Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Grief and Work

Well, since I last wrote I did hear back from one of the nursing homes I contacted (the one where I actually spoke to someone and sent her some videos) and after contacting her again she said she had looked at the videos and that I was not a good "fit" for what she was looking for.  So OK.  That could mean anything.  She might want someone who sings and plays the piano, someone who sings pop songs, someone who sings and plays the guitar.  Who knows?

Still no word from either the place with the beautifuli salon room (where my partner was in 2016) or the LGBT Center.  As for the latter, when I see my friend I might ask her to forward me the email she sent to her contact, as I have not heard from him.

Today I called another nursing home.

I also realized that I could ask my choir colleague if the residence where she lives still has concerts on Thursdays.  I did sing there once, but then our choir rehearsal night got switched to Thursday.  Maybe I can sing there in the summer when we are off?

What makes me so sad is that what I need is to do solo singing in front of an "audience".  I need that the way a plant needs water and I'm not getting any of that kind of nourishment.  I even looked at various places that offer performance classes but first they cost too much, and second, I am terrified of being the oldest and least proficient.

So all I can do now is work.  I am, believe it or not, tired of the dramatic mezzo rep that I struggled with for so many years; bored with Carmen and Dalila.  What is my new love?  Handel and Rossini!  That makes sense, because really, my favorite thing to sing is "Rejoice Greatly".  It's flashy and just high enough to sound high but not too high, and there is no sustained float-y high singing, which is my nemesis.

So I made a list of arias to work on.  Some had daunted me in the past and I had written them off.  But now, maybe.  They are:

"Tanti Affetti" from Rossini's Donna del Lago
"Bel Raggio" from Rossini's Semiramide
"Dopo Notte" from Handel's Ariodonte
and possibly
"Non piu di Fiori" from Mozart's Clemenza di Tito
"Ah, Mon Fils" from Meyerbeer's Le Prophete

and I might revisit Mozart's "Laudamus te" from the Great Mass.

Tonight I (tenatively and with many stops and starts) sang through "Tanti Affetti".  It has a lot of B flats, but they are all in runs, which I do well.  I said "a lot".  I mean 11.  I have no idea if the piece will ever be "performance ready", but if I don't try then it definitely never will. Nowadays a B flat feels like a G once felt.  And yes, in this practice session today I nailed all 11.

On the subject of being unable to find opportunities, I had another insight the other day.  Performance opportunities are like neighborhoods, and as the years go by, the smaller humbler ones have now all become gentrified (aka exploited by emerging professionals, semi-professionals, and professionals looking to sing a role they aren't singing professionally right now), which pushes anyone with a modest "package" (how I would describe myself) out. 

Maybe if I want an audience I will stop singing in the bathroom and sing behind my front door.  My electric keyboard is on my dining table, which is near my front door (if I know a piece, I sing it in my bathroom with a pitch pipe to check pitches).

On the other hand, my nextdoor neighbor goes to the Met once a week (it's around the corner, remember?) and the man down the hall is a music critic. Never did I so yearn to be surrounded by lager louts. They might tell me to stop "screaming" - but would probably think I'm the real deal.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

In Defense of Mediocrity, or Totally Gobsmacked Watching "Last Tango in Halifax"

As for the title, this is something I had been toying with four years ago or so, as a "response" to another singer-blogger who seems to always get under my skin.  For whatever reason, I never used the title, but it came to mind again a few weeks ago when I was watching the Christmas special for Last Tango in Halifax.  One of the subplots involved an amateur production of Blithe Spirit that was in an area apparently so talent starved that they had to scrape the bottom of the barrel (meaning strongarm someone with no acting ability and no interest) into playing one of the male roles.  (The role of Madame Arcati went to a woman my age who had done some acting when she was young.)  Does this scenario really exist?  Are there still AmDrams (I word I learned recently) that are geographically located such that they will not be crashed by professionals coming from far and wide to get a role under their belt (or "rehearse" one they will be performing in a loftier venue later)?  Are there still places where the performing arts are so thin on the ground that people will actually come to a performance that at best can be called "a rough diamond"?

I posted this question in a British tv lovers Facebook group that I belong to and people assured me, yes, that this scenario was not so far afield, that most "small towns" (how is that defined, I wonder?) have an AmDram that is really that - for amateurs.

As for the term "mediocre" according to the dictionary, synonyms are "average", "unexceptional", "amateur", and "amateurish".  (There are also other synonyms, such as "uninspired" that don't capture what I am trying to say.) The point is that the term does not mean "so embarrassingly substandard that people want to run screaming from the room".  I would take it to mean "not the best of the best, but still pleasing on some level".

