Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Move to New York City or Get Another Degree?

What to do next? That is the big question singers ask themselves when they graduate from college, either with a Bachelors in Music or Education. There are so many options; apply for a job, take a year off and just take lessons and coachings, sell everything and move to New York, or apply to get a higher degree such as a Masters or Doctorate. Which option is best? Ultimately, finding the right pathway to success is different for every singer.

In the first degree, teachers and coaches tell you to audition for summer programs, young artist programs, pay-to-sing programs, and any other opportunity to perform. You spend thousands of dollars on application fees, accompanist fees, travel, hotel, and your audition package for these programs. But what if you audition and audition and don’t get a gig? This can be very discouraging and can wear you down as a performer. My advice is to keep auditioning and applying for programs! All it takes is one person to hear you, give you an opportunity, and launch your career.

Some singers believe that you have no other choice than to move to New York City to have a professional singing career. This way of thinking is not entirely true. You can have a professional singing career anywhere, but it takes time. Everywhere you go as a performer, you have to establish a network of contacts and colleagues. It takes at least two or three years to establish some sense of reputation in a large city, especially if you are new to that city.

The opera world is becoming more and more saturated with singers as each year goes by. Technology is partly to blame for this over-saturation with such additions as YAP Tracker, which makes it easier for singers to apply for programs. So if there were 200 to 600 people auditioning for a specific program 10 years ago, now there are more than a thousand applicants (probably ¾ of those applicants are Sopranos). One must also take into consideration the singers that are currently working. The current singers are in a constant audition cycle and that greatly reduces the jobs available to the newly graduated singers auditioning for programs.

With the high number of singers and performers, singers are finding themselves teaching and working in other branches of the opera business. A choice some singers make is to go back to school to get a higher degree such as a Masters or Doctorate. This can be a great way to continue lessons and coachings and also allow for more networking. If you establish a great reputation among professors, conductors, and coaches this can lead to outside performing gigs. Performing in the professional opera chorus can also lead to contacts and opportunities that wouldn’t have been available without that professional connection.

Having a higher degree can also be helpful when opera is struggling. During the recession, many opera singers took teaching positions to supplement their income from singing gigs. It is always great to have a back-up plan just in case your original career pathway doesn’t go as you wanted. Teaching is a great way to learn about your own voice and can help you develop techniques that are also useful in running a business!

Ultimately, there is no right or wrong answer to the question, “Move to New York City or get another degree?” We all need to know our strengths and strive to develop our talents as much as we are able. There are many options when it comes to having a successful performing career and not everyone takes the same path or makes the same choices.  

