Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Power of Starting Something Stupid

When I first agreed to review The Power of Starting Something Stupid by Richie Norton, I didn't really think it would apply to me.  My limited understanding of the content was that it would be about taking risk and starting something, like a business.  I, personally, do not dream of starting a business, nor do I have any great ideas for an invention.  I am not an entrepreneur, nor do I have any aspirations to become one.

But, after having read this book, I can tell you that I WAS WRONG.

This book was very inspiring to me, and possibly just the thing I needed to read at this point in my life.  While its principles can certainly be used by someone who has a great idea for a new product or business, it applies to anyone who has dreams.  And I have plenty of those.

For instance, I have one particular thing (and I guess I think it's silly--or stupid--enough to feel like I don't want to tell you what it is) that I'd like to do that has been sort of hanging out in my mind for several years now.  I don't have the first clue how I'd start to accomplish this thing, but I haven't stopped thinking about it, even though I have certainly tried!  Richie Norton's thoughts on the matter have made me realize that maybe this is something I really need to do, and I should start looking at it more closely.

I was especially motivated by the chapter on procrastination.  Perhaps if you are regular reader of my blog you know that I have procrastination issues.  I am really good about doing everything BUT what I should be doing.  I accomplish the most when I am avoiding some big task.  In fact, I emailed Richie last night to tell him I'd be a little bit late with this review because I had to work more this week.  Which is true, since I have a million lessons to make up from our blizzard days last week, but what it really comes down to is that I PROCRASTINATED.  (Yes, even after reading this wonderful book I still procrastinated--if only we could change by simply reading something!)

The chapter on authenticity was equally inspiring.  

I plan to read this book again, with more careful attention to the ways I will use these ideas in my own life. I also plan to hand it off to my husband, as this is just the type of book he loves, and I know he will gain a lot from reading it as well.

Do you have a stupid idea? A dream?  Something you'd really like to do in your life, but aren't sure how?  Then you should read this book.

The book is available for purchase at Amazon or Deseret Book.  I would also highly recommend that you head over to Richie Norton's website and poke around.  You'll be inspired by this man who obviously practices exactly what he preaches.

And as for my idea?  Well, if it ever bears fruit you'll know about it.  I promise.


Monday, February 25, 2013

In Which I Overanalyze Les Miserables, the Film

The Oscars were last night, and Les Miserables came to a theatre near me just in the nick of time.  Living in a small town like mine can be frustrating where the Academy Awards are concerned, because when you already don't watch R-rated films, you don't get to see many of the nominees.  And then when your (very small)(non-stadium seating)(ONLY) local theatre decides that films like Lincoln and Les Miserables aren't worth getting on opening week, don't get to see many good movies, and are often lost during the Oscars.  Though it's still fun to watch.

So, on Saturday night we went to see Les Miserables.  You may remember a post I wrote way back in July in which, prompted by Anne Hathaway's rendition of I Dreamed a Dream in the trailer, I admitted to being a music snob.

Many of my friends didn't agree with me about Anne's performance, most often citing the (valid) reason that "Fantine has been through so much!  She's down-trodden, sick, and dying.  How can she possibly sing well after all that she has experienced?"

To that I say, "Have you ever seen an opera?"

Two of opera's most beloved heroines, Mimi (La Boheme) and Violetta (La Traviata), die of tuberculosis.  And they are perfectly capable of singing very high notes beautifully seconds before they succumb to the illness.  Because it's an OPERA.  People sing beautiful high notes in all kinds of down-trodden, sick, and dying situations in opera.  Nobody would want to go see a Mimi who decided to portray her consumption realistically and actually sang like she was dying.  That isn't the point of opera.

But Les Miserables isn't an opera, right?

Sort of.

The definitions of opera and musical theatre blur a little bit in the case of shows like Les Mis. Because everything is sung and there is no spoken dialogue actually written into the book, many people believe that Les Miserables is technically an opera. And if that were the only difference between opera and musical theatre, those people would be right.

But there are many other differences, which means that Les Miserables is actually musical theatre.   We call it "sung-through" and it shares this category with shows like Rent, Miss Saigon, and Evita.  (On the flip side, there are operas, like Mozart's The Magic Flute, that contain spoken dialogue.)

Still, my issues with the movie lie in the fact that this is a musical that is entirely sung.

