Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Nearing the end of the year of German!

As I move through the midway point of December, I have successfully increased my intensity with my German studies.  I am up over 3300 words known at this point, and may have a shot at 4000 by the end of the month if I can keep up the pace.  I find German flowing through my brain a little bit easier and I am thinking about trying to get to one of the last meetups for the German group here in town to test my level.  

My singing has had ups and downs this month.  I sang for a number of events at church that ranged from going really well to me struggling with similar issues that I did in my auditions.  I am currently succumbing to the cold that generally marks the end of the holiday season and, with the exception of a family funeral I am singing tomorrow, have placed myself on vocal rest so that I can make it through the Christmas mass schedule next week.  My final blog post of the year will be a review of the last year and a preview to the coming year's plans.  Have a blessed Christmas!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

A New Phase

I have entered a new phase of my vocal journey this month.  I was lucky enough to be able to have two lessons this month as compared to my usual one every other month.  During the course of these two lessons, JRL and I worked on a new aspect of singing technique.  For the past three years, we have focused mostly on developing the chest voice component of my voice.  This was lacking from my singing previously and took some time to develop.  Now, we are working on finding the "thin edge" of the voice.  This is proving to be very challenging for me, though I am finding success and a certain ease in my singing that was not as present before. 

In the past five years or so, I had noticed that I was losing my vocal agility and I could not figure out why.  I found this very frustrating, because I used to pride myself on the ease with which I could handle coloratura passages.  After a couple of weeks of working to find the "thin edge," I sang through "Ev'ry Valley" from Handel's Messiah today with relative ease and at a passable tempo.  The runs felt both clean and under control, not to mention the top notes were easier than they have ever been.  My challenge now lies in this weekend. 

I have two auditions this weekend and these are some of my last auditions of this season.  At this point I have not been terribly pleased with my performances in audition situations this year.  I have been becoming more and more comfortable with each audition and I know that this is a process.  Singing tenor is still new to me, especially in front of people, and the more that I do it the easier it becomes.  I am hoping that some fruit will come from these auditions this weekend. 

My primary goal is to sing well and seek the "thin edge" throughout my two auditions.  My secondary goal is to be offered a position through these auditions.  I am at a difficult point currently in that I am nearing an age where I need to either find work singing, or pursue a secondary plan that is more sustainable than my current day job.  This will inevitably lead to me pursuing a graduate degree if I have to go down this path.  Following a path towards a graduate degree does not necessarily hurt my chances of singing professionally, in fact, it would probably help me a great deal.  The issue I have is that I would rather just get out there and sing rather than go through another two years of academic work.  Prayers are greatly appreciated that my auditions this weekend and throughout this audition season lead to an offer to sing somewhere this summer and begin my career.

German is still coming along at a consistent pace.  I have fallen into a pretty good groove as of late, though I am a little slow on my goal of 4,700 known words by the end of the year.  As we come into December I will need to increase my workload so to reach this level.  4,700 may seem like a random number to want to achieve, however there is a method to this number.  There is a study out of Australia (I believe) that found that in English the amount of words known divided by 1.6 equated to the number of word families known, which is a better measure of fluency than simply words known.  It is generally accepted that one can be quite proficient in a language once they know 3,000 words.  The Australian study points out that this is really 3,000 word families, not words.  Therefore, per the equation, I need to know 4,700 words to know 3,000 word families in English.  While I do not know the specific equation for other languages, I have found this same equation works pretty well for other languages.  If I can reach this number by year's end I will be at a solid intermediate level in the language and be able to have relatively comfortable conversations on a wide variety of topics.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Challenges and Excitements

It begins this week.  On Friday, I have my first YAP audition of the year.  This audition is for Ohio Light Opera.  I am both anxious and excited about this audition.  Anxious because of my last audition experience and because I have to have a monologue prepared, which is a new thing for me.  Excited because I feel like I have a lot to offer and that this year will be the year my career starts.  It has been a challenging last couple of weeks and I have realized some things that I didn't think were going to be such a problem when I started the audition process this year.

I have been denied auditions to a number of programs.  To date I have been denied auditions for 56% of the applications I have submitted, with 31% of programs having not yet responded one way or the other.  While I cannot say for certain what the reason is behind this, I believe it is due to a lack of experience.  When I was younger I was told that there were two ways to start a career in this field:

1.)  Go to grad school and make connections through the school's teachers.
2.)  Go straight into YAP's out of undergrad and make your own connections.

In that I was tired of schooling after undergrad I choose to take route 2.  The problem though, is that I also went through a technical change which led to a reclassification of my voice and three years without any stage credits.  So now, I am going to have to travel a very narrow path this year it seems, which may end up including a pay-to-sing opportunity, rather than a true YAP.  Ultimately I have faith in my process and in divine providence that I will be successful in attaining my goals.

