Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Slideshow of Salzburg

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Wednesday, September 07, 2011

The final session

Well, this wonderful experience has come to a close and I find myself back home again wondering if the last 6 weeks were just a dream. I honestly still can't believe that I had this opportunity! This experience has made a deep impact on me that will affect the rest of my career and journey in music. I will forever be grateful to dear Charlotte Shedd and the Austrian American Society of Wilmington, DE. I am also deeply grateful for all of my wonderful friends and family that either donated money or time to help me take care of my children while I was gone. With that said, I suppose I'd better give you an update!

Originally, I was signed up for Barbara Bonney's Masterclass. I didn't realize at the time of enrollment that she would only be available for one week of the last two week session. During the second session I received some valuable information that led me to change professors. I changed to Kurt Widmer's Masterclass and will forever be grateful for that decision! The things I learned from Prof. Widmer made such an impact on me in so many more ways than just my singing technique. He reminded me of the reason I do what I do! And that is to communicate with others and hopefully make a positive lasting impact. He taught me to give myself permission to get out of my head and tap into my heart. When working with him, I became free from the pursuit of perfection and was able to allow my soul to lead. Ironically, by just letting go it was amazing to see the difference in the quality of my sound. It was a magical experience that is really hard to describe unless you had been there. I literally witness miracles every day I went to class. I observed students from all ages and abilities completely blossom under his touch. It was quite moving actually. I'll never forget the tears coming down the cheeks of one of his students after one of my sessions. I felt the same watching him work with others. I've never seen a teacher of singing with such patience, gentleness, and genuine love and caring for people. He worked tirelessly to make sure each student had his fair share of time with him. A difficult feat with 24 students!

Kurt Widmer's approach is completely revolutionary! Besides his obvious love for his students and teaching, he has created an approach to teaching technique that gets to the very heart of what making music is all about. Rather than focusing on mistakes and correcting them, he provides an environment in which the student can allow the sound to come organically. He believes that if a student is too caught up in perfection, he/she will be too much in the head thus becoming more tense and not able to access the maximum beauty of sound. Since he spoke very little English, my German skills were put to the test and I had to work extra hard at listening and watching in order to understand his philosophy. If one were to come and observe a session without knowing anything about him, they would think his approach a bit silly at times. He will go through great lengths using various props and physical actions to keep the student flowing freely within his/her body. As I observed other students I began to see a pattern with the props he used and realized that he had this method down to a complete science. He knew just what each student needed in order to get them singing freely. I hope the pictures I've posted gives a bit of an idea of what I was doing.

There was one particular session that really made an impact on me. He had me singing Csardas with one leg sticking out behind me balancing on my right foot. With my left hand on the table for stability, he had me articulate the rhythms on the table with my right hand using a wide range of space on the table. I was sweating profusely as it was really difficult. Periodically he would push my leg up higher into the air with out warning. Obviously, I wouldn't be doing these crazy antics while I'm actually performing, but it forced me to be completely free in my whole body while adding the necessary energy. I was really amazed at how differently my body felt when singing this way. The sound was much more brilliant yet I could hardly feel a thing in my larynx/jaw/mouth. It was almost like an out of body experience where I was sitting across the room watching myself and marveling at the sounds coming out of me. I remember thinking to myself, "I didn't know you could do that!". At first I found myself fighting against him as I didn't trust that my voice would speak while doing all these crazy things. But as soon as I had the courage to let go and do something different, I experience a complete transformation. Little did he know that one of my biggest struggles in life was learning out to let go and let God. I can be a bit of a control freak and and inhibit myself in the process. When I say that his work with me touched me on many levels, I mean that I could apply what he was teaching me to how I approach my whole life. Again, it's a bit difficult to explain.

I was able to sing in another Academy concert on Monday night the 24th. I sang really well and felt that I was able to apply my work with Prof. Widmer. It as also fun to have a large crowd of friends in the audience cheering me on. Brian Stone, one of the judges of this year's competition, happened to be in Salzburg on a scholarship of his own from and Austrian American Society in New York. He was able to attend both concerts of mine this summer and attended several of my masterclasses. It was very nice to have someone from home for support. I also had several people that I had become friends with at the church in Salzburg come to my concerts.
For this last session, Prof. Widmer had given me a P which meant that he was recommending me for the final prize concert. Unfortunately, I did not make it to the concert. At first I was upset but in the end remembered that all things happen for a reason. Widmer made a point to pull me aside and told me I have perfect technique and am a beautiful singer but that my age may have been a problem. It was sweet of him to say. I mostly felt bad because I wanted to make the Society proud and bring an accomplishment home with me. What I have gained from this experience is far more valuable then singing on any prize concert or competition. I don't know what my future holds in the professional world, but I know that this experience has been instrumental in preparing me for whatever lies ahead.

