Monday, September 27, 2010

Dramatic Readings of the Anthropologie Catalogue

Let me just head out to my bed in the barn 

          For as long as I have known of the existence of the store Anthropologie, I have been in love. The closest one to my hometown was nearly an hour away but when I discovered it in high school there was no turning back. The coincidence of running into my elementary school art teacher there only solidified it in my mind as the end-all of beautiful and artistic living. Mrs. Acheson with her sunflower hats and beautifully messy classroom was perusing the displays. She was known for having created my school’s annual ArtFest and when the Fire Department limited her to only 20% of the school hall’s wall space for hanging art, she protested through symbolic hanging artwork of course. On the particular day that my friends and I ran into her in Anthropologie she cried out: “Don’t you just love this place?!” Oh, I do.

          The admirable aesthetic of the slovenly but inspiring art studio on one level conflicts with my fantasy world where I have very little need for material possessions at all and live the Bohemian life with only my toothbrush and a piano. In this particular dream my place of residence would look something like the Joni Mitchell lyric: “Maybe I’ll go to Amsterdam or maybe I’ll go to Rome and rent me a grand piano and put some flowers round my room.” It’s the simplicity of the space and the idea of casual temporary abandon that makes this world so appealing. In my version of this fantasy though I cannot help but envision a beautiful throw on the piano and maybe some exotic pillows. This involves a larger suitcase than the song implies I think. This is the paradox of a place like Anthropologie. It lies somewhere between the covered walls of Mrs. Acheson’s art room and the disdain for all things material. In fact, a Times article from a few years ago (that my mother sent me in the mail), described Anthropologie’s view of its typical patron as a “well-educated woman in her thirties who is not very materialistic.” Well I am not in my thirties yet, but I’ve been told I have an old soul.

          Only hole-in-the-wall boutiques and vintage stores hold a closer place in my heart over Anthropologie. While I tend not to like the idea of chains when there is local business to patronize, it is my absolute favorite chain. The merchandise is generally vastly out my price range and if I make a purchase it is inevitably from the sale section. I just think the displays are so brilliant that I wish I had enough square footage to justify the installment of rotating seasonal artwork in my home. Since eight foot peacocks made out of vintage book pages would not actually fit in my apartment I have to settle for viewing this season’s latest creation on Boylston St in Boston’s Back Bay.

          This weekend, on a rare evening when a few friends and I were able to go out on the town, we were surprised to find that Anthropologie was still open after dinner. We were delighted and took a stroll through.

          It hardly needs mentioning that I run with a crowd of opera singers who are as excited as I am to see beautiful hardcover copies of Wuthering Heights and bright 40’s style floral blazers. Generally we are not quiet about it either. They appeared to be closing up when we finally left that evening.

          After getting a drink down the street we were preparing to depart via our various modes of transportation when we passed by Anthropologie again only to find that it appeared to still be open and it was past 11:00. It was then that we realized that one of their giant wooden doors had fallen off the hinges and was strewn across the sidewalk. The sales associate standing in the doorway told us that no one was seriously hurt and that she was waiting for the repairman. When we asked her when it happened she looked right at us and said “Right after you left.” It wasn’t our fault, I swear, but we’d obviously made an impression.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

          To most people the approach of fall signifies the harvest, that crispness in the air, perhaps the start of another school year and the breaking out of one’s cozy sweaters for walks through the foliage. For young classical singers, it marks the ensuing madness of audition season. Specifically, this means applications, letters of recommendation, headshot prints, extra coachings and recordings. For Boston singers this means a few local auditions combined with several bus rides New York or perhaps some other distant city where you are randomly granted an audition.

          The process works like this. The majority of all auditions for Young Artist Programs (or YAP’s) take place from November to December. Most of these are for summer seasons, but some are year-long appointments. These are mostly companies designated for young people or apprenticeship programs for larger companies. One could do a small role (known as a comprimario role), a large role, a cover (understudy) or you could end up doing educational outreach for a company in local schools. With any luck one would get a substantial role, a living stipend and a solo recital in a concert series. These auditions are for opera houses located throughout the States. Most travel to hear young artists in New York and Boston, so after all your hard-earned preparation you could end up spending anywhere from 2 months to a year in Binghamton or Des Moines. This does not deter us. We go where the opera is. I know that it is a tad strange that someone who has a Masters degree in the field and who is pushing 30 years old would be considered a “young artist”, but this is the way the opera world works. If I were a dancer, my career would be over, but as an opera singer, there is still much training and experience to be had to take on the large roles and hundreds of sopranos like myself who want a piece of the action.

          Two separate people have asked myself and a friend if we get paid to audition. These were both people at our respective day jobs. We each had to explain that if we got paid to audition we would not need our day jobs. I secretly wondered where they thought this mysterious money was coming from. There is not actually a government fund set aside to encourage singers to compete for paying gigs. On the contrary, we pay quite a bit to audition.

