CATHY IN THE UAE!!!!
A lot has been going on since I last wrote. I wanted to give a proper send off before the summer months begin! In April, my sister and I went to the UAE. I’m just as surprised as you are to have been there. The Emirati people know how to do luxury: any service you could possibly imagine they have labourers for. You need your car washed while you shop at the mall? Check. Do you need someone to hand deliver your groceries to your front door or at least pack them up in your car? Check. Would you like 24-hour access to European/North American chains? Check. How about cheap cabs, car insurance and hotel stays? Check.
My favourite day would have had to have been the Safari trip! I rode a camel and careened over sand dunes in an SUV! It’s a lot like riding a rollercoaster except instead on being on a track you sail up and over huge sand hills sometimes almost vertically. We were then treated to a buffet and some belly dancing.
The culture shock was hard to ignore: we stayed right outside a mosque so the call to prayer was a frequent reminder of what time of day it was! I quickly learned to tune out the sunrise call. I had the opportunity to visit an elementary girl’s school. Their uniforms were an Arabic variation of the British jumper. The abayas the girls wore limited their movements so they looked a bit strange when they tried to run. They use the New Zealand curriculum which is similar to Alberta’s in terms of science units. The girls began each day with an assembly: they sang the national anthem and the hokey pokey!
I’d recommend a trip to the UAE for anyone interested in a luxurious adventure. This country is a lot more open than other areas of the Middle East and although the sexes are kept separate, I felt quite safe to walk about alone on the streets. Taking the bus is another story entirely!
Happy New year readers! January has always been a month of recovery from the holidays. I’ve often found it anti-climatic in its lack of chocolates and holiday cheer. For me it is equally a time of new beginnings: to address wrong things said or done last year and to make promises to change them.
With all these thoughts in mind I headed to Washington in early January. Spokane is a little town with a big heart. I was pleasantly surprised by the hospitality and smiles I received from complete strangers.
I was there to participate in the Coeur d’Alene Symphony National Young Artist Competition professional vocal division.
What’s astonishing is that in these economic times, this area of Washington can support 2 opera companies and 2 symphonies. This competition has been held annually for 9 years at the Whitworth University Campus.
Fortunately, my accommodations were walking distance from the University and I was able to attend the piano division on Saturday and get a feel for the competition. I always marvel at the juries’ final decisions— I often don’t agree.
I sang first in my division on Sunday. I opened with the Letter scene from Werther. I love this aria but because it’s so long I rarely perform it in concert. My second piece was Sein wir wieder gut from Ariadne auf Naxos— this one is a tour de force but gets easier and more pleasant to sing every time.
I was very proud of how everything went. My accompanist, Bev Rhodes is a delightful woman with two grand pianos in her living room!
And the winner is…… Catherine Daniel!!! I even got a trophy. The second part of the prize is to sing with the Coeur d’Alene symphony in early March. It looks like my year is off to an encouraging start!
New York and other life-changing places
I find it so fitting that I’m writing to you all now. December 9th marks the anniversary of my return to Canada. When I arrived I had no idea what would happen. Indeed I thought I would be returning to the Netherlands. My plans were pushed off course and I ended up spending 5 intense weeks in Austria instead.
I returned in late August to renovations in the home and preparations to join the substitute teacher roster in Edmonton. I could write a separate book on my experiences subbing but let me say that it has been a great balance between teaching and singing.
In early November I set off on a trip I named “the change my life tour.” First stop: New York. I was fortunate to be able to stay with my delightful aunt in Queens. I missed the storm but caught the elections! This trip has a Schubert institute connection. Meeting real New Yorkers in Austria gave me the courage to finally chase by dreams in this infamous city. I had a blast: the subway is a place where anything can happen. I witnessed vendors, preachers and performers on the train. These events began as spontaneously as they ended. It’s truly hard to say what a regular day in New York looks like. Is it taking a tour of Julliard with friends Miles and Dimitri? What about having a voice lesson with Cynthia Hoffman at the Manhattan School of music or attending a Gerald Finley masterclass? I went to see Un Ballo in Maschera at the MET plus caught a performance of the So you think you can dance tour with friend Adele!
What’s curious is that although New York is as epic as all the movies and TV shows, it was a very lonely place. Singers have to work 3 part time jobs just to be able to afford life there… yikes!
My next stop was Ann Arbor Michigan to visit with my friend Jean Bernard. This studious Baritone is finishing up his doctorate at the University of Michigan. The beauty of the campus and the warmth of the people there had me briefly considering a Master’s in vocal performance. This place was utopian and I would love to return someday.
How could I travel out east without stopping in my beloved Montreal? Michael McMahon I love you! What an amazing coach with so much insight. I also caught up with old friends and made sure to hit up some favorite restaurants.
