With a whirlwind schedule taking her from Seattle to Hong Kong to NYC and back again, Lindsay Russell is heading full steam ahead toward a bright career in opera. I caught up with the effervescent coloratura soprano this week in New York City to catch up on life, music, and of course… food.
I found the petite, blonde soprano sitting amongst a sea of people at Columbus Circle’s Bouchon Bakery. “I think we might be better somewhere else?” hinted Lindsay politely before we headed to the Le Pain Qoutidien on 7th Ave “this is so much better!”
When talking about music Lindsay’s face immediately lights up; when it comes to other singers, the soprano admires the skilled pyrotechnics of those whose repertoire she is currently tackling. ”I go through singer phases, where I can’t listen to enough of them, but there are a few who have stood the test of time. I’ll pretty much always pick a Joan Sutherland recording over the others. I’m a big fan of Diana Damrau, and also love watching Natalie Dessay’s videos on youtube. Hmmm, I also love Edita Gruberova, Barbara Bonney, and Renata Scotto… I could go on but I won’t.”
Lindsay describes a recent trip to China for a concert with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra as one filled with pleasant surprises. “I am definitely not used to that kind of treatment!” laughs Lindsay. “Everything about it was so amazing, I just can’t believe how well they took care of me, from the work visa to transportation, they were just incredible.” Miss Russell was the only soloist invited for an 11-11-11 concert themed “2011- A Space Odyssey” with the HKPO. “The funny thing is, they already had the program selected for the concert, but wanted to include an aria from Haydn’s Il Mondo Della Luna and the Queen Of The Night arias from The Magic Flute…” The current Chief Executive Director of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra is none other than Michael MacLeod, the former General and Artistic Director of Glimmerglass Opera, where Lindsay made her debut as Laurie in Aaron Copland’s “The Tender Land”, which garnered her praise by Opera News and The New York Times. It was Michael MacLeod who suggested the talented singer make her debut in front of a crowd no less than 20,000 people.
About that. ”The actual concert was such a great experience and what a production! They managed to actually sync fireworks to go off while the Orchestra played Johan Strauss II’s The Blue Danube. I’ve never experienced anything like that! Also, its such a different culture… I was really surprised how many YOUNG people were there. Whole groups of teenagers just hanging out at the classical music concert like it was the cool thing to do. They were even asking for my autograph after, again, not something I’m used to!”
Miss Russell, a foodie in the making, also has no qualms over trying new and unusual things. “Oh, I’ll try anything once!” she exclaims. When discussing her favorite place to eat in New York City, Joe’s Shanghai in Chinatown, Lindsay loves to explain her initial thoughts and eventual love affair with the local eatery. “I really wanted to hate it there, because it’s just always so busy, but I can’t stay away! The food is so so good, I’m actually meeting my roommates there tonight for dinner. And FYI – the one in Chinatown is clearly superior to the one in midtown, and it’s also significantly cheaper. Plus, only in Chinatown do you get the experience of sharing your table with six other strangers. ” The Chinatown favorite features one of the soprano’s favorite eats. Soup Dumplings. The tasty treats almost always require a tutorial for newcomers, that is, unless you WANT to spill out all of the delicious filling.
When it comes to what composers the soprano loves singing, and those she wishes she could just get more of, the response is immediate and almost obvious. “Strauss! Once I conquer a Strauss piece, it is incredibly rewarding to sing. I just sang Zerbinetta for the first time in public this week, for an audition, and it was so much fun. I never tire of Mozart, which is good, because hopefully I’ll be singing that repertoire for the rest of my life. I also am completely obsessed with singing Bach. I wish someone would hire me to sing Bach all day long.”
Of her summers at Glimmerglass, Lindsay definitely has an abundance of great things to say about her time with the company. ”My last two summers there were a lot of fun. I love sitting on the back porch of the Otesaga Hotel, sipping a cocktail and eating snack mix in a wooden rocking chair. I love “wrong rep night,” where everyone in the program sings and performs the most inappropriate things we can imagine.
“Some of my truly favorite moments happened backstage” she continues. ”My first year there, I sang Laurie in the Tender Land, and at the end of every performance, Andrew Stenson, Mark Diamond and I had a big group hug right before we went on for bows.”
You may call her sentimental, but don’t underestimate Lindsay’s preparedness on keeping a box of Kleenex nearby. “One of my favorite moments from last summer was during the first orchestra rehearsal for Annie Get Your Gun.” (The Francesca Zambello directed production starred operatic superstar Debbie Voigt.) “Most broadway orchestras are small – no more than twenty or so people – so hearing wonderful Glimmerglass Orchestra performing the overture brought me to tears.”
Currently, Miss Russell is spending the year as a young artist with Seattle Opera. And though the soprano admits that being away from loved ones can be difficult, its evident that living with two of her best friends, tenor Andrew Stenson and mezzo-soprano Sarah Larsen definitely helps. “There is rarely a dull moment in our house!”
And Seattle Opera itself? “I love the coaching staff! I’m learning so much from them, I feel like I should be paying them, and not the other way around! I also adore my colleagues. With a program this small (nine people), it could be a bad experience if we didn’t all get along. Luckily, everyone there is not only ridiculously talented, but also kind and humble.”
Miss Russell will be spending the 2012 summer season as an apprentice singer with the Santa Fe Opera covering the Fiakermilli in Strauss’s Arabella. You can watch Lindsay sing “I Could Have Danced All Night” from Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady by CLICKING HERE!
In just a few weeks, Tenor Eric Bowden will be joining Syracuse Opera to cover Alfredo in La Traviata before heading to Sarasota Opera‘s Young Artist Program. I stepped out of my Upper West Side apartment last week to find the vagabond singer waiting for me in his Mustang Convertible. “Hey!” shouted Eric moving aside several fishing rods “… let me make some room for you.”
We drove down the West Side Highway with the top down, and I couldn’t help but notice the immediate feeling of elation that comes along with riding in a convertible. “Can you imagine what its like driving in this thing from from Des Moines!?” It wasn’t difficult to picture at all. Mr. Bowden is the kind of guy who, while possessing a passion for performance, enjoys all sorts of recreational activities. Whether its fishing, beer pong ,or driving by himself across the country, nothing strikes him as boring. “Its wonderful,” says Eric when asked about the long, lonely drive from Des Moines Metro Opera.
Eric excitedly states that we are going to his favorite place to eat in all of New York, Joe’s Shanghai in Chinatown. After sipping some bubble tea from a neighboring establishment, we made our in as our number was called. “This was actually the first place I brought Lindsay,” says Eric referring to his girlfriend, the beautiful and gifted lyric coloratura, Lindsay Russell. “She hated it at first!” laughed Eric. I wasn’t sure why until I realized the famous Chinese eatery came complete with dumplings and community style seating. “… but we were seated with these two couples; one from France, the other from Germany, and after a few minutes, she loved the place too!” Interested to see just what Eric loved about the place, I let him order for me “you HAVE to try the soup dumplings!”
When talking about the difficulties of being away from loved ones, especially Lindsay, he admits the distance is rough, but has nothing but wonderful, and ultimately supportive things to say about Miss Russell’s blooming career. I look across our community table and realize we weren’t as lucky with our table partners.
When the food comes, Eric enthusiastically shows me how to properly consume my soup dumplings; a task that took me an embarrassing two tries to master. “There you go!” said Eric. And when we got to discussing favorite roles, “Laurie, in Little Women!” said Eric without hesitation, all the while delicately handling his chopsticks. After singing and covering Ferrando and Count Almaviva, I was interested to hear his reasoning. ”It’s my favorite for two reasons; One, I love the opera… it’s such a great role to sing. Two, I was originally the cover for the opera’s run with Pensacola Opera, but I got to go on at the last minute and they ended up keeping me in the role. That was just such a great and meaningful experience.”
When we finished, we walked around the neighborhood for a while “this is my favorite area in the city. It’s just so…” he trails off for a second when we spot a mini FIAT in front of a Häagen-Dazs “great.”
Mr. Bowden will be singing excerpts from La Traviata (Alfredo) as well as selections from other well known favorites in Syracuse Opera’s tour “9 Operas in 90 Minutes” September 21st through October 1st at various locations upstate. For more information, or to buy tickets, please CLICK HERE!
Following the digital release of “Reverie, Interrupted” on amazon.com, I sat down with saxophonist Jordan P Smith to discuss how the talented performer manages to balance an active teaching, conducting and performance career all while staying grounded.
Jacob Paul: You have a duel career as a saxophonist and conductor. Do you find it difficult to balance both aspects of performing? Or do you find they compliment each other?
Jordan Smith: Since my main conducting job is conducting the Youth Orchestra of Central Jersey’s middle school and high school Saxophone Ensembles, I find that my performing and conducting do compliment each other greatly. I think that almost any musical situation can be complemented by other musical experiences you may have had.
JP: How do you like working with youth?
JS: I love it, especially working with middle school students. At that age, they have such an excitement for music that gets lost in all the busyness of high school.
JP: Your career has taken you all along the East coast From Florida to the greater reaches of NY State. How do you find the time to balance your Doctoral work, solo career, ensemble performances AND teaching?
JS: Sometimes it becomes very difficult, especially when preparing for a recital. I have to be incredibly organized and maintain as much of a normalized weekly schedule as possible. I’ve learned to make my practicing more efficient, deciding what I’m going to work on each day, although if it’s getting close to a performance, there are many late nights of practicing, for sure.
JP: The key is to do a balance of everything in a given week if possible.What I find amazing about you, is that you somehow manage to find repertoire that allows you to collaborate with almost anyone. In fact you even regularly perform with operatic soprano Rachel Hall. One of the pieces I saw you two perform was based the book “I Never Saw Another Butterfly“, a collection of poetry written by children in the Terezin Concentration Camp during the Holocaust. To this it remains one of the most profound performances I’ve had the pleasure to experience. How important is it to you to continually find repertoire that reaches beyond what the general notion of what others perceived saxophone repertoire to be?
JS: It’s very important…I mean it’s really my mission. Most people don’t realize that the saxophone has had a rich musical history dating back to its inception around 1841. To be sure, modern classical/contemporary saxophone gained a firm foothold in the 1930s with the composition of Glazunov’s “Concerto” and Ibert’s “Concertino da Camera“, but it was used long before then in the orchestra and opera by composers like Debussy, Bizet, Massenet, Saint-Saens, Franck, and many more. Based off of this rich and growing heritage is an expansive wealth of chamber music for saxophone quartet and saxophone and almost every instrument imagineable. Performing chamber music has allowed me to connect with vocalists, violinists, cellists, violists, and other woodwind instruments that I might not get to perform with on a regular basis. And like the experience you had, I’ve always found that audiences respond well to chamber music.
JP: This past spring, you played “Reverie, Interrupted” with composer James Adler at the Yamaha Salon. How important do you feel it is for musicians to work and perform with living composers?
JS: This past spring, you played “Reverie, Interrupted” with composer James Adler at the Yamaha Salon. How important do you feel it is for musicians to work and perform with living composers?
To remain musically relevant, I believe all musicians have to keep working to produce new works in conjunction with composers. In the 19th century, the “contemporary” music of Beethoven and Brahms was all the rage, yet in today’s musical society there is sometimes a stigma attached to new music. I believe music should keep moving forward, though, by continuing to promote the best new works out there that explore all musical possibilities.