My German is still progressing slowly but surely.  I have adopted a more intensive reading approach based on Dr. Arguelles' method of focusing on texts in which the percentage of unknown words is kept low so that you can focus on them and really ingrain them in your brain faster.  There is obvious upside and downside to this.  The upside was already mentioned; it is easier to get words to stick in your memory because you only need to focus on maybe five words instead of 20 or 30.  The downside is that it slows down the process considerably.  At this point my goal is to add approximately 10 new words to my known words total.  This may seem trivial but over the course of a month, that ends up being about 2,000 words if I am consistent with my five day work plan.  This will put me right about the same amount of known words as I have in French, which gives me a pretty good handle on the language.  I was hoping to be able to do more with German than I did with French since I had an extra four months, but with my wedding and auditions this year it just wasn't possible to spread myself out anymore.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Audition Season is Here!

I received some exciting news the other day when I opened my e-mail.  I have been granted my first audition for a Young Artist Program (YAP) as a tenor.  This is wonderful news for me, especially since the first two responses I got from other programs were declines.  I read an interview of Rockwell Blake a few years back in which he stated:

"There’s no cushion.  You start out with nothing, you have nothing, and there’s no such thing as an investment in property or something like a dentist would have to go through.  You move to New York, take an apartment and go to everything you can go to, and shell out a lot of money to pianists and coaches, which is necessary.  One needs to study, regardless, and you have to shell out money for the auditions, and if you are serious about making a career, you go to every audition there is.  That means maybe three or four times a week you’re shelling out twenty-five bucks for a pianist just to play three arias for you.  So it gets expensive, especially when you have no income."

I have made this into my personal mantra as I begin my real walk into this career.  For instance, at this point in the year, I am applying to about 20 different programs.  Ultimately more will come up as well as I continue through the season.  If you think about it, it is a numbers game like many things in life are.  When I first auditioned as a baritone nearly four years ago I only applied to about five programs and, while I managed to be granted auditions at all of those programs, I got accepted into none of them.  As an example of some of the odds a young singer faces starting out think about this:

A well-known program may receive 1500 applications from aspiring singers.  Out of those 1500, the company will hear approximately 700 auditions.  Then, from those 700, the company will pick about 25 singers for their program.

These odds seem nearly insurmountable, until you realize that there are hundreds of programs in this country, some of which are smaller programs and therefore receive fewer applications and hear fewer people for the same number of spots.  So, you see, eventually you will find the program that can accommodate you.  I am confident that I will find a placement for the summer during this season and begin my career.

My language quest has been somewhat trying as of late.  I have lacked time and motivation due to everything going on in my life, as I described above.  I am still working however and making progress.  I found a new app for my iPhone which is called "Audiobooks."  This is literally the entire database of LibriVox made available for iPhone.  Any language learners who do not know of LibriVox should check it out immediately, as well as Project Gutenberg.  These are invaluable resources for language learners as they provide you, between the two of them, with tons of materials for Listening-Reading.

I hope to get to another meetup or two before the year is out to see where I am at with my German.  This will be difficult though due to my potentially busy audition schedule.

On a side note, I noticed an interesting tidbit today when looking at my viewership.  I had a considerable spike in my readers on my birthday.  I can't imagine this is coincidence, but I find it rather amusing.  It's like a birthday gift from my readers.  I have also noticed a nice steady climb in readership over the years which is encouraging.  Ultimately my blog is gaining in popularity and I hope that it is helpful or informational to some of those who read it.  If there are ever any questions that any of you want me to try and answer, just leave a comment and I will answer it in my upcoming post.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

After the wedding...

The past few weeks have been a bit of a whirlwind.  On the eighth of October I got married and thusly have not had much time to devote to anything else.  I just got back into practicing both vocally and linguistically this week.  On the vocal side of things I did make a couple of recordings prior to the wedding and posted them to youtube for the sake of my upcoming auditions for various YAPs (young artist programs).

I never did get around to putting subtitles on the second clip.  Hopefully I will do that soon.  In coming back to practicing after about two weeks I am encountering some strange veil over my voice whilst singing.  I am not sure if this is sign of an oncoming illness, or just some minor entropy from not singing in a while.  Interestingly, I did not lose any of my range, the quality is just different and my endurance seems to have backtracked a bit.

Linguistically I have had a pleasant experience coming back after two weeks.  I have found that a number of things have solidified themselves and I am working around the language more easily than I did prior to the wedding.  At this point, if I work every day I can finish Assimil on January 2, 2013.  I don't know if I will work the two extra days, or stick to my plan of moving on to Spanish on January 1.  I am quite excited with how my German is progressing, even if I am not at the level I was hoping to be by this point of the year.

Monday, October 1, 2012

I'm getting married in a week! Also, my first tenor audition!

I'm getting married in a week.  Therefore I have done very little with German over the past couple of weeks.  I still continue to speak when I get together with Ernest, however I have not studied anything actively over the last two weeks.  I even let my LingQ account lapse until after the wedding so I can save as much money as possible.  I plan to get back on track after the wedding with German and make a big final push over the last couple of months.

