Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Happy 2018!

     Happy New Year to everyone!  Throw out the bad and bring in the good for 2018!  This is a new start and it’s critically important for me to be positive and do my damn best to keep it that way.
    I have the tendency to start off a New Year really well, but I don’t tend to finish them well.  So, how do I change that?  By not giving up.  I can get into self pity like nobody’s business when things don’t go my way.  It happened to me last week.  Yuck and fuck that.  Giving up is automatic failure.  Period.  Also, giving up and acting like a three year old is very negative and unattractive.  There are times when I get down on myself and act like a baby.  Baby’s can’t grow beards, so being a better man is a better option. 
   So, can I be a different cat in 2018?  Yes, I can do that anytime.  The word can’t is bullshit by the way unless I say I can get a game off Roger Federer in tennis, in which case I would just duck because I can’t.  Can I get better at my craft, be a better version of Nick, change myself, get in better shape and ya da ya da?  You bet your ass!  Those goals are realistic and achievable!
   If I set goals and even accomplish some of them, that’s pretty good!  Am I going to be perfect?  Hell no!  Am I going to stop caring what others think?  No freaking way!  Can I improve on something like caring what other people think and be aware of it?  Yes! I am fully aware that it does not matter what others think, but my mind fucks with me and tells me otherwise.  Am I going to stop criticizing myself and others entirely?  No!  Can I improve on self criticism and criticizing others?  Hell yeah!  Can I improve myself?  Absofreakinglutely!  
  I like to keep New Years resolutions realistic for myself.  Am I going to fail?  Yes!  How can I learn if I don’t fail?  Making an effort to change is huge.  Did I run away from certain things in 2017?  Yes!  Can I improve on those things in 2018?  The answer is yes!  I’m already making a start on that by cutting caffeine down and eating better.  

  What point am I trying to make?  The big point is if you have a setback with your goals for 2018, don’t give up!  Giving up=sucking! Having grit=awesome!  Let’s keep fighting the good fight!

Friday, December 29, 2017

Watching Out for Self Pity

    I haven’t written one of these blogs posts in ages.  However, since I got into big time self pity over the past few days, I figured it was worth writing something.  I am going to keep this brief because I do not like to make excuses.  What happened was that I got into a super negative rut over my professional life, still being single, and basically everything that is wrong with my life whether real or fancied.  It’s totally cool to feel anger, frustration and the like, but the key is to get your ass out of the house and do something if the thoughts really start to get bad.  When my thoughts really get out of control, things get blown out of proportion.  The mind can be our best friend or kick our asses depending on how we choose to think.  For me, my mind can get so out of control that I just have to stop what I’m doing and get out and do something.  If you don’t want to get out of the house, do it anyway. I got into a huge funk, and I made myself go to Princeton and visit friends and family.  I feel a lot better because I chose not to isolate.  

Friday, October 21, 2016

New Post

It sure has been a long time since I've posted anything on this blog.  I vowed at the beginning of 2016 to post more frequently.  However the year has gotten away from me a bit I'm afraid.  I feel like the word resolution should be replaced with the phrase good habits.  You can do that at any time. Anyway, I mainly just wanted so share some upcoming events that I will be involved in.
November 19, 2016: Thoreau Ensemble concert at Christ Church in New Brunswick.  With Sarah Hawkey, soprano, Martin Neron, piano and Patrick Durek, guitar. 
November 26, 2016: Opera Project Concert.  I'm excited to be singing the all bass duet from
Don Carlo with Steven Brown.
December 4, 2016: Advent concert at Marble Collegiate Church
December 18-19, 2016: Many Sounds of Christmas with the Salvatones 
December 24, 2016: Xmas eve at Marble which will be broadcasted in Marble vision
January 28, 2017: Liederabend at the National Opera Center with Sarah Hawkey, soprano, Abigail Wright, mezzo-soprano, Chad Kranak, tenor, Jose Pietri-Coimbre, baritone and Martin Neron, piano
March 9-19: I will be touring Spain with the Wagner College choir. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Recital and Other Stuff