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Choosing a Summer Program

            By the time you reach college, you’re probably aware that the opportunities for musical growth don’t stop at the end of spring semester. In reality, the further you progress in your studies the more it will be expected of you to continue your training during the summer. Summer programs are your chance to focus exclusively on the act of singing and performing (and possibly language) without the burden of academics. Fortunately, there are endless possibilities, suiting every need — even on a budget.
            The Pros and Cons of Europe. If you are interested in opera or lieder, you will no doubt receive advice from colleagues and friends suggesting you go off to Europe in the summer for a training program. These programs offer a wealth of opportunities, but they come at a price. Whether in Italy (Oberlin in Italy, Amalfi Coast Music Festival, La Musica Lirica), German-speaking Europe (AIMS, Franz-Schubert-Institut, Lyric Opera Studio Weimar), or France (Franco-American Vocal Academy), a program in Europe will not only provide musical training, but also intensive practice in language. The experience of living in another culture and practicing a language daily can be immensely helpful. However, these programs are usually very pricey. Expect to spend several thousand dollars on tuition, room, and board, as well as on international flights and spending money. Scholarships are usually extremely limited or non-existent at these programs, so you need to come up with the money yourself. If you can comfortably afford the program (and by comfortably, I mean you don’t use credit cards or ask your parents to take out a second mortgage) then it can be highly rewarding. If you can’t, don’t despair. There are plenty of wonderful and more affordable programs stateside.
            Opera, opera, everywhere. Most summer programs focus on opera, so if that’s your interest, you’ll have ample choice. Many top programs (Brevard Music Center, Chatauqua Institution, Aspen Festival) do full productions with orchestra. Other programs (Seagle Music Colony, Spotlight on Opera, Land of Enchantment Opera) do full productions with piano. Most programs also produce scenes performances and aria concerts, so the opportunities are many. It’s important to note that many opera programs require live auditions or possibly video, but no opera-focused program will accept audio-only recordings as a final audition.
            Non-opera options. Opera not really your forte? Don’t fret. While not as visible as the opera programs, there are programs that focus on other types of classical singing. You can immerse yourself in early music (Early Music Vancouver, Early Music Week at Pinewoods), art song (Song Fest, Baldwin-Wallace Art Song Festival), choral music (Berkshire Choral Festival), or contemporary music (Bang on a Can Summer Festival). With so many options there is no excuse for grudgingly attending an opera program when you’d really rather focus on something else.
            General Considerations. Regardless of the focus of the program you’re choosing, there are some general guidelines you should always follow when choosing where to apply and whether to accept an offer. When deciding where to apply, it is best to target a small selection of programs rather than applying to everything. Application fees add up, and you’ll need to save your pennies for when you get accepted. This is a great time to reach out to friends and colleagues. What programs have they attended? What did they think? Does the faculty at your college or your voice teacher have connections to any programs? Reach out on social media, do internet searches. There are lots of legitimate, high-quality programs out there, but there are also scams that will waste your money and your time. Do everything you can to figure out which programs suit you and which to avoid.
            When you get an offer (yay!) go ahead and celebrate, but don’t accept it right away. Make sure you get all the details—role assignments, number of lessons and coachings, performance opportunities, and especially any scholarship offers—in writing before you accept. Again, while most programs are trustworthy, horror stories abound of singers who attended programs with certain expectations of roles and scholarships only to arrive and find out they were actually the understudy or that their scholarship “mysteriously” disappeared.
            The biggest consideration for most singers is, of course, money. But don’t rule out programs that are a little out of your budget right away. If you get a great offer, there are opportunities to make up the difference. Plenty of programs offer scholarships and work study, and while the dollar amount is often fairly low, it might make the difference between affording a program and not. And don’t underestimate the potential of fundraising. Many programs will give you tips on putting together a benefit recital and other fundraising ideas. If you have friends attending the same program, put your heads together and put on a concert. Take a free will offering at the door—you might be surprised at how much you make!
            Summer programs are an excellent supplement to your university education. While I’m sure there’s an exception somewhere, you’ll be hard pressed to find a young professional singer who hasn’t attended some summer program or another. It can be frustrating to spend money over the summer, especially if you have a lot of friends getting summer jobs and earning extra cash instead, but it is a very worthy investment. Do lots of research, be honest with yourself about your level, interests, and ability to pay, and be wary of anything that sounds too good to be true (it probably is). And enjoy a summer full of what you love

Monday, February 10, 2014

Introducing Janai Brugger, Soprano

Introducing: Janai Brugger, winner of the 2012 Metropolitan Opera Competition, as well as the 2012 Operalia World Opera Competition! Janai is an incredibly gifted singer with a seductive, controlled and emotional sound that melts your heart.   Her inner beauty and the balance she maintains as a wife, mother, daughter and opera singer are what makes her perfect for the first featured soprano on Sexi Soprano!

Growing up in a suburb of Chicago,  she was influenced by parents that were “opera fanatics” and would often take Janai and her younger sister to the opera (imagine now PROUD her parents must be now!). At 9 years old, Janai was blown away by Kathleen Battle; wanting to dress like her, sing like her and live a lifestyle like her.  She asked her mother “What do I need to do to wear dresses like Miss Battle all the time? Or sing like Miss Battle?” Janai went on to take an interest in musical theater, not ever seeing herself having a career in opera. She majored in Voice Performance at Depaul University where she trained classically. Then it all just fell into place.

Fast forward some time after her big win at the Met competition, and we find her making her Met debut that same fall with one of her favorite roles, Liu in Turandot. The success of this has sent her career spiraling with engagements from LA Opera, Hawaii Opera, Opera Colorado, as well as another role at the Met. A busy year for sure!

So…how did she feel in that moment when she won that competition in 2012? How does she balance life with a family and a career that could take anywhere in the world at any given time? Janai graciously gave us some time to gain insight into these questions.

**Cradling her young son, in her arms as he squirms for her attention, it is impressive that Janai is calm and focused, smiling throughout the interview while tending to her son.

