Wednesday, May 28, 2014

How to Avoid the Post-Graduation Blues


After one of life’s biggest milestones, one would think that nothing but happiness and unicorns and rainbows would come of it. However, more often than not, that creeping sense of impending doom hits us smack in the face! As a recent graduate, I have felt the pangs of sadness for leaving my Mississippi home for New York. No matter where you are leaving, staying, or moving onward to, there will always be a sense of unrest and unease. Luckily, these feelings are normal, and everyone goes through the same transition.

The clichés all say that when you are sad, you should dive into work with vigor and try to blot it out. However, as newly graduated students, you’ve been working hard enough. There is no harm in properly saying goodbye to a place and the memories and people there. Buy yourself some ice cream, treat yourself to a few extra brunches with those close to you, and visit your favorite spots in your old city. Remember that the goodbye isn’t forever. With social media like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Skype, and Snapchat, communication with friends no matter how far is just a click away.
Now is the time to “treat yo’self”

Whatever you want to do, do it. Shopping for your new career, school, life, whatever? Do it. Brunch? An extra mimosa at said brunch? You want to slip your number to that hot waiter? Do it! Paint the town red for the last few days you’re there.

If you know where you’re going next (which would be a blessing), another fun thing to do is plan the next step. Now, I don’t mean all of the difficult steps, like scheduling appointments and struggling through form after form. Oh, no. I mean dream shopping. Log into Pinterest (or just check out a local shop) and pretend-shop for your “new life.” A Pinterest board can fulfill dreams, y’all. If you don’t know where your next steps will take you, just breathe. Take a second to look at the big picture of your life. Remember that you aren’t waiting for those next steps; you’re living life! This stage isn’t a waiting game, and it’s not going to define you. Your life is constantly being defined by what you do with it. 

Take time to make yourself better in every way — vocally, physically, mentally, emotionally, and any other way you can think of. If you want to do a 100-day workout challenge, go for it! Buy a Sudoku book, or learn to bake bread. Don’t spend time twiddling your thumbs until something comes along.  You know those sayings about waiting for Mr. Right, instead of Mr. Right-Now? The same thing goes for opportunity. I know that a job in this day and age is scarce, but remember that the one thing more important than your career is your wellbeing and happiness (and no matter how dedicated, it is very real that the two can be independent of each other). Try and remember that the right opportunity will come your way, and stay positive! This isn’t part of your “denial” phase or “acceptance” phase; this is a part of your “I do what I want; I just completed a really hard degree and I’m going to eat that ice cream” phase. And that’s okay.

Forever Yours,
Southern Soprano

***As a side note: Post-graduation depression is real. If what you are feeling is more than your average nostalgic feelings or you are feeling at all overwhelmed, then you are advised to seek professional help. Anyone suffering from post-university depression can talk with trained therapists in a safe, confidential environment.

After one of life’s biggest milestones, one would think that nothing but happiness and unicorns and rainbows would come of it. However, more often than not, that creeping sense of impending doom hits us smack in the face! As a recent graduate, I have felt the pangs of sadness for leaving my Mississippi home for New York. No matter where you are leaving, staying, or moving onward to, there will always be a sense of unrest and unease. Luckily, these feelings are normal, and everyone goes through the same transition.

The clichés all say that when you are sad, you should dive into work with vigor and try to blot it out. However, as newly graduated students, you’ve been working hard enough. There is no harm in properly saying goodbye to a place and the memories and people there. Buy yourself some ice cream, treat yourself to a few extra brunches with those close to you, and visit your favorite spots in your old city. Remember that the goodbye isn’t forever. With social media like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Skype, and Snapchat, communication with friends no matter how far is just a click away.
Now is the time to “treat yo’self”

Whatever you want to do, do it. Shopping for your new career, school, life, whatever? Do it. Brunch? An extra mimosa at said brunch? You want to slip your number to that hot waiter? Do it! Paint the town red for the last few days you’re there.