I was able to continue my work with Giovanni Ceto. He was so generous with his time and did not charge me a penny for our work. He took me under his wing and completely transformed my Italian pronunciation. My work with him has definitely taken me to the next level. It was a blessing that I wasn't at all expecting. He will always be a dear friend and I was very sad to say goodbye to him.

Here are some final thoughts on my experience in Salzburg:
I love the food especially the chocolate, bread, and cheeses. I love the beauty and richness of culture and history in that little city. I love the legacy that Mozart left for the entire world that will last until the end of time. I'm amazed how one man could make such a lasting impact on the world. I want to be like that! I love all of the lovely people that I met and will hopefully remain friends with. I loved the exposure to so many cultures and languages under one roof. Image this, a Bulgarian Soprano talking to a Venezuelan in German, who would then translate the information into English for the Taiwanese Student at the piano! Totally amazing! I love the discoveries and changes I made in my voice and in my spirit. I come home to my family a new and improved version of myself. Forever changed for the better. I'm looking forward to seeing the members of the Austrian American Society again and performing the "Danke" concert this Fall. Stay tuned for a slide show of pictures!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Session 2-Mozarteum Summer Academy

Well, I said goodbye to my husband who went home to relieve the grandparents. I moved into a new apartment and felt like I was starting all over again with this second session. These past two weeks I feel that I've undergone a transformation emotionally, spiritually, and physically. It's hard to describe how certain periods of your life can be both aggravating and enlightening at the same time. But I'm sure that many can understand what I mean. For it is through the struggles that we see the most growth in ourselves.

I have learned not to place expectations on anything that hasn't happened yet. I am learning to allow life to flow more freely rather than try to force or prod unnaturally. I have learned that sometimes when we approach life with too much force and intensity we can look beyond the mark and find ourselves far way from our target. It can go the other way as well. If we are too timid and live our lives in constant fear, we fall short of our target. Finding a balance is truly the key. I have found tremendous comfort in my relationship with God and his son Jesus Christ. Living the single life these past weeks has given me time to reflect and nourish the relationship with them and myself. I have been blessed to witness small miracles these past two weeks. Not only in myself but with others. This has testified to me that there is a God in heaven that loves and is mindful of each and every one of us.

I am filled with gratitude that God has blessed me with the gift of song. It brings me so much joy and it never ceases to amaze me the sounds that the body is capable of producing. I have enjoyed the tremendous talent of those around me as well. I have made some wonderful friends that I hope to be in contact with in the future and perhaps collaborate with professionally. I have been so blessed to have worked with such wonderful talent and brilliant individuals such as Piernay and Anna Tomowa-Sintow. Anna is truly amazing as she still sings amazingly well for a woman in her 70's. She is extremely alert and incredibly knowledgeable. Her ability to vocally demonstrate difficult passages to illustrate what she wants a singer to do is really quite amazing. I found Piernay to be the same. Absolutely brilliant! Most singers their age no longer have any voice. I feel that my voice has gone up yet another level even since Prof. Piernay. I should tell people that I actually went to "finishing" school this summer. For that is how I truly feel! I feel that this experience is giving me the finishing touches that will prepare me to be successful in the professional world. When I approach the audition circuit this fall, I will feel completely ready and confident.

