it made the experience even more enjoyable!

Unfortunately, with the new airline security guidelines, we weren't allowed to take our camera's through security. I really wanted to get a picture of Graz from the airport, because the airport has a great view of the town since it sits just outside the city. Ah well... I'll have to keep that view in my long-term memory.

Auf wiedersehen!! PS - Keep your eyes open for my website... coming soon!!

This is the Hall in which the Meistersinger competition was held. A very cool hall.... it's designed like an airline hanger. You can remove the seats and use it, like they do in Graz, for testing car engines. Pretty cool stuff! We met the owner of the building and his wife after the concert. Very nice people and very much in the money. They design buildings like this all over Europe. Here's the orchestra before the concert began. We got our own little 4th of July after the fact... they played "Stars and Stripes Forever" at the end of the concert. It was soo nice to hear! Made me miss home even more.

This is a pic of the 10 finalists for the Meistersinger competition. A pretty tough competition. Very good singers... the results were a little surprising, but aren't they always? My three friends, Stanley, Laura and Dominick were all in the finals!

This is a pic with my voice teacher while in Graz - Donna Zapola-Connolly. She lives in Jersey and is a wonderful, wonderful teacher! I plan to continue studies with her and have lessons when I can get up to the NY area. She helped me to get rid of a lot of my tongue and jaw tension... a God-send! She has also introduced me to some great people - conductors, directors, etc. She is a wonderful woman and great singer! This pic was taken in the lobby of the hall where the Meistersinger competition was held.

Looking up the road from the Jakominiplaz.... this is just down from the Hauptplaz where all the shopping is. You can see in this pic - H & M on the left hand side. They also had all kinds of discount stores and stores that carried Italian leather shoes, etc. Lots of fun.

Here is a pic of some of my closest friends from Graz - from left to right, Curtis from Maryland, Lisa from Australia, Icy from Nebraska, Stanley from DC, Laura from Kansas, myself and Dominick from Nevada. Zehr Good times!!! Til we meet again friends!

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Here are the pics I promised from last week's experiences. I'm finally getting over the flu, I think and starting to get my energy back. The weather has turned very cool and rainy. We were hot and muggy up until a couple of days ago, when it seemed like the seasons changed. It was about 90 degrees during the day, and it has dropped to a cool 65 degrees during the day. I miss the warmth, but the change has been nice.

Here is the Brandhof.. the building where we had rehearsals with the orchestra to prepare for the concert. To sing at an orchestra concert is a big opportunity here at AIMS. If you are chosen to sing on the concert, you are considered one of the top singers in the program. I was honored to have been chosen. Unfortunately, I came down with the flu the day before the concert and woke up the morning of the concert with practically no voice. Unfortunately, I had to drop out of the concert at the last minute. A very difficult thing for me to do.

These two pics are of me rehearsing with the orchestra at the Brandhof. Maestro Eduardo Muller, an incredible musician and very kind man, was wonderful to work with. I was in good voice this day - 2 days before the concert. The concertmaster who's head you see just at my left shoulder is from the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. He is the Asst. Concertmaster there. Another wonderful musician and violinist. He has been a great leader for this very talented orchestra.

Dress rehearsal inside the Stefaniensaal.... not very successful, as I did not have more than an octave. ;-( It was here I determined that I may not be singing that night.

Here I am just outside the performance hall - The Stefaniansaal - the morning of the big orchestra concert. I look excited, but wasn't too excited because I wasn't feeling so good... I thought it was just allergies in my voice, but I wasn't so lucky.

Hello from Graz! This is me sitting at the bus stop waiting for it to pick us up and take us to the Jakominiplatz where we were going for dinner. This was last week before I caught the nasty flu bug!

Monday, July 31, 2006

Sorry to have kept you all on hold. I had a bit of a down turn this past week. I got the flu. ;-( No big deal except that I had to miss the big orchestra concert that I was performing for. It was held at the big concert hall here in Graz, and a lot of the city attends. I was more dissappointed about missing that, than missing the big Meistersinger competition that was held this weekend. NOT a good week to catch the flu. It landed right in my voice, so even if I wasn't feeling so hot, I still couldn't sing if I wanted to. I didn't have 2/3 of my voice! Ugh! Of all the things to have happen. Oh well.... I'm starting to feel better and hope to be back on my feet by tomorrow or the next day.