If you know where you’re going next (which would be a blessing), another fun thing to do is plan the next step. Now, I don’t mean all of the difficult steps, like scheduling appointments and struggling through form after form. Oh, no. I mean dream shopping. Log into Pinterest (or just check out a local shop) and pretend-shop for your “new life.” A Pinterest board can fulfill dreams, y’all. If you don’t know where your next steps will take you, just breathe. Take a second to look at the big picture of your life. Remember that you aren’t waiting for those next steps; you’re living life! This stage isn’t a waiting game, and it’s not going to define you. Your life is constantly being defined by what you do with it. 

Take time to make yourself better in every way — vocally, physically, mentally, emotionally, and any other way you can think of. If you want to do a 100-day workout challenge, go for it! Buy a Sudoku book, or learn to bake bread. Don’t spend time twiddling your thumbs until something comes along.  You know those sayings about waiting for Mr. Right, instead of Mr. Right-Now? The same thing goes for opportunity. I know that a job in this day and age is scarce, but remember that the one thing more important than your career is your wellbeing and happiness (and no matter how dedicated, it is very real that the two can be independent of each other). Try and remember that the right opportunity will come your way, and stay positive! This isn’t part of your “denial” phase or “acceptance” phase; this is a part of your “I do what I want; I just completed a really hard degree and I’m going to eat that ice cream” phase. And that’s okay.


***As a side note: Post-graduation depression is real. If what you are feeling is more than your average nostalgic feelings or you are feeling at all overwhelmed, then you are advised to seek professional help. Anyone suffering from post-university depression can talk with trained therapists in a safe, confidential environment.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Crunchy Roasted Chickpeas


The long-standing pitfall for dieters and those trying to follow a healthy lifestyle often seems to come down to one thing: snacking. When it comes to meals, you can be an angel all day, but then you risk undoing your entire day, when you find yourself in that one hungry moment that has you tearing through the cabinets inhaling anything you can get your hands on. Similarly, when you’re frequently on the run, it can be a daunting task to try to pack healthy items that are travel-friendly and will satisfy that “snacky” craving. It is all too easy to stop into a convenience store and grab the first thing (or things) that jumps at you: the bag of chips, the stack of donuts, we could go on forever. The key to keeping yourself from falling down this slippery slope is to be prepared! 

Our crunchy roasted chickpeas are the end-all be-all to your snacking snafu. They are fun to eat, delicious, and packed with protein, fiber, and the crunch that you look for in a roasted seed or baked cracker.  Preparation is so easy, going to the convenience store will seem like more of an inconvenience. They are totally portable and keep for up to a week in a Ziploc bag or airtight container, so you can make a big batch to keep with you no matter where you go. What’s even more fun is that you can completely customize your snacking experience to fit your taste buds. Salty, sweet, smoky…the choice is yours! For this recipe, we use a savory and lightly garlicky seasoning that we found just divine.  We’ve included suggestions at the end for you to play with, so have fun and snack away!


Crunchy Roasted Chickpeas
1 can chickpeas
1 TBSP olive oil
1 tsp garlic powder
½ tsp onion powder
½ tsp paprika
½-1 tsp salt (depending on your taste)
dash cayenne pepper

Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.

Drain and rinse chickpeas. Pat dry with a kitchen towel or paper towel. In a bowl, combine olive oil and spices. Add chickpeas and toss lightly until evenly coated. Pour chickpeas onto prepared baking sheet and shake lightly so they are in one even layer. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until golden. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Enjoy!

Other flavor suggestions:

Smoky: 
1 TBSP olive oil, 1 tsp chili powder, ½ tsp cumin, ½ tsp salt, dash cayenne (can also add ½ tsp smoked paprika if available!)

Sweet:
1 TBSP vegetable oil (or other light oil), 1 tsp sugar, ½ tsp cinnamon, ¼ tsp salt. Bake at 300°F for 1 ½ hours. Drizzle with honey after removing from oven. 

