Archive for the ‘music’ Category

Today one of my Twitter friends posted something that struck an uncomfortable chord:

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Text reads: Open question: how much of my sexuality is based on authentic desire vs a yearning for positive attention?

I don’t have a similar confusion about my sexuality – I’m much too tired to pretend anything about it – but I have recently come to question myself in a similar manner about my career: how much of my desire to make music is really out of a need for acceptance and adoration?

I don’t think the answer is “all of it”, but I do think the answer is “a bit too much”. Because, like most artists, I’m a bit of a narcissist. This is OK. It’s just that really great artists combine their narcissism with a tremendous passion for and belief in their work, and I just don’t know if I have that.

This explains an awful lot: why in spite of my talent I haven’t really succeeded – metaphorically shouting “HEY LOOK AT ME” is nowhere near as interesting as “HEY LOOK AT ME AND THIS AMAZING AND COOL THING I’M DOING!”. Why when I allow myself to daydream about my career I don’t daydream about performing, I daydream about being discovered in a dramatic fashion. Why when I feel jealousy towards other singers it’s not for their voices or skills, but for the work and the attention they get.

…Why, no matter what I do, I’m never happy with music, because what I want from it is not something it can give me.

As my Twitter friend pointed out in our conversation, positive attention is a legitimate human need. It is damn near universal to want to be accepted, valued, and celebrated. So I’m not going to beat myself up for this very human desire.

I should just maybe stop trying to get it fulfilled by singing. And then maybe I can make some music that really amazes me.

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Since writing that last gloomy and negative blog post I have been thinking and talking about it a lot. And I’ve come to a not-all-that surprising conclusion:

I have to stop trying to Nice Guy* my way into a career. Because that is what I’ve been doing. I have been hanging around post-rejection saying “No, it’s totally OK! Let’s just be friends!” when I don’t want to be friends at all.

And while this analogy is not perfect, as opera does not have feelings to be hurt or boundaries to be respected, I do; so I am going to follow the advice given to Nice Guys. Which is: respect the “No” and go find someone else. Or in my case, an art form that I can actually participate in.

So hey! Welcome me back, Indie Opera! I am working on more Fallen Voices – working on them slowly because my time is pretty limited, but I am giving myself lots of time and will get there!

And just like that Nice Guy, I won’t say no if the Canadian Opera Company offers me a role, but I’m not going to audition and network and follow opera around with sheep’s eyes. Because as crazy-making as producing can be, at least you’re getting something done.

Anyway. TL/DR, I am back to doing what I was theoretically doing before, only without also doing a zillion auditions and hoping against hope for Someone Important to take an interest in me and give me a career. And I feel much, much better about it, to the point that I actually want to go out and see stuff and am not consumed with jealousy at the thought of someone else doing cool stuff I wish I could do.

*A Nice Guy: a man who befriends women he wants to sleep with because for whatever reason he lacks the confidence to ask them out. When the women hook up with someone else they feel betrayed and incensed, because he’s a Nice Guy! Why do girls only want to date assholes?

NB: Thanks to Marc G for the encouragement 🙂

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Back in 2008 when I won the Eckhardt-Grammate competition, I went from having zero hope of a conventional music career to…a bit of hope. Getting any encouragement whatsoever from an “official” channel was such a novel experience that I thought “Hey, maybe I CAN do this!”

So I tried. I mean, I didn’t go back to school, though maybe I should have done, and I didn’t do a bunch of pay-to-sing training programmes, which I don’t regret (don’t fucking get me started about pay-to-sing). But I tried. I took lessons. I had coachings. I learned common, standard, REALLY HARD repertoire. And I did auditions. A million auditions. For a couple of months I probably had one audition per week, some for specific things, some where I just called an Opera Person and said “Hey, can I sing for you?”

And I got nothing. NOTHING. Nothing. Some encouraging feedback. Some compliments. Some maybe-we’ll-be-interested-in-the-future-but-not-for-this. But no roles, no concerts, bupkis.

So I started to get really, really discouraged. I told myself intellectually that it wasn’t my fault; I was doing my best and doing everything right. The economy was in the shitter and there wasn’t anywhere near enough work to go around. I just had to keep trying and eventually I’d get a break.

I did, sort of. I got two roles in the spring of 2010. I had fun, I did well, but…nothing came of either. In fall 2010 I produced Fallen Voices, had fun, did well, and…was back to square one when it was over.