I did get a chance to work with the world famous conductor that directed the orchestra concert - Eduardo Muller. He was a wonderful man! Very kind.... like a grandfather. And on the flip side, he knows his music better than anyone I've seen conduct. He is phenominal to work with! I got pictures and managed to record one of the rehearsals before I lost my voice. I've put the pics on my blog and then when my website is finished, you should be able to hear the recording on that.
Hopefully that will be good to go by the time I get home.

In the meantime, I spent most of this last week either in coachings and rehearsals, or in bed. So I didn't get out much, but I promise to do that before I leave. Only 2 more weeks. I am excited to be coming home. This has been a good experience and I still have some work to do, but I will be glad when it's done.

Friday, July 21, 2006

It's been a very busy week, and this week is going to be even busier, but I wanted to take a minute and add a comment.

I sang in two recitals this past week. Each week, AIMS has 2 or 3 artist recitals. In order to sing in them, you have to sign up and get your coaches's and voice teacher's approvals. I did so, and was given the chance to sing twice. The first time I sang "Je Veux Vivre" and the 2nd performance, I sang Ach Ich Fuhls. Both went pretty well. I was lacking a little in the Juliette song as far as character is concerned because I was focused so much on technique. Ah well... the Pamina was better and I had fun both times.

I also had 2 auditions - one with a director from a German opera house, and the other with a French/European agent. Again, both went well, but they didn't bite. There are sooo many sopranos and if you don't have exactly what they're looking for, then they don't want you. However, they seem to be much nicer here than in the states. At least, that's been my experience. Now, granted, we are doing a study program, and so they take more time to work with you. But just in general, the demeanor is so much more pleasant. That is very attractive to me and has made me think often that it would be nice to sing here.

This next week I'll be singing in an orchestra concert in the Grazer Congress - Stefaniensaal. It is a big concert hall here. It is beautiful and a great hall to sing in. We get to sing arias with the orchestra - we have 3 rehearsals for that this week and then the performance. I'll be singing "Deh Vieni" from La Nozze de Figaro. I am very excited about that. I've never performed it, so I am spending most of my weekend getting that memorized.

I'm also working on a new piece since next Saturday is the big Meistersinger (master singer) competition. Pretty crazy!! But it's good times. The competition chooses 24 semi-finalists out of all the entries, and then a top 10 with 2 alternates. We have to have 3 arias prepared. I'll be singing Quando men vo, Vilja, and my new favorite, Ach Ich Liebte from Die entfuhrung aus dem Serail (The abduction from the Seraglio). It is an amazing aria, and I am so excited to sing it!! LOTS of high C's and D's!! Right up my alley! The top 3 singers win prize money... there is MAJOR competition here, but I'm going to give it my all!

Well, that is about all for now. I will attach pictures of the orchestra concert once I have them next week. I am working HARD and making good use of the time here. Tschuss!

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Hello! It's been a busy week and I haven't had much time to update my blog. So here are some pics and the latest about what's happening.

Class got off with a bang, and I've been running like crazy trying to get used to the schedule and making the needed adjustments to my singing. I have a wonderful teacher who is adding so much to my voice. The challenge is implementing all of the concepts and new techniques in such a short period of time.

Having said that, I am auditioning next week - on Tuesday and Thursday, for the opera manager from a small, yet very distinguished opera house in Germany - Herr Drechsell. They like to hire young singers and help to mold them and get their careers off to a start. The other audition is for an agent from France. Say a prayer for me that they go well.

We took a break from our studies yesterday (Saturday) to celebrate the opening of AIMS. Pics from the earlier entry are of the program in the morning. The pics below are from the reception last night. Graz is full of very kind people who so graciously host the American Inst. of Musical Studies program each year, as they have for the last 40 + years. Each year AIMS comes back, and each year Graz asks them to return. It is a very big deal here. I feel very spoiled to be a part of such a wonderful, cultural and education event!

This photo is of me and Jim Rousch. He is on the Board of Directors for the San Diego Opera. He is here as a singer and has a marvelous Bass voice!!! He sounds very young vocally for his age, which I won't disclose to you. He is a very kind man and someone who loves music. He also has a degree in law and was a commander on a submarine in the Navy.

This lovely gentleman is Tom King, Artistic Director of AIMS, And choir director for the festivities. He makes all of the decisions as to who gets to sing and when. He is the backbone for AIMS.

Eggenberg Palace - this is what it looked like when we arrived. We got all dressed up to the nines and went there to eat and socialize. It was very fun. My feet were killing me though... 4 hours in heels... NOT fun!