About this time of year I let the cat out of the bag regarding the language I am going to next pursue.  I am running into a similar problem that I ran into toward the end of last year with French.  I plan to move on to my next language, but I feel drawn to sticking with German and really solidifying everything and continue working on German until I reach fluency.  On the other hand, I like moving on to something new so that I don't get bored.  It appears that my German will be at a solid B1 level by the end of the year, maybe B2 if I work effectively.  Truthfully that's sufficient for what I need currently, and is a high enough level where I can move on and not really risk losing what I have done.  That being said, my next planned language of study for next year is:  Spanish!

I studied Spanish in high school for three years and continued to speak Spanish for a while in college with some friends.  However, I have not actively spoken or studied Spanish in about eight years.  Also, since I have already worked in French and Italian I have a solid base in the language.  Therefore I am not a beginner, however I am still going to start from the beginning of my process and see what I can do.  It has been predicted by Ernest and other polyglots I know that Spanish will quickly become my best language because of the background I already have, and because of the easy exposure to Spanish in American culture.  I tend to agree and would love to be able to make it to fluency in the next year, beginning in January.  My goal at the beginning is always to attain fluency in a year, then I modify as the year progresses.  Next month I will give my review of my German year and assess how I have progressed.

I sang my first audition as a tenor on Saturday and it was a bit of a train wreck.  Just about everything that could have gone wrong during my audition did.  It started with flipping verses for about eight measures and proceeded to forgetting words, blanking out completely, and shanking high notes.  Fortunately this was a small local company which shouldn't have any effect on me elsewhere.  On the plus side, I did go into the audition very comfortable and confident, which I did not anticipate.  I was using this audition as a sort of practice experience to prepare myself for the more important auditions coming up in the next couple of months.  I need to go back and take a look at my repertoire to make sure I have it all memorized properly and securely so that my nerves don't steal my words again.  The audition experience provided me with the setup for a night of beating myself up, however sleeping does wonders for the soul and the mind and I have been much better since waking.  I have to take a week off from serious practice time to prepare and experience my wedding, and then I will be back in the swing of preparation again when I return next week.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Persistance means progress

I'm a week late in writing this because I have been busy preparing for auditions and my wedding.  I currently am dealing with being frustrated with my singing, which is always a great place to be in a month before auditions.  I realized however after comparing clips from practice sessions a month ago to more current sessions that I have indeed made considerable progress in the last month.  In discussing this with JRL when I last saw him, he made mention that I probably get frustrated because I get to a plateau of sorts after about a month of work on my own.  Upon my comparison I can say that this is unequivocally the case.  It is not that I cease to improve, but that the work becomes more difficult as I reach a higher level in my singing.  I feel well-prepared going into this audition season and am very excited about the prospect of finally get out and singing again!

I have been doing well with my German as of late as well.  I have progressed well into the active wave of Assimil and am making better progress in LingQ as time goes on.  I still have a lot of work to do to reach my goal in LingQ of knowing at least 7,000 words by the end of December, but if I can continue on the trajectory I am currently on, I think I will make it.  I have found a challenge in the active wave of Assimil that I also ran into with French.  As the lessons progress I seem to get more and more things incorrect.  I figure that this is not a big deal, since for me the more important thing is the input and output, not the exactness of my answers.  I'm learning even in making corrections to what I originally write.  I see now the value some people find in going back and doing the active wave multiple times, although I would worry that at some point it becomes a thoughtless exercise rather than an active process.  Perhaps with ample time in between repetitions this can be avoided.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Busy Season is Arriving

Now that the tumult of my Schicchi preparation has died down I am back to the normal grind.  I am now looking towards audition season, my first as a tenor.  Currently my first audition looks as though it is going to be in late October.  I am both excited and nervous about this first year of auditions.  I do not feel that I am completely ready vocally to be putting myself out there yet, but I am trusting in the guidance of JRL.  He thinks I am ready, and experience tells me that outside ears know my actual level better than I do.  I still have approximately two months until my first audition with which I hope to really solidify some pesky spots both in my voice and in my repertoire.  For those with inquiring minds, my planned audition repertoire this year is as follows:

De' miei bollenti spiriti from La Traviata by Verdi

Firenze com'é un albero fiorito from Gianni Schicchi by Puccini

Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön from Die Zauberflöte by Mozart

Ah! fuyez, douce image from Manon by Massenett

It's about the way people is made from Susannah by Floyd

The next two months entail a lot of work for me, specifically with Rinuccio and Des Grieux.  I really need to make sure that I have all of the Bb4's in those two pieces solid.  In addition to musical preparations, I am also about to begin working with an acting coach to help build my, admittedly undertrained acting skills.  I am hoping that these things will aid me in getting into a program my first year out and give me some tangible validation that I can bring back for all of my long time doubters in my home area.

My German studies have been a little hit or miss as of late.  Erring mostly on the side of miss.  I have done a better job of picking up the work this week and have begun to do more listening and attempting to speak and write a little bit more in German.  This week I joined a meetup group for German in Rochester.  I am going to go to my first meetup this Sunday with the goal of speaking in German the entire time I am there.