Janai describes her experience at the MET finals with such eloquence and precision, that it seems as if she has transported us there, to experience it with her:

 “It was my first time being to the MET. It was a day of a lot of firsts for me. Right before I went out I experienced severe stage fright…to the point where I was telling the stage manager ‘I can’t go out there!’. I heard the crowd and I saw the lights and I was just terrified.  The Stage Manager said to me ‘Of course you can, you just gotta get out there and sing!’
Once I walked out there I remember just taking a moment, trying to breathe, and looking around at all these people and I thought “oh my god!” But it was amazing. Once the first chord to Depuis le jour started, I felt this release.  I immersed myself in this music that I love to sing.  Of course, I had to breathe in places I’ve never had to breathe before because of the nerves, but that happens to anyone. 
When I left the stage the SM stopped me and said ‘Do you hear that?? They are still applauding for you.’  I was just so relieved I got through it that I didn’t even hear it! The response was something I’ll never forget.  I was shocked but very grateful.”

We’ve all experienced this kind of fear.  Janai explains that if she could go back in time and tell her younger self one thing it would be “be more confident and go for it!” Having suffered from a lot of insecurities and fear holding her back, she realizes now that if she gives it her all, there is nothing to fear.  Without those fears, she has led herself to overnight success, and with that success comes more challenges and expectations. She has to push herself harder and harder advising to SSer’s “You had better know your stuff.” She has dealt with the transition from young artist to MainStage like a pro, continuing the mentality of a student. She is eager to learn and see the opportunities in front of her as tools to make her better.

            “No matter how many times I have sung a role, there is always something new to    learn and I will always be the student. And then I have to take care to present myself in the  most professional way. But more than challenging, it's been fun and exciting. To get to go all over the place and see these houses and sing these roles has been a great experience."

When she speaks about being a mother/a singer and how she balances it all, she laughs and says
“Ill let you know when I find out!” She laughs again and almost knowingly, the baby cries out for attention. While she calms him, she becomes a little more serious:

            “My mom has always said that your babies will always adapt to your lifestyle and nothing has to stop necessarily just because you want to start a family.”

What a marvelous revelation and just positive and inspiring thinking! She continues:

            “She is right, I’ve always wanted to be a mother. That is something that was really important to me as well as having a career. So you decide and you go for it.”

It seems that not only has the baby adapted to her lifestyle, but the lifestyle has also adapted to her.  She has found people that support her and help her “with maintaining that balance.” From her husband to her manager, she has been lucky to end up with a support group that rocks! She brings her son to all of her gigs with her, making it a rule to never going longer than two weeks without seeing her husband (a GREAT tip for maintaining a relationship on the road).

This is coming directly from the mouth of a mother and a singer SS’ers. We can all have both! So decide, and go for it!

Welcome to the SS family Janai! We want to follow your success and hope you will keep us in the loop!

***See Janai as Helena in the upcoming production of The Enchanted Island at the Met as well as Micaela in Carmen at Opera Colorado.

Photos courtesy of LA Opera, Janai Brugger

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

To Sing or Not to Sing

            This time of year is brutal. Many of us are trying to juggle all the jobs and responsibilities of being a professional singer. Many singers have two or three jobs on top of school, a church job, and auditions to sing for. The weather has also changed and can affect the way one handles the ever growing list of things to do. The last thing one needs is a cold to deal with!

            Many singers get to the end of the year and become exhausted from all the madness. This unfortunately is when the cold bug swoops in. What can you do when you are faced with a cold but in need of your perfect voice to nail that audition? It really depends on two things; the level of sickness affecting the voice and body, and how important the audition really is to you and your career. 

            Let’s say you have booked a really expensive flight to Chicago for one audition and come down with a fever and sore throat the night before. This situation is tricky because it is a gamble; you might feel better tomorrow when you actually have to sing… and you might not. It really is a judgment call and since you are flying, you don’t want to infect everyone else on the plane ride to Chicago with whatever bug you have. The best thing to do would be to cancel the audition and try and use the plane flight for a later trip. 

            If you suffer from congestion and a runny nose; that can usually be controlled with a decongestant or an over-the-counter cold medicine. Usually these kinds of symptoms make your body feel gross and only slightly affect the voice. Again, decide on how important this audition is for you and how much has the cold affected the voice. 

            Some companies are willing to accept your prescreening CD in place of an audition and if you have to cancel the audition because of sickness, you may have that option available. There are even companies who will allow you to come and audition at a different location and at a later date if the time slots are not full. There are options and if you have to cancel and apply to sing for them next year – don’t be discouraged! 

