Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Physically Embodying a Character

By Brian Smith Walters

A crucial, yet often overlooked, portion of learning a new role is how that character moves and acts. In college, we are taught to prepare roles with the music/singing, the words/translation, and the dramatic intentions/Stanislavski method. Of course, these are keys portions to the learning process, but we often forget to work on how that character moves. It is the first thing an audience sees, and it can be another useful ‘in’ to the role.

Four areas to consider:

Walk – When trying to figure out a character’s walk, ask yourself: ‘where does he/she fit into society? Does she lift her chin when walking into a room or stare demurely at the floor? Is his chest puffed or would he be meek?’ Once you can answer these questions, move around when singing some of the role. I would suggest starting with a portion of recit or dialogue with another character rather than an aria. Be brave in your physical expressions and see what comes of it.

Posture – Of course, we all need good posture to sing, but this can be tempered to fit the character. Mimi and Elektra would have different postures, as would Otello and Ferrando. To find your character’s posture, ask yourself the same questions listed above. It’s best to try out different physical positions to see which feels most true and correct to you. For this, singing sections of an aria would be perfect.

Clothing – To have a rehearsal skirt or character heels is something often required in staging rehearsals, yet we can forget this in our early preparation. If you can find some representative clothing, it might help you get straight into character. When I was learning Peter Grimes, I found it was easier to get into character when I wore a rain jacket. Having the jacket on helped me feel closer to his fisherman persona. While I’m not saying you need to have a special item of clothing in each practice session, it might be useful to occasionally practice the Countess’s arias in a skirt and heels rather than shorts and flip-flops.

Sitting/kneeling/lying down – With a few exceptions, we tend to do singing lessons and coachings standing up. But there are many times for which something else might be called: a bed-ridden Violetta in Act 3 of Traviata, Tatyana’s letter scene in Onegin, and incarcerated Cavaradossi writing to his beloved Tosca, just to give a few examples. Instead of waiting to see if the director actually wants you to sit at a writing desk to write to Eugene, use the time in the practice room to get you further into what the character is feeling whilst physically doing the needed action. Then dazzle the director with your level of preparedness!

Bring this interesting and important portion of role learning into your early preparations and see how much it can help get you further into character!

Monday, June 27, 2016

Homemade Cough Syrup

By Nadia Marshall

Childhood memories come flooding back as you try to swallow that horrible tasting Robitussin. Cherry flavored cough syrup...yuck! Here’s a natural alternative to cough syrup that is more singer and taste bud friendly.

Homemade Cough Syrup

½ cup of honey
½ cup of water
1 chopped onion
1 chopped clove of garlic

-Combine honey and water. Add onion and garlic. Allow to soak overnight at room temperature. Strain and use liquid to relieve your cough symptoms.

*Tip: Another way to get rid of that pesky cough is sucking on mints or hard candy. Keep some in your purse or beach bag for easy access!

Friday, June 24, 2016

Summer Smoothies!

By Nadia Marshall

It’s getting hot and your morning oatmeal just isn’t cutting it anymore. Try these refreshing and delicious summer smoothies to get you going on that hot morning!

Green Ginger Peach Smoothie:
-2 handfuls of baby spinach
-1 teaspoon of grated and peeled fresh ginger
-2 cups of frozen, sliced peaches
-2 teaspoons of honey
-1 ¼ cups of water

Fruit and Oat Smoothie:
-1 cup of quartered strawberries
-1 sliced banana
-¼ cup of raw almonds
-½ cup of old-fashioned oats
-1 cup of low-fat vanilla yogurt
-1 teaspoon of maple syrup

Mix in a blender and enjoy!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Sexi Soprano Feature: Dana Varga, Soprano

Are you currently affiliated with any Institution(s)?
Classical Soprano (AGMA union member):
Founder/ Artistic Director of MetroWest Opera :
Voice Faculty, New England Conservatory Prep School
Program Director, BU Tanglewood Institute Young Artist Opera Intensive
Voice and Opera Faculty, BU Tanglewood Institute Young Artist Vocal Program

I Graduated with my DMA from Boston University in 2013 and was the first place winner of the Classical Singer National Competition in Boston this May (Young Artist/Emerging Professional Division).

Why do you want to be a Sexi Soprano?
As an advocate for singers and a feminist, I appreciate that Sexi Soprano empowers women in the operatic field and am pleased to be featured.