JP: You’ve had the opportunity to play in many different types of spaces. From intimate settings such as the the Yamaha Salon, to iconic landmarks such as The Metropolitan Museum of Art. How do you adapt to the changing environments and acoustics? Any favorite places?
JS: I carry a lot of reeds with me, haha. My favorite performance hall I’ve had the pleasure of performing in is Knight Concert Hall at The Adrienne Arsht Center in Miami. I got to perform the saxophone part to Copland’s “Piano Concerto” there with Michael Tilson Thomas and New World Symphony.
JP: You’ve played with the New World Symphony more than once. What did you like most about the experiences you’ve had?
JS: I loved both opportunities I had to perform with them. It’s really a one of a kind orchestra. The most exciting part is peforming with musicians in their 20s and 30s that you know are going to end up in the top orchestras in the world.
JP: When did you first know that you wanted to do this?
JS: Well I didn’t always know. I actually originally went to college for computer science, but switched quickly into music…I just couldn’t live without it. I majored in music education in undergrad, but by my junior year knew I wanted to perform and teach, which ended up leading me to Manhattan School.
JP: What are you most looking forward to in your upcoming schedule?
JS: My quartet, the Manhattan Saxophone Quartet, just commissioned Jeff Nytch, a composer/professor from University of Colorado, and also a secret commission to be announced in a few months! I’m most looking forward to premiering these new works.
JP: Who inspires you most in your life?
JS: My father probably inspires me the most. He worked himself up from living in a trailer park to being a vice-president of a company. He has a strong faith in God and is a great example. I definitely look to him these areas, especially in faith. Faith is something that has made this easier during the difficult times when you’re not sure where things are going.
Reverie, Interrupted is being released on the CD “Sculpting the Air” on June 28th on Navona Records. You can get it on Amazon, etc. The Mp3 is released now (at amazon). You can visit Jordan Smith’s website to view past and upcoming engagements by clicking HERE.
- A crazy good Chamber Music program (charlestoncitypaper.com)
- Great sax (jmubethechange.wordpress.com)
- Music Review: James Carter – Caribbean Rhapsody (repeatingislands.com)
- Classical music Q&A: Why do an all-Schubert concert? Director Robert Taylor talks about Con Vivo’s concert this Friday night (welltempered.wordpress.com)
Michael Graye is a singer-songwriter from Moriarty, New Mexico who’s varied influences have sparked a style all his own. Today’s “grace note” is a pick up to what I see as a very promising career.
Jacob Paul: Good afternoon Michael
Michael Graye: Good afternoon Mr. Paul (chuckles sipping on his Venti caffeinated something)
JP: You’ve been in New York for about eight months now, can you tell me about your decision to move here and what it’s meant for you as an artist?
MG: The decision to move to New York started with my brief visit to the city last March, in which not only was I exposed to the rich and eclectic culture of the city, but was enlightened by the amazing possibilities a musician has here. The final decision was made when a colleague of mine got into the Manhattan School of Music and asked me to move out here with him. Being here in the city has opened me up to countless possibilities as an artist. Just being in a place where I can see and even meet so many of the artists I admire has changed not only me, but my all around sound as well.
JP: Some of those artists are?
MG: Everyone has a list a mile long, even if they’re not a musician. In order to understand my sound, however; there are only 3 that I need to name. The first is Joni Mitchell. With Mitchell, I am inspired by her lyrical craft and harmonic mastery. Her songs will be timeless, and that is the most important thing to consider when you are writing a piece of music: will my work be remembered? The second is Tori Amos. I mainly look up to her for her work with the piano, though I can’t deny that her raw emotion is an incredible trait in her sound. Last, I would have to say Bobby McFerrin. Like McFerrin, I am an avid fan of musical improvisation, and believe that some of the best music comes from a place un-calculated and unprepared.
JP: I vividly remember seeing you at choir competitions in high school. To give my readers an example I would compare Moriarty High School’s choir to Glee’s Vocal Adrenaline and my choir (Belen High School) to New Directions season episode 1… you know, when they kind of really sucked.
MG: Ok. I can see the parallels as well. I think it’s very interesting how much the ‘glee’ phenomenon has introduced mainstream America to the a cappella performance art form. When I was in that choir back in high school, very few people knew what a cappella music was. I don’t relish the over-commercialization of Glee though, and feel that the original intent of the show has been lost amongst the Britney Spears and Lady GaGa episodes. The moments I love on the show, which I rarely watch now, are those built upon the honest performance of a song and the appreciation of real talent.
JP: I’ve had the rare pleasure of knowing you for five years now… the first original piece of yours that really caught my ear was 2007′s “Over Ivory”. Between then and your more recent collaborations with Corrine Byrne, you seem to have really found your musical identity.
MG: Identity. I appreciate that you like the newer sound that I’ve been exploring. I like it, too. The best part of being a musician though, is not necessarily finding a permanent identity, but finding a periodic associative complex within which to satisfy basic needs. Artists, in my opinion, create in order to communicate in a different way than other people. Over the last five years, I haven’t been searching for an identity, I’ve been changing the sound that satisfies me, or gives me comfort. My collaborations with Corrine have just tapped into a new way of reaching that.
JP: A common theme I find that you and Ms Byrne seem to explore in your collaborations is friendship. In what ways do feel your relationships with others play in your music making? http://michaelgraye.bandcamp.com/album/there-inside-ep
MG: Great question. I have tried to open myself up more and more to others in my writing process. I used to be very, for lack of a better way of saying it, close-minded about the influence that other people have on my music. I used to find the majority of my inspiration in other music, or observations I made about world events, or politics; basically the normal fare for any singer/songwriter. Three years ago, I met an individual that changed that. The connection that I had with this person was so strong, in made my music much more intimate. It wasn’t even that I was attempting to be more personal about my writing, it happened naturally. Bottom line, I try to be honest in my music and hope that people listen. To me, that’s what’s missing from the industry today. People have forgotten how to listen.
Soprano Rachel Jeanne Hall holds her MM in Vocal Performance from the Manhattan School of Music and begins the 2011-2012 season covering the role of Lisette in Puccini’s La Rondine at the Opera Company of Middlebury in Vermont before beginning a nine month engagement as a young artist at Louisiana’s Shreveport Opera.
Jacob Paul: What was your initial reaction when receiving the news that you had been hired for Shreveport Opera’s upcoming season?
Rachel Hall: I was so overwhelmed; it was a mixture of wanting to cry, wanting to scream and just jump up and down with joy because all my hard work had finally paid off.
JP: Indeed. What are you most looking forward to in Louisiana? Any fears?
RH: I’m really looking forward to singing with a real company for more than just a month, eating the Cajun cuisine and being around new people. While I’m excited, I’m definitely going to miss New York because there is just something about this city that inspires you to be creative and continually reinvent yourself. I’m going to miss that.
JP: Any news on role assignments?
RH: I haven’t gotten my official contract yet, but there are discussions concerning the roles of Valencienne in Lehar’s “The Merry Widow” and possibly a supporting role in Carmen.
JP: This summer you’ll be covering your friend soprano Bevin Hill singing the role of Lisette at Middlebury; how did it feel to know you would be working alongside her for your first professional assignment?
RH: I’m so excited that I’m going to be working with Bevin because she is incredibly creative and always surprises me with her brilliant acting choices. For example, while at MSM together, we took Catherine Malfitano’s class”Revealing The Singer/ Actor Within”, and one of our assignments was to sing an aria while wearing masks we made ourselves. Bevin made the most hideous and creepy “Where The Wild Things Are” type mask and sang Quando m’en vo while wearing this… animal! The way that she owned, and even flaunted the ugliness and vulnerability of this… new, warped Musetta, was strangely touching- I’ll never forget that. I am so excited to see what she brings to Lisette this summer.
JP: You mentioned Catherine Malfitano’s class at MSM, but you’re also studying with the famous singer-actress…
RH: Yes I am; I’ve been studying with Catherine for almost two years, and what she has taught me about technique, musicality and becoming your character and living in the moment has allowed me to realize my true potential as an all-around performer as opposed to just being another singer.
JP: I’ve definitely seen you in variety of roles over the past three years…
RH: (referencing her Annabelle Lee in “Gargoyle Garden” by B. Allen Schultz) Haha yup! Playing the Goth Victorian orphaned girlfriend of a young “Edgar Allen” who was obsessed with bugs was definitely a fun acting challenge.
JP: We can’t forget your pink pigtails.
RH: Definitely my favorite wig I’ve been given!
JP: How do you feel your training at the Manhattan School of Music prepared you for the performance world?
RH: I am so thankful that I found my amazing teacher Catherine, but I was also able to work with a lot of really fantastic teachers and coaches including Warren Jones, Ken Merrill, Tom Muraco, Dona D. Vaughan and my first teacher there, Maitland Peters. Coming from a small liberal arts college from the mountains of North Carolina, the whole New York experience was quite an exciting and welcome change. I will say that the intense competition and large class size (referring to the 95 masters students pursuing voice degrees in her year) and overall talent of my classmates really lit a fire under me to get to work. I realized that some things you just can’t learn in school… you’ve got to be proactive and decide to go big or go home.
This is the first installment in what I hope to be a regular series of interviews with friends of mine who are actively pursuing careers in classical music. Matthew Anchel is a bass and native New Yorker currently spending the season as a Domingo-Thornton Young Artist at the Los Angeles Opera.
Jacob Paul: Good Evening Matt
Matthew Anchel: Hello Jacob!!
JP: I just wanted to say thank you for taking the time out of your hectic schedule to join me today from clear across the country.
MA: Oh goodness, it’s my pleasure!
JP: Now Matt, what was your reaction when you learned you would be joining LA Opera‘s prestigious Domingo-Thornton Young Artist Program for the 2010-2011 Season?
MA: Well! It had been such a big journey, literally. When you audition for the program you submit an audio recording and if they like it you’re flown out to LA to sing for them in person.That first round of live auditions is the semifinals, and in that audition I sang 3 arias and after I was finished, they asked me “Do you think you’re ready for a program like this? You haven’t finished your degree, and you’re 22!” and I stomped my foot and said, “YES! I’M READY!!!!” And then I got to the final round where you sing for Placido Domingo.
JP: And what was that like? Singing for a living legend…
MA: well, I was sort of surprised because I didn’t really realize I’d be singing on the big stage, and then I walked out and was like, “Oh…so….this is it…”but I saw Placido in the distance and he smiled and waved. It was a fun audition!
JP: And how has the season treated you thus far?
MA: Well, it was an ENORMOUS educational experience.Lohengrin had some big time singers in it, Dolora Zajick, Ben Heppner, Soile Isokoski, and it was all under the baton of James Conlon, who is amazing. I only had a small part in it, but being surrounded by these amazing artists and just seeing how they work, how they interact with Stage Management, coaches, etc, it was all a huge learning experience. Rigoletto was fun because I had a slightly bigger role, Count Ceprano, and had a fabulous costume with sequins and feathers! Great cast too!
JP: Sounds like it. And why don’t you share your exciting news for the 2011-2012 season.
MA: Ha! Well, I’ll be moving to Leipzig, Germany to become a member of the ensemble at Leipzig Oper for the next two seasons!
JP: Any news on what your assignments will be when you arrive?
MA: so far I know I will be singing Alaska Wolf Joe in Rise anf Fall of Mahagonny, Harasta in Cunning Little Vixen, 2nd Armored Man in Magic Flute, Marchese d’Obigny in La Traviata and a few other things.
