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Posts tagged “United States

My New York City Gym Review

 

 

Hi all- So I was actually going to wait a while to post anything about this project, but after an interesting day on the Upper East Side of Manhattan- I figured. What the hell!? Here’s the deal. From Winter 2010- Winter 2012, I belonged to Equinox Fitness, and I loved every second of it. The gym gave me a unique drive to WANT to go to the gym, and in fact I’ll let you in on a little secret. When first came to NYC in 2008, I weighed 225 lbs- I now weigh a healthy 185 lbs at 6ft and have a whole new set of fitness goals before me. Since my new job doesn’t officially start until the beginning of September and since I’ve been back in Manhattan since June (following a 5 month hiatus), I decided to explore the various gyms in New York City and rate them based on various scales of excellence before I officially decide on a membership. Now- here we go, I hope you enjoy this little endeavor.

 

 

 


THE HARRIMAN CUP: 2012 Fashions by Alton Lane

This season’s looks for The Harriman Cup by Alton Lane. Taken from Facebook.com

A couple of weeks ago, I was given the kind invitation to attend not only The Harriman Cup, but a pre-fashion event for the polo match at Alton Lane NY. The Harriman Cup is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the sport of polo and supporting the respective collegiate polo teams of Yale and the University of Virginia.

Alton Lane combines traditional bespoke techniques with modern technology in the form of a 3D body scanner to give a truly perfect fit with a truly classic look.

Me in Alton Lane’s 3D body scanner. Yes- that is a shoe horn in my mouth ;-)

Other sponsors represented at the event were JP Crickets  and Hudson Sutler. JP Crickets is a his and her’s shoe company that combines the craftsmanship of an Italian loafer with a classic velvet slipper, while Hudson Sutler produces fine American-made duffels and weekend bags with gingham lining. It is safe to say that all three companies at the Harriman Cup’s “dressing” will be heavy hitters on my 2012-2013 wish list.

The event itself was gloriously “prep-tastic” as one guest/ UVA alum put it, and was heavily supplied with cocktails as unique and colorful as the multi-colored lapels that adorned the room. It should should be noted that an appointment at Alton Lane means a glass of scotch while shopping in a comfortable and masculine environment.

As my friends Allison, Millen and I were chatting, a familiar figure seemed to pop out of nowhere like a glitter-bomb. I turned around to see Richie Rich; Club Kid and  co-founder of the now defunct fashion label, Heatherette. It was one of those interesting moments of juxtaposition that I absolutely live for, but entirely possible due to the mere influence of New York City. He introduced himself to each of us, looked at Allison and said “You’re fabulous! Are you a model?” The two became engrossed in conversation while she explained to Richie that she was actually a photographer, but was very flattered by his complement.

Millen Emmanuelle, Me, Richie Rich, Allison Harrell, Kimberly Babcock

The evening ended all too quickly, but not before a few words from Harriman Cup chair-member and MTV producer, Matt Paco. Mr. Paco thanked the various sponsors and people who make the yearly event possible. This year’s Harriman Cup will take place on September 8 at The Meadowbrook Polo Club in Old Westbury, Long Island, NY.

If you’re interested in buying a ticket for the event, CLICK HERE. 

A special thank you to MTV Producer Matt Paco for the evening’s festivities.


“You Had Me @ Yellow” US Yellow Lounge Launch NYC

Raising the bar at Yellow Lounge US. Photo credit- Ashly Priest

This Tuesday, I had the fortune of attending Decca &  Deutsche Grammophon‘s first ever United States Yellow Lounge at 82 Mercer in SoHo.

Facebook.com/YellowLoungeUS

If you’re wondering just what Yellow Lounge is… never fear, because I’m going to tell you all about it. Established seven years ago in Berlin, Yellow Lounge took the classic idea of classical music performances, and reinvented it for the modern audience amidst a popping urban club scene. The idea is that you take an urban setting, such as the 82 Mercer Street warehouse-turned SoHo event space, toss in formidable classical artists, and make their performances, of all things… accessible. The event has garnered success in Berlin, Paris, London, and Amsterdam before finally crossing the Pacific to New York City.

“Music Is Better Than Sax!” Photo Credit; Ashly Priest

The excitement builds like such- guests are invited to an undisclosed location for a DG event featuring unnamed performers, thus causing the sort of quick and quiet gossip found saturated in Act 2 of L’Elisir D’amore.

But it was the strings who ruled the night, as the evening’s performers were revealed to be Grammy Award nominated Mandolinist, Avi Avital, and rising starlet, Scottish violinist Nicola Benedetti.

Avi Avital, Nicola Benedetti, and Phillipe Quint share a candid moment backstage. Taken from Facebook.com/YellowLoungeUS

The chic setting and open bar allowed guests to mingle freely while enjoying Magic Hat beer and cocktails made with Karlsson’s Gold Vodka, my personal favorite being the smartly named “Mandolin Martini.”

While most guests seemed to ogle at Miss USA 2012 Olivia Culpo and violinist Joshua Bell, I was more keen to chill with my guest Ashly Priest and mingle amongst an array of familiar faces.

