Monday, December 26, 2011

12 Steps to Raising Self-esteem

My resolution for 2012 is to raise my self-esteem, because it is essentially important to do so for myself and for others. These are things that can be practiced quite easily. But some of them are not so easy to do. Anyway, I hope this is helpful, because it is to me. Step One Stop comparing yourself with other people. There will always be some people who have more than you and some who have less. If you play the comparison game, you'll run into too many "opponents" you can't defeat. Step Two Stop putting yourself down. You can't develop high self-esteem if you repeat negative phrases about yourself and your abilities. Whether speaking about your appearances, your career, your relationships, your financial situation, or any other aspects of your life, avoid self-deprecating comments. Step Three Accept all compliments with "thank you." Ever received a compliment and replied," Oh, it was nothing." When you reject a compliment, the message you give yourself is that you are not worthy of praise. Respond to all compliments with a simple Thank You." Step Four Use affirmations to enhance your self-esteem. On the back of a business card or small index card, write out a statement such as "I like and accept my self." or "I am valuable, lovable person and deserve the best in life." Carry the card with you. Repeat the statement several times during the day, especially at night before going to bed and after getting up in the morning. Whenever you say the affirmation, allow yourself to experience positive feelings about your statement. Step Five Take advantage of workshops, books and cassette tape programs on self-esteem. Whatever material you allow to dominate mind will eventually take root and affect your behavior. If you watch negative television programs or read newspaper reports of murders and business rip off; you will grow cynical and pessimistic. Similarly, if you read books or listen to programs, that are positive in nature, you will take on these characteristics. Step Six Associate with positive, supportive people. When you are surrounded by negative people who constantly put you and your ideas down, your self-esteem is lowered. On the other hand, when you are accepted and encouraged, you feel better about yourself in the best possible environment to raise your self-esteem. Step Seven Make a list of your past successes. This doesn't necessarily have to consist of monumental accomplishments. It can include your "minor victories," like learning to skate, graduating from high school, receiving an award or promotion, reaching a business goal, etc. Read this list often. While reviewing it, close your eyes and recreate the feelings of satisfaction and joy you experienced when you first attained each success. Step Eight Make a list of your positive qualities. Are you honest? Unselfish? Helpful? Creative? Be generous with yourself and write down at least 20 positive qualities. Again, it's important to review this list often. Most people dwell on their inadequacies and then wonder why their life isn't working out. Start focusing on your positive traits and you'll stand a much better chance of achieving what you wish to achieve. Step Nine Start giving more. I'm not talking about money. Rather, I mean that you must begin to give more of yourself to those around your. When you do things for others, you are making a positive contribution and you begin to feel more valuable, which, in turn, lifts your spirits and raises your own self-esteem. Step Ten Get involved in work and activities you love. It's hard to feel good about yourself if your days are spent in work you despise. Self-esteem flourishes when you are engaged in work and activities that you enjoy and make you feel valuable. Even if you can't explore alternative career options at the present time, you can still devote leisure time to hobbies and activities, which you find stimulating and enjoyable. Step Eleven Be true to yourself. Live your own life - not the life others have decided is best for you. You'll never gain your own respect and feel good about yourself if you aren't leading the life you want to lead. If you're making decisions based on getting approval from friends and relatives, you aren't being true to yourself and your self-esteem is lowered. Step Twelve Take action! You won't develop high self-esteem if you sit on the sidelines and back away from challenges. When you take action - regardless of the ensuing result - you feel better about yourself. When you fail to move forward because of fear and anxiety, you'll be frustrated and unhappy - and you will undoubtedly deal a damaging blow to your self-esteem.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Messiah in Splendor at Carnegie Hall

Handel's "Messiah" is one of the most popular musical works in the entire universe. The fact that it is truly a great work is a valid reason for its popularity. Tonight as I was sitting in the audience I realized that I had never sat in the audience during this work. Standing up during the "Hallelujah" chorus in Carnegie hall was surreal. When Handel put down his pen after writing that chorus which ends part 2, it is said that he was crying because he knew he had written something special. The performance I saw this evening involved The Masterwork Chorus and Orchestra with Katharine Dain, Soprano, Abigail Nims, Mezzo-soprano, Matthew Anderson, Tenor, and Mark Moliterno, Bass-baritone. Andrew Megill conducted. According to Dr. Megill's program notes, Handel completed "Messiah" in 24 days. That is quite an astonishing fea. The first thing I noticed about Megill's direction was his superior cuing in his conducting gestures. The chorus was mostly volunteer, and considering that they did a great job. Ms. Dain handled the coloratura in "Rejoice Greatly" very well. I thought the very fast tempo might be a problem until I was proven wrong. I liked her work in the duet "He shall feed His flock like a shepherd." I also enjoyed Ms. Nim's singing in that duet. She also sang "He was depised" quite well. Matthew Anderson would make a good Evangelist in Bach's passions is what went through my mind while he was singing. Then I saw that he does a lot of Bach solos in his bio, which doesn't surprise me. His voice fit the tenor solos well in this piece. Mark Moliterno brought his strong bass-baritone to the bass arias. A bass-baritone with a solid upper range is the ideal fit for the bass arias in "Messiah." The recit preceding "The Trumpet Shall Sound" was handled beautifully by Mr. Moliterno. It was one of the highlights of the performance as a matter of fact because of his coloring on the word "mystery." Handel's "Messiah" is a masterpiece, but I find myself wanting to hear works such as Bach's "Christmas Oratorio" and "L'anfance du Christ" done more often. I do not think they get the credit they deserve. Both of those pieces are as great as "Messiah" in my book, and that is saying a lot. However, "Messiah" is essential for the arts financially. I sang in "Messiah" in Philadelphia last weekend and the house was full. Tonight's performance was also full. Dr. Megill certainly brought solid leadership tonight. I am glad that this chorus and orchestra seem to be thriving when so many organizations in the arts are not. As a musician with sensitive ears, I could say certain things could have been better about the performance. The same thing goes for any performances. However, after standing during the "Hallelujah" chorus I was enjoying myself. Enjoyment is a huge part of the purpose of any musical performance.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Musical Settings of Faust

