September 15, 2013

Roller Coaster: Music to My Ears

On special pass to Six Flags Great America, the park was open only to VIPs. Rides were running and the wait time for any attraction was less than 10 minutes. It was heaven! What would normally take an entire day, visitors could accomplish in two hours.

Whether it was the constant dropping from heights, the non stop adrenaline in my system, or the beating of my head against the seat restraints, I got a loopy. And, in spite of my best effort, I simply couldn't stop riding. After the twenty-third coaster ride, I had a musical moment: these machines are pretty much musical phrases. I'll try to explain; caution, my head's still swollen...

Good musical line demands that there is enough energy to start a phrase, keep it moving, and eventually slow down, all without loosing physical energy. This is what enjoying a roller coaster is all about. As we peak the first great height and eventually cross the summit, nothing stops until the ride is over and done. We are constantly in motion building to the next exciting moments.

Before anyone ever gets on a coaster they have a pretty good idea of what it looks like, what's going to happen, and what to expect. The same should hold true for the musical phrase. If seeing it in the score is like watching a coaster from the waiting line, then singing something should be equivalent to strapping in and riding. There is no need to predict, to guess, or imagine where the coaster is going. We've been watching it for the past four hours in line! There is a good idea of what's going to happen and when.
All the nuts and bolts, we pray, before jumping in the latest and greatest thrill attraction are secure and ready. At a place like Six Flags one can bet highly that rides will operate smoothly day-to-day. This confidence comes from knowing the machinery. How it operates in different seasons, with less riders, in rain, or even God forbid, a damaged brake system. Ahh! Of course, I'm writing metaphorically but it's true, consistent success is closely related to knowing the hardware, what it does, when, how, and how well.    

The aim of any coaster is to leave smiling, happy, completely absorbed in the feelings and forces that occurred. We are to leave one ride, pumped-up and excited for the next. It's a dizzying and sometimes frightening experience to mount these machines seven and ten stories above the ground, but it's meant to be an experience. Engineers want to thrill and challenge us, but also they want us to leave having been unquestionably lost in a stimulating and exciting experience. When we're swirling high in the sky, passing loop-to-loop, and soaring through a double helix, what else exists? Nothing. Composers of music want exactly the same for us as performers, especially while creating the musical phrase.

September 11, 2013

We will remember: Opera and 9/11


On the anniversary of the darkest day in recent American history, opera shines a light to retell the events occurring on nine-eleven. Though years have placed time between us and the tragedies that took place, we have not forgotten the families, the children, the mothers, fathers, or brave men and women this day tremendously affected.

For those who grieve the loss of loved ones, you are not alone. We grieve together, we remember together, we are strong together. Though we do not understand; we sometimes live in fear and like to think of better days; we are bound now and forever. 

God bless, our country America. 
Protect her and all those who dwell within.  

September 2, 2013

Courage: What's the Definition?

When we boil down what the most inspiring careers are made of, typically there are only two things remaining-- Talent and Courage. That's not entirely a career in the arts either. Doctors who start their own practice, a professor shaping young minds, or a president leading a nation all need a strong mix of the two. Therefore, these concepts are universal and apply to any field, craft, or profession. Taking it one step farther, Maria Callas once said, "that the more important of the two will always be courage." Granted, there is a host of complimentary factors that must be at work; but, in fact, whittled down in its simplest context she's made a powerful point. Courage is ultimately how we find happiness, overcome obstacles, and find deeper levels of our own personality. But aye, the rub...what is it?

Actually, it's hard to define exactly what the word means. In fact, it's highly individual and holds different meaning from person to person. For some it's the act of saving families from burning buildings; for others it means exploring new technology that helps discover life on Mars; for some, it's a high C for nine productions of Barber of Seville. So in effect, courage manifests differently across the board. But here's how it might be universal as Ms.Callas alluded...

Courage is a feeling, not an action; not a story in a book; not something we hear about on television. It is the combination of risk and gain, the feeling we have as something raps our potential and demands that we yield to what is right. Courage is that moment, somewhere deep inside, we know--not hope, not think, not wish-- that we've done something in the name of Good, something for the better, something right, something that teaches us about our souls. And then, we can clearly define courage when these moments remain near us, stretched out as the stepping stone for challenges or adventures yet unmet.

March 2, 2013

Scary Larry, a Teacher of Acting Technique

"The ability to identify with a character unlike any you've known is to first find some common ground, some common thought, feeling, or purpose. You must discover how to see yourself in him and the reverse." Gavin de Becker, The Gift of Fear

In what was supposed to be a typical commute home, enter Larry, a name that rhymes with scary, and trust, Larry was pretty darn s-c-a-r-y. Larry was your standard, middle aged, six-two, belligerent, ranting, borderline psychotic, wildly angry guy at the back of the bus making everyone uncomfortable. He talked about the trouble he's made, the banks he'll rob, the gangs fought, the wars waged all across the city. Most of which was probably not true, but nonetheless, it was a heavy 20 minute ride. Of course, no one made contact of any kind with him. Instead we simply listened. After all, he wasn't really harmful. Day after day of public transit and the skin gets tough. So there we were, sardines in a can...with a stick of dynamite.

