So, I’m back in New Mexico for a couple months and found this sign outside my gym. I wonder if Kathy Griffin’s been here.
A special thanks to my friend and former coworker Brittney for sharing this gem
When describing her own childhood, its amazing how my mother can make you desperately want to live in a time gone by. I don’t mean in the traditional sense, that is, in the Stepford, Pleasantville or Mad Men way. No, my mother doesn’t glamorize the sixties and seventies as a simpler place in time. In fact, her depictions of growing up in New Mexico are often melancholic and broadly laced with grit.
I was about eleven during one of our frequent drives from Belen to Socorro when she told me. “You know, when I was your age we didn’t have an indoor bathroom.” I looked over to see my mother display a mischievous grin that let me know a story was coming.
” Really?” I realized that didn’t know much at all about how my mom and her nine older siblings grew up. It also struck me as odd that the house they grew up in wasn’t always the way I knew it.
“I was so embarrassed that we had an outhouse,” said my mother, almost proudly juxtaposing her former disdain for her childhood home. “I didn’t even want my friends to come over- so I came up with a plan.”
“What did you do Mom?” I didn’t know whether to be excited or frightened by what I was about to hear, but my mother’s stories always completely captivated me.
“My cousin Frances…” my mom started laughing when she trailed off. ”We would get in to so much trouble when she came to visit from Arizona! I feel so bad, because my mom would give us money for the collection at church, and instead there we’d go to the Hilton Pharmacy to buy ice cream.” Mom was referring to one of the many businesses in Socorro, New Mexico that used to carry the Hilton name. Long before Paris and Nicky Hilton lived in Manhattan’s Waldorf Astoria, their great-grandfather Conrad Hilton was working at his father’s general store in Socorro- hence the former plethora of stores and events carrying the Hilton name in my parents’ hometown.
“So what happened ?”
“For some reason I thought if Frances and I burned the outhouse down, nobody would have to know that…”
“Mom!” I interrupted “you didn’t.”
“Oh yes we did.” She started laughing again “…and that smoke plumed for days to where every single person in town knew that it was OUR OUTHOUSE.”
“Did you get in trouble Mom?” I don’t know why this was my first question for her after sharing a story with me that I had, until then only thought you would catch Dennis The Menace conceiving in a fictionalized script.
“Nope,” she answered proudly “they thought it was your uncle Phillip smoking in the outhouse, and boy did he get in trouble.”
“When did they find out it was you?”
“Not until just before your grandpa died mijo… and boy was PT (my family’s name for uncle Phillip) mad. ‘I knew it was YOU!” yelled my mom imitating her older brother. I have to admit that I was more than a little impressed by both my mother’s antics as well as her ability to keep a secret for over twenty years. As we pulled in to town, the story was quickly filled with comments like “don’t you ever try anything like that” and “if I ever catch you skipping school or church”, but I was ultimately grateful that my mom shared this story with me. She continued describing things I shouldn’t do as we pulled up to my Auntie Annie’s house, the home my grandparents raised ten children in.
We walked in the front door looking for my aunt with no success. “Hello!” yelled my mom, “is anybody home?” She was answered with a flush of the toilet. Mom turned to me an simply said “oh.”
- Socorro : Mexico (kiva.org)
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.
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.
My sister told me that she knew I was gay when I was three years old. I liked The Wizard of Oz a little bit too much and spent most of my private play time pretending to be Dorothy. I tried to keep handkerchiefs on my head to resemble long hair and would sometimes tie the corners to act as braids. At the time, my father was an Army Captain in the U.S. Military and flew Black Hawk Helicopters. In the first Gulf War, while my mother tried to navigate Bavarian Germany with me and my thirteen-year-old sister Anna, he was in Saudi Arabia defending our country and our freedom. My poor father confused my pre-school tranny antics as an in-depth personal culture study on why he was at war. He ended up bringing me back a real keffiyeh, which is a traditional Arab headdress. I’m not quite sure if I ever used my keffiyeh for Dorothy dress-up, but I do still have it.
According to my sister (who became conversationally stable in German during our tenure in Ansbach), my parents proved to be a great source of amusement when we would go out beyond the military base. On one particular occasion, we were in line for Bratwurst at an Oktoberfest. My father noticed that all the locals had a type of creamy white sauce smeared on their sausages, and my father being the way he is, wanted to try it too. Now I’m very similar in this respect to my father, but mostly with Asian food; I know that if it looks weird, it will most likely taste like fish anyway. When my dad tried asking about the popular condiment, the vendor looked confused and amused. My dad eventually mimed that we wanted the creamy white stuff in his sausage…the vendor obliged. My dad took a huge bite of his bratwurst and grimaced in disgust. The vendor started laughing and pointed to a bucket where others who had the same reaction had discarded and regurgitated their food. Upon spitting out his brat, my father had one word to say… “Lard!”
Four years later, I ended up auditioning for a Missoula Children’s Theatre production of The Wizard of Oz in Socorro, New Mexico. The audition consisted of singing Row your boat and speaking from hushed tones to loud screams all while pronouncing “LOLLIPOP!” I was so excited to be getting the opportunity to act again. I had been in one school production the year before called “Here comes Santa Clause” for about 3 seconds as Santa Claus, and here was my second chance at local fame. I was cast as Toto. For what it was worth, I did get to sing and dance in this particular production and barked in a squeaky boy soprano throughout the rest of the play.
About two years later, I was at the San Miguel Parish’s annual fiestas and as usual, I was in my Aunt Annie’s Frito Pie booth when I decided that I wanted to get my face painted. The girl who was doing the face paint turned out to be the makeup artist from The Wizard of Oz and also decided that I needed the same face paint that I had two years prior.
The face paint turned out to be a God-send! For some reason I was really into The Village People at this point, and since the band performing was taking requests; why not a little disco? Granted, I had no idea about the group’s history at this point, nor did I realize that it would have been a huge embarrassment for a macho Hispanic adult male (who looked like a member of the tribe anyway) to sing one of the band’s catchy tunes to a crowd of nearly one thousand people. But alas, there I was, nine years old, literally with puppy dog eyes asking the lead singer to please sing YMCA.
“Umm… umm, I don’t actually know it… at ALL” replied the man “but hold on just a second.” He said.
I stood there, waiting eagerly for something to happen when he handed me a piece of paper.
“What’s this?” I asked.
“What’s your name?” asked the man.
“Do you like to sing Jacob?”
“Umm… yeah, I do” I replied.
“Well here’s the lyrics.”
I was very confused and looked down for a second to view what he handed me, when all of a sudden I heard a very familiar tune blasting through the speakers.
“And now ladies and gentleman, we have Jacob here to sing the Village People’s smash hit Y.M.C.A.!!!”
And that is how I made my solo singing debut; to a crowd of nearly one thousand people squeaking to a karaoke track of The Village People in black face.
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.