The Broke Singer’s Best Friend
March 20, 2012

Guess who’s coaching me in Czech for my upcoming recital?

The interwebs.

I’m doing a joint recital with friends in May, and I’m tackling Dvorak’s ‘Song to the Moon’ in its original language.  And before I tried to track down someone who knows Czech, before I went looking to pay someone to coach me in the intricacies of this unfamiliar language, I did a Google search.  Up came pages in information: Czech pronunciation tables, YouTube videos, and sites with audio pronunciations of Czech words.

It seems that all I need to sing the language correctly (and translate it, too) is online.  Is this a shortcut?  Maybe – it’s cheaper than paying a coach, that’s for sure.  But I’m going to spend just as much time researching and listening (and re-listening) to the sources I find on the internet as I would with two or three coaching sessions, at least.  I’m approaching this as a journalist would research a story – I’m looking for three sources to verify the pronunciation.  If an online Czech translator, a YouTube video of Anna Netrebko, and my favorite – a recording of a native Czech speaker all show ‘příbytky’ pronounced the same way, I can assume I’m on the right track.

Youtube is especially awesome for research as a singer.  What a gold mine!  There are so many live performance videos of the operatic elite performing any given aria, it’s almost as good as coaching with the stars.  To watch Renee Fleming or Kiri Te Kanawa sing in a tight camera shot is a clinic in technique and artistry.  Those women are quite different, to be sure – one artist’s performance is not going to match another’s – but to see the variety of techniques used by those who are paid millions to sing gives a starving artist like myself lots to ponder and experiment with in the practice room.

Nothing can completely replace good old fashioned, person-to-person training in something so physical an art form as singing.  It is vital to have a coach see your mechanics as you sing to correct things you cannot notice.  But as a research tool between lessons, nothing beats the world wide web, in my book.

Gotta go make sure I’m singing the word ‘postůj’ correctly!




A tale of two performances
September 11, 2011

Here’s a personal story of success and failure at performing the same aria at two different performances…

...flashback sound

Story #1:

The year was 2004.  I was a few weeks pregnant with my first child.  I was constantly snacking on carbohydrates to keep my hormonally-induced nausea at bay.  I got a call one Thursday – could I step in as a last-minute replacement for an opera concert in south Georgia that Saturday?

Who could say no to such a tempting offer?

I took a day off from my receptionist job and spent all day Friday memorizing ‘Sull’aria’, a sextet or octet of some sort from something and the Rosenkavalier trio.  I needed a solo piece too, so I chose my old chestnut, Micaela’s Aria from Carmen.  As long as I didn’t throw upon stage, I could probably do pretty well for a last-minute replacement.

I didn’t really have the greatest dress, or the greatest idea of what was going on in general, but Saturday arrived, and I traveled the three and a half hours to Albany, Georgia and prepared to take the stage.

I made it through the ‘Sull’aria’ just fine.  I knew I didn’t quite have the Rosenkavalier trio down, but well prior to that in the program was my aria.  I emerged from the wings, slightly nauseous, no doubt still brushing cracker crumbs from my dress, and proceeded to…



I swear to god, I have no idea what happened.  I sang and it was good.  I managed to do things with that aria that I haven’t managed to do since.  When I finished, the audience gave me more than applause, they gave me cheers.  I returned to the wings, sat down, and began munching on an orange.  A friend gave me the Wayne’s World ‘We’re not worthy’ bow.  I threw a saltine at him.

Story #2:

The year is still 2004.  I am five months into the same pregnancy – I was feeling a lot less nauseous, but now I had a volleyball-sized baby lodged under my ribcage.

I traveled to Italy on tour with the Michael O’Neal Singers.  The first concert on our twelve-day trip was at the Naples Conservatory.  I was dehydrated and jet lagged.  Nonetheless, my first solo on the program was Micaela’s Aria.  I stepped forward, opened my mouth, and proceeded to…



I swear to god, I have no idea what happened.  I sang and it sucked.  I managed to mangle that aria in ways I haven’t managed to do since.  When I went for the climactic high B and shanked it, I saw members of the audience being to laugh.  When I was done, I returned to my spot in the choir, and for the first time, experienced an intense bout of flop sweat.  After the concert was over, the same friend who had bowed to me months prior simply put his arm around me and asked, ‘How ya feeling?’  I told him that I had wanted the stage to swallow me up.

Please, please tell you have experienced something like this.  Tell me that you’ve had such moments of bliss and moments of hell, all in the name of performing.

Is there any way to be secure in one’s talent when such caprices of fate can take the very same song and make it a triumph or a failure?

At least Renee knows how I feel…