Category Archives: Opera Mom

Reflections on a month of Mahler: Re-entry

Mahler Symphony No. 4 Cleveland Philharmonic Orchestra – April 2017

I’m back from a month away in the midwest singing concerts of Mahler Symphonies 2 and 4. What a month of absolute joy and now I’m back in the saddle in Sacramento! I’ve been receiving warm welcome home texts from friends, but there was one in particular grabbed my attention. “You’re home! I’ve missed you!…let me know when you’ve finished re-entry. I’m here!”

Re-entry, like from outer space back to earth’s atmosphere. After a month away in intense rehearsal and concert situations, out of body performing experiences, spiritual experiences with conductors, singers, orchestras and audiences, intense focus in preparation for auditions, meetings with potential collaborators, starting new projects, reaching out and meeting with colleagues that I’ve not seen in years, and even seeing family and friends. Yes reentry is what this is.

Finding footing in the day to day after this kind of intensity is incredibly difficult. Priorities SUDDENLY shift. Career mode goes back into first gear after being in fifth gear for weeks, and yet concerts are still on the way. Deadlines exist. Pipelines of work need to be filled. Poetry still needs to be interpreted. Vocal technique still needs attention at every turn….Also, voice students need support, your teenage kids need help staying on track with school work, they have projects to present, have looked at colleges and attended prom while you were gone, and they need to tell their mom about all that is happening and has happened while you were gone. Friends have life changing shifts coming to the fore and have sparks of inspiration to positively affect the communities in which you live. Time must be spent in all these places.

Be present. Observe. Be sensitive. Contribute to the conversation. Be vulnerable until it hurts. Love even more than that. Take care of yourself, because there is much to do. Find the balance. Surround yourself with those that will help you keep finding it, and do that for others.

Priorities shift after an intense trip like this, but remember, these are the priorities that continue to feed the need to speak with more strength and vulnerability through art.  #operamom


“A Gesture of the Poem’s Behalf” – Part 5

Knowing ahead of time that certain performances will change your life is a bit daunting. Daunting because it can be difficult to remain present in the moment. Ego wants to take over and “make it perfect” or “prove I’m worth this amazing moment in time”. These recitals with Ricky were defining moments for me as an artist. To work with such an idol of mine, an accomplished and thoughtful composer, a generous spirit and expressive musician. Putting aside my fears of failure to stay present in the moment with the music and text, with Ricky at the piano and with the audience was the only way to fully experience such an incredible opportunity.

Before the recitals, we took a moment of meditation and connection before performing. Both performances were moving, the second of the two more open and relaxed. I couldn’t have dreamed of a more fulfilling, surreal and cathartic weekend. Also, I have to say I will NEVER forget my favorite quote of the weekend. After rehearsing “Run Away”, Ricky laughed from the piano, smile beaming throughout the room and exclaimed, “Carrie! You sang S*#! outta that song!” Never did a compliment make my heart well up as that!

To sing with one you’ve idolized and admired for so long, only to find out that all the emotions that leapt off the song book page into your heart were all truths told by this creative human form simply speaking his truth through art. Ricky, thank you sharing with us your truths, so that we all may have a glimmer of hope into finding our own. I couldn’t be more grateful!



“A Gesture of the Poem’s Behalf” – Part 4

Our first coaching session together had been in January 2016 after my disastrous audition in Houston that previous December.  My confidence level was shaky, at best, and that is not the singer that belonged in this rehearsal. Wanting to please this living legend was the overwhelming urge. I am a huge fan girl of Ricky Ian Gordon, and I mean fan girl. Many of my friends talk about certain albums that helped them move through dark times in their life. For me, it wasn’t a record album, but a book of music by this particular composer. Ricky’s music helped move me through some of the most difficult parts of my life and shone light on even on the darkest corners to give me hope, and help me move through the heaviness I felt through most of my 20’s. His choice in poetry and the poems he wrote himself spoke to me on a level I couldn’t articulate, they caused me go inward, to find my way, to evolve.