What are your future goals?
To perform regularly, to be the best voice teacher I can be, and to empower and arm musicians with information about entrepreneurship and creating one’s own path in the business. Ideally I would like to be a professor of entrepreneurship and business of music.

What are your dream roles?
Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier, Liu in Turandot, and Nedda in Pagliacci.

Who or what is your greatest influence?
Both of my parents are creative, self-made entrepreneur types. They have been my biggest influence and support system. I have also been very fortunate to have several incredible voice teachers and mentors over the last fifteen years, including W. Stephen Smith, Penelope Bitzas, William Cotton, and Marjorie Melnick.

What is something unique about you?
Well at the moment, I am five months pregnant and expecting a baby boy in September 2016!

What role do you wish you could sing that is different from your voice type or gender?
There are so many! Marcello from La Boheme, Queen of the Night, Octavian, and Carmen to name a few.

If you could learn one random skill what would it be?
To be boring and practical, I have always wished I were an excellent pianist. I am an intermediate at best, and I wish I had real skill. I wish I had started much younger and not stopped.

If you could perform with any singer, retired or deceased, who would it be?
Lucia Popp, one of my favorite singers of all time.

If you weren’t a singer what profession would you pursue?
Definitely psychology. I am very passionate about mental health and feel I would be an excellent therapist. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

How Much Are You Actually Making?

By Jeremiah Johnson

Congratulations, you were offered a summer program contract!

Now that the euphoria of getting the offer has worn off it's time to figure out how much of that paycheck you're actually bringing home. Often the high of being accepted can make you agree without thinking about how much it's actually going to cost. Just because a summer gig pays, doesn't mean you are actually going to bring anything home. In just a couple easy steps, I will show you how to figure out how much that summer program will actually cost.

1) What are they paying you? Look....I know this sounds stupid, but unless we have a starting point, we will never be able to figure out how much you might be able to pocket at the end of the summer, or if you're gonna wind up in the hole.

2) What does the program itself cover? Is your housing provided? Are they providing food? If so how many meals and which ones? What about travel to and from the program? These are the biggest expenditures when you are living away from home. Know what the program is providing for you and what you will have to cover out of pocket. The answers to these questions are important to complete  the next step.

3)  What will it cost to cover the rest. Rather than just make up numbers, here is how to figure out what the actual cost of living is in the specific town of your program. A helpful website for this is There you can figure out all of the different parts of cost of living. Numbeo will show you the price of gas per gallon, the average cost of food at the grocery store, as well as the average cost of eating out. All the things you need to see what it will cost you to live, and it's all based on actual sales data gathered from that town specifically! Now you can find out exactly what living in city X costs.

4) Now it's just basic math! Take what you were going to make minus what it's going to cost you to live, and that equals what you can to take home for the summer (providing  you actually stick to the budget!)

Now that we've talked about the process I'll walk you through a hypothetical summer gig so you can see what it looks like.

TADA! You got accepted to Santa Fe Opera's YAP! You beat out a lot of people and they pay really well! However, it looks like you are responsible for all of your housing and food. Santa Fe is not a cheap town, so let’s see what the numbers look like:

Contract Pay

AGMA weekly rate - $575.00
Length of contract - 12 weeks
Total pay $6,900 (before taxes, dues, etc.)

Cost of living in Santa Fe

Rent in Santa Fe      $500.00 each (3bd room apt split 3 ways)
Food                        $475.00
Eating out                $150.00
Gas                          $170.00
*All costs are per month*

Total for 3 months - $3,885.00
Take home pay after cost of living - $3,015.00

So there you go! Now you know what it will cost you to accept a summer gig and what you will actually be able to bring home. The good news is, now that you know how to do this, you can do it for every gig in your career, and be able to plan your regular monthly budget much more clearly. Go forth and make money friends!

*Disclaimer - the weekly pay rate for Santa Fe may have changed in the last few years. Consult your contract!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Mind the Gap: 10 Reasons to Take a Gap Year, Or Two, Between Your Undergraduate and Graduate Study

By Laura Isabella

The path to becoming a working singer is nonlinear and full of many twists and turns.  Undergrad is over and you may ask yourself, “Now what?”

Time spent away from formal schooling is a gift. It gives you time to re-evaluate your goals, brush up on your skills, and get centered. Given my own experience, I highly recommend soon to be, or recent, graduates to embrace a gap year, or two, between undergraduate and graduate study.

