Friday, May 29, 2009


I would be remiss in my blog not to talk about Medeski, Martin, and Wood, known as MMW. Writing about them really doesn't do justice to what they are about and what they are doing with sound. I'll give you basics for those of you who aren't familiar with them or their music - John Medeski, keys; Billy Martin, drums and percussion; Chris Wood, bass. They've been together since 1991, starting as a jazz trio. Their influences are universal, everything from children's toys to Charles Ives to Messaien to African drumming to hip hop to the Meters to Ray Charles to Charles Mingus to Bob Marley, just keep going, it doesn't stop. They were with Blue Note for many years but now have their own recording studio and are able to make music the way they want. They've embarked on the three volume Radiolarian series - rather than making a recording and playing the music from the new album for audiences, they are creating music for audiences and then bringing back their work to the recording studio.

I went to New England Conservatory with John. I went to some of his gigs back then, we even went to see a couple of movies. He was always in another place as a pianist, playing with sound and creating, he was a monumental talent and an intense person, a bit intimidating, but he was quick to find humor and laugh about things. I caught up with him again last summer at the first Camp MMW held in the Catskills, about 70 musicians participated. I can't begin to tell you what a profound experience camp was for me. John, Billy, and Chris are each great talents that work well together, and to hear them play live and close-up was a gift. They each gave lectures, we tried out a lot of ideas, saw fascinating movies, heard amazing concerts every night, all at a beautiful resort in the Catskills with amazing food. Because of camp, I am now devoting my life to music and yoga. That is the definition of a life-changing experience.

They've just released Radiolarians II and Billy who has many talents besides being a drummer/percussionist/teacher, filmed this movie with an old Russian K3 super 16 mm film camera, the song is Amber Gris from the album.

I'll be seeing them in a week, MMW will be performing in Baltimore June 5th. The universe is listening.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Cycling and the Giro

Cyclist Danilo di Luca, a few years ago>

One of my recent passions in life is professional cycling. I started watching the Tour de France a few years back and suddenly, I was obsessed. I could identify with being a cyclist - an individual using their whole body against the elements, and my word, the DRAMA of it! Now I'm no expert on cycling, but I read the cycling reports every morning and keep up with it the best I can. I'm a fan of certain cyclists, I follow their particular seasons and while I can't sit with the "big boys" who quote stats, I can hold my own.

All most of us know in the US is the Tour de France and Lance Armstrong. Let's face it, winning 7 Tour de France's will never be topped, the man is a cancer survivor and tireless advocate for the fight against cancer. He has his own plane and lots of money, he dates superstars. Cycling, however, is much, much more than him, he'd be the first to admit it. To be honest, I never really liked him then, my husband and I were rooting for his German adversary, Jan Ullrich. I even had a magenta T-Mobile team cycling jersey that I wore during the month of July. Heresy, I know.

Cycling is much, much more than getting on a special racing bike and riding as fast as you can to win - there is strategy, that's where things get fascinating. The Tour de France is the biggest cycling race of the year, there are different stages each day: some are mountainous, some are flat, some are individual time trials, some have a flashy ending in a city or town for the sprinters. And let's not forget the weather factors of rain, hot sun, snow, or having an accident, sometimes all in the same day. The Tour de France is won by accruing the best total time, you can win the Tour without ever winning a stage. The factors can be endless!!

Besides the Tour, there are many bike races through the year and many different types of cyclists. Some cyclists shine at one day races, the Spring classics, held in Belgium, Holland, Italy, and France starting in March. Others do well in the three day or week long races. And then others are specialists in the grand tours. In addition to the 3 week Tour de France in July each year, there is the Giro d'Italia in May and the Vuelta d'Espana in September. Right now the second week of the Giro is happening in Italy, and while we don't get tv coverage here in the US, I follow along on the cycling news websites. Most three week races have the usual set up of having huge, astounding mountain stages in the last week, but for some reason this Giro has had a lot of big mountain stages in the first week which makes for using a different strategy to win. Danilo di Luca (nicknamed "the Killer" by the Italian press, they give nicknames to all their cyclists) on the LPR team is in the leader's pink jersey, the maglia rosa. He won the Giro a few years ago and was expected to be competitive but not to win. He is wily, he's been accruing all the time and extra bonus time he can, attacking when others weren't expecting it, he's strong in the mountains. Since it is early days in a grand tour, many cyclists use the first week to warm up and keep within striking distance. Di Luca knows that he could lose his lead to other cyclists in the top 10 who are very strong in the individual time trial coming up, so what a coup it would be if he is able to hold on, wow.