In other news I am getting married in the beginning of October which ultimately means my langauge studies will probably take another hit then.  Hopefully, I can find away to keep plugging away and achieve my goal of having a larger vocabulary in German than I do in French.  At this point my French vocabulary is about 56% larger than my German vocabulary.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

First roles!

Tonight I sang through my first two roles as a tenor.  Overall I did fairly well, I had some issues in Rinuccio but I made it through, survived as it were.  I discovered some challenges that I was already vaugely aware of, and I found some things to be very pleased with.  I did record my Rinuccio and I may try to take out some of the more encouraging clips to post for your listening, ahem, pleasure.  Next I have to begin looking at some programs to audition for and also start learning two more roles, in case I get asked to sing them in the next year:  Il Duca and Tamino.  These two roles are challenging in different ways and it will be interesting learning them both somewhat simultaneously.  Also, I have to learn one more aria for my audition package and work very hard to make everything considerably more comfortable before I actually get to auditions.

German is coming along well.  I am now coming into a more comfortable place and find myself able to think in German fairly aptly.  I am about a week away from beginning the active phase of Assimil and am slowly building my passive vocabulary the LingQ.  My next task is to start engaging in more German conversation and try to activate some of the passive vocabulary that I have gained.  I think that I now can focus a little bit more on German since these roles are over.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Things are beginning to click!

The last two weeks have been good weeks for me on both fronts.  I have gotten back into a pretty regular study schedule with German and have noticed a lot of progress as of late.  I am now picking up small chunks of passages when I listen to Radio Horeb or watch Extr@.  I find that I am beginning to be able to express myself with a little more ease in daily conversation and am feeling more and more comfortable with the language every day.

Speaking of Extr@, I discovered this program while looking through my subscriptions on youtube the other day.  One of the channels I had subscribed to had liked one of the videos of Extr@.  Upon some research I discovered that the program is designed for language learners and is available in English, French, Spanish, and German.  The storyline is silly and the production value and acting leaves a bit to be desired, but I do find the program easy to watch and I can catch a lot of the dialogue.  Overall, German is progressing nicely now that I am back into the regular swing of things.

I have also been having similar experiences vocally.  My first roles as a tenor are coming up in about two weeks and I am starting to become comfortable singing them straight through in succession.  I was worried a few days ago because I felt like it was a struggle to get through the second, more demanding role of Rinuccio, however I eventually reminded myself that I will have some time to rest in between my sung parts in the role as compared to in the practice room where I sing through them in succession.  I recently discovered the vocal posture that I like to maintain while singing and this has made my life considerably more easy.  I have to verify that this is the correct posture when I meet with JRL in a couple of weeks, but I believe that this finding is a huge step forward for me.  

As this upcoming performance is nearly past, I am beginning to look forward to auditions for some summer young artist programs and putting together my package for this.  I am still lacking one aria in my package, but I hope to be able to rectify this problem also when I meet with JRL.  Singing has become really exciting again and I find that I fall more and more in love with the art form as I continue to progress, both vocally and linguistically.  Ultimately my language goals are designed to further my artistry and the more I delve into languages the more I see the beauty of the way composers set words to music; and the more I grow vocally the more I am able to enjoy telling the stories of these operas and songs.

In a quick look ahead, after this performance I am going to be focusing on securing my audition repertoire for the upcoming season.  After I have those pieces in a good place I intend to start to work on a recital program to be performed before I leave Rochester in about a year.  I am still trying to iron out a potential program, but I am leaning heavily towards performing "La bonne chanson" by Gabriel Faure and "Dichterliebe" by Robert Schumann.  It is said that Faure's work is considered by some to be his Dichterliebe, so I think this will be a nicely tied in program.  My plan is to sing both works in their original keys, which I personally believe is the best way to perform art song.  This way the audience hears the music exactly as the composer envisioned it.  As I begin to prepare this program I will reflect on it here and provide details of any upcoming performances of both the recital and any opportunities I receive through auditions.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Vocal Epiphany!

The last two weeks I have focused almost completely on the music side of my life.  With Rinuccio approaching in a month I have been working feverishly in preparing the role.  As I am beginning sing through the role in one sitting, I noticed at first that my endurance was an issue.  Luckily as with most muscular actions, the brain adapts quickly and I am having less and less issue with consistency getting through the role. In coaching the role for the first time this past week I had a bit of an epiphany.

At a coaching a month or so ago I was told to be careful of my pitch on descending lines as I tended to go out of tune.  I found this to be odd, because I generally don't suffer from pitch problems anymore.  Nevertheless, I have since been paying extra attention to my descending lines to make sure they are in tune.  At my coaching last week, with a different coach who knows me and my voice better, I was told again to be careful of descending lines.  The catch and epiphany however, was that this coach told me that I was coming out of my resonance.  Ah ha!  Upon hearing this I was easily able to address the problem and found things to click much quicker.  I learned that if I come out of my resonance that I sound as though I am out of tune, but it is more that I become flat in tone rather than pitch.  I also learned at this most recent coaching the need for pacing myself.  Admittedly I do not really know how to do this, so I am experimenting on my own and doing the best I can to save my big vocalizing for my most "dramatic" parts of this role.