And of course once I got pregnant I stopped auditioning, reasoning that if no one would hire me non-pregnant they certainly wouldn’t hire me pregnant and I might as well stop banging my head against the door and save my time, energy, and money. I tried to get some self-productions going but I couldn’t muster the energy or resources to do it.

So the past year or so I’ve been focused on gestating, having, and looking after the baby. And it’s great, and I love it. But he isn’t a tiny little newborn anymore. He doesn’t absorb every waking minute of my life, and as Ben and I start sharing our parenting more equally I am faced with the problem: what do I do about this?

Back when I was auditioning all over town I said my philosophy was “just ask”. Just ask if you can sing for them. They can say no, but they could also say yes.

Well, I’ve asked. I have collectively asked the opera world if I could be part of it, and the answer is NO.

So I have to decide: do I keep asking? Do I keep working on my own and ask again? Do I keep trying to produce stuff on my own and struggle against entropy, apathy, and the very real financial drain of production? Do I just give up?

I don’t know. First of all I have to deal with my own anger about this. Not that I think that the world owes me a fantastic career and an exclusive contract with the Met. Life is unfair. This business particularly so. But I’m sick of pretending I’m OK with this. I am not OK with this. I am angry that all the work I’ve done, all the beauty I’ve created has gotten me more or less nowhere. I am angry that I can’t even get a small part with a penny-ante local company. I am angry that realistically, the only way I have a shot at any kind of career is going back to school then spending ~ $20,000 on various pay-to-sing programmes over 3 or 4 years. I am angry that there is no way in hell I can afford to do this. I am angry at the profession for being insular and rife with favouritism and nepotism. And I’m angry at myself for failing. Big time. Really, really angry with myself.

So I don’t know what I’m going to do about this. Now that I have time to practice pretty much every day I’m just going to focus on finding my enjoyment in singing again. My feelings of shame and anger have made it difficult for me to listen to music and enjoy watching performances, so I’m going to try to get over that and just listen again. And then, whatever. I have asked. I’ve gotten my answer. Now I have to figure out when it’s time to let go.

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Because I am completely insane, I decided to apply to the Montreal International Music Competition of 2012. Even though it takes place at the end of May/beginning of June, when not only will Ben be away on tour but I will have about a 3-month-old baby to look after.

But hey, it’s my last chance (I’ll be too old next time), so why not?

Anyway, the first round of the competition is – as always – a recording. Which I made in mid-November, being unsure as to how being massively pregnant would affect my singing (not too much as it turns out, but how would I know?). And yesterday I got the final mixes of the raw tracks.

The rules of the competition state that you cannot edit your tracks (as in, no splicing, no partial retakes, etc) – that each track should be a faithful representation of your live performance. I don’t know how they would tell if you hadn’t complied, but as I am trying to be a more moral person in preparation for parenthood I followed the rules.

And you know, the tracks actually sound really good!

So here is (what I think is) the best: the big aria from Lulu. Right-click to download.

Lied der Lulu

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Like I was saying, last night I went to Contact Contemporary Music‘s “Walk on Water”, featuring the excellent saxophonist Wallace Halliday and equally excellent cellist Mary-Katherine Finch, with supporting turns from Allison Wiebe on piano (who played some thankless music very well) and Ryan Scott on percussion.

If you follow me on Twitter (or, indeed, scroll down this page, where my tweets are all posted), you will already know that I managed to review the concert in precisely 140 characters:

Chang: nice textures; Karassikov: way too subtle; Denisov: !!!; Lemay: very good; Vustin: pretty, new-agey; Leuchter: Schnittke-y & awesome.

As proud of myself as I am for getting all of that into a single tweet, I felt I should elaborate a bit more.

Walk on Water (Dorothy Chang) – some very nice textural writing for the two instruments (sax and cello). The style was a bit cautious and academic, so it felt more like an exercise in sound than anything else. I respected this piece but was not moved by it, but I would definitely like to hear more of Chang’s music.

Casus in terminus (Vadim Karassikov) – before they began to play, Wallace talked a little about this piece and how “subtle” it was. That is an understatement. It belongs to that school of new music (exemplified by the late Morton Feldman) which consists of very quiet sounds played very gently with lots of space in between. While I’m sure this work had a lot of meaning for its composer and for the players, I could not enter into it. This may have had something to do with me having to sneeze the whole time. Also a car honked outside just after the last note (it happened to be in tune with it, too!), which totally broke the mood.

