Friday, September 22, 2017

Has Feminism Changed What it Means to be a Smart Woman?

This post has been brewing for a while, so no, it was not really triggered by anything specific.

I have written several iconoclastic posts about feminism; mostly with the thrust that "society" thrived more when there were a certain number of (middle class) women at home.  I never thought that a woman's place was in the home, simply that if no one is at home for most of the day, there is no sense of community. The elderly are neglected, no one knows that a neighbor has recently suffered a loss and would like some company, and if you're home sick you're on your own (literally; you're probably the only human being in your building except the super from 7 am to 7 pm).

Now my point is something else entirely.  That women who used to be considered "smart" (ahem, like Yours Truly) no longer are.

I suppose I was raised like a "Jane Austen girl" (as were most of my peers), except without the exhortation to marry a man with money.  I guess that was just assumed.  We were supposed to get a liberal arts bachelors degree (period) from a good college with the unspoken assumption that we would marry a decently paid professional.  Unlike girls slightly down the social scale, the goal was not to be sexy or adept at baking or sewing, but to be interesting to such a professional.

Of course, ironically, I never married a man at all, the woman I became involved with had an "allergy" to work, and I didn't even go to college until I was in my 30s.

But the training stuck.  By "training" I mean the following.  I took ballet lessons. I took piano lessons.  I sang a little.  I drew a little.  By the time I was 16 I had read all of Shakespeare and most of the classics.  I knew a little French. I had been to countless museums and could tell a Monet from a Manet.  I even knew a little about the latest developments in medicine and what was going on in the news.  I  had a large vocabulary and could engage in witty banter.  But that was it.

As the years went by, people thought I was "smart" because I peppered my conversation with quotes from Shakespeare and went to museums in my spare time instead of to sporting events. I knew it was wrong to say "between you and I".  I could describe almost any experience I  or a friend had had in a way that sounded intelligent, particularly when I waxed analytical about it and made connections from it to the larger world.  I could hold my own in a discussion that skirted the edge of disagreement.

One day (I don't know when this happened; maybe when I stopped working and got active on the Internet) I suddenly realized that to be "smart" now meant that to disagree with someone you had to cite sources and provide data models.  That conversation was less a meeting of two anecdotal yet astutely crafted memoirs and more like duelling textbooks.  That you had to know as much about Senate rules as a senator, as much about climate change as a scientist, as much about the physiology of singing as an anatomist.  I am totally at sea in this world, let me tell you.  I am not "competitive".  And I am certainly no one's idea of "smart", no matter how many "Great Books" I've read.

I'm wondering.  Is this a female thing?  Did feminism make women smart in ways that men were always smart? Or did social norms change?  Or is it all the sources one can link to on the Internet?  (I heard lots of erudite talk at my dinner table and I never remember anyone pulling out a reference book.)

Anyhow, I'm bowing out.  I'm not smart.  Just cultured.

Let me read, sing, and look at art, and leave the data slugfest to other people.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

First Rehearsal for October 1 Recital, and...

Yesterday I had the first rehearsal for my October 1 recital. It went much better than I had expected.  I was a little worried because 1. I had never tried to sing the entire program through to pace myself and 2. I had been a little under the weather.  At my lesson the day before my throat felt a little "raw", like my vocal cords were irritated.  It might be that I had spent the day before with my partner and when I am there I don't use my Neti pot in the morning.  Also the aides clean everything to a faretheewell with bleach.

The three difficult arias went well.  When I say "difficult" I don't mean in a league with Verdi; simply that they require me to be technically spot on.  The highest note in anything is an A.  I did better than I had expected to with "In Buddy's Eyes".  Sondheim rhythms are very tricky.  After singing it the first time I realized that I can sorta kinda listen to the accompanist and I will then know when to come in and on what note.  "Vanilla Ice Cream" was no problem at all.  I decided to pass on singing "Mon Coeur" and the "Habanera" because I could sing them in my sleep.  Next week (my second and final rehearsal) I told the accompanist that I wanted to do a runthrough, including my little spoken bits, and his piano solos, so that I can get a sense of the pace.

Other things on the horizon are a difficult soprano part in Ralph Vaughan Williams' "A Choral Flourish", which I have not had enough time to work into my voice, unfortunately.  I have been listening to it, and will hope for the best.  It sits in a high-ish tessitura although the highest note is a G.  That is the sort of tessitura that is comfortable for me if I'm singing a solo; less so if I'm singing a choral piece with noplace to take a breath.  I may have to skip a few measures. We are singing it at 9 am this Sunday. (Oy).

