Why you should give a dollar to the opera…

I read this article yesterday morning, and I was thinking about it all day, through practicing for auditions, through feeding my daughter dinner, and still when I got to rehearsal at Opera Philadelphia yesterday evening (I’m a chorister in their upcoming production of Nabucco).  Our director, Thaddeus Strassberger, mentioned the article and the situation in which New York City Opera finds itself at the beginning of rehearsal, and thanked us all for being there and for our willingness to keep giving our time to creative endeavors like Nabucco.

While I find that I don’t disagree with some of Mr. Nolan’s points, I  find that his overall argument is fundamentally flawed.

First of all, a quick survey.  How many people here own a television?  A nice laptop?  More than one car?  More than three changes of clothing?  How many of you have running water?  Since the majority of my limited readership lives in first world countries, I assume that most responses are ‘yes’ (save for my fellow city dwellers, many of whom own only one or no cars).  Mr Nolan has called on us, the top 1% of the world’s wealth, to reconsider where we donate our dollars, and calls upon us to forego making donations to ‘frivolous’ endeavors like opera.  One’s definition of frivolous could extend to that second car, the larger television, or the faster internet connection (or, for that matter, the car, the television, or the internet — you have running water, what more do you need since the children in Africa have much less?). However, I have yet to read reports of Mr. Nolan selling all his ‘frivolous’ possessions and donating money to babies in Africa (He might have done this, I shouldn’t assume he hasn’t, but I feel like someone on Gawker would have covered it if one of their correspondents suddenly sold as his material possessions and turned into a male Mother Teresa).  “However, in a world of limited money and resources, we must make choices. A dollar given to one cause is a dollar not given to another cause. The relatively small number of people wealthy enough to give large sums of money to charitable causes are in high demand. The need of charitable causes for funding far exceeds the available funds at any given time.”  This is the first place I take issue with his article.  While I understand he’s probably referring to super wealthy people, I would argue that small amounts can add up and make the difference, which is why organizations like Kickstarter and Watsi are successful.  New York City Opera, the company Mr. Nolan is so keen on us not donating money to, is using a kickstarter to attempt to raise funds to keep their company running.  You can donate here if you feel so inclined.

“Could that same $20 million in charitable donations be better spent elsewhere? Well, if you believe that saving human lives is a better use of money than producing operas, then yes. That money could purchase nearly seven million anti-malaria nets through the Against Malaria Foundation, which is rated as the world’s most effective charity by the ethical philosopher Peter Singer. Singer’s group estimates that a human life is saved for every $1,865 donated to the AMF. So, for the cost of producing one and a half seasons of opera in New York City, more than 10,000 deaths in developing countries could be prevented.”  I don’t disagree with any of this statement.  He’s right; money donated to these causes could save lives.  Money donated to the Red Cross, United Way and many others can help those in need.  Smaller organizations like Watsi allow you to donate money to the individual in need to help them receive medical attention that can save their lives or improve their quality of life without any of that money going to administrative expenses, which are definitely a necessity for larger organizations like the Red Cross, United Way and Oxfam, just to name a few.  But what are we saving lives for?  Last night, Thaddeus made the point that we don’t fight a disease like cancer just to beat cancer; we fight to beat cancer so that we can continue to live our lives.  Fighting a disease with nothing to live for doesn’t give us much incentive to live.  With the plethora of diseases that the world faces with each passing year, it seems like a rather tall order that Mr. Nolan is proposing that every monetary decision we make fall between someone’s life and something less important.  How much thought do you place in every purchase you make?  Do you choose a store that sells the product you need for more because you think they treat their employees fairly, or do you go to a place that charges less for the item you need, even though they may not treat their employees fairly?  Do you choose to patronize a local business verses a big box store because it supports your local economy?  Mr. Nolan proposes we place life and death at the core of our monetary donations, even though there’s no way to know if that money is going to save someone’s life or if it’s going to pay the administrative costs at an organization like AMF.  While AMF funds research and treatments that allow people to receive treatment for a disease like malaria, many of my colleagues in music will tell you that opera is essential to who they are as a human being, and that being involved in opera is so much more than a job.  There’s a reason many of us in music work long hours for little money, hold down multiple jobs at a time and sometimes even work for nothing in order to raise money for companies that we sing for (that’s rare, but it does happen).  That doesn’t even begin to cover the number of people who make their living in the theater: singers, dancers, musicians, conductors, directors, stage managers, supernumeraries, marketing and administrative employees and others.  All of these people make their living through organizations like New York City Opera, and many of them would be out of a job if a company like that closed.  This also doesn’t include the thousands of people who go to the opera, because an experience like attending the opera is like nothing else, and many feel that is an essential part of their humanity (more on that later on).