Ranch:
1 TBSP vegetable oil (or other light oil), 1 packet ranch dressing seasoning mix 


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Opera Competitions


Major U.S. Competitions

         There comes a point in every singer’s development that she starts thinking about competitions as a means of exposure, and possibly, money. It sounds like a perfect situation: show up, sing a couple arias, walk away with new contacts and a few thousand bucks. Unfortunately, it rarely works out so well. Aside from the fact that few entrants to competitions win a prize, only a handful of competitions have the clout to really launch a singer from one level to the next. We’ve gathered a listing of some of the most prestigious competitions in the U.S. All the competitions on this list are hugely competitive, but they all offer substantial prize money and have proven track records of boosting winners’ careers.

In New York City:

            Unsurprisingly, most of the top U.S. competitions take place in New York City. The location also guarantees that many industry insiders will be in attendance, as agents and general directors often attend these competitions even if they are not on the judging panel. All of the competitions on this list offer many, many thousands of dollars in prize money, often spread over ten or more prizewinners. So while they are competitive, competitions in New York City can be a great choice for singers who are looking for exposure as much as (or more so) than cash. Be sure to research each competition’s requirements carefully. Many require letters of recommendation, and some (such as the George London) require a contract for a future engagement as part of the application. All of the competitions listed in this section have an age limit of 35.

George London Foundation for Singers
Gerda Lissner International Vocal Competition
Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation
Opera Index

Elsewhere:

            While New York competitions are the most likely to have numerous important people in the audience, competitions elsewhere in the country can be a good choice for singers who can manage them financially (and remember, never, ever, rely on winning money to cover your expenses!!). All of the competitions listed in this section, with the exception of the Zachary, are associated with opera companies. This can be a huge advantage, as the competition serves also as an audition for the company in question. While these competitions won’t get the industry crowds that the New York ones do, usually the panel of judges consists of agents and general directors from other companies, adding further opportunity for exposure.

Irene Dalis Vocal Competition
Loren L. Zachary Vocal Competition
Marcello Giordani Foundation International Vocal Competition
Opera Birmingham Vocal Competition
Opera Columbus Irma B. Cooper Vocal Competition
Shreveport Singer of the Year Competition



Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Ten Tips for Pursuing a European Opera Career


When I completed my bachelor’s degree I started asking myself: What do I do now? What is the next step? Graduate school? Auditions? What do I want to pursue now? I already had student loan debt around $20,000 and I wasn’t willing to make it grow to upwards of $200,000 for a graduate degree that wouldn’t guarantee me a successful career as an opera singer. After taking a year off and taking sporadic private lessons, participating in concerts, and receiving lots of advice through hundreds of emails and phone calls, I decided to make the big jump and move to Europe.  

Moving to Europe can be a rewarding experience, but it can also be scary when you don’t have a plan. After moving to Europe for my career this is what I’ve learned:

1. Budget: This is the number one thing you will need to figure out. Whether you are going to study or complete a “European audition tour,” be sure to have the resources necessary. Organize fundraising concerts, write letters to prospective donors, sponsors or those who have helped you in the past. Asking for financial help can be very difficult! You have to show them why you need their help and with their help how successful you can be. Overall, trust yourself and be confident in what you are doing. You’ll be surprised how many doors can be opened through confidence and a positive attitude (voice of experience speaking)!

2. Create a plan: Be sure you have at least a six-month itinerary. Keep track of upcoming competitions, auditions, and programs. Have your agenda and keep everything organized. Believe me, this will help you to not double-book yourself; it can be really stressful and messy!

3. Investigate: Before crossing the Atlantic Ocean, gather as much information as you can about your soon-to-be, new home. The imperative first step is to know where you are going. After that, find out how the weather is, the general laws of the country/town, and any cultural or traditional customs that need to be considered. Even though you might have read your new Conservatory’s entire website or your private teacher gave you a few tips about the town; it is not enough. Do the research for yourself by searching blogs, websites, and people who are not natives. You never know who may be willing to answer some questions.

