Monday, October 28, 2013

Birthday post!

Today is my birthday!  I am entering into the final year of my 20's, yet another transition.  This month has been the start of the audition season.  I have filled out and sent in many applications and so far have sang for two companies.  I'm still waiting on eight programs to get back to me and have about nine more applications to send out.  My auditions thus far have had their ups and downs.  Ultimately I have been pleased with how they have went.  I am finding that more and more things are going right in auditions now than are going wrong.  My voice is still a work in progress (and will be forever), but I feel I can give a fairly accurate representation of my abilities when I am in the room singing.  At this point I am waiting to hear back from the companies that I sang for.  Hopefully, I will have some good news to report next month.  Prayers are always appreciated.

Language study has taken a bit of a backseat currently.  I simply do not have the time to devote to them currently.  I still speak when I get the chance, but active study is not possible right now.  Perhaps in a few months I can pick back up where I left off.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Back in the saddle again...

Well, it's that time of year again.  The next season of auditions is upon me.  I have my first audition at the end of this month and am looking forward to a new year of opportunities.  Every year I get a little bit better at this whole thing.  Last year I was well prepared, but under coached and didn't really have anything in my bag dramatically speaking.  This year I am coaching repertoire with a local guru of opera and have pretty well-formed characters in my head for nearly all of my pieces (just a couple more left).  I am as confident as ever in my vocal abilities, especially after surviving Count Almaviva this summer.  The only thing I can do now is go sing and perform my heart out.  My goal for auditions this year is to make each one a true performance, and not an audition.  I will keep everyone posted when I get work!

I am also back on the horse again with my Spanish studies.  I've been putting in good work about four days a week and am beginning to feel a little bit more comfortable when conversing with others.  I am still shooting to eclipse the number of known words that I have in French by the end of this year and I feel I am on a good pace to accomplish that.  I'm also considering a new approach to my language learning.  Instead of moving on in January, I think I might stick with Spanish until I have developed a really strong core in the language.  The definition of this, which I stole from polyglot Luca Lampariello, is knowing the language well enough that you don't have to think about conversing in the language, it just flows naturally.  Ultimately this is where I want to be with all my languages and I think it will happen quicker if I stick with one language until I get to that point.  I still haven't decided for sure, but I will obviously come to a decision before the year is over.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Summer Adventures Debriefing

Well, I'm back from my summer adventures.  Admittedly I have been back for nearly three weeks now, but I am just getting around to writing.  I had a myriad of experiences ranging from wonderful, insightful learning experiences to downright awful working conditions due to personality clashes and planning problems.  I am not going to talk about the poor experiences except to say that they were still learning experiences and ultimately I was glad I had them in the environment I was in and not in the professional world.  The positives I can elaborate a little on.

The Opera Advantage program was designed to help the entire creative process rather than focusing solely on the voice.  This is exactly what I was looking for and I knew upon seeing this program that I had to do it.  I learned so much about the craft of performing and about myself that I am sure I have already forgotten more than I have remembered.  Luckily, I have a journal and notes to refresh my memory.  Among the most important and helpful things I picked out of this program was the process for building a character and also identifying the things in my own psyche that hold me back.  The latter of these has been especially important moving forward, both for myself and for others whom I have shared this knowledge was.  The most positive aspect of my time this summer has been a reaffirmation of my love for this art and my need to do it.  During this summer I realized my vocation and that has made a huge difference in my reasoning behind everything I do.

In other singing news, I am starting a voice studio out of my home.  I am targeting high school and avocational singers, so if you know anyone in the greater Rochester area that is looking for a person to take voice lessons with send them my way!

Admittedly languages took a back seat this summer.  I have maintained my languages through my normal channels (people who I know that speak the languages I know).  So while I have not regressed, I have not progressed.  Hopefully, once the fall begins I can get back into my studies a little more.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Summer Opera Antics!

I have just returned from the first of my two summer programs.  This program was truly focused on the acting and interpretive aspect of the art form.  I found everything about this program to be wonderful.  Firstly the people involved, both staff and participants were all wonderful people.  It was nice to be in a setting where there was very little to no drama for the entirety of the program.  I have made some wonderful friends who I hope to keep in touch with and follow their careers as we move along in our lives.  Additionally I have made great professional contacts with people whom I respect and have already gleaned a lot of knowledge from.  Apart from the social aspects, I also discovered many things about myself and ways to open myself up to the audience where I feel I am truly performing and not just singing the notes on the page anymore.  One of the added bonuses to this program was that we were able to learn and explore some of the beautiful music that is the Russian repertoire.  This is such a lush area of music that is just beginning to see more light and I hope that it becomes as much of a mainstay in repertory houses as its Italian, French and German counterparts are.

