Sunday, September 30, 2012

This is Art Garfunkel, Dammit

All I Know, live - Art Garfunkel - YouTube

I fucking like Art Garfunkel songs. You got a problem with that? We can step outside.

Yeah, that's what I thought. And it don't even matter, cuz Art Garfunkel would have my back if I needed him. My boy would be all krav maga and sensitive poetic wistfulness all up in your eye. See if that ain't true. Art don't play. He can sing in gentle and crystalline tones of Emily, wherever he may find her and break your damn neck in the same breath.

Art Garfunkel don't even play.

Believe it.

That's all I know.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Back to Music, Part 3: Reaching Out

I realized, at some point, that I'd completely abandoned music as I pursued writing.

Still, every now and then, a TV producer or journalist trying to figure out what box they should put me in when reporting on my blogging about crime would use the phrase, "former opera singer." That always bugged me.

'You don't leave opera,' I'd tell them, 'It's like the Mafia that way.'

And I meant it.

Opera, once it takes hold of you, becomes something of an addiction--especially, I think, if you discover you can sing it. It's like having the ability to bite into some deliciously ripe fruit at any time. Who could resist such a thing?

I couldn't.

Sacred music, for me, has a similar place, though it's a different sort of food (to extend the whole 'eating things' analogy). There is a deep and sometimes disturbingly profound thrill to using your voice in worship, if you're a singer. All writerly remove from faith, all cynicism can be erased as you take joy in singing in a clear and ringing voice through a spiritual or one of the great English church anthems. No matter how much an agnostic or even atheist you insist you are, the moment you apply breath and voice to music celebrating the sacred, something in your heart begins to slip toward a feeling of worship, even if you don't want it to.

At least in my experience, anyway.

These things were tumbling through my mind tonight as I queried a church music director and the head of a small, local opera company about singing opportunities in church and on the stage. One part of my brain was saying, 'just see how you do with the chorus,' but another part was saying, 'just go for it. You took all those years of voice lessons and high-powered voice coaching for a reason, dipwad. Use them.'

I may not hear back from the Episcopal church music director or the soprano behind the local opera company at all. And that will be fine. But if I do hear from them, I'll go sing for them.

And just go from there.

We're all raised with some arbitrary idea that we have some individual and narrow destiny. That we must find this one thing and settle on it. I certainly was.

But as I've found my way as a writer (so far, admittedly, in journalism and blogging) I've begun to believe we are multitudes, just like Whitman said, and don't have to just settle on one thing.

I can write. I can sing. I can run.

I am about to turn 45 and I can still do any damn thing I put my mind to.

So I will.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Back to Music, Part 2: I audition

Me, singing "Ev'ry Valley Shall be Exalted" for conductor Christopher Shepard

In the end I felt like an idiot. I was nervous before the audition, all the old audition scenarios--some I'd actually experienced in some form--running through my head:

-- I'll botch every measure of this aria
-- I'll look like an idiot doing it
-- Everything is awful and everything will hurt

The list is actually much longer than the above, but it's not worth bothering.

I got there early and was welcomed by some of the chorus's stalwart members, setting up for coffee time, which would come mid-rehearsal later. I sat nervously mulling over my music until the conductor arrived and his friendliness and energy immediately put me at ease.

We chatted for a minute about why the hell a guy with a vocal resume like mine (which I haven't gone through in detail here, but it's not that shabby) would want to go back to doing chorus work. And I told him in short form much of what I wrote here.

Without further preamble, I sang the opening tenor aria from Handel's Messiah, minus the recitative, in a big empty room with the conductor accompanying me on a slightly out-of-tune Baby Grand.

As you can hear if you play the sound file above, there are a couple of goofs (I enter too early at one point; he hits a sour note later) and to my own hypercritical ear I sound inelegant, but nothing truly shitty happened and everything went fine. Went well, even.

That was why I felt like an idiot, when the night was done. I was just being a ninny.

I even made it through the whole 2 hours and change of sight-reading Broadway choral arrangements with my voice intact.

Maybe I have a clue as to what I'm doing when I sing, after all.

Creepy: 2 TN kids thought to have died in a fire actually missing

I take this day off from blogging for Observer Media. I didn't plan on blogging anything, but this AP story caught my attention because the more you think about it, the creepier it gets.

Bedford County, Tennessee authorities found the home of Leon and Molli McClaran in flames last Sunday. It was described as an intense blaze that caused the structure to collapse. It still smoldered Monday as EMS personnel discovered the McClarans.