If life is supposed to take you full circle, then my life is definitely a giant loop, always under reconstruction, with two ends as far away from each other as can be, linked by a thousand smaller “full circles”.
On Saturday, I went to meet J’nai Bridges at Penn Station so we could travel to a concert together that our friend, pianist Sakura Myers was playing at in Brooklyn. I woke up and left my apartment early so I could walk around the city a while before her train got in. When I did arrive at Penn Station, I realized that her train from Philadelphia was running late. With nothing to do but wait, I walked around the rotunda and stopped in the various shops designed for the busy on-the-go suburban commuter… you know, the ones that carry a hundred different kinds of fishnet stockings, perfume and “massage oils”. I guess days at the office are truly unpredictable. Unlike Grand Central Station with it’s visually arresting ceiling and high-end shops and restaurants, there is nothing particularly interesting about Penn Station, and because of that you seem to notice more about the people around you. I listened to my iPod while I window shopped and people watched, and, realizing that I was now walking around listening to “One Day More” from Les Miserables with the upmost serious gaze on my face, I looked around myself and realized that about 80% of the people around me were also listening to music. I tried to glance at each of these people who, with their stone cold expressions of “I’m more important that you are” scurried past me with determination. I also realized that I was probably not the only one who was listening to something completely and utterly ridiculous. I imagined the blonde in the red patent leather stilettos listening to Madonna’s Immaculate Collection while the obese man in the gray pinstriped suit was dancing in his head to “Bad Romance”.
When J’nai’s train did arrive I expected us to quickly run and catch the subway to Brooklyn.
“Sakura wants a sandwich” said J’nai.
“OK- there’s a bunch of places around the corner.”
“This looks dry, this looks gross, and this… this just won’t do” mumbled J’nai while examining the choices at one of the food shops.
“So how are you?” I asked. J’nai is now finishing her second year (and taking an optional third) as a Master’s student at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Miss Bridges just won an encouragement award through the Mid-Atlantic Region Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions at the Kennedy Center in DC, sang Elgar’s “Sea Pictures” with the New Jersey Symphonic Orchestra and is performing the role of Idamante in Mozart’s Idomeneo next month at Curtis under the baton of George Manahan… needless to say, she’s been a busy girl.
“Good” she said with an excited smirk on her face. The following words out of her mouth unfortunately have to remain a secret until further notice, but what I can say is, this girl is going places, and you will definitely want to stay tuned.
When J’nai finally found a sandwich suitable enough (aka edible) we grabbed Sakura some flowers and made our way to the A train only to enter the same subway car as Sakura.
“Of course” said Sakura as we joined her “only in New York… so glad you could make it.”
“And I thought we were late” I joked.
“Girl if you ever make your Carnegie Hall debut…” mused J’nai.
“I’m camping out across the street” replied Sakura.
J’nai then quickly and effectively applied Sakura’s makeup on the train while I unsuccessfully tried to hide her flowers from view. The concert venue was, The First AME (African Methodist Episcopal) Zion Church in Brooklyn and yes I was the only person at the concert who wasn’t of color. It has been through my many experiences with J’nai and Sakura that wiped away any awkward feelings I may have previously had in such a situation.
The concert centered around former Metropolitan Opera soprano Priscilla Baskerville with Sakura playing as a guest artist in the middle of her program. The concert was an interesting experience, and gave me another glimpse at what outreach truly is. In the back of my mind I had always understood and experienced outreach as a means to get children interested in classical music, and had never really thought about how adults, who had already developed their own musical tastes could react so positively to this medium. The members of the congregation who attended weren’t instructed to wait until between sets of music to clap, nor were they chastised or given a signal to stop by the artist. She simply acknowledged their obvious enjoyment of the music and not wanting to seem ungrateful of the perfomance, J’nai and I joined in the applause… after every piece. Nobody even seemed to mind when a custodian strolled along a balcony above the altar to turn on a giant light-up cross, they just continued to let themselves be moved by the music.
Maybe that’s one of the problems with classical music. We try to disband the pre-conceived notion that the recital hall or opera house is strictly for the stuffy and well-educated individual, but we still expect everyone among us at such events to fully understand so many rules of etiquette.
After a delightful afternoon of hearing Sakura play Rachmaninov, Chopin and Joubert, as well as hearing Miss Baskerville enchant the audience with art song, Negro spirituals and an encore performance of “Io son l’umile ancella” from Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur, we made our way to the adjacent parish hall for the reception. I was more than thrilled to discover that the afternoon’s festivities were being catered with fried chicken, hush puppies and every kind of chicken, tuna, macaroni and potato salad you could imagine. After we finished, I grabbed one of J’nai’s bags and we made our way towards an exit. As we re-enterred the sanctuary, one of Sakura’s friends asked if J’nai could sing something for her.
“How about the lullaby?” suggested Sakura, referring to the lullaby from Richard Danielpour‘s opera Margaret Garner, this was the piece I first heard J’nai Bridges sing, about two hours after we met in a practice room at the Manhattan School of Music.
The opera Margaret Garner is the tragic true story of an Ohio slave who tried to escape to freedom with her family. When they were caught, Margaret killed her two year old daughter to prevent the child from having to be returned to slavery. The trial provided the question of whether or not Margaret be tried for murder, like that of a free person, or for the destruction of her owner’s property. Margaret was not immediately tried for murder, and was sent back as a slave to her former master. By the time she was to be tried for the murder, she and her husband had been sent to work in New Orleans and subsequently seemed to disappear from the judicial radar. Those who have had the pleasure of hearing Richard Danielpour’s beautifully tragic setting of Margaret’s story would agree that his haunting melodies deserve widespread exposure.
J’nai is one of the most beautifully poised people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting, and as she opened her mouth to sing the lilting phrase “sleep in the meadow, sleep in the hay, baby’s gonna dream the night away” with it’s elegant and jazzy vocal line, I wasn’t necessarily taken back to that little practice room like I expected. Instead, I saw a future star standing in front of me, shining in creating a simple, unrehearsed, yet fully meaningful experience alone in a large dark church for an audience of three people. No I wasn’t taken back; I was humbled and taken forward, because not everyone gets to see a star being born the way I get to. As she hummed the final line, I realized that, for me at least, I had completed yet another one of those beautiful small circles that color the vibrant tapestry of my life.
What is it about the thought of an impending snow day that sends everyone into a flurry? Yesterday, I decided for whatever reason that it would be smart to take a cab home from school. I know- traveling by car is exactly the type of thing you don’t want to do in a weather-induced state of emergency. Hey now, I was tired, and I was really missing a friend of mine I’ve been neglecting lately… Sleep.
Anyways, I hailed a taxi from the corner of 122nd and Broadway, from where my driver decided to turn right/ uphill so we could take Riverside Drive. We almost made it to Claremont when the vehicle started sliding all over the place and inevitably backward towards Broadway. I nervously pattered a catalogue of four letter words as the taxi’s rear bumper neared our starting point with impressive haste. When my driver finally, and thankfully regained control of the vehicle I asked him if he could take a different route, to which he replied “Get out, we’re going to die… please take a snow mobile!”
Its moments like these that make me miss New Mexico, and also make wonder why my friends ever question my desire to stay inside when the white stuff pays a visit. Luckily for me, my good friend Danielle (see Vampire Jacob? for pic) was able to do the impossible this afternoon in making me join her and several of our friends for a snow day visit to Central Park.
Initially intended to be a sledding adventure, my friends and I decided to wait for our friend Adele in an untouched snowy patch of awesome near the West 72nd street entrance to Central Park. While she made her way to join us, we began building snow men, and of all things, a fort. After about an hour of sculpting (and laughs from passersby), a group of elementary school children enthused by our architectural efforts ran inside our fort.
The children quickly suggested a snowball war against the female members of our group. In retaliation, our girls unsuccessfully tried to claim a giant evergreen to hide under as the munchkins attacked them fiercely with impeccable aim. Mind you, my group totaled 6- Lindsey, Adele, Nicole, Danielle, Tyler and me. This left me and Tyler to deal with about 10 children setting up camp in our fort while charging after the girls.
After watching what seemed like a mash-up gone wrong between Lord of The Flies and Gossip Girl, we convinced the children that, since they worked so well together, to be on their own team, with the understanding they were free to take our fort when we abandoned ship. With a wicked smile, the self-proclaimed leader, and Jacob-proclaimed Lord of The Flies agreed.
Now that the girls were safe behind our fortress walls, we were able to rightfully declare a snow war. Hey now, I know what you’re thinking… six college students against a group of seven year olds seems highly unfair, but I must impress upon you the old adage that dynamite comes in small packages.
We must have lasted about five minutes while the children feverishly attacked us. Each of us was targeted and successfully hit in the head with several snowballs as onlookers laughed and added sports commentary while taking pictures and video. After we realized that we had clearly been beaten… and pummeled, we retreated, and gave up our fort for the children to occupy. Before we took to the yellow stained road, several of the munchkin’s parents and babysitters thanked us for playing with their kids as well as entertaining them.
As we were about to head back toward the street, we all decided on an impulse to continue with our initial plan to go sledding. After about fifteen minutes of wandering about the beautiful winter wonderland that I wish Christmas could be, we found ourselves at the Bethesda Terrace cheering a group of daredevils (and eventually Tyler) as they raced down a makeshift hill and ramp on the steps which lead down to the famous fountain. Finally, just east of the terrace, we found ourselves claiming an empty pathway to sled on.
After about thirty minutes of laughs, failures and screams, we slowly meandered back to Central Park Park West where I bid my friends goodbye out of sheer necessity to thaw. I’m happy to report that my toes still number ten and they are indeed now warm and dry
Kate Moss once said “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels”… so did an acquaintance of mine who works at Gucci when he noticed my now visible weight loss of 50 pounds. “How did you do it?” he asked while sniffing an imaginary line of cocaine. Strangely, I wasn’t offended; although it took me two years to actually lose the 40 pounds I gained at university (and an additional ten) people didn’t really notice the difference until I had lost over twenty pounds. It took me a full year and those twenty pounds to realize “Hey! Diet AND exercise“… they work so well TOGETHER! Presently, I enjoy sticking to South Beach Diet‘s heart healthy guidelines… with the occasional splurge of course.
I also feel that it’s time for powerful media to stop embracing stick figures like Kate Moss as something sexy and aspirational. There’s really nothing sexy about a walking skeleton with a powder white mustache… Which brings me back to the UK Skins…. I know, I have an insatiable lust for this show and it really should calm down. In the series 1 finale of Skins, the mentally unstable and anorexic Cassie convinces one of her rehab clinic mates to leave the grounds with her for the evening. Her friend replies “What if we get hungry? There’s food out there!” I’m here to tell you to eat! Eat in moderation, Eat healthy, and eat smart. As always, too much of a good thing can be bad, or in some cases, deadly. Also… if you’re actively promoting healthy habits in your life, don’t be afraid of the occasional, or even weekly splurge. At the moment I am eating a double glazed old-fashioned style donut… and boy is it delicious!
