Looking for a summer program for 2015? Consider the Halifax Summer Opera Festival!

Are you a singer interested in doing a summer program this year? Do you want to spend your summer in one of Canada’s most beautiful cities? Do you long for a life-affirming and potentially transformative experience? If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, you are in luck — there are still some roles available for the 2015 Halifax Summer Opera Festival.  Singers, I encourage all of you to consider this welcoming, supportive, inspiring summer program.  HSOF prides itself on providing excellent educational opportunities in a nurturing environment, with reasonable, non-prohibitive costs for participants.  And, sure, those are great reasons for doing any summer program.  But after spending five summers with HSOF I’ve come up with my own set of reasons that I’d like to share with you here.

Well, actually, money matters.

Okay, so the non-prohibitive costs thing is actually pretty great.  There are several summer programs I would have auditioned for had their tuition fees been more reasonable.  In my opinion, the cost of a few weeks’ worth of summer training should not rival the annual cost of an undergraduate degree.  And while professional development is extremely important to me, I don’t want to spend so much on being a singer that there’s virtually nothing left for being a regular person with regular expenses and interests outside of singing.  From a purely financial perspective, HSOF was perfect for me (and ended up being perfect for me in other ways, too.).  I got to learn from wonderful faculty, share the stage with talented colleagues, push myself to develop artistically, and all without having to choose between doing a summer program and making RRSP contributions.

You get to spend the summer in awesome Halifax!

One of the fringe benefits of this program is that it just happens to take place in one of the nicest places imaginable.  I fell in love with the city of Halifax in 2009, the first time I did HSOF, and after all these years it hasn’t yet lost its charm.  Some of my favourite things about Halifax are: the harbour, Coburg Coffee, the colourful houses, the Public Gardens, garlic fingers at Freeman’s, being able to walk pretty much everywhere, the Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market (where you can get a cup of tea from The Tea Brewery and take in the art of Shelagh Duffett), the summer weather, Two if By Sea‘s divine croissants, Point Pleasant Park, and Darrell’s.  One of the great things about HSOF is that you have the time to explore the city.  Sure, there are some long days of rehearsals, coachings, and masterclasses, but you’ll definitely have time to see the sights and experience all that Halifax has to offer. None of the many, many photos I took in Halifax are quite as beautiful as the real thing, but just to give you an idea, here’s a picture of some boats.026

You will meet some of the best people ever.  This is not hyperbole.

First of all, the people who run HSOF are amazing.  They are some of the most creative, supportive, hard-working, friendly,  [insert a dozen other complimentary adjectives here] people I have ever met, particularly the two women who started it all, co-founders Tara Scott and Nina Scott-Stoddart.  I’ve been fortunate enough to work with them on three separate occasions.  Each time my life was enriched immeasurably.  The thing is, they just really, really care.  They care about the art, and they especially care about the artists.  I remember working on an aria for my first HSOF production, and rehearsals were going…. okay.  Nina decided to spend some extra time to coach me individually, until I felt comfortable presenting this aria to the public.  She probably had a million other things that needed doing that day, but she sensed that I needed this help, and she made that a priority.

The other thing I want to say about Nina is that she is a casting genius.  She has the extraordinary ability to match singers to roles, but also to match singers to each other.  Often during rehearsals I would think to myself, “Wow, this is the very best group of people I’ve worked with!”  Sometimes it felt positively magical.  Our casts always had singers at various stages of their careers, from students to emerging professionals, and I always found there was something I could learn from each person.  But more than that, we forged friendships that have lasted well beyond the four week time frame of the program.  I expect that many of these friendships will last a lifetime.

It could change your life.  I swear, this is not hyperbole either.

I’m approaching 1000 words, so I think I’ll wrap things up by saying, very simply, that HSOF changed my life.  I wouldn’t be the singer I am today had it not been for this program.  I am eternally grateful for my experiences there, and would not trade them for anything.  I know I’m not the only one who feels this way.  So, dear singers, please consider this wonderful summer program.  It could change your life, too!