I haven't been keeping up with my blogging.  I've been busy and also short on topics.  Therefore, I am going to start with shameless self promotion.  I am putting on a recital on Feb 26 at Christ and St. Stephen's church in NY at 8 pm.  8 pm, because I ain't singing at 8 am.  I will be joined by soprano Sarah Hawkey and pianist Martin Neron.  It's all American songs by Barber, Bernstein, Speaks, Dello Joio, Edwards, Roy, Bolcom and more.  It will be a fun evening and I promise to be funny.  Sarah is fantastic, and I am happy to have her on the concert.
   What else?  The voice studio is growing a bit.  I learned the other day that one my students is an auditory learner.  When I sang various phrases to her it helped her a lot.  When I just played the notes on the piano that didn't work as well.  I was losing my patients a bit, then after a while realized that I was learning from teaching her.  I think teaching helps the teacher more than the student sometimes.  This applies to everything.
  This is random, but I am proud of the fact that I have quite drinking caffeine, and have stayed off it for 30 days now.  It's been difficult at times especially on Sunday mornings when I have church.  However, it's been well worth it, because I feel calmer, my voice is stronger and more clear, my thinking is more rational, and I feel more healthy overall, so if was a good choice.  I'm reaching the point where I am not thinking about caffeine so much.  I mention all this because when I am on caffeine I'm hopped up, quick to anger and my attitude is much more negative.  In order to work on improving myself, concentrating better and most of all my attitude, I can't have a substance hopping me up.
   So, I guess what I was going for in this blog is self improvement, promoting my recital, and learning from teaching.  To apply the whole attitude thing I just mentioned, I can either think oh fuck I have to teach a lesson, or I can think about what I can bring to the lesson and what I can learn from teaching the lesson.  My attitude is always a choice.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Present Moment

    I hope everyone has stayed safe during Jonas 2016.  It's been a good experience for me to relax and work on recital memorization and what not.  I'm going to do another round of recital prep a bit later.  I initially thought that there would be no way I could memorize the recital.  However, good progress is being made.  That being said as I prep for the recital, I am trying to stay as locked into the present moment as I can.  Present being this moment, not the past or the future.  The recital is not until February 26, so there is no point in getting nervous about it now.  When my mind wonders while I'm going over words I need to remember that all I am doing in that moment is going over the words.  When I am driving, all I am doing is driving.
      Thich Nhat Hanh's saying "present moment wonderful moment" is the absolute truth, because the present moment is all that is actually reality right now.  If I worry about what the audience might say or do, worry about my voice cracking, memory slips and what not then I will not learn the recital.  The present moment is absolutely not just about my recital prep of course.  In this moment I am sober, I am health and I have a roof over my head.  The present moment is literally me typing this right now.  Nothing else is happening in this moment.  Things that people said to me don't matter.  Potentially stressful situations coming up don't matter either.  I can do something about my future and learn from the past in this very moment.  I was driving earlier and finally took notice of how beautiful the snow looked.  I was present.  Any situation is easier when I am present.  If I worry about upcoming things that stems from old behavior and I will drive myself nuts.
    I'm not saying that the present moment is always fine.  It's not because life happens.  My point in writing this post is that the present has nothing to do with worrying about bullshit.  It's the little things that get us worried, like worrying what someone thinks of me when they're are neither thinking of me or here right now.  Also self pity in the present is absolutely pointless and a total waste.  Self pity will only make you piss on the present.  I'm trying to be more conscious of my breathing in this moment right now so I can stay present while writing this entry.  There are things in my life that I would like to change and improve.  If I'm in self pity, worrying and not present the change will never happen.
    Being present as much as possible before something like a recital or sporting event is critically important.  If I am not at my recital now then the present has nothing to do with my recital.  When it actually happens I want to he in the zone.  The zone is usually a term in sports when an athlete can't miss.  If anyone watched Roger Federer play this morning at the Australian Open, he was completely in the zone.  His face and demeanor said confidence and it was unmistakable.  Was he thinking about future matches or past matches?  Absolutely not.  I do not know him personally, but his demeanor showed a man on a mission who was locked into the moment.  Michael Jordan used to have these kind of zone moments, so did Tiger Woods.  Jordan's shot which won the 1998 world championship for the Chicago Bulls is an awesome example of being in the zone.  It was as if time stood still.  Lebron James, Serena Williams, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have the kind of moments too.  To represent the difference between the mind being present and not present is easy.  I will give you an example.  I saw Serena Williams play in the second round of the US Open this past summer.  She was not present like when she is in the zone.  Her body language and demeanor made that obvious. I am not criticizing her right now, so do not take it that way.  I've been watching her play for 17 years, and when she's in the zone she is absolutely unstoppable.  Most of all she has the I am in the zone look like Roger Federer had today.
     Artists need to be in the zone just like athletes do.  It's hard to have concentration for long periods of time, so it's critically important to keep working on it.  I know that for myself I can lose my concentration really easily.  I usually find myself completely exhausted after a performance because I am trying so hard to concentrate.  It's wise to get into a zone before the performance.  It's a matter of taking time to get quiet and block out the chatter monkeys in my head.  Those monkeys can swing on those bars a lot can't they?  They can't be there during a performance though.  If they start to come during a performance think about your breathing and go back to that.  The breath is everything especially for us singers.  The concentration has to be centered in the breath because if we stop our breath on a note we are going to have problems.  Nervous energy is all good, but it needs to be nervous energy in the zone which will help our performance instead of hurting it.  Everyone gets an attack of nerves sometimes because perfection is impossible.  The greatest artists and athletes sometimes chock under pressure and that's okay.  The more we are focused on the present moment the better off we will be though.  If we lose our concentration during a performance we can get right back into that zone if we tap into it.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Songs My Mother Taught Me

