I’ll be singing in 3 holiday concerts on the Oregon Coast…

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Wishes & Candles Annual Holiday Concert - Central Coast Chorale

Voice Break Reprise

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Amahl and the Night Visitors performed by The San Diego Ecumenical Opera, December 2010.

I’ve been calling myself semi-retired, from the library world anyway. I’m not completely ready to stop working. A community college in Northern California interviewed me last summer, before putting me on their adjunct list—they may have some hours for me spring semester. If all else fails, I can always work part-time for my old school in San Diego County. Meanwhile, I’ve been taking a breather in my cabin on the Oregon Coast, working on my health, and getting a lot of writing done. I’ve certainly begun promoting my new chapbook, Breast Cancer: A Poem in Five Acts. And I’m back in the Central Coast Chorale. We’re preparing for a series of holiday concerts slated to take place in Lincoln County, Oregon, this December.

I was waiting for our second rehearsal to begin when one of my sister singers told me about another coastal production scheduled for December, Amahl and the Night Visitors. This was going to be a joint effort between the Porthole Players and The Newport Symphony Orchestra. The people sitting near me continued to natter on. Apparently, there is one day where individual performances of Amahl overlap with the choir concert—somewhat. “No matter,” one singer said. “We’ll run up to Lincoln City to perform the matinee concert, and then we’ll return to Newport to get ready for Amahl.” I must have looked interested, because she went on to tell me when auditions were (that same weekend). Then she informed me where I could locate the music online—for the audition.

I found myself mulling the possibility over. I’d performed in the chorus of Amahl and the Night Visitors in 2010. This was a student production, directed by my voice teacher, Esther Jordan. I actually outlined my road to this unlikely opportunity in my memoir-in-verse, Voice Break. I decided I could probably remember my old part for the audition—get it ready for the next day.

It felt a bit eerie to enter the smaller performance studio in the Newport Performing Arts Center, a room rimmed with black curtains. While I’d auditioned for three choirs in the last ten years (a process that generally consists of singing scales and exercises revealing how well a singer sight-reads), I hadn’t tried to audition for a show with a prepared song since the age of 25 (and for the record, I’m now 56). However, I had been working on my singing. Before leaving San Diego County, I studied with my voice teacher for more than seven years. And I now have almost five years of choir singing under my belt—time with the three different choirs.IMG_3366To repeat, I had not tried out for a musical theater production since my twenties (and by the way, I was never cast in a musical back then). I did get to taste a small speaking role in The Taming of the Shrew at Lane Community College (in Eugene, Oregon). And I appeared in a few dance concerts, but I never sang on stage during my initial tango with the performing arts. My passion for all of this eventually fell by the wayside when I became serious about my library career. I began working for the Seattle Public Library in the late eighties—my first librarian job—and this took up the bulk of my time.

But now I’m a retiree!

When it was my turn to audition for Amahl and the Night Visitors, I handed the music for Come Ready and See Me to the accompanist and then moved to stand before the director, Bonnie Ross, the producer, Rhodd Caldwell, not to mention a handful of other hopeful performers. They were a friendly bunch—I didn’t feel too nervous. Besides, I’d just run through the one-minute selection twice in my cabin with no wobbles. Yet this time when I sang the first few measures, I immediately felt my start was weak, maybe not a wobble, exactly. The acoustics felt weird. As I continued singing, I strove to focus, work better with the accompanist. I was thinking I was settling into the song. But when I was finished, the director said, “Now sing it like you want to sell it.” An ouch? So this time I tried to put pizazz into my stance and sing with more gusto. After a few seconds she said, “Thank you very much.”

On to the music for Amahl.

The night before, I’d prepared for the chorus, soprano part. That was all I wanted to shoot for—nothing huge. There were two other women in my group, both trying for soprano. First, the director had the three of us sing the soprano line. Then she had me and one other woman sing the alto line. Then she moved me back to soprano. She invited the men to join in. At some point, we all sang as a chorus. After this grand finale, I was able to breathe a sigh of relief and head to Starbucks. They were moving on to cast the leads.

A few weeks later, I got the call. The director offered me the part of singing shepherd. Retirement is an adventure, I guess.

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Amahl and the Night Visitors will take place on Saturday, December 8 at 7:30 pm and Sunday, December 9 at 2:00 pm in the Newport Performing Arts Center.

The Central Coast Chorale will be performing their annual Wishes & Candles holiday concert in three locations:

  • Lincoln City Cultural Center – Saturday, December 8, 2 – 4 pm
  • Yachats Commons – Saturday, December 15, 2 – 4 pm
  • Newport Performing Arts Center – Sunday, December 16, 2 – 4 pm
Amahl

Getting ready for Amahl and the Night Visitors – performed by the Porthole Players and the Newport Symphony Orchesta.