4. Legal Matters: Be completely sure to have your VISA before traveling. Even if you have citizenship to the country you’re traveling to, you need to have all your legal documents in order prior to departing. That is one of the reasons we have embassies, right? If you’re planning to stay longer than three months and want to avoid the possibility of being deported, make sure to have by the proper documentation ahead of time.

5. Languages: Maybe you know how to say the numbers, greetings, colors, or even have five arias well prepared in the soon-to-be native language, but that is not enough. Make sure you are knowledgeable enough to have a basic conversation even if your accent sounds funny. You will improve the more you get to communicate with native speakers, but you can’t expect everyone to understand you or be willing to speak your language instead of theirs. Try the best you can; people will appreciate your effort and you will make a better impression.  

6. Contacts: Have as many as you can! Ask everyone you know including former teachers, conductors, coaches, staging directors, and colleagues for contacts in Europe and be sure to write them in advance. Ask about audition opportunities, master classes, if you can meet someone important, anything! Present yourself with the same confidence as when asking for funds. Send them an attachment with your CV, bio, headshot, and audio or video recordings. Make them feel your drive, determination, and professionalism.  

7. Homesickness: Moving to a new country can be really hard and possibly shocking whether you are moving alone, with your partner, or to a friend’s house. Of course, we can’t predict how much it will affect us, but always be focused on your purpose. Find compatriots or foreigners who live there; they will help you in case you have those homesick moments and sad days.

8. Adaptation: Things definitely won’t be the same as they were back home. Laws, people, food, clothing, attitude, and manners will all be different weather it is better or worse. Be willing to modify and learn new things; you may have to add them to your everyday life and embrace them with a positive attitude. Are you afraid that you will miss that espresso machine you had? Don’t worry; I am sure you will find one just as good or even better. 

9. Keep Track: Maintain a list of all your auditions, including dates and contact info, in order to send follow-up emails or make phone calls if you haven’t heard back from a company within a reasonable amount of time. Do the same for applications you’ve sent that you haven’t received any response from. Write emails and letters to people who can potentially help you or who may know someone who can. It is important to show what your interests are at all times; this can open doors like you wouldn’t even imagine.  

10. FOCUS: At the end of the day, if you don’t put all your energy towards what you want to achieve most, there is a big chance you won’t get it. Each day is a new opportunity to move a step forward towards your success. The key is to stay focused on you goal. Sure, it won’t be always great; not everything is going to happen just how you expected it to, but don’t let that get in your way. Go for it!



Wednesday, May 14, 2014

So You Want to Move to New York Part One- Housing

By  Marcy Richardson

I’m done with school and all my training programs- I want to move to New York!
Awesome! Welcome to the club. No more buying plane tickets and crashing on couches every time you want to do a 5 minute audition, take a lesson with that teacher or coach you’ve always wanted to work with, or see a show on Broadway or at the Met.  As a hardcore “I love New York” New Yorker (admittedly transplanted from Michigan), I am biased, but I personally thrive off this city’s energy. Even on hard days, when it feels like New York is chewing me up and spitting me out, there’s just something about it that brings out my personal best. This city is absolutely bursting with opportunity. Excited? You should be!

What do I do first?
The first thing you need to do is figure out is where the heck you’re going to live. You’re going to need money to do this. Don’t despair if you don’t have a lot to work with, but you will need at least enough for one month’s rent and one month’s deposit on a room. Of course, it’s ideal to have more, LOTS more (LOTS LOTS MORE!!!!), but don’t let that stop you. I always tell people who are intimidated by the big move- "there’s no perfect time." I mean, is there ever a PERFECT time for anything? The perfect time to enter your first competition, when you have the perfect package, the perfect technique? Is there a perfect time to have a baby? When you feel like you have all the time and money in the world at your disposal to make it the easiest and most seamless experience of your dreams? While you want to be as prepared as possible, if you are always waiting around for the “perfect” time, you may be spending the rest of your life waiting.
It’s true, it seems like you can never have enough money in New York. But people move here all the time from other countries with almost no money, who can’t even speak English, and make it work. If they can do it, so can you.
Oh, and start getting rid of extra stuff NOW. Purge purge purge. You’ll see what I mean when you get here.

