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.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Longing For Different Time Periods

    Wouldn't it be cool to live in different time periods?  Not that there is anything wrong with now.  Well actually there is quite a bit wrong with now, but it's worth accepting that.  However, I think we all have that longing to live in the past, or way back in time in periods such as medieval times.  I am performing a recital of American songs with pianist Martin Neron on February 26 at Christ and St. Stephens in Manhattan, and one of the main themes in the recital is this theme of longing for time periods other than the present.
  There's a poem called "Miniver Cheevy" by Edwin Arlington Robinson which is set to music by John Duke which deals with this very subject of wanting to live in different time period other than the present.  The poem is a narration about a guy longing for the past, especially the  Middle Ages.  He wants to be a knight, war hero and the like, yet he is a homeless drunkard in his present circumstances.
    John Duke set this narration in variation form musically, and it is a brilliant setting.  In variation form musical material is repeated between each movement , but it is altered in rhythm, pitch, harmony etc...  In the poem Mr. Cheevy is lamenting the fact that he is living in this time period, and also getting excited about living in different time periods.  For example Miniver loves the Medici and gets really pumped up about that.  However, he curses the common place and hates khaki suits.  It says all this in the poem which I will post below.  I am discussing this because I am pointing out how John Duke sets the poem.  Mr. Duke also wrote an epilogue of Miniver Cheevy letting out drunken sighs which is not in the original poem.
     Check out the poem, and listen to the song.  Donald Gramm has an excellent recordings of the song both live and in the studio.  Mr. Duke himself was in the audience during the live performance.  Here's the poem.

Miniver Cheevy, child of scorn,
   Grew lean while he assailed the seasons;
He wept that he was ever born,
   And he had reasons.

Miniver loved the days of old
   When swords were bright and steeds were prancing;
The vision of a warrior bold
   Would set him dancing.

Miniver sighed for what was not,
   And dreamed, and rested from his labors;
He dreamed of Thebes and Camelot,
   And Priam’s neighbors.

Miniver mourned the ripe renown
   That made so many a name so fragrant;
He mourned Romance, now on the town,
   And Art, a vagrant.

Miniver loved the Medici,
   Albeit he had never seen one;
He would have sinned incessantly
   Could he have been one.

Miniver cursed the commonplace
   And eyed a khaki suit with loathing;
He missed the mediƦval grace
   Of iron clothing.

Miniver scorned the gold he sought,
   But sore annoyed was he without it;
Miniver thought, and thought, and thought,
   And thought about it.

Miniver Cheevy, born too late,
   Scratched his head and kept on thinking;
Miniver coughed, and called it fate,
   And kept on drinking.

Monday, January 11, 2016

There's Light At The End Of The Tunnel

This is a poem I wrote recently.  If you are going through tough times they will pass.

We all have tough times
We can't escape that
Life on life's terms
But the sun always shines

There's light at the end of the tunnel.
There's light at the end of the tunnel

Friends come and go
We lose the ones we love
Things don't go our way
But the sun always shines

There's light at the end of the tunnel
There's light at the end of the tunnel

It seems like we're down and out
We quickly lose hope
We fall into despair
But the sun always shines

There's light at the end of the tunnel
There's light at the end of the tunnel

We all have to feel
Feelings can hurt
There's no escape from that
But the sun always shines

There's light at the end of the tunnel
There's a light at the end of the tunnel

I hope this message helps
Things will look up again
Have faith in yourself
The sun always shines

There's light at the end of the tunnel
There's light at the end of the tunnel

Friday, January 8, 2016

Love Always Beats Hate

This morning kind of sucked with the caffeine withdrawal.  Like I said, I know people will think I'm nuts for quitting caffeine, but I quit for good reasons. I am writing to motivate myself to keep at it, because this morning I nearly faltered.  I know that the benefits will be good as time goes a long.  Just need to hang in there and give it time.  If you are trying to break a habit, keep at it because you will benefit in the end.  Since you only live once, why not live in the best way you can?
  Not much went on today for me.  Honestly this no caffeine thing has been knocking me out since I am new to it for the tenth time.  I've quit caffeine more times than I can count, so hopefully this will be the last time.  Enough about that.  
     I want to mention something that a friend I sing with said always choose love in his Facebook status.  That is absolutely right.  Simply because choosing anger and hate never works.  If you're angry at someone and you don't tell them that's resentment.  You're just carrying shit around and it's hurting you, not them.  What's the point of that?  It's incredibly toxic and will make you seriously miserable.  I have resented people who are not worth one second of my time.  The only way to free yourself of such people is to love them.  You don't have to like them, because that is a different thing.  However, ultimately, we are all human beings who have a right to live our lives freely, and we all deserve to be loved.

Love is friendship that has caught fire. It is quiet understanding, mutual confidence, sharing and forgiving. It is loyalty through good and bad times. It settles for less than perfection and makes allowances for human weaknesses.


