The scene: Last night, 11 p.m. or so; C. and I are back home after our respective rehearsals; Vespers (the black cat) is zipping back and forth across the apartment making her “I’ll kill you, you helpless plastic toy” noises.

C.: I wonder why their hunting instincts come out when they haven’t been fed yet?
Me: …
C.: …
C.: Oh.

(C. would have you know that he set his own self up for that punchline, but he’s too chicken to comment and tell you himself. Bach bach BEGACH, baby!!)


The Human Instrument

23 April 2007

This weekend saw the end of a four-concert run of a Handel oratorio, in which I was singing the chorus bits along with 23 other local professional singers, joined by a top-notch period instruments orchestra and excellent soloists hailing from various places in the U.S. and Europe, one of whom is a personal favorite of mine. She was astounding in the first two performances last weekend – her tone was powerful and expressive, and she made the most of the wide variety of vocal colors in her arsenal, creating a complex emotional life for her character.

On the third night, less than a week later, I could hear some imperfections in her singing – notes not quite in tune, slightly wonky vowels, maybe some flagging breath support affecting the tone – but I chalked it up to the major acoustic change from the venue for the first two concerts to that of the third, from a very resonant church to a theater that is notoriously dry as a bone. I thought perhaps the lack of resonance coupled with the fact that in this venue the chorus was seated quite close to the soloists revealed some wrinkles that the acoustic airbrushing of the first venue hid.

The real story, however, was that she was either ill or affected by allergies, and either way it was taking a toll on her voice. The next night, at the warmup for the last performance, she sang a few bars of her opening recitative and had to ask that an announcement be made to the audience that her singing was compromised. There had been no time to find a cover for her; this particular oratorio isn’t performed frequently enough for it to be in many singers’ repertoire, and her role is not something one of us from the chorus could have prepared on such short notice. So she had to go on, and we, along with the audience, had to watch and listen as her voice grew hoarser and weaker. By the second act she was singing the recitatives an octave down from written pitch and struggling to get through her arias and duets, and her arias in the third act were all either cut or re-assigned.

She was gracious and professional through all of this, and her colleagues were sensitive to it, even adjusting their performances when necessary. But it was still heartbreaking to watch, because I know how scary and frustrating vocal problems can be, and I could see those feelings play briefly across her face at times. I’ve been to concerts where a violinist had to stop a concerto mid-movement to replace a broken string, and where a continuo player had to drop out of a piece for several minutes to repair an organ stop on the fly, but there is no way to heal the human voice during a performance when it malfunctions like this.

I’ve been struggling with some vocal fatigue myself lately, brought on by a combination of 1) a nasty sore throat / earache / cough I came down with at the end of March that is only just starting to go away, 2) laryngitis and resultant loss of voice due to singing a Tenebrae service during Holy Week that I should have skipped, and 3) April being a very busy month, gig-wise – my voice started coming back from the laryngitis just as I was beginning a stint of 7 nights of rather athletic singing in a row. Things have calmed down a little, but I still get an unnerving “lump in the throat feeling” after singing for an hour or so, which sets my inner hypochondriac to obsessing over the possibility that my vocal folds may be developing nodes. The rational part of my brain is telling me that I’ll probably be fine with vocal rest, but I should get myself to an ENT for a laryngoscopy soon just to be sure.

As troubling as my vocal problems have been, though, that last Handel concert brought me some much-needed perspective. The unique nature of the singer’s instrument and its vulnerability tend to heighten anxiety about vocal health, at least for me, but I am fortunate enough not to have been in a position where I lost my voice in front of a paying audience at a high-profile concert where nobody could have covered for me, and I am lucky to count among my friends several brilliant sopranos, a few of whom have generously subbed for me at various services this month, allowing me to get some of the rest I need.

Hopefully these experiences will help me remember not to push myself so hard the next time I come down with a sore throat, even if it is right before Holy Week. No singing job is truly worth compromising one’s health for.

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[Disclaimer: I’m far from being a wine expert. I often find myself thinking “I know I liked/disliked that bottle, but I can’t remember why,” so journaling wines now and then seems like a good idea.]