How do I do I find a place?
The quick and dirty way to find a place to live is to find a room to rent from someone who already holds a lease- someone looking for a roommate. The first thing you should do once you’ve made the big decision is reach out to your friends- friends from school, friends from facebook, friends on facebook who aren’t even your friends in real life. You can find sublets and rooms to rent on craigslist, but going through someone you know is usually a more reliable choice. There are also Facebook groups that are excellent resources for performers looking to sublet temporarily or find a long term room- “Gypsy Housing” comes to mind as one of the most popular. 
You’ll need to line your room up before the big move, or crash on a friend’s couch while you apartment hunt.  A good rule of thumb when it comes to couch crashing is 2 weeks MAX per crash-you never want to overstay your welcome, so work quickly! Buy groceries, clean up, make mom proud by being the most amazing house guest ever.
Once you settle on a place to live more permanently, you will usually just have to give your future roommates a deposit of some kind, as well as first month’s rent, then pick a date, and move right in!

How much will it cost?
Costs for a room vary by size and neighborhood.  You may be able to rent a room in Washington Heights,  Inwood, Astoria, and some areas of Brooklyn for $700- $950 per month, usually not including utilities. Rooms in central Manhattan, where you will have less of a commute to wherever you will likely need to be to work, rehearse, and audition, tend to be $1000 and up.  

What neighborhood should I live in?
That all depends. Honestly, if you are not too familiar with the city and know someone with a room to rent that fits your budget, don’t over think it. I have lived in Astoria, Park Slope, Hell’s Kitchen, the West Village, and the Upper West Side in the 7 years I’ve been here, and have crashed in Harlem, Inwood, and other areas of Brooklyn years before I made the big move. They all had pros and cons.  I have had awesome roommates and nightmare roommates and lived to tell the tale. Remember that nothing is permanent- you just need to get here and figure it out from there.  If you’re not digging your new ‘hood or roommates after a few months, you can always move. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the neighborhood if you aren’t very familiar with the city already.

What should I ask?
Do you feel safe at night?
How long does it take me to walk to the closest train? (If the closest train is the G train in Brooklyn, move on.)
How long does it take you to get from the apartment to midtown Manhattan, door to door? (Hopstop is also a useful app for figuring this out on your own.)
Is there laundry in the building? If not, where can I drop it off? (If you are really insistent on doing your own laundry and there is no laundry in the building, find out where the nearest laundromat is, but usually wash and fold is not much more expensive and saves time.)
Where is the closest grocery store?
Is the room furnished? (If not, you can always go to Ikea or peruse craigslist for furniture later, it’s usually cheaper than moving a bunch of stuff across many states in a moving van.)
Have you ever had any pest problems? (I’ve had pest problems in 3 of my apartments and honestly it’s not a deal breaker, FYI. It’s New York.  Mice and roaches are a fact of life. You just need to know if it’s manageable.)
What’s your policy on overnight guests? (You need to know not only for yourself, but does your roommate have a significant other who sleeps there almost every night and basically lives with you?)
There are a zillion other questions you will want to ask your future roommate, but these are the basics to start with if you’re not yet familiar with New York’s neighborhoods and boroughs. You need to know if it’s safe, clean, and if it’s not in central Manhattan, you need to know how long it takes to get there for auditions, temp jobs, etc.

What if I want to have my name on the lease, or look for an apartment with a friend so we can both be on the lease?
I’m not going to lie, this is not the easiest way to go if you’re an independent contractor moving to New York fresh out of college or a young artist program. You need a lot of money and a lot of paperwork.
You know how in real life, you get an apartment by filling out a paper application and getting your credit checked? And then you put down a deposit and voila, you have a place to live?
It doesn’t work like that here.

