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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Voice lesson

I had my first voice lesson in Vienna the other day.  What a mixed bag that was!  I think the woman has a valid technique that could and should work for me, but all the other noise she provided was unnecessary and unwelcome.  I was going for a voice lesson, not auditioning for the state opera house.  Her crudest comments were, "You like to eat, do you?" and "You know that large prima donnas have gone out of fashion, don't you?"  To which I politely said that in the short time I have been here, my shape has already been changing.  Also, I instructed this woman that if I liked everything about myself and my life just the way it was, I wouldn't be here.  I would have stayed where I was.  Again, I spoke with a smile on my face, but firmness in my voice. I told her that I had been working as a nurse.  She told me that she had volunteered in a hospital when she was younger and thought about being a nurse.  She went on to say that she decided to go to University instead.  I asked her what that meant.  I informed her that nurses get their educations in universities also. What disrespect!  What an outrage!  Maybe nurses back in the dark ages when she volunteered were just glorified orderlies, but that certainly isn't the case today, and it certainly isn't true of American nurses.  I had to set her straight as I smiled like the Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland.She also wasted my time telling me about visiting students who were a bit "mad," like the one who was looking for people she had met in past lives.  I tell you, this woman WASTED HALF MY LESSON TIME. At one point, I asked if she had suggestions for me regarding a place to practice..  She wasn't very forthcoming.  Again, I wasn't asking to be hired or even for a recommendation from her.  I just wanted to know if she knew of where I could practice.  So, I told her what I would do if I were at home: enroll in a local college for lessons so that I could use the practice rooms.  She discouraged that, and seemed to think that the teachers at the university were not really interested in training singers and discouraged me from going that route. After all, they have had cutbacks and such.  I think what annoyed me most is that she had me sing a piece for her without having vocalized.  In all the years I have studied voice, I have NEVER been asked to sing without vocalizing first during a lesson.

The positives: the breathing exercises.  I won't go into them here because it doesn't make sense to write all of that.  She complimented my lovely red hair.  After the breathing exercises, I said to her that I have more in here than you thought I did.  She responded to me that I have more in there than I am aware of.

That last statement is a back-handed compliment.  I got ready to leave, paid her.  As I was leaving her apartment, she suddenly called after me to tell me where I might find a practice room.

It puzzles me why she would call after me to give me that information after being so rude in the lesson.  It is something I have probably spent more time thinking about than I should have.

Due to her advanced age, her singing days are over.  All she has are old posters of shows past decorating her walls.  She is a "has-been" prima donna who still needs to feel important.  I'm not willing to do that for her.

Usually, this is something that would bother me beyond belief and send me flying into a "what a wretch am I" state of mind for days or even weeks. In fact, my brain started to go there, but I remembered the great internal struggle that pushed me here.  The music is calling me; I did not, have not, and am not calling it. Again, I reminded myself that there is a place and a space for me here at this time. Will I call her for another voice lesson? NO.  My conclusion: NEXT!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Small Victories

Since beginning this blog, I have shared with you the sensational story of how I got here, and the beauty of this wonderful, busy city.  What I haven't shared yet, are my most humbling moments.  Some of those include: learning how to operate the washing machine, sleeping on a futon, and having to be educated that the paper trash is just that.  The glass goes into a different container.  I have had to ask where to buy non-food items that I would usually buy at Target in the U.S.  Most people learn those things and have them completely mastered before they go to college. After a lifetime of being relatively self sufficient, it is humbling  to have to ask where to buy toilet paper, toothpaste, and personal items. Did I mention that all of those stores close at 6pm? Don't forget anything urgent because it will just have to wait until the next day.  The grocery store is just that.  For grocery shopping.  Two things about that:  (1) Don't buy two weeks' worth of food at once. It won't all fit in the fridge.  (2) What is bought must be transported home. Those of you who know me know that I sold my mustang before I got here.  Therefore, what I buy, I must carry down the street, into the house, and up an AUSTRIAN flight of stairs.  Thirty six steps, to be exact.  These are small trials that serve to keep me humble, grounded, and grateful for everything I learn every day.