Now to me mediocrity is not the same thing as "laziness".  A person is lazy if he or she could achieve excellence but is not willing to put in the necessary work.  The potential A student who gets Bs.  But what about the C student who has worked his or her tail off to get Bs.   The end result is the same.  But the point is, are Bs bad?  Should only someone who is "A" grade be allowed or encouraged to [sing, play a musical instrument, paint, write, design furniture or clothing]?  I would guess that if someone is so unskilled (and untalented) at something that they are in the D or, heaven help us, the F league, they should not be encouraged.  They can probably find some other arena in which they can at least make B league.  But should only the best of the best exist, with everyone else going back to paper pushing or doing something else uninspired that most people don't want to do?

This subject is wrenching my heart because as someone with, possibly, a major talent, but one that was not put to use until past the 11th hour, and who probably in terms of skill level (if you put Met stars at the top and people who love to sing off key on karaoke night at the bottom) would be in the 88th percentile, has found every door closed to me.  The opera companies that don't pay people use professionals who can't find work (or professionals who want to use that gig as a rehearsal for a paying one).  People that invite performers into their spaces (for no pay, other than the use of the space) have a long list of people from Marilyn Horne's "Song" finalists to chamber music groups that have been reviewed in the TIMES that they can donate their space to and don't want amateurs with a few rough edges.  And its not only existing organizations and performance venues who aren't interested.  Colleagues aren't interested either.  I was told once to look for people who are really good, better than I am, but then, of course, they will flit if they get a better offer (my voice teacher included!!) And people who are at a lower skill level are just not all that interested.  They just think it's too much bother.  So in addition to having to learn my music I have to be the "impresaria" and do all the managing and planning and spend all the money.  I'm not a professional singer but I once was a well-salaried manager and really don't want to do that for free (I have done it, but I think I'm burned out).

So I had resigned myself to singing in nursing homes, which, actually, if I look at my values as a human being, should not be viewed as "settling" for second best.  I love the elderly and spend a large part of my life taking care of my 83-year-old partner who is severely impaired.  But other than the place I sang this past October (and for my birthday in 2016), I can't get anyone to "bite" despite having left repeated phone messages and having sent emails.  I actually don't take this personally.  I think they probably go for people they know if they're looking to fill the calendar.  Which brings me back to a subject I have written about in the past, that it really is about who(m) you know, not in the sense of fraudulent dealing, but in the sense of being part of a network and I am not part of one.  Here's an analogy I thought of the other day.  I can always get copyediting work not because I am absolutely the best copy editor anyone could ever hire (although I'm damn good - probably I would put myself in the 99th percentile there), but because people know me.  I have worked in the publishing business since 1979.  So who are people going to give work to? Me, or someone they don't know, who writes to them out of the blue and asks to take a test.  Even if they get 100 on that test, they don't have a "track record".

As I have said before, I am not ready to give up and throw in the towel.  Every week I am singing better and I certainly have more confidence than I did before.  But I can't say that I have expanded my network in any way, and this is not for lack of trying.  So OK, if I weren't a caregiver, I would have more options: start my own Meetup, venture forth on a Saturday or in the evening, maybe even see what's doing at one of the three big conservatories within shouting distance from where I live.  But not now.

So I defend "mediocrity" not because I think people should be lazy or lacking in discernment, but because I think there should be a place for people who aren't the best and never will be, but still want a place to muddle through something they love, in like-minded company, with friends and acquaintances cheering them on.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Singin' in the Cold

(To the tune of "Singin' in the Rain").

This should have been the last post of 2017, not the first one of 2018, but I wasn't at my laptop for much of yesterday.

Yesterday at 11 I sang "Rejoice Greatly" for the second year in a row on the Sunday between Christmas and Epiphany (last year it was on New Year's Day).  I am not sure if I sang it as well this year.  The church was ice cold and I had trouble getting my breath support to work (you know the way you "scrunch" yourself into a tight ball to try to stay warm? well, that does not do much for the expansion you need to sing).  I almost ran out of breath on the first long run.  After that, however, it was pretty smooth sailing.  The only problem is I was so physically out of sorts that I wasn't able to polish my "presentation".  Last year I sang well but did awkward things with my arms (raise them when I needed more breath, then put them down abruptly) and I had determined this year to look more composed.  But this year it was all I could do to get through it.

I don't ever remember it being that cold in the church and I have been there on Sundays when there was several feet of snow and I had to take a cab, or, coming back, have someone "cross me" through the mountains of snow and ice so I could catch a bus.  But indoors I always felt fine.  Were they being stingy with the heat?