“Perhaps the charitable donors who might give money to the New York City Opera are only interested in causes here in New York City. In that case, consider the fact that there are currently more than 50,000 homeless people in our city. A donation of $20 million to, for example, the Coalition for the Homeless could go a long way towards addressing the needs of those in crisis.”  Again, this is a point I don’t disagree with.  But the New York City Opera isn’t receiving tax payer dollars; it’s asking that private citizens make small donations to ensure they can continue to contribute to American culture.  Where was this impassioned argument when the city of New York donated tax payer dollars, private donations and gave tax breaks to baseball?  Several million dollars went into creating baseball stadiums while schools and mass transit suffered in New York City.  I must have missed the Mr. Nolan’s impassioned article calling for that money to be spent on poor children or homelessness in the city of New York. Maybe you enjoy baseball?  That’s great. Do you think we should spend tax payer dollars, private donations and grant tax breaks on it?  People in baseball make millions of dollars and no one tells the MBA and the NFL that they are shouldn’t be spending that money  on star players because there are impoverished countries in Africa (Football and baseball salaries are sometimes upwards of $20 million; Eli Manning of the New York Giants is slated to make more than that this season, and I don’t see him out there curing malaria). Why is opera different?  Is it because you think it’s for rich people? Have you looked at the prices of baseball or football tickets?  One could argue that America’s pastime has become unaffordable for most of America. You can get a $19 ticket to see opera at the Metropolitan Opera house.  It’s more than that to go to a baseball game, and it’s definitely more than that to go to a football game.  The Met also does HD Broadcasts in local movie theaters, and Opera Philadelphia does a free showing of one of their major operas on the National Mall in Philadelphia each year.

When the towers fell on September 11th, 2001, people grieved.  They grieved for loved ones lost and injured, and they grieved for a way of life that was no more.  Many found an outlet in song.  Singing together, praying together and being together is what helped some people find the will to go on.  On October 28th, 2001, Renee Fleming, an american opera singer, sang Amazing Grace at a memorial held at the ruins of the World Trade Center.  I don’t think it’s at all coincidental that it was an opera singer that was asked to sing a simple song to help unite and comfort those who were grieving.  They didn’t ask the popular singer of the day, they asked an opera singer that many people probably hadn’t heard of.  You can watch the video of her singing and discussing the experience here.  In the darkest hour, her instrument gave voice to those who mourned.  The technique and the lessons she has learned as a singer have been taught and passed down through many generations before, and the unique sound and feeling they are able to create in people isn’t found in any other kind of music.  In 1842, Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Nabucco premiered at Teatro alla Scala in Milan.  Verdi wrote this opera shortly after his wife and two children died tragically, after saying he would not compose any more operas.  The impresario at La Scala convinced him to set this libretto, which was the story of the Jews as they were assaulted, conquered and exiled from their homeland by King Nabucco of Babylon.  The third act chorus, ” Va, pensiero, sull’ali dorate / “Fly, thought, on golden wings,” spoke of the Hewbrews’ desire to return home.  This chorus resonated so strongly with the Italian people that it became their anthem as they sought to unify their country and remove the power of the Austro-Hungarian empire from it (that is a really short synopsis of the Italian battle for unification).  The point is that opera helped unite these people; opera helped pull people out of grief and Opera has survived for hundreds of years because there is nothing else that involves art, music, dance and drama the way opera does.  It resonates with people in a way that nothing else does.