In addition to Rinuccio, I learned last week that I also need to prepare Tinca from Il Tabarro for the same read through.  This doesn't bother me much, although I am now stuck waiting for a score before I can learn the role.  The estimated delivery time is 10 July, which will give me about three weeks to learn the role.  Luckily, the role is even smaller than Rinuccio.

Since my focus has been so much on this upcoming event my language studies have faltered a bit.  I still listen to radio horeb and speak with my German speaking friend rather regularly and feel that I am in a good place with German still.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The First Test

I am ill today due to allergies and figure I should try to write this while I have a spare minute. I have been prepring my first tenor role for the past few weeks and I must say that I have been enjoying the process. I am singing Rinuccio from Gianni Schicchi in August. This is my first real test of how my progress as a tenor is coming along. I feel confident about my prospects based on my work thus far. I have already learned the role and am now trying to memorize it. I don't necessarily need to memorize it for this project, but it's a good habit to get into. Unfortunately I am not able to practice today because of the post-nasal drip onto my vocal folds in the last twenty-four hours. Hopefully I will be able to get back into it tomorrow.

German is progressing decently. I am now working my way through Assimil which is a much more subconscious process than Michel Thomas was. With Assimil, it is truly a case of trusting the process and being patient. I do find that listening is getting easier as I progress through Assimil, and I look forward to continuing to advance in the coming weeks and months.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A Time of Blessing

The blessings of the Lord have been flowing down upon me the last couple of weeks!  I'll begin with the language side of my life.  Yesterday I finished the Michel Thomas course I have been working on for the last five months.  This is significant for a number of reasons.  First, I feel that I have a strong base in German now and can comfortably hold my own in basic, day to day conversation.  Second, this means that I can now move on to Assimil, picking up where I left off at lesson 24.  Additionally, tomorrow I will cross over the 2,000 known word milestone on LingQ.  This has taken me a lot longer than I anticipated, however it is ultimately of my own doing.  I took a small hiatus earlier in the year from LingQ and in general I am lax about doing LingQ if I am lacking motivation on a given day.  This puts me at about the same level on LingQ as my Italian says I am.  Although Italian was the "first" foreign language I brought to a significant level it has quickly become my lowest level language, besides my high school level Spanish.  At some point I will come back and bring all of my languages to higher levels, but for now I am content with where it is.

Based on where I am in the Assimil program, I have approximately 126 days of work ahead of me, which equates 25 weeks of study based on a 5 day study schedule.  That should bring me to about December, which allows me to focus solely and intensively on LingQ for the final month, where I hope to really increase my known words.  The nice thing about known words is that they grow exponentially.  In French I learned approximately 5500 words in 8 months.  If I follow a similar pace from here on out in German that would bring me to about 7500 known words by the end of the year, give or take a few hundred.  If I stay on course and hit all of my goals for the rest of the year I should have no problem speaking German coming January 1st.

The real exciting news comes on the vocal front.  I went down to New York to have a lesson with JRL and had a very productive lesson.  Towards the end of the lesson I was assigned the role of Rinuccio in Gianni Schicchi for a sing-through later in the summer.  This will be my first time singing a role as a tenor!  On top of this, I am also looking ahead to doing my first round of auditions for some summer programs in the autumn.  After three arduous years of struggle and hard work I am beginning to come out on the other side of this process and am confident about my prospects.

Another important part of my trip to New York was my coaching with Susan Morton.  During the coaching I was recommended a book called The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle.  While I am still just barely scratching the surface of this book, it has transformed my approach to nearly every important aspect of my life.  The concept of "deep practicing" discussed in the tome has made learning a much more intense and rewarding experience.  I have witnessed the benefits in my singing while learning this role, in my running as I have determined to beat my chronic shin splints this summer, and even my language work as I near an intermediate level of German.  I highly recommend that anyone who is attempting to gain a skill find this book and give it a read.

Overall, the last two weeks have seen many prayers beginning to be answered and many goals in their infancy of being realized.  I look forward to where these new opportunities and experiences take me and glorify the Lord for granting me the patience to see these things through to their fulfillment according to his will!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Strength is coming!

There's not a whole lot to report on the language front this time around.  I am still plugging away and making progress daily.  There have not been any new big breakthroughs.  The only noteworthy thing is that I will be finish MT before my next post, which means I will then go back to Assimil.

My vocal studies are where the more interesting things have been happening lately.  A couple of weeks ago at church I was singing at the 8:30 mass and went for a G4 which I can normally hit in a rough way that early in the morning.  This time around, however everything happened the way it was supposed to:  the F turned on the [o] vowel and then the [a] vowel turned ideally on the G producing a nice, easy, free flowing pitch.  I took this accomplishment to mean that I have begun to build significant strength through my passaggio so that these acoustical things can happen correctly and automatically.  The second thing happened to me this past evening at a rehearsal for an ecumenical choir concert that I am participating in.  We had just finished rehearsing a men's choir piece which took the tenors up to an Ab4.  I sang this easily the few times we went through it without giving it much thought.  As we were going back to join up with the rest of the choir one of the other tenors made a remark to me that I was "one of those high tenors that sings that Pavarotti high C."  I laughed and answered that I was working on it.  It amused me because a year ago at this concert I was told be one of these singers that I was a "2nd tenor" and now after a year of work on my part I am being told that I am a "high tenor."  Ultimately these people are amateur singers and their thoughts on my vocal classification have little merit in my life.  It is nice however to see that my work is paying dividends.