My job this day was was NOT to spew this story at him, but to be completely present in each moment available and to do the work. Calming my anxious energy and easing the the urge to please him was no easy task. I prepped all morning mentally to just try and keep it together, and then upon arriving, the anxiety all fell away. A hug was given and received, and his generosity of spirit permeated the space. Our session was filled with joy and laughter. Ricky’s knowledge about the operatic voice, about how to work with singers, and about how to make a singer feel more confident in the moment is mind blowing. His loving kindness was palpable as we worked and I felt that I needed just to breathe.

There were even times when Ricky was thrilled with choices I made. Certain tempos or vocal colors that surprised him. I was giddy as a school girl! I soaked up every moment we had together and knew I would take it all back to CA and work it out. I left the 2 hour session still not completely happy with how I was singing, but no longer consumed with the overly self critical part of my being. I knew what I needed to do in order to interpret these pieces the way I wished to, and it felt possible.

Schedules swirled. The Fresno Grand Opera and Townsend Opera seasons were well under way, but getting a little too packed. April recitals were not happening. The recital would now be delayed to the Fall of 2016 as season opening Gala. Thankfully I had more time to let it settle. Can I get one more session in with Ricky before hand? YES! The week prior to the concerts.

During this session, I shared the fact that “Will There Really Be a Morning?” was the song that carried me through, that my mom played it for me even when I was on singing hiatus, and that this was a huge honor. My mom would’ve been so proud. We sang that song and I had tears streaming down my face. It was worth the airfare just for that moment. Allowing myself to be that vulnerable in that working environment speaks volumes to Ricky Ian Gordon’s deep human connection through music, voice and text.

I left with a deep yearning to remain present and to live in that vulnerability, to shed the masks I had unconsciously allowed to cover the parts of me I see as undesirable. After leaving his studio, I have worked tirelessly to remain that open.


“A Gesture on the Poem’s Behalf” – Part 3

Emails exchanged. Repertoire chosen. Ricky chose 10 songs to showcase his music in a way that he wanted. I knew that we would have little time to rehearse in CA, so I made the move. Can I come coach in NYC? Originally the show was supposed to be April 2016, so I scheduled a coaching session the same week I had an audition in January of 2016.

This was after an INCREDIBLY packed fall schedule and after my debut with the Houston Symphony for one of their Christmas concerts. During the Houston stay, I tried to also pack in a Houston Grand Opera audition. The worst idea. My mind was focused on the short symphony rehearsal I had and I could not focus on the audition. It was terrible, and not just from my overly critical point of view. My objective self knew how terrible it was. Although I made some good music in Houston with the symphony and in recital, I was not feeling good about singing, at all. the HGO audition hung heavily over my head.

It felt reminiscent of the moment I walked away from singing the first time. 12 years away…the hamster wheel of doubt, the sickness in my stomach, that feeling that I just wanted to run and hide. I was so embarrassed by this audition, and yet, I literally had to run from the audition to my rehearsal with the Houston Symphony. (Thankfully all went well and I felt a little better about my Houston trip!)

The emotion fragility of being a professional singer at times is tough to work through in a a healthy way. I am criticized constantly, and have to continue to remain strong in who I am as a person, a singer, and an artist. To go from a horrific audition to rehearsing with the poet and composer you hold in great reverence is quite the definition of emotional roller coaster!


“A Gesture on the Poem’s Behalf” – Part 2

In September of 2015, I sat at a post show dinner with Matthew Buckman, General Director of Fresno Grand Opera and Townsend Opera. He and I have had a wonderful working relationship since the first show I did with him, The Merry Widow in 2009. We have similar sensibilities about bringing opera to new audiences and making is accessible. We have similar senses of humor which is clear when we are in a room together!  Oh the laughter!

The following conversation with him started as many of our conversations do. Matthew looked at me and said simply, “So, Carrie. Question for you.” Not knowing what he had up his sleeve just after a performance, I replied with curiosity, “Yes, Matthew?”. “How would you like to do a recital with Ricky Ian Gordon?”. Wait. What did he say?!? Did I hear that correctly?!? Did I just finish a weekend of performances and he wants to know if I want to give a recital with my idol composer, Ricky Ian Gordon? Before I could process the actual question posed, I enthusiastically and perhaps semi aggressively answered, “YES! Yes yes yes yes…YEEEESSSSS!”. Matthew howled with laughter and replied, “So Carrie, could you tell me how you really feel?”. Yes. In fact I believe I was quite clear. Poker face is not really in my skill set.