I ♥ Toronto, Vol. 3

Yesterday I participated in one of my favourite traditions: avoiding all things Super Bowl related.  Luckily, for me, there were plenty of other things to do in Toronto.  I began my afternoon by heading down to one of my favourite Toronto landmarks, the Reference Library, for one of my favourite new annual events, the Toronto Tea Festival.  I love tea, and I love how much of it is available in this city.  I love that there are so many tea shops here, beyond the chains, with such a variety of flavours, and I love that this festival brings them all together in one place.  Is there a better way to spend a cold Toronto day?

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My haul from the 2015 Tea Festival!

If sampling all the tea Toronto has to offer is my ideal way to spend a cold winter’s day in the city, then dining out for Winterlicious with friends is my ideal way to spend a cold winter’s night.  Winterlicious has become one of my favourite Toronto traditions.  It gives me something to look forward to after the Christmas festivities have ended and the reality of another Canadian winter is setting in.

Over the years I’ve tried countless restaurants that I wouldn’t normally visit, either because the regular menus are too pricey, or because they’re not located in the neighbourhoods where I usually hang out.  Last night I went with some friends to Destingo, on Queen West.  I probably wouldn’t have gone there if it weren’t for Winterlicious, and you know what? I would have missed out on a fabulous dining experience!  So, huzzah for Winterlicious!  The food and service were excellent.  The decor and atmosphere were lovely.  Best of all, they were extremely generous with the bread.  I’d like to go back.  Maybe not during a snow storm, though.

 

Top Five Favourite Beatles Songs

The Top Five game is something that I’ve played ever since I read High Fidelity back in the early 2000s. It’s a fun little way to pass the time, and in my experience, is great to play with friends on road trips.  The idea of a Top Five list appeals to my indecisive nature — I don’t have to choose only one favourite, I can have five!!  Traditionally, the most difficult Top Five list for me has been Favourite Beatles Songs.  Choosing number one is easy, and number two is a breeze, but number three? And four?  There are just too many fab songs to choose from!  I grew up listening to the Beatles.  They are my favourite band of all time, and I can’t remember a time in my life when this wasn’t so.  For me there’s the Beatles, and then everything else.  Okay, so I may have gone through a pretty hardcore New Kids on the Block phase circa 1989, and fully embraced the grunge phenomenon of the early 90s, but in my heart of hearts, the Beatles were always number one.  Recently I’ve been preparing to sing at a British Invasion themed event, so of course the Beatles are on my mind.  So in honour of this event, and the 50th anniversary of Beatlemania spreading across the Atlantic, here are my Top Five Favourite Beatles Songs!

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Now on Instagram!

Today I finally took the plunge and joined Instagram.  If you’d like to find me there look for @cloudsinmytea.  This name pays homage to one of my favourite songs of all time — You’re So Vain, by Carly Simon — with a slight variation to reflect my preferred caffeinated beverage.  So far I have not posted any photos, but fear not, for that shall soon change! I am, after all, spending the summer in beautiful Halifax, Nova Scotia, where there is much to be photographed and admired.

Yes We Can-Can!

Change of plans for the summer — I’ll still be going to Halifax for the Halifax Summer Opera Festival, but instead of Sondheim’s Into the Woods, I’ll be performing in Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld.  I’ll be singing the role of Cupid, the God of Love.  Incidentally, my most recent performance (just over a month ago) was as Amor, the God of Love, in Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice.  Though beautiful, the Gluck opera lacks the humour — and the Can-Can! —  that are integral to the Offenbach work.  I’m looking forward to comparing and contrasting these two interpretations of the same character.  And did I mention the Can-Can?!?! I guess you could say that I’m really looking forward to that, too!

Upcoming Projects!

It is possible that I am the world’s worst blogger.  Oh well.  I can live with that.  I’ve been meaning to write a new post for quite a while, but things just kept getting in the way: learning new rep, rehearsals, rescheduling students’ lessons, preparing for festival season, the Olympics… as you can see, I’ve had a lot on my plate.