Then I put out a bid to sing at someone's funeral.  This is a woman who had been a member of the church for decades.  Someone asked the choir director if the choir was going to sing and he said he didn't think so, because a lot of the newer choir members wouldn't have really known this woman (she went into a nursing home 3 or 4 years ago).  I offered to sing Dvorak's "God is My Shepherd" because it was a piece she liked (I sang it once or twice on Good Shepherd Sunday and she came up to me and told me she liked it.) The choir director said that might be nice, and said he would ask the Minister of Music.  If I don't hear anything about it, I will write to the Minister of Music after my recital.  The funeral is scheduled for two weeks after that.

As for the "and".  I never know what is going to unleash a floodgate of regret about the past. When I say "the past" I mean those crucial years when I was between the ages of 13 and 30 (which includes years when I was sober and no longer smoking).  There were so many missed connections, bad choices, wrong priorities.  Sadly, the more people damn me for feeling regretful the more painful it is because I don't just feel regretful, I feel that my feeling regretful is a character flaw.  What happened was that I was listening to a radio program about a man who had been a major figure in SNCC.  He used to sing with our choir (until he died) and his wife still does.  It reminded me of that period when I was in high school when I was a little burgeoning hippie.  That was when a music teacher friend of my mother's told me how impressed she was with my singing voice.  I had spent my childhood imitating Julie Andrews.  I sang in the school glee club.  At the risk of sounding Trumpian, I do think the fact that I was not a minority with that particular vocal color made me not of interest to the school glee club director (who was white). It was the era of glorious African American pop singers, and less than glorious white protest music.  A lot of the white protest singers (Joan Baez excepted) used drugs.  I listened to lots of folk, rock, and other protest music during those years.  If only I had not started smoking, which I did because I wanted to be stylishly thin and I thought smoking would curb my appetite. I was never clinically obese, but I was built like Kim Novak in an era when the idol was Twiggy.  Really all I would have had to do not to throw my talent in the garbage (yes, I resurrected it, in part at 26, and then seriously at 54, but the big chance was gone forever) would have been to not smoke (or abuse alcohol and drugs, which I did later.)  Basically I could have done anything else.  Sing folk music, go to protest rallies, play hookie, neck promiscuously...

I realized recently that the reason I so loathe Bob Dylan is not only that his songs were part of the whole zeitgeist that destroyed me, but also that his voice so reflects what can happen to a voice if a person abuses their instrument.  He was known to abuse drugs.  I always said I hated the sound of his voice because it was too evocative of the wrong things, but now I think it's because it's a reminder of how I destroyed my own voice.  I realized this the other day when I saw the text of some of his songs written down in an article I was editing, and realized that they are quite interesting, and yes, that he is a poet, but I can never bear to listen to that voice.

Then I snap out of it and realize that so many people have so much to grieve for, so many different types of loss, and I just despise myself.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

An Old Hurt

First I want to say that my singing has been going so well lately (with a few setbacks) that there hasn't been much to complain about in that area.  I have also accepted that my primary mission in life right now is to provide love and care to another human being at the end of her life.  I don't have the time or energy to battle the NYC unpaid opera scene, which seems to mostly be a training ground for emerging professionals under 35, or a place for quasi-professionals in their 30s and 40s, or even in some cases 50s to sing roles they aren't getting paid to sing.  I have basically cut it off, the way someone who is made unhappy by a trigger tries to avoid it.  I never go to any of their performances.  I don't even go to the Met.  Tonight I am using some money I was given for my birthday to "treat myself" to something and going to the ballet.

I also had a (mutual) "unfriending frenzy" several years ago with most of the quasi-professional singers (some of whom are professional voice teachers) on Facebook.  I envied them, they had contempt for me (or for people that I perceived as being like me) and there were just too many negative emotions in the mix.  To me a "friend" on Facebook is someone who cares about me and my well-being and these people didn't.  I now only have a small number of professional or quasi-professional singers on my friends list.

Yesterday, I was heartsick to see a post by a woman I genuinely care about, someone who has been to Hell and back and come through it a heroine in blazing armor, containing some musings about the differences between "amateur" and "professional" singers (or musicians in general).  Of course I had a knee-jerk negative reaction to the whole thing, but after cooling off, my point is "Why Dichotomize"?  If a teacher wants to steer a student toward professional behavior, really, all she needs to do is list desirable behaviors.  Why bring in an adversary, the much caricatured amateur (who in people's minds mostly seems to be a lazy version of Hyacinth Bucket) at all. To make generalizations about amateur singers is no different than making generalizations about ethnic groups, blondes, or overweight people.  Some amateur singers are just that.  They sing choral music for fun.  They will absorb a certain amount of knowledge if it's presented to them but that's the extent of their interest.  They probably don't practice between rehearsals other than to plunk out the music if they're unsure of it.