This year's Giro has been particularly dangerous with some usual safety measures lacking. I guess it adds excitement for the Italians but it really puts the cyclists into serious danger. Let's face it, these guys are professional, they race in all kinds of conditions all year round, so if they are complaining about the conditions, I think that needs to be addressed. There was an horrific crash a few days ago when 34 year old Rabobank rider Pedro Horrillo crashed into a guardrail and fell down a 150 foot ravine, it took half an hour to for him to be found. He was put into a coma and suffered a lot of injuries, luckily no brain damage, but he'll be out of commission for a long time. He's lucky to be alive. The riders in this year's Giro were understandably shaken up, and protested the dangerous conditions by riding very slowly around a circuit in Milan on Sunday - a circuit that included sudden lanes of the road ending (forcing speeding cyclists into a sudden bottleneck), parked cars (which should have been removed), traffic "furniture" (circles in the middle of the road), and tram lines in the road going every which way. Riders rarely protest, but they stopped the race, Lance and Di Luca grabbed a microphone, apologized but said the conditions were dangerous, the head of the Giro was forced to have to equalize all the rider's times that day. Drama, my friends. Perhaps this wasn't handled in the best way - fans in Milan were pretty upset - but the riders had their say publicly. I was proud of them for doing it because in the professional cycling culture, cyclists are expected to shut up and accept things - sudden drug tests at all hours (yes, someone watches you pee into a cup whenever and wherever), bad weather, drunken fans wandering around mountain stage roads, harrassment (fans throwing things at you or pushing you, yes, it happens), motorcycles with photographers in your face, being victim to bad management decisions, the list goes on and on. Michael Barry, a Team Colombia cyclist in this year's Giro wrote a good article, check it out

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Rest in Peace, Baltimore Opera Company

The Baltimore Opera Company is now defunct and a memory. It had a unique history and I will always have a soft spot for it because I was in my first opera with them. I got to be a part of how an opera was created, it was a powerful experience for me as a young girl. Being on the inside was fascinating, I remember the sights and smells, lights and sounds, the personalities, and even our staging. I loved hearing a full orchestra emerging from the orchestra pit beneath us on the stage and how bright the stage lights were. We brought the audience into a world we were creating right there in real time. It was magic.

So the Baltimore Opera Company is no more. What happened to it? Yes, they were hit with a huge mountain of debts that caused bankruptcy, but that hasn't happened to every opera company. It is very costly to run a full opera because of the amount of people and ingredients involved to have its true artistic experience - musicians in the orchestra, singers, costumes, sets, rehearsal pianists, conductors, all the technical aspects, stage directors, wigs, surtitles - if any of these are of lesser quality, the performance can suffer as a whole. Opera is a full theatrical experience, that is its power. Any of us who have been a part of opera scenes or an opera production in a church basement know this immediately - no matter how well we sing or how great our dramatic interpretation is, there is always something lacking - an orchestra, a decent stage, cheap sets, limited acoustics, bad stage direction, an out of tune piano, uncomfortable seating and temperature for the audience, and the list goes on and on. A full professional opera company, however, is a cherished place: opera can be performed the way it was meant to be.