I’ve been an opera singer for almost ten years.  I have two degrees and I have a lot of different jobs.  One of the most fulfilling experiences I’ve found as a performer has been school outreaches.  I’ve sung in schools in some of the worst parts of Philadelphia, where many children come from broken homes, homes where their parents could be involved in drugs and where many times they may not get a full meal before they come to school each day.  While I’d love to be able to feed and help clothe every one of these children (and I don’t see anyone like Mr. Nolan rallying to make sure these kids have appropriate resources and healthcare), I can’t.  But every one of them loved the opera performances we gave them.  They sang along, they were engaged with the stories and they asked lots of insightful questions at the end of the performance.  Many opera companies, both large and small, have educational outreach programs designed to reach children of all demographics, and it’s one of the most effective ways to teach children about different kinds of music.  Children who are involved and exposed to music consistently do better academically (see study from Canada here) than those who don’t.  Arts education is ALWAYS the first thing to be dropped from school curriculums, despite constant and overwhelming evidence for how beneficial it is for young minds.  Philadelphia has an amazing program called Tune Up Philly   whose goal is to “nurture children by keeping them engaged in success through weekday out-of-school hours music instruction.  Through its Tune Up Philly program, Philadelphia Youth Orchestra organization believes that music education is a powerful vehicle for children to master skills that will enable them to acquire valuable tools for cooperative learning, teamwork, academic success and self-esteem.”  I’ve seen first hand how programs like this affect students, and it’s always amazing to see kids becoming passionate over what they can accomplish as musicians.

Are producing operas more important than saving lives?  Of course not, and I doubt that many would argue that point. But what I will present is the idea that art needs to be preserved otherwise it will not survive. It cannot be neglected until we are finished solving the great  injustices of the world and expect that it will still be there waiting for us. You wouldn’t leave the Mona Lisa in a moldy attic until the Louvre was ready to display it, would you?  No, you would keep the painting in a safe place, ensure it was temperature controlled, and constantly check to make sure this wonderful and iconic piece of culture and history wasn’t damaged. You’d put time, energy and money into preserving it.  Art as a whole, which includes music, dance, painting, and other forms of artistic expression, are not divorced from life.  One person’s ability to fund charitable work or opera does not make another’s ability to bring joy to people through opera insignificant.  Art cannot survive without those who are willing to make it and subsequently, willing to fund it when times are hard and it can not support itself.

“I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.” (John Adams)  If we focus solely on living to see the next day, as Mr. Nolan has proposed in his article, we miss an essential part of living, and the experiences that accompany it.  ” A dollar given to one cause is a dollar not given to another cause.”  While what Mr. Nolan has said is true, it implies that the second cause is genuinely without merit, which I argue that opera is not.  The world is not as black and white as he insinuates in his polemical article, and to dismiss the value of cultural institutions is to undervalue the worth of culture as a whole.

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What’s the buzz?

Since I’m endeavoring to blog more often, here’s what’s been happening in my daily life.

I’m currently working on a production of La Traviata with Center City Opera Theater.  We open next week, and I think it’s going to be a really good production, so I encourage you and all your friends and family to come see it.  Links for tickets are here, and there are student rush tickets available an hour before each show.  Hope to see you there!

I’m preparing another role for an opera in the summer, but I’ll discuss that more at a later time.  I’ve been continuing to run and bike, and I’m losing some weight, which is really great.  I feel a lot better, and I even have more energy, which is usually expended chasing my 20 month old toddler around.  It’s really neat to watch this little personality emerge from my daughter; she has opinions about toys, food and even clothes, and while dealing with her tantrums isn’t the most enjoyable task, it’s pretty amazing to watch her grow.