1. Experience the “real world” now.
The “real world” of cramped cubicles, student loan debt, and negative bank account statements truly sucks. It’s heart-wrenching, and humbling, to work jobs that aren’t music related. Post-undergraduate, I had no plans. I almost completely gave up on singing and worked at a car dealership. If having an existential crisis while sobbing quietly over a copier doesn’t light a fire under your butt, then you’ll never work hard enough to make it as a working singer.

2.  Si parla, si canta: Learn languages.
Recently, a friend of mine said, “there’s no excuse to be ignorant in the digital age”. Perhaps you didn’t have time to take Russian in school because it conflicted with that required Modal Counterpoint course. Carpe diem and go for it. There are a variety of free apps, such as DuoLingo, Livemocha, or Babblefish, to help you learn a new language.

3. Tackle student loan debt.
Take the time to slowly chip away at your student loans. Contact your lender(s) and figure out grace periods, calculate repayment, and schedule due dates. It is absolutely paramount to pay one’s loans on time, every time. Research graduate loans and repayment. It’s a sobering reality, but nonetheless, one that should be addressed as soon as possible. Ask yourself, can I/should I borrow so much for graduate school? How much interest will I rack up when I do go back to school?  

4. Get in shape.
Sweat out some angst and self-loathing at the gym or with a run in the park. Stay active. Take precautions now to safeguard your health and avoid a sedentary lifestyle. Singers are athletes and we need to train and condition our instruments just as the marathon runner does throughout the year.

5. Listen!
Thanks to the wonderful world of the internet, with a few click you can listen to amateur and professional performances of singers on YouTube, Soundcloud, Pandora, your local classical station, and even American Public Media. Visit your local music store and expand your mind and your vinyl or CD collection. Discover new singers and repertoire. Compare different role interpretations. Look at old recordings of your recitals/performances and objectively critique yourself.

6. Catch up and clean up.
Clean out your inbox as well as your closets. Catch up with old friends and family you’ve perhaps neglected while in school. De-clutter your room, apartment, or house. Those free t-shirts from every collegiate event? Donate them to Goodwill. That irritating girl from Sociology that clogs your Facebook feed with boyfriend drama? Unfriend her. Once you’re able to eliminate clutter, you’ll be able to clearly take inventory of your life.

7. Practice.
Keep your vocal mechanism in working order.  It is, after all, a group of muscles that need to be toned and conditioned. In the words of the great American actress, Helen Hayes, “if you rest, you rust.”

8. Network.
Keep in touch with professors and classmates. There’s no need to be embarrassed about your circumstances. You need to keep yourself active and visible in the singing community.  Join a local choir and meet singers there. Audition for local community theatre (Crossover can be good for you  and is encouraged). Establish a LinkedIn account. Brush up on your website and social media pages. Go to lectures, workshops, master-classes, concerts, and recitals.  The person waiting for the restroom at the Philharmonic may be the ticket to your next gig.

9. Be nice.
Be courteous to colleagues and practice mindfulness. Be positive. You don’t want to get a reputation for being negative or difficult. Follow the golden rule.

Let me again say, you never know who may run into again. Complain about people in the privacy of your own home with one or two trustworthy colleagues. Monitor your social media presence. Things come back to bite you in the butt.

10. Breathe.
No matter how hopeless you may feel, no matter how directionless you may be, you’ll find your way. You don’t have to be singing at the Met now. There will be time to accomplish your goals and set new ones.

No one is going to hold your diploma over your head and call you a failure for not working as a singer. Many of my friends and colleagues have exited the performance arena to become successful doctors, lawyers, pedagogues, parents, marketing professionals, or what have you. Breathe and understand that it really will be OK.

Monday, June 20, 2016

5-Minute Burnout Workout

 By Nadia Marshall

Don’t have the time to visit the gym, but you want a quick workout? We’ve got a 5-minute burnout workout for you to try:

-Forward/Back Jump Squat
-Side V-ups
-Plank Kick Through

Do 10 reps of each exercise. Repeat 3x.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Fit Friday Workout!

By Nadia Marshall

Ah, Friday...the beginning of a beautiful weekend. Get your weekend started off right with a “Fit Friday” workout!