In theatre, there exists a threshold of verbalization.  Basically, this means that the actor remains silent until the need to communicate via speech becomes so strong that the actor crosses that threshold and speaks.  In opera and musical theatre, there is also a threshold of vocalization.  This threshold is higher than the threshold of verbalization and means that an actor's need to communicate through song must be stronger than the need to communicate through speech.*

"Music is what feelings sound like" is a popular quote that musicians (myself included) like to use to show how music allows us to feel more deeply, and to put some sort of tangibility to our emotions.  If  you are going to sing, you must be able to sing in such a way that the emotions can be understood through the music, and through the singing voice.  It is not enough to just act the same way you would with spoken dialogue.  It is an entirely different process.

The composer has already given the singer everything.  Our job is to figure out why specific notes, dynamics, rhythms, etc. were written.  Then we use that music, and our voices (which we have spent years learning how to use properly) to bring the emotions to life.  But we have to have the ability to sing softly in order to make use of the composer's direction to do so.  We have to have the ability to change timbre, sing in tune (at one point during the movie the Maestro leaned over to me and whispered, "Does pitch matter in this show?"), crescendo, and so much more.  If we do not have that ability--that technique--in place, we cannot truly cross the threshold of vocalization.
"When one wants to find a gesture, when you want to find how to act onstage, all you have to do is listen to the music.  The composer has already seen to that.  If you take the trouble to really listen with your Soul and with your Ears--and I say 'Soul' and 'Ears' because the Mind must work, but not too much also--you will find every gesture there."
~Maria Callas
Ultimately, I felt that the actors in Les Miserables did not have the ability to cross the threshold of vocalization because they simply did not have a strong enough singing technique to do it.  Instead, they used the acting skills that made them the big names that they are.

Anne Hathaway acted the crap out of Fantine.  Her acting was superb.  She deserved the Oscar last night, and I mean that.  But, if she had had the singing chops to really become Fantine through song?  To really show Fantine's despair through the music and not just acting?  Her performance would have been so much more than it already was.  She has a nice enough voice, but her lack of breath support was enough to limit her ability to show emotion through singing in a big way.

Russell Crowe, another marvelous actor, would have made an amazing Javert in a version of Les Miserables where singing wasn't required.  As it was, he had to concentrate so much on his singing, that his acting suffered.  I feel he did the opposite of what Anne Hathaway did, and didn't even try to act the crap out of Javert.  He just did his best to sing the notes and stay in tune (and he wasn't always successful).  Consequently, the suicide scene, which could have been so freaking amazing on film (did you SEE that bridge and that water?) fell short because Crowe was so staid in his singing.  He couldn't use his voice to show the emotion, and it felt like he was afraid to try.

Hugh Jackman did an admirable job, but I didn't like his rendition of Bring Him Home.  There was no subtlety of emotion in it, because the notes were too high for him and he he had to work too hard to sing them.  It resulted in a pushed performance, in my opinion.  (And what was up with the new song?  Probably just a grab for an Oscar nomination, which was the end result.  I was disappointed to have a new song added and one of my favorites--Little People--cut.)

Amanda Seyfreid, who was fine in Mamma Mia! because it wasn't nearly as vocally demanding, simply shouldn't have been given this role.  Cosette is the operatic role in Les Miserables.  It is high, and classically sung.  Amanda did not  have the breath technique to do it, and her vibrato was fast and Snow White-ish, and it detracted from the performance.

Marius, played by Eddie Redmayne, had similar issues, though he ended up creating his vibrato entirely in his neck and head.  It was both distracting to watch and to hear, though I thought he had one of the nicer voices in the show, vibrato issues aside.

Samantha Barks, who played Eponine (how can I get a waist as tiny as hers?), did an honorable job as well. Eponine is a belt role, and while I would have liked to see more from her, she nailed the end of On My Own and I enjoyed her performance of A Little Fall of Rain.

Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen were hilarious.  It's really too bad they couldn't have sung the roles the way they were meant to be sung, because it would have been so much funnier.

The guys who played Enjolras and Grantaire (Marius' friends) were very good singers with Broadway experience (and cute, too!--especially Enjolras). Because they had nothing holding them back musically, they were my favorite characters in the movie. 

Besides Gavroche.  Who is always my favorite character in this show.  And the boy they had playing him did a superb job.  The young Cosette was pretty darn good, too.

And let's not forget the cameo appearance of the original Jean Valjean--Colm Wilkinson--as the Bishop.  He's gotten old, but it was lovely to see him in the movie.