Headshots: $300

Headshot prints updated yearly: $100

Recording: $150

Pianist for recording: $50

Applications fees (!): $35-50

Audition dress: $100

Travel to auditions: Anywhere from $50-100

Knowing that all your year’s work culminates in the span of a month: Priceless

          Yes, you pay to apply and this does not guarantee you an audition time. This list does not even include the lessons and coachings for which we shell out year-round to prepare our ideal 5-aria package for the season. We expect to pay over a thousand each fall just for audition expenses. There are grants available of course, but perhaps if there were more government funding for outreach and arts education there would be more opportunities for singers. It is for this reason that many American singers end up in Germany and Austria. There are just more opera houses and government subsidies.

          There are other particular challenges involved with the audition season, like having to sing an aria in which you are portraying a queen, all while pretending you did not just ride the Fung-Wah and sleep on the floor of your friend’s tiny Manhattan apartment. Also, there is that small thing of being in the thick of it all and having to face cocktail conversation with singers who may have sent out more applications or are being granted more auditions than you. It’s like college applications all over again… every year. You can smell the anxiety as early as August.

I know that the whole process confuses the general public. My parents, for example, seem to forget about it every year. It has taken several fall seasons for them to understand why I suddenly become so stressed and broke. I am sure that they get it now though. I know because my dad has said really helpful things like “You know Kate, you won’t be considered a young artist forever”. Without my prompting he has figured out that I only have a few more years to get into one of these prestigious positions. I am writing this not only to fill in the non-singers about our routine, but also to hold myself accountable. I am declaring in the view of my blog-reading public that I will again send out 20 some odd applications to programs this year.

"No honest poet can ever feel quite sure of the permanent value of what he has written: He may have wasted his time and messed up his life for nothing."

~T.S. Eliot

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Crazy Love

          This past weekend was the big event: Emma and Adam’s wedding extravaganza.

          Let me preface this by saying that I have attended, served at, and sung in an absurd amount of wedding celebrations. Between waitressing at my parents’ banquet facility and church cantoring I have been witness to at least part of literally hundreds of weddings. I have also been a guest many times, as well as flower girl and junior bridesmaid. I have attended dozens of weddings for family members and my parents’ large roster of family friends. A few years ago I entered a phase where it was obvious that I was not at the top of the wedding guest list, but rather, I had been invited mostly to sing. While I don’t always mind being the entertainment I have since invented a little game called “Drink until they are interesting”. At one such celebration where I was singing but knew hardly any of the guests, I was seated at a table of 30-something strangers. The gentleman next to me told me that he worked for Atkins but gave me his permission to eat bread because it was “a wedding and all”. After unabashedly chewing down the rest of my roll, I decided that every time someone said something uninteresting I would take a sip of my wine. By the end of the night I was shit-faced.

          But this particular affair was different. Aside from the nuptials having all the things I love and none of the things I hate in a wedding, (no head table, no garter toss, no electric slide, etc.), this was the first time I attended such a close friend’s wedding. Emma and I have been friends for 20 years.

          Having a large to-do list last week was preventing me from truly mentally registering the fact that Emma was becoming Sadie, Sadie Married Lady. I had to pour over my Dvorak score for rehearsals that started this week, take my car to the shop and various other errands. So with a basic level of Czech-singing proficiency I got in the car and Brendan and I declared that we had “done all the things!” (see: and headed down to CT. After several hurried visits with family and friends and the rehearsal dinner on Friday, followed by preoccupation with leaving the boyfriend with my parents for so many hours, on Saturday I headed to the hotel salon for my hair appointment with the bridal party followed by makeup and general beautification. Then, even though I had been with my friends and the bride for six hours, it seemed that I blinked and everything was happening. With all the focus on preparation and seeing the location for the first time, I had forgotten about the spiritual side of the event. I completely forgot to register that Emma was going to be a wife and have a husband!

          Suddenly we were dressed and sitting in a room witnessing the signing of the Ketubah. With the exception of one of Emma’s sisters-in-law, I was the only gentile bridesmaid. Growing up in my town in CT, this is completely normal territory for me, but I was not expecting the flood of emotion that would ensue during this ritual, which I had never been privy to, when I had thought we would have more free time before the actual ceremony. And then my friends told me “Wait until the lowering of the veil”. They were right. The rabbi quoted a few Biblical references on the significance of the veil. The heavy Biblical connotations conjured up solemn images of nervous Old World brides in candlelit synagogues leaving the homes of their parents. This combined with the sweetness with which Adam aggressively fumbled with his intended’s veil proved to be too much for me. My friend Erica said to Brendan at the reception: “Did Katie tell you she was crying during the Jewish ceremony?”

          All in all though, the public ceremony was a beautiful scene too. It was on the water with a pink sky overhead. I even remembered all of the words to the verses of “Crazy Love” by Van Morrison for the first dance. This was one wedding at which I was more than happy to sing. There was an outpouring of several toasts, hours of dancing and an ice cream sundae bar. For his patience with all of us high school buddies Brendan was universally acknowledged as a “mensch”. This shiksa was all verklempt.