Sometimes I wonder if dying is a little bit like taking the subway home alone in zero degree weather after a late night out. No, I’m not talking about about the morbidity of freezing among the day’s lingering grunge, but rather, that the journey seems likely to be similar. Think about it, you’re celebrating at a bar or restaurant… you could be with people you love, people you hardly know, or you could be alone; this represents your life. Suddenly, for whatever reason, the celebration ends and you’re really alone. You walk by yourself to the subway station, and after you swipe your metro card, you hope the train comes quickly because, well, it’s cold. You wait and wait, and even though your genius playlist is shuffling through your favorite songs, you start likening the train to Samuel Beckett’s Godot… will it ever come? Then, in sporadic intervals, people start to pass by. No one of course will stand near you because for all they know you’re the next Craigslist killer. These people are like Pozzo and Lucky in Waiting for Godot; for some reason and by the sheer fact they exist, they offer you sustenance… that is, the satisfaction of knowing that you aren’t alone.
After what seems like an eternity and several trains that pass by because they’re too full, your train comes for you. You realize after taking a seat that it is no warmer in this subway car than it was on the platform, and that your breath is still forming clouds in front of you. After looking around, you realize that the people in your current surroundings are a little more extraverted than those on the platform; some are drunk, some are really drunk, and some are just staring into the abyss. These people are like Joseph, Inès and Estelle in Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit. You feel as if you’re in purgatory and will never be rid of them because the train is now running local, and home, although approaching, seems to be getting farther and farther away.
Finally, your stop arrives and you step onto the dimly lit platform and make your way upstairs. It seems the closer you arrive to your doorstep, the colder it gets and therefore the longer it seems be to be taking you to reach your final destination. When you at last make it to your apartment and ultimately your bed… heaven. Sleep after the hour that has just passed is like the eternal rest that we find in classical German poetry. No need however to run into the woods in the blistering cold to find peace, because now you’re fast asleep and hopefully you have nowhere important to be the next day.
- Existential Tooth Trinkets – The ‘Waiting for Godot’ Jewelry is Inspired by the Absurdist Play (GALLERY) (trendhunter.com)
- raiding for godot (righteousorbs.com)
- The Cowardly Lion Waits for Godot (online.wsj.com)
About three weeks ago, Rachel Hall and I had the pleasure of attending a menu tasting at China Grill Management’s brand new Bar Basque at the Eventi Hotel in Chelsea. The restaurant features wine and inspired cuisine from the Basque region of Spain in an ultra hip setting.
The environment actually reminded me of Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance video, but what Bar Basque has that Lady Gaga doesn’t, is a splendid view of one of the world’s largest LD screens on the facade of The Eventi Hotel. When we arrived, Patrick, one of Bar Basque’s managers gave us a grand tour of what seemed like the ultra cool younger cousin of the Star Ship Enterprise. No surprise here though, because the restaurant was actually designed by none other than Syd Mead. Maybe you recognize his work? Syd is best known for his work on the movies Blade Runner, Aliens and the upcoming sci-fi action film, Tron. The small corridor that separates the mens and ladies washrooms makes you believe Captain Kirk might actually beam in at any moment. Once seated, Rachel and I respectively chose our fruit martinis; she had plum while I enjoyed the watermelon.
After deciding that we would share every plate, we were given the Fermin plate which included three different types of dry cured ham. While the Iberian and Serrano hams were both exquisite, I favored the acorn-fed Iberian ham the most.
Next, we tried the Calamares fritos y a la plancha, con ajo blanco y tinta de calamar…. fried calamari with garlic aioli and squid ink. The sauces were surprisingly delicious, and though I had never tasted squid ink, I am definitely now a fan.
Our other appetizer was a plate of roasted red beets, greens, herb pesto, caramelized goat cheese and Marcona almonds. Whoever thought of sprinkling brown sugar on goat cheese and taking a torch to it like creme brulee was a genius. Not only was the appetizer absolutely delicious, but the bold, new flavor erupted in my sinuses with all the excitement of wasabi, but without the tears.
For our entrees, I ordered the seafood paella which included a fantastic assortment of sweet prawns, calamari, mussels, tomato-garlic sofritos, aioli. The dish interestingly enough tasted a lot like home, that is, in it’s familiarity and its sheer satisfaction. Rachel’s grilled swordfish on the other hand was cooked to perfection sweet Bilbaina style.
For dessert, we shared pine nut ice cream and a decadent dark chocolate truffle enveloped in a smooth ganache over a delicious crust.
After a few more minutes of perusing the amazingly futuristic premises and mingling with several other guests, Rachel and I said goodbye to our friend Patrick, and headed back uptown with full, happy bellies.
Did you know that you can find an adaptation of Cinderella in nearly every culture? No, I don’t mean looking up the Disney version dubbed in Dutch or Russian on Youtube. I literally mean that almost every culture embraces a story of a young girl, who, despite all odds gets to have her chance at happily ever after.
I was 13 years old when the movie Center Stage came out. It focused on several fictional characters attending the American Ballet Academy here in New York City. While the movie showed the trials and tribulations of what it took for these characters to succeed at their craft (in reality the lead actress did go on to dance with the San Francisco Ballet), it offered a highly stylized and unrealistic view of the life of a conservatory student in Manhattan. While I always dreamed of someday making it to the big city, I certainly didn’t dream of living in Washington Heights above loud neighbors who constantly vibrate my apartment with their new subwoofer, or trying to identify a potential intruder for the NYPD.
About a month ago, I was on the phone with my old friend Danielle Garcia from New Mexico. I had gone to high school with Danielle in Belen and hadn’t spoken to her in about nine months when I decided it was time to catch up. When Danielle asked about my neighborhood, I explained that while I didn’t live in what would be considered a necessarily posh area of the city, it was relatively safe. Why wouldn’t it be? The area is heavily populated with students looking for a cheaper residential situation. Most of my friends from school who live off-campus also live in the heights due to the catastrophically high cost of living in Manhattan. A studio on the Upper West Side can cost anywhere from $1,200 to $2,300 a month, and if you’re attending school on loans or government aid in NYC… you can forget about living alone. I had also joked about my roommate Lindsey being slightly paranoid concerning the safety of our neighborhood when I heard a knock on my door.
“Jacob!” shouted Lindsey “I think there is someone at my window!”
“Oh my…did you hear that?” I asked Danielle.
“Yeah, what’s going on?” inquired my concerned friend from home when I answered my door to a startled Lindsey.
“I was on Skype, and I swear there was someone looking at me in my window!”
Being that we live on the fifth floor of our building, it would have taken a pretty skilled person to sneak on our rusty fire escape from the ground level; so naturally, I didn’t initially believe what seemed to be an overzealous reaction to what might be a neighbor’s kitten.
“Just a second Danielle, I’m going to check…” I was in the middle of my sentence and barely stepping out of my own bedroom door when I clearly saw a man peeking into our living room window. Startled, Lindsey and I ran in the opposite direction from the living room. I bolted out the front door screaming like a little girl while Lindsey ran into our absent roommate’s bedroom.
“Get out of the apartment” I yelled at Lindsey.
“My key is in my room! what if we get locked out!?”
“Umm… better out here in the hall than inside with a LUNATIC!” I replied.
“Okay- call 911 NOW!” said Lindsey shutting the door behind her.
I called 911 and gave the operator our address and a description of our emergency. Within 5 minutes, there were two police officers at our front door. The officers quickly asked us to describe the man at the fire escape.
Both Lindsey and I described the man’s hairline when the cop interrupted us.
“Yeah, well a lot of guys up here get a shape up” said the cop. A shape up is what you call a buzz cut around the forehead, thus, shaping up the forehead and sideburns.
Thinking the officers were getting short with us and our obvious ignorance we just nodded.
“Well is this him?” asked a female officer pulling a short Hispanic man out of the elevator.
“Umm… Uhh….” Lindsey and I simultaneously mumbled. We were both shocked that not only did the police have someone in their possession, but here he was, at our front door which was clearly marked with our apartment number.
“I can’t be sure” said Lindsey.
“Mam, this is a pretty big deal hear, you have to be positive” said a male officer walking us back into our apartment.
As Lindsey and I both described the events to the cop, the suspect stayed closely watched in our hall audibly mumbling the words “I can’t believe this is happening to me.”
“Well, we’re going to have to take him in” explained the cops as they gave us contact information for their precent. “You can call this number anytime to check the status of the investigation.” With that, the officers left us alone in our now very quiet apartment.
When she first spotted the man in her window, Lindsey had been on Skype video chat with a friend from overseas. We both went back to her room to explain just what had happened to a now very startled opera singer from London. Her friend had been incredibly concerned and utterly on edge for the 45 minutes or so that our ordeal had lasted.
Luckily, we haven’t had a repeat of our unfortunate incident, and now that Lindsey has thicker curtains, we’ve all been sleeping a little better.
Shortly after meeting Gerald Martin Moore on the subway, I received an invitation from him for me and four friends to sit in a television audience for a taping of the new Sundance Channel show Spectacle with Elvis Costello. Renee Fleming and Rufus Wainwright were going to be the evening’s guests, and Gerald was going to accompany Renee when she sang Vissi d’arte from Puccini’s Tosca. I was more than thrilled for the invite. The show was to be taped in front of a live audience at The Apollo Theatre in Harlem.
The evening’s interview was actually very interesting. I had seen many Renee Fleming interviews before on TV and Youtube, and read her autobiography The Inner Voice front to back about four times, but never get tired of hearing what she has to say. One thing you could always count on her to speak about is the text of the music she is performing and why it is so important. Last year, Renee gave great insight to the texts and hidden meanings from Olivier Messiaen’s song cycle Poèmes pour Mi during a backstage interview given by Alec Baldwin… she never fails.
“Oh the text! I just love the text!” said Renee as she described the aria Vissi d’arte to Elvis. Her performance was extremely captivating, and until this point, I had never seen her live, so that made it even that much more special for me. The evening continued with more performances by Renee and Rufus each singing jazz, classical and folk music while giving additional interviews between each piece. Rufus eventually joined Renee on stage and complained continually about how the Metropolitan Opera, or rather general manager Peter Gelb, tried to take away his creative freedom. “They wanted my opera to be in English, but it just came out… French” said Rufus. To a question about growing up as a homosexual, he answered “Well it was just different for me, all the other boys would be playing lacrosse on the quad while I was naked in my basement wearing my mother’s pearls singing Salome” I would have given anything in the world for him to scream “Gib mir den Kopf des Jochanaan!” in Elvis Costello’s face, but alas, he didn’t. He did however hint that he was dating a sexy operatic baritone at the time who would sing the occasional Wagner aria to him.
When the taping was finally completed, my friends and I found Gerald to thank him and filed out into the street. We were met by several other students from our school and walked back to the dorms with them. Among the other group were mezzo soprano J’nai Bridges and classical pianist Sakura Myers. J’nai and Sakura had acquired tickets to the show through a friend who worked at the theatre and wanted to know how we too were able to attend the exclusive event.
When we reached our destination, we gathered in J’nai’s room to talk about the show we had just seen… J’nai lived in room 1202 and I was in 1203. I changed quickly into sweatpants and a t-shirt. When I entered 1203, J’nai was in silk leopard print pajamas and had a matching silk hair wrap on.
“Do you like black people?” Sakura asked me immediately upon my entrance.
“Umm… of course I do” I answered with a confused look “I don’t think I’d be in this room if I didn’t.” As it was I was the only person in the room whose skin resembled dusty chalk (I wasn’t getting much sun at this point).
“How would you like to go on a musical journey?” asked Sakura as she picked at her ‘fro with a comb “A cultural exploration through time by way of the rhythms and soul of Africa!”