St. Pats

The sweater that Keira is wearing in the picture is one I finished a few months ago.  The pattern is the Gift Wrap Sweater by Carina Spencer, and the yarn is Berroco Vintage and Manos Del Uruguay Rittenhouse.  The Rittenhouse has been discontinued, but any worsted weight (preferably superwash) would work with this pattern.  This sweater was supposed to be a gift, but by the time I finished it, I didn’t think it would fit the recipient.  There’s also some wonky stitches on the buttonband where I’m not sure if the pattern was off or if I didn’t pick up enough stitches at that place.  I kept it for Keira and I’ll make something else for the other little one.  I have a few finished knitting projects to show that have been gifted, so it’s ok to reveal them. The first is a baby blanket and sweater set I made for a close friend who just had her first baby.  The yarn is Spud and Chloe Sweater which is my new favorite yarn for baby projects.  It’s a wool cotton blend which can go in the washer and dryer.  It’s also a bit more durable which makes it perfect for knitted baby items.  I used the color way Popsicle and Manatee for the sweater and just popsicle for the blanket.  I love how these turned out.  I’ll have more to share on my next post!


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RunningI usually talk about singing on this blog, but I’m going to stray from that a bit with this entry.  In light of the horrific attacks in Boston, MA, I feel a profound sadness for those who died, those who were injured and those who will be forever changed by what happened on April 15th.

I have been running all my life.  I started as a child running short jogs with my parents.  I then graduated to team sports like soccer which included distance runs at every practice; from there, solo runs during high school and college.  In 2008, I began to participate organized races, both runs and a triathlon.  Running has always been something that I could fall back on, no matter what was happening in my life and no matter how out of shape I was.  It was always there, like a comfortable garment that sits in the closet, forgotten, but always there when you need it most.  I have run through happiness, through sadness, through pain, through depression, through loss, through joy, through loneliness and more.  As a child, running was a high.  I’d run with other kids at soccer practice or at recess.  We’d sprint, shouting with glee, hoping we could make it all the way to the fence at the end of the school yard and back before we’d have to go back inside.  During high school, I’d run alone on afternoons I didn’t have rehearsal, or on early summer mornings before the heat became too intense.  It was the same practiced course through my neighborhood, passing the elementary school my brother and I attended, seeing the playgrounds and woods of our childhood.  I ran hoping I would lose weight, trying to envision a more attractive me who would be more apt at navigating the pitfalls of adolescence.

In college, I ran when there was too much on my mind.  I’d run and hope I’d be able to get through whatever challenges I was currently facing in school, in my personal life or in my singing technique.  During 2005, I studied abroad in Edinburgh, Scotland.  Running eliminated my need for a map; I’d run through the old streets, discovering new places with every corner I turned.  I’d run through the Links, fields with the greenest grass I’d ever seen, and continue on through Old City, with no destination in mind, just exploration.  I ran through my loneliness as I missed my friends and family and the life I had left at home.  When I returned, I ran through the pain of being back and not wanting to be.  I ran when relationships didn’t work; I ran through the pain of breakups or the sadness at knowing I had to end a relationship that would never be right for me.  I ran through job frustration, financial uncertainty and wondering if I’d ever find my path as a singer or whether I’d have to pick another career all together.

There were months where I didn’t run.  I’d make up excuses, and procrastinate to the point where there wasn’t time left in the day.  I’d wake up one day and begrudgingly find my sneakers and lace them up, forcing myself to go for a run before or after work.  Despite enjoying running, I didn’t think I needed it as a constant in my life.

In 2008, I started to get more serious about running.  I had ended a relationship that wasn’t going anywhere, and to fill the void, I would run.  I found a woodsy route at the local college near my job, and I’d leave work and go straight there.  I’d run through the woods or on the track.  I had a GPS tracker that tracked my distance and time, and I started to challenge myself to break my best times.  As I became a more confident runner, I became a more confident person.  I started researching graduate schools, and I started to eliminate toxic people from my life.  In August of 2008, I met the man that would later become my husband.

