This year has been full of firsts for me: my first time singing at Carnegie Hall, first time living in Arkansas, and much more!
Another first that I still pinch myself to believe it really happened: being in a new opera production with some of my idols! On March 18th and 20th I had the honor and joy of helping to bring to life “The Hours” by Kevin Putsin the opera chorus. This new opera is based on the Michael Cunningham novel of the same name that was turned into the movie featuring Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman and Julianne Moore. The opera featured Renée Fleming, Kelli O’Hara and Jennifer Johnson-Cano as the leading ladies. Ever since I was a child I admired Renée Fleming. I bought her CDs and read her book and always dreamed of hearing her live. I never imagined that the first time I would hear her singing live we would be on the same stage! In college, Kelli O’Hara captured my interest when studying musical theater pedagogy. She’s a terrific example of a crossover artist: someone who can sing proficiently in both operatic and musical theater genres (or more generally, someone who sings in 2 different techniques: classical and contemporary, etc. ).
This production was a semi-staged production, meaning the artists were allowed to use music and the set was minimal. The chorus was placed behind the orchestra in the loft while the orchestra and soloists were on the main stage floor below. The soloists were costumed, and there were supertitles so the audience could follow along. This production is heading to the Metropolitan Opera in November where it will be fully realized and staged! I hope I will get the chance to go see it, as I have fallen in love with the music and the story.
Being able to sing and workshop a new opera with the composer was thrilling. Composer Kevin Puts came to our rehearsals and would periodically ask us to make small changes to our scores: a note, dynamic marking, or rhythm here and there. The function of the chorus is to at times narrate the action, echo a character’s inner thoughts, or serve as background “mood” music. Workshopping this opera hopefully helped illuminate what works and what doesn’t work before it moves to the Met in the fall. I hope the person who receives my score appreciates all of the markings I made for them!
Singing on the same stage as Renée Fleming and Kelli O’Hara is a memory I’ll not soon forget. Watching them work, there’s no doubt in my mind how they rose to fame. Their work ethic, calm under pressure, and rich, soaring voices captivated and inspired me. I will take these lessons into each and everything I sing from now on. I am incredibly grateful and humbled by this experience.
The old saying is, “practice, practice, practice” but in my experience, that’s only 10% of it!
Growing up singing in North Carolina, I always dreamed of being a professional musician. I began voice lessons in middle school and never stopped. It hasn’t been all rainbows and sunshine, though. There have been auditions I didn’t get and performances that were far from my best (namely the time I forgot the words to the National Anthem—I “saved” it, but how embarrassing!). The pandemic has further complicated performing with many engagements being rescheduled and cancelled.
I always knew I didn’t need to star on Broadway or sing at the Metropolitan Opera to feel like I was a successful musician. I was happy to sing smaller, local engagements and I still am! Those smaller gigs paved the way for my successful journey to Carnegie Hall on Monday 2/21/22.
Let’s take a look at some of the steps involved:
Voice lessons 16 years
Piano lessons 5 years
Guitar lessons 2 years
Hundreds of auditions (in person and virtual) and mostly hearing “No”
1 Young Artist Program
2 self-promoted concerts
10+ Professional Opera/Chorus gigs
Church choir section leader 5+ years
Bachelor of Music degree
Master of Music degree
Those are just the musical steps, without mention of the physical, mental, financial, and emotional demands of auditioning and performing!
So, what does it take to get to Carnegie Hall you ask?
Practice, perseverance, and a little bit of crazy. You must be crazy enough to actually think you can pull it off, and willing/able to sacrifice aspects of your personal life at times. I’d like to add that having a strong support system of family, friends, teachers, and colleagues has helped me through the years.
By far, the most requested songs in the studio lately have been songs from Disney’s Encanto. This delightfully animated film is full of life, color, charm, and many ear-grabbing hits by none other than Lin-Manuel Miranda. You’ll recognize his name from Hamilton, Mary Poppins Returns, and the tick, tick, BOOM! movie. It seems like everything he touches turns to gold!
If you’re a parent of a child middle school aged and younger, you’re probably walking around singing and humming, “We don’t talk about Bruno,” “Surface Pressure,” “The Family Madrigal” and many more! It is amazing that “…Bruno” has stolen the #1 spot on the Billboard charts, and charts higher than Frozen’s “Let It Go!” Bet you never thought you’d get that one out of your head…
I think what makes “…Bruno” so special is that many characters have the chance to sing. It’s not meant to be a solo song, it’s for the ensemble! One of my favorite songs is “Surface Pressure.” I love seeing Disney feature a strong, female character instead of a damsel-in-distress ingenue.
If you love this movie as much as I do, drop a comment and tell me your favorite song and why!
I was so excited to be contracted for performances during the holiday season at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia! After nearly 2 years of no performing, I couldn’t wait to join the Philadelphia Orchestra again in their choir, even if we had to be masked to rehearse and perform.
On Sunday, December 19th we began rehearsals for Messiah. Before we could enter the rehearsal room, each singer took a rapid Covid test. Those who were negative were able to begin rehearsing that day.
We were tested (either rapid or PCR) every day and sometimes twice a day until we opened on December 21st! The day before we opened, they had to replace 6 choristers, the conductor and all 4 soloists. Luckily, the orchestra was able to hire replacements and the show went on!
Sadly, the next day we received word that they cancelled our second performance and all remaining shows through January 2nd. We are still waiting to hear whether or not we will be able to perform at Carnegie Hall on January 11th.
While the cancellations are so sad, I know that they must do whatever will keep everyone safe. I am keeping in my thoughts everyone who tested positive, or who was exposed. It’s a scary time, and so disappointing for those who were unable to celebrate Christmas with their families. We are also in good company with many Broadway shows being cancelled until further notice.