After performing "A Faust Symphony" by Franz Liszt with the American Symphony Orchestra last Sunday, I came to the realization that there sure are a lot of musical settings of Goethe's "Faust." It sure is a fascinating story, is it not? The story is completely fictional. However, it is based on a true story of a magician who lived during the fifteenth century in northern Germany. In the story, Faust is a scholar who is old and going through bitterness and despair. He calls the devil, the devil appears, then he sells his soul to the devil in exchange for power, and knowledge. In other words he gives up spiritual principles in exchange for what he thinks is happiness. Faust wants what he wants, and is oblivious to the consequences. Being damned is a pretty big consequence, I would say. Faust and the devil make a pact, in which Mephistopheles serves Faust for a certain period of time. Mephistopheles is full of tricks and deceptions, and Faust accomplishes very little while he and Mephistopheles are on adventures. In Goethe's version, Faust is saved by the grace of God. In the musical versions by Berlioz and Gounod, he is damned. Berlioz felt very strongly about that twist, because his version is called "The Damnation of Faust." He even invented his own hell language for this work. There are over thirty musical settings with parts of the story of "Faust" in them. Many famous and not so famous composers have set this legend to music. There is even a rock band called Faust. There are even six musicals based on this story. The term Faustian is even a psychological concept, meaning made or done for gain in the present without regard for future consequences or costs. The question I have been pondering lately is the question of why so many composers, rock musicians and whatnot set this drama. Why set it now if so many settings already exist? Well, it is a complicated story with a lot of different themes, so it does not get boring. Plus there are many musical sounds which can be thought of to set this drama. The versions by Gounod, Berlioz, and Liszt are completely different from one another. Take a text like Alles Vergängliche ist nur ein Gleichnis; das Unzulängliche, hier wird's Ereignis; das Unbeschreibliche, hier ist es getan; das Ewigweibliche zieht uns hinan. Everything transitory is only an approximation; what could not be achieved here comes to pass; what no-one could describe, is here accomplished; the Eternal Feminine draws us aloft. This text is set completely differently by Liszt and Mahler. The story of Faust is in part two of Mahler's 8th symphony. The text makes for a big ending. Whereas, with Liszt the setting is a lot simpler. By simpler, I do not mean unsophisticated, I mean smaller as far as volume, and the forces involved. The number of ways to set "Faust" never seem to run out. The production of Gounod's "Faust" which I recently saw at the Met, was set set during World War 2, and Faust was working on the atomic bomb. So, he was more a scientist than a scholar. Various directors can have all sorts of conceptions of the story. In addition, Faust does not always have to be the main character. In fact, Arrigo Boito wrote an opera called "Mephistophele" in which the title role is the devil. Mephistopheles is a favorite of composers in his own right. Liszt wrote the "Mephisto Waltz", Mussorgsky wrote "The Song of the Flea", and Beethoven wrote a song about Mephistopheles. The devil also appears in many different guises. Nick Shadow in Stravinsky's opera "The Rake's Progress" is satan. Tom Rakewell, is Faust, but under a different name obviously. He wishes for various things such as money and happiness, and magically Nick Shadow appears. He is acting the same way Faust does, in that he is missing life's big picture. There are settings with feature Gretchen also. The list of possibilities with "Faust" musically go on and on. I am sure there will be many more to come. It is a great story, which is hard for me to understand. However, I can appreciate the amount of great music which has been set to "Faust." The Gounod, Berlioz, Liszt and Mahler are awesome examples, and they are very different from one another. Several of these composers talked to each other about setting "Faust." In fact, Berlioz introduced Liszt to Goethe's story. The story of "Faust" is very important in the history of the world, not just in music. It is an all time classic, which I have no doubt will be set many more times.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Kaufmann and Pape Shine in Met's Faust

The opera "Faust" by Charles Gounod is a terrific work, which I got the chance to see last night. My feelings on the new production of "Faust" at the Metropolitan opera in New York City is highly favorable with regard to the music, but a little indifferent to the visual set, costumes and staging. First of all, this is the version of "Faust" by Charles Gounod, and the music is beautiful. The opera has been loved by audiences for over a century and a half. The cast yesterday evening December 3rd included Jonas Kaufmann was Faust, Marina Poplavskaya as Marguerite, Rene Pape as Mephistopheles, Russell Braun as Valentine, Jonathan Beyer, as Wagner, Wendy White as Martha, and Michele Losier as Siebel. Incoming music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra, Yannick Nezet-Seguin conducted the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra.