Here is the ballroom that we sang and ate in... VERY beautiful murals, etc.

Peacocks were there in abundance... this one thought he would show off a little!

This is Eggenberg Palace at night... The secretary to the Governer welcomed us and thanked us for coming to Graz to share our talents and music with them.

Here I am with my friends (from left to right), Stanley from DC, Lisa from Melbourne, Australia, myself, and Dominick from Las Vegas, NV. We are standing at the entrance to the Eggenberg Palace.

Stanley teaches at Duke Ellington School of music in DC, is a bass-baritone and has 2 kids and 1 wife, Lisa is the scholarship winner from Australia and has one son and one husband. Dominick is here for his 2nd year at AIMS. He is a senior attending the Univ. of Las Vegas. He has a magnificent tenor voice, no kids and no wife.

I was involved in the choir that sang at the Governor's reception. We sang America the Beautiful along with an Austrian Folk Song, "Dachstein Lied" and Simple Gifts. I was asked to sing the 2nd verse of America the Beautiful as a solo. We also sang our country's national anthem with the orchestra. It brought tears to my eyes as I sang and thought of the many, many freedoms we enjoy and all of the people who gave their lives in order that we would have those freedoms. With all the major unrest that is happening in the world... especially most recently in Isreal, etc., it hit very close to home as we sang. Thank God for our wonderful country!

This pic is of the university of Graz. This is where we attended the opening ceremonies for the AIMS program.

The view from the balcony where we sang looking down to the audience and the orchestra. They played a couple of Beethoven pieces. Boy, they are GOOD.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Things here are going fairly well.... I have a whole new voice! I can't wait for everyone to hear it! It's not really a new voice, but it is getting so much bigger and better. I'm very excited. I'm going to put together a recital when I get back. It will consist of music that I learned here. I have really learned sooo much and I'm having a great time. I have met some wonderful people and have just loved singing. I've been working really hard and am finally feeling like I'm used to this new time change, etc.

The weather is absolutely gorgeous! It hasn't rained as much as it usually does, and the days are warm, but it gets cool at night... which is nice because they have no AC here. It's not like hot like DC, but it gets a little toasty.

I have class every day, and it's pretty intense.... Here's what my schedule looks like. German class every day, voice lessons twice a week, vocal coachings twice a week, stage artistry twice a week, and then audition training twice a week. Each class is about 45 minutes long. Some days I'm running from one to the next with no break. Then we have concerts 2-3 times a week. I am not singing in all of them obviously, but i'll go sometimes to hear other singers.

I have a mock audition tomorrow.... it's to practice for an audition that I'm hoping to have for a German opera company next week. We'll see if I'll be ready. If I'm not ready, then I won't sing. I'll just wait for the next one.

I miiiiiisssss crabs!!! The food is just not the same here. We are eating cafeteria like food.... you know - it's at a school, so it's not the best thing. It keeps us breathing. I also miss Mexican food like CURRAAAZZYY!!! We do go out every once in a while, but you can't really get a good green salad at a restaurant. It's all iceburg lettuce... not my favorite.

I will put more pics on once I have them. Not really anything too exciting about sitting in a classroom!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

My New Room Number is 212!

I moved into a new room because the old one smelled like smoke soo bad. Even after washing the curtains and spraying the room down, it still wreaked bad. So I am now in Room 212.

More later.... busy, busy, busy!

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Master class with Gabriella Lechner.... an Austrian Opera legend. She is phenomenal! Very lucky to have worked with her. It's 18:00 pm (6:00 pm) here on Saturday and the bells are ringing outside to signify the beginning of the Sabbath. I wish we observed it better in the States. They sound so cool!

We finally had some rain here yesterday. It rained good and cooled things off a little. But it was hot and muggy today... it's starting to cool off now, however. Oh, it is just beautiful here!

Picture of the restaurant in the Wood... a picture of the front of the restaurant, and a view from the back patio... just breath taking!!!
Guten tag! I am almost through my first week and boy, has it been a great week. I am starting to get used to the time change... I'm still waking up in the middle of the night for about an hour or so, and then I manage to fall back asleep. But I am singing well despite that and the cigarette smoke smell in my room. I think the person that was in here before me was a smoker. Yuck! Ah well....