Really?
Really. If you want an apartment with a lease in your name, you are likely going to have to pay a licensed real estate agent 15% of the monthly rent to help you find the place. Sucks, I know. As an ex Manhattan real estate agent with many friends still in the business, trust me on this. Inventory is tight. In other cities, agents working in rentals get paid a fee by the landlords to help fill their vacancies with reliable tenants. It doesn’t work that way here, because there are simply too many renters with the means to pay the fee for landlords to worry about it. If the landlord is paying the agent a fee, that is called a “no-fee apartment.” Which means, no fee to YOU, but the landlord is paying the agent a fee. SOMEONE has to pay the agent, because they don’t make a salary, and are paid in fees and commissions only. If the landlord is willing to pay the agent a fee, it is usually because they are asking for more per month than the apartment is worth, or they are having trouble finding a renter because of an awkward layout, no windows, no oven, etc.  Keep that in mind when looking for a “no-fee” apartment.

Ok, so how do I find an apartment or real estate agent?
Just like looking for a roommate or sublet- ask your friends! Referrals and people in your network are always the best way to go. If you can’t find an agent this way, you can peruse websites like CitiHabitats, Bond, Douglas Elliman, (to name a few) for apartments in your price range and neighborhood of choice. You can also search on craigslist, but any apartment you see on craiglist will likely lead you to the license real estate agent who placed the ad. They will show you the apartment advertised as well as any comparable properties in the area in hopes that they can keep you as a client. If you like them and they seem willing to put the work in, work with them. They can usually search other neighborhoods and properties for you, and will work hard to help find your new home- a little loyalty goes a long way in the brutal rat race that is New York City real estate.

What else do I need?
Now for the fun stuff. When you’re  apartment hunting,  you need to be walking around with last year’s tax returns, a letter from a CPA stating how much you make per year (if you are a singer working as an independent contractor), or a letter of employment if you’ve landed some other kind of work in the city. That CPA letter or letter of employment needs to say you make 40 times the monthly rent. So, if you want to rent a studio apartment for 1500 dollars, for example, you need a piece of paper saying you make 60k per year.  You also usually need to have your most recent bank statements on you- checking, savings, retirement, whatever you’ve got.  The landlord will want to see if you have enough money to do the deal- first month’s rent, one month deposit, broker fee.  If you have a letter from a previous landlord saying you paid rent on time, bring that too. And if you have a guarantor (a parent who is willing to back you up on paper to get the apartment, for example), you need all of THEIR paper work (bank statement, tax returns, the works) proving that they make 80 times the monthly rent, on TOP of your paperwork.  Then you will pay to have your credit checked- I hope it’s good! Are we having fun yet?

If you don’t have all of this paperwork on your person and see an apartment you like, the next person looking at it after you will have it all and put down the deposit right then and there and you will be out of luck. I’ve seen it happen many times- Heartbreak!
At the lease signing, you will usually need the first month’s rent, one month deposit, and the broker fee-all in bank checks.

See, I told you it’s not the easiest way to go. That’s a ton of cash for most people to come up with at once- but getting an apartment with your name on the lease is an option if you have the resources. 

Ok, so after I line up a place to sleep, then what? What if I need a church job, or extra income to keep paying my rent on top of my gigs?

That’s a topic for the next installment, friends!

http://marcyrichardson.com/i-blog/


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

No-Bake Power Poppers


When you’re living life on the go, snacking smart is not always easy.  If you’ve ever made a pit stop at a convenience store or other roadside shop on one of your journeys, you’ll notice that when walking in to said pit stop, you are greeted with aisle after aisle of fake, processed, un-filling, unhealthy snack foods.  Then, tucked away in a tiny little corner with one designated shelf, you’ll finally find the “healthy” section, consisting of a week-old produce snack pack that looks like it expired last month and a pile of overripe fruit (was that a fly buzzing around that banana?). Now, we’re not saying that this is the case with all of these shops…some of them give you a delightful surprise and you may walk out of there with a meal you can feel great about! We are saying, however, that it never hurts to be prepared! Packing yourself snacks that will keep you satiated will help you stay on track, no matter where the road takes you.