Police also expected to find 9-year-old Chloie Leverette and 7-year-old Gage Daniel the McClarans' step-grandchildren.

The children weren't found in the rubble. Today the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has issued 'endangered child alerts' for the kids. Chloie and Gage haven't been seen since Sunday evening.

The blurb on TBI's missing child page for the children is essentially the same:
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has issued an Endangered Child Alert for the Bedford County Sheriff's Office for 9-year old Chloie Leverette and 7-year old Gage Daniel. The children were last seen on Sunday, September 23, 2012 at approximately 6:30 p.m. by a neighbor. Chloie and Gage lived with their grandparents at 730 Kingdom Road, Unionville, Tennessee. That home was destroyed by fire on Sunday night at approximately 9:30 p.m. According to State Bomb and Arson investigators, the children were not victims of the fire and their whereabouts are unknown at this time. If you have any information concerning the current whereabouts of Chloie and Gage, please contact the TBI at 1-800-TBI-FIND.
I don't blog as much about crime as I used to and won't go too in-depth with this, it just bothers me because the last time I wrote about a case that began similarly--family members dead in some terrible way and two children vanished--it ended horribly.

I just hope those kids are found soon, and they're okay.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Back to Music Part 1: There Once Was a Tenor From Tennessee

 Nicolai Gedda - Comfort Ye My People . Ev'ry Valley Shall Be Exalted - Messiah G.F. Handel

(This is the first in a randomly-posted series of entries I think I'll do about returning to singing classical music after a long break. I plan to talk more about the music, the preparation, the experience in the future instead of the "me, me, me" stuff below, but an introduction seems necessary.)

Soon after my voice changed my middle school chorus teacher told me she'd never heard anyone like me. It was true that subjectively I knew I could do things with my voice few others around me could do. Mainly be really, really loud.

That loudness is pure physiology and genetics. My Dad is 5'9" with a barrel chest, large head and preternaturally penetrating, powerful voice. My wry, soft-spoken mother's laconic ways didn't pass on to her kids, either. We're a loud family, mostly because we all have big, high voices and being heard in family conversations was a matter of who could best blast over the fray.

Make no mistake--from age 7 on I wanted to be a writer. The attention I began receiving for my big voice and perhaps a certain ease with being in front of crowds (another trait I inherited from my Dad) was too satisfying to ignore. My voice led me into the theater and chorus.

I found out it didn't matter if you were as weak a musician as I was if a director or teacher liked your voice.

So I fell into singing because, well, I could sing.

By the time I was in high school my chorus teacher was a Juilliard-trained tenor. He blew my mind in a voice lesson one day by telling me not only did I have a voice for opera, I should sing opera.

I said, "Uh, okay."

To my everlasting shock, I auditioned for four music programs and four universities offered me, a mostly C student, voice scholarships. Two were full rides. I took the best deal. Even though I could barely sight-read and was terrible at counting rhythm, I was a voice major. It probably helped tremendously that I was a real tenor and could easily sing up to a high A at the time (I still have a C, even though I'm pretty rusty).

I continued being a so-so academic student in college but did very well as a performer. Eventually I sang in multiple churches as a paid soloist, performed with professional opera companies as a chorus member and in secondary tenor roles, and in 1997 won the first round (combined Middle and East Tennessee Districts) of the Metropolitan Opera auditions.

After college, life happened. I got into a full-time ("fall-back") career I liked in the tech end of TV. That and having a family took my time and attention and I never really pushed myself to become more than a good local soloist--the guy who got calls from big churches doing their first Mozart Requiem or Messiah with full orchestra or was sometimes invited to come sing arias for free dinner and $50 in some Italian restaurant with a little community theater-level opera company.

Still, I loved it, most of the time. I love performing in general and do love being the lead soloist when the opportunity arises. It's hard to describe the thrill of singing a solo with a chorus and lofting your voice over the group with a bravura ending high note. Yes, there's ego and vanity involved--music and theater couldn't exist without them--but the joy is more universal than simply salving the psychic wounds left over from some insecure dude's family issues (the aforementioned blasting over the fray).

Singing softly and in tune with 40 other singers can fill a room with a single presence that feels greater than the assembled parts. Singing with the choir, a voice in the blend, was what really kept me going to churches from age 16 on, even though my faith has never been more than shaky, at best. The closest I could ever come to reverence was when I was in the choir loft, singing.

About seven years ago my dumb blogging about crimes with Internet or social media elements led to freelance writing. At the time I was also a paid tenor section leader and soloist at a lovely Presbyterian church in Roswell, Georgia.