Opera is not an art form many Americans seem interested in anymore. Since funding for the arts in schools is decreased every year, people become less and less informed about it. Operas are often sung in a foreign language with stories that can be rather silly, they can become slow-moving and laborious. People singing opera can seem weird, their voices doing freakish things, sometimes they move unnaturally on the stage and are disconnected. Sur or subtitles were introduced to help American audiences understand what is being sung, to enhance the experience for them. However, audiences don't go to the opera anymore because the price of tickets is exorbitant to cover all the costs and make a profit. It doesn't help that opera can be considered an art form for the elite. Many operas offer gimicks to bring in crowds - "new and improved!"- operas set in nuclear power plants; a muscle-bound tenor takes his shirt off during the production; Peter Sellers setting all of Mozart's operas in current day. I remember reading a review of an opera standard by an opera company in Germany in the 1990s and when the curtain opened, the whole cast was seated on toilets. Trust me, that would not draw me in to see a production! Did anyone see the "Tristan und Isolde" production Live from the Met about 10 years ago - all these huge hobby horses and toys on the set - what the hell? It literally pains me. What is lost is this: the power of opera is the music and singing that propel the plot. The music is first and foremost. When all the ingredients are right, there is no art form that can move me more.

Back to Baltimore... I think the company lost its identity. The great opera singer Rosa Ponselle started the company in the 1950s. Because she had married (and subsequently divorced) the son of Baltimore's mayor, she lived in the wealthy enclave of Green Spring Valley where all the famous racing horse farms were located. She had clout and got a lot of money for the company because of her personality. She gave many young singers with limited opportunities a professional place to work - Beverly Sills, James Morris, Spiro Malas to name a few - and the company became something. Funding never seemed to be a problem. They only had three performances of three productions a season - on a Thursday, Saturday, and Monday night. My parents held Saturday season tickets from 1963 for 40 years. They bought me season tickets during my high school years, I was in the third row up close and just loved it, it was an exciting environment. The opera chorus was always strong and there was a proud tradition of supernumeraries (people who don't sing but are in costume) - no one could top the march of the heretics in their "Don Carlo" from the early 1980s. There were no empty seats on Saturday nights back then, the well-dressed crowds poured into the lobby at intermission to smoke and be seen, but even though there were a good amount of wealthy patrons, Baltimore remains a blue collar town and stayed pretty low-key. The air was filled with great pride in their own successful opera company.

The company changed hands over the years, and with each change, the core of what made the company special was lost. An additional performance was added on Sunday so lead roles were double-cast - more people to pay. They added more productions a year, many were big productions with big casts like "Aida," to bring in the crowds. I went to a "Norma" production on a Saturday night about 10 years ago - where were all the Saturday night personalities I remembered? The audience make-up was very different. There were wealthy younger people there who didn't have a clue, they were there to be seen and didn't seem to be interested. Those wealthy bluehairs who had had a connection to Rosa Ponselle were gone. The production was ok, but that special warmth, appreciation, and heart of the Baltimore audience that had worked to achieve their own opera company didn't exist anymore. I mourned their loss. The company was very different.

In about 2003, my opera-loving father told me that they didn't have season tickets anymore. What?!?!? He went to pay for them and was informed that their Saturday seats had been sold. Dad sent in ticket stubs and cancelled checks for proof, but to no avail, there was no record of them in the computer, he was told. NOTHING was done about it, no apology, no concern. 40 year patrons were unceremoniously dumped.

In March, the Baltimore Sun posted a picture of a woman who came out to mourn the end of the company, she had a little coffin with the dates 1950-2009 on a placard. She was in black. Nobody showed up except the press to take her picture.

For facts about the Baltimore Opera, see

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Key Largo

"Come on Lady Bountiful, come on come on!!!!"

I have a cold. It is about time, I haven't been sick in nearly a year, the flu shot did its job as long as it could. I view sickness as a way to be quiet, get some more sleep and slow down. I can't taste anything so I'm not really hungry. I do crave noodles, though, one of the few times you'll find me eating ramen noodles and a rare time you won't find me eating chocolate.

Springtime is also the time you'll find me watching one of my favorite movies, Key Largo. It is not a great drama, it is labelled in the noir category. But oh, the delicious fact is that John Huston loved filming his actors and creating this world. I always try to see it once a year, being sick is as good a time as any. I watched it this evening and enjoyed every moment. I love this movie for lots of reasons - men wearing high-waisted pants and shorter ties, every fantastic close-up, the gangster sidemen - dumb Toots who laughs at the inappropriate time and yes-man Curly chewing gum. I love old Lionel Barrymore, sultry Lauren Bacall, quiet and handsome Humphrey Bogart, and fascinating Edward G. Robinson. Now he is the consummate underworld leader, I can't take my eyes off what he'll do next, chomping his cigar, nattily dressed, giving orders, dangerous, and losing control. But the real reason I watch this film is Claire Trevor as the gangster moll, Miss Gay Dawn. She won the Oscar for best-supporting actress in this part and she is remarkable. She nails down every detail, I just love her. A role like that is a gift for a female actor and she knew it, she revels in Gay Dawn's uncomfortable, past-her-prime boozy reality. The scene when she is forced to sing her old club number will rip your heart out. Even after all the times I've watched this scene and know the outcome, I'm drawn in and want to make things better for her.

