Mommy-Zerbie Problems

February 6, 2013 § Leave a comment

We started staging rehearsals this week, which means that most days I am in rehearsal from 4:30 – 10:30pm (with a 1 hour dinner break).  Andy is playing the crucial role of Super Dad, leaving work early and picking up the girl, getting her fed, bathed, and in bed; while I play the role of the coquette.  Super Dad is obviously of greater moral fiber than Ms. Zerb.

Today I have an extra half hour for dinner, which may afford me just enough time to run home, play with tub toys, give final kisses, sing good night songs, and then run back to rehearsal.  Some may think that sounds a bit crazy, considering it’s a 20-minute drive home, but when I drop my girl off in the morning and realize that I can’t tell her I will see her that night, well, that just twists my heart around.

Thank goodness for Tuesday/Thursday “no class days”.  Most brilliant scheduling move I have ever made!

Collage 2013

January 21, 2013 § Leave a comment

Setting the stage at Hill Auditorium

Setting the stage at Hill Auditorium

You walk on stage in the dark.  Elsewhere on the stage, in the light,  a symphonic band plays a whirling tune. You hear the cue from the horn section, and count down the last four measures.  4…3…2…1…and you start humming the first note of your piece – in a different key – as the band plays the final notes of theirs.  The instant their final flourish has lifted, the lights go down on them, and the spotlight comes up on you.  You are blinded, but you keep that from registering on your face as you ease into the first phrase with the cellos, all eight of them.  You have approximately 1 minute and 40 seconds to make an impression, so you had better milk it for all its worth.  As the final note hangs in the air, you give the subtle signal for the cutoff.  The lights go down on you as they come up on the choir, singing a completely different piece, but in perfect unison with your final note.  Sight returns and you can see the audience once more – all 3,500 members – and you stand stock still until the cue to exit the stage the same way you came in, in darkness.

This is what it is like to be a performer on the program of the annual Collage concert at the University of Michigan.  The one performance every year that brings together all aspects of the School of Music, Theatre & Dance.  Large ensembles: orchestras, bands, choirs – Soloists – Small ensembles – jazz combos, duets, instrumental quintets, singing tap dancers – and everything in between.  Artists submit their program proposals in the fall, and from that pool the organizers create a tightly knit program that flows seamlessly or jarringly – depending upon the desired effect – from one piece to the next, one area of the stage to another, with specialized lighting cues used to set everything apart.

Tech Rehearsal

Tech Rehearsal

The rehearsal process is a real whirlwind.  In order to maximize efficiency, packets are distributed a few days in advance with instructions for staging, cues, bows, etc.  Recordings are put online to help performers become intimately familiar with the pieces immediately before and after their own.  You get one tech rehearsal to practice your entrance and your exit, and one dress rehearsal to put it all together.  Then bam – it’s show time.

Warming up backstage

Warming up backstage

I had no idea how positive my experience would be, but I really loved it.  I was just one 1:40 element to the entire show, but it was thrilling all the same.  Hill Auditorium is an acoustically incredible venue – and playing in that gorgeous space to a packed house?  Nothing like it.

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Week in Review and Your Zen Tip of the Day

January 16, 2013 § Leave a comment

Last week, I began rehearsals for Ariadne (alright!), performed my first Mahler 4 with orchestra (hot damn!), and traveled eight hours round trip for an audition (get it!).  And it was only a half-week. o_O

Pictures and other goodies from the Mahler to come soon, I hope.

After suffering several end-of-the-day, kill-me-now tension headaches, I found this tip on the web.  I highly recommend you try it any time you feel your stress levels rising.  It’s called Alternate Nostril Breathing, and it comes to us from the Yoga tradition.  With one hand gently pinching your nose closed, release one nostril and take a deep breath.  Inhale and exhale (the exhalation is the best part!).  Repeat on the other side.  Do it for 30 seconds, a minute, or even longer.  The action helps you get in touch with your breathing, and ostensibly your subconscious, which can help you tap into areas of tension that you can then release.  Purportedly, it also slows down brain waves.  So when your thoughts are flying fast and furious, put on the brakes with a little ANB.

 

 

Welcome to Winter Semester 2013

January 9, 2013 § Leave a comment

Drumroll please….my final semester of coursework!  I will be taking one general analysis course, which should prepare me well for the theory prelim (a nasty 2 day test) coming up in March. My other “courses” are voice lessons and opera.

Lots of performances this semester.  In order:  Mahler 4, Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 (again…kind of…more on that later), Mozart’s Coronation Mass, Italienisches Liederbuch (the whole thing, just like we did at SongFest, except this time it’s just a quartet of singers, so I get a bigger share of the songs), Ariadne auf Naxos, Milhaud’s Chansons de Ronsard, and some random Strauss lieder.

I will also do my performance prelim (like a jury, except with a whole recital’s worth of rep) at the end of this semester.  I’m thinking Purcell songs, Mozart concert aria, Schubert, Debussy, and Moore’s “So Free Am I.”  Which means I would need to nail down a set of Purcell, learn a new concert aria, and finish learning the Moore.  (I did four of the seven in my “Vive la femme” recital with James a couple of years ago.)

My stress hormones are running high today, but I still think it’s going to be a good semester.

 

Words I never want to read in an e-mail about hair and wigs:

December 7, 2012 § Leave a comment

“It will be cut for you and your character.”

Watch me on the web…

December 1, 2012 § Leave a comment

Tune in live on Sunday, December 2 at 4:30pm EST….or watch later during the week on your own time.  The link will be good for one week.

http://www.ustream.tv/channel/steven-mcghee-2012-12-02-brh-4-30pm

The program is of French Animal Songs (i.e. songs in French that are about animals, just in case that wasn’t entirely clear…), and includes Ravel’s “Histoire Naturelle” and Saint-Saëns Carnival of the Animals.  I will be singing a [very] little known set of songs called “Chansons pour les oiseaux” by the [almost unheard of] Belgian composer Louis Beydts.

First Dissertation Recital

What I Learned

November 30, 2012 § Leave a comment

Take-aways from Don Giovanni:

– I don’t have to be prepared to sing a single note above my high flip point (around high C for me) to sing anything of Zerlina’s.  This realization was a real game changer, and helped me hold my ground in the middle of my voice.  It was lightening up too much in places, and once I realized that was because I was habitually playing it safe for the [non-existent] high notes…problem solved.  I am excited to see how this approach will translate to a role with lots of high notes.  Oh, great!  I get the opportunity to do that really soon!  *wink*

– It was eye opening to observe the difference between those of us who had stage and orchestra experience, and those for whom this was their first opportunity.  Things like cheating out, orienting your body to the monitors in a natural way that makes sense with the blocking, and trusting your eyes instead of your ears to stay with the conductor….as I continue on my path as a teacher, I will have to remember this.  Everyone deserves to be taught these things!

– No matter how many operas I am in, my mom will still call it a “play.”  (Love you, Mommy!)

– Trusting the voice to be there when you need it works.  No need to test and stress throughout the day.  Just do what you need to do when the time arrives.  Pre-show naps work wonders as well.

–  I can now do the majority of my stage makeup (everything other than waterproof eyeliner and fake lashes) with good-for-my-skin makeup by alimapure.  This makes me really, really happy.  Who wants to ruin their skin by wearing pancake for a week?  I should post a tutorial!!  (Right, because I am such a prolific blogger these days…)

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