My next program starts on Wednesday in Buffalo with performances on Sunday.  For this program, I will be singing Rossini's Count Almaviva with a very talented class.  I know this program will be different than the one I just finished, but I hope and pray that the people involved are equally as loving as those I have just left.  If you are interested in coming to these performances, please find me on Twitter @JPike1028 or like me on Facebook and I will post updates and dates and location of my upcoming performances!

Thank you to everyone for your continued prayers and support!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Halfway Through!

I am about halfway through my Kickstarter campaign at this point and I have reached 34% of my goal!  This is great news!  The unfortunate news is that I seem to have stagnated in my fund raising.  For this reason, I am starting my blog post this month with a plea to my readership; please consider helping me reach my goal.  If everyone can simply pledge $10 I will easily make my goal in time.  That is the price of only 2 lattes!  So, please help me attain my goal!

In other news, I have a benefit event for the Cadenza Workshop that I am singing at the Saturday in Buffalo, NY.  On this program I am singing one aria and one duet with the program director, which is slightly intimidating.  I have prepared well, but I am going through some vocal difficulties which may be due to allergies.  Regardless I will do my best and give it my all.

A couple of weeks after this event, I have a recital on June 29 back home in Rochester.  This was originally going to be a fund raiser, but due to some conflicts that is no longer the case; the recital will function as a thank you to all those who have donated to my Kickstarter, which ends the night prior to the recital.  CD's will be available of this recital and can be reserved by donating $25 to the Kickstarter campaign.

Immediately following the holiday in July, I will begin my two programs for this summer.  I am a little overwhelmed with the amount of music I have had to learn, but I feel like I am in a good place and will be well prepared by the time I get to my first program on July 7.

Spanish is coming along slowly; I am attempting to get more consistent about working on the language including listening to a Spanish Pandora station.  I am not sure how much this actively helps me, but it does reinforce the things I do know when I am consciously paying attention to them.  I have noticed that I am beginning to understand more spoken and written word in Spanish, and I give LingQ all the credit for enabling that to happen.  For such a simple, and somewhat controversial system, it really does produce measurable results in language learning in a relatively short amount of time.  I suggest everyone check it out!

Thank you to all of you who have donated thus far to my Kickstarter campaign!  Your support is much appreciated.  Again I beg everyone else to please pledge to enable me to get my singing career off the ground, $10 from everyone will make my goal achievable.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

I need your help!

In my last post I talked about what I have coming up this summer.  Well, I need your help readers!  In order to participate in these programs I need to raise $3,000.  To do this, I have started a kickstarter campaign.  Please take a look at my proposal page by clicking on the link below and if you think that I am someone you would like to back, please contribute!  Thank you all for your support!

James' Kickstarter Proposal

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

It's working!

Let's start with the more interesting and important information.  This summer I am participating in two programs.  One is in Loch Sheldrake, NY singing in Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro and the other is in Buffalo, NY singing scenes from Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia.  Both of these programs are a blessing to me.  After an overall disappointing audition season, these were my last two chances to obtain gigs for the summer.  The program in Buffalo, which is called Cadenza Workshop, was discovered almost by accident through a show I was doing with Rochester Lyric Opera.  The other program, Opera Advantage, is run by Nico and Carol Castel, whom I have worked with before when I was in Spoleto, Italy.  There are points both interesting, amusing, and a little scary with all of this happening so quickly and unexpectedly.  First, both of these operas that I am going to be working on are based on plays by Beaumarchais, although I am performing them out of order.  Barbiere should be before Le Nozze, but I suppose I get to see the characters as "mature" people prior to their youth.  The scary thing about these is that I have about a month to learn and memorize both of them.  Additionally, I need to raise some money to cover expenses for these programs.  I am currently trying to plan a benefit recital to accomplish this goal and will provide more information as it comes along.