Seriously, though, I had a very busy fall — the busiest yet!  Between (Canadian) Thanksgiving and Christmas/Ice Storm 2013 I had one day off.  One whole day that didn’t involve any teaching, rehearsing, or performing.  Not that I’m complaining.  It was great to be so busy and to do so much singing.  I had the opportunity to explore the very different roles of Olympia, Antonia, and Giulietta in The Tales of Hoffmann, an opera I’ve been completely enchanted by since first studying it in an undergrad music history course.  I also had the opportunity to perform with friends in the chorus for Verdi’s Oberto with TrypTych Concert & Opera, to appear as a soloist in the Christmas concert for my friends, the Volunge Toronto Lithuanian Chorus, and to revisit one of my favourite roles, Gretel, in Hansel and Gretel with Symphony on the Bay.

After getting some much needed rest, I am happy to be delving into some new projects over the spring and summer months.  To start things off, I’ll be heading to Cornwall later this month to adjudicate the vocal and choral classes of the Kinsmen Music Festival.  I’m thrilled to be experiencing this side of the music festival!  Local music festivals offer so much to young musicians, especially in smaller communities where performing opportunities may be limited.  I always encourage my students to enter as many as possible.  It’s a good chance for them to hone their skills as performers, to build confidence, and to grow as musicians.  Even if the feedback they receive is no different than the things I tell them in their lessons, participating in these festivals is a great learning experience.  I can’t wait to hear and work with the young singers of Cornwall, and I hope the feedback they get from me helps them to grow into more confident and more thoughtful singers.

Mere days after I return from Cornwall, I will be making a trip up to North Bay to appear as the soprano soloist in Mozart’s Requiem with Near North Voices.  I’m extremely excited about this for two reasons: 1) Mozart is my absolute favourite composer to sing, and 2) this project reunites me with Dr. Adam Adler, NNV’s Artistic Director (and fellow Thornhill Secondary School alum!).  The last time I worked with Dr. Adler, when he conducted the TSS Concert Choir, I was a teenager preparing to begin my undergraduate degree at Queen’s, and he was a doctoral candidate at U of T.  The performance will take place on March 30, 2014 at 7:30 pm at St. Andrew’s United Church in North Bay.

Following what will surely be an exciting March, I will turn my attention to two new roles: Amor in Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice, with Opera by Request in June, and Little Red Ridinghood in Sondheim’s Into the Woodsfor the Halifax Summer Opera Festival.  And on that note, it’s time to go practice!

 

Now on Twitter!

After many years of resisting, I have, at long last, joined Twitter.  I hope it will be a fun and interesting way to interact and connect with people! If you’d like to follow me, you can find me at @little_kicks (so named for the infamous dancing skills of the always inspirational Elaine Benes from Seinfeld).

I ♥ Toronto, Vol. 2

There’s been a lot of negativity in Toronto lately.  The mayor’s office seems to be in utter chaos, and despite his protestations, it is most definitely not business as usual at City Hall.  But there is more to Toronto than the mayor.  There are so many things that make this a great city, which is why I’ve decided to accentuate the positive and write about one of them: the Toronto Public Library.

I love the Toronto Public Library.  Love it.  For years I lived a few blocks north of Steeles, just beyond the border, and I envied Torontonians their library.  I often made use of the TPL, particularly the Reference Library, but I lacked the library card that would give me borrowing privileges, and full access to all the services offered through the library.  Then I moved to Toronto.  There were a lot of benefits to moving further south.  My car insurance dropped, my commute to work became shorter, and best of all, I finally had full access to one of the finest library systems in the world! For free! 

If you’re a musician in Toronto, you probably know that the Toronto Reference Library is home to a fabulous collection of music scores.

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My home branch

I borrow scores on what feels like a weekly basis.  If there’s a piece, or a song cycle, or an entire opera role that I think I might like to learn, I borrow it from the library.  If there’s a musical theatre selection, or a folksong that I want to assign a student, but don’t have in one of my own anthologies, I borrow it from the library.  If it’s festival season, and my students need a second original copy of the music for the adjudicator, I borrow it from the library. All I have to do is look it up on the online catalogue, and then go to the library and get it, or place a hold on it, and wait for it to arrive at my home branch for pick-up.