     It's important to pay homage to those we love. Adolf Heyduk's poem entitled "Songs My Mother Taught Me" does just that. This poem has been set to music by both Anton Dvorak and Charles Ives. Martin and I will be performing the Ives version on 2/26 at Christ and St. Stephens church in Manhattan. Since the Dvorak is for a high voice, you do not want to hear me sing it. The Ives version is not well known like the Dvorak and deserves more performances because it is very expressive and tender. We are happy to be performing it on our upcoming recital. It's a very moving song paying tributes to mothers.  

     The Dvorak setting of this song is in the original Czech, the Ives is translated into English as would be expected.  The translation is by Natalie Macfarren.  The settings could not be more different.  The Dvorak is a folk song, the Ives is in A, B, A form., and the melodies are completely different.  The difference in the Ives is that you can hear traces of sadness and happiness in it, whereas the Dvorak is very happy through out and you could dance to it.  I won't dance during the recital so don't worry.  Aside from the version for voice and piano by Ives, he also wrote it for chamber ensemble and retitled the song "An Old Song Deranged."  According to Ives biographer Stuart Feder the title implies that Ive's mother Mollie had dementia, but there is no proof  of that.  I do know that this song is very beautiful and worth knowing as a contrast to Dvorak's setting.    Here is the poem and the song. 

Songs my mother taught me, In the days long vanished;
Seldom from her eyelids were the teardrops banished.
Now I teach my children, each melodious measure.
Oft the tears are flowing, oft they flow from my memory's treasure.


Thursday, January 14, 2016

Richard Cory

    Another theme on the recital which Martin and I will be performing February 26 is not comparing your insides to other peoples outsides.  It's best not to compare your insides to someone's outsides because a lot of people are acting on the outside.  People look great on the outside.  They have a good job, they've lost weight they are successful, etc... However, I think it's what's going on inside that counts.  I personally am constantly working on my insides which can be very painful, but it's essential for me.  I have known of several people who looked good on the outside and actually committed suicide.  They were able to fool people who weren't close to them like the character in the song I am about to talk about.
   The song "Richard Cory" by John Duke, based on Edwin Arlington Robinson's poem, which Martin and I will be performing is about this very idea of someone looking great on the outside but being a mess on the inside.  Richard Cory is putting on an act for people.  He has an unmistakable charm to him.  However, he is suffering on the inside because he shoots himself in the head at the end of the poem.  Duke ends the song with a clash to show the shock of Mr. Cory's demise.  This poem totally applies to real life.  People who seem to have their life together commit suicide because they feel terrible on the inside.
   There is also the fact that Richard Cory might have been mentally ill but not appeared  that way when he was out on the town.  Suicide is not something I understand.  I assume that people who kill themselves don't think they have any other choice in that moment.  I'm not qualified to make that assessment.  The moral of this story for me is to not compare my insides to other peoples outsides.
   Another theory I had before I found out the year the poem was written was that this might have had to do with the Great Depression.  It does not though because the poem was published in the 1890s and the song was published in 1948.  Since Duke lived during the Great Depression he might have had that in mind when he set this poem.
   If you want to listen to "Richard Cory", Donald Gramm also recorded this song.  The three Duke settings of Robinson's poems are "Richard Cory", "Luke Havergall", and "Miniver Cheevy."  Martin and I will be performing "Richard Cory" and "Miniver Cheevy" as the first set for our recital.   Here is the poem.

Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.

And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
"Good-morning," and he glittered when he walked.

And he was richyes, richer than a king
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.