These No-Bake Power Poppers boast convenience in every way. They come together in minutes, store in the fridge for a week, and are loaded with protein and fiber to keep you full and energized on all of your travels. And heck, they’re so darn cute, we daresay they even make snacking fun! With a few simple ingredients you will find yourself cruising right by those hit-or-miss convenience shops and riding on to your destination with your little snack companion by your side, ready to boost your body and your mind!

No-Bake Power Poppers
1 cup oats (instant or rolled)
½ cup ground flax (OR wheat bran, wheat germ, or ground nuts)
2/3 cup shredded coconut
½ cup miniature semi-sweet chocolate chips
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons peanut butter
1/3 cup honey
1 teaspoon vanilla

In a bowl, combine all ingredients with a spoon or silicone spatula until well combined. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. Remove from the refrigerator and roll into 1-1 ½” balls. Store in an airtight container. Good for up to a week!

Notes about this recipe:
-If you have a peanut allergy, try this recipe with almond butter or sunflower butter (we recommend our Sexi Sunny Butter!)
-Want to make it vegan? Use agave syrup instead of honey!
-If you don’t have ground fax or any of the other ingredients listed, simply add an extra ½ cup of oats!
-Don’t be afraid to get in there with your (clean) hands to combine these ingredients! Remember, they are your best tool in the kitchen!
-If desired, slightly toast coconut in a dry pan on the stovetop over medium-low heat for a couple of minutes until light golden brown before adding to the mixture.
-Don’t want chocolate chips? Sub your favorite flavor chips, or dried fruit such as cranberries or raisins!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Susannah Biller, Soprano: When OPERAtunity Knocks


American soprano, Susannah Biller recounts, the challenges of pursing a career and the joy that it brings.

            Susannah went to the University of Tennessee and Northwestern but it wasn’t until she took some time off after school that she realized how much she loved singing and wanted to pursue it.  She spent the next 3 years after grad school taking voice lessons with Cornelius Lawrence Reid, who believed fully in Susannah’s talent.  He told her to get a terrible job and study with him, not to audition, and to commit fully to music. So, she commuted from New Jersey to New York 6 days a week for a 30 minute daily voice lesson.

“He gave me the basis of my technique.  When I first went to him I thought I was a lyric mezzo and he told me I was a coloratura.  Within five minutes I was singing my first E flat.”

Just before Cornelius turned 98 he taught his final voice lesson with Susannah and told her she was ready, and ready she was.  It was time to start auditioning.  Susannah decided to apply for every possible audition, sent her resume to every company she could think of, even if it seemed out of her reach.

She told herself, “If it doesn’t happen this year I’m going to call it a day”

ME: So, what is a great audition?

“Sometimes you walk out thinking you were amazing and that you nailed it and never hear from them again and sometimes you walk in and sing all the wrong notes and forget every word and you get
hired! You have no idea what they’re looking for but you open your mouth and you give them something fresh, you give them you and that’s exactly what they’re looking for.”

She recounts her Merola audition that year.

“I heard the soprano sing before me, and I thought what am I going to start with?”  She always loved Pamina’s aria, and felt like she could sing it in her sleep, so she started with that.  “They asked for Manon’s Gavotte and I remember forgetting the words and Sheri Greenawald feeding me the lines very sweetly with a smile on her face, and I remember thinking, ‘it will be what it will be.”

She received a call back from Merola, and laughing described her reaction, “I hung up the phone, and screamed and jumped around like you could not believe, and it was winter… I ran out into the yard in the winter, doing laps up and down the yard, jumping up and down!”

Then it happened, she got sick before her call back audition, but decided to tough it out, because “When opportunity knocks, you have to open the door”

Well, it paid off for this determined soprano, because after being asked to sing four out of her five arias, she was called the next day and offered a position in the Merola program!


San Francisco became home to this soprano, after the summer she was asked to return as an Adler Fellow and packed her bags to return in January.  She spent two years working and learning.  “I never felt so empowered about learning.” As she discussed the faculty there she described them as having so much knowledge and being so supportive.  Her friends and teachers there became like family.  She even met her husband, Austin Kness, who was a second year Adler during her first year, there, and the Adler’s sang at their wedding ceremony!

