September 20, 2018

My Trick

During a new student's first lesson, I will—at some point—place their hand on my solar plexus (after asking for permission), blow all the air out of my body—and sing a long phrase with full voice. 

Eyes go wide. Mouths gape. The student stammers: "How do you do that?"

How indeed. 

I am singing on the residual air in my lungs—but it's more than that: I am singing on breath than is compressed by my whole body. Paradoxically, I don't need to breathe to compress the air. It happens even before I inhale and involves extension. 

I can croon or sing like a Wagnerian on this breath.

Real control. It was taught to me by my teacher during my first lesson, or, I should say—it was a result of that first lesson—a lesson that it took me a long time to learn. 

To have full control you have to be fully alive. You aren't thinking about thinking. That's what academics do. They think about stuff. Good luck trying to get a room full of them singing! They have no breath whatsoever, their thinking depriving them of any real voice. 

Singers live on another level. One that is instinctual, sensual, full of pleasure and being. 

Full of the strong desire to sing and touch the listener.

September 11, 2018

Remembering 9/11


It was a Tuesday.

The opening night of New York City Opera's production of Wagner's The Flying Dutchman.

But it didn't happen.

I was listening to WQXR during breakfast and heard an announcer say that all the airports were closed: it was a national emergency—a plane had flown into one of the World Trade Center towers. Stunned, I turned on CNN to see a plume of smoke coming out from one the towers; then later, bodies falling through the air. My mother called to see if I was Ok and I said: "I'm sorry I can't talk right now!"

It was surreal. The phone lines were nuts. But I did manage to call a colleague at the opera who lived in Brooklyn to tell her not to take the subway to rehearsal—as if she hadn't figured that out already.

Everyone was helping one another. Reaching out. Being fully present.


The Flying Dutchman opened that Saturday, the company assembling in front of a raised curtain with the flag hanging overhead; me standing far stage left—your right—in the front row—shaking. We sang the national anthem—and I swear, it was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. The arc of emotion coming from the audience was so huge and overwhelming that I stood facing a wall afterwards in an effort to pull myself together. All I wanted to do was bawl my eyes out. And it's really hard to sing when you are sobbing.

Weeks later, pictures of fireman from the firehouse near Lincoln Center started appearing in the hallway backstage.

People stopped buying subscriptions. They found it hard to commit to a future when the present was so heartrending. Ticket sales dropped. Management made some really bad mistakes and NYCO left Lincoln Center; selling off the company's costumes and sets—its archives drowning in a basement on Broad street courtesy of hurricane Sandy—and wandering the streets of Manhattan like a beggar before declaring bankruptcy.

Yes, the company is back—a mere shadow of its former self—the diaspora of the original NYCO meeting for luncheons across from Lincoln Center: remembering, connecting, laughing, loving.

Family.

Bound together on a Saturday night.