I have already been asked multiple times if I plan on taking my fiancé’s last name when we marry in May. Since we still have half a year until that big day, I imagine I’ll get the question another hundred times, or so. He has a nice last name, he does, but it’s Scottish, not French. And what with my affinity for France and the music it has birthed, well, it’s hard to part with the current version of the name my great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, grandfather brought over from Normandy in the 1600s. Call me sentimental. Call me nostalgic. It’s in my genes. Seriously. You should have met my grandfather. And it’s what makes me step on stage each night.
That sense of sentimental nostalgia will make me step on stage next month, too, when I present my first solo cabaret in Chicago. Robert de La Berge, I hope you’d approve.
In the end, I really didn’t need the validation, because I had already decided to stay in bed longer today. In fact, I required it of myself. And in doing so, I relaxed enough to contemplate a few things, and then I answered some of the lingering creative questions I had about my upcoming Paris cabaret. All from my bed. I feel like a million bucks.
My advice? Next time you feel overwhelmed and unfocused and just want to think, make yourself stay in bed an extra hour or two. If you need permission, just ask Aristotle.
I think most singers and actors, when pressed, would admit that they’ve got a little list of the roles they want to play before they can’t. Without pressing, I shall admit that I get to take one off my list this fall. Don’t ask who else is on the list. For now, Johanna will do.
I was talking to a doctor friend the other day, telling him a story that involved a guitar player I met at Starbucks. The doctor, a man who spends his time fixing children in hospitals, asked me how that works. How do people with books and computers and cell phones actually meet each other in coffee shops?
It’s a good question, and not one that I would have been able to answer before moving to Chicago, which will eventually be the key to my response.
Granville Island, Vancouver
I don’t regularly make friends in the coffee shop or on the street or in the park…except when I’m traveling.
When I travel, I am 100% open to anything and anyone. If the Ecuadorian taxi driver wants to take my boyfriend and me to the Casa del Arbol on top of our hotel’s volcano, we go. If the local Spaniard wants to tell me every single detail about his town’s bullring, I ask more questions, just to keep him talking. If the sweet man listening to a busker on Granville Island’s wharf wants to share the occasional glance and short observation with me, I sit patiently until he does it again. It’s the traveler’s mentality. Nothing is trivial and every person is an opportunity for human interaction.
I love it.
When I moved to Chicago, local friends shook their heads at me when I said, “everyone is so nice here!” I felt silly for a moment because maybe I was missing something and Chicagoans weren’t really very nice. All the evidence I had collected supported my case, though.
Here’s the reason, as best I can tell: I was acting like a tourist. I was 100% open, and people responded kindly.
So, that’s my answer. When you approach life as though you are merely a traveler, you meet nice folks in coffee shops.
Casa del Arbol on the occasionally erupting Tungurahua
Every year, I make a New Year’s Resolution to take myself less seriously.
New, downright unserious headshot. Click on the photo to see the rest.
Moving to Chicago has greatly challenged my resolve. It’s hard not to become too serious when initiating and following through with great life changes. It’s rather dramatic, all of it, and from what I’ve seen on stage and in life, when people are overly dramatic, they usually are taking themselves too seriously.
I have to be careful, because the second I start taking myself too seriously, I start taking my singing too seriously, and then it becomes an arduous, unpleasant, and therefore unfruitful task.
Fortunately, Chicago keeps throwing light and joyful music-making in my face, and it does so right when I’m starting to slip into seriousness.
John and I came across these fellows at the Chicago Jazz Festival. Seriously good musicians, yes, but they do what I value most in artistry: they entertain themselves, and by doing so, let the audience in on the fun:
(n.b. At the Jazz Festival, Matt Wilson kept the bubble business going for a long time…and it was a cool day…and the sun came out on his very last go-around of the Carl Sandburg poem:“Two bubbles found they had rainbows on their curves. They flickered out saying: ’It was worth being a bubble, just to have held that rainbow thirty seconds.’”)
We caught the Hector Del Curto Tango Trio set during the week of Chicago’s World Music Festival. This time: serious musicians playing rather serious and intense music, but the entire program was approached with friendly ease. The rare bit of serious banter ended in laughter. What balance!
That concert inspired me to attend my first night of Argentine Tango dancing in Chicago. I was a little apprehensive: tango dancers can be very serious. Fortunately for me, the folks I met at the Milonga Cielo were game for playing on the dance floor. Serious dancers, yes, but permission to cause or enjoy the occasional giggle? Yes. Thank goodness.
It all started in the Barn at Pickathon this year. I knew I was moving, and was feeling pretty dramatic about the whole thing, until I watched Bruce Molsky have some good, ole fashioned musical fun with a collection of seemingly mismatched musicians. I’m a fan of Bruce Molsky’s because of his musicianship and the sparkle in his eyes, yes, but also because he told those of us in the Workshop Barn last year that he wanted to take lessons as a kid after a teaching artist visited his school in the Bronx. I’m a teaching artist. I like to know we can make an impact. But back to my point: how can anyone be too serious when there’s a pink boa on stage?
I didn’t go to away-camp as a kid. I had enough brothers around to terrorize me, take me to swim lessons and choir practice, and convince me to go hang out with the neighbor girl, all of which kept me adequately occupied. It was awesome. And most importantly: it wasn’t school.
Now that I’m big, I find myself seeking out away-camp and, yes, school. This morning, in between singing and hearing other people sing, I listened to early music soprano Ellen Hargis talk about rhetoric. Oh, and in Vancouver. It was delightful. We’re going to talk more about it and other lofty ideals later in the week. I can’t wait. I’m staying in a dorm and bought a plastic bowl and plate for $2 at the Safeway so I could eat my cheese sandwiches and yogurt in the shared kitchen. I guess years and perspective have made these once tedious rituals a delight. I will get homesick and long for my iron skillet and fresh herbs, but by then my 2 weeks at the Vancouver Early Music Vocal Programme will be nearly over and I’ll be off to my next adventure: moving to Chicago.
Away-camp lets our multi-tasking minds be singularly focused for awhile. I guess it’s like a sabbatical. It takes a couple of days to shed the other voices: “Where ARE you going to live when you move to Chicago? Should you start job searching immediately? Email folks about auditions? When are you going to arrange that promised 45-minute Ring for UAO?” Once those voices start slipping away, though, I figure they leave behind some space in our heads.
After a long and busy, busy semester, it’ll be nice to just think about one thing. I feel more room in my brain already.
One of the things occupying my brain this semester:
Valencienne’s Can-Can in Merry Widow at Muddy River Opera