This new Met production of "Faust" takes place before the second World War, in an atomic bomb lab. Some of the effects of the set were really striking. At first, I was indifferent to the projections of Marguerite and Faust's faces on the curtain. However, it did work in the later part of the opera, when Marguerite was projected in jail for killing her baby in a fit of madness. Soprano Marina Poplavskaya, and Jonas Kaufmann, both looked their respective parts in those projections. Another aspect of the staging and set which was effective was Faust's transformation into a youth. That was a less than a minute costume change time wise, which luckily worked out. The smoke which accompanied the transformation blew me away for a moment. As for the time period, I am not sure what to think, because a conception of a story is a conception, and it is all based on opinion. The lab with the spiral stair cases was a neat visual effect. However, Faust and Mephistopheles were constantly going up those stair cases, which was a bit distracting to me. Also, for this opera in particular, I found the set too minimalistic. For the fair in Act II, I wanted to see an actual fair. In Act III, I wanted to see an actual garden. In Act V, I wanted more of a taste of what hell actually looked like. In the beginning, I was nearly taken away to another realm by the set. However, I just wanted more. I remember seeing the Berlioz version of this story "La Damnation de Faust" two years a go, and the hell scene actually had the men down below. I liked that much better.

Musically, conductor Yannick Nezet-Seguin did a fabulous job with the orchestra, and in following the singers. The fact that he is doubly trained as an orchestral and choral conductor must have been a tremendous help to the chorus and soloists. When singers took liberties, Maestro Nezet-Seguin followed them. Last night's cast of soloists were very skilled singers. Especially, Jonas Kaufmann, and Rene Pape. Jonas Kaufmann, sang a splendid high B natural in the second act, and did a diminuendo to pianissimo seamlessly. My mouth dropped, and my heart nearly stopped when he did that. Also, he sang the act three aria so musically, and with such passion, that I closed my eyes during some of it, so I could be at one with his art. His heroic high notes in the later acts made me think he has vocal cords of steel. The end of intermission before Act III involved a man screaming "occupy wallstreet" right before the conductor took the podium. Whether that was an idea for a new vocal warmup we will never know. Rene Pape was fantastic vocally and physically as Mephistopheles. His rendition of "Le veau dor" was a highlight of the whole show, and got a huge response from the audience. In addition, Pape was able to mix devil charm with devil menace to great effect. Marina Poplavskaya sang very musically as Marguerite, with very intelligent phrasing in the Jewel song in the third act. Russell Braun has a good lyric baritone voice, but his intonation pushed sharp on occasion. Never the less, I really liked his acting in Valentine's death scene in Act IV, when he curses Marguerite. I was happy to see Jonathan Beyer make his Met debut as Wagner. I think it is a good role for him. Michele Losier's portrayal of Siebel was a nice addition. Overall, this production of "Faust" was a strong show. However, I think some of the aspects of the production kept me from being completely blown away. Some of the singing from Kaufmann and Pape did blow me away for sure. After this month, the great bass Ferruccio Furlanetto will take over for Rene Pape. In addition Roberto Alagna, and Joseph Callejo will take over for Jonas Kaufmann.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Glass = Half Full

The purpose of this blog posting is not to solve a math equation. I am not the right person to do that. I do know that I can think things are going well, or everything sucks. I can dwell on what is good right now, or what is wrong with everything and everyone. This moment right now is all we really have. It is quite simple, isn't it? The glass is half empty, or it is half full. I am healthy, I am a live, and I have a bed to go home to tonight which is not a box. Therefore, I have what I need at the moment. Who cares about what I don't have. If I focus on that it sends out an ungrateful vibe to the universe. A lot of people do not have their health, or a bed to sleep in. I am no better than these people at all. I am lucky, and that is all. Of course this glass is half full attitude can be tough when life throws curveballs, or is not going the way we want it too. I write these things to share my experience. My experience of life is what I know for myself. If that helps someone, then great. Glass is half empty, versus glass is half full is a choice of attitude. I emphasis the word choice, because we have that choice at any given time starting now. I need to have this explained to me constantly. But, it is something I am working hard on. The glass is half empty choice on the menu causes food poisoning and indigestion. Since there are only two choices on the menu, I'm going with the glass is half full right now. It's more pleasant for the people around me. I am being comical and serious at the same time with the menu reference. Glass is half empty attitude is toxic. Glass is half full is much more edible for myself and the people around me. To switch attitudes, just think about one thing that is going well, and then more things will come to mind. If your thoughts go on the toxic end, do not beat on yourself for it. Kind of a duh statement, but it is not always cemented in my brain. Just notice it, tell yourself you deserve better, and turn it around.