I quickly found Deutsche Grammophon’s Head of Marketing Intern Kendall Zini-Jones snapping photos while dressed in an appropriately themed yellow dress and coordinating nails just before bumping into my old school friend, soprano, Nikoleta Rallis.

Photo taken from Facebook.com/YellowLoungeUS

The music started around 8 pm with selections performed by Avi Avital. It seemed as if Avi fed off the unique energy of the space, and didn’t allow the excess noise of some of the event’s less-informed guests to bother him. Rather he engaged all who were in an immediate radius to share what he knew how to do best.

After about thirty minutes, violinist Nicola Benedetti came to the stage. The beautiful performer possesses movie star looks that belie her virtuosic talent. After her first piece, she shook her head and asked “can you even hear me?” and then seemed bewildered at the chatter and said “… I mean, people are talking!” This only made the immediate audience of classical die-hards love her more and shout in agreement. She took a second to think about her next move; like a general determined to defeat the enemy, she just had to overcome the talkers. After a quick discussion with the skilled theorboist, Thomas Dunford, Nicola surprised  the audience with a gorgeously lilting performance of the Gershwin classic, Summertime.

When Nicola finished her set, she returned to the stage for a surprise duet with Russian- American violinist, Phillipe Quint. If you didn’t know already, Nicola plays the 1717 Gariel Stradivarius, while Phillipe plays the 1708 Ruby Strad. It seemed only fitting that three centuries after the birth of these respective treasures, they should meet again to tango to a delicious arrangement of Carlos Gardel‘s sumptuous “Por Una Cabeza.” You know- the piece that a blind Al Pacino teaches Gabrielle Anwar to tango to in The Scent of a Woman. It was one of those perfect moments in life that if you weren’t completely prepared and informed for, you might have missed completely. Here I was, in the heart of the greatest city in the world, front row at a concert while two internationally renowned violinists played music made famous from one of cinema’s greatest moments, all the while on instruments whose own inception inspired a new term for excellence.

Before the evening ended, Nicola returned once more to the stage with Avi Avital for an enthused encore performance of a Balkan folk song. As one of my friends put it “I think he’s REALLY into her!”

When the event ended, I took to the cobblestone streets of SoHo and walked through a still-busy Manhattan to relish in the evening’s gifts. I made it all the way to 85th Street and Broadway for a Cappuccino night cap at French Roast, just so I could allow the sounds of the evening to play just a little longer.


Gracenote Update: Matthew Anchel

After his recent move to Leipzig, Germany, Operatic Bass Matthew Anchel shares what he loves about the beautiful European city.

photo by Ken Dolin

City View: Leipzig is a really pretty, safe, and VERY affordable city to live in. There are lots of cute restaurants, a farmer’s market every Monday and Thursday in the center of town that has amazing stuff, lots of music, museums and an amazing public transportation system.

Cuisine: The best thing I’ve eaten while I’ve been here is probably this amazing pasta with seasonal mushrooms and pork at this great place called Penguin. It was so good!

Office Space: The actual opera house in Leipzig is VERY cool and art deco. It was rebuilt after World War II because the original house was bombed and burnt down. The acoustics are amazing because the walls in the theater are all gorgeous wood. It’s a really special house. The company itself is very cool too with a lot of talented American singers in the ensemble- I’m so excited for our upcoming performances of Die Zauberflote, Cunning Little Vixen and Weill’s Rise and Fall of The City of Mahagonny

Follow Me: Keep up with Mr. Anchel by checking his upcoming performances at www.matthewanchel.com.

Matthew Anchel as Count Ceprano in LA Opera's 2010 production of Rigoletto


Hot Jumbo Bagels

exterior of Hot Jumbo Bagels

 

So it finally happened. I found the best bagels in NYC! OKAY, I’m sure there are probably a few dozen or so places out there I haven’t tried, but I can assure you this place takes the cake… or rather, a deliciously schmeared everything bagel. I had my first Hot Jumbo Bagel the other evening when a bartender at a local establishment came back from a break with a dozen bagels. He tossed me a garlic bagel, and I was hooked. Hot Jumbo Bagels knocks the socks off H&H, Broadway Bagel and Zabars by far, and is located at 1070 East 2nd Street  between 56th and 57th.


Up In Smoke

Traditional Outhouse Interior... hmm

 

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.”

 

 

 


Urban Hot Spot: Copia

Exterior shot of Copia (taken from Copianyc.com)

Located at 307 East 53rd Street in Manhattan, Copia serves up a deliciously wide range of food, drink and entertainment. Why go out to dinner before hitting the club when you can enjoy your favorite foods right at your favorite hot spot?

sliders, fries, chicken and beer... who could ask for anything more?

Copia’s food menuserves up a familiar array of all your favorite standards… and the scene? Copia boasts some of the best people watching I’ve ever experienced in the city.