I asked Susannah if she thought there were benefits to being married to a singer.  She said, “it’s about being with the right person, but being married to a singer is great.  Being with someone who understands the amount of stress that you’re going through, who reminds you to breathe and brings you back to earth is really important”

ME: How do you deal with being apart from your husband?

“Skype! Everyone has a busy life…you have to make the effort and it’s about your priorities. “

As we ended our conversation, Susannah said these inspiring words,

“Anything that is worth having you have to work so hard for!  You overlook the challenges because of the ‘glamour,’ but you’re away from family and everything you know and you give up so much.  I’ve missed my nieces birthdays, mother’s birthdays, holidays, my father preaching, so many things I’ve missed, and they don’t tell you that. There is no glamour when you are carrying your suitcase up 8 flights of stairs in a German hotel!  But it’s a wonderful career…aspiring to something that is greater than yourself, singing music that is transcendent, and you get to be on a stage ...it’s so amazing and those moments will live with me forever”

Susannah has sung with San Francisco Opera, Gotham Chamber Opera, Opera Santa Barbara, Portland Opera, and just recently sang Garcias in Don Quichotte with San Diego Opera, and will be singing her first Adina in L’elisir d’amore with Opera Theater of St. Louis this month!

We welcome Susannah Biller into our Sexi Soprano family, and look forward to watching her career! 

                                            http://ada-artists.com/artist-roster/susannah-biller/

Photo credits:
Sound Bites - Dario Acosta 
Gatsby - Steven DiBartolomeo
Adler Concert Photo - Kristin Loken



Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Weightlifting for Singers

Hi SSers! I’m SS Moves. I’m an opera singer, and I like to move! I’m a yogi, a runner, and a CrossFitter. Yep, you read that right: There is such a thing as an opera-singing CrossFitter! Let me tell you a little bit about myself. I’ve been an athlete for as long as I’ve been a musician. I grew up playing piano, singing, and doing Tae Kwon Do. In sixth grade, I started dancing and playing violin. In high school, I was in musicals, show choir, and orchestra. I also ran cross-country and played tennis, volleyball, and softball. I went to a conservatory for undergrad, where I also played on the softball team. I’ve run three half marathons and have a full marathon on my bucket list.


Which brings me to today! I am finishing my Master’s degree in vocal performance and choral conducting. I am a certified yoga teacher and have been doing CrossFit for about six months. I have no formal training in sports medicine, nutrition, etc. besides my yoga teacher certification; fitness is simply something that has always been a part of my life. That being said, please keep in mind that I am writing about my own experiences! Just like with singing, our bodies are all different and we need to take the time to figure out what works best for us. What works for me might not work for you and vice versa!

So…weightlifting. There is quite a stigma associated with weightlifting and singing! Here are my words of advice.
  1.  Never grunt when you lift! The main reason singers are nervous about lifting is that, when  lifting heavy weights, there can be a tendency to grunt. Instead of grunting, I like a quick exhale!  Take a big ‘ol inhale as you prepare, and exhale quickly (or even blow) as you lift.
  2.  Make sure you know proper lifting technique. A coach or staff member at your gym is the best source of information, but YouTube is a great resource as well. Don’t be afraid to ask! It’s better to be safe, not only so you don’t hurt yourself, but also so that you get the most out of your lifting session.
  3.  Never start a new lifting regime (or a new anything, really!) on the day of a big performance.  Opening night is not a good day to start CrossFit! Always give your body time to adjust to changes.
  4. DO lift weights! Unless you find that, for whatever reason, weightlifting is negatively affecting your singing, you should be lifting!

Our bodies are our instruments and we need to take care of them. Having strong muscles lowers blood pressure, strengthens our immune system (which is a GREAT benefit for singers!), increases stamina, and makes it easier to move around onstage, not to mention they look great!