At this moment,  my brain left the rest of the group at the table. All my thoughts zoomed in laser like, not to the possibility of this recital, but the fact that Matthew had asked and already confirmed that Ricky Ian Gordon to come to CA to give a recital. It was happening, and now over dinner, officially I would be singing it. Breathless.

“A Gesture on the Poem’s Behalf” – Part 1

“A Gesture on the Poem’s Behalf” is a class that composer Ricky Ian Gordon teaches for composers of Art Song . It highlights his process and inspiration for composing, the text. Composers in the class are asked to pick a poem, memorize it and recite it to the rest of the group. When the group feels like the composer has delivered the poem in a way that expresses truth and full understanding, then the composer moves to the next step of setting the poem to music. This encourages the composer to fully inhabit the language, the breath and all the underlying meaning of the poem. Each musical gesture made is then truthful to the text, and the text alone. The music only enhances. Ego is left behind.

I have always felt incredibly connected to Ricky Ian Gordon since I was a young singer discovering his songs for the first time, and perhaps this is why. The way he approaches setting a poem is filled, literally, with his breath and cadence. He allows a singer a window into his inner life. This singer, in particular, has always felt welcomed in that world with open arms. The opportunity to tell a story, my story, in a very vulnerable way through a veil of another’s words and musical gesture is an honor. It’s cathartic. The human condition is a shared experience and Ricky Ian Gordon’s music has always made room for me to commune there, even when I had stopped singing.

I have lived with many of his songs for the better part of two decades. His music moved me through some of the darkest moments of my life. Never in a million years would I think I might meet, let alone, perform with him!

Home for Christmas

This is the first time in a few years that I’ve been home to truly prepare for the Christmas season. I realized, I didn’t feel like decorating, wrapping presents and I never feel like shopping. I needed to be home to play games, cook, listen to and sing music, dance with my kids and truly connect with the spirit of the season.

I was fortunate enough to have a few opportunities to sing a few small concerts. No pomp. No gowns. No professional symphony that has played these pieces adnaseum and can’t wait to be done for the season. I had the true gift of singing to raise money for GLBT programs at a church in downtown Sacramento, as well as singing simple, beautiful melodies to tell the Christmas message of love. The truth is, I really had an opportunity to prepare my heart through music this season and share it with my community and my family. What a gift!

The Last Few Years

The last few years I have been lucky enough to have an extremely busy concert season, but well spaced so I had time to think, percolate, interpret….Ahhh….time to think… That was not so much the case to begin this season and I had to call upon my skills as an Opera Mom in the Art of Flexibility. The Art of Flexibility truly means that you’ve prepared for anything, and then have the confidence to successfully navigate any perceived obstacles.

Last year I commited to an orchestral concert singing Mozart’s motet, EXSULTATE JUBILATE that was scheduled for November. I then added two concerts with Sacramento Opera on Oct. 4th and 7th as well as a fundraiser for the educational program at CA Music Circus that following Monday Oct. 8th. I thought that two big operatic concerts followed by a night of Musical Theater tunes would work just fine…until…the call came. The EXSULTATE JUBILATE was changed to the Friday night within that same weekend. It was time to utilize the skills learned in the 12 years of being a performing parent to be flexible, plan ahead, and practice everything in the order given for muscle memory to take over.

Planning is really the key to having a tight schedule with many different jobs and wearing many different hats in life. You truly have to prepare as far in advance as possible, and treat these situations as if you were preparing a Tour de Force operatic role. Pacing, pacing, pacing. Pacing vocally, mentally and personally. Looking at your sleeping, eating, exercising and keeping as much of a routine as possible is important. With two kids, it doesn’t ever work perfectly, but the eating well and exercising are always in place. With my extreme preparation of the rep. ahead of time, singing in these completely different styles, different venues and EVEN with a microphone all worked out fantastically! My technique was always in place, the style changes were solid and I was able to connect with each audience and truly tell the stories!