I returned home late last night from a concert and found C. curled up in his leather armchair reading, with a wine glass beside him half-filled what looked at first glance like water. Turns out it was one of the wines we received in our latest order from Roshambo, a winery he discovered while working at a choir camp near Healdsburg, CA.

Before even taking a sip of the glass he poured me, I tried to get a handle on the color. This wine really is almost colorless; visually it reminded me of melted lemon sorbet, only transparent. My first few sips weren’t too memorable, but once the wine had gotten some air into it and wasn’t quite so cold I began to enjoy the flavors that developed. This is one of the more subtle Sauvignon Blancs I’ve tasted: light bodied, on the dry side, and not shouting “Citrus!” or “Tropical Fruit!” at you. Those notes are there – and they’re one of the reasons I generally gravitate to Sauv Blanc rather than the heavier whites – but they are integrated well.

C. tells me we have another bottle of this from an earlier club shipment – happy day!

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21 April 2007

Yesterday, 4/20, was my birthday. I opened a couple of great gifts from C. at midnight: the first two books in A Song of Ice and Fire, a series that I want to re-read in its entirety while waiting for the fifth book to be published (come on already, GRRM!), and some pot.

I took the day off work and meant to spend it in dolce far niente. At one point I needed to find a stamp to send a friend a card, but I had no idea where C. had put them during his latest … well, you can’t call them cleaning sprees; they’re more like shoving-stuff-around-before-people-come-over sprees. Not that I blame him – I do the same thing. Clutter in and of itself is OK with me, as long as the stuff is useful and I know where everything is. That was not the case with the stamps, however. I went through the piles I thought they would most likely be in, but no dice.

Frustrated, I was seized with the impulse to do some real cleaning. I attacked the piles and after 2 hours of work ended up throwing out a couple of big kitchen bags’ worth of junk, putting other less junky stuff in the Goodwill stash and some in the Secret Santa regift stash, and re-organizing other items to more appropriate places in the apartment. I also got rid of two bags of styrofoam packing peanuts, otherwise known in this household as devil spawn, and flattened and recycled some empty cardboard boxes. And I still felt like I hadn’t even made a dent.

I spent the rest of the day reacting rather disproportionately to the actual problem – mostly angry and sad that we have accumulated so much useless crap (a subject for another post), and beating up on myself for various things, like not being a better housekeeper, letting this make me sad on my birthday, being so self-critical (no, really), etc.

Several people phoned and I had some lovely catching-up conversations, and then I had a gig in the evening and C. took me out for a great dinner between the warmup and the concert. And I have to say I felt a lot better after that dinner and after singing Handel for 3 hours. But the funky weird depression stuff, even though some can be chalked up to monthly hormonal swings, scares me a little. And it’s just another in a relatively long list of things I complain about and never seem to actually get around to dealing with. Kind of like the useless crap.

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Nearly 1,000 Knitters!

20 April 2007

I joined Sockapalooza 4 last week (along with probably around 1,000 others by the time signups closed), and I’m looking forward to finding out whom I’m going to be knitting for. The last time I participated, much fun was had figuring out exactly what yarn and pattern to use – and shopping for the yarn, of course! This time I’m hoping I can use something from my stash, which is getting a bit out of control.

One of the features the mighty Alison has added this time around is a group blog so participants can post updates. I may be doing some cross-posting here, though.

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Managing expectations

19 April 2007

I’m setting the bar pretty low.

Blogging here is likely to be sporadic, I can tell you that from the outset. Commenting on other peoples’ blogs will be even worse. I read hundreds of blogs, but I’m a dedicated lurker. Commenting, for me, requires a heroic effort to squash the mosquito voice in my head telling me how stupid I sound and what a crappy writer I am. And then when I do comment I end up feeling guilty for not commenting more.

I won’t blog about work. I will probably blog about knitting and spinning, though I don’t generally take pictures, and my progress on projects is excruciatingly slow because I really only knit on commutes, during stolen moments at rehearsals, waiting on line (I’m from New York, it’s “on line,” get over it), and anywhere else I would otherwise be bored, and I hardly ever spin.

Singing and music will crop up, but probably only in a general and personal way, since most of what I do counts as work. If I’m organized and motivated enough I might use this space to chronicle the wines and wineries my lovely husband C. and I are discovering. Maybe also the books I’m reading.

Also? There will be whining. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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