All of that said, I enjoyed the movie. Really. The singing issues, which I am very aware would not bother the majority of the population, did not detract so much from the story that I couldn't appreciate the amazing work that is Les Miserables.  I cried.  It is a wonderful and epic story of justice and mercy, hope and redemption, love and beauty.

It's just that it could have been so much better if Hollywood didn't think that singing is secondary to acting.  That's all.

And, no.  I have no idea how I would have cast this show.   That's why that isn't my job.   My job, apparently, is only to write long blog posts about why the musical wasn't all it could have been. 

And if you felt it was your job to read this, I thank you.

*I learned about these thresholds from Dr. Matt Bean, who was a professor of mine at BYU.  I took a class from him called "Acting for Singers" and it was one of the most amazing classes I have ever taken, even though fear was struck into my heart every time I crossed the threshold into the classroom (hardy har har).  He wrote an article in the 2007 NATS Journal entitled "Why is Acting in Song so Different."  I love that article so much that I make all of my students read it and I talk about it way too much.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

BlogHer Book Club: A Good American by Alex George

A Good American is the beautiful tale of Frederick and Jette Meisenheimer, their immigration from Germany to the small town of Beatrice, Missouri, and the lives of their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

Alex George has such a wonderful ability to make music out of the English language, that it isn’t surprising at all that the novel revolved around music of all kinds.  The descriptions of jazz and barbershop were so perfectly composed that I could actually hear the music as I read.  The first scene, in which he describes the very musical meeting of Frederick and Jette, pulled me right in and I couldn’t wait to find out the rest of the story.

“In the end he had chosen to ambush her with an aria, “Che gelida manina,” from Puccini’s opera La Boheme.  The opening lines translate as “Your tiny hand is frozen”—not especially appropriate, given that Jette’s hands were not, even by the most charitable standards, tiny; they were also rather clammy, due to the unseasonably warm weather.  Still, Frederick knew what he was doing.  When he had finished his song, he stepped out from behind the hedge and thrust a concoction of lupins, dahlias, and pansies into Jette’s (big, sweaty) hands.  By then, caught squarely in the crosshairs of Puccini’s gorgeous melody, she was helpless.”

Regular readers of my blog will know that I adore Puccini (I named my dog after him, after all!) and opera.  How could I not love a book that starts like this?

And I did love it. In fact, I gave it five stars, which I only reserve for books that change me.  And the Meisenheimers did just that.  The story of Frederick and Jette's family is an opera unto itself:  It is as epic as Wagner, as funny as Rossini, and as tragic as Verdi.  But most of all, it possesses all of the gorgeous melody of Puccini.

I am posting this review as part of the BlogHer Book ClubJoin the conversation!


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Blizzard Day!

Last night we had a snow warning, and the other University (not the one we work for) preemptively canceled all classes for today.  A friend and I were texting back and forth, wondering if we would have a snow day or not today and made a bet of our favorite Easter candy (Cadbury eggs for me and Reese's eggs for her).  I thought we'd have a snow day, and she had no faith.
This is the view from my bedroom window this morning.  Needless to say, I won the bet.  I'm sure looking forward to those Cadbury Eggs!! ;)

So the girls' schools called a snow day around 6:00 am, but the University which we work for, did not.  I was happy that my first lesson was out of town so I would have a little more time to dig out and get ready, but when Joel went out to snowblow for me, he came right back in and said "You're not going anywhere."  I looked out myself and saw a seven foot drift against our front door, waist-deep drifts in our driveway, and zero visibility in all directions.  The plow hadn't even come by yet!  Joel was right, I wasn't leaving the house.

The back deck also had high drifts, and more snow on it than I've ever seen in all of our previous (three) winters here.  Poor Puccini had to go so bad, and I shoveled a little spot for her on the deck, which was fine for number one, but she likes to do number two in a very specific place.  So, she burrowed into the snow and got herself there! Crazy puppy!  I wish I had had a video of that!

I canceled all of my lessons, and, thankfully, the University finally got smart and shut down at noon, so I didn't feel too bad about it in the end.  The county also pulled all the plows off the roads around 2:00 (only one ever came by my house) and most businesses shut completely down.  I've never experienced anything quite like it.

So, what did we do with our blizzard day?

The girls:

Played on electronics.
Did not practice their instruments.
Played dolls.
Played on electronics.
Read for a while.
Did some chores.
Played on electronics.