One of Copia's many bar areas

Besides serving up some great food, cocktails (be sure to try the club’s specialty cocktail Love Lychee), the service was impeccable. Upon discovering we were celebrating my dear friend Rachel Hall’s last evening in New York City before leaving to Shreveport Opera, the club’s owner, Junior Santiago graciously ushered us to a private VIP section and treated us to a round of Patron and cocktails- truly a gracious host.

So the next time you’re looking for a place where you can eat, drink, dance, play beer pong, or even guest bar tend… check out East 53rd St’s Copia, you’ll be glad you did.


Christine Brewer… a burp blurb

“Do you ever burp when you’re nervous?” This was the first thing Christine Brewer said to me upon my meeting her following her final summer performance as Lady Billows at The Atomic Grill in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

“Um, no… I don’t” I replied, “but I do burp inwards.” I immediately regretted my reply to the famed soprano.

“What!? Can you show me?”

“I’m afraid I’m not ‘gassy” I replied.

“Oh, well let me know if its coming” replied Miss Brewer “but please tell me- WHAT should I eat?”

“The chicken nachos are really good here” I answered. I was in a strange state of disbelief that, here I was, at a diner in the middle of New Mexico sitting next to one of the most famous opera singers in the world talking about bodily functions and nachos. I had met up with a friend at The Atomic for a short visit following the season’s final performance of Albert Herring without realizing the Grammy Award winning singer would be joining us.

“These nachos are wonderful!” said Miss Brewer as I nursed my fourth cup of coffee (The coffee at the Atomic Grill in Santa Fe is famous for having the potency of Texas oil). She went on to explain that the entire evening, she had been burping none stop, both on and offstage ( several of her costars agreed with vivid memories of the evening’s eruptions).

I was heartedly amused that I had brought one of my best friends, Kim Garley to Santa Fe that evening to experience her first opera, Benjamin Britten‘s Albert Herring. I also couldn’t decide if I was getting a bigger kick out of the fact that Kim’s first opera was Albert Herring, her randomly dining with a world famous opera singer, or the fact that Christine Brewer was so funny and provided such a humorous experience for Kim both on and offstage. Regardless, I was thankful that Kim actually really enjoyed the performance AND that we both got to meet one of the stars of the evening… even if it was over nachos discussing gas.


Oh Rapture! Oh Holy 5 Napkin Burger!

Today, while random chunks of the population were preparing to disappear off the face of the earth, a lot more of  us decided to get out and enjoy ourselves. What would make a better Rapture celebration than a beer and burger outing? Exactly… So I went this afternoon with my roommates to one of my favorite Upper West Side Restaurants. Since Chef Andy D’amico opened Nice Matin in 2003 (you can read about it below), the restaurant’s most popular dish was- you got it, the 5 Napkin Burger. Given the dish’s obvious successs, Chef Andy and Simon Oren gave the burger it’s own chance, spawning into five different locations in New York, Boston and Miami. Stop by the 9th Ave. and 45th street location, or the one at 84th and Broadway if you live in Manhattan. My favorite dish? You got it, The Five Napkin Burger. At 14.95, this decadent classic features 10oz. of custom ground beef, caramelized onions, gruyere cheese and rosemary aioli on a soft white roll. Pair the burger with your favorite beer for the perfect Saturday evening treat.


The Diner’s Hidden Gem

The Diner is located at 9th Avenue and 14th Street in the middle of Manhattan’s ultra hip Meatpacking District. Famous for serving American comfort food to the after hour crowds of Kiss & Fly and The Gansevoort Hotel’s rooftop bar Plunge, there is more to this cool late night hang out than Top 40 hits and Disco fries. I was lucky to meet Ronifer, one of the establishment’s fabulous bar tenders. I was informed by a friend that I NEEDED to try his cappuccino, so I ordered myself the caffeinated concoction (let me inform you this was at 4 am) and was pleasantly surprised by tasting the best cappuccino I’ve ever had in my life. With a unique blend of God knows what and a lot of love, this cup was truly good ’til the last drop. So the next time you find yourself stumbling around the district’s cobblestone streets, be sure to drop in and visit Ronifer for a cocktail and a cappuccino at The Diner.


A Night at the Museum (or Williamsburg Takes Manhattan)

Last night I met up with my friend Vanessa who invited me to a monthly party at the Museum of Natural History on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. We both showed up not knowing what to expect and walked in on what seemed like a bad MDMA trip, only we were completely sober.

It didn’t take long to realize, after examining the random mix of party dresses, skinny jeans, Toms footwear and plaid mixed with the occasional waft of putrid body smells, that this was clearly somewhat of a hipster hang out. We found ourselves in a mix of people “expressing themselves” and fondling the speakers while a DJ performed in front of a large LD screen which played what seemed to be a manifestation of the infamous Willy Wonka tunnel scene.

After examining what was open at the museum, and after realizing the party only offered Heineken and Amstel Light, Vanessa and I decided to go ahead and partake in the festivities at the makeshift dance floor. For a good hour we let go of our inhibitions as uptight New Yorkers and just danced. We jumped with the crowd, went through a human tunnel and almost ALMOST joined a dance contest. We realized that we happened upon pure joy last night and are somehow better for it. So thank you One Step Beyond, I promise not to wear a suit next time.