In March of 2009, I ran my first 5K race.  My husband (at the time he was my fiancee), was there to cheer me on.  I did more races after that, and completed a triathlon in June of 2009.  At every race I’ve ever participated in, I have always been amazed by the spectators.  Races are usually pretty early in the morning.  Like 6AM on a Saturday or Sunday morning early.  So in addition to the crazy people waking up early to run, there are other people waking up just as early to cheer them on.  The camaraderie found at these races is really wonderful and extremely genuine.  People cheer for you as you go by, not knowing who you are, only knowing that they wish you the best as you strive to finish this crazy thing you started.  Your fellow participants are usually just as nice, cheering you on as they run by, encouraging you when you start to get tired.  The thought that anyone would want to harm these people is beyond reprehensible to me.  Some of the kindest and most caring people I’ve ever met in my life have been at these events, and I have always been proud to be a part of the running community.

Running has given me so much.  As I read through this entry, I’m amazed at the events in my life that have coincided with how I ran, when I ran and who I ran with.  To think that running has done the same and more for so many people throughout the world is a really heartwarming though.  To know that what happened in Boston was a deliberate attempt to hurt people living out dreams and breaking through boundaries in their lives is deplorable.  To see the running community and those outside of it come together is amazing.  I will continue to be a Runner.  I will continue to run races and cheer on my fellow Runner.  I will continue to be hopeful that human kind will always be able to respond to horrific events with awe-inspiring acts of kindness and goodwill toward their fellow men and women.

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What do you do, exactly?

I think a lot of people tend to define a person based on the job they hold.  It’s true that it can say a lot about a person.  For example, my husband is a computer engineer.  He looks like an engineer, he acts like an engineer, and he thinks like an engineer.  Obviously I’m quite partial, but I think he’s bloody brilliant.  While being an engineer isn’t his only defining characteristic, it’s a pretty big part of who he is.  He loves computers, he loves to program, and he genuinely  enjoys his job most of the time.  No one ever questions why he’s paid the salary of an engineer, and no one questions whether or not his work is worth a certain amount.  It’s assumed that he is appropriately valued and that the work he produces is worth a certain sum.  No one assumes that he isn’t entitled to raises for excellent work, no one thinks he shouldn’t be compensated fairly, no one expects him to get a job that doesn’t provide benefits, and no one questions that it was an perfectly normal thing when we purchased a house.  (For the record, I think my husband is a brilliant man, an incredibly caring and understanding individual and a wonderful father.  I’m simply using him as a career example).

A few weeks ago, this blog was posted by Anthony Alfidi.  It’s one of the many commentaries I’ve seen on the strike taking place in San Francisco between the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra and the union that represents the musicians and the administration of said symphony.  This article will give you the bare bones of it, but the musician’s union can’t seem to reach an agreement on wages for the orchestra members.  The San Francisco symphony is one of the higher paid orchestras in the country, but Mr. Alfidi feels that they already make too much and that “…these union thugs in tuxedos are unsatisfied with a base salary of $141,700. That is far above the San Francisco median household income of $72,947.”

While I think Mr. Alfidi is an uninformed nincompoop who has absolutely no business spewing judgements on a field that he clearly knows nothing about (he said that a talented high school orchestra could do the job of one of the best symphony orchestras in the world and that you wouldn’t notice a difference and also said he’d be willing “to solo O Mio Babbino Caro on a kazoo if Renee Fleming can’t elbow her way through the union’s picket line.”), I can’t help but wonder if his opinion is the more popular one.  I’ve been working as a musician for almost ten years.  In that time, I’ve also received two advanced degrees in my field; a Bachelor of Science in Music and Masters Degree in Vocal Performance.  I’ve spent countless hours in practice room.  I’ve taken thousands of voice lessons.  I’ve worked really, really hard, and I’m being paid to do what I went to school for.  Am I being paid a living wage?  Hardly.  Is this uncommon in my field?  Nope.

It seems to me that many people think that because I or my colleagues chose to go into the arts, that we don’t deserve the same sorts of wages or employment “rights” that many of our peers enjoy.  The fact that people like Mr. Alfidi think a musician’s union is doing something criminal by demanding a competitive living wage for symphony musicians is astonishing to me.  If you’re a family of four living in a city like San Francisco, $150,000 a year is hardly living large.  The average cost of living there is much higher than many US cities.  Also consider that the average symphony musician will have AT LEAST two, if not more college degrees in their field.  That means student loan debt in addition to usual living expenses.  You’re dealing with people who are the very finest in their field.  Why is it that many people think we shouldn’t be compensated accordingly?