“Sakura!” yelled J’nai “Stop right now; our new friend is never going to want to talk to us again if you keep up your behavior!”
“Oh it’s alright” I answered smiling “I’m a little curious now”
“We need new members in the Pan-African Student Union” said Sakura “would you like to join? You don’t have to be black to join”
I was actually very interested; I had attended meetings of the school’s GLBT club, but it turned out the only thing they ever did was a drag cabaret, and though I volunteered to help set up the event, no one ever called me. I couldn’t attend the student government meetings because I had ear-training at that time and as it is, I am always looking to learn more from others.
“Sure” I said “where do I sign up?”
“What’s your e-mail, I’ll send you info right now” said Sakura as she took over J’nai’s computer.
I began learning black spirituals for the concerts we would later put on, and somehow, I ended up becoming a Public Relations Coordinator for the group. Some of my duties involved helping coordinate concerts and find talent within as well as outside the school to join the group and/ or perform in our events.
I was able to get my friend Gabi Rojas to come and perform several of her dances for our fall concert. I met Gabi when I was a freshman at UNM after seeing her star in José Rivera’s References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot. We ended up in the same Stagecraft class and had to build scenery for and crew The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told by Paul Rudnik. We quickly became friends and she even convinced her mother to give me a trapeze lesson, which was terrifying, but fun. She was very well received by the PASU as well as the students and faculty who attended. Gabi later went on to gain national fame for her audition on TV’s So You Think You Can Dance, and is currently dancing with the Cleo Parker Robinson Company in Denver.
My second semester in the group proved a little challenging. We were going to put on a join production called Basic Black with The Juilliard School’s Multi-cultural Youth Artist Network. MYAN was run by LeBaron McClary, a talented student in the school’s famous dance program. LeBaron had already choreagraphed several pieces for Juilliard’s Martin Luther King Jr. celebration and gained great enthusiasm for his beautiful work. The students from the drama division also had amazing pieces that they had prepared for the concert. The rest of the work was on us. We had a grueling rehearsal schedule and were denied access to practice facilities at MSM due to our late requests. Most of the group rehearsals had to be at Juilliard.
I spent every weekend for about two months at The Juilliard School. We rehearsed several spirituals including Lift Every Voice and Sing which is the Black National Anthem. There was an extreme responsibility in all of us to make the performance a success. Barak Obama had just been elected President of the United States, and we wanted to show New York that we were the new generation that had elected him.
The concert proved to be a success, although there were many miscommunications along the way. I had designed a beautiful backdrop that enthused every student from both schools, but one of the coordinators just had to have special pink lights (that were impossible to find) before we could do anything about it. The backdrop was never made. Someone also failed to obtain the correct music for the orchestra to rehearse, and when they showed up at rehearsal… they had nothing to play. For J’nai’s set, she was to portray Diana Ross and two others were The Supremes. It wasn’t until the day before the concert that the girls obtained dresses. There was also a frantic display of disorganization backstage, but when the music began… we lifted our voices and sang.
For Molly Spooner’s 2?th birthday, we took her out to our favorite piano bar, Marie’s Crisis in the West Village, followed by Joshua Tree on the lower east side. Molly’s parents were also coming along for part the evening and were eager to see Marie’s Crisis, where a couple hundred people gather nightly to request and sing show tunes.
Molly’s parents were not only amused by the bar, but at the attention that we received from others when pieces from West Side Story, My Fair Lady, and The Sound of Music were played. We also recognized and pointed out a flamboyant man to her parents who motor-boated Molly the weekend prior. Like Molly, her breasts are a little out there.
As usual, we had our usuals; I had a vodka cranberry, Rachel a vodka tonic and Molly a gin and tonic. I learned early on not to piss off bartenders in busy bars by asking for complicated things. A vodka and cranberry is really close enough to any fruity thing I would order anyway, and if I really wanted to get inebriated, I could always count on Long Island to do the trick. Before long, we were joined by about 30 voice majors in the packed bar trying to do our best Patty LuPone impressions.
When Molly’s parents retired to their hotel, we took several cabs to Joshua Tree on the lower east side. Although there was definitely a closer location we could have gone to, the lower east side Joshua Tree continually proves to be the most fun. The bar boasts huge platinum televisions in the back all showing the music videos to our favorite 80’s music, which was blasting through the speakers. By this time, we all had purple birthday glasses on and were trying to sing along to the music. As the night went on, my friend Ashley Cutright pointed out to me that we were the only two people left without dates. This was true, Rachel’s latest squeeze came to join the party, our friend Mandy was being entertained by another guest, and our friend Elena was dancing more than a little close with another pianist named Abdiel. It was about this time that Ashley and I decided that we were hungry, and that we should ditch the lovebirds to search for food.
When we stepped outside Ashley said “Ugh! This is so annoying, are the two of us going to have to go all the way back to the dorms by ourselves?”
“Probably” I answered
Right next to Joshua Tree was famed (every place in NYC calls themselves famous, or a landmark…) Philly Cheesesteak vendor, Carl’s Steaks. As we eagerly got in line, the rest of the party followed suit.
“They’re closing” said Mandy as she stumbled in on the arm of her new suitor.
“So what are you having?” I asked Ashley
“I don’t know! I’m vegetarian and this menu doesn’t look promising, but I definitely didn’t eat dinner today” she replied rubbing her tummy.
“Why not cheese fries!” suggested the cashier
“Oh that’ll work” said Ashley
“And I’ll have a Philly Cheesesteak… with Cheez Whiz!” I said as I read that Cheez Whiz was the original Philly way.
When we got our food, we formed a tightly knit huddle of multicolored pea coats. Everyone but Ashley was enjoying a sandwich while she dipped her fries into a small container of hot Cheez Whiz. It was around this point that a man with a huge professional looking video camera came out and started filming us.
“Umm guys” said Rachel indicating the cameraman.
“You look great!” said the man “Seriously, just keep doing what you’re doing”.
“But what are YOU doing?” asked Mandy
“We’re shooting a promotional video… you guys will be famous!”
Ashley immediately got nervous and yelled robotically into the camera “Carl’s Steaks! It’s the best! YUM!”
The cameraman said “Oh you ruined it! I’ll just come back when you don’t notice, because really, you guys look amazing the way you’re eating those things!”
Hmm… that’s not the first time I’ve heard that.
As we kept talking, Ashley pointed out that the cold air was turning her Cheez Whiz solid. Slowly her fries also lost the battle to the cold air and hardened too. Just as the cameraman eased his way into our circle and focused closely on Ashley’s face, something incredible happened… “This is fucking disgusting!” yelled Ashley with all the resonance she possessed. She then looked up, and realizing her error, started over again. She smiled, held up a fry with the now crusty cheese product and said “Carl’s Steaks! It’s the best! YUM!”
- Kraft throws a curveball at cheese balls (heraldnet.com)
(Important… this is a follow-up to “Go Blue”… aka, read “Go Blue” first)
I met Rachel Hall in the early fall at an MSM excursion to the Cloisters. We ended up in the same tour group, and unlike the others –who had an eighty year old Jewish woman from Queens conducting their visit; we had a young Columbia University student, who showed us all sorts of hidden homoerotic monk art that had gone unnoticed by faithful churchgoers for centuries. After being acquainted with what was described as medieval pornographic novels for the wealthy, Rachel and I acquainted ourselves with each other over burgers and milkshakes at a small diner in Spanish Harlem. Rachel was from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and after we sang “I Could Have Danced All Night” together on a subway platform, I realized that I had just made a new best friend. Soon, we began meeting up regularly after class to go to Pinkberry for frozen yogurt. I was big on almonds and mochi balls as toppings, while Rachel preferred berry combinations.
About a month into our friendship, I found out that AJ would be visiting New York City. I had compartmentalized, or rather explained the relationship we had as a fling, seeing as how AJ and I never exactly established what we were. AJ, however, was my first whatever, and I was beyond nervous to see him again. AJ and I hadn’t spoken for months and he had since stated that it was really hard for him to speak to me since I left, and that he now felt uncomfortable with letting me in his life as much as he did. Although AJ was very busy, taking interviews with conductors between New York City and Boston to help him to decide his best plan of attack for graduate school, he did have a little time for me. However, I would be sharing this time with Elliot Moore a friend of mine and conducting student at MSM as well as a tenor from Juilliard named Lawrence.
I begged Rachel to go with me to meet AJ. I couldn’t stand the thought of facing him alone again, especially in front of other people. Rachel agreed, but I had to invite her friend Molly Spooner as well. The two of them had plans later on in the evening to go bowling with some of our other classmates, but they would both join me for moral support. We would be meeting at Blockhead’s, a small Mexican restaurant on Amsterdam that featured a wallet friendly menu of flavored margaritas.
When we arrived at Blockhead’s, I felt my heart palpitating rapidly as I approached the door. I had explained to Rachel and Molly that this was the person who made me want to have a real relationship. I came out to my parents shortly after my trip to Michigan, and because of him I realized all the things that I so desperately wanted out of life. He planted the seed of ambition in my soul and made me realize that I wanted to share a home with someone; I wanted to get married and have children some day. It was AJ Samuel who had opened my eyes to a world of possibility and hope, and I was terrified to see him again.
When we stepped inside, my eyes locked immediately with AJ’s. I smiled and we greeted each other in the most awkward of ways. I introduced Molly and Rachel to AJ and Lawrence as we situated ourselves around the table. Molly was excited to meet AJ, because she had received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan a few years earlier, and was hoping to find out some intriguing news concerning her alma mater. AJ wasn’t interested though; his attention was entirely focused on Elliot and his advice concerning conducting. Elliot was far more seasoned than AJ at… well, everything. He had spent the past few years living and performing in Switzerland, perfecting his craft and building his résumé. I felt myself slowly becoming angry that I was being ignored, and by AJ of all people. I was upset with myself for a variety of irrelevant reasons. I thought that he was disinterested in me because I had gained weight since I had seen him last. I thought he felt that I wasn’t as good as his Juilliard friends who he so respected for their status as the conservatory elite. I began to wonder if he was sleeping with Lawrence, the tenor from Juilliard who was berating not only me, but my friends as well by suggesting with severe arrogance that our private instructors were not nearly as good as his.
When we got the check, we all began to say our goodbyes so we could disburse. AJ stood up, gave me a hug and said carelessly “Well it was truly a pleasure seeing you again… keep in touch.” I was so incredibly hurt by this nonchalant farewell.
“How about you call me when you have the time,” I replied. I then turned around and motioned for Molly and Rachel to join me as we made our way to the subway. After I swiped my Metro card, I began to cry uncontrollably and shamelessly as I turned around to exit. Molly took my left hand in hers and began to dry my tears with her scarf.
“Its ok sweetie,” she said “you can do so much better than that.”
“But I loved him,” I said crying.
“I know,” said Molly “but he obviously has issues and even if he did feel bad about the way you two left things, no one deserves to be treated the way you just were. That was rotten, and you can do better. You’re in New York City now, the world is your oyster, and he was not your pearl.”
“But I wanted him to be,” I snuffled.
“Jacob, you are an attractive, talented and vibrant twenty one year old man. He already has a receding hairline, and he’s rude. He was rude to you and to us. He can go fuck himself in the ass with a red hot curling iron for all I care… he hurt you.”
“And we won’t hurt you,” said Molly with her big brown eyes sparkling like two little gems in the crowded subway muck.