He continued his conversation, loudly, clear and with an exactness of intent and unreserved emotion. He eventually fatigued and ended by saying, "I'm saying all this because I'm angry.... no one ever hears each other. You sit there, your heart beats, but you ain't alive. You walk but have no idea where you're going. You care, but damn it, you never show it. It's a shame. We are a shame!" A few stops later, my stop.

That display left you feeling a lot. I was captivated and I know there were others who felt the same way. It was the type of scene that could win an Oscar if it were a movie; the type of moment that made you want to hold your child tighter, not in fear, but love. But instead, it was real life: raw, unscripted, and lead by emotion. I would bet that, secretly and in our own way, we all identified with Larry. Yes, he might not have carried himself like anyone you had dinner with last week, but his words held too much truth for himself alone.

February 26, 2013

Friends Make You Brave

We have friends for a reason. If we're feeling blue, they cheer us up. If we need help deciding which new TV to buy, they email sales and reviews from Amazon. If we simply want to go out, have a good meal and gossip about all the people we know, they are usually sitting right beside us. Friends console us, they give advice, and they help us frequently.

That said, I'd like to meet the friend that filled Hollywood starlet Kristen Stewart with so much confidence that the crutches, wild hair, and there's-a-pack-of-rats-in-my-dress hobble a non-issue for the 85th Academy Awards. "Show up in your couture bodice, and me, I'll show up fighting these labor contractions!"

It was a brave display of shameless confidence, urged no doubt, by someone that either really loves her or has stock in her demise. I believe the first. After all, the entire world was watching probably trying to understand why she was there instead of the police station pressing charges against the zookeeper that let her play with those gorillas.

Although the young starlet's head was not particularly held high that evening, I secretly gave her kudos while quietly wondering, "does she smell too?" Ms. Stewart did offer an original type of confidence that, well, can't be overlooked...or forgotten unfortunately. Yes, the gods of Hollywood probably did everything in their celestial power to keep her from trekking that red carpet; BUT in a visceral, gritty, real-life, here-I-am-bitches-take-it-leave-it-who-cares-I-just-want-to-sit-down way she found the finish line. And, she also was at the 85th Oscar Awards, umm...when was the last time any of us were asked to go, let alone present?

No one's dead, the world's still spinning, it was nothing shameful, and somehow we all learned something from Ms. Stewart's display...never trust your friends, publicists, stylists, and bloggers will forever out number them.

February 14, 2013

Kiss somebody real good

Kiss someone; bake something sweet; deliver flowers, hold hands; give a hug.

Whatever you do, show some love on St. Valentine's Day.

February 13, 2013

The magic of WHAT IF...

The magic "What If" is a concept that actors and stage performers can learn to help draw deeper connection with their characters. It is a method that helps performers explore things like subtext, motivation, and an inner dialogue. Simply explained, "what if" is the manner by which actors/singers can learn to identify a character's wants and recognize the stakes of any given situation.

For example: A man walks into a department store. It's been a slow day for a sales clerk who works on commission and he needs at least $100 to make his monthly goal. The clerk asks the customer if he wants to try on a pair jeans. The customer refuses and says he is only browsing because he does not what to use his credit card for the purchase. 

"What if," in spite of this example, is not a form of manipulation. It might be in some scenarios, but that is not the ultimate aim of this technique. Instead, it is a way that Clerk and Customer create a path to achieving what they each want in the scene: Clerk wants to make a sale; Customer wants to browse. The stakes are clear-- earning $100 versus not using a credit card-- and these contending desires create a foundation for the magic "what if."

What if... Clerk brings over a rack of deeply discounted jeans and offers the customer an additional 10% off the entire purchase? Or what if the clerk places the customer on a email list that instantly offers him a buy-one-get-one free coupon? 

What if... Customer gets out his phone and calls a friend while in the store? What if he actually plans to rob the store later that night before closing and is only casing the store for cameras, exits, and alarms? What if the customer discloses the truth and explains that he has no extra money right now?

Do any of these choices change the scenario and get either character closer to what they want? Each scene is not necessarily a hatch mark towards an answer; after all, characters are sometimes no closer to what they want than when a show first begins. But, "what if" is a nifty technique that helps unfold a deeper context of one's character and builds a path towards fulfilling his/her wants. Try it works in real life too!  