Grace Note: Suzanne Vinnik

Julie DeMarre Photography

Soprano Suzanne Vinnik has an affinity for high notes and high fashion. I met up with the opera singer to discuss life, love and opera after leaving Las Vegas.

Jacob Paul: It seems to me that you really identify with Violetta, both onstage and off.

Suzanne Vinnik: I think she’s one of the best characters in opera because she’s so different in every part of the story. At first she seems to be heartless, but its only because she doesn’t think she deserves love. Alfredo convinces her and she gives up everything, breaking your heart with hers. I think anyone with a soul can identify with her. 

JP: You get the chance to cover the role this season at Pittsburgh Opera. Are you excited?

SV: Oh yeah, I’m really excited about it. I never thought I would be 24 years old singing Violetta! I never really thought I had the talent to sing her. I mean…Violetta has always been one of my dream roles and it’s an honor that I get to try it out something that seems to be getting me a lot of attention.

JP: And audiences seem to agree that you really portray the character well, at least in the bits we’ve been able to see through competitions…

SV: Yeah, I mean I didn’t really bring Violetta into the mix until this past winter when I entered the Liederkranz Competition. I called my coach Ben Malensek an hour before I was supposed to be there for an emergency coaching.  I never coached it or even brought it to a lesson before I sang it that day! I just would sing through it with my friend for fun! I was lucky to get that last minute coaching and sort everything out. I won a prize the first time I ever sang the “E strano….Sempre Libera” in public… with Catherine Malfitano sitting across from me judging!!!!  My risk paid off…

JP: Literally!

SV: Haha Literally!

JP: Well that’s something you don’t hear every day. You brought the piece to the Palm Beach Opera Competition and you obviously won over the audience with your performance, but I’d like to add that you did so wearing a wonderful gown by Betsey Johnson, and I just wanted to applaud you on that choice.


Suzanne wears Betsey Johnson at Palm Beach

photo courtesy of Palm Beach Opera

SV: Thank you. We’ll thank Betsey.

JP: It’s obvious that while you love opera, you also have a passion for fashion.

SV: Yes! 

JP: Besides Betsey Johnson, what do you look for when it comes to unique style options?

SV: Well, I wish my little wallet and Betsey Johnson could always agree, but that isn’t the case! I just like anything that’s bright, kind of loud and announces “Hello, I’m here!” It has to be flattering in the right spots! A little cleavage, but not too much… You know, I’m risk taker. (Suzanne is currently sitting next to me on a park bench wearing bright pink shorts, a black t-shirt and pink animal print sunglasses).

JP: You’re heading to Castleton this summer to sing Musetta under the baton of Lorin Maazel. How did it come to be that Musetta became such a standard part of your repertoire?

SV: Well, I started working on the role when I was in Rome with Renata Scotto in the Opera Studio at Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia. The day before the concert she told me I’d be performing most of the second act! I thought to myself: “I’m just some moron from Las Vegas with some of the best young singers in the world… WHAT AM I DOING HERE!?”

JP: What was that experience like for you- working with Renata Scotto?

SV: It was… great! It was definitely the best thing that had ever happened to me. I mean, she heard me sing and pretty much told me that I was terrible “tu sei orribile”  after I sang the aria from Lucia. I worked very hard while I was there. Her husband Lorenzo really took a strong liking to me. We worked seven days a week for twenty minutes just on technique. Renata really challenged me and made me try so many new things!

JP: Where did she hear you sing?

SV: Well, I heard about her program through a coach who I don’t actually work with. She suggested that I work with her so, although this person didn’t provide a formal introduction or anything, I thought about what she said and realized hey, Renata Scotto was the first opera singer that I started listening to when I was younger. I mean when I was eight years old I would watch this silly old VHS of La Boheme all the time and fast forward to and rewind all the parts with her in it because, as an eight year old girl, all I wanted was to be that crazy girl in the red dress! I wanted to be Renata! So, after the seed was planted in my mind to work with her, I asked everyone I knew about how to get in touch with her. I had this strange… grand notion that I was just going to call her up and say “Hello, I want to work with you” and that would be it. In New York, generally all you have to do is send an e-mail or make a phone call and people will work with you.

JP: Is that how this came to be?

SV: Oh, I sent her one of the craziest e-mails depicting my fan history of her since I was a child. I even referenced a scene of her singing “Sola perduta abbandonata.” She finally responded to me about a month later and I eventually got to sing for her!

JP: That’s amazing! I guess all roads, and phone calls lead to Rome?

SV: Literally!

JP: You did Renata’s program in Rome twice.

SV: Yes I did.

JP: It must be expensive as a young singer just to afford the training you need to get yourself to the next point in your career.

SV: Yes, nothing in life is free. Whoever said, “The best things in life are free” lied!

JP: You’ll be representing the USA at the end of the summer at the Queen Sonja International Music Competition in Oslo, Norway. Are you looking forward to the competition?