Sonata for alto saxophone and violoncello (Edison Denisov) – I actually wrote a paper on Denisov back when I was in school, but I remember precisely nothing about him other than his name was Edison and he was actually from Siberia, so I was glad to hear some of his music played live. I loved loved loved this piece, especially a moment at the end of the 2nd movement – the cello was holding a high note, and the sax came in with multiphonics. It was an amazing bit of writing, and not just in the “wow, you can do that with only two instruments?” way. Denisov’s writing is very lyrical and emotional – he was great at evoking fleeting emotional states through minimal means, which is awesome. I think I need to pay for a U of T library membership so I can take out some CDs of his stuff, because I very much doubt it’s on Itunes.

Tie-break (Robert Lemay) – A very well-written short piece apparently inspired by tennis. Lemay introduced his piece, saying it was part of a larger work in progress, though being pregnant I’ve completely forgotten what the other two or three movements are going to be called. Tie-break was light and spritely and added a nice note of levity to the programme.

Musique pour l’ange – another very evocative work, so evocative that my mind kept wandering. Tonal and new-agey with lots of floaty vibraphone chords. I actually have a hard time expressing an opinion of it – it was pretty and enjoyable, but it didn’t have a lot to hang on to, if you know what I mean. Maybe a B+? I know nothing else got a letter grade.

Leuchter (Helmut Oehring) – subtitled “Kurz in Mull gestochert” or “rifling through the trash”, this work expresses musically the composer’s feelings towards noted Holocaust denier/designer of execution machines Fred A. Leuchter. Kurt Weill/Schnittke/electroacoustic. Yeah, I know I just did the new music equivalent of describing one indie band in terms of three other indie bands you’ve never heard of. Let me try it with adjectives – jangly, atonal (or maybe bi/tri-tonal – it’s hard to say), snarky, and aggressive. It was totally different from everything else on the programme and I loved it.

And as I also said on Twitter, the playing was excellent overall and I’m very glad I went.

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I’m in Ottawa right now for an independent touring workshop. So far: really helpful for what I want to do (i.e., get Fallen Voices on the road) and I’m really glad I came. I’m typing up today’s notes right now, because I know from experience that if I don’t do it know I will entirely forget what everything I wrote refers to. To illustrate, some of the things I wrote today:

– “Yr a Canadian product! Lk wheat, nuclear reactors!”
– “Be persistent, don’t harrass (diff is hrd to tell)”
– “pure genre pffft”
– “Why 8 PM?”
– “Health Arts __ __”
– “guess ↑ expenses, ↓ income – ASSM SMTHNG WILL GO WRONG”

All excellent advice, no doubt, but if I wait for a week to transcribe my notes I won’t be able to translate them at all. (“Health Arts __ __” refers “The Health Arts Society of Ontario”, an organization that puts on concerts in hospitals and nursing homes. No one could remember the full name.)

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I can’t quite explain why right now, but for a couple of reasons I am not doing a lot of things I normally do these days.

Frankly I am leading the life of a 19th-century tuberculosis patient, except I’m not in the Swiss Alps and I don’t have tuberculosis. (I think. I hope! Wouldn’t it be awful?)

Don’t worry or anything – I’m not sick or in legal trouble or anything bad, just temporarily not in my normal sphere. I’m just explaining why I haven’t been writing much lately and why I probably won’t for a little while.

Anyway. List of weird/awesome things that you’ve missed out on:
– Gus caught a rat. Well, he may have caught a rat. Either way Ben caught him with a rat corpse in the back yard. It may have died of natural causes and he was just being a scavenger.
– We are starting the Big Home Renovation on Tuesday! I will take pictures and make videos!
– I planted stuff in the garden and so far not all of it has been eaten.
– Still no firm date for Call of Cthulhu: The Opera, but lots of progress.

And last:

The Parkdale Revolutionary Orchestra returns on Tuesday! The Cameron House, 10 PM!

It’s just one set, opening for Friendly Rich, but still awesome.

So that’s all for now…look for me resuming normal blogging in a month or two. Or maybe inspiration will strike tomorrow. Who knows?

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