I had my hearing for the faculty on Thursday. It went sooo well!!! My high notes soared and I didn't have any tension in my sound. It was wunderbar!!!! I sang the Sophie part of the Rose Presentation from Der Rosenkavalier by Strauss and then Regnava nel Silenzio from Lucia de Lamermoor by Donizetti. I messed up the words a little on the Strauss, which caused some pitch issues at one part - I was thinking the wrong words... words that were on the next page. Anyway, I kept going as if nothing happened. It turned out great. The Lucia went fabulously. A short time after I sang, the faculty went on break, so I spoke with a few of them.... they were very complimentary. I had one woman who is an Austrian opera singer - Elisabeth Beis, come to me and say that she wanted to see my resume and speak with me a little bit. I did speak with her earlier today. She is going to help me get ready to audition for someone from the Opera here. I'm not sure what will come of it, if anything, but any audition is a good one. Not sure if I have what they would be looking for, but you never know. We'll see. We will find out next week, or perhaps tomorrow, what our class schedule is going to be and what concerts we will be singing at.

I spoke in depth with another teacher here.... he teaches at the University of Las Vegas... his name is Alfans Anderson - an incredible tenor! He said that as he listened to my singing, that he noticed a special quality about the sound. He said that it had a very distinct color to it... that it was different than anyone else's sound, and that my high notes just sparkled. He said it was gorgeous. I was very flattered by his compliment! I will continue to work to get that sparkle in the sound.

I sang in a master class this morning with Gabriella Lechner. She is a legend in Austria... very famous opera singer and now teacher. She is PHENOMINAL!! I sang Je Veux Vivre from Romeo et Juliette for her. This was very interesting!!! This is a piece that I have sung for a very long time, and that I thought, was fairly polished. Well, this is what happens when you sing for a legend.... they find everything wrong with the song. Not that everything was wrong, but she had a lot of things to fix. The French was all over the place, and I am just laughing because I had worked on that soooo much. So we fixed some of that. But more importantly, was that she found STILL a lot of tension in my tongue. Unfortunately, I had developed some very bad tongue and jaw tension with a previous voice teacher, that has taken me over two years to work through. Well, those issues are still fairly obvious in my singing... at least to the trained singer's ear. On my high notes, I wasn't opening my mouth wide enough, so that my jaw was vibrating and the back of my tongue was lifting up. That is not a good thing! So, I have to work very hard on relaxing my tongue and further opening my mouth on the high notes. I worked to get away from opening my mouth too much because I used to swallow my sound when I did that. Now, I have pretty good placement, so I can open it wide and the sound will not get swallowed. I did this throughout the piece as she coached me, and the difference in my sound was incredible!!!

I also have to work more on putting my body into my singing... supporting from the ground up. All these things take time, but if I can get a good handle on them, I will be on the right track. I had some new found friends here take notes for me and listen, and they said that the high C at the end of the piece sounded like I blew the top off my head when I sang it. The cool thing is that once I applied the things she was telling me, that high C was 3 times bigger and clearer, but took the half the effort! It was the coolest thing!!! I can't wait to get started on lessons next week to learn even more!

Here's some pics of the master class with Gabriella.... I'm sorry they're not very close up, I should have asked the girl taking them to zoom in. The other pics are of a restaurant that we had dinner at last night. It's up on the hill above the city - the Restaurant in the Wood. It was beautiful!!!

Tomorrow is Sunday, and all the shops, etc., are closed for the Sabbath. It will be a nice restful day. I'm going to go to church in the morning. They have one here - it's across town, but I can ride the trolley to it.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Hello again! I have some time this afternoon, and thought I would add another posting.

Things are going very well. I went to bed last night at 7 pm Austrian time... that would have been 1 pm DC time. I was sooo exhausted! I slept all through the night and got up around 7:30 am this morning. I am feeling a lot better today now that I've had some good sleep.

I had a short German language survival course this morning.... they taught us some basic phrases and how to introduce ourselves to people. I am a slow learner when it comes to languages so I am not doing so hot right off the bat. Ah well... the people here are very nice and they will speak English to you if you say, "Sprecken sie English?" (Do you speak English?) I will just have to force myself to speak it and it will come eventually.

I spent much of the morning singing through my songs.... I haven't sung for a good week before today, so I took my time and warmed up good, etc. I just got back from having a very short rehearsal with my accompanist. He is going to play for me at my hearing tomorrow. All singers have to sing for the faculty so that they can decide what concerts and music they would like us to learn. Say a prayer for me that it goes well.