SV: I’m really looking forward to the experience because I’ve always had this fascination with Norway and the songs of Edvard Grieg. I wrote this crazy paper on him in my undergrad for which I did a lecture/ recital on, so I’m really excited to sing in Norway.

JP: Do you have any idea of what you’ll be offering once you get to Oslo?

SV: Well, I have to offer eight arias and four art songs so, it’s definitely a lot of preparation. I am adding to my list the Bolero from I Vespri Siciliani and like “Sempre Libera”, I figured… why not?

JP: So you’d say that you’re a risk taker in your repertoire selections in addition to your fashion choices?

SV: I’m from Vegas!

JP: So life is a risk for you?

SV: I look at it this way. You have to go big or go home.

JP: Good point, well you are definitely going big.

SV: I hope so.

JP: You were an Encouragement Winner this year at the 40th Annual George London Foundation Awards, walking away with the Leonie Rysanek Award. What those in attendance did not know, was that your dress actually ripped in the back while you were singing Manon’s aria “Adieu notre petite table”. How did you handle that situation so well?

SV: I was just hoping that it wasn’t going to fall off because I didn’t want to be known as the singer who exposed her tatas to an audience that included Patrick Summers, Marcello Giordani and pretty much every important person that could be in the same room. It would have been humiliating!

JP: Do you have any tips for anyone else out there who might have something similar happen during a performance?

SV: Well, you can’t just stop and say “Hang on, I gotta zip my dress up!” With me I just had to focus and manage. I realized that I couldn’t take big breathes, so I had focus on taking dramatic breathes that would get me through, even if it meant that I couldn’t sing with the dynamics I wanted. I didn’t want to expose myself in that way. So, I just did what I always try to do and sing my best, focus on the character and not let me dress fall off!

JP: So every performance is unique…

SV: They all have their variables!

JP: You’ll be leaving New York City in late September to join Pittsburgh Opera’s Resident Artist Program. Are you sad about leaving The City?

SV: I have mixed feelings about it. I mean, I love New York and I love the life I’ve established here. I have my close group of friends, and I’ll definitely miss seeing my coach because I feel, in a way, that he’s the little mastermind of everything that I’ve done thus far. But I am looking forward to paying such a small amount for rent, and actually working!

JP: What are your favorite things about New York?

SV: I just love that I can really do anything here! I mean I can go to the opera, random performances, shop, and go on silly websites to have food delivered to me at all hours of the night. The thing about New York is, while it’s a rough life, it really is rewarding. I love that I can just walk down the street, sit in Riverside Park and study my opera scores, and for what I want to do, New York really is the center of the universe.

JP: We’ve already talked quite a bit about Violetta and Musetta; can you tell me what other roles you’re looking forward to or perhaps would like to sing in the future?

SV: Well I would really like to sing Mimi. I feel like I can identify with her character more, even though the outside world looks at me and is like “Musetta!” I would actually like to die for once in that opera. I’d also like to sing both Massenet and Puccini’s Manon! Like Violetta, she’s another girl who loses it all for love. I guess I’m just a sappy romantic. I’d definitely like to try to sing some of the Donizetti heroines; Lucia, Anna Bolena, Elisabetta from Roberto Devereux, Maria Stuarda; all the three queens really. Someday.

JP: You call yourself a sappy romantic. Is that just within your musical life? 

SV: No. Its everything.  With singing, we always have to be in control of our emotions, making different colors to make the audience feel something, so I feel like my opera side definitely comes out in my real life. Everything has to be great! It can’t be boring. With me, my boyfriend is in Germany… there’s always something difficult about it.

JP: How does a sappy romantic like you who portrays larger than life people on stage who fall in and out of love, who die and live for love, deal with love in the real world along with the distance and the realities that come along with a career that is now in your case taking shape?

SV: It’s definitely hard no matter where you live. With singing, I’m always living out of my suitcase, getting ready for this, doing that. When it comes down to it: sometimes you have to be selfish! It’s up to you to find people who make you feel grounded, who make you feel good and that you want to keep surrounding yourself with because it is such a difficult life.

JP: It seems sometimes that there is always someone ready to pounce when a vulnerable moment is spotted.

SV: Definitely. Everybody always wants something from an artist! You can’t just sing! After a while you have to tune it all out and concentrate on what makes you happy. Hopefully it’s the music and the people you surround yourself with. 

JP: The 2010/2011 season has provided a lot of new opportunities for you. It definitely seems to be a year of growth for you. Can you tell me what inspired all this?

SV: You picture your life one way, and something happens where it doesn’t quite go as you planned. With me, I got back to New York and thought, “Ok, what am I going to do with my life?” Everything that I had known literally blew up in my face, so I really focused on learning how to sing. I had a great voice teacher, a great coach, I worked with Renata Scotto and her husband who both just helped me so much. When I came back, I started entering competitions, and really decided to do this. I began to really apply myself and believe that it was “MY YEAR” and something great was going to happen. I knew that it was going to erase any and all of the bad that occurred before. Luckily, the first competition I entered (Opera Index Inc.), I won a prize and after that everything started falling into place!