In my choir there are no "professionals".  There are trained and untrained singers.  The untrained singers, yes, are more likely to not make choir rehearsal a priority, so they may be late or have a "conflict" that could have been avoided (like theater tickets - I wouldn't buy a theater ticket for a Thursday, for example). They most likely don't warm up at home; they wouldn't know how.  So they rely on the group warmup.  I doubt they complain about the group warmup, they are not knowledgeable enough.  I have complained about some of the group warmups (and I always warm up at home) obviously not to the choir director but occasionally to my voice teacher, if I find them vocally un-helpful (like singing a-le-lu-ya by attacking the same note four times all the way up to a high B flat and using that as a "test" of how high someone can sing). As for asking to switch parts if a part is uncomfortable (something else this woman mentioned - I am weaving a lot of her comments in and out of this post) again, that is something that a trained singer who understands her instrument might do (I certainly do, since as a mezzo I'm between a rock and a hard place a lot of the time), but an untrained singer probably wouldn't again, because she doesn't understand how her instrument works.  But why is that a "bad" thing? Not everyone has the same level of commitment or interest and if the group is an eclectic one, there are ways to make room for a variety of skill levels.

A number of other things that this woman mentions really have more to do with having a bad attitude or being a narcissist than being an amateur.  Most amateurs I know wouldn't presume to think they know more than the director.  They mostly just follow along - or leave, if they're uncomfortable, which is the prerogative of an amateur.  I know one rule I follow is that as I am not getting paid to sing, if I find myself in a situation that makes me uncomfortable (this only happened once) I will simply leave.  Which is one reason I now exclusively "make my own opportunities".  If I am producing a concert or an opera in a nursing home, I know that I will not be treated disrepectfully by a person in authority.

And I certainly don't think "amateurs think they're already great"!  Most are quite humble and know what they don't know.  If they aren't striving to improve as much as professionals or serious avocationals, it's because the art form for them is a hobby, not a passion, and they aren't willing to put in the extra work, and they know this.

As for "everything is beneath an amateur unless they're starring".  Well, I can only speak for myself.  That is somewhat true for the following reason.  My "biological clock" for doing anything with singing has ticked past the 11th hour.  I am living on borrowed time.  Singing Azucena, for example, in even the humblest of venues, is on my bucket list.  Singing in the chorus of Il Trovatore if I am not getting paid, is not. ETA: I must add here that I would never think of something as being "beneath me", only that it is not something I can afford to spend time on now, since I have so little of it, singing is not my livelihood, and there are roles, scenes, arias, and songs, that I yearn to sing before I physically can't any more.

And ah, if only professionals did not pay to partake!!  If only those people who rant and rave all over the Internet about how demeaning it is to be asked to sing for free would stay away from the opera companies that do not pay not to mention the pay to sings.  But these very people, these people who thought it was shocking that I sang the Habanera in a bookstore for free as a form of fun for me and the onlookers, insinuate themselves into every nook and cranny of the unpaid opera world, pushing the amateurs out.

The last audition I went to involved an opportunity to sing a role in a Handel opera from a book in someone's living room.  This was for a group that has "singthroughs" of operas in a woman's living room.  People pay her for the privilege.  I was apparently turned down because she wanted the opportunity to go to someone who was going to sing that role professionally and wanted a rehearsal.  I personally think that a group like that should be for people, yes, who have to audition to prove that they can sing the role, but whose only opportunity to sing that role or one like it will be in someone's living room.

Lastly, to think that only professionals recognize that a group of any kind is a number of people with different ideas and a person/team to pull it all together is absurd.  Anyone who has ever worked in an office, played a sport, or sung in an amateur glee club should know this. If you want to discourage negative behaviors, think of another word.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

On Friendship

This blog is mostly about singing,  but I have written posts about ageism, sexism, gay marriage, Trump voters, and most likely a few other topics for discussion.

I want to write about friendship because it seems to be something I am not good at (or maybe I am choosing the wrong people).