Not to let this post be all about trials, but about learning and some small victories.  I now know where to shop for what; I can find what I need, and I know enough German to carry out those transactions.  They tell me that my German diction is perfect, but being here only two weeks, I frequently run out of German words in the middle of my sentences.  The real victories came yesterday and today.  Yesterday, I successfully ordered a book from  I was quite insecure about doing it without having the page translated, but I got my email that the book is on its way.  My second victory happened just tonight.  I was down in the first district listening to some street musicians play, and I remembered that I promised a friend a postcard from Vienna.  There was a souvenir shop nearby, and I went in.  I bought three postcards.  The clerk greeted me in German, and I answered him in the same way without stumbling over or losing words. I think it is the first time someone did not assume I was an English speaker. These small victories reinforce the part of me that knows I can be successful in this place that is so familiar yet so foreign to me.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Visit to St. Stephen's 4/15

Today, I went into the church to gather inspiration, to meditate and to pray.  All around me, I heard shuffling footsteps, the rubbing together of coins, snapping photos, and hushed chatter of people.  The devoted came to pray, and many came to see the spectacle of this grand old cathedral.  The price to light a candle, 70 (euro) cents.  The cost of a complete tour, 12 or 14 euros.  The gift shop was selling Bibles, rosaries, and statues of Mozart.  All of this noise and money exchange bothered me.  St. Stephen's IS beautiful.  I know why people want to visit, take pictures (as I did), and to see this marvelous work of art. Jesus is very nearly lost in the shuffle. That bothered me.  I wondered how he would have felt about all the money being gathered and how the church was on exhibit like any other museum.  

In spite of what bothered me about my visit to St. Stephen's, I was able to find the presence of God there with me. Wherever I am, he is.  When I want to talk to him, he always wants to talk to me.  Today, I received blessed inspiration, instruction, and sweet relief from my worries.  God is with me (and with you) in all of the noise of life.

From Texas to Where?

Once I was a little girl who very much liked to sing.  In fact, I loved to sing more than anything.  I loved to sing more that reading books or playing my flute.  As a little girl wanted to grow up to be a singer.  Alas, there is more to the story.

I went to college and studied music, but I did get very discouraged.  GERMAN they said was my best language, but I LOVED Italian.  The voice is such a personal instrument.  It isn't one that you can separate from the rest of yourself.  When there is a bad day, it's not the same as being able to blame it on the keyboard, the mouthpiece, or any inanimate object.  So, I was sad and dropped out of studies at that time.  After having a few difficult years working three jobs to make it, I went to nursing school. It kept my mind occupied, and work kept my body busy so that I didn't have time to think about what else there was to life outside of school and work.

At my nursing school graduation, it began.  I sang at the pinning ceremony.  The music started calling me.  I was unhappy in my first nursing job, but I found a bright spot: I started taking voice lessons again.  Music made me happy.  It was then that someone first asked me this: "If you can sing like that, why would you ever be a nurse?"  I couldn't answer.  I could just feel the daggers in my heart! 

Through the years, things were much the same.  I moved a few times, and continued to study intermittently.  I got bored with lessons unless I had an outlet to sing.  When I had lessons and an outlet to sing, I was the most happy. During the years I sang the least, there was always someone who pulled me out of "retirement."  June asked me to sing at her wedding.  Laurie moved to Ft. Worth.  Each time, more was required.  I regularly studied voice for four years.  THEN...

I joined a church choir, and we took singing trips to Carnegie Hall and to Vienna.  Vienna felt familiar, as if I had been there before.  They had to drag me from Vienna through the rest of the trip and back to Texas.  I couldn't wait to get back!   The bug had bitten.  I knew I would not be happy unless I went back to Vienna and explored what it had to offer me.  I had to see and experience it for myself.  My voice teacher encouraged the move, and we began working on German lieder and oratorio items.  Alas, it was not all roses.  Six months after this endeavor began, my voice teacher had a change of heart.  She SUDDENLY changed her mind about me, about my abilities, and the direction that she thought I should take with my singing.  So, disappointment was, most unfortunately, not a stranger.

I kept working at the hospital.  I finished the run of BRIGADOON that I was doing, and I continued to look for singing opportunities.  By this time, I realized it was not I who called the music, but that the music that called me.  I unsuccessfully auditioned for something, but was invited to audition again next year (it is always better when they don't mark your audition Do Not Rehear).  Also, I sang at a friend's recital as a guest artist.  There it happened.  A woman in the audience came up to me and went ON AND ON AND ON get the idea.  She thought my voice was fantastic, that my looks were striking.  Then, she really said it... She asked if my family heritage was Austrian.  DAGGERS!  I told her it wasn't Austrian but German.  I thanked her for her kind words, and got out of there.  DAGGERS!  
It was that woman's words to me that made me re-think Vienna.  She caused me great internal struggle, and I had to confide this struggle to some friends.  I asked advice, and finally, I decided to make plans to GO.  That decision was made last November, and at the time of this note, I have been in Vienna approximately 10 days. My plan is to follow the call and let the singing catch me.