February 7, 2013

Your Path is Easiest and Probably Won't Kill You

The snow came down in thick sheets today all across the city. It was the kind of snow that blanketed the streets, hid the sidewalks, and fell fat and heavy from above. This type of weather is truly amazing and offered more than only a reason to wear a scarf and gloves.

All around is evidence of people walking in some direction. Some of the paths are similar while others make no sense at all. The paths belong to men and women, animals, and children too. Every intersection holds the proof of hundreds of people walking through their day, towards a destination and closer to some intended goal. For some it's home, for others it's work, some are simply walking dogs, and some brave souls are even out for a run. Every story is captured on the street during days like this.

As an experiment, I walked across a parking lot. Granted there were more tire tracks than footprints, but nonetheless, there was a good deal of data to work with. I wanted to know, could I walk in the identical path of someone else, step for step, stride for stride, left-right, left-right? I set a goal: get across and into the grocery store. Let's go...

The first few steps were easy. I felt good about this goal. However, with time, it became difficult to keep up with how the person angled his/her feet, how he veered step after step, the amount of pressure one ankle had compare to the other, did he slip here? Should I? I had to concentrate, so much that, whoops...that driver almost reverse into me. I fatigued and still had more than half the lot to go.

Forget it. Let me just get across. I'll walk my way, the way I'm comfortable, the way I know how. Besides, with all the tracks, tired treads, and intercepted paths I doubted if I was still on the path I originally picked anyway? It got confusing, time consuming, wore me down, and almost got me killed.

Finally, I crossed, and very quickly after just walking the way I know how. I turned around and was actually able to trace steps that belonged to me. It wasn't clear where or how they began, but somewhere out there that path included all of my steps. The experiment was over. I smiled at all the paths knowing that whatever the goal, it was achieved easiest, fastest, and most confidently when the steps getting us there were unique and one's own.

January 29, 2013

Surprise...You're probably jaded!

Why is it that just when you think you've seen it all, you learn actually, no you've only seen a part of something much grander. At a certain point in life, there aren't many things that might surprise a person. After all the years of defending our guard, perhaps becoming just a touch jaded, and somewhat emotionally desensitized we stick to our views, our habits, and our routines. The world is the way the world is going to be now and forever damn it!

But out of the blue something happens, something that teaches us the most inspiring moments in life often occur when we don't see them coming or want for them so desperately. A stranger holds the door, a loved one leaves you a kind note, your child takes her first step, or your teenager takes out the trash before you wake up.... and suddenly, whaa blamm! There goes our stodgy attitude, right out the window. These moments can't be planned. They simply happen without method or precursor. Next, you find yourself asking, "what planet is this?" Actually it's been Earth all along and you're not in any crazy orbit, except maybe your own.

Perhaps, it's the attitudes we adopt through stress, depression, or being closed-minded that break apart when things in the world pan out differently than we expect. Suddenly our guard is lowered, we shake away just a touch of that narrow thinking, and emotionally, we're feeling all fuzzy and warm. We realize, hmm things aren't so bad; life is sort of nice; actually, I am happy.

January 26, 2013

Future, Faith and Grenade Launchers

Some people believe the future is a place where we arrive, or, circumstances that one day will be. When we ponder the future, we envision the gamut of possibilities we want in life: family, marriage, health, career, a vintage hatch-back Maserati with chrome plated wheels, satellite parking, Siberian leopard interior, and a street legal grenade launcher for crazy SOBs during rush hour? All in all, this is natural and a rational way to consider what the "future" might mean. But can one argue that the future is also made up of moments, efforts, and beliefs of now here in the present? That somehow the two are intertwined; and that right now we are living, partly, in our own individual futures? 

Present and future, now and next, today and tomorrow; all are ideas that live side-by-side but never actually touch, unfortunately for us. So what is the invisible connection between where we stand and where we'd like to go, what's the magic pill swallowed to unlock the mystery of present and future? I came across an image this morning and thought, hmm, maybe this is part of the answer:

January 1, 2013

Happy New Year: 2013

We have arrived! Time to close the door on events of the passing year and open another, inviting new hope and promises for the year ahead. It is the time of year when we resolve to make better choices, cast away habit, and create new goals. It is the time of year for a fresh start and another chance.

But what is so special about this time of year?  It is a routine we know and know well. So, what guiding force rouses the spirit, offers hope, and suggests that what we want, what we believe...we can have. What proof conveys a promising tomorrow?

It is our individual potential, the most resonate trumpet in our mind and the beautiful creature untamed, alive, and abiding in our heart. 

At each new year we look ahead aroused by potential; it suggests just how much better, stronger, happier, or healthier we can be. Potential is without limit and reminds us exactly where we have tread and wonderfully reveals how much farther we can go.