JP: I have to point out that you’re definitely a studious person. You don’t just sit around doing nothing. If you have free time, you’re studying.

SV: Oh always!

JP: You attribute that desire, that need to learn to what?

SV:Well, I figure that there is just all this opera out there being performed that isn’t great, with people who sadly don’t have a lot to say! I feel that I have a unique opportunity because I’m at an age that hopefully I can bring something different to this art form. I just want to bring it back to the old school. There aren’t divas anymore!!! Just pretty people with music videos and there is just so much more than that. Opera is the greatest art form in the world and when you have people like Renata Scotto, Magda Olivero, Virginia Zeani who have come before you, it’s like “That’s what I want to be like!” I want people, long after I’m gone to say “Look what she did”, like Maria Callas. I mean, you pick up a fuzzy recording that you can barely hear the singing in of her, and, its wonderful! I want to touch people with my art, and the only way to do that is to study: to study the languages, the style, to listen to as many different recordings as possible to just try and understand the different styles from different eras. With La Traviata, I started working on the role and then read the book (referencing Alexadre Dumas fils’ La dame aux camelias) and when I finished, for over two hours I couldn’t stop crying. I thought it was even better than the opera! Then I watched the movie and even the silent film. There are so many adaptations of this story I mean, its incredible.

JP: I mention your studious nature not even to shed light on how you deal with the work you’re given, but it seems that you take upon yourself the opportunity to learn roles just because. It may not be a role or an aria that you have to learn for a company or a competition, it’s just because you want to learn. 

SV: I feel like there are roles that I picked up that I definitely couldn’t sing, they were either too high or something just didn’t fit. I will say that by singing and practicing Bellini, I learned how to sing legato, by singing Donizetti, I learned what Verdi learned from him to put in his music. It goes all the way to Puccini. You realize that everything is a stepping stone to the next. With La Traviata, hopefully that’s something I’ll be singing for the rest of my life…so it might as well be perfect.

Julie DeMarre Photography

This season Ms. Vinnik won 1st prize in the Verismo Opera Competition, 2nd Prize from Gerda Lisser Foundation, 3rd Prize at the Opera Index Competition, Audience Favorite and 4th Prize in the Palm Beach Opera Competition, an Encouragement Award from the George London Foundation and grants from The Liederkranz Foundation, The Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation and The Giulio Gari Foundation. She was a Semi-Finalist in the 2011 Zachary Awards, Dallas Opera Guild Awards and the upcoming San Antonio Opera Competition. She has been selected to represent the USA in the 2011 Queen Sonja Competition in Oslo, Norway. Ms. Vinnik is also a 2011 Deimar Award Winner through The New York Foundation for the Arts. During the summer of 2009 she was a finalist in the Giulio Gari Foundation Competition and semi-finalist representing the USA at the Competizione dell’Opera International Singing Competition in Germany. She is a recipient of a Walsh Performing Arts Grant, the Nevada Arts Council Professional Development Grant, The Tove Allen Opera Legacy Scholarship through the NV Community Foudation/NV Opera Theatre and was awarded a Mannes Merit Scholarship.

Read my Urban Palate interview with photographer Julie DeMarre to discover how the above photograph of Suzanne Vinnik literally launched her own career!


Single Serving Celebrity

You most likely recognize Maulik Pancholy from 30 Rock or Weeds… when I met him, I didn’t recognize him at all.

You know the term “single serving friend”; these are the people we meet while in line for a prescription at the drug store, a coffee at Starbucks, and thanks to Fight Club (more…)


Better Than Poop Yogurt

Newsflash. Jamie Lee Curtis has regular, comfortable bowel movements and you can too! All you have to do is buy the conspicuously green packaged “poop yogurt” as it is commonly referenced and try to enjoy the runny mess.

Activia yogurt famously promises to help maintain a healthy and regular digestive system due to it’s seemingly unique infusion of a natural culture we haven’t exactly heard of before. Or have we? Bifidobacterium animalis, or as Dannon refers to it, bifidus regularis for us Americans or for those in the UK bifidus digestivum, promises to help regulate and maintain a healthy digestive tract, enabling you to go more comfortably. Why would a bacteria need to be named differently in two English speaking countries? Trademark and marketing reasons. The words regularis and digestivum are really just lame advertising ploys to get you, the consumer to believe that Dannon’s brand of yogurt is the only food out there to provide you with it’s special strain of bacteria. I have a question though… why would you readily eat a unique strain of bacteria only found in, of all things, Dannon yogurt? Yeah, when you think about it, you probably wouldn’t be lining up for an Oscar Mayer wiener packed with a unique strain of bacteria, would you?

Now for some education. We (along most other mammals) already contain the gram-positive bacterium in our large intestines, and yes, maintaining a healthy diet inclusive of foods with the probiotic can make for much more comfortable and regular visits to the porcelain throne.

What also amazes me is the hearty sum of Americans who seem oblivious to the number of BETTER TASTING/ not so runny foods which contain the same beneficial probiotics. Let me share a little secret with you. Greek yogurt is thick, delicious and kind of amazing.

