You’ll forgive me if I am a bit trepidatious on this 1st day of January, for in our Western civilization, the welcoming in of the New Year inevitably involves saying “Goodbye” to the previous year. I know many people who have been clawing their way across the finish line after a most grueling 2012, a year which could not have come to a close a second too soon for them, and in their honor I celebrate the arrival of the change of calendar.
In my case, these past 52 weeks happened to formulate a year of extraordinary events that continue to astonish me if I dare reflect on them much, and if I hint at indulging in any superstitious thinking at all (which I rarely do), I’ll feel some fear start to creep in as that dastardly inner voice rises up: “Surely it’s all got to be downhill from here! Better be careful … “ Insidious little creature, that inside voice.
But then I walk myself back away from the edge of the cliff (because I really detest fear) by remembering what exactly brought me to the doorstep of that banner year of 2012, and the monumental lessons I learned during the course of its numerous projects, cities, encounters, events, experiences and quiet moments. Here I sit reflecting on all that has transpired, and I think that 2012 just might be the year that I got really present.
I know, I know ~ you’re thinking “Crap, did I click onto some wellness site that will convince me to start juicing and meditating?” (Well, OK, I have been doing a bit more of that of late, but that won’t be my point here, I promise.) As the year quickly morphed into a whirling dervish, I knew I needed to find my footing more and more so that I could not only meet the demands ahead, but also – and this is the kicker – so that I could enjoy, revel in, drink up, dance with and absorb the real essence, the heart of each moment. It’s become crystal clear to me that the only possible way to accomplish that task, is to get immensely, vibrantly, ecstatically present in the moment.
Things ramped up a bit this year for me: performing at the Grammys, concerts in Kansas City filmed for PBS, debuting Maria Stuarda for Houston and later at the Metropolitan Opera, a jam-packed summer schedule of recitals, concerts and operas throughout Europe, recording Drama Queens, revisiting Romeo in San Francisco, and touring Drama Queens in Europe and the States. Each performance felt like an important do-or-die event, and I could feel myself easily falling into the trap of thinking “Oh girl, you had better be ON tonight”, a most deadly mindset for an artist to indulge in, no question. Yet, it would attempt to creep in slowly, oozing it’s way into my psyche, transporting all kinds of sabotage and pressure with it. Well, I hate pressure! So at the first signs of that, I knew I needed to eradicate it immediately.
The best weapon against such a destructive mindset, I’ve found, is to get intensely present in terms of where my mind goes during a performance: no outside banter, no inside questioning ~ nothing but the task at hand: simply the words, the melody, the subtext of that precise moment, and then the next, and then the next. If I am completely consumed with the present emotion , there is simply NO SPACE for anything else. I then put myself in an optimal position to, perhaps, perform at my very best level. Present.
This held true for my limited downtime as well – a precious commodity during this past year. If I had free time, I got busy REALLY being present, which meant no work (sorry, no blogging/tweeting/flickr-ing), but time for me to be “free” and regenerate, recoup, refuel. This is a GREAT weapon and served me incredibly well as things were heating up and I was able to find new reserves of energy. Present.
My interactions with people ~ whether with the fans signing autographs, with colleagues or with close friends and family ~ those interactions demand real presence, and they become richer for it. I may not have a lot of free time to spend with family, or I may only see close friends once every other year, but when I do see them, I want that connection to be profoundly important and real. Present.
This has been the key to my survival this past year. Actually, I can’t say simply survival, because it has been the way for me to thrive. And I want to thrive. Whether I am succeeding or not, singing or not, performing or not ~ I want to thrive in every aspect of my life as best I can, and I think I’ve begun to truly understand where that comes from. Present.
I know this may all sound a bit ‘meta’ but it has enabled me to truly enjoy every moment of this incredible year. For example, it was quite a joy to feel that work paying off on New Year’s Eve at the Metropolitan Opera. There was a lot of idle chatter attempting to take up residence in my head in terms of what this night was (the Met Premiere of this opera), or what it meant (a mezzo singing a soprano role?), or the pressure of debuting this iconic role that has belonged to the greatest, most beloved singers of previous generations (Sills, Sutherland, Caballe, etc). But none of that ~ not one SINGLE word of it ~ would have helped me give a stronger performance in the moment. What if I had an attack of that inner voice in the middle of one of Maria’s treacherously long phrases? There is absolutely no way I could have held my composure and sung it without wavering if I had such derisive voices in my head. Those voices live in either the past or in the future, but they most definitely do not live in the now. This doesn’t mean every phrase I sing is perfectly free and ideal – not at all. BUT I put myself in a much better position to succeed if my head is truly in the moment. Present.