Another fabulous resource is the TPL’s extensive selection of online databases.  About a year after first receiving my treasured library card, I made a most joyous discovery: I had online access to The Journal of Singing.  This is the official publication of The National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS), a peer reviewed journal containing research on vocal pedagogy, analysis of vocal literature, book reviews, and interviews with world renowned performers.  I thought I’d have to go down to the Reference Library to read journal articles.  Instead, I was able to spend a blissful few hours reading past issues, while in the comfort of my own home (ie. drinking tea and most likely wearing pajamas).  Seriously, though, this is an invaluable resource for any singer or teacher.  We can keep up with the latest research without having to subscribe to the journal individually. I encourage everyone with a library card to make use of these resources, and if you don’t have a library card, go get one right now!

A Day In The Life

When I was a student at Queen’s, I remember being asked what exactly music students did all day.  Did we head over to the music building after breakfast and just play our instruments all day?  Well, not quite.  We did spend significant amounts of time each day in the practice room, or in rehearsals, but that was on top of our academic classes.  Being a music student was hard work.  Sure, we had our creative outlets, but our days were fairly routine.  Much like life after graduation.  Because being a professional musician isn’t as glamourous as it may seem.  Don’t get me wrong, being a professional musician is wonderful! There are some really cool aspects to this job.  As a musician I sometimes get to travel to places I would otherwise not have the opportunity to visit, I get to work with all kinds of interesting people, and, one of my favourite parts, I get to wear beautiful gowns.  For work!  But “musician” is still a job, and just like any other job, it isn’t exciting all the time.  So I thought I’d share with you how I spend a typical day….

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I ♥ Toronto, Vol. 1

There are so many reasons why I love living in Toronto.  I love that there are so many different neighbourhoods to explore, each with its own variety of unique shops and restaurants.  I love seeing the seasons change in Don Valley (the only upside of being stuck in traffic on the Don Valley Parkway).  I even love the Toronto Maple Leafs.  But above all this, I love how much music and theatre I have the opportunity to experience here, and not just from major organizations like the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the Canadian Opera Company, or Mirvish Productions, but also from the growing number of smaller performing arts companies that call Toronto home.  Companies like Essential Opera, Opera Five, Opera by Request, Against the Grain Theatre, and Metro Youth Opera, to name a few.  Not only do they provide Toronto arts lovers with innovative, high calibre performances, but they also provide young artists valuable opportunities to perform.

As a working singer who is still learning and growing, it’s so inspiring to see other young artists on stage.  This past weekend I attended a performance of Samuel Barber’s A Hand of Bridge and Jean Paul Sartre’s No Exit, produced by Soup Can Theatre.  A Hand of Bridge featured two dear friends of mine — soprano Taylor Strande, and mezzo-soprano Shilpa Sharma.  The entire cast, which included tenor Alvaro Vazquez Robles and baritone Keith O’Brien, gave compelling performances and filled the room with their rich voices, but it was the two women that captivated me the most.  (I may be just the teensiest bit biased though.)  I only wished that Barber had composed more than just ten minutes of music, so I could hear more of my friends’ beautiful voices.  The play that followed this short opera, No Exit, was also brilliantly executed, and featured four compelling actors who I felt were perfectly cast.  (None are personal friends, so no bias here.)  Overall, I had a thoroughly enjoyable Saturday night at the opera/theatre.  It was both time and money well spent.  (Bonus: ticket prices were very reasonable — as they usually are with these smaller companies — which I very much appreciate as an artist on a budget!)

There’s always something to see and hear in Toronto. There are far more organizations than there is time for me to write about in this post, and there are so many more things I love about Toronto.  I’ll save those for future posts.  In the meantime, I plan to get out and enjoy everything that this great city has to offer, and support local artists at the same time!