“Molly’s right,” said Rachel “we’re you’re friends, and we want to see you happy. Will you go please go bowling with us? Our treat…”
“OK,” I replied, forcing a smile.
We met up with a couple other students from school and made our way to Lucky Strike Lanes on 42nd Street and 12th Avenue. When we arrived, the girls got us a lane and our friend Eric bought our party a pitcher of beer. I felt my anxiety wash away when Molly and Rachel forced me to dance with them to Rihanna’s SOS in front of a bowling alley full of yuppies. I bowled an awful game, but it was the best time I had ever had playing the sport.
We left Lucky Strike devastatingly hungry; we had consumed a diet of margaritas and beer all evening, and were worried it would catch up to us in the morning. Luckily, we spotted an open restaurant where we could grab a late night/ early morning meal. The Coffee Shop is located on 16th Street at Union Square and stays open really until 4am. When we walked in, we were closely examined by a tiny little French man in black with long, unkempt hair under a beret named Pierre. He rolled his eyes at us when we asked to be seated, and took us to a booth. When our waitress came, it was obvious that she was a model of some sort. She made it a point to strut the length of her area like a catwalk and seemed incredibly burdened by our presence. She gave us our menus, and after allowing us all but 5 seconds to search for something appetizing, she asked “are you ready yet?” We shook our heads and she replied “ugh!” and stomped her way back towards the server’s station. We looked at each other in wild amusement at what had just happened; when she came back, Molly asked for a particular meal item that happened to be out of stock that day. When the waitress huffed again, I said “excuse me, are we wasting your time? Because that’s what it feels like, and if you don’t mind, my friend would like a little bit more of your time so she can find something that actually is on your menu.” The waitress’s glossy lips dropped open and she began to apologize profusely. When she returned, she returned with a smile and, although fake, it was far more pleasant than her huffs.
We left The Coffee Shop full and happy at 4am. Although I had just been shunned by AJ, I realized that I had some spectacular friends, and I couldn’t wait for our next adventure.
When I first arrived for school in New York City, I was particularly excited to find that I had a Japanese roommate. I had spent the entire summer before watching Death Note and The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, so why wouldn’t we get along!? The problem was that my roommate hardly spoke a word of English. This little factor had never been a problem for me growing up; my mother’s first language was Spanish, we lived in Germany for two years and many of my older relatives never learned English… I was made for language barriers. Unfortunately, I wasn’t prepared for the severe lack of communication.
Along with our dormitory welcome packs of condoms, we were each given roommate agreement forms to fill out and return to our respective resident advisors. When I returned to my room with my roommate, we sat down and attempted to go through the list of “agreements”.
I read out loud “Number 1. Would you like your room to be a social place? Yes, no, or some of the time.” I then looked up to find my roommate had an extremely dumbfounded look on his face. He then said “huh!?”
“Hmm, let me try this again” I said “Would you like friends to come to the room?”
“Ok, Ami and Natsuki come to room… yes?”
“Oh! Yes, I like.”
It was at this point that I decided we would try another day to finish our list of twenty-some odd agreements, and since Ami and Natsuki were both fluent in English, I would just have one of them translate for me . About three weeks into the year, I finally started settling into my daily routine. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, I woke up around 10:00 am for pre-class reviews and last minute piano/ aural skills practice and prep. Tuesdays and Thursdays, I was up by 8:00 am so I could allow whatever caffeinated beverage I chose to work its magic by 9:00 am music history lecture. And my Saturday and Sunday mornings depended entirely on my Friday and Saturday evenings.
One Saturday morning in particular, I woke up unusually early. As I tried to adjust my eyes to the daylight bursting through the north facing window of my 12th floor room, I heard a vibrant smacking noise. When I scanned the room, I saw my room mate with his blanket to his chin with his hand pulsating rapidly below his waistline… he was masturbating! I tried not to notice, and pretended to be asleep for the next couple of minutes, making the occasional stir to suggest that I might be close to waking up. When I heard his audible climax, I waited about 20 seconds before I jumped out of bed yawning and said “Oh my, what a beautiful day! I can’t wait to get outside and… yeah!” I then bolted out the door nervously with my toiletries and clothes to get ready for breakfast.
“You are not going to believe this…” I exclaimed to my friend Suzanne over breakfast “I saw my roommate masturbating this morning!”
“What!?” exclaimed my friend Suzanne “Like in the showers on accident and his curtain moved back…?”
“No, I woke up to him jacking off like a Texas oil well”
“Gross!” yelled Suzanne “You have got to do something about that! That is not okay, you have to tell someone.”
“Well I am! I’m telling you!” I replied “So what the hell am I supposed to do?” I must have looked incredibly frustrated. I had never in my life had to share a room with anybody before… except on overnight school trips.
“Ugh, that is so disgusting!” said Suzanne “Seriously, I don’t know what I’d do if… UGH!” she made gagging noises and continued “that just wouldn’t and shouldn’t happen. I just can’t believe, I mean, gross!”
“Well, what do you think I should do?” I asked “I mean, I obviously can’t talk to him, and we never finished our roommate agreement form, so it’s not like we established any type of boundaries.”
“But those are not boundaries you should have to establish Jacob!” said Suzanne as she stirred her yogurt. “Seriously, that sounds like a severe cultural barrier.”
“Cultural barrier” I exclaimed with a laugh “It’s not like he was from some third world country, he’s from Tokyo.”
“Shut up” said Suzanne “that’s just gross. He must just not have any personal boundaries.”
“The thing is” I said “He is so nice, and everyone really loves him in the jazz department.”
“Who cares, that’s disgusting! You have got to tell him that way he doesn’t embarrass himself even worse later on.” Said Suzanne with an extremely worried look on her face “can you imagine what would happen if he did that in front of someone potentially influential to his career someday. Seriously, embarrassing him now will definitely be of service to him in the future.”
“But what do I tell him?” I asked “We do not even speak enough of the same language to decide whether or not to have company!” I said in an irritated tone.
“Here’s what you do… next time you are both in the room, go up to him and say ‘Hey, Wang Dong… cut your shit!”
“Wang Dong?” I repeated with a giggle “someone’s a little bit racist”
“Well, you can’t blame me” said Suzanne with an elated laugh “you never told me his name.”When I went to my RA to ask about the incident, I was told that any request to switch roommates would have to be carried out in front of a committee, and that I would have to explain to my roommate in front of said committee, why I wanted to switch. Given our lack of verbal communication, I couldn’t see myself acting out the main reason I was so annoyed with him. Later that day, I went to the Bed Bath and Beyond in Lincoln Center to buy a really loud alarm clock.
I met MT during intermission at Musical Theatre Southwest’s production of Beauty and the Beast. My friend Javier was playing the beast/ Prince Charming and the entire choir seemed to be in attendance. I hadn’t quite decided if I wanted to be in the music program at UNM, but I was being encouraged by a few of the faculty who had either sat in on my choral audition or heard me sing elsewhere. I wasn’t too crazy about the music program at UNM at the time, and was hoping to try and transfer out at the earliest convenience, little did I know, it would take me three years to do it. According to the students in the voice program, MT was the best thing UNM had to offer- she had had an international career, and was on the monumental George Solti recording of Wagner’s Ring Cycle. When I saw her sitting with drag queen extraordinaire Carmen Seguidilla from my choir class, I decided to take the opportunity and introduce myself. I was quickly scheduled a trial lesson and an audition for the program.
My audition qualified me for placement in MT’s studio, as well as a spot in the school’s opera studio, which traditionally, freshmen were not allowed, but one other girl and I were the exception. I showed up every Tuesday with my music books and waited outside her studio, which resembled a turn of the century salon in Paris. MT, then seventy nine, would tell me story after story of her youth, and her education at the prestigious Manhattan School of Music. She told me of the grueling hours she spent perfecting her voice, and how she played Irish Harp and organ throughout her childhood. Apparently, MT was really from Brooklyn and was incredibly embarrassed of “Americanisms” as she put it when she ventured out to Europe to sing. These lessons were plagued with anxiety on my part. I wasn’t allowed to speak unless spoken to, and I was always supposed to be perfecting my posture. My attitude wasn’t appreciated either, which, according to M was too flamboyant. I spoke too much, and needed to understand that I could never have anything more interesting to say than she did.
After my first year studying with MT, she began to dote on my “unique gift” as she put it. She began to put down other students in the program in my favor, and began gossiping with me about her opinions of the other instructors. “They don’t know what they’re talking about” she’d say “how can they pretend to understand what this career is when they haven’t left Opera Theatre Southwest? I sang with the greats. I sang in real opera houses with real conductors who knew what they were doing! These people are kidding themselves.” It didn’t stop there, she would have me and my best friend Hannah carry her things around in the halls while she announced her distaste for Dr.Q , the head of the choral department, and his choices right in front of him. It was rumored that Dr. Q had an affair with Dr. S, the head of the theory department, a few years earlier, and that the affair was the catalyst for Dr. S’s divorce with Dr. HPG, the head of the conducting department. The three had been the best of friends at the Eastman School of Music, and were now what my generation likes to refer to as a cluster fuck.
Soon, I wasn’t just escorting M to her ride home, I was her ride home. My apartment during my second year of school was only about three blocks from her extravagant house, and I was automatically her ride to and from school three days a week and to the grocery store on weekends, and every day if it was opera rehearsal time. If I showed up early enough to pick her up, I was greeted with orange juice and the occasional bagel. I also had to do random chores for her, like pick up her Chanukah bread and the occasional dry cleaning. None of us were allowed to take her to get her hair done though, which was as thick as a helmet and was supposed to make you take her seriously. M unfortunately didn’t just resemble Jackie O, but rather what her decomposing corpse must currently look like.
Nothing I ever did in lessons was ever right. If I stood too still, she’d have me move my hand a little, and if I did that exact gesture the following week, I was scolded for moving. M would then force me to sing repertoire that I told her wasn’t ready. She would give me a list of things to learn, and if I came with three out of six pieces learned for a lesson, she’d want to hear the other three, and force me to sight sing. I would then get yelled at again for it not being perfect. I wasn’t perfect though; the music was getting increasingly more difficult. I wasn’t the best musician and had very little piano skills at the time. Things got increasingly more strenuous when M would try to get me to sight sing composers like Tchaikovsky, which, if I couldn’t do, proved that I was an idiot.
Between the harassing lessons were the occasional outings to museums, restaurants, concerts, or even more rare, dinner at her home, which Hannah and I were expected to attend by ourselves wearing our Sunday best. The conversation was usually dull, and revolved around one time or another that M had stood up to a rude conductor and made him apologize. We were shown how to properly butter our bread, how to hold our wine glasses, and how to sip summer borscht, which apparently requires a special bowl. We would follow her around her home while she showed us the Rembrandt sketch she owned and a gaudy portrait of her mother as Thais from the turn of the previous century. We were also told how we should and shouldn’t speak to real musicians. I was a classic example of what not to do as she put it. I still didn’t quite have the right demeanor, and needed to shut up and soak up like a sponge what was around me.
My lessons became increasingly more abusive and odd. One time in particular I walked in and I was greeted with “Why were you sitting talking to Dave and Marisol at that table in the lobby?” to which I replied “We were doing a crossword puzzle together, they’re my friends.”
“Well you shouldn’t waste your time with people like that.” She said “I would much rather you keep away from them. In fact, I suggest you keep a little book with you, an encyclopedia of music, that way, should you ever find yourself accidentally in their company, you can pretend to be studying. Really, that’s what you should be doing anyways. You waste your time with those invalids when you could be at the piano.”