I’ve worked in jobs outside of music.  When I graduated from college, I had a job as a bank teller, a job as a barista and a job as a lifeguard.  I worked way more than 40 hours a week.  I paid for healthcare out of pocket.  I still took voice lessons, and I still auditioned for productions.  I then got a job at a corporate firm where I was making more money, but still barely enough to cover my living expenses.  I wasn’t living extravagantly – I was subletting a room from a friend for less than $500 a month, I was driving an older car, and I wasn’t being frivolous with my money.  I eventually was laid off due to cuts in the company, and I then worked two jobs teaching voice (four nights a week), a job as a paid church musician and a part time retail job.  I eventually moved to full time at the retail job, which meant I didn’t pay for healthcare out of pocket anymore, but I still had my other jobs.  Over the next two years, I was able to get myself to a place where I was no longer living paycheck to paycheck.  I was able to save, I was able to eliminate credit card debt, and I was in a pretty solid financial place.

When I went to graduate school, I had to give up all the jobs I had.  I left Baltimore to go nearly four hours away to Morgantown WV.  Morgantown didn’t have paid church gigs, and teaching jobs were really difficult to come by.  I didn’t have much student debt from undergrad, so I took out some extra loans so that I wouldn’t have to work four jobs all through school.  When your body is your instrument, you have to treat it as such.  I made huge improvements as a singer during grad school.  Part of that is because I had a good teacher, but I wonder if part of it is also because for the first time in years, I wasn’t overworked.  I was sleeping, working out and really taking care of myself for the first time in years because I FINALLY HAD TIME TO.  Before that, I worked 65-75 hours a week just to make ends meet.  When you work a ten hour day, you don’t have the energy to come home and practice.

I was pregnant for my last semester of graduate school.  A lot of people thought my career was ending before it began.  I did three full operas and countless auditions while pregnant.  I gave a Masters Recital, and I finished my masters.  My daughter was born in August, and I went back to singing less than three weeks after she was born.  I have made a lot of sacrifices.  I have been very fortunate, and I have worked really hard.  I still want to same things as people who work other jobs; health insurance for my family, a house, and the ability to save for my daughter’s future.  Call me crazy, but I don’t think these things should be denied to me just because I’ve chosen to pursue a career in music.  I know that I won’t make a lot of money, but I don’t need to.  I’ve learned to live on less, and that’s fine.  I don’t see why my colleagues and I shouldn’t be treated as fairly as everyone else.  Keep these facts in mind when you look at union strikes for musicians; it isn’t always black and white.

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I suppose it’s safe to say that I didn’t do a great job of following through on my New Year’s Resolution to blog more often.  I think it’s safe to say that I can blame a good bit of that on the baby, moving, auditions, coachings and whatever else has come up in the last year or so.

First of all, I’ve decided to merge my blog about singing and mommyhood with my other blog that covered my crafty endeavours.  I’ll still be writing about singing here, but I’ll also include whatever I’m knitting (especially since I’m usually knitting it during rehearsal downtime), bits about Keira, and whatever else strikes my fancy.

I’ve been a Resident Young Artist with Center City Opera in Philadelphia since late September.  The program runs through the beginning of June, and I’ll being singing the role of Flora in La Traviata, as well as smaller performances and outreach performances that I’ll be taking part it.  In addition to my church job, I’ll also be a Concert Artist with Vox Amadeus, a choral group also based in Philadelphia.  I try to keep my website, http://www.karinasweeney.com, updated with my performance schedule so check back frequently!