Along the same line as the preceding paragraph, I had my best audition to date yesterday.  I auditioned for Syracuse Opera yesterday and changed my daily routine for audition days quite a bit.  The results were much better than I anticipated.  I used to find myself with little to do, so I would arrive quite early (1-2 hours to be exact) and wait around for my time to come.  Yesterday, I instead chose to hang out at my cousin's house until about 2 hours before my audition.  I then took the 40 minute subway to my audition place, grabbed a quick lunch at Subway (probably wasn't good practice to have the onions, but I love them so...), used the practice room I reserved (brilliant idea!) to warm up, and walked next door to my audition where I only had to wait for about 20 minutes.  My audition began as they all do, the awkward entrance and introduction of the first piece, which was Alfredo's aria from La Traviata.  After I sang this fairly well the two auditors conversed a little and actually asked me to sing a second piece!  This may not seem like a big deal, but I haven't been asked for a second piece since I switched to tenor, so this was quite momentous to me.  They asked for Sam's aria from Susannah and I sang that pretty well also.  Some major things that I noticed in this audition apart from the second selection being requested were this:  My voice and technique have finally become strong enough and stable enough that I no longer crack or shank high notes, despite nerves.  I still have an involuntary finger or leg twitch that accompanies high notes, but the notes themselves are secure.  Also, I am able to do more of what I want through intent from both a technical and musical perspective, and I feel I am beginning to make music instead of simply singing words and pitches.  My physicality may still be lacking, but I like to think that I am making up for this with how I am treating the text.  I don't prescribe to the gesture for every line business anyways.  I'm more of a fan of the one or two meaningful gestures during the course of a piece idea.  Overall, regardless of the results, this was a successful audition.

Spanish...  There is something about this language that I just do not have the motivation to learn it consistently.  My LingQ account has lapsed again due to nonpayment, but that doesn't really hurt my feelings, especially with all I have to learn in the next month.  On the plus side, during my drive to NYC Sunday and the drive home last night, I listened to Spanish radio as long as I could pick up the station and I managed to find a singer whom I like, Hector Acosta "El Torito."  I am currently listening to an album of his on Spotify, actually.  I also still listen to Catholic radio on my phone at work in Spanish and speak what I can with my friends who speak.  So I am still improving, it is just a very slow pace.  Many people want me to perfect my Spanish because of the practicality of it in today's world in the U.S.  Perhaps that is why I don't really care that much about learning it.  In terms of my own career, there is very little music that I sing that requires Spanish.  I'd rather spend my time beefing up my Italian, German, or French.  I would rather learn Russian and I will be come 2014.  Hopefully come August I will be able to get back into LingQ for Spanish and make a push to get myself to a somewhat respectable level of Spanish before the year is out.  I learned French in 8 months; given my current level of Spanish, I should be able to get to a similar level in 4 months.

Thursday, April 11, 2013


Those of you who read other language blogs probably know about Benny and his "Three Month Challenges."  This is my first attempt at a three month challenge and it will be an intensive focus on Spanish.  Spanish is my language for this year anyway, but I have a good motivation for the next three months (OK, really 11 weeks, but it's close enough).  For the July 4th holiday, I will be spending time with my wife's best friend and family.  Her husband is from El Salvador, and they live in a city where Spanish is nearly the primary language.  I figure I will use this opportunity and present myself with a challenge to prepare me for the trip.  My plan is to upgrade my Spanish from where it is now, about B1, to C1 level in the next 11 weeks.  How will I do this?

It is going to require me to up my learning pace and take myself out of my comfort zone.  I am going to need to use Spanish as much as possible in the next three months and make my environment a Spanish language zone.  I have already begun to do this by switching my iPhone and computer over to Spanish.  The second step for me is to change my audio input from English to Spanish.  I can easily do this through my TuneIn radio app while I am at work, but I face some challenges in the car because there is no full-time Spanish radio station in my city.  I also have Spotify, so if you have any good Spanish language music to recommend, please do!  I am also going to raise my work output on LingQ to at least four pomodoros a day, which equates to about two hours of reading and listening daily.  Realistically, I only study five days a week, but by increasing the aforementioned areas of my life, I should be able to expose my self to Spanish approximately nine hours a day.  This is a good start, but I'm not done.  I also need to add more speaking to my weekly routine, so I will attempt to speak with people who I know speak Spanish more regularly and force myself to stay in Spanish even when I am struggling.  If I do all of these things, I believe I can reach my goal.

Musically, I have a busy month.  I am currently in rehearsal for two different shows that I am in.  After that I am hoping to attend a summer program which should put me on the right path to finding more work next audition season.  I have had some exciting things happening in my voice and I feel myself growing in confidence every time I perform.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Forward motion

It has been a while since I last wrote a blog post.  I have not been necessarily too busy to write, but I have had other things going on that took importance over writing last month.  Additionally, on the language study side of the blog I ran into a rather large roadblock that took most of the last two months away from me.  More on that later, because I want to begin with the more exciting things that have been going on vocally in my life.