The first week of this second session was very rough. I found myself with a very bad attitude as the week progressed. I suppose Piernay left me spoiled with the amount of time he worked with me. Ms. Tomowa-Sintow auditioned us on Tuesday and didn't start class until Thursday. We only had 3 1/2 hrs per day with 14 singers to share that time. In the end I only got 4 lessons of about 20-25 min. each. It was difficult to communicate with her because her english is not good and my german and italian is even worse. I felt like I didn't connect with her as I did with Piernay or other teachers in the past because of the language barrier. So, I was very irritated the first week. It's not really like me to be so negative but it was really eating at me. And to make matters worse, I really don't appreciate diva behavior. It doesn't matter how famous a person is, it's not all about them! So, you get the picture that I had a really bad attitude! In spite of that, I made sure to be prepared and I sang well for her and really tried to apply what she was teaching me. I make it a regular habit to steer clear of negative thinking. So, I made a sincere effort to get off my high horse and really focus on the small amount of time I did have with her. When I changed my approach, my level of performance improved immensely when I became teachable. I'm so grateful I did because now I can walk away from this experience with no regrets. I owe it to myself and all those that made it possible for me to be here to make the most of this experience.
Part of the stress also came from me putting pressure on myself to get noticed while I am here. The past two sessions, I have felt somewhat overlooked since I was not considered for the academy concerts where they choose individuals to participate in the culminating competition that will happen at the end of August. I have been getting attention from many but it seemed that the person that makes the final decision, has not had an opportunity to hear me sing. I really want to get some positive exposure while I am here that can open some doors for me professionally. I eventually came to the conclusion that if I do my best, than what is meant to happen will happen. I've always felt that God had a purpose for my voice. He's ultimately in charge and I can't try to force things.
Although, I was very proud of myself because yesterday, I made some really good networking contacts. One particular individual has noticed me throughout the weeks and has some influence with the director of the summer academy. I basically asked her what I needed to do to be considered for the final concert/competition. She said that I was not on the prior concerts because they were aware that I was here on scholarship and could not be considered for the stipend prize that was being given away. She agreed that because of that, the Director of the Summer Academy had not had an opportunity to hear me as a result. She has agreed to speak with him and to find a way for me to sing for him. We also discussed other possibilites of working with each other in the future. I'm not typically very good at self promoting, but the opportunity presented itself and I was proud of myself for taking advantage of it!
I realize that all I can do is continue to work hard and sing well every time I have a chance to perform. And that's what I intend to do.

Now, for a few details on Anna Tomowa-Sintow's teaching style. Her main focus was for all of us to begin singing a Mozart piece. She says "Mozart is very eemportant for za pozition" in her lovely bulgarian accent. What she means is that Mozart helps the singer find the right alignment in the voice which then prepares them for the rest of the operatic repertoire. She really focused on getting every singer to keep the voice in line throughout the scale without changing vocal position. She taught mostly by demonstration and images. She was very efficient and really got incredible results in all of the singers in a very short period of time. She had a very intense diva energy about her that was a bit interesting. But her approach with the student was loving and encouraging yet strict. During our final class concert this evening, she was very mother-henish with everyone, which I find a bit intrusive at times.( But that's just me). She went around to everyone and gave them their pep talk. Then when each person sang, she was in the wings mouthing the words and making faces or commenting about the tempo being too slow or fast. Then afterwards, she had words of wisdom for each individual. I'm sure she said something nice to me because she was smiling, but it was in Italian and I didn't understand a word. I think she might have said something about contining with the freedom of sound. The only words I picked out were "continuomo" and "Libera". I really need to brush up on my language skills! Ah well,...perhaps that will be my next project.

Now I must tell you about my new friend Giovanni Ceto. He is this wonderful crazy Italian that kind of scared me at first. After my audition for this session, he made the point to congratulate me on my beautiful instrument. Then he proceeded to tell me that my Italian pronunciation stinks! I didn't quite know how to respond to that because no one has ever told me that! But of course coming from a native Italian, I'm sure it seems pretty bad. Anyway, I sort of forgot about him and went about my week. We'll one day, I am standing outside of the old Mozarteum building and here is this man hanging out the window flagging me down, motioning for me to come to him in his office. I went, apprehensively because he was kind of intense. I find out that he is actually a professor/teacher of Italian pronunciation who coaches singers and has studied with all kinds of famous people in the business. He asked me why I never came to him for lessons after he talked to me that day. I proceeded to tell him that I had no money to pay him for his services. He said that he came to me and would like to help me. He has been coaching me on the side out of the goodness of his heart. In the short time I have worked with him, my Italian pronunciation has improved immensely and it has really transformed my singing and my approach to learning music. In the past, I have been more prone to learn the notes and rhythms first then the words and then the translation. When you approach the music from the text first, it completely changes things. I almost feel silly that I didn't know this sooner! Better late than never I say!Although I have known him only a short while, I think I have found a friend for life as I will always be grateful for his gift and generosity.