Finding the balance over the year has been both challenging and interesting.  In February of 2012, I sang the role of Carmen in an abridged concert version of Bizet’s opera (also called Carmen, in case that wasn’t immediately obvious).  It was two small, lower key gigs, and it was good chance to see how my voice and body would hold up during a two to three hour performance.  I had a few small gigs in April and May as well, and in August, I was in a production of Falstaff, covering the roles of Meg and Dame Quickly as well as singing in the chorus.  I began studying with a new teacher in February of 2012, and I’m quite pleased with the progress I’m making on my technique.  I also started coaching more often when my coach was in town (she works at opera companies outside of PA during the year).  The summer was a good opportunity for me to learn some new arias and get my audition package decided and polished.  I made some new recordings at the end of August, as well as starting submitting applications for auditions this coming November and December.  (To listen to my new recordings, please go to http://www.karinasweeney.com and feel free to let me know what you think!)  In January of 2013, I sang the Metropolitan Opera Council auditions in North Carolina.  I didn’t place, but I received very positive feedback from all three judges, which was pretty great.

As always, finding the balance between singing and being a Mommy is challenging.  I’m fortunate enough that most of my rehearsals and gigs are in the evening and/or weekend, so I can spend the day with Keira while David works before I go to work.  It’s a bit tiring, and I don’t always work the timing out perfectly, but I’m learning how to make the most of naptime.  I’m extremely fortunate that David works from home; finding a baby sitter is not a constant thing I have to worry about.

That’s all for the moment – I’ll be updating this more often, so stay tuned!




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One More Blog about Resolutions!

New Year, New posts!  I’m so overdue for a post it isn’t even funny, but with the holidays and baby, it’s been a busy few weeks.  We had a lovely holiday in Maryland, and we were able to see lots of family and friends.  That being said, I’m happy to be back home.  We are getting much better at traveling with an infant, but it’s still a tiring process.  Lucky for us, we have a wonderful network of family and friends who are happy to let us stay with them in exchange for doting on our child.  🙂

The last few weeks haven’t included much singing outside of church gigs.  Keira is starting to sleep more through the night, allowing me to get more sleep and able to concentrate more during the day.  She’s just begun teething, which is a pretty awful process.  It’s hard not to feel completely helpless when your child screams bloody murder for hours on end and there’s nothing you can do.  I read somewhere that an adult going through the process teething would need morphine to deal with the pain.  Information like that makes you wonder why a teething ring is a substitute.  David and I are slowly finding a balance and then readjusting as things change, which they inevitably do and usually without much warning.

I had a competition at the beginning of December.  I sang “Nobles Seigneurs,” a difficult coloratura aria from Les Hugenots by Meyerbeer.  It has a number of tricky passages and a high C at the end.  I coached it the week before, and I’m happy with the way my technique is progressing as my body recovers from surgery.  Even though I didn’t make it to the finals, I felt that I sang well.  There were a lot of singers, and only two continued to the final round.

Auditioning with a baby is different.  Before Keira was born, I could relax during the day, quietly review my music, warm up and take my time in preparation for my audition.  Now, I’m juggling the baby while I warm up, making sure there is a bottle or two available for her while I’m gone, and going through her needs with her baby sitter while I put my makeup on.  Thankfully, my parents were able to watch her while I was at my audition.  It’s still a balancing act that will continue to change, but I’m trying to be flexible as I find a way to make it work.

Since it’s a New Year, I feel like I should have some resolutions.  Losing weight is always one, but this year, I’m trying to make that resolution a smaller part of a larger whole.  I’ve spent a lot of time feeling guilty over the last year; guilty that I’m not doing enough to help David with our finances, guilty about student loan debt, guilty about wanting to continue singing after Keira was born, guilty about wanting to leave the house and get coffee without the baby, guilty about not exercising, guilty about not being more prepared…you get the picture.  My most important New Year’s resolution is this: STOP FEELING GUILTY ABOUT NOT BEING ABLE TO DO EVERYTHING AND PLEASE EVERYONE.  This isn’t a carte blanche to be selfish or to shirk my duty, but I find that feeling guilty takes too much energy and isn’t an effective way to deal with my tasks at hand.  In order to feel less guilty, I have to learn how to budget my time more effectively. (That’s resolution #2).  That means allowing adequate time to get things done, and being ok with letting David take the baby for an evening while I work on translations or practice.  I’m going to try and stick with these resolutions, mostly because I think they’ll help my overall stress level and will hopefully lead to better planning and scheduling habits.