So now I need to put something on my calendar; otherwise I won't have another solo singing spot until Holy Week or Easter.

Here's what I've done.

1. Called the nursing home (where my partner was in 2016) at least four times, with no result.  I left three voice mail messages and one message with the recreation director's secretary.  I also got another number for resident services, called it, and it went into the director's voicemail.
2. I got a friend who sometimes works there to speak to the recreation director.  He said he would call me.  He never did.
3. I called the LGBT senior services center where I performed several times and got the name and phone number of the new events planner.  I left her a voicemail message.  I found her email address and sent her an email.  No response. I know a volunteer there; I think I will send her an email this week.
4. I found the name of another nursing home/residence and actually spoke in person to the recreation director (I called at 9:02 am - good strategy!) She asked me to send a video and some more information so I sent her a few videos and a program from my last recital. That was several weeks ago.  I will call her again.
5. Next week I will google "Living Room Concerts" and see what I get.

I was thinking of making New Year's resolutions, but I don't even know of what kind.  Do I need to work harder? Who will know other than my teacher?  Do I need more chutzpah? How would that express itself? Do I need to do a better job of networking? If so, with whom? 

Thursday, December 21, 2017

2017 Wrap Up

Right now I couldn't even begin to think about making New Year's resolutions.  I can't think of anything I need to be doing (that's realistic) that I'm not already doing.  And I hope it's not a cop-out to say that so much of what is lacking in my life is about the lack of opportunities for someone with my level of talent in the environment I'm in.

As for how the outgoing year was, here's a wrap up.  (And please note, this is only about me and the people in my life. It is not about the year as a political saga.)

The Good

  • My partner is finally settled on Medicaid with a package of services and a support team.  Barring her coming into money (unlikely), this can roll over from year to year.
  • She is much healthier.  I am no longer worried that she is going to die within weeks or months.
  • Through managing all of her care providers and coordinating services, I have acquired skills that, most importantly, give me a feeling of competence, and secondly, keep fresh the management skills I once used at jobs for pay, if I ever want to look for another one.
  • I keep singing better and better.
  • Through my involvement with her home care team, I have learned about many different ways to make a life, even here in New York.  There are people of different ethnicities, living in outerborough neighborhoods, with skills, talents, and beautiful souls, that have nothing to do with the world of Upper West Side successful professionals with performing arts degrees, around whom I feel like I'm the size of a mosquito.  I thank these women not just for the loving care they provide my partner, but for sharing their hearts and their lives with me.

The Disappointing

  • Despite singing better and better, it seems harder and harder to find a place to sing.  Outreach venues don't call me back.  If I were to pay a modest fee to rent a studio, I would have to fill it with an audience, and with all the high-level performances here (many of them free), there won't be one.  Some people will no doubt come to be polite, but they really are not all that interested.  
  • Despite repeated efforts, I have not been able to create a network of similarly situated aspiring performers (older adults with a certain level of talent and skill who are eager to perform and willing to invest a certain amount of work in throwing something together). The people I meet are either younger or more experienced and are plugged into networks of their own that would not be open to me or it they're my age, they're pretty much done unless something falls into their lap.
  • I realize more and more that most of the people who have the life I want began on a path when they were in their teens or shortly thereafter.  At least among people I meet regularly, I seem not only to be one of the few without an advanced degree or some degree in a performing arts related field, but also one of the few who was never in a school show or an extracurricular performing arts group. This is time and experience I can never get back.
  • Despite spiritually knowing better, I still yearn for a life I can't have: a life primarily defined by the arts.  To the world I am a freelance copyeditor who is a caregiver - oh, and I have a lovely voice, sort of as an aside.
  • I can no longer even envision doing anything for a living, even part-time, that does not involve some iteration of "paper pushing" sitting at a desk.

Lesson of the Year

Since I apparently will never do well, maybe I have to settle for doing good.

Friday, December 8, 2017

My Years with the Lost Girls

Years go by and you never know who from the past is going to turn up.  A few weeks ago, two old friends of my partner's (one a former lover) who had been involved in a video group wth her, a few years before she and I met, asked me if they could come visit her and interview her on tape.  Of course I said yes.  The more lasting memories I have of her the better (a social service agency recently made a video of her talking about memories, which included some video clips of me singing). 

One thing led to another and I found out that these women, who had been sitting on boxes and boxes of reel-to-reel tape made by what was - I think - the only Lesbian video group in the 1970s, had converted most of it to digital format.  They now have a Facebook page and a vimeo link.  Viewing the videos brought me an enormous wave of nostalgia.  I was not in any of them; I got involved with this movement a few years later, but it was all familiar territory.