I'm loving my Yoga class as well. I'm becoming very zen these days. I love the whole philosophy and it makes such a difference in my singing technique and my approach to the psychological aspect of performing. I'm seriously considering becoming certified in Yoga. I feel it would be a tremendous supplement to my performing.

So, all in all, I have had a lovely experience this second session. I have grown so much in many aspects. I'm starting to feel like a regular citizen now. I know the city well and still marvel at it's beauty. The food is absolutely marvelous! Especially the bread and cheese. There are quaint little cafe's and bakeries around every corner. I'm trying to stick to the groceries in my little refrigerator so that I don't come home bigger than when I left! the public transportation is extremely convenient and always on time. I also haven't been too homesick as I have seen how happy and well taken care of my children have been. My in-laws did an incredible job of taking care of them! I will be forever grateful to them! I'm so happy that my children had that bonding time with them. I found that my biggest fears of this experience have not been an issue at all. And I really owe that to my in-laws. My favorite words that I receive in a text message often is Palmer says, "skype Mommy!". That's when I know I have a skype date that evening. I have pictures but will not be able to post them until I get home because the memory card in my camera only fits my husband's computer. Perhaps I will do a slide show of my summer when I get home for all to see.

Well, on to the 3rd and last session! Stay tuned!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Salzburg Update

The last two weeks have been a whirlwind and a total dream! I have enjoyed walking the streets of this beautiful city everyday to and from class. Music is in the air in every direction. And the diversity of people is fantastic! However, I really need to avoid the Backerei's on every corner!

My voice has essentially experienced a revolution. Thanks to Rudolf Piernay, I feel I have the final piece to the puzzle that I have been missing in my singing. This revolution has also opened up a plethora of repertoire that I never thought possible before. It has been so nice to work at such a high level. Prof. Piernay really focused intensely on every little detail. I feel that I can approach my music with a greater depth of understanding that I did not possess before. During the last two weeks, he has uncovered my true voice and has given me more understanding of the possibilities of the beauty of sound that my instrument is capable of. It's really quite exciting! It is kind of like carrying around a beautiful rock all your life only to discover that it's a diamond or a ruby! I feel so blessed and find so much joy in this discovery.

I should back up and explain a bit better what happens with these masterclasses. The first day of the two week session, all of the singers enrolled in the class audition for the teacher/professor. The Professor then decides who will be an active participant and who will not. At that point, a schedule is made where each student will get private lessons, coaching/rehearsal with the pianist, and masterclass performance time. Everyday is full of getting instruction, observing other students, and practicing. Most of the Vocal masterclasses are held in the old Mozarteum building which is right next to the famous Mirabell Garden where parts of The Sound of Music was filmed.

The students in the class were from all over the world including Romania, Russia, Korea, Switzerland, and Poland. It has been so interesting to see so many cultures in the same room trying to communicate about the universal language of music. In the end, we are all very much the same. We just speak different languages. I have enjoyed observing lessons in German and French as well as English. Although my German language speaking skills are very limited, I'm starting to understand more and more. The Austrian's speak German very differently than the Germans so they are harder to understand.

Along with the voice instruction, I had the opportunity to take an Alexander Technique class along with a few Yoga sessions. Both classes have made a tremendous difference in how I approach the act of singing. I have a completely different perspective of the way my body should be engaged physically while I am performing. I've learned how to be more efficient in my movements in order to make the optimum quality of sound possible. I also love how I feel as I am being encouraged to become more centered in both body and soul.

This last Monday evening, we were delighted to run into our dear friend Brian Stone who is also in Salzburg on a grant from another American Austrian society in New York. He conducted the orchestra for the recent Die Fledermaus I performed at UD this past Spring. It was really fun to see a familiar face!

We were also surprised by a brief visit from Bob Demers the president of The Austrian American Society of Wilmington, DE (the society that has granted me this opportunity). The just popped in to one of my classes one day. I wasn't at all expecting him to be in Austria! It was quite a surprise! He was here visiting his daughter. My husband and I were joking that he came to make sure I didn't take the money and run! (Just teasing Bob!)

I finished this first session by performing in the final Academy Concert that was on Friday evening. I sang Come Scoglio from Cosi fan Tutte by Mozart. I felt really good about the performance although I certainly didn't remember everything that Prof. Piernay taught me. In the end, I chose to commit to my character and connect with the audience. That is where the most fun is for me. After the concert, I was walking out the door and going over my performance in my head making a note of the all the things I didn't do properly. I am always my own worst critic! Anyway, a young girl and her mother stopped me and asked for my autograph. I didn't quite know how to respond to that but it certainly gave me a nice self esteem boost! I absolutely love performing but I get somewhat uncomfortable with the attention I receive afterwards. My greatest thrill is the magical connection between myself and the audience. I'm always happy to know they received something positive from my performance.