It always amuses me when things from two different areas of life come together.  This has been the case over the last few years of me re-training my voice.  I wen to a Christian college and a common expression on campus was "God's will, God's time."  I've always liked the phrase as it give some perspective to the fact that our plans for our life are ultimately not our own, but God's.  This has taught me much about patience in the last decade or so since I came back to my Christian faith.  Anyway, early on when I began to study with JRL he said to me that when my coordination was there, the high notes would come "very fast."  In my pride, I had assumed that since I had already been studying singing for ten years, this "very fast" meant only a couple of years at most.  As the two year marked went by, I became slightly discouraged, but remembered my college days and gave up my own timeline for that of God's.  Now, as I near in on almost four years of study with Ron, I have finally had the experience he was talking about.  In the last two months I have gone from struggling with notes just above the staff to singing comfortably (in a practice room) up to at least E-flat above high C on a daily basis, even when sick!

The key to vocal development, which so many of my peers seem to miss out on, is that it takes time and patience.  I have family members and friends who consistently inform me that I need to start a career in case this singing thing doesn't work out.  I've never given this any real thought or merit because I have known for a long time now that I am a singer and my career will be in singing.  I am not in a rush to make this career happen, because I know it will happen when I am ready for it to happen.  I have already seen this beginning this year.  A couple of weeks ago I made my professional debut with a local company, and I am of the belief that work leads to more work.  In addition, I have two auditions coming up in a few weeks which I am very optimistic about because of this new found security I have in my voice.  If nothing else, I am sure that I will be able to at least learn and sing through one or two roles this summer with the Kashu-do studio.  I am moving forward and already beginning to look forward to next season's auditions.

Now, the language side of things.  It occurs to me that Spanish is a large stumbling block for me.  It's not that the language is terribly difficult or anything like that.  It is just a demoralizing language for me because of my time spent with it in high school.  I did not have the money available at the beginning of this year to go buy the materials I usually use for language learning.  So, due to this and the fact that I have a pretty solid foundation in Spanish, I have decided to only use LingQ for my Spanish learning.  It has been a very slow process, but I am beginning now to really focus more.  I picked up French in about eight months and I am hoping to be able to do something similar with Spanish.  I would like to get my known words level in Spanish higher than in French, as this was not something I accomplished with German.  We shall see what happens.

Monday, January 21, 2013

2012 in Review, and a Look Ahead!

I have decided this year to go down to one post per month here.  This way, my posts should be of a little more substance.  This post is going to be my year in review post, with a brief update on this year, as well.

This past year has been one of great growth vocally.  I have become completely comfortable in the tenor tessitura, although the high notes do still give me some trouble in performance, due to nerves.  I have built a reliable Ab and A natural in the last year, and I am working currently on solidifying my Bb and working towards the B natural.  Every day I feel things becoming more and more comfortable and I am beginning to identify with my tenor voice.  The fruits of this year have represented themselves through my first contracted role, a comprimario role which I will be singing in March with Rochester Lyric Opera.

This summer I will be moving out of the Rochester area in search of more opportunities for both me and my wife.  In preparation for this move, I will be planning and performing a recital in the late spring or early summer.  I have not yet decided what the repertoire will be, but I am leaning towards a mixed program of predominantly French and German repertoire, with some Italian thrown in to pay tribute to the area of Rochester I live in, which is practically all Italian.

My year of German was ultimately a success, too.  I did not get to the level that I was hoping to in the language, but I do feel comfortable in basic day-to-day conversation and feel that I would be able to get around the country were I to go there tomorrow.

This was my first language I had studied without any prior knowledge, and I feel that my method worked very well.  I have found that it is difficult for me to keep up my studies as consistently as is necessary to really achieve fluency in a year.  This is in part due to my schedule and the fact that most of my studying was happening while I was at work between the hours of three and five in the morning.  A number of times, it was too difficult to stay awake while studying at this time of day, and this ultimately led me to days and weeks where I would not study.  I also found that I do not need to invest in the products I was investing in to learn a language.  I am convinced that I can achieve my desired level in a language simply by using LingQ and speaking with anyone I come across who happens to speak my target language.  This combination of input and output simultaneously has been extremely useful to me and I believe this is how I will approach the rest of my language studies.

This year, my mission is to reactivate and improve my Spanish language skills.  I studied Spanish for three years in high school and was fairly comfortable speaking with my friend from the Dominican my first years of college.  I have since not really used the language much.  While my Spanish is still passable because of my Italian and English, I would like to become more comfortable in the language so that I may use it to my advantage in the day job market.

My goal for this year is to learn 8,000 words of Spanish on LingQ and reach a high-intermediate level in the language.  In following the 1.6 ratio I have discussed before, this would translate to about 5,000 word families known.  In order to give a better idea of this level, the average native English speaker knows approximately 17,000 word families; so this will get me about a third of the way to native fluency, and should make me very comfortable in the language, assuming I speak as much as I should with friends and at meetups, etc.

This is going to be a very challenging year for me, but I look forward to it.  I anticipate a lot of growth this year, both in my language abilities and in my singing and performing.