My favorite, Chobani Greek Yogurt is packed with not one or two, but five different types of live and active cultures including… you guessed it, bifidobacterium animalis, the same bacteria found in Activia. You wouldn’t know it though thanks to Dannon’s advertising morons. Digestive tract aside, Chobani’s straining process leaves the yogurt packed with whey protein. So not only will you poop regularly, but you’ll also maintain a healthy immune system AND help keep your muscles lean and strong.


Snow Day

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 :-)



The F Word, The Mormon Pedophile and Me… A Pre-Coming Out Story

 

 

When I was 17, I went on a weeklong trip to Santa Fe with a community service group I belonged to to work as a paid page for the New Mexico Legislature. There were about thirty of us who attended the trip with one chaperone. We’ll call that chaperone Mr. M.

Mr. M was one of the most popular teachers at my high school, his classes were very difficult to get in to, and though he was in charge of some of the more academically monotonous extra-curricular organizations, everyone seemed to join them just to be near him. Besides the clubs and organizations, I had taken two courses with Mr. M, including an intensive summer preparatory course between my Freshman and Sophomore years. Over the development of my high school career, I began to see Mr. M as a father figure to me at the school. He was someone I could talk to about troubles at home (now they truly seem silly), school, and my hopes for the future. Everyone loved Mr. M.

Our first night on the trip, after we checked into our condos at Fort Marcy in Santa Fe, Mr. M announced that he needed someone to go with him to the grocery store to pick up some food. Our three condos were equipped with state of the art kitchens and spacious dining rooms where we could all share evening and morning meals.

“I’ll go” I volunteered. “It’s my night my night to cook.”

“Very well” said Mr. M “Anyone else?”

None of the other students spoke up or raised their hands to go. This didn’t upset me as my classmates were all clearly engaged in board and card games. As I went up the stairs to grab my jacket I heard a voice say “I can’t believe you have to share a bed with that faggot Marcos; your’e gonna get ass-raped!”

Even though I wasn’t out yet, I had been made fun of for my sexuality for most of my public school career. Visibly flamboyant from a young age, I was likened to a girl starting around kindergarden, and would eventually be excluded from playing playground sports like basketball or soccer, based on the fact that I clearly wasn’t one of the guys. Another problem was, when I would try and play games like jump rope or tag with my female friends, I was met with “no boys allowed!”

Anyways, back to high school; there wasn’t a day I went to school that I wasn’t called “faggot, cock sucker” or “homo” I was even met with taunting jokes when I walked down the hallway like  “silly faggot, dicks are for chicks.” The worst occurred IN the classroom. My Algebra II teacher’s son, Garrett Hall was a year ahead of me, and since I was enrolled in AP science courses, I often had course time with upper classmates. When our AP Anatomy teacher would leave the room, he would often announce if he would be a while, giving us a timeline to finish our work by. Garrett would then go up to the board and write “Jacob likes little boys” or “Jacob is a HOMOsapien” at which the entire class would usually laugh hysterically. I was often left with the task of walking in front of everyone to erase the words. Many of the students on the trip were from those classes and had at one point or another all laughed at me.

“Ready? asked Mr. M.

“yeah let’s go” I replied as we left for the supermarket.

“Are you ok? asked Mr. M.

“Yeah, I’m fine, why do you ask?”

“No reason, just that I know you could hear what the others were saying about you, and it can’t be easy.”

“It’s fine, really. I mean, it’s not fine, but I’m used to it.”

We turned into the DeVargas Shopping Center in northern Santa Fe and proceeded to go inside the Albertsons. As we walked through the store picking out produce for the week, we passed a tall glass case of condoms.

“Do you need any of these?” asked Mr. M?

“What!? Um… no I’m not sexually active Mr. M, no”

“Well I just thought that you and Marcos…”

“Oh, no, I’m not, I mean, Marcos isn’t, umm… you know.”

“Oh, sure” replied Mr. M “I’m sorry for suggesting, I just thought that you were, you know… gay”

Uncomfortable with the situation, I changed the subject immediately to dinner. As we walked for the door, Mr. M put his hand on my shoulder “you know you can talk to me about this Jacob.” I didn’t reply to him.

“I’ve dealt with homosexuality in my family before, I won’t judge you.”

“I know you won’t” I replied, “I just haven’t told anyone. My family, we’re very Catholic and, I just don’t know if this is what I want for my life you know; I had always envisioned a family, a wife and kids…”

“Who says you can’t still have all that?”

“Well, I can’t…”

“Let me talk to you about something” said Mr. M. We we were now in the school SUV in the DeVargas parking lot. “I went through the same thing you’re going through right now.”

“What!?” I was shocked, Mr. M was a complete family man; he had a wife, three kids and held a priesthood in the Mormon Church. I had never viewed him as anything but a teacher, family man and, well… Mormon.

“Believe me, when I was in college, I was a flaming homosexual… boy did I love cock.”

“Umm…”

“Really” continued Mr. M “I loved taking a huge cock; cut, uncut, it didn’t matter.”