            There are also ways to keep from getting the end–of–the–year sickness! Get lots of rest and take vitamins to keep your immune system strong. Take time to manage your stress and make a to–do list, so that you are not overwhelmed by all of your commitments. Eat healthy meals and find time for physical exercise. If you only have ten minutes at the end of the day before you go to bed, take that ten minutes for yourself. It is okay to be selfish! Use those ten minutes for relaxation or meditation and this will help calm your mind so that you can get a restful night’s sleep. 

            Ultimately, you know your body best and what is it capable of! Know your limits and use intuition to decide whether or not you should travel. Be prepared, take precautions, and you will be successful when faced with both a cold and an audition

Monday, February 3, 2014

Get Active This Valentine's Day

Valentine’s Day is here! A typical Valentine’s Day date usually consists of dinner and a movie, chocolate, roses, and an evening of relaxation, right? While that does sound enjoyable, it doesn’t exactly mesh with our New Year’s resolution of becoming healthy and fit. You can still have a romantic Valentine’s Day without the indulgences and a night on the couch. Enjoying physical activity together as a couple is actually good for you and your relationship on multiple levels. “When a couple works out together, the actual exercise itself can physically and emotionally have a positive impact…Both partners come away with feelings of synchronicity, cooperative spirit and shared passion. Then you throw in some spicy endorphins and it can be a real power trip for the relationship.” Says Dr. Jane Greer, a marriage and relationship psychotherapist in New York City. If you and your Valentine are willing to mix it up a bit this year and share some spicy endorphins, here are some fun, active, and Sexi Valentine’s Day date ideas.

1. Outdoors:
  • Take a hike! Look up some fun trails in your area and bring along a healthy picnic.
  • Gardening. Plant some flowers or a vegetable garden and watch them grow together. If it’s too cold to plant outside, plant an indoor flower garden that you can transfer to outside once it warms up a bit.

  • Play in the snow! Build a fort or a snowman, make snow angels, or have a snowball fight! After all, “friendly competition can re-kindle a fire.”
  • Get your adrenaline pumping. Try a local ropes or obstacle course together. For an extra adrenaline boost try skydiving, rock climbing or tandem cycling. If it’s warm enough outside, go kayaking, paddle boarding, or canoeing!

2. Explore Together:
  • Scavenger Hunt. Plan your own or find one online. There’s a ton of different ways to make a scavenger hunt from photo scavenger hunts to scavenger hunts that involve food. Be creative and have fun!
  • Go on a local ghost walk. Even if you don’t believe in ghosts, these can be super fun and a great way to get to know the city. Simply search online for ghost walks in your area and explore a local historical site together.

3. Indoor Activities:
  • There are tons of indoor activities you can do that will get your blood pumping. Roller-skating, ice-skating, dance classes, fitness classes and cooking a healthy meal are just a few!

Plan your day out together by combining these ideas and get creative! Remember, “Couples who work out together increase their chances of sticking to their fitness regimen by 90 percent than if they were doing it alone” Helen Ryan, certified personal trainer from Temecula says.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

ReNay-Nay BLT Sliders

Get on your jerseys and your face paint; it’s Super Bowl time! This year’s big game marks something extra special for the opera world! One of our very own, the world-renowned RenĂ©e Fleming will grace us by singing the National Anthem at this year’s game! History is being made and we want to make sure you have the perfect spread to enjoy this momentous occasion…oh yeah, and the game, too!

One of the best parts about the Super Bowl is the fun snacks. This BLT slider recipe is the perfect finger food and easy to assemble so you spend less time in the kitchen and more time in the game! They’re so good, they’ll make you sing!  Get ready and pick your front row seat, we’re in for quite an event!

1 package bacon, pork or turkey
1 package mini whole wheat potato rolls
1 head iceberg lettuce, rinsed and cut into pieces
4 roma tomatoes, cut into ½” slices
fat free or reduced fat ranch dressing

Cook bacon in a large pan over medium heat until it reaches desired doneness, about 5-8 minutes, flipping once halfway through cooking. Remove from pan and place on a paper towel to drain. In the mean time, split open potato rolls and spread 1 tsp ranch dressing on top and bottom half of rolls. Place a few pieces of lettuce, one slice of tomato a few pieces of bacon on each roll. Top with top half of roll. If desired, place a toothpick through the slider. Serve and enjoy! Yield about 12 sliders.

-Want cheese? Add cheese! We recommend White American or Pepper Jack!
-Avocado would add a nice smooth and creamy flavor to these sliders!