I found that the more I received calls to do TV appearances and invitations to write for this or that, the more I neglected singing.

I didn't mean to quit. Didn't think of it as quitting. But by 2007 I was running a blog for Village Voice Media and had backed completely away from the church job. People with whom I'd sung in small local concerts would call me to come do one and I would back out.

Singing receded from my everyday life. I still thought about it. Still listened to stuff I've always loved, including certain tenors, operas and pieces of sacred music. Still let loose sometimes in the shower or being silly around the house. But I had essentially retired as an active, performing tenor.

And I don't think these things are truly connected, but I also got fatter and fatter, which was ironic considering how often I'd joked about me being the prototypical Fat Opera Singer. I'd morphed into the prototypical (in the public's mind, not reality) Fat (Basement-dwelling, Cheeto-eating) Blogger, which didn't seem nearly as funny. Or fun.

Just over a year ago I got sick of the fat part. I began working on that and today I've dropped about 100 lbs and 14 inches from my waistline. I'm about to turn 45 and in the best health of my adult life.

Since we moved to Massachusetts, I have realized how much I miss music. Singing is no longer something I think about at random or with a twinge of jealousy when I watch other classical singers on a YouTube video or on TV. It creeps into dreams. I find myself alone in the car and singing arias full-blast again, like I used to. On Spotify I seek out choral pieces I haven't though about in years, just to hum along with the tenor part.

So... last week I arranged an audition with the director of the Worcester Chorus, which is the closest thing locally (as far as I can tell) to a symphonic choir. The group has gone overseas and sung with the Boston Pops. The audition is at 6:30 next Wednesday.

I decided I would go big or go home and perform the tenor recitative and somewhat aria that opens Handel's Messiah--"Comfort Ye, My People" and "Ev'ry Valley Shall be Exalted." In the video at the top of this post you can hear one of the finest tenors of the late 20th Century, Nicolai Gedda, performing the pieces (at an excruciatingly slow tempo that few but Gedda--a true master of breath control--could manage).

My voice isn't really suited to the spritely, trilling sound many maestros require of tenors singing Baroque music (neither was Gedda's, for that matter). I could probably present myself as a lyric baritone and the director of the Worcester Chorus might think "sounds tenor-y, but okay." My voice is more suited to Puccini, Verdi and Wagner. But I also haven't sung an aria for any kind of real reason in years and am realistic: in spite of all my training and experience, the only sensible way for any singer who's been out of the game for a solid six years to start over is to return to basics. And the basics, in my mind, are singing with a chorus. You network, meet other singers, learn of other opportunities to sing. Chorus work also presents an opportunity to flex musical muscles again, to exert fine control over your instrument. If you're a tenor with a voice suited to blaring over an 80-piece orchestra you can bet you learn fine-grained control of that voice when you have to sing a soft high note in some Bach chorale with five other tenors around you.

Singing the Handel is perhaps symbolic, too--it was the first recitative and aria I ever learned for any reason. I've come back to it time and again, in spite of not being vocally suited, because it's a beautiful exercise, enforcing clear, healthy vocalism in the middle of the voice and something I badly need, flexibility.

To some degree my need to return to music is a way to find a sense of home. I may have fallen stupidly into singing as a teen because I had a needy ego and a big voice, but it eventually became very much an integral part of me. How I see myself, and how I look at life.

I don't like exercising in groups. I can see doing something like a Tough Mudder with a team, where the going is very tough and the urging of a teammate can be just the thing that pushes you over that next obstacle, but I usually prefer to train alone. I need the time in my head, it helps center me.

Singing, though--as much as I prefer to solo, I admit after this many years it's always best done with others. The others can be instrumentalists or fellow vocalists, it doesn't matter. Two or three get together and make noise. Whether the noise is a barbaric yawp or silken baroque tapestry of sound doesn't matter--I always feel like it is lit from within by a spark of joy. The space around the performers is transformed with immanence.

Something invisible. Something great.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Is it weird...

How absurdly pleased I am still that I can blog from my phone?

Probably not, since all I ever blog from my phone is posts about how I'm blogging from my phone.

I should probably knock that shit off. Here's a photo of a shot glass on a book of Hemingway tales to break the monotony.

Found by a Shrewsbury, MA Shaw's Grocery...

