Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Lucia di Lammermoor: The Recovery Process

Photo by Patsy Tomkins courtesy of Edmonton Opera

The month of April has almost come and gone and with it was Edmonton Opera's production of Lucia di Lammermoor. Other than my occasional updates, which you can see in the slideshow social media compilation below, my blogging presence was non-existent.

A reason I didn't provide any additional blog content was because I was fighting through a series of sicknesses these past three weeks. What began as seasonal allergies resulted in uncontrollable post-nasal drip, initiating viral laryngitis and an upper respiratory tract infection. No amount of nasal saline rinses and steroid nasal sprays were equipped to combat my body's response to the allergens present during this Spring thaw.

It's interesting how I begin viewing myself as a patient to cope as I try to expedite the recovery process. I really like this article that outlines six common vocal myths by S-LP, Kristie Knickerbocker, especially this section on using throat coat teas:

"Like any pain, though, if your throat is hurting, don’t mask the problem by using numbing spray or another band-aid.  Your body is trying to tell you something and if you silence it, you could injure yourself further. Know your body.  I’m all for throat coat tea, ginger tea, lemon water, whatever–If you say it helps you feel better. I am against using any of that to hide pain so you can perform. If you are not giving your body time to heal, you’ll end up with a bigger problem."

Everybody has their favorite go-to's when it comes to sickness recovery. My motto is to do what works for you. However, I think there's a balance between doing what you need to do for your body as well as being aware of the side effects that medicinal ingredients can have on your voice. The National Centre for Voice and Speech has an excellent online resource to search that specific information.

Photo by Patsy Tomkins courtesy of Edmonton Opera

I tried to focus on these three factors: rest, hydration, and patience. Before Opera rehearsals, I tried to squeeze in time for a nap in order to recharge before a full evening at the the venue. Staging and technical rehearsals require a sustained amount of energy to stay alert for three hours while spacing, props, and music are sorted out as scenes are worked through. It takes a lot of energy to be on call.

Photo by Dilys Kulchitsky

In order to keep my hydration level up, I kept a water bottle with me everywhere (e.g., bedside, work desk, car, and backstage mirror). I attempted to limit caffeine but sometimes stimulants are needed so, when I did have caffeine, I would keep in mind a 1:2 ratio. For every caffeinated beverage I would have two cups of water - one to cancel that cup and another to hydrate. I aimed to have a net of 6-8 glasses but, since I was on antihistimines, I knew I needed more water because those types of medications can be drying. I would also brew multiple thermoses of non-caffeinated tea so I would have a constant supply of warm beverages and I wouldn't have to waste time by brewing cup to cup.

Photo by Patsy Tomkins
I tried to channel more patience by focusing more on text in rehearsal and refrained from singing, especially for the two days I had no voice. It takes restraint to not sing when there is so much on-stage action and energy. All of this was in attempt to conserve voice for opening night. Although I wasn't totally cured by opening night, my voice was back and I was ready to sing. Since I was extremely deconditioned after spending the previous weeks in a fragile vocal state, I had to make sure I had a solid vocal warm-up before the show. The worst was having to stifle dry tickles in my throat during quiet and tense moments in the story.

Aside from the battle with recovery, the show itself was stunning. I have heard so many comments raving about the ornate costumes and the stunning staircase set. I had goosebumps every night as I listened to Soprano, Simone Osborne, sing her debut Lucia and mimic the eerie melodic runs of the flute only Lucia could hear in madness.

Lucia di Lammermoor was a stunning closer to Edmonton's Opera's season. If you haven't looked already, take a peek at the upcoming 2015-16 Epic Scandals season showcasing Merry Widow, Carmen, and Maria Stuarda. Whether I am singing in these productions or in the audience, I can't wait to see these shows come alive on stage at the Jube.

Photo by Patsy Tomkins courtesy of Edmonton Opera

Photo by Patsy Tomkins courtesy of Edmonton Opera
Photo by Patsy Tomkins courtesy of Edmonton Opera

Also, visit Patsy Tomkins' blog that has more information behind-the-scenes of Lucia from light-walking the set to finding the right concoction of fake blood for the wedding dress.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

30K in 30 Days with the Canadian Chamber Choir

Photo by David E. Cronkite
Greetings readers!

I wanted to draw your attention to a fundraising campaign by the Canadian Chamber Choir for their upcoming recording in May. In fact, I will be singing on it! This is the CCC's second recording project and it has been almost five years since their last one. I'm grateful to be included on the recording roster, especially since I just had my first tour with them this last February.

The recording is entitled, Sacred Reflections of Canada, a Canadian ‘composite mass’.  The recording is inspired by various settings of the mass by Canadian composers including the CCC’s own Composer in Residence, Jeff Enns. This recording will include the standard mass movements interspersed with pieces that reflect on the themes found within the mass. The works are an array of published and unpublished works that highlight established and emerging composers from across the country. This recording will highlight the diversity and strength of the Canadian choral community.

The CCC has set a goal to raise $30,000 in the next 30 days to complete this recording project by their deadline in May. The CCC has launched a crowd funding campaign and there are some pretty sweet donation rewards such as being included in the liner notes, dining with the choir before a concert, and conducting a piece with the CCC. You can check out the site for more information on each reward tier of contributions. However, even a donation of $20 gets you a digital download copy of the CD, which would be almost equivalent to what the CD would cost anyway.

I really believe in the CCC's mandate of building creative communities through choral singing. Their ongoing goals to perform works by contemporary Canadian composers creates an exciting and ongoing discourse of Canadian choral music. I will be counting down the days until I head off to Ontario to record this project with them. In the meantime, I just need to make sure I don't trip and fall down a flight of stairs in my hoop skirt while preparing for Edmonton Opera Lucia di Lammermoor.

Watch this video to learn more about the project and to get excerpts from the CCC tour this past February.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

A Chorister's Faith in Music

Pro Coro has been busy rehearing with the University of Alberta Madrigal Singers in preparation for our Good Friday concert together featuring works by Composer, Paul Mealor. Mealor has traveled to Edmonton and is in Canada for the first time to hear his works sung by PCC and MAD's. It is always a treat to have a composer actually part of the rehearsal process to provide context and clarification for the work they have written.

In addition to sitting in on rehearsals, Mealor presented a lecture on Faith and Music earlier in the week. He outlined the meticulous construction, symbols, shape, imagery, and thought process behind his works, such as Salvator Mundi, O vos omnes, and Stabat Mater. Mealor began with a disclaimer to the audience to not fear because there would be no undertones of religious recruitment during his lecture. Mealor stated this with a smile and the audience chuckled.

Mealor highlighted some of the techniques he uses in his pieces such as using contrasting dissonances in chords to create a sense of suffering or how many sharps and flats there are in the key signature to symbolize the cross, trinity, or five wounds of Christ. In Mealor's Stabat Mater, the poetic text details the sorrow of the Mother Mary at the base of the cross weeping for her crucified son.

I have a great amount of respect for the history and role of sacred choral music in our society. I cannot ignore the electric tingle buzzing beneath my skin when I hear some moving sacred music. Regardless of religion, faith or spirituality, music has the power to deliver and amplify a message. Music connects to individuals who are listening. I have faith in music. 

Over the past few days since hearing Mealor's lecture and working on his pieces in rehearsal, I have been given time to just sit and meditate on a musical work. All my fellow choristers are on the same musical frequency and its signal is strengthened because the Mealor is physically present to connect us to the thoughts in his mind and music.

It is a moment to be grateful as a performer to have a reflective moment of connection.

If you are free this Friday at 7:30 PM, you know where I'll be singing.