 

My First “Real” Chapbook (and What Happened After Voice Break)

I just got the news that prepublication sales for my first traditionally-published chapbook, Breast Cancer: A Poem in Five Acts, will begin on February 20 through Finishing Line Press. I’m pretty excited about this, because I’ve waited a long time for my first book contract. I have four other book-length manuscripts in the wings, and I’m hoping this modest milestone will help me move forward with all of these projects.

Breast Cancer: A Poem in Five Acts isn’t really my first book. My first book is Voice Break, a longer poem about singing and writing. I self-published it through CreateSpace after one of my MFA program advisors at Pacific University suggested I come up with a musical cover and publish it. Voice Break is the reason this blog exists at all. The decision to take the project into my own hands, in lieu of waiting for a press to accept it, may be viewed as jumping the gun. But I was almost 50 at the time, really ready to bring attention to my writing efforts.

Voice Break Book Launch at Toad Hall in Yachats, Oregon, April 22, 2012

Voice Break Book Launch at Toad Hall in Yachats, Oregon, April 22, 2012

The thing is, I’m still living Voice Break, an outcome I wouldn’t have anticipated in 2012, when the book came out. Back then, I saw this long poem as being an exploration of an earlier failure I never fully came to terms with: my haphazard attempt to become a singer. I didn’t necessarily expect to continue singing as an aging adult. Yet a late-bloomer, “lifelong learning,” exploration of voice has taken on a life of its own, even through the trials of cancer treatment. I work at my singing these days—not with any big goal in mind—but because it has been truly fulfilling.

Voice Break ends as the narrator is performing as a soprano choir singer for the very first time at the age of 48 (before this, the only choir she ever sang in was Fifth/Sixth Grade Chorus at Valley Oak Elementary School in Davis, California). This soprano singing opportunity came about after a long break from her earlier tango with voice training that ended badly when she was 26. Not only did she wipe out as a singer, she walked away convinced she wasn’t really a soprano, because she can sing low. Yet when she returns to the art form some twenty years later, “just for fun,” to work with a new voice teacher, she learns how to sing soprano well enough to hang in there with the Cuyamaca College Choir, not to mention the chorus of a production of Amahl and the Night Visitors.

 Here’s how this singing story has played out from there (details not found in Voice Break):

The following year, the narrator notices the other college in her community college district has a choir that is going to perform in The Nutcracker, accompanying the San Diego Ballet. She’s curious to learn if she can join this choir, known as the Grossmont Master Chorale. She auditions and gets in, but not a soprano—as an alto one. She knows she cans still sing soprano if she stays with the Cuyamaca College Choir (where she is also on the faculty), so she asks her voice teacher, Esther Jordan, which way she should go. Esther suggests that since the Grossmont Master Chorale is a more advanced choir, the narrator’s musicianship would most likely take several leaps—if she can survive the GMC performance schedule. The narrator ends up taking Esther’s advice. She gets through more than three years with the Grossmont Master Chorale, singing as an alto one, before she is sidelined by breast cancer.

The narrator takes time off from studying voice (and everything else) as she undergoes breast cancer treatment. She wonders if she is done with singing, especially during the misery of chemotherapy. She does continue to work on her writing, particularly a long poem about her experiences with breast cancer. But once her life is back in order, she resumes voice lessons with Esther for a few more months, before retiring from the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District (in El Cajon, California). She plans to take a break on the Oregon Coast to work on her health, write, and regroup.

Shortly after arriving in Oregon, she is pleased to note the Central Coast Chorale is holding auditions. She shows up and offers herself as either an alto one or a soprano two. The Central Coast Chorale lets her in—they place her in the soprano two section (remember, the narrator hasn’t performed as a soprano since 2011). Instead of dealing with the break altos face, the one that plagued her in her 20s (as detailed in Voice Break), the narrator is encountering the passaggio that flips singers off the treble clef. As an aside, the narrator no longer cares about voice type—she just enjoys the thrill of performing with an ensemble. As she practices with her new choir, she works hard to remember what Esther has taught her about the passaggio, particularly how she needs lighten her sound across this break, so that it doesn’t pop out at the conductor. She hasn’t noticed many frowns—so far so good!

The Central Coast Chorale will be performing its annual Wishes and Candles Holiday Concert on December 8, 14, and 15 in Lincoln City, Newport, and Yachats. For more information, see the flyer below.

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