Studied music scores.
Reluctantly canceled orchestra rehearsal tonight (concert next week--ouch!).
Made fresh guacamole.
Made orange muffins.
Made gluten-free lemon muffins.
Cleared snow.
Made a gourmet dinner of chicken and asparagus, with various dipping sauces (peanut, sweet&sour, cheesy).
Studied more music scores.
Made homemade chocolate pudding.
Cleared snow.


Stayed in my pajamas.
Ate chocolate, plus everything else the Maestro made.
Deep cleaned and rearranged my living room.  (We shall see if that lasts.)(Both the cleaning AND the new arrangement.)
Made my children do chores.
Spent far too much time on Facebook.
Edited photos from our trip to Seattle this past weekend.

Do you want to see some of them?

We went for my brother's wedding.  It was a small courthouse affair with only immediate family present, but it was one of the neatest weddings I've ever attended.  It was wonderful to meet my new sister-in-law and see how happy Dave is.  It was also wonderful to spend time with my other two brothers and my parents.  And, I got to go shopping in a real mall, too!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Three Great Kids and a Screw-up Mom

I have been feeling like a pretty crappy mom lately.  Despite all of my attempts to have a calmer life and devote more time and energy to the things that really matter (my children) and less time and energy to the things that maybe don't matter as much (the Perfectly Clean House), I still have a crazy life.  And I realize that I am not the only mother in the entire universe who has an insane schedule.  I'm sure that all six of you who are reading this blog also have very full calendars and no time to fold laundry.  That's just how it goes.  But since this is my blog, I'm going to complain about MY overstuffed life.

And I am trying to be okay with it.  I really am.  Change what I can and accept the rest, you know?  I am trying to learn balance.  And I am failing miserably this week.

Today I was seriously tempted to go sit in a corner and rock back and forth while ignoring all that was required of me.  You'll be happy to know that I resisted that temptation, and instead got out of bed, put on my lipstick and mascara and tromped off to work where I taught three lessons.  It would have been four, except one was sick (tender mercy), and I used that time to practice for my upcoming stuff which I should totally have memorized by now, but when on earth I am supposed to memorize Italian arias?  Beats me! Then I walked over to the cafeteria, where I had a lunch meeting for my other job that I don't talk about much on this blog but have to do nonetheless.

After my oh-so-filling lunch that consisted of a banana and a gluten-free granola bar, I dashed off to the elementary school where I helped Sophia and her classmates make a Valentine's project.  One would suppose that such a project would have tipped me off to the fact that TOMORROW is February 14 and that maybe I should have thought about making/buying Valentines for my children to hand out in class.  But, it didn't.

After all of the cute first grade projects were finished, I dashed off home, where I let the dog out of her kennel and ran around the house cleaning what I could, and then I loaded Puccini up in the van to run errands. Like going to the bank.  I deposited some checks and Pucci got her doggy treats (she knows the word "bank," you know) and then we ran over to pick Joel up and off to Girl Scouts.  I am the co-leader for Sophia's troop, and today was our meeting.

After girl scouts, I put my chauffeur hat on and dropped off and picked up each of my girls at their various musical endeavors: Youth orchestra, piano lessons, group violin.

It was when I picked up Chloe from piano lessons that I realized that I didn't have Valentines.  That I haven't even THOUGHT about having Valentines.  OHMYGOSH!  What kind of a mother doesn't remember VALENTINES?   And since when did I become that mother? 

We had about 15 minutes before we had to pick Bria up from orchestra, so we ran to the nearest grocery store where they did not sell any Valentines.  Or--more likely--they were out of stock since it is February 13.  We were just about ready to buy Easter candy to give out for Valentine's Day, when I finally saw some cute heart-shaped suckers.  But it was nearly 6:30 pm and our day was FAR from over, and I had no idea what we would actually do with the suckers.  But I bought them anyway, and went on my not-so-merry way.

We ran home and shoveled dinner in our mouths (how thankful I am for a husband who happily cooks dinner while I am chauffering!) and ran out the door yet again.  This time to take my three daughters to their very first rehearsal for Fiddler on the Roof.

My three girls auditioning for Fiddler on the Roof.  Sophia is in the pink snow pants, Chloe is next to her with the blue boots, and Bria is right behind Chloe.