Thursday, January 7, 2016

Life is Good

I'm on a train going in slow motion, so I figured I would write something. This train makes so many stops, I'm not sure if civilization is beginning or ending.  Although as I wrote that we started to move, so I won't push my luck.
  Today was a good day.  As the year begins I am feeling more and more at peace.  I went to a great opera with a fantastic friend last night, and went to a fun party today graciously hosted by Salvatore Diana and Daniel Brondel on the upper west side.  What a view from their apartment. That view represents all of life's possibilities.  I looked out the window and could see for miles.  Of course we were inside this time instead of outside like last June.  We would be freezing our nuts off otherwise.  This weather is perfect if you're a fucking moose or something.  If you're a furry animal then it's a fucking festival.  A little comedy for a cold night.
    I had no ending to that last part, so I figured I would move on to the next part.  I enter this year feeling a bit uncertain about what the next chapter is in my life.  I am sure a lot of people feel the same way.  That being said, things have a way of working themselves out.  I'm not sure how, but they do.  When in doubt listen to your heart and answers will come.  Do not let people dominate you or micromanage you.  There are always choices and the best choice is listening to what's inside.  I find that always works best for me.  If something feels right there's a decent chance it is right.  If it feels wrong, boy is it wrong.  I am talking about going with your heart here, not your head.  I always feel a million times better when I do the right thing.
     I'm writing today and updating this.  The first part is from the other night.  I have decided to quit caffeine for hopefully the last time.   I feel like a zombie right now, but I know this is a good decision for my physical and mental health.  It's always good to take care of yourself.  My head is clearer when I am free of everything that negatively effects my mood.  I eat better and also am ultimately a better colleague and friend.  It is also easier to make life decisions with a clear mind.  Right now my mind feels soupy and I feel sleepy, but that will improve for sure.  It's important to get toxic things or people out of your life.  Caffeine was toxic, so it's gone.  I know you all make think I'm nuts for doing this.  Different things effect people different ways.  Caffeine messes with my blood sugar and makes me hopped up.  It also dries my throat out, so for me, it's a toxic substance.  I hope all of you are having a great year so far.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Pearl Fishers

I just wanted to write a brief entry about an opera I just saw at the Met.  This is not a review, since I am not a reviewer.  I just mainly wanted to say that it was a really enjoyable show which I highly recommend people listen to on the radio this Saturday afternoon. It's called The Pearl Fishers and it's by Georges Bizet who is best known for his last opera "Carmen."
    Bizet was a genius who only lived until the age of 36.  Bizet was an exceptional orchestrator, and that is very evident in this opera.  Just listen to the strings in the duet "Au fond du temple saint."  There is also wonderful writing for the flute in this duet which is also a trademark in "Carmen."  Matthew Polenzani and Mariusz Kwiecien did an outstanding job with this duet tonight.  The voices blended very well on the unison E flats in particular.  Diana Damrau not only sang beautifully, but was outstanding as far as dynamic range and presence on stage.
     This show had a lot of highlights, and was one of the best things I've seen recently. Gianandrea Noseda brought the best out of all the performers.  I remember watching him conduct Tosca at the Verbier festival and being in complete awe of him.  The Met orchestra sounded fantastic tonight under his leadership.  I would definitely check this show out if you can.  It's worth going, plus it's not too long.  Highly recommend.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Little Things

I want to post more in 2016, so why not start now?  It's really important to not let things get to you.  I say that to you mainly referring to myself, but also to those who might read this.  The little things in life can really get to me.  Little irritations like traffic.  Last Wed someone honked at me and I flipped my lid.  The thing is that angry outbursts over little things can kill you.  Since I felt it in my chest afterwards I can attest to that.   Aside from the little things it's really important to not be too hard on ourselves.  I reached the point yesterday where I was having palpitations, joint pain and stiffness and aches in various joints.  Back in 2009 I was diagnosed with Lyme disease.  I took the antibiotic, and that basically solved it.  However, I do have it chronically at times.  Most days are pretty good.  However when the temperature or barometer pressure drop and I stress myself out it flares up in the form of fatigue, body aches, and stiffness.  Notice how I said stress myself out.  Other people or situations only stress me out when I choose to let them.  We actually have choices with how we take things.  Do not let the little things get to you, and don't take yourself to seriously.  Just try your best to stay calm and you will have good emotional sobriety.  This totally goes for me.  That's why I am writing this right now.
     There is another aspect of the concept of little things which is enjoying the little things.  For example, take a look at the moon and how beautiful it looks.  Of course that is a big thing which we view as little.  If we are kind to people during the day it may seem little, but it is much bigger than we think.  If I may paraphrase a quote I saw recently, the quote referred to the little things becoming big things as life goes on.  My point is don't be so wrapped up in all the millions of things you have to do, the minor annoyances and all the little things that happen throughout the day.  You'll miss those little things like a beautiful sunset and not experience life.  The sun is of course absolutely huge from a literal sense, but people often don't realize it's significance.  If it weren't here, we wouldn't be here.  Anyway, if you are reading this, thank you for helping me get over my writers block.  Stay tuned for more.