So take a look sometime, spend an hour and 45 minutes watching a classic. I hope you'll enjoy it as much as I do!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Legato Line

I love to listen to voices. When I was in my first opera La Boheme in 1976 with the Baltimore Opera company, I became fascinated by the art form. I was a sponge in those rehearsals, taking in how the director was directing people, what the singers were doing and how they were singing, watching how an opera was put together. Right after that experience, I began a serious study of opera singers and singing by checking out every recording I could find in our local library. By the time I was 14, I knew all of Enrico Caruso's recordings, I could name what year, the aria/composer, and with whom he was singing. Yes, I was a nerd. In fact, all these years later, if you put on a Caruso recording I could probably still do it, just like some kids can spout off baseball stats.

In listening to opera singers on recording, I found I liked the older singers, I was fascinated by their choices and phrasing, it seemed so different than the current styles in the early 1980s. The actual singing technique seemed complete. What was going on? Why did one singer breathe in one place and another singer make a different choice? Why was a particular phrase so different in another singer's hands? Just like anything else, styles and fads go in and out of style, opera has the same issues: specific endings to arias change, high note choices, etc. Very early opera recordings can be hard to listen to, most singers didn't record well, Caruso was one of the few who did. Famous soprano Nellie Melba sounds like a warbly bird, orchestras sound like a general, huge, woofy wall of sound. Most recordings have a lot of static-y background noise. I learned to tune out the other things and just listen to the voice.

Every human voice is different. With opera singing, no two voices are the same. Singers make choices in an aria for different reasons - to show off a particular technical prowess, an exceptional high note, the ability to go to pianissimo (very soft) on a dime, the way the words shape a musical phrase. And while I don't really listen to much opera anymore, I still have love and affection for it. The thing that draws me to great singing is legato line. The dictionary describes legato as "smooth and connected; without breaks between the successive tones." A classically trained singer knows legato line as singing from vowel to vowel, not having consonants break up the intention of the phrase. This is very tough to do and can take a lot of work. It is particularly hard for American singers, our language is filled with dipthdongs and I wouldn't describe it as musical. Legato line tends to be easier for Italian, Spanish, Swedish singers, singers who began with an open-voweled language. I remember chuckling to myself in Italy as I listened to people in the market place, their language is musical, they sing from word to word as they speak.

And this brings me to today's listening example. Ezio Pinza (1892-1957), there he is pictured at the top of the blog, back in the good old days when opera singers smoked. He was a bass with a gorgeous voice, he was matinee-idol handsome, and he handled his singing career with great wisdom for the long haul. Reknowned for his roles as Don Giovanni and Mephistopheles, he spent 22 seasons with the Metropolitan Opera. When he retired from the opera stage, he went to Broadway and created the role of Emile DeBeque in South Pacific, receiving a tony for his portrayal and setting the standard interpretation for the song "Some Enchanted Evening." I like things that are unusual and quirky in singing, so I was delighted to find him singing "Bali Ha'i" tacked on to the end of the cast album . Emile doesn't sing this in the show, this is Bloody Mary's big number. Whether Pinza did this to sell more albums or for some radio show there it is, a brilliant legato line saved for posterity. With the first few notes he sings, you know he's not American, his vowels are amazing and even, not a dipthdong to be heard. It is gorgeous singing and is a clear example of how legato line works. Enjoy!

