September-October 2012 TEXAS TOUR
My dear friend Keith Weber has always been a man of action. Over the years, I have talked with multiple friends, saying, “We should put together a program and…” but nothing ever happens because we’re always too busy to put it together. Keith, instead, in the midst of all his multifaceted opera and church projects, actually put together a tour for us! His days as a banker and in being proactive paid off! Halleluia!!
Since Houston Grand Opera didn’t have anything in their repertoire for me this year (that I hadn’t already done!) and Dallas Opera still hasn’t come up with a follow-up to my award-winning Gilda there last season, we decided it was the perfect time to do a recital tour. This way, I kept in touch with my fans and got to spend some time in my home state.
We called it “The Texas Tour” and put together a program of recitals of songs I love and a new cycle of songs (for me!) I have been itching to sing with orchestra. This was the perfect opportunity to try them out with piano. The program morphed a little from venue to venue, and we gave master classes in each city, as well.
We started off with a “run-out” to Baylor University, where we did a shorter version of our big recital for the vocal students and then had a talk with the them. It ended up being quite lively; I don’t think the students expected me to be so candid! Once they realized I was like I am – shooting straight from the hip – they fired away with questions! We laughed a lot, and hopefully they got a good earful of what they needed to know.
We then kicked off the official part of out tour in Houston at Zenkel Hall, and had a beautiful party after the recital at the home of the ever-gracious Bob and Mary Jane Wakefield. Many friends from Houston Grand Opera came, and I was able to catch up with a lot of dear friends. We were also able to give a masterclass to benefit Bridges Academy at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church while in town, and heard some very talented young students.
Then we had a few days off, so I was able to go home to my parents‘ house in Dallas and visit with Mah and Pah. Just kidding, I don’t call them that!
Next, we headed off to San Marcos to take part in Southwest Texas State University’s French Art Song festival. Our program included Poulenc’s Fiançaille pour rire and Messiaen’s Chants de terre et de ciel, and we gave a masterclass the day after our recital. It is always difficult for me to cut short my time with the students, but we managed to impart a bit of our ideas in the short time we had with the students. Star teacher Cheryl Parrish, always my idol from San Francisco days (I was always covering her back then!), was a most gracious host, as was the whole staff from the music department. We stayed in a sweet B&B, which was RIGHT NEXT TO THE ALPHA DELTA PI house – my sorority at university. I was tempted to go knock on their door and say hi, but I never had time and felt funny to go bug the girls. One different thing I did when I was in town was to get my fingernails shelacked! (spelling?) It seemed a little gimmicky when they did it, but I was amazed to have my manicure last more than an entire month afterwards! That is a first in history! ha ha! Miracle!
Next, we went to beautiful San Antonio, and gave a little shorter recital in Coker United Methodist Church. There, we weren’t able to give a masterclass, but we had a very sweet reception afterwards and I met some young singers from local colleges who peppered me with questions and made me feel like a rock star. The local concert-goers were SO sweet and appreciative, and a grand time was had by all. We had extra fun, as we finished up the program with one of my operetta selections, Einer wird kommen. A beautiful end to a lovely afternoon!
Next, we went to Austin, where we did a week-long residency at the voice department at University of Texas. My colleague from San Francisco, http://www.kellykuo.com is in charge of their opera program, and has come up with a very talented group of young singers. I gave masterclasses and worked privately with both undergrads and graduate students. This is wonderful, as I could dig into things with some people because I could see them more than once! The students seemed to get a lot out of it, as well.
Since I tend to work very technically, I’m sure I stepped on some teachers’ toes. I hope they realize it’s good to have other input; hopefully mine will reinforce what they were working on, or kick them in the butts to listen more attentively and find new ways to attend to their students’ needs if not!
One thing I found was a very useful idea in working with almost everyone was the idea of starting the attack of the note from a closed-chord position. Most people were misusing their air and breath support because they didn’t keep their vocal chords “tonic” – in a state of good tension, balanced by a connection in their bowels. Most were just pushing air through their chords, but didn’t give any kind of tonicity to the chords themselves or connect that to anything. They’d breathe well, then blow it all out in a breathy tone. Once they would be aware of keeping the chords closed (but certainly not the throat or neck), much of the “airiness” problems could very easily be stamped out.
One tenor, a personable Korean student who was sort of ho-hum when he started singing, all of a sudden was giving us goosebumps when he just concentrated on this one thing in his singing. It was a different voice altogether!! His language skills were great, musicality was lovely, and he was wonderfully expressive, so you kind of thought, “What a shame about the wimpy voice” when he started singing. But once he concentrated on this ONE thing, all of a sudden we had Pavarotti in the room with us – it was really astounding what bringing your vocal cords together can do!! I will be interested to hear what he is doing now that he has one tool to get his voice on par with all the rest of his skills!
Lastly, we headed off to Dallas, where the Dallas Opera was hosting our recital. Although it was in the Horchow Hall at the Dallas Museum of Fine Art, where some idiot cocked up the acoustics by adding tons of acoustic tile, the concert went beautifully! Ending the tour in my home town was wonderful!