I urge everyone to please continue to wear a mask (especially while singing in groups) and to get tested before meeting together.
Often, when I tell my students I have an upcoming audition I’m preparing for they say, “Woah, you still have to audition?”
Yes, even professional singers still audition. I’d like to share with you my most recent audition experience.
In September, I was asked to re-audition for a gig that I’ve held since before Covid. It is not strange to be asked to re-audition…things change in a year and a half! I was thrilled to get the chance to sing live for humans again!
In preparation, I took 2 lessons with my own voice teacher (YES, I still take my own voice lessons as the voice is always growing and changing…and aging!). We warmed up, and worked through technique for my chosen repertoire. The company asked for 1 aria/art song in English and one in either French, Italian, or German.
I chose “Joy” by Ricky Ian Gordon and “Du gai soleil” from the opera Werther. I love singing both of those pieces, and they fit my voice well. They are also just different enough to be exciting and show off a couple of higher notes where my voice sparkles!
The company also asked that we prepare to sight-sing. This is always so nerve-wracking! They give you several lines of notes and a starting pitch. After 30 seconds of looking over it, you must begin! I look for the key, any tricky rhythmic places, wide intervals, or accidentals. I trust my musicianship and use a combination of solfege, pretend piano playing with my fingers, and interval recall to sing through the line. My best advice is to just keep going! Try not to judge yourself as you’re singing through. Did I sing the lines with 100% accuracy? No way…but I did keep going, trying to nail the rhythm and accidentals! As someone who is a much better “preparer” than “on the spot” singer, I was relieved when I came to the end!
Auditions are always nerve-inducing, but if you prepare fully you’ll be less nervous. Allow yourself to really become your character, so you’re not thinking about anything else. You can’t truly be present as your character if you’re thinking about your dress, what the conductor is thinking, or what you’ll have for dinner
I walked out of my audition feeling grateful and fulfilled. I sang for an actual human being!!! It was truly thrilling.
Last night we were walking through Downtown Bentonville and as we approached the square we stumbled upon a group of people gathered to play a pick-up jam session! They were seated in a big circle, each person with their instrument or lyric book ready to solo when their turn came around. I saw guitars, violins, a double bass, harmonica, and a banjo!
I love that on a random summer Friday night there’s a community of musicians (some may be professional, others hobby players) playing and singing! What joy! I think that’s the root of why we enjoy listening to and physically making music—it’s joyful.
Joy is what I strive to create in the studio when someone is here for a lesson. We find your voice and find the joy in singing! Singing should feel good, and I love to help make it easier for you. Make an appointment for a private voice lesson in our Northwest Arkansas studio and have the most joyful 30 minutes of your week singing with me! We’re in Rogers, close to Bentonville, Cave Springs, Pea Ridge, Centerton, Lowell, Springdale & Fayetteville. I can’t wait to hear your voice!
Yes, you read that correctly...we are relocating to Arkansas (specifically the Bentonville/Rogers/Fayetteville metro area)! We are incredibly excited to explore this beautiful region of the country and look forward to teaching singers in person at our new Rogers location: 3607 W Beech Drive Rogers, AR 72756.
We will still continue with virtual lessons for our NJ/PA students, and plan to fly back one week every couple of months to teach in person at our studio location there: 1 Straube Center Boulevard, Pennington, NJ 08534.
Are you in the Rogers/Bentonville/Cave Springs/Fayetteville area?
Sign up HERE for in person lessons!
SPA is back this year!! Join our next "class" of performers as we prepare for our final performance through private voice lessons, masterclasses and more! Click on this link to sign up!
NEW this year is a Meet & Greet with Industry Professionals who will share their experiences, tips and guidance for the aspiring artist!
See you on the stage :)
As you know, I LOVE teaching singers of all ages and abilities. This year, I’ve had many students under the age of 12 sign up for lessons and I decided I needed to beef up my music arsenal for those singers!
I know more about singers who have fully developed larynxes, so I needed to supplement my knowledge by reading more and watching more instruction for younger singers. I stumbled upon “The Full Voice” series and I am loving it, so far!
I’m learning that for this age, lessons and music-learning really should be more like play. I’m infusing more tongue twisters, simple songs, body percussion and games into lessons. This is incredibly fun for both students and for me! The Full Voice series has allowed me to become more flexible with my teaching style, and I love that!
Try these super-duper fun tongue twisters:
There was a minimum of cinnamon in the aluminum pan.
Toy boat (5x fast)
These inspired one young, bright student to research the hardest tongue twister. Try this:
The sixth sick sheik's sixth sheep's sick
I love that what I’m doing is inspiring my students to research music-related topics outside of lessons. One student asked me to build a Kahoot so she could take fun online quizzes---that’s awesome!
I feel so much more confident in teaching young ones now. It turns out that play is good for everyone!
I try my best to keep up with what’s current, I really do. I have definitely missed a few *must listen to* albums this year, so when the Grammy’s rolled around this year, I wasn’t surprised when I hadn’t listened to the bulk of the nominated music. *ahem* Taylor Swift's 2 newest albums--Sorry, I know!!! I'll get right on it...
The most exciting categories to me are:
Best New Artist
Best ____ (you name the genre) Album
Best Opera Recording
I also love to watch the presenters and performances from the banter to the fashion!
Super exciting wins in my book are:
Beyonce becoming the winningest woman in Grammy history!
Porgy and Bess winning Best Opera Recording!
I also love that Billie Eilish has been recognized…she has made space for lighter voices in the pop industry. You don’t have to yell everything to create meaningful, exciting music!
Tell me your favorite Grammy's moments below!
Maria Palombo is a Voice Instructor and Singer living in Central NJ. She is the founder of Finely Tuned Voice Lessons, a private voice studio in Mercer County, NJ.