Sunday, May 3, 2009


When I was training to be an opera stage director, I was taught that everyone takes information in one of three ways - visual, tactile, or auditory. I could show the singer what I wanted by moving about on the stage, I could move with a hand on the singer or their hand on my shoulder to show how and where I wanted them to move during a phrase, or I could sit and tell them what I wanted. Most of the time I used versions of all three, but mostly it was visual or tactile. The fun of directing was discovering what different needs each singer had and how best to impart information to them. Very few singers could learn just by listening alone. I found that observation fascinating, especially in an art form that was conceived as primarily an auditory one, the singers themselves weren't auditory learners of stage movement. When I had worked as an opera singer, I learned the stage direction auditorally, rarely was it tactile, sometimes visual. So while I was wearing my director's hat, I had to discover the best way to communicate what I wanted to accomplish while making the singers feel empowered.

As an actor, I've noticed that most stage directors give auditory directions, sometimes visual demonstrations, but rarely tactile. Actors tend to be auditory learners, "enter stage left at this line," and it is done exactly. Not much more thought than that.

Working as a puppeteer, I had to discover how the puppet moved, why it moved, what was effective. Weeks would be spent "playing" with the puppet, using a mirror to watch the movement. When we got to the actual staging the director would say, "I want you to enter stage left at this line," but I had to figure out what did that mean. Breaking down the movement into minutia, timing was crucial. How could a foot would be placed, a knee bent, the torso following, arm and hand motion, and most importantly the focus of the puppet's eyes. Was it a comical moment or a serious one? Then I would have to determine the pace of movement for the puppet's blossoming personality. While in the rehearsal process my work was visual and tactile, but it totally became tactile in performance.

I performed in two productions at Gallaudet University as a voice actor. The first was a Moliere play, "The Doctor in Spite of Himself." The actors were all deaf and performed in sign language, we voice actors were cast in different roles, speaking the lines for the hearing audience as the actor was delivering her lines in sign language. Sign language has a whole different syntax than the English we use, so I would say it was a subtext of what was being signed. So imagine - the text was translated from French, then into sign language, the voice actors' scripts were a poetic English version of the original text. I laser-beamed onto the woman playing the character I was voicing, watching how she physically phrased a line so that I could be true to what she was doing. Sometimes I couldn't figure out what line she was saying from the thickly translated verse, and then we would have to communicate which was difficult. I'd grab one of the voice actors who also signed to try and understand which could take a while. In this particular production, the voice actors were off-book, all the lines memorized. During the performance, we sat on the extreme stage left and right sides of the stage, standing when our character appeared, watching the actors from that angle deliver their lines while we spoke the lines, talk about a roller coaster ride. I'd go with visual in this case!

By this point, you probably can tell that I am an auditory learner. Puppetry really challenged me, but I liked performing tactically. I am not a visual person, so performing with deaf actors was an extreme challenge but I became a much better actor and communicator for it.

How do you learn??? How do you take in information? A fascinating question!

Saturday, May 2, 2009


Here we go, the long-awaited blog! Many of you who know me in real life know I'm fascinated by just about everything and have had a very eclectic background. Here is a place for me to muse as I stroll along my journey.

Why "voice of the soul"? I began life as a music child-prodigy, I could sing anything I heard and sing from my soul with an amazing voice in a small child's body, I was performing professionally by the age of 10. Music is the most profound thing in my life. I watched how people responded to my singing, I stopped time and changed their lives, and that is a lot of power for a child to have. I performed and worked with a lot of adults back then, musicians can be any age, we were equals. However, this does not make the best transition into the real world, and I suffered through bad voice teachers and people who were not out for my best benefit. I was a has-been by the age of 20 and had some gruesome years.

Suddenly, the world opened to me - there was more out there than music, so I launched into a lost youth and explored, I had many adventures and lots of identities. I found yoga along the way which became the next most-important place in my life. In the serious study of yoga, one reads a lot. I discovered the great sufi mystic and musician, Hazrat Inayat Khan (1882-1927) and his words floor me, just blow me away. Even more than 80 years after his death, his writings ring true.

So we arrive to my blog name.

From the chapter entitled The Voice of Thought, vibratory power:

"In preparing anything one not only puts one's magnetism into it, but the voice of one's soul is produced in the thing one prepares."

-Hazrat Inayat Khan, The Music of Life, The Inner Nature and Effects of Sound