It’s impossible to set anything in stone when there’s a child involved.  I can do my best, but her needs have to come first.  For example, up until two weeks ago, I had a relatively calm baby who was never fussy unless she was very hungry or very tired.  Once teething began, I found myself with an infant who could scream for three plus hours without ceasing.  After dealing with a screaming baby for three hours or more, I’m in no shape to do anything productive.  Normally I would feel guilty about not being productive while she’s napping, but today, I decided to allow myself to calm down, have a beer ( I really needed one after three hours of a screaming infant), and then took a nap.  After that, I was in much better shape to work and form coherent sentences.  I spent the evening translating Carmen for an upcoming performance, which will allow me to get all the music learned by the end of the week.

Finding the balance between life, work and baby is difficult.  It’s constantly changing, and you can never guarantee that what works one day will work the next.  The celebrities who have huge careers or hundreds of performances throughout the year must employ a small army of people who assist in taking care of their children.  I don’t understand any other way it could possibly work.  Being a caretaker is beyond a full time job, but it’s one I’m thrilled to be doing.  While it’s hard to see how I can possibly have a career and be a Mom, I’m going to begin 2012 with tools that will make this work.

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Running and Lifting and Sweating…OH MY!

Working out post baby is…difficult.  Motivation has always an issue for me; the bed was always too comfortable to leave, or I was too tired, or it was too cold…you get the idea.  After six weeks post baby, I went to the gym, ready to drop that last six pounds of baby weight, lose another fifteen and get perfect abs, all by Thanksgiving!  After waiting for a pig to fly past my window, I realized this wasn’t the most achievable goal.  I went to the gym for a few days days and promptly got sick.  It was a nasty cold complete with mucus, a runny nose and a sore throat.  I was paranoid I would make Keira sick, so I tried to concentrate on getting better without the aid of over the counter medication, which is off limits since I’m breast feeding.  It took a bit longer for me to shake the cold than it normally would have, but since more than two hours of uninterrupted sleep is unheard of these days, my body isn’t bouncing back as quickly.  I continued to walk with Keira in the carrier almost every day, and I’ve been able to lose a pound or two that way.  I also started cycling again, which is a great way to see the city, especially since there is a nice bike path that goes all the way from Center City to Valley Forge.

This week I decided to go running.  I’ve been afraid to start doing anything more strenuous than walking or the elliptical machines at the gym, but since I’m twelve weeks post surgery, I figured it was time to bite the bullet and get moving.  As fate would have it, I got another nasty cold last week, and it finally finished working its way out of my system by Wednesday.  Today, I got up at 4:30 AM when Keira started crying and didn’t fall back to sleep until well after David’s alarm went off at 7AM.  I stayed in bed until almost 11, going in and out of sleep and feeding the baby.  Around 11, I ran out of excuses, got up and finally got out the door.  I ran through my neighborhood and to the Schuylkill river trail,  a paved trail that runs parallel to the Schuylkill river in Philadelphia.  I’ve biked along this path a few times, so I’m familiar with the landmarks and the distances between each one.  I only did two miles, which is probably better than it seems, and my pace was 11:13 a mile.  Before I got pregnant, I used to run a few times a week, and I’ve even done a few 5Ks and a triathlon, so two miles seems wimpy, but I think it’s a good start.  It was a nice jog once I convinced myself that all the super fit people on the trail weren’t just wearing running tights to make me look fatter.  (Women will understand and empathize with that statement; most men will just shake their heads).  I’ll try to do this four to five days a week.  I have a jogging stroller, but since Keira is still little, she has to be in the carseat which snaps into the stroller, making it a much larger vessel, and not very conducive to running.  I’ll continue to walk with her, but I’ll probably wait until the spring to try putting her in the jogger without the car seat.

I’m going to try and work yoga into my daily routine again.  There’s a studio near my house that has reasonable rates, and the Y we belong to also has classes from time to time.  Since I’m back to auditioning and performing, I need to strengthen my abdominal muscles so that my breath support is more solid.  Onward!

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