When young singers ask me about auditioning or juries, and they express worry about being perfect, or not being good enough, this concept of getting out of their own way is something I try to instill in them. If someone could show me how that destructive inner voice that harps on past “failings” or stirs up anxiety of future “what if I don’t make it” nonsense, actually AIDS a singers performance, then I will gladly rethink things. But I’ve only ever known that self-flagellating muttering over a missed note and that pestering, worrisome, fearful nagging about what lays ahead to be utterly destructive violently ripping you out of the present moment. Once that happens, your resources are severely diminished, and any hope of singing freely and with deep connection vanishes into the ether. Present.
I honestly haven’t a clue of what awaits me in the coming year. I will happily look back on 2012 and marvel at the things it brought to me, the lessons I learned, the difficulties I endured, the growth I made ~ and that is where my gratitude lies. I’m happy for the awards and the applause, but the real joy lies in every moment having value: in basking in the joy, healing from the sorrow, relishing the laughter, learning from the pain. The applause on Monday night was overwhelming and beautiful, but do you know what sound moved me the most during those 3 hours? The silence. The hushed, electric silence of the audience taking that journey with Maria. They were living in the moment with us up on that stage, and reveling from note to note, emotion to emotion. They were living it. The critics come after, the analyzing comes after ~ but in that moment, it was full presence and it was alive. I have no idea where 2013 will take me, but I do hope I can continue to stay right here, because it’s a beautiful place. Present.
Before signing off, I wish each of you an incredible year ahead. May it be overflowing with laughter, tears, health, fortune, gratitude, growth, music, art, joy, love, family, friendship and unadulterated, abundant bliss!
On a side note ~ and this is strictly for my own curiosity, so feel free to stop reading: I’m curious about this past year in terms of geography and music. I sent a tweet at the start of the summer in terms of where I was going and the music I was performing, and it was quite lengthy. It’s silly, but as my end of the year journaling, I want to see the full list. I’m sure I’m leaving a few things out, but according to my records, here goes:
TRAVEL (both business and personal)
New York / San Francisco / Kansas City / Los Angeles/ Minneapolis / London / New York / Philadelphia / New York / Minneapolis / Chicago / Kansas City / Houston / Kansas City / London / Munich / London / Munich / Berlin / Munich / Berlin / Schwetzingen / Granenegg / Paris / St. Denis / London / Munich / Lonigo / Venice / London / Kansas City / Boulder / Vail / Kansas City / Santiago / Buenos Aires / Rio / Iguazu / Sao Paolo / San Francisco / Kansas City / Houston / Kansas City / Paris / Lonigo / Baden Baden / Bremen / Berlin / Hannover / Vienna / Kansas City / New York / Sonoma / New York
Enchanted Island: Handel, LeClair, Vivaldi
Camille Claudel, Into the Fire: Heggie
Les nuits d’été: Berlioz
Homecoming, Kansas City Symphony: Rossini, Heggie
Maria Stuarda: Donizetti
Recording with John Wilson Orchestra: Rodgers & Hammerstein
La Cenerentola: Rossini
Venice Recital: Vivaldi, Faure, Rossini, Schubert, Schumann, Head, Hahn
Grafenegg Concert: Rossini, Rodgers & Hammerstein, Bernstein, Gershwin
Musique et Vins Concert: Mozart / Rossini
Recording Drama Queens: Orlandini, Porta, Handel, Keiser, Hasse, Cesti, Monteverdi, Giacomelli, Haydn
South America Tour: Obradors, Handel, Mozart, Rossini, Hahn, Donaudy, Arlen, Ginestera
Capuleti e i Montecchi: Bellini
Drama Queens Tour: Orlandini, Porta, Handel, Keiser, Hasse, Cesti, Monteverdi, Giacomelli,
Maria Stuarda: Donizetti
Wow. For those of you who have followed me through all of this? You deserve a medal!