I was so happy to meet Claire during my brief stay in Toronto. At 16 months this beautiful girl is so intelligent and gifted. I’m certain she’ll be a soprano and her father, baritone Stephen Hegedus agrees.
My final stop was Winnipeg! This was a time of much needed catching up with surrogate family and words of encouragement from the people who were there at the beginning of my musical journey. The absolute highlight was to see Tracy Dahl sing Gilda in Manitoba Opera’s Rigoletto. Tracy had the audience in tears in her heartfelt portrayal. I am constantly reminded of her monumental talent. I feel so blessed to have her as a mentor/ teacher.
Thank you as always for reading. Next month I’m off to Spokane and Maryland so stay tuned to hear about it.
The U of M connection
One of the exciting things about being in Baden this summer has been a reunion of sorts with other University of Manitoba alumni. These 3 singers and pianist have been holding their own with graduates of Mc Gill, Julliard, and Guild Hall ! Way to go U of M!
Catherine Abele (Soprano) played a special role in my coming to the U of M. She was instrumental in introducing me to Tracy Dahl and housed me during my audition for the undergrad program. Since graduating with her Bachelor’s, Catherine pursued masters’ studies in Cincinnati at the Conservatory Music. She has yet to complete her doctoral studies at the conservatory. She currently holds a position at the University of Alberta in the vocal department.
Byung Jun Yoon (Tenor) and I were actually at the University at the same time. We share many fond memories of our time together at the U of M! With Byung the jokes never end. It’s been particularly exciting to hear him after a couple of years. His already naturally vibrant sound has lined up beautifully. Since leaving Manitoba, Byung has completed an Opera Diploma from the University of Toronto. He recently signed with Gossage Artists Management and the world is his to claim.
Aran Matsuda (Bass Baritone) was just an 18 year-old baby bass with a huge sound when I graduated from the U of M. Now he’s got a stunning baritone richness to his sound. He’s completely grown up into a vocal powerhouse! I never miss an opportunity to tease him out of sheer shock at how far he’s come. Aran has just finished the first year of his Masters at Mc Gill University.
Although I don’t remember Renate Rossol (pianist), she entered the U of M in the same year as Aran. She completed a double major undergrad of piano performance and music history studying with both Judy Kehler Siebert and Charles Horton. Since getting to know her here in Baden I have found a sensitive musician with a facility for her instrument. Renate will begin post-baccalaureate studies at the conservatory in Vienna beginning this fall! There is no doubt that she will go far.
Needless to say I am happy to be among this group of U of M alumni. I am proud to say that I am a graduate of a faculty that teaches people to sing and play at an international level. Once again, way to go U of M!
All Roads lead to Baden!!!
Hello readers. My life has been a whirlwind of finishing the school year, singing in concerts and getting on a plane to Austria.With one week left of the program, I wanted to let you all know how I am doing.
You have to understand that prior to this course I had not sung much in the way of German Art song. I also admit that I was not familiar with the poetry or the standard repertoire. Much of that has changed.
One of the biggest challenges for me is how to accurately pronounce the German text while maintaining a legato phrase. In doing this intensive work of delving into the poetry itself, I have gained so much in the actual performance of my pieces.
I have really been enjoying myself out here. I have been paired with a delightful pianist from New Zealand appropriately named Catherine! She has a lot of passion and insight. I love her courage and energy. We have a lot of fun performing together.
Our 12 hour days begin every morning with a poetry lecture by Dr. Deen Larsen. Dr. Larsen is the type of sage that you have to follow around for a year and just write down everything he says. He has many poems memorized and can speak in depth on the lives of poets such as Goethe, Heine and Eichendorff. I cannot even imagine how many books he’s read and how many studies he’s done over the 40 years he’s lived in Austria. Dr. Larsen has a wealth of knowledge and is a treasure in terms of all things German and Romantic.
There are 2 recurring ideas that have resonated with me from those lectures. The first is the idea that you must not be conformed to the world but allow the art to transform your thinking. When I sing from a truly text driven place this informs my technique and I can produce the right sounds or at least the ones I imagine in my head. I must also fight against negative voices in my head and not “try” to make people like me or my artistry. This is ultimately self serving and audiences can sense this.
The second idea from Dr. Larsen is that as poets, singers and pianists we must go to the scary place. Vocally this means so close to catastrophe (cracking or no phonating) that the optimal sound is reached. Interpretively this means reaching deep inside your own life experiences and using that raw emotion to make this repertoire come alive.
I admit that I have undergone some painful, difficult processes here in my coachings and lessons but it has always made the repertoire better. Although these ideas are not necessarily new, I have never done this type of work in a concentrated way before. Performing after all the preparations have been done is truly the most freeing experience.