A few weeks later, after a concert the opera studio gave, my sister told me something that really bothered me.
“So that bitch teacher of yours asked me to move at the concert the other day” said Anna.
“What! Why?” I asked, stunned.
“She told me I needed to sit towards the exit because it was likely that your nephew would have to be taken out.”
“That’s so strange” I said “M’s seen Aydan before, and I’ve repeatedly told her how much he loves classical music, she’s even commented on his behavior at the other concerts.”
“Well she was a bitch!” exclaimed Anna.
When I walked into M’s studio the next week, I was caught off guard by her rude comments.
“You wouldn’t believe what happened to me at the concert. This overweight woman gave me such an attitude because I simply told her that her child was bound to be a nuisance in the concert. People like that disturb me; she really could stand to lose a few pounds.”
“Well that was my sister” I said peeved “and my nephew has been to every single performance I’ve given here- he has never acted up. I’m sorry; I think I feel ill, I’ll see you in class on Thursday.” I exited her studio and treated myself to a mocha at Satellite café. M had a huge problem with people that were overweight, and would often tell them to their faces. She once told a woman named Cody, that she needed to lose weight, and that she didn’t feel like spending the extra money on extra material for her costumes.
My actual vocal development seemed a little weird at the time too. It seemed that the more lessons I had, the more it hurt to sing. I would complain that I was getting hoarse in lessons to which M would simply say “that’s because you aren’t singing enough.” That was lie, I was singing all the time, and I practiced all the time. I was becoming increasingly doubtful when M started telling me that she saw me as a Wagnerian bass-baritone. I apparently had such a big voice and needed to sing big things, or my true talent would never come out. My vibrato also began to speed up which I also thought was strange. M told me that it was just a unique color in my voice, and that I was very lucky to have it.
When my beloved coach, Brady McElligott decided to move to Tulsa Oklahoma, I realized that I would have to work like a dog over the summer to keep learning music and since the school was only going to provide us with mediocre piano students to practice with, I had to find a coach outside of school. After having many a coffee and sandwich with Steve Gokool, I asked him if he would mind working on some repertoire during the summer of 2007. He was a heldentenor and had a degree in performance from the University of Toronto. He had also performed with the Canadian Opera Company, so I felt confident that he would at least make a decent coach. When I went to Steve though, he asked me if we could work a little on technique, and since I was eager to learn, I agreed. Through Steve, I realized that I had developed a tremolo with M, a rapid vibrato caused by pressure on the voice and bad technique. All the “big” singing I was doing was incredibly unhealthy to my voice and was detrimental to whatever future I had as a singer. It was during this summer that I decided to transfer institutions.
When I returned to UNM in the fall of 2007, I was equipped with more technical knowledge and $5,000 from my new sponsors (I’ll touch on this later). When I tried to incorporate what I had learned over the summer, I got “What is that, where is the voice?” from M. I was told I needed to stop pussyfooting and put the garlic back in my pasta. I believed her for a moment until the end of the lesson, when my voice was hoarse again. I took off for a long personal weekend that fall to visit the University of Michigan, where I discovered what a real music program is supposed to be like. When I returned, I mentioned my great weekend to M, as well as a Youtube video I had seen the evening prior of Maria Callas singing Casta Diva. “You shouldn’t waste your time with that, you don’t learn anything from these videos, you learn from sitting at the piano and creating your own musical style!”
The next day, we had a visiting artist. Neil Rosenshein was a former Metropolitan Opera tenor, and voice faculty member of the Manhattan School of Music. He was holding a master class for the second year in a row. Two weeks prior, M told me I would be in the master class. When I came back from Michigan, my name was left off of the program. I watched about a dozen singers get up and sing all the wrong repertoire in all the wrong ways to a perplexed guest artist. M kept yelling at Neil that he had to hurry along because her students were last. She didn’t really say the last bit, but she did motion to her watch, and she was in front of the entire audience.
Hannah went last, and sang a great rendition of “No Word from Tom” from Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress, which Neil was able to help tremendously. Hannah had the tendency to be a little strident at her top if she had to sustain more than she was comfortable, but Neil helped her voice blossom beautifully. Everyone was able to see that she was capable of even more than the vocal fireworks she had been stunning everyone with lately. Since I was giving Hannah a ride home, I had to wait for her after the master class. When everyone filed out, I was left alone with Hannah, Javier, M and Neil.
“Well that was fun!” exclaimed Neil “Did you have fun Hannah?”
“Oh yes, yes I did, it was brilliant” replied Hannah.
“You know” said Neil “I have been so obsessed with this thing called Youtube lately. Do you guys Youtube?”
Hannah and I nodded while M rolled her eyes and huffed.
“It’s brilliant!” he yelled excitedly “you can actually watch these videos of Maria Callas that people have uploaded. It’s really such a great learning tool!”
I was sold. After months of being told that my opinions didn’t matter, here was a perfect stranger who happened to be a world renowned opera singer giving a rebuttal on my behalf… and he didn’t even know it! After a few more minutes of discussion, much to M’s dismay, Neil provided each of us with his card in case we wanted future lessons. Neil owned a hotel in Santa Fe, and was often in New Mexico.
“Seriously, if you’re ever in Manhattan, give me call, we’ll schedule a lesson.”
I realized between the summer lessons, the trip to Michigan and the inspiring master class, that I had to leave UNM. I stopped by M’s studio one day on my way from history. I told her that I felt that I had to leave UNM, and that I was in a toxic environment. Given that the theory, choir and music history classes all posed huge problems for nearly everyone, she didn’t suspect that the problem was her. The general attitude given by the music professors at UNM was that “I went to Yale. I went to Eastman. I went IU. This is nowhere near top tier, so why should we treat you as such?” My piano professor Arlene Ward even stopped me once after I corrected myself in a site reading test. “Now why did you do that?” she asked.
“I’m sorry, I know I should keep going if I mess up… bad habit” I apologized.
“Well you really need to learn not to” she said “I can honestly say that no one in this room is actually going to make a career in performance, so you have to learn how to accompany simple tunes well enough that way you can follow little children in a music class.” This was the attitude that we were constantly faced with. No one believed in the students were capable of anything more than teaching elementary music. Why should they? The school didn’t necessarily have an amazing track record for successful performers.
When M asked me what my plans were. I lied.
“I really don’t know, I was thinking the University of Cincinnati” I said.
“I don’t suggest you try for a school like that Jacob” replied M “you’re too timid, you’re not musical, you aren’t cut out for a conservatory.”
“Then I don’t know” I said “I guess I’ll just need to clear my head.”
I had actually already been accepted to one prestigious music program, and didn’t want to tell her. I was also granted an audition at the Manhattan School of Music… her alma mater. I took the spring semester off from the music program and flew to Boston and New York City looking for a new voice teacher; I auditioned at the Manhattan School of Music, and got in. I was assigned to work with, of all people, Neil Rosenshein.
When news broke out at UNM that I was accepted into the prestigious program, M was livid. She told other students to stop talking to me. They did. Rumors also started about how I got into the school. A small group of what I like to refer to as toxic twinkies from choir suggested that I did more with my mouth than just sing to get in. None of these people cared to realize that I had to sing in a very real audition with about twenty people judging me in order to be considered. I found out from Brady McElligott that M was planning on writing a letter to the Manhattan School of Music telling them that they shouldn’t take me. She also called and told them she wouldn’t be making her annual donation due to my acceptance (her name is actually engraved on a wall for her 2004 donor bracket). My remaining months at UNM were plagued with various rumors, lies and snares from other students, but they had been jealous all along. No one could understand why I wouldn’t just switch to another incompetent voice teacher and stay at UNM. When I brought up the topic of technique, the others simply didn’t understand “but isn’t singing just singing? You’re good or you’re not” they’d say, so I eventually shut my mouth.
That summer, M boarded a plane to China. When she arrived, she fell and shattered her hip. Two months later, I boarded a plane to New York City, when I arrived, I started over.
Da Mihn Mean was born Da Mihn in 1981 in Beijing, China. At the tender age of three, her mother had her start piano lessons -by the age of six, she was forced to practice nine hours a day, and if she repeated any one mistake too often, she was beat with a bamboo stick to remind her that she must always strive for perfection. This made Da incredibly unhealthy in her expectations of others. If she was perfect… why couldn’t others be as well? Da completed her studies at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, and went on to study at the Royal Conservatory of Music in London and the Manhattan School of Music in New York for postgraduate studies in music theory. It was imperative that Da be successful in everything she did. Every day, she wore a Chanel logo necklace, Louis Vuitton logo shoes, a Dior logo sweater, and alternated between Armani, Gucci, and Prada clothing which may or may not have had the logo printed all over the fabric. To her, this raw display of fashion elitism made her the poster child for success. She was a musical genius with the body of a model, and she made sure everyone knew it.
My first few weeks in Da’s class went just like any other. I worked hard and tried to get Da’s opinions on her favorite composers and received recommendations for a few upcoming concerts. Da was very receptive, and when I took her advice and saw a Janacek concert she suggested at Carnegie Hall, it seemed that we had even become friends to a degree. Every Monday and Friday, Da had one person give a ten minute lecture on a piece of music they liked and explain why. When my turn came, I chose the Salve Regina from Poulenc’s Les Dialogues Des Carmelites. I played a cd and explained that although the voices of the 16 nuns diminish one at a time throughout the piece as each are executed, the music only becomes more intense as it softly dies out to leave Sister Constance singing alone. When she is joined by Blanche from the mob, there are no voices left singing and they look into each other’s eyes without saying anything. Constance then continues her prayer and walks toward the guillotine with new confidence. Blanche then starts singing “Deo patri sit gloria” (all praise be thine, O risen Lord) on her way to the guillotine and is executed. The opera then finishes with a ghostly chorus of the Carmelite nuns singing together in heaven. The reception by the class was amazing, and Da seemed elated at my choice.
As the semester went on however, we found ourselves increasingly stressed at Da’s behavior in class. She started giving us last minute assignments that were not noted on the syllabis, and informed us that we had only two days to finish each packet. Almost every time this occurred, the material in the packets was something that we were not due to discuss in our class or lecture for weeks. In fact, several of the packets contained material that we would never even discuss. She also began to run the class like a giant oral quiz on speed. She would write chords on the board that needed to be rearranged and would have us solve them one by one. If we were wrong, she would say “really? That was a stupid answer” in a condescending tone and go until somebody got it right… there was seldom explaination of how to correct one’s self when they made a mistake. When our midterms were handed back, she went to my Korean friend Grace and told her “I know you can do better, this is unacceptable for you.” When she handed me my exam she said “Good job.” When I asked Grace what she got on her exam, Grace replied “I got an A… she thinks I should aim for a perfect score.” When Grace asked what I received, I answered “B+.”
Things only got more stressful when Da friend-requested the entire class on Facebook. She started commenting on our statuses, and for a while, I viewed this as a good sign. My statuses are usually positive and frequently have something to do with music. One day however, she stopped me in the hall and told me “I saw your pictures Jacob… really, you are out of control and you need to stop.”
“What do you mean?” I asked puzzled.
“You obviously only care about partying and that is unacceptable for someone as intelligent as you” she replied and then marched her Coach heels down the hall and out of the building. I then went to the library for a study session, but couldn’t concentrate. I left the group early and decided to meet my friend Emilia DiCola in her room to work on homework with her instead.