I have come to realize over the course of my vocal studies that things happen at a slower pace for me in this medium than they did when I was a saxophonist.  Luckily I have learned to be patient and trust that the process will get me to my end goal eventually.  When I started down this path as a singer I did not realize how hard I was going to have to work to attain my dreams.  Everything else I had ever done in music came easily.  Now, though I have broken through so man apparent glass ceilings that I have very little that can stand in my way.  I had a goal set in front of me by JRL at my last lesson that by this time next year I need to have a workable C5 so I can work on Faust and Rodolfo.  I take these challenges very seriously and am closing in now an my B4, just a half step away from the famed "Pavarotti high C."  If my voice continues along the path it is currently on I anticipate not only reaching the goal of a workable high C, but hope to achieve it earlier than the date set forward by my teacher.

This fall I am going to be auditioning for a few summer programs and possibly one or two programs for the following year.  The following fall my sights are set on the MONCA competition.  This especially is a lofty goal, but I am confident that my work ethic and faith will see me through.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Faith: The Most Necessary Virtue!

I have made some good progress this month, both with my German and with my singing.  In German I am at approximately 1750 words known on LingQ and I have noticed that I am beginning to be able to follow some of the dialogue on the radio station I listen to, Radio Horeb.  There is still a lot that I miss, however I am still encouraged by the process that I am making.  I have about twenty days left with my Michel Thomas program and then I will be coming back to Assimil to finish that.  This being said, it is apparent to me that I am going to be hitting a few milestones in the next month.  My plans for the next two weeks is to start using my German more in certain areas of my life.  Primarily, I am going to start praying my Rosary in German at least three days a week.  I find that this has been very helpful for me in the past, as I can grow from the Rosary into personal prayers and really force the activation of a lot of the vocabulary I know.  I am one-third of the way through my German year and find myself at a very good place.

Vocally things have been a roller coaster ride of sorts.  A few weeks back I had a minor vocal crisis where I began to show the signs of a hole in my passaggio.  Luckily, after a brief correspondence with JRL, I have patched up that problem and moved on to considerably more exciting things.  Specifically, this week I have consistently sang my exercises up to a high C (and occasionally a C#), and today I was able to sing the C with vibrato.  To my mind, this means that I am starting to coordinate the note well enough that it is beginning to release.  I routinely practice at my former college, Roberts Wesleyan, which happens to be where both of my future sisters-in-law go to school currently.  I was informed by one of the sisters that I have a bit of a fan base among her fellow classmates.  One even went so far as to figure out the note that I "always crack on," which was a Bb4 for those who are interested.  While this is amusing, it also gave me great motivation to get past that Bb4, which I can say I have done now.  Instead I crack on the B4 or C5 now!

I am quite humbled by having a "fanclub" at my former school.  It is quite a different scene than when I was going to school here from 2003-2007.  At that time, the majority of the department was confused as to why I was a performance major.  Now the current student population thinks that I am an advanced singer.  This goes to a larger point that I was discussing with my language partner, Ernest, yesterday.  I have known from the time I became a voice major that I was going to be a singer, and a successful one at that.  Despite the dissensions from everyone from classmates to family to professionals, I am nearing the point of my process where I am going to begin my career.  If you have faith in your own path you will always achieve your goals.  The process may take you through deserts and mountains, however you will always come out on the other side if you maintain your faith.  As a Christian, I have put my life's path into God's hands and am confident that, while it may not happen in the timeline of my choosing, everything I have asked of God for my life will occur as it is supposed to.  Regardless of whether you are Christian or not, faith is one of the most important character traits we possess.  Believe and know that your aspirations will always happen as long as you continue to persevere faithfully.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Language Leap!

I am a little over a quarter of the way through my German year and I have made a considerable leap in my ability to express myself in the last couple of weeks.  I had a similar thing occur in French last year, where all of sudden the language began to flow from me with a lot less hindrance.  There are obviously still holes in my vocabulary, however I have discovered that I can now carry on conversations beyond mere greetings and niceties.  I'm not exactly sure what the turning point was for me and I wish I had kept a better catalog of hours spent working in the language so that I could possibly start to formulate a theory on the relationship between time and achievement.  My estimate is about five hours of Michel Thomas, eight hours of Assimil and 10 hours on LingQ.  So that is really only about 23 hours, not including time spent talking to myself and others, time spent watching movies and listening to the radio.  Truthfully though, this is a very small amount of time and I wish I had more time to devote to learning the language.  If I could devote this much time into my week instead of over the last three and a half months I can only imagine how strong my German would be come December 31, 2012!  Unfortunately I do not have four hours a day to devote to language learning so I have to do the best I can with the time I have.  I imagine that I will be able to add German to my list of spoken languages by August; then I would like to amp up my workload to really achieve fluency by the end of the year.