For most of my life with my partner as a couple, even though I was the "femme" from a sexual and sartorial standpoint, I suppose I was the "man" in that for most of our life together, I had the job and she had the friends.  Her friends became my friends.  This is not to say that I had no social life apart from her.  I seemed to have a talent for finding companies where there was a large social and collegial component, so I had lots of "buddies".  And up until I took my last, gruelling management job, I always was involved with some evening group activity where I met people.

But nothing ever really stuck.  Once I left a setting, I only saw the people intermittently, at the odd annual group get together (or - recently - at a funeral).

I have said numerous times that since about 2007, most of my and my partner's mutual friends, people who became my friends as well as hers, have all either died, moved, or are always traveling.  I have found it very hard to make new friends although it has been at the top of my list of "projects" after earning a living, taking care of my partner, and singing.

I believe I have mentioned a friend whom I have described as "rich and stingy".  Well, sadly, I now have to add "querulous and disagreeable".  The only reason I still see her is that she feels some responsibility toward my partner and sometimes brings her supplies from a big box store (which, needless to say, I pay her for out of my partner's bank account).  She has complained about how "depressing" it is to see my partner and how sad it makes her  and is unable to see that this situation is not about her, it's about my partner.  Yesterday she came for a visit (I thought we would be watching tennis) and went into a rant about how although she attends a synagogue she doesn't "believe all that" and just goes for the social interaction.  I suppose many people do that, although they would not word it so harshly.  I am not Christian, but I continue to attend Lutheran services, not just to sing, but also to be in an environment where people are invested in being kind and supportive of each other (and toward the world at large).  To me that is different from "social".  What keeps me there isn't that I might be able to have dinner with people (I don't - I occasionally have lunch with people usually on the premises), but that people genuinely seem to care about each other and some even offer to help their fellow parishioners in their hour of need.

This friend and I were talking about fasting on Yom Kippur (which we both agreed is physically unhealthy) so I asked her if she did anything "symbolic" (if it were me I would probably spend the day drinking water, tea, and the odd bottle of Ensure) and she said no.  What struck me wasn't so much that she said no, but how hard and cynical she sounded.  Then we went on to other topics, including my distress at the lack of "community" in apartment buildings and neighborhoods, particularly where my partner is living.  It has now become a moot point as far as she is concerned, because she has 24/7 home care, but it offends me in principle.  I mean when there's a snowstorm, for example, anyone with a tv can hear whoever the current mayor is telling people to "check in on their elderly neighbors".  You don't even have to think to do it on your own.  So when I mentioned this she launched into a vitriolic rant about how the building isn't a senior residence, etc. and basically said that if I'm bothered by these things it's my problem.  Hello??? If I am offended by a general societal lack of character that's my problem??

It is really coming to dawn on me that this is someone not only who is stingy with money (she spends thousands upon thousands on luxury cruises but thinks she's being generous if she buys someone a danish), but is stingy in her soul.  I don't know if she has ever read Ayn Rand, but she seems to think everyone should just look out for themselves, and that this is OK, and that that's what she is going to do.  I was truly appalled.  When I got home I felt like I had been in some alternative universe with values that were so alien to me I didn't even know where I was.

What's ironic is that this woman in some ways has had many of the same losses that I have had; it's just that she can distract herself with pots of money (which come from her family; there isn't even the saving grace that she worked hard to earn it).  Most of her friends have either died or moved as well, including someone who just died recently.  Maybe I should have offered her condolences?

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Jesus is a Rock

This morning I sang "Jesus is a Rock in a Weary Land" for the offeratory.  The Director of Music Ministries picked it out for me. It was just something in the hymnal but after years of singing spirituals with the choir, I figured out a way to interpolate notes into the second and third verses including a high A flat and a chesty middle C, so I was able to showcase my big dramatic voice. And it got applause.  After sitting through the beginning of the service, I can see why the Director picked that piece: the subject of God (or Jesus) as a Rock was the theme of the morning.

Now I will go back to working on my recital music.  I am continuing to sing better and better (my voice is getting bigger, the top is easier, I have more stamina) but I probably don't practice as often.  I am consumed with issues to do with my partner.  Her dementia is getting worse. She got into a fight with the aide last night thinking the aide was trying to poison her, so she refused to take her pills.  I had to stay on the phone with them for a half hour to get her to take her pills.  I am still really living one day at a time.  I have no idea what the future holds.

But there will be singing in it.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Back to My Fach

Yesterday, I was engaging with someone on Facebook about my blog, after previously, a few days earlier, having read this article about one of my lifelong singing idols, whom if things were different I would move Heaven and earth to study with, and I realized that a post is long overdue.