“Da told me that I was out of control” I told Emilia.
“Well that’s silly, why did she say that?”
“She told me that I only cared about partying and that it was unacceptable for me” I replied.
“What? That’s ridiculous” replied Emilia “You are far from out of control and you can’t help it if you go out once a week and five different people bring cameras along.”
“Exactly!” I exclaimed “and besides, on an average night out I can go to as many as 6 places, and it isn’t like I drink at every bar.”
“Right” said Emilia “and besides, you’re here doing homework the rest of the week, and aren’t the people in those pictures with you are all in the grad level courses she teaches?”
“Yeah… they are.” I replied.
I tried to shake it off, and when Halloween came, Da told me that she saw my pictures and thought that my spin on the Mad Hatter was one of the best costumes she had ever seen. Again, I took this as a good sign and tried to forget that we had ever had a confrontation… then she found me again the next day in the hall.“Really Jacob” said Da “you are out of control! You need to take yourself seriously and ask yourself why you’re here!”
“I really don’t understand what you mean” I said.
“I suggest you find some different friends” said Da as she walked toward the fourth floor stairwell.
I immediately went to the library to check my Facebook to see what she meant. Sure enough, there ten “new” photos of me from a night out I had the previous summer in Santa Fe. I was beginning to become a little paranoid and decided to talk to someone about my situation.
It was around this time that I had begun spending more time with Emilia; I found her candid commentary about life to be refreshing. She possesed a unique type of humor that I thrived off of and figured that she would have some good suggestions.
“Well I want to switch classes!” said Emilia.
“What! Why do you want to switch now?” I asked.
“Because she is really rude and does not explain anything” replied Emila “seriously, we are paying $50,000 a year to be here, and what do we get? A premenstrual doctoral student who is trying to prove herself by belittling us! It isn’t right!” Emilia became so angry that she threw an apple across the room which exploded into several messy little pieces all over the wall and floor. “Shit!”
“I agree with you” I said grabbing a paper towel “something has to be done about this… you know” I continued “she does have to have a minimum amount of students in her class so that she can get credit.”
“Then she should try being nicer” said Emilia.
“I know” I replied “I would just feel bad if she got in trouble.” Emilia agreed and we decided to just put up with our situation and try to do well.
About a week and a half before finals, Rachel Perez, Molly Spooner and I were invited to a dress rehearsal of Thais at the Metropolitan Opera. Rachel was also in Da’s class, and though finals were the next Friday, we decided that this was a rare opportunity and we decided to ditch theory and go. “It shouldn’t be that big of a deal” said Rachel “besides, we’ve covered everything, and she told us that we would spend Monday and Wednesday reviewing.”
“You’re right” I said “I don’t know why I’m worrying so much.”
“Just try to enjoy yourself” said Rachel “Thais is never done, and on top of that, its Renee Fleming!”
“Ok, I’ll go!”
When Rachel Perez and I went to class on Monday, Da passed out a sheet that read “final.”
“Is this the review?” I asked looking at the sheet “I haven’t seen most of this stuff.”
“Well maybe you should have come on Friday –we discussed all of this then” said Da in stern voice “I decided to move the final to today. Good luck.”
I couldn’t believe it –Da was punishing me and Rachel for taking advantage of seeing a closed rehearsal of a historic and sold out performance that we wouldn’t have been able to see otherwise. I looked down at my paper and began to shake. I suffered from an anxiety disorder, and occasionally had to take medication before big tests so I could calm down and relax, but this was far from relaxing. I decided to slow breath for about a minute and was able to calm my heart rate down enough to where I could concentrate on the parts that I understood. When Wednesday’s class came, we reviewed for the departmental final under tense stress. When Friday arrived, we were handed another sheet that said “final.”
“Umm… what’s this?” I asked in an accusative tone.
“Part two of your final” said Da “I want you all to write an essay on the history of music theory and site all of the terms I have given.”
Da had spent the semester going over the history of what we were doing in hopes to help us further understand the actual theory portion of our curriculum. She had never once told us that we would actually be tested on it, after all, we had music history with Dr. Noon, and it was nothing like this. The class began to panic collectively as we all read the random historic terms, dates and places. The students in the back row whispered to one another while everyone in the front row just looked at Da. One girl even started to cry …when I began to laugh uncontrollably. “What’s so funny?” asked Da shocked at my behavior.I began to laugh so hard that I was screaming, wheezing and crying.
“You’re just so full of… SURPISES!” I yelled, now unable to breath.
The rest of the class erupted in hysterical laughter as they agreed. The uproar had caused Da to excuse herself to the ladies room. When she returned, we were all finishing our essays, with the occasional hiccup of laughter bursting out every few seconds.
Growing up, I was faced with image upon image of New York City. There were movies, television shows and magazines that all told the various highs and woes of the people that inhabited the famous boroughs. These various mediums all showcased an array of fabulous and not so fabulous lives, and the people who meandered there way in and out of them. More often than not, an oddball would come into the lives of our beloved Jerry Seinfeld, Felicity Porter and Carrie Bradshaw that made us wonder “Do people like this really exist?” and then we’d reassure ourselves with a “no… it’s only for shock value and entertainment purposes.” So after years and years of warnings from my favorite New Yorkers, I was still unprepared for the oddballs that would meander into my life.
The day before the Manhattan School of Music’s official orientation, I went to the school for a financial aid meeting, and decided I would take the opportunity to converse with a few of the people I met on the incoming students Facebook group. Anders Georg was a Norwegian baritone who had spent the summer in New York City learning English and was anxious for the school to start. I decided that after my meeting would be a perfect chance for us to meet up and go to a nearby shop for coffee and croissants. I had spent the prior couple of days commuting from a friend’s place in Queens and was excited to spend a little more time in Manhattan.
We went to a little place near the school that sold only vegetarian food and fair trade coffee, so naturally it was the café du jour of Broadway. As we sat at the quaint café, Anders went on about how he came to study with a world renowned teacher at a world renowned school and how it would make him a world renowned singer “but it must take 10 years” he continued “for voice, for everything, then I sing at Met”. If only it was that easy; there is so much more than studying that goes into making a world renowned opera singer. There is also no guarantee that any amount of world renowned anything with make you a world renowned something. Many people can go to Juilliard on full scholarship and never realize a satisfying career on stage. You must go to a conservatory with the attitude that you are in competition with yourself, and to be the best you can be, otherwise, you’ll never survive. Those that do this, realize that they are capable of much more beyond the Mozart concerti and Bellini art songs they have lived on for years. They are invited to a challenging world of Rachmaninov and Strauss, they climb the highest echelons of their art with vigorous energy to achieve something miraculous and unattainable. It was once said that opera singers are natural born aristocrats, through determination one can overcome previous short comings and endure the riches of the world without much thought from “old money”. Its true, what we do as artists is preserve an art form through music that was written for kings, and through serving the composer, we bring to life his characters, his dreams, and his soul. It is through this, that we ourselves become worthy of those so-called aristocrats who thrive off trust funds and hedge funds; by serving the art.
Anders, I quickly realized, was probably one of the most self-indulgent people I had ever met. He continued for a great deal about how he knew everything about opera, and that being European helped him greatly when it came to language study and music. After all, we have to frequently learn pieces in Italian, German, French and English, all which have requisites of there own in curriculums across the country. I learned in this conversation that he was a champion of languages and women. How women loved him, and how he was very eager to have sex with any and all incoming females who would allow. I asked him “Why don’t you try to have a relationship with one of the girls from your language course?” “Because they’re Asian! I can’t, I won’t, I’ll never!” .
It was at this point when I began to try and decide exactly what Anders reminded me of. He wasn’t particularly attractive, in fact, he was quite possibly one of the ugliest people I had ever met, but I couldn’t figure out why. He had pretty symmetric features, but they were incredibly exaggerated. His eyes bulged out of his head like a bug’s, and he never seemed to be able to look directly at who he was speaking to “but yes of course… world renowned” he would say, verbally directing himself almost violently toward you without ever looking you in the eye. It was almost hypnotically disgusting. He also had the posture of Quasimodo. When he began rambling about his distaste for Asian women, I decided that he looked like a cockroach… yes, perfect!
When you attend a conservatory, chances are, when you go to parties, you’ll be with other conservatory students. You never ask “What’s your major?” You can tell immediately whether or not someone is a singer, it’s not necessarily a gift, it’s more like an ability to spot the obvious clichés. Singers have a tendency to be the best dressed of the school; appearance is everything, and audition clothing tends to work its way into everyday clothing. They also tend to be the loudest and most boisterous people in a room. When you spot a non-singer, you simply ask “So what do you play?” As Anders continued with his discontent for Asian women, I noticed that other patrons of the café were looking at us with disgust… not him, us! Without trying to be rude, (after all, I was going to be spending a lot of time with Anders in a very small school), I moved the conversation to another topic. I decided to embrace both my inner and outer singer and pull out the necessary and inevitable questions.
“Have you had a lesson yet” I asked.
“No, but I just had a meeting with my teacher’s husband, he is also world renowned” stated Anders proudly.
“Oh, so what did you discuss” I asked rather interested.
“Technique, and school” stated Anders again “he is much nicer than my teacher, but I need her technique to make me famous.”
“Sounds intense” I said “When exactly did you meet him?”
“Right before I met you” said Anders smugly “We met near Met.”
“Oh Lincoln Center, how lovely” I said “did you go to Fiorello’s?”
“Yes” said Anders blankly “it was too expensive.”
I took a sip of my coffee “So what did you wear?”
“I wore this” said Anders with confidence.
I nearly spit out my coffee. Anders was wearing incredibly unattractive running shorts that looked like they were used for the whole of the 80’s in every city marathon the decade had offered. He also sported grass stained tennis shoes and an ill-fitting gray t-shirt that exposed the disgusting body hair that sprouted in patches all the way up his chest and back. I thought how unfortunate it would be to have pubic hair growing out of one’s chest and back.
“It’s so comfortable; I think I wear to lesson” he said “I learn better when comfortable.”
“So what are you working on” I interrupted.
“Oh! Umm…I learn new aria, very obscure, from very obscure opera, I already memorize, I so good at Italian, best language for me, yes.”
“Well what’s it called” I asked “I’m fond of nearly anything.” This was true; I spent the prior couple of summers working at the Santa Fe Opera, and was exposed to the newest of the new and the oldest of the baroque. My job encouraged me to research a lot on my own, and picked up some new favorites along the way.
“It’s by Handel” he said “from Julius Cesar.”
“I love Giulio Cesare” I exclaimed, and partially correcting him while encouraging he use the Italian title “It isn’t obscure at all Anders! In fact Glyndebourne just did a fantastic production of the opera a couple seasons ago, and now the entire opera world seems to be borrowing that exact production” I started listed off companies that I knew were putting on the opera when I interrupted myself and asked “So what aria are you singing?”
“Its Va Taquito” said Anders proudly.
“Oh… um, do you mean Va tacito e nascosto” I asked mildly confused. Here was a person who had just spent so much energy proclaiming how great he was at not only singing, but languages as well, and not only that, but he had supposedly memorized the aria in question and he was so good at it too. Had he really just mistaken the aria for Mexican food?
“Oh, umm, how do you say it?” asked Anders.
“Va ta-chee-toh!” I said “taquito is a tightly wrapped corn tortilla with beef or chicken inside.”