I have been having some struggles lately with my voice.  These challenges are things of my own doing, but they are very annoying nonetheless.  It is especially frustrating because I had such a great lesson a couple of months ago and I feel like I have done the two steps forward, one step back thing in the last couple of weeks.  I am beginning to pull myself out of these issues, but it appears that it is going to take me longer to recover from than it did to fall into.  There are some positives though, I still have built my strength up some as I am now able to sing a fairly consistent A4 ever without warming up (I don't do this often).  Overall it is important to continue to look at the positive movements that are happening and use those to get through the troublesome times.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Adapting the Learning Process

I am getting back in the swing of things somewhat with German over the past couple of weeks.  I have been really good about doing my Michel Thomas, however I have not touched Assimil in over a month.  I think that I have subconsciously decided that I will move on to Assimil after I have finished the MT.  In truth this is probably a good thing because it will give me something to do the second half of the year in addition to LingQ.  I am currently debating whether to go back to the beginning of Assimil, or just pick up where I left off.  In my split second decision making process I just went through I will pick up where I left off.  The last two weeks have been particularly good for my LingQ work.

It never ceases to amaze me the way that we continue to adapt and evolve the longer we work on a specific task.  In the case of LingQ I have just recently modified my approach and find that I am getting a lot more out of the program this way.  Before, I went through a three step cycle which was laid out this way:

1.) Listen without reading
2.) Read without listening
3.) Listen and read simultaneously

This way served me well and I thought that this way I could train my listening separate from my reading and visa-versa.  I recently though began listening and reading all three times through a passage and have found that my comprehension overall has grown markedly.  This should not surprise me since the creator of LingQ, Steve Kaufmann, says that you should never read without listening, nor should you listen without reading in the early stages.  The more surprising thing to me is that my brain spontaneously decided to try this approach seemingly out of the blue.  I am currently creeping in on 1500 words known, which is well behind my goal, but I am still happy with progress of any kind.

Vocally, I have had a similar epiphany in the last week.  It has been about a month since my last lesson with JRL and I decided one day last week to listen to the recording of my lesson.  At first I did not really think I was going to gain much other than some reinforcement of the things I was already doing.  After going through the recording I was amazed at some of the things that I had let slip in the last month.  My practice the rest of the week was great and I felt like I made some very big steps forward, all because I listened to a recording of my lesson.  

This was a big time for me in learning how to better learn.  Sometimes progress may come in different areas than you expect, however it will ultimately lead you to your end goal.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Coming in like a lion

This has been a rough month for me.  The amount of things I have to do at work, which is when I usually study, has increased considerably and taken away my time that I can work on German.  Suffice it to say that I have not been able to make much progress so far this month.  I have tried to maintain at least one aspect of my study per day though, usually Michel Thomas.  I am in the process of trying to restructure my day so that I can fit in my Assimil and LingQ work daily again.  The one positive from this month thus far is that I am at a basic conversational level in German.  I define this as being able to greet and speak candidly with others about menial, day to day things (i.e. How are you?, What are you doing this weekend?, etc.).  I am very pleased and excited about this, especially since I have not been able to put much time in as of late.  When I can get back to more regular study I anticipate being able to count this language as being fully conversational by mid-summer, which makes fluency by December 31 very attainable.

I am still in a very good place vocally as well.  Since my lesson in February I can feel my voice getting stronger every day.  My A-natural (A4) has really solidified as of late and I am now working on B-flat (Bb4) and B (B4).  Even my repertory has taken a step up as I have begun to earnestly work on "La donna e mobile" and "E la solita storia."  My hope for this session between lessons is to have a reliable B-flat and a workable B natural.  Assuming I keep up my newfound pace, I believe I will definitely be audition ready for the fall.  I have about two months until my next trip to New York City and am planning on having a lesson and at least a couple of coachings while I am down.  Until then, I have much work to do so that I can build on the momentum I have gained from my last lesson.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Big Progress!

I had my first lesson in quite a while this past Friday with Jean-Ronald LaFond.  My lesson this time around was one of discovery and great advancement for my part.  During the course of the lesson I felt myself singing in a way I never had before and I liked it.  It was a great experience for me and we even talked about me doing auditions in the fall if I can get a few more things to line up vocally.  Since I've been home, I have continued to work with the new concepts I was given and can employ them fairly well in my vocalises (at least I think I do), however I am struggling to put these things through into my repertoire work.  This is especially frustrating since I was singing so well at my lesson.  I chalk up my difficulties to the fact that I am not in front of JRL receiving guidance as I am singing.  I will ultimately figure out how to incorporate and synthesize these concepts into my singing and know that if I continue with the work ethic I have been developping that I will be fine.