"Don't get ya fingahs in the picture, Leona. Leona. Watch ya hands."
"Shut up Ray, I know what I'm doin'."
"Martha, you wearin' a bra?"
"Sully, that is fuckin' offensive."
"That's why ya fuckin' married me."
"Shaddap. Take the picture, Leona."
"Ok. Just press the red button?"
"Jesus, Mary and Joseph, yes, Leona, take the FUCKIN' PICSHA."
"Getcha hand offa my ass, Sully."

Friday, September 21, 2012

1:00 a.m.

This is my 'I"m still ironically using Blogger' post for the night. Enjoy.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

LOL Starbucks: The True Meaning of Verismo

Starbucks is going to sell a $199 coffeemaker it calls "Verismo."

Which makes me laugh, because that name is a sure sign Starbucks's smug appropriation of Italian words in lieu of plain English has kind of bitten the company on the ass. Why? Because the word "verismo" has some strong connotations to Italians and anyone who knows anything about opera. On the most basic level, see, "verismo" just means "realism." Which is fine.

But read the Wikipedia breakdown of what that word connotes to opera lovers--or anyone who remembers a deep cut from their college music appreciation course:
Internationally, the term is more widely understood to refer to a style of Italian opera that began in 1890 with the first performance of Mascagni's Cavalleria rusticana, peaked in the early 1900s, and lingered into the 1920s.[2] The style is distinguished by realistic – sometimes sordid or violent – depictions of everyday life, especially the life of the contemporary lower classes.
Hey, let me put a fine point on that--in the world of opera, verismo equals "music drama about love among what passed for the trailer park set." A lot of verismo music is incredibly gorgeous. But in the end it is raw, bloody, earthy, low-class stuff. It's about people gettin' buck and fucking each other up over a lady. People get kilt, stabbed, murdered but good in verismo. Verismo opera is ballsy, loud and doesn't give a shit about your pussy sensibilities. It is in your face, as opera goes.

So, for me, a guy who trained to sing opera, owning a Starbucks "Verismo" coffee maker would have me stumbling to the machine each morning half-expecting to get stabbed by the local cart driver for shtupping his lady.

Because that's what "verismo" is about, yo. Not fucking burnt, hyper-caffeinated coffee.

An example of verismo music is below. Enjoy this gloriously overblown shit with headphones on. Try not to cry at its in your face beauty like a drunk and maudlin Italian.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

I think I am finally ready to do this...

Very soon I will be paring down my online profile to the basics. As I see them.

I will cease posting to all my Tumblr blogs.

Tumblr is, in many ways, pretty awesome. But I've realized I just don't need it. I've kind of grown past the dashboard culture that develops there. It's no longer a thing I want to do. In a way, I can say it's me, Tumblr, not you.

I have left any Wordpress blogs I've established in the past alone. That may remain the same, though I admittedly like Wordpress a lot in some ways.

And most dramatically--cue the music--I will be deleting my Facebook account.

This was a surprisingly difficult decision. I communicate with so many people through Facebook, friends and family. But I no longer have anything remotely resembling trust for the site's security or its motives. I'm also spooked by just how insidious Facebook is, insinuating itself on so much of the online experience. So ultimately, I reject Facebook.

My plan for my online presence:

  • This blog. Look, there's actually a feeling out there that Blogger is for old people, but it's a very good blogging platform. I own my own name in the subdomain here. So fuck it, I'm using it. 
  • Google+. I joke about G+. I'll probably joke more about it. Some things don't work as well as Google wants them to. But I'm just gonna give it a shot. Once again, fuck it.
  • Twitter. I unabashedly like Twitter. It's fun. And I've sort of established a presence there. Twitter is like the hub around which this longer-form stuff rotates. 
  • App-wise, I will remain on Instagram, which I also shamelessly enjoy.
That's it. One blog. One purely social profile that can be used in a highly personalized way--Google+. One microblogging platform--Twitter. And Instagram.

I won't reject other social media out of hand and do have lesser things I use now and then, but those four things will be my basic online presence outside my professional work. 

And I'll probably forget all this by Saturday and be like, whatever. O, Internet.

Friday, September 14, 2012

I used to think...

Blogging from one's phone was one of the coolest things you could do.

Honestly, I still do.

I opened this edit page...

To write something, but fuck if I can remember what.

That's what it's like to have uncontrolled ADHD. Which I do. I stopped taking ADD meds when my blood pressure was regularly running around 180/110. And now if I can pay attention to anything for a sustained period of 5 minutes or longer, I'm doing great.


In my old neighborhood
An older man used to skip around the block
Every morning
If I was out running
We would nod gravely
At each other
As if we were in some kind of
Of ridiculous men
Doing ridiculous things
Very early in the mornings
Of our later lives