You might wonder why on earth I have allowed them to be in a musical when, clearly, I can't handle it.  I wonder the same thing.  But they were all dying to be in it, and how could I deny them such a wonderful experience?  And, folks--they even sang SOLOS at the audition.  In front of people.  My children.  My children who have an opera singer for a mother but who HATE singing in front of people themselves even though they sing all the livelong day at home.  Okay, so Chloe doesn't mind the singing in public thing, but Bria and Sophia would rather stick forks in their eyes than sing a note for a person who doesn't share their same DNA.  But they did it! My heart nearly burst with pride when Bria got up and sang some Taylor Swift song about throwing remotes and football helmets.  She turned a little pink and looked like she might cry at any time, but her voice was clear and beautiful, just the way it sounds when she thinks nobody is listening.  And Sophia sang Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, and it was quiet and cute and perfect and I couldn't believe she did it and so I cried.  I was just so dang inspired by the way those two conquered their fears and did something that scared them to death because they really wanted to be in a play.

And that is why I let them be in the musical, even though it's just one more thing on our schedule.  So I stayed with them for a while at rehearsal, (man, they were adorable!) and then I went to book club where I got to be with friends and recharge my own batteries a bit.

I came home only a few minutes after the girls had settled in bed, so I went upstairs to kiss them good night.  I listened to them tell me all about rehearsal and the songs they had started to learn and how funny the lyrics were (...and marry whoever Papa picks!).  They eagerly showed me the Valentines they made all by themselves with the pink and red cardstock and heart stickers I dug out for them before I left for book club.  They were happy.  Ecstatic, even.  They certainly didn't care that I didn't buy them cute Monster High Valentines or make the Perfect Crafty Valentines.  They had a wonderful day in spite of my imperfections, and I looked at my three wonderful, beautiful, amazing daughters and started to realize that maybe I'm not such a screw-up of a mother after all. 

Until I got downstairs and realized that nobody did their homework this afternoon.

Ah, well.  I can live with being a screw-up.  I've gotten pretty used to it.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Breathing a Sigh of Relief....Hello, February!

ust a few somethings I picked up to go into the girls Valentine Mailboxes this year. 
I woke up this morning knowing that it was February the first, and you have absolutely no idea how happy that made me.  It didn't matter that it was still butt freezing cold outside (back to subzero temps for the next few days), or that we got another million inches of snow overnight.  What mattered is that it is NOT JANUARY ANYMORE.

Now that it is February, I begin to crawl (or claw) out of hibernation.  I'm looking forward to our new mailbox tradition that we began last year, because it's fun to see the girls excited about something.  I'm looking forward to flying out to my brother's wedding in mid-February, because it will be nice to get out of  the north pole (pray that the flight gets out) for a while.

I've been wanting to blog about a few things here and there the last few weeks and have simply been unable to find the time.  However, due to my new abundance theme, I am grateful for my lack of time.  It means I am spending less time being depressed in bed, because I have things to do and places to go.

(Insert smooth transition into the next, sort-of related topic which I am too lazy to figure out right now.)

Last Friday, I watched a live masterclass given by world-class mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato.  I was very inspired by it in my professional life, but she said something that resonated with me in ALL areas of my life, and it is exactly what I was trying to say when I chose my word (Abundance) for 2013.

"I prefer to spend more time strengthening my strengths rather than conquering my weaknesses (within reason)."
                                                 ~Joyce DiDonato
Do you not LOVE that?  She was speaking about her strengths and weaknesses as a musician and performer, but this is how we must approach life.

So, in the week since watching that class I have thought mightily on what my strengths are.  For instance: I have very perfectionistic tendencies.  Rather than see that as a weakness, I am choosing to see it for the strength that it is, without letting it become a weakness.

I cannot keep my house perfectly clean right now.  It is a virtual impossibility with four other, much-less-perfectionistic-where-the-house-is-concerned people living here.  But, I can be perfect in a few areas, and I chose my office, my bedroom, and the living room.  This is not overwhelming, and those are areas that tend to get out of control really fast while I am worrying about the rest of the house. 

The kitchen just doesn't stay clean unless we decide to fast for three days.  So, I am allowing myself to be okay with a less-than-perfect kitchen.  Instead, I am going to be perfect at doing the dishes for a half-hour every day when I get home from work.  Sometimes this equals getting them all done, sometimes it doesn't.  It all depends on what the Maestro decided to make for dinner or breakfast.  But I can stay on top of it, I am still being "perfect" when I put in my 30 minutes, and I can walk away from the rest.

The list goes on, and encompasses more areas of my life than just housework, I promise.  But I am finding that by focusing on my strengths I am happier.  Maybe because I'm letting my weaknesses, and the inner voice which constantly recites them to me, fade into the background.  I don't know.  But I'm happier, and that is a good thing.

So here's to strengthening our strengths.

And here's to February!

Here, here!