Looking at the videos, I was struck by the youth and innocence of it all.  There was a fairy tale quality to it, which I think is what drew me in all those decades ago.  Yes, I was a Lesbian, but no, I was not eager to don unisex clothing and throw away all my bottles and jars of makeup, high platform shoes, and dresses.  l was not angry at men, particularly, I just found them (for the most part) to be totally clueless about women's bodies, and rather dull at making conversation.  Most of the ideology espoused by the women I suddenly found myself involved with morning noon and night left me cold (I had heard most of it before from my Marxist, albeit heterosexual, mother, particularly the tut-tutting over the wastefulness of buying cosmetics).

And yet I was intrigued.  I saw that a group of women, mostly white and middle-class born, and mostly under 45 (my partner was one of the oldest) had found a way to live, like Peter Pan and the Lost Boys, in a never-never land where there was almost no contact with the "ordinary" world.  I don't think I had ever quite imagined anything of this kind. (Growing up, my Lesbian hero[ine] had been Elinor Eastlake from The Group: too smart and glamorous to bother with men, and snapped up like arm candy by a rich cross-dressing baroness.)  Recently I have been writing a memoir (totally unlike this blog) which is mostly about literature and religion, with only a nod to singing, and in one chapter I mention my lifelong love of the novels of Dickens, which began in adolescence with my fascination with the endless roll call of orphan children.  Well, these Lesbian-Feminist-Separatists were very much that.  They were girl-boy children who seemed not to have grown up and who had managed to live a life quite apart from "adults".  Most of them were on strained terms with their own parents if they communicated with their parents at all, which many did not. We had our own choruses, printing presses, art schools, coffee houses, food coops, movers, painters, exterminators, and others.  We had our own holiday celebrations (including a "solstice party" in late December, to avoid mention of "patriarchal" holidays). We had our own doctors and lawyers, too, but these were the "bridge" figures: they were of us but also of the world, and now, years later, most of them are settled, successful professionals, married (to other professional women) and moving quite comfortably in the "real world", but never compromising who they are. 

And there was our "Wendy".  Not me.  I was  a token "pretty girl" but most of my clothes still came from thrift shops and I was not a successful professional nor did I have a middle class home.  "Wendy" was a pretty, blonde schoolteacher, a "bar femme" from the era when Lesbians were sexy, not political.  (She had once been hauled off to jail with her butch lover, wearing a red baby doll nightie). Wendy was a trained singer, and she was the anchor in our chorus.  She was the professional people turned to, and the "mommy".  People came to visit her at Christmas and she led caroling.  She was one of the few people who encouraged me to sing, and I did land a solo spot in the feminist oratorio our chorus did (it was - is - a magnificent piece of music but has gone out of circulation as a result of a conflict between the composer and lyricist).

Of course it was not all a sweet fairy tale to remember with fondness.  As I have written of numerous times in these "pages", it was these very women who discouraged me from trying to seriously pursue an opera career (if I would even have been able to at the late age of 26 with no music degree and poor health habits, but who knows; with different influences and a true "champion", maybe I could have).  They told me not to "invest myself in a patriarchal art form like opera."  They made me so phobic about straight men that I was unable to act the roles I should have been singing.  (Actually I was not afraid of straight men; I was afraid of their disapproval.)

How different things are now.  Upwardly mobile professional Lesbians of subsequent generations are all marrying, finding high tech ways to procreate (don't ask!), and being house proud.  They are nicer, and much mentally healthier that the "lost girls" (there have been several Lesbian couples at the church where I sing and they are lovely, totally un-angry, "well adjusted", and comfortable with themselves), but I miss never-never land.  Eventually it vanished, and I was left as a middle aged woman who had never really grown up, scrambling to make something of myself in the real world.  I don't know what turn things will take now that I've come face to face with my 20s, certainly not something I was expecting!

Friday, November 24, 2017

The Mentor and the "Shower Trick" #Metoo?

For those of you who are have followed my story for years, you know what a role the man I refer to as The Mentor played in it all.  He got me to sing, he awakened my feelings of desire, and through his influence, I retooled my personal image which, over the previous decade, had morphed from glamorous to sexless (albeit dressed for success), and redecorated my apartment, replacing a lot of the pastels with brilliant reds.  I lusted after him, to no avail, I envied him his freedom from both monogamy and office jobs, I wanted to please him, I cowered when he turned on a dime from being seductively admiring to being gratuitously cruel.  It was through having him as a muse that I wrote a play, with him as anti-hero, which was actually quite good, although too rom-com-ish for today's playgoers, certainly in major metropolitan areas (it was produced by a community theater in Texas). 

