The Healing Power of Music

Today BART had an equipment malfunction which caused delays in the morning commute. Therefore, my usually not crowded 945 train was sardine packed like an early morning commute and I had to stand in the aisle. When we got to my stop, the 6’4″ guy in front of me made no attempt to move to the left, opposite the door, nor did at least two people who were standing DIRECTLY IN FRONT OF THE DOOR have the decency and courtesy to exit the train to allow us to get out.

I was waiting patiently for a lane to open up, when from behind I hear an annoyed voice say, “Excuse me!” So I said in my breath-supported, projected, and resonant singing voice: “COMING OUT! PLEASE GET OUT OF THE WAY!” (It probably had a tiny hint of annoyance/frustration/exasperation in it as well). The 6’4″ guy still made no attempt to move, so I weaved left to go around him. As I was weaving back to the right and trying to figure out which side I would pass those two who were still blocking the door, SOMEONE STUCK OUT THEIR FOOT TO TRY AND TRIP ME! I turned around and immediately saw this rather tall couple staring me down, the woman with a particularly nasty smirk on her face as if saying, “Yeah, that serves you right. You deserved that.” So I immediately turned to the guy she was with and said, “F You,” to which they both responded in kind with their own, “F You.” I exited that train, and in one of my most proudest decisions I’ve ever made, went back to the door and told the woman, “F You b*tch for trying to trip me.”

Now, I actually had no idea who was trying to trip me, but with that smirk I just assumed it was her. But what I really wanted to do was run back in there and shove both of them back into the opposite wall. However, I quickly burned that thought because: 1) all it shows is that I can’t control my temper; 2) I could possibly hurt someone else in the train; 3) I could get arrested for assault; 4) I could get beaten up by a BART mob; 5) it’s just really stupid to actually do something like that. 

I walked the 15 minutes to my temp job steaming mad, muttering swear words to myself despite the hilarious podcast (DVDASA – definitely NSFW) I was listening to. I got to my job about 20 minutes early, and I have to pass through the lobby of another company, EVB in order to get to my job on the 3rd floor of the same building. It just so happens that I struck up a conversation with the receptionist at EVB, Mary-Lynn, the first day I worked here back in October. Not only is Mary-Lynn from Chicago, but she also loves opera! So whenever she comes to drop off mail to my job we’ll always talk a little opera. And as a fan, she knows her stuff. She used to have subscriptions to the Chicago Lyric Opera for 20 years and when she moved here she bought a subscription to SF Opera. 

My first day on the job, I was studying my Cenerentola score, and she casually joked, “Starving artist eh? What’s your instrument?” When I told her opera, she started talking to me about going to see The Flying Dutchman and Barber of Seville at the SF Opera. (She’s not a huge fan of Rossini, but will go anyway because she loves the production and spectacle that is large-scale, high budget opera houses). Well today as I walked in, still pissed off, I said, “Good morning,” to her, and usually she’ll say, “Good morning,” back to to me. But this day, I noticed her saying something else, so I took off my headphones and went to her desk, as I still had 20 minutes before I started. We started talking about Barber of Seville, and I brought up the name of one of the double cast Almavivas – a tenor named Alek Shrader. Alek had gone through the Merola and Adler programs at the SF Opera, as well as being the subject of the documentary, “The Audition” which is all about the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. We then talked about the other tenor, Javier Camarena (I corrected her pronunciation – the francophone in her wanted to call him Zha-vi-ay instead of Ha-vi-air) and then we talked about one of the Rosinas, Isabel Leonard, whom I saw perform in Chicago in a production of “Don Giovanni” by the Chicago Opera Theater.

Well, I looked at the time and saw that I needed to go up to my job, but then also realized that my mood and spirits had definitely brightened. I was no longer mad at the previous incident at the BART station, and was now looking forward to enjoying this Friday and the subsequent caroling gig with The Yuletide Carolers Northern California at the Hyatt Regency at Embarcedero Center. Once again, just thinking and talking about music helped me get over whatever negativity was currently existing in my state of mind.

And that’s why I love what I do…


Singing under the direction of Maestro Donald Runnicles, July 2007

Singing under the direction of Maestro Donald Runnicles, July 2007

[Picture: Singing Carmina Burana is like zen meditation for me. I’ll sing it anytime – and for free!]

Origins: The 3 Year Journey Starts

The 3 Year Journey starts

In August 2007, I left home in the SF Bay Area to attend the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University for my Master of Music in Classical Voice.  When I graduated in May 2009, I had started networking within the local classical singing community and decided that I’d give it a go singing in Chicagoland.  After all, I had just finished a summer gig covering a role in Wisconsin, I was a section leader at a church in the suburbs and had already sung a few concerts with paying chamber choirs. In order for me to stay (since I exhausted all of my financial aid money) I got a serving/bartender job and kept up with the church and choir gigs. I had the grand notion that I’d use the money from my restaurant job to help pay for things such as lessons, coachings, application fees (more on those in another rant), etc.

I auditioned for 3 companies that fall and was able to get an invitation to spend June/July 2010  in Princeton, NJ, hanging around a bunch of young, eager opera singers like me.  Of course, all of this was unpaid (minus a $150 check as a ‘ringer’ for Orff‘s Carmina Burana) but I gained a lot of valuable experience and also bonded with my fellow singers, many of whom were in the same boat as me: post grad school, auditioning for everyone who’d hear them, hustling jobs here and there to make ends up meet, homeless (as some of us were between leases) but hungry and appreciative of the opportunity to get a chance to sing.

I returned to Chicago in August 2010 and went right back to the restaurant job and my church job. Two chamber choirs invited me to sing with them again and so my usual routine started up again. I auditioned for and got a part in another local opera company’s production of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” (we sang it in English) which went up in early 2011. That summer I had the chance to perform my first musical theater role as Jack from Sondheim‘s “Into the Woods”.  The bonus was that a lot of my castmates were my musical family from San Francisco State University, where I completed my undergrad degrees.

It was after this production, and talking to a lot of my friends from back home, that I started contemplating a move back home. Despite the fact that: I had a weekly church job, I was  a paid chorister, and I had done 4 productions since graduating, I still felt that I was not fulfilling the main reason I moved away from home. Yes, I was getting paid to sing.  Yes, I was doing some shows. But I also hadn’t taken more than 2 lessons a year since graduating.  And with the exception of the summer of 2010, hadn’t gotten one coaching since May 2009.

So I made a decision to just sublet for a few months and then move home to SF for a month.  It wasn’t a huge length of time, but enough for me to get away from what ended up being a routine in Chicago that I wasn’t trying to get out of.  Luckily, industry jobs (serving/hosting/bartender) are full of people who will jump at the chance to pick up a shift or two so my manager had no problem with me leaving for a month or so. I was able to pawn off the rest of my big stuff (dresser, futon, sleeper sofa, bookshelves) and basically just had clothes, books and music to move.

I boarded the plane and took my first extended leave from Chicago since finishing grad school.