Happy Fall

The first week of school is always tricky as the bodies and brains get back in to a strict routine. This year, however, was a big transition year in our house. I have a middle schooler in a new school. (Actually, she was in TWO new schools in the first five days!) I also have a fifth grader that is in a school by himself for the first time. My husband had a job loss and I need to solidify my season. I knew that these first few weeks of school was going to be tricky as far as doing all that I needed to do. Going into it with a positive attitude and KNOWING that I just plain old won’t have as much time as I like for practicing, networking and marketing was extremely helpful. It took the stress off of me, so I could then be emotionally available when the tired, anxious, thrilled, and HUNGRY kids returned home from school that first week.

Here it is folks,
The Opera Mom’s approach to scheduling “Office Hours” on the first week of school. That’s right, I have to fully schedule 8-10 hours daily in order to be successful. Plan what you can, then the unexpected will go more smoothly!

1. Rehearsal time is scheduled in pen for all to see in the house! Sadly it’s limited to 10 am – 12 noon most days…ugh!

2. Try to “bundle” shopping trips to save time. Although, there is always ONE MORE school supply that is needed right now…Really???? I need to go to Target, AGAIN???

3. Only urgent emails are happening that week, networking and promo material emails will just have to wait!

4. Score study is saved for afternoon Homework Time, in order to be available to help with Math questions that I may or may not understand.

5. Working out at least 5 days a week is required to keep the Opera Singer and the Mom in me strong and stress free!

6. Google Calendar is a savior! EVERYTHING, including the kitchen sink, goes on that baby, and my hubby is required to subscribe to my calendar AND look at it daily. No surprises is a good place to begin the day because you never know where it will go! Also, putting FUTURE appointments with myself to make points of contact, send an intro email or to follow up is the only way I will remember to do it!

7. Give myself a break, have a cup of tea, read a magazine at bedtime, and remember I don’t have to be Wonder Woman

Happy Fall! And continue reading for what I am sure will be some amazing parental adventures on a truly Operatic scale!

Picture – my son Aidan and I after our last summer bike ride before school began!

Who Am I?

Who am I?

This is a question that I am sure all of us have asked at one point, or at several pivotal points in life. For me, it’s something that glares at me when I am doing a show away from home, because my role/roles in my home life are many. Lunch maker, car pool mom, mentor, voice teacher, self promoter, artist, score translator, wife, mom, website updater, neighborhood artsy lady with drum kit on which neighborhood kids can play…yes, like I said, lots of roles. Can I be someone away from my family? Who am I????

After an incredibly packed schedule of symphony work all over the country and much time learning, researching and prepping more music simultaneously, it was time for me to leave for my NYC and European debuts for over six weeks. Now, this is not new for me or my family. I had worked with theater groups and had been away for over 8 weeks at a time, so the “at home machine” is already well oiled. However it’s still so strange to me that simply stepping out of my everyday routine can cause near stress levels because I don’t remember what to do. What do I like to eat? What do I like to do? I know that couples feel that way and have date nights to counteract the fact that having children can take everything over in their lives, but drilling down to remembering and relearning who YOU are at the core is quite a different experience.

Being away for 7 weeks,10 days of it all alone in Vienna, taught me a lot…again. I realized…again….that I need time to myself. It’s not an option. I think that sometimes when we have roles as caregivers, we forget. I forget. Quiet time alone is essential to remind myself of who I am all by myself, why am I on this earth and what do I have to offer my art, my family and my community. These are questions we should all stop, and MAKE the time to ponder. The menial tasks of everyday hustle and bustle will still be there waiting for us when we come back to it, trust that! This quiet time with these specific kinds of questions can end up in a personal sort of mission statement and some workable perspective on how we can change the world around us. Change always begins with each individual.

So what did I find? How do I act when I don’t have to be an alarm clock, boo boo mender, advice giver and grocery shopper,on top 50 hours a week of working my craft and promoting my brand. Oh, the answer is thankfully, mostly the same. In my time alone, I truly can reclaim my absolute sense of spontaneity. I am just as embarrassing and weird by myself in foreign countries, playing in fountains and climbing statues, as I am when I am with my kids or my somewhat introverted husband. What you see is what you get!