We had lunch today at the school that we will be having classes at. Classes don't start until next week. We are spending this week getting settled and resting up - getting used to the time change, rehearsing and having hearings. Lunch wasn't too bad.... but not all that great either. We had soup, salad, and rice with chicken. The salad was chopped up iceberg lettuce with pumpkin seed oil for dressing. I'm going to go to the open market later and get some fresh fruit and veggies. They have the yummiest fresh food here. Get this though. They don't serve ice in their drinks. And you can't ask for it because they'll think you're crazy. Ice means icecream. They don't have ice here. Weird.

Anyway, I have a break now.... I just finished my rehearsal for tomorrow. It went ok. The pianist and I are going to meet again in the morning, because one of the pieces I am singing is very difficult to play..... and he is going to practice tonight and then we'll work on it again in the morning. I have to go to a meeting in about an hour to learn about the German classes that I'll be taking. And then we have orientation and a dinner tonight. Should be fun.

The people here are very nice.... there are definately some egos flying around, but you just kill em with kindness. I've met a few people from DC. It's fun to talk to them about home.

I met this girl here from Australia. She is very nice. She has a husband and little 1 year old at home. She got a phone call only 2 weeks ago from someone with AIMS asking her if she'd like to participate. Something happened where a person from there was going to come, but couldn't or something. So she got everything together in just a couple of days and came out. It took her 2 plane rides.... the first from Melbourne, Australia to Singapore was 9 hours and then from Singapore to Frankfort, Germany was 12 hours!!! Is that crazy or what???? Then she met up with us all in Frankfort... where we flew from there to Graz. That was a small jet plane, like those small prop planes. Anyway, she speaks German very well, so I try to go to as many places with her as possible so that I can learn the language.

That's all for now. More later.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Here's the pics of my room....

The showers are down the hall as well as the bathrooms. Much like an American dorm room.

Made the trip from Virginia to Graz, Austria today. The flight wasn't too bad. Just long. They say that if you sleep through the entire flight and then stay awake the entire day after arriving, that your body will adjust quickly to the time change. I'm hoping that is the case. I am exhausted... I managed to sleep ok on the flight over, and to stay awake for the day. It has been a challenge, but hopefully will work like they said.

Here's pics of the airport and the land around the airport. Very much like farm land. The drive from the airport to the Heim (dormatory) was much like driving through neighborhoods in the states. Small, two lane roads that wind and turn. There are not many highways out here. I've also included pics of my room and the Heim. My room is about the size of my bathroom at home.... not QUITE that small, but close to it. It's nice and cozy.

The weather is perfect here. Breezy, not too humid, and not dry. You can leave the window open all day and it feels nice and cool.

I have rehearsal for my hearing tomorrow. The hearing is on Thursday. What is a hearing you ask? Each singer and pianist has to perform for the faculty in order for them to make assignments for each concert. Once they have heard everyone sing, they will post an assignment schedule with all the songs that will be sung/played and by who. I look forward to singing for them, and hope that it will go well despite my jet lag. I plan to sing the Sophie part of the Der Rosenkavalier duet, and a part, or all of "Regnava" from Lucia de Lamermoor. Wish me luck!

As promised, I would let you know what my room number is in case you'd like to send mail. I am in room #57.

Happy 4th of July!!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Hello! Well, here I go. Getting ready to go to Austria! I've never used a blog before, but hopefully this will work out and be a good way to keep you all informed of my experience in Graz!

Back in March, I auditioned for the American Institute of Musical Studies summer program. Like most auditions as a "rising" professional opera singer, you do it for the experience and hope that an opportunity to perform and work with a director will come of it. I went into the audition with no expection except to do well. Fortunately, I was blessed with much more than a good audition. This is a chance in a life time and I'm grateful to be able to be going on this great venture!

In order to attend, I had to raise the money for the cost of the program, which includes, housing, tuition for the best instruction from directors and coaches worldwide, and meals. That doesn't sound like a lot for the cost of $5,300, but this is about 1 semester's worth of instruction at any college, plus a single room in European dorms, performances once a week, and auditions for European agents. So, really, it's well worth the money. I also had to pay for airfare and then of course spending money. Unfortunately my employer would not let me take leave without pay to go, so I had to quit my job as well. Because of that, I also had to make sure that I raised enough money so that I would have some in savings to use up when I got back, until I had some steady income again. So, all total, I had to plan on about $10,000. Well, my friends and family, and even people that I don't know very well, were SO generous! I have been able to raise the funds that I've needed. It is because of YOU that I am taking this wonderful trip! The Lord has given me this great opportunity and He has provided a way!