I will be saying goodbye to my husband in two short days and will begin another session. I will also be changing apartments so I feel like I'm starting all over again in a way. I am missing my children but have been happy to know they are having a blast with Grandparents back at home. How blessed I am to be having this experience! Who would have thought that a country bumpkin from Deer Park, WA and a mother of three would be granted a dream opportunity like this! Thank again to everyone that has helped make this possible!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Jet lag stinks!

Since I have never been outside of the United States, I didn't really know what to expect when it comes to jet lag. I have to say that getting one's body on a new clock is kind of a weird experience. Anyone that knows me very well, knows that I don't handle no sleep. I had to force myself to stay awake yesterday and go to bed Austrian time. After spending the day getting to know the city, registering at the Mozarteum, and buying groceries, I could only make it to 7pm Austrian time before I hit the pillow hard. I woke up at 2am only to realize I should still be sleeping! Now if I can just get used to the new mattress, that will be great!

Also, when I realized that most everyone speaks mostly German it was a bit of a culture shock. I'm kind of regretting that I didn't find more time to study the language. It's really weird when you walk through a crowd saying "Excuse Me" in English and everyone looks at you with a totally blank stare. I'm sure I'll catch on to more of the basics as time goes on. I'm a person who thrives on connecting with people so this will be tough at first.

I feel a little better this evening (24hrs. later). We made sure to get out and about to see a few things before the real work begins on Monday. Today we hiked up to the Festung Hohensalzburg which is the big fortress on the hill above the city. It was quite a hike bu
t it felt good to get some exercise in. We also found a cute little cafe on the cliffs near the fortress called, Gasthaus Stadtalm. The food was delicious and very authentic. While I enjoyed some wonderful Weinerschnitzel, Rob tried not to get stung. If you look closely at the picture, you can see the bee on the rim of Rob's glass of water. It was getting too friendly with our food so I killed it with our Rick Steves' travel guide.(I'll have to clean off the guts before I return it to the library, oops!) I don't think Rick will mind as it was a cafe Rick Steves himself recommended.

We just discovered that there are practice rooms in the basement of our student housing complex. No piano, but a place to rehearse and vocalize nonetheless. I was co
ncerned that we wouldn't get to rehearse much before the Audition on Monday. We have to audition for the masterclass for the professor to decide whether we will be active participants or not. If we are deemed worthy to actively participate, then we are authorized to purchase practice room time in the Mozarteum facility.

I'm kind of anxious for Monday. I'm hoping all goes well

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A new season begins

I'm sitting in the Dulles airport waiting for my plane to depart to Salzurg, Austria. I have no diapers or baby wipes in my bag. My carry on is not stuffed full of snacks, toys, and extra clothing for possible blow-outs or mishaps along the way. I keep looking around with the feeling I'm forgetting something then to realize that no, I'm not, everything is fine. I just had a fabulous meal at the Chipotle Mexican grill. I ate slowly, savoring every bite. For there were no mouths to feed except my own. The feelings I am experiencing are mixed. I have this strange sense of absolute freedom yet I'm not sure if I feel at home in that feeling. I fight back the tears as I remember how Palmer held me tight and long as I said goodbye to my little munchkin that will be turning two while I am gone. I know they are all in good hands with Grandma and Grandpa, but I will have the challenge of discovering my identity without my children.

A new season is beginning for me. The events that have led up to this day have been a whirlwind. I marvel as I contemplate on my life. I have seen the pieces of my puzzle slowly form to make this beautiful scene that is my life and my soul purpose.

I have never been one to go at life via traditional methods. I would classify my approach as unconventional to say the least. As unconventional as my path has seemed, I don't regret a bit. In fact I celebrate in how God has led me on my particular path for very specific reasons. I don't believe in accidents. And I truly believe that God's timing is the best timing.

I look forward to this new adventure and am grateful to see a life-long dream of studying music in Europe coming true. I will miss my three little boys terribly. But hopefully, I will come home to them with so much more to offer.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Palmer 8 days old pictures

thanks Jeff and Maren for awesome pictures!