Things with my partner have stabilized.  I think she will make it to another Thanksgiving and probably Christmas and New Year's as well. She has a hospital bed. She is going to have Moh's surgery next week, and we have an ambulance reserved (it is the only way she can travel).  We continue to enjoy snuggles and tv watching.  Her dementia waxes and wanes.

My 67th birthday passed with pretty much nothing other than my partner "buying" me a Wimbledon towel.  (This means she said I could use her credit card to buy it from their web site.)  It was a lovely present.  To me a "present" should be something you wouldn't buy for yourself.  It doesn't need to be expensive, but it needs to feel like a luxury.  Not business as usual.  A friend sent me a check so I bought two ballet tickets.  If I want entertainment, I go to the ballet.  Going to the opera stirs up too much "compare and despair".

My recital program is set.  I am not singing the Vivaldi aria that I mentioned in an earlier post; it would take too long to learn.  But now that I know I love it, I plan to revisit it.  I am going to sing "In Buddy's Eyes" from Follies.  I will substitute my partner's name (which scans perfectly) for "Buddy".  It is a song that has meaning for me.  I may dedicate it (and "Vanilla Ice Cream") to Barbara Cook, who died this week.

My church solo (suggested by the Minister of Music) is taken from the hymnal: "Jesus is a Rock in a Weary Land".  It looks quite simple, but if I interpolate some high notes and some low notes into the second and third verses (stylistically acceptable) I can sing it with my big dramatic voice.

Because I had been working on this spiritual, I was in a "dramatic mezzo" mode (which I can't be when I sing my recital music which is mostly light) so at my last lesson I took a crack at the dreaded page in Aida: "Chi ti salva sciagurato, etc."  I aced the high B flat.  I aced it at home the next day; with my tendancy to sing sharp when I sing a capella, the note was a B natural. I am singing up to a full voiced C every day.  Maybe I can revisit some of that music, or maybe next year I will look at the French grand opera material I had been thinking of doing.  Whatever is going on in my life, I'm a dramatic mezzo and this material is what I am meant to sing.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

On Ageism (2)

Almost exactly two years ago I wrote this article and thought that this would be a good time for a second pass.

The "triggering event" was the posting, by an incredibly troubled gay trans man, of a picture of Heidi Klum in a costume, which, silly out of touch me (!), I thought was a real picture of a woman in her late 70s or 80s.  I do not attribute his being "troubled" to his being trans or gay; I only mention these things because here is someone super-sensitive to his own issues, yet totally clueless about the sting of ageism.  (He posted the picture with a comment saying "this is how I feel if people ask me out after 9 pm.)  Quite frankly, it doesn't matter if this was a real picture of an elderly  woman, or not.  I skimmed the Heidi Klum article to see what her rationale was for choosing this costume for Hallowe'en but couldn't find anything other than that she liked to work hard to make costumes realistic (someone is shown painting varicose veins on her legs).  If she had done this as a teachable moment, to teach people about ageism (similarly to slim women who have put on a "fat suit" to highlight that fat people are treated with less respect than slim people) that would have been fine, and I am not judging her, only questioning the taste and sensitivity shown by the person who posted the picture. (I mean long ago people decided it was offensive for white people to dress up in blackface whether those people themselves were actually racist or not.  Ditto posting photographs of white people dressed up in blackface.) I quite frankly don't see any difference here.) I unfriended him.  I am sick of him anyhow.  He is one of the most self-absorbed, narcissistic people I have ever met.  I gave him a pass on all that because of his own struggles, including that his mother died recently (she was younger than I am), but enough is enough.  Grow up!  Despite having unfriended him, I got a comment to my comment by one of his (female) friends that was insulting, childish, full of coarse language, and basically beside the point.  I should pity these children.  God help them if they ever decide to grow up.

I mean I have spent the past nine months caring for a woman in her 80s who may be near death, fighting bureaucracies that would be just as happy if she died, especially now.  I have become knowledgeable about services that are available to seniors (which I may need to avail myself of as well at some point - I am going to be 67).  I have had serious, real, conversations with people about aging.  These are real problems.

After reading the inane offensive commentary of this young man and his friends I feel that I need a bath.  

With that, I will end with paraphrasing a quote from Law and Order's Jack McCoy (in a far darker, uglier context): "I guess there are some people who don't deserve to grow old."  Growing old is a privilege, young pup, not a joke.