Linguistically, however, is a different story.  I have had a rough couple of weeks with my language learning time.  This is mainly due to a largely increased workload at my actual job which results in less time for study.  I am hoping that things will slow back down to normal at work next week and that I will be able to get back to my normal routine, otherwise I am going to have to find a new time to study.  This is very frustrating to me because I was on such a good pace with German and now I feel as though I have skidded to a stop.  Luckily I still do manage to get in at least a little time with the language, mostly my Michel Thomas recordings.  Again my mantra is, as always:  Slow and steady wins the race.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Back from the abyss

I had a rough week last week in German.  I was very busy at work and very tired when I wasn't busy, so I was not able to do much.  Life is a little bit easier this week though and I have got back into my routine, thankfully.  The advantage with French was that I had a base in the language prior to my intensive work.  While I am not progress at the same rate in German, I do still have somewhat of a base in the language due to being a native English speaker.  There are a vast number of German words which change pronunciation from English very predictably, which makes learning those words vastly easier than a language that doesn't share common roots.

In general, it is said that the more languages you know the easier it is to learn more.  I see this more and more as I progress through languages.  Not only do your methods of learning become more efficient, but the shared vocabulary among the world's languages provides a wonderful base to springboard off of.

I just barely crossed over the 1,000 word mark on LingQ and hope to add about 500 words to that total this week.  The difficult thing about LingQ at this point in my learning is that there are so many words I don't know that I get easily frustrated at how long it takes to get through one story, so I end up only doing one story a day, which does not help my word count.

In other news, I am finally going to get down for a lesson on the 17th of this month.  It has been a long while since my last lesson and I am anxious to see how my progress measures up.  I find myself often frustrated that I am not progressing at a faster pace, but constantly have to remind myself that quality takes time and that if I trust the process it will work for me.  There have been great steps forward in the last few weeks with certain "problem" arias falling into place and feeling comfortable as well as new arias beginning to show signs of growth as well.  Hopefully this will continue into my lesson and I can continue to grow towards being YAP audition ready in the fall, which is my goal.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Two weeks in... Impatience

I am just over two weeks in to my German studies, and thus far am pretty much on track.  I am a little behind on my LingQ work, about 300 words, but I am not terribly worried about it, I figure it will all come out in the wash at the end.  As I mentioned before this is the first language I am learning on my own, completely from scratch.  I have noticed that I have the tendency to get slightly impatient with my learning curve, chastising myself for not being able to say more.  Then I remind myself that I am only two weeks in and have another eleven and a half months to go, thusly I should not worry.  I can already have some basic conversations and text messages with my German speaking friends.

One thing I have discovered about going at this completely on my own is that it is a little overwhelming at first knowing absolutely nothing and just throwing yourself in the deep end.  I am slowly picking up more and more things every day and I am near 1,000 known words on LingQ.  Overall I am comfortable with where I am and feel like I am on a good pace at this point.

I have not written anything about my vocal journey in a while.  The fact is that I do not have much to report.  I continue to progress towards my goal of being able to sing tenor repertoire comfortably and convincingly.  I was supposed to have a lesson yesterday, however those plans fell through, so I now am looking forward to February and my next potential lesson.  There have been some important milestones in my singing though in my time between lessons.  The most important one being that more of my top notes have begun to show glimpses of themselves to me when singing.  I am still struggling with endurance however.  I sense that this will be a very important year for my singing career, one way or the other.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Der Plan

As we have started a new year, I have already put in two days of study on my new language for the year, German.  I figure I would outline my basic plan for the year with regards to my acquisition of German.

     German with Michel Thomas
     German with Ease by Assimil
     German on LingQ

In general, my goal is to spend ten hours a week studying German over the course of the next year.  As I do not study on my days off from work, that equates to 2 hours a day, 5 days a week.  I will go through one lesson/track per working day with MT and Assimil.  On LingQ, I plan to add approximately 100 known words to my vocabulary every working day.  This is a little bit slower of a pace than I would like on LingQ, but I think it is the best plan for the amount of time I have available to devote to this study.  As I go along I will have to read more and more material to acquire 100 new known words, so ultimately my exposure will grow exponentially as I become more accustomed to the language.

On the side, I plan to watch a German movie every month and listen to some German radio programming every week.  Also, I am going to start praying the Rosary in German and hopefully I will get to the point where I can spontaneously pray in German by the end of the year.  I also have a number of friends and acquaintances who speak German, so I will be practicing my spoken German from a very early stage, as soon as I start to know some more relevant material than:  Der Tee ist kalt.

Based on my previous work in French, I anticipate that I will get to a pretty comfortable place with German by the summer, at which point I will have finished both MT and Assimil.  The rest of my year in German will be spent focusing on listening comprehension and vocabulary building through LingQ.

German does present me with some challenges, the most striking one being that I have practically no previous coursework or study of the language outside of the one month I studied it last year.  With both French and Italian I had taken actual classes prior to my self-study, so I had a little bit of a head-start.  I am excited to see how I do with my first completely self-taught language and hope to be able to use this working plan as model for my future languages.