Over the years, when I would descibe some of his behavior, the words "sexual harrassment" would creep into the conversation (never used by me).  And I would wonder.  How could this be "sexual harrassment" if he was gay and was not interested in me?  Is teasing someone into lusting after you, then dancing away and laughing, particularly if you're in a position of power "sexual harrassment"? 

Here is one of his archetypal choice quotes that I have shared with people in speech and in writing (it even ended up as a "laugh line" in my play).

ME: (singing "Mon Coeur S'Ouvre a ta Voix")

HIM: What do the words mean?

ME: "My heart opens at your voice like a flower"

HIM: (leering) Weeeelll, so what kind of a flower do you think she's talking about"

And there was the time he told me to sing something like an orgasm, and the time he told me to put my hand on my "heart" or rather my "tits" (his word).

But now here's something I never told anyone, not because I was afraid or ashamed, but simply because I didn't attach any importance to it, until I heard about Charlie Rose and "the shower trick".

The very first time I showed up at the Mentor's apartment for a lesson, he took a while to answer the bell.  When he finally came to the door, he was wearing nothing but a towel.  He said he had just come out of the shower.  True, nothing "private" was visible, but what voice teacher takes a shower right before a student arrives?  What was the hidden agenda here, and believe me, there was one!  He didn't want to have sex with me, obviously.  But he did want to have power over me and what better way to do that than to sexualize our first encounter in his apartment.

So maybe that was a #metoo moment after all.  Because sexual harrassment is not about sex, but about power.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Who Ever Thought it Would Be So Hard to Give Away Something for Free

As one of my soapbox issues is how much I resent people who belittle those who sing or perform for free, I now have yet another argument.  Unless you have a large living room with a piano, it is really not all that easy to find places to do solo singing for free. 

First, the opera and other groups that don't pay people.  Those are so overrun with semi-pros, emerging pros, and pros who can't get work (or aren't paid to sing roles that they want to sing) that they are off the table for someone like me.  I do sing in a church choir that performs high level music (and I insist on staying in the soprano section to keep my upper register in shape) but choral music just doesn't "do it" for me.  Yes, I love being in that choir and aren't giving it up any time soon, but I would like to be doing more.  I also occasionally get to sing a solo, but solos at this church are not a big priority, so we're talking about maybe four times a year.  The church hosts other events, but needless to say because it's on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, the people who perform there are "up and coming" chamber music groups.  They even hosted some of Marilyn Horne's foundation receipients' recitals in the past.  A secular-themed talent show for the choir people? Not happening.  They have poetry slams and "coffee houses" for people who sing and play the guitar, but nothing that I would be interested in doing. 

So here's what I've done so far, since I started singing in 2004.

1. Two talent shows at the Unitarian Church, before they dumped all the classical music.
2. One concert at a cash-strapped church that wanted to raise money.
3. One concert version of Samson et Dalila at the church where I sing now, as part of a series to raise money for the Tiffany windows.
4. A concert at a studio that I had to pay to rent, where the air was so foul (they had an air conditioner that they had not cleaned) that I choked my way through it.
5. A concert version of the Verdi Requiem at the church where I sing. I billed it as a fundraiser for their food pantry.
6. A concert version of Carmen sponsored by a woman who runs a group that puts on various sorts of performances.  I also sang in concerts on September 11 and in her living room, but at some point she either "went off" classical music, or "went off" me, or both.
7. Two abridged concert operas at an LGBT senior center (I might call them again; the only problem is that I had a quarrel with a case worker there; on the other hand, she has nothing to do with the special events staff).
8. Two concerts at a nursing home.

If readers are asking "why now"? The reason is that I have come to two dead ends trying to find a concert venue.  The nursing home where my partner was last year, which has a beautiful room with a piano, had originally said that I could get in contact with the event coordinator, but I left him two voice mail messages and left one message with his assistant (live) but they never called back.  Today I got in touch with a library where my voice teacher will be performing with the pay to sing group he sings with (he doesn't pay anything, as they always need men) and they said they didn't need any more musical events right now and that I would be subject to "extreme vetting" (fine, but I think Hell will freeze over before they get in touch with me).

So I just want to put my head down and sob.  I feel that I have all this huge solo voice that's bursting out of me and nobody is interested.  So OK, I'm not a finished product, I'm not young, and I have no resume other than the above.  But to anyone, even a music lover with an ear, who's not an obsessive opera afficianado or a high level trained classical singer, I have something to offer.  And I'm not ready to throw in the towel.