30 Leg Lifts
5 minutes of jump rope
50 crunches
30 second wall sit
100 Jumping Jacks

Make sure to pace yourself and take breaks as needed!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

3 REALLY Good Reasons NOT to ‘Hook Up’ at Your Next Gig…And Maybe a Few Exceptions

 By Tamara Hardesty

You’re so excited to have a gig this summer or to be going to your first Young Artist Program. There will probably be some attractive baritones, maybe a tenor, or MAYBE even a hot conductor or profoundly interesting director!

Backrubs during breaks… long days of rehearsing followed by a drink at the local pub… joking around backstage… being away from home… Sounds like a perfect recipe for a steamy summer romance!

But there are a few REALLY good reasons NOT to hook up at your next gig.

1. Butt-kisser:

It will NOT help your career in the long run. Yeah, you might think sleeping with the director or conductor will get you more gigs, and sometimes it will. But deep down YOU will know you didn’t earn it with your vocal talents. And worse, other people will know it as well.

2. The Stolen Kiss:           

You, or the other person, are already married or in a committed relationship. You might think, “what happens on a gig, stays at the gig,” but even the most discreet affair eventually messes up your life. If you want out of your current relationship and think you have found your true love, then you need to proceed with integrity and honesty. If you’re just feeling lonely, Facetime or Skype with your beloved and then go out to dinner with the whole cast.

3. Gossiping:

People WILL talk! Even if you’re NOT trying to sleep your way to the top, even you’re NOT cheating on someone back home, even if it’s NONE OF THEIR BUSINESS, people WILL find out and they WILL talk about you. You want to protect your reputation, especially at the beginning of your career.

Exceptions to the rule: 

 You’re both single. You’re attracted to each other. You enjoy spending time together. You respect each other’s talent. Your career and life goals are the same. Go for it!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Studying Abroad Checklist

By Brian Smith Walters

You're spending a year in Vienna or a semester in Milan or London or Reykjavik or Sydney or Tokyo or [insert awesome destination here] – hip hip, hooray! You're going to have an amazing experience filled with a new culture, a new language, and hopefully some great chances to further your artistry and musicianship. Before you go, there are many things you must do to prepare for the transition. As an American who's lived half of his life abroad, take it from me: start early! Here's a quick and easy checklist to get you started:

6 months before you go

- Work out passport and visa requirements: Sounds simple, but each year, many students are detained and often sent home from the airport for not having the appropriate paperwork. Make sure your passport is both valid and has at least 6 months left of validity before its expiration date. Get your visa paperwork in as soon as possible! It may take 3-4 months to get the visa stamp in your passport depending on the country, so leave plenty of time!

- Brush up your language skills: Even if you're pretty decent at the language of your new country, get used to thinking in it daily. Try using media in the new language – setting your phone’s default language to the new one, reading websites in the new language, and watching movies or TV shows in that language.

Be sure to learn the technical music language: what are their terms for breath support, soft palette, and so on, and especially learn what the notes lengths are called. Even if you're an American studying in the UK, the musical language is vastly different. It'll save time and frustration if you figure this out before you head over to the new country.

3 months before you go

- Decide how to manage your bank account: There are three big ways to handle your finances, depending on how long you're studying abroad and your current bank’s policies.

  1. If you're only going for a semester, then using your home bank account won't be a massive issue. However, if you want a job abroad, you'll need a bank account from that country to cash checks or have direct payment. 
  2. If your bank is international (such as HSBC) or has partnerships with international banks (as Bank of America does), you can set up an account from the US before leaving. You will need to have an in person meeting with the branch manager and all of your appropriate paperwork in conjunction. 
  3. Open an account the first week you're in the new country. Don't fret about opening an account abroad; it’s relatively simple and painless in most western countries. If you take this option, see if any prospective banks have deals for new student accounts. Most new student bank accounts in Europe come with incentives such as free railcards or free international money transfers. Keep an eye out for a good deal!

- Prepare for student loans: Getting these sorted early is an absolute must! Although this might take a bit of negotiating over phone or email with the finance people at your new institution, it'll be worth getting this sorted before you head over. Most countries have terms/semesters that start later than American institutions, so keep in mind that you'll need to be on top of it.

- Find accommodations and set aside a deposit: If your institution or study abroad program hasn't given you specific housing, depending on the country, 3 months should be enough time to get a room or halls of residence. Make sure you have deposit money! There are few things more terrifying than arriving in a new country and realizing you have no place to live. Online searches are great, but see if the international officer at your new institution has ideas of good, cheap, and safe places for international students to live.