“So what you’re telling me is… you’re gay?” I was so confused, uncomfortable and by now all I wanted to do was get back to the condos, eat and go to bed.

“Well I’m not gay anymore. You know I have a wife and children.”

“Well, yeah, but” my mind was filled with confusion and anxiety. Was Mr. M gay? What was he trying to tell me? Or suggest for that matter!?

“I was really, really lost Jacob” continued Mr. M. “ and then I found God, I found religion, and that’s how I overcame this.”

“So now you’re straight?”

“I’m a man of God, and I’m telling you that there is nothing more sacred than making love to a woman. To have the ability to be one with God in that moment, to, like God create life.”

“Was that difficult? To change…?”

“At first, but I’m telling you Jacob, this path you’re on, it’s a dangerous one, and if you want to change, you need make some changes.”

“What do you mean?”

“I bet you think of men when you touch yourself. Its ok, I still do sometimes, but if you want that first time with a woman to be truly holy, to be a Godly experience, you need to stop touching yourself. Its like a demon inside you, this sexuality, and you need to starve it.”

By now I was really uncomfortable, Mr. M had started revealing to me that it was difficult to concentrate on his wife during sex, that he sometimes pictured young, high school aged boys when penetrating her. The worst of all? He cheated on her.

“I would never cheat on my wife with another woman” he said “that’s sacred.”

“And you don’t feel bad about it?” I asked

“No. I know that I’m experiencing something holy when I’m with my wife that can’t be reproduced with a man.”

Furthermore, Mr. M revealed many of his sex partners to be students, and that he had engaged in such activity since he was only a substitute teacher. He kept revealing his secrets to me in that dark parking lot.

“Are you hard?” asked Mr. M.

“Umm… no”

“I just thought all this talk might make you, you know… because I am.”

“I think we should get back to the condos” I suggested “its getting late, and I’m sure everyone’s hungry.”

When we finally got back, the students all verbally complained that they had been waiting and were practically starving. Mr. M suggested that it was my fault since it was my turn to cook that evening and my ingredients were varied.

After dinner, I was checking my e-mail on the downstairs computer when I felt Mr. M’s hand on my back. He began making small circles at the nape of my neck and continued downward. Though there were a dozen students in the room, it wasn’t wholly uncommon for Mr. M to give a massage to a student, in fact we all regularly expected it.

Later on that evening, Mr. M was playing a card game at the dining room table with my classmates JD and Jerry (the student who made the faggot comment) while I tried watching a television show in the adjacent room.

“…but wouldn’t you want to be like God when you die?” I heard Mr. M ask Jerry and JD, “to create new worlds, new universes, and to be the god of your own creation?”

JD and Jerry just mumbled stupidly and suggested a game of dominoes.

The next day, after an afternoon of conducting tours of the New Mexico Legislature to children, I found myself both physically and mentally exhausted. I didn’t know how to look at Mr. M without being utterly confused and upset.

“I put something in your suitcase” whispered Mr. M.

“What is it?

“Go and see…”

When I got to my room, I closed the door and opened my suitcase to find a Walgreens bag. Upon opening the bag, it’s contents fell to the floor. A box of Trojan latex condoms. I put the box back in the bag and walked across the hall to Mr. M’s room.

“We need to talk” I said.

“Yeah?” Mr. M’s eyes sparkled with excitement.

“I don’t need these; I won’t be needing these for a while. Please throw them out or give them to somebody else.”

“Are you sure?” insisted Mr. M.

“Positive” I replied.

“Why don’t you take a seat?”

I sat down on the edge of Mr. M’s bed with my head looking to the floor.

“I know things are probably scary for you right now, just know that I can always be here if you need.”

“Yeah, I got that.”

During that week in Santa Fe, Mr. M had revealed to me that not only had he been cheating on his wife with men, but with male high school students, that I was his type, and that no one had to know. He also walked in on my roommate Marcos and asked him about the size of his penis just before giving the box of condoms to Jerry. He suggested to Jerry that since he was such a “ladies man” that he would be needing them. Jerry used them alright… while masturbating to his father’s vast pornography collection.

When I had discussed events of the trip to my friend Elizabeth, she immediately made me talk to our guidance councilor. The guidance councilor then made me tell the principal who immediately made me tell my parents about the incident. Now, I never really told anyone the whole of the story, and the rest of it is still locked away in my memory. When I went back to visit my high school a couple of years later, I tried to tell my former principal Mrs. Pargas the complete, unabridged version of what happened on that trip. She stopped me mid-sentence and said “we’ve moved on Jacob, and it looks you have too. I would like to think  that Mr. M is beyond this and I really don’t think he would try such a thing again.”

As I drove away, I passed a ticker in the middle of town naming Mr. M as the district’s teacher of the year. Why wouldn’t he be? He’s so caring after all.


 


Lift Every Voice and Sing

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.


Smile! You’re on Candid Camera!

A cheesesteak sandwich from Pat's with Cheez W...

Image via Wikipedia

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!”


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