1 month before you go

- Sort out your clothing: while this might seem ridiculous to say, it is important to remember the climate of your new country might be vastly different from your native one. Depending on where you're going, it might be cheaper and easier to get climate-appropriate clothing in the new country (with probably a wider selection as well). Make sure to get a few important items in advance – such as a good raincoat for London, a thick winter coat for Helsinki, or warm gloves and furry hat for Moscow.

- Select your scores and books: As a singer, it is important to have your core scores, anthologies, and books that you'll need with you to start the course. These could weigh a lot and take up a ton of weight allowance in your suitcases. Look into shipping your books in a cargo container. There are a number of options for this online. Make sure you find one that doesn't have tons of hidden costs, such as customs taxes you pay at each end. Read reviews and be aware of scams for young students looking to save money!

- Plan out extracurricular time: While the courses in your new institution may be the focus of your time abroad, make sure you take time see the country’s culture. Some of my best experiences in my first year abroad were gallivanting around castles and being very touristy. Take full advantage of being in a different country. It'll yield rewards in ways that you wouldn't normally expect.

To get the most out of your time abroad, remember to plan ahead and go in with open eyes and an open heart, ready for new and amazing adventures that will stay with you for many years afterwards! Bon voyage!

Monday, June 13, 2016

DIY Beach Waves

By Nadia Marshall

You may not be at the beach 24/7, but you can still have that sun-kissed hair! Try this recipe to get beach waves at home!

What you’ll need:
-An empty spray bottle
-1 tablespoon of sea salt
-1 teaspoon of coconut oil
-1 teaspoon of gel (any kind that you like)
-1 cup of warm water


Mix all ingredients in spray bottle and shake. Spray generously all over your hair!

Friday, June 10, 2016

Happy Feet: Summer Foot Soak

By Nadia Marshall

Summer is here, which means time to dust off those sandals and flip-flops! Keep your feet nice and pampered with this easy foot soak:

What you’ll need:
¼ cup of Raw Apple Cider Vinegar- You can find this at any local health food store.
1 tub or large bowl/bucket

-Fill your container with warm or hot water
-Add the Apple Cider Vinegar
-Soak your feet for 15-40 minutes. Put on some soothing music!
-Dry your feet with a towel.

-Moisturize your feet, if needed. I love Burt’s Bees’ Foot Creme or Lotion!

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Sexi Soprano Feature: Julia Engel, Soprano

Photo credit in order of appearance: Shannon Langman Photography, Les Koob, Anonymous, Jonathan Fletcher, Gwen Turner Juarez, University of Houston, Keturah Stickann, University of Houston, Shannon Langman Photography, University of Houston, Shannon Langman Photography, Anonymous. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Patrons: The Backbone of Operatic Careers

By: Julie Tabash Kelsheimer

The job description is in the title, we are singers. But singing is only one of many aspects we actually do in our line of work. When we are not singing, many of us are building or updating our resumes and websites, getting new headshots, making new audio and video recordings, focusing on our physical health, translating new scores, planning travel to and from upcoming gigs and auditions – the list goes on. However, one of our biggest responsibilities as artists is sparking and maintaining relationships with those who make our jobs possible: opera patrons and donors.

It’s very easy to get caught up in the necessary “self” components of the job. We are constantly trying to build the best audition package, form a busy performance schedule, build a relationship with agents and managers, sing for operatic directors and conductors, and so on. But it is also crucial to think about the people who help fund this job. Without opera patrons and donors consistently giving their time, talents, and hard-earned money, opera companies couldn’t put on the productions we strive so hard to be a part of. How often do you see a “sponsored by” caption next to the name of a performer in the program, stayed in the homes of opera supporters free of charge, or performed at a private event in a donors’ house? So much of our performance and financial opportunities come from these individuals who believe in the art form and our ability to bring the music we all love to life.

Opera fans not only help support what we do, but become our friends and family. They are in the front row cheering us on, follow our careers, and are often the first people to congratulate us on our professional and life achievements. Some of the best conversations I’ve had were with opera supporters telling me my performance moved them in some way or made their day better. Knowing our performances encourage donors and patrons to continue supporting the growth of opera and its artists is one of the most fulfilling and humbling feelings in the world.

Thanking opera supporters is a task that we as singers should never overlook. Whether the people supporting you have been life-long opera patrons or have just started gaining interest in the art form, they deserve to know that we are truly grateful for their encouragement and support. With their help, we are given the greatest gift of all—the gift of sharing music with the world!