SongFest Redux: Lessons Learned

The box I sent myself from L.A. one week ago has arrived, filled with extra items that I couldn’t manage to squash into my suitcase for my flight home from SongFest 2013.  The cardboard cube was barely maintaining its integrity, held together by so much packing tape, but it managed to keep my belongings safe in what must have been a rocky cross-continental trip.

So, I finally have my personal humidifier home with me.  (And there was much rejoicing.)

Sooooo…  How was my trip?

That’s the big question I’m facing from friends and family now that I’m home.  The most succinct answer I’ve been able to come up with so far is, “It was HORRIBLE and it was AWESOME.”

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The horrible parts can be summed up in my worst moment at SongFest, which found me sobbing in the fetal position on my dorm room floor.  How did I get there, down on that cheap berber carpeting?  In short, it was the snowballing of several events and my reactions to those events, which I will now briefly explain.

* I was removed from a performance at a large concert – the one performance that I thought would be the capstone of my experience at SongFest.

* I had been removed from a Master Class that I was to sing in that very evening.  In fact, I was disappointed overall by the amount of time (or rather, lack thereof) I was getting for lessons or coachings with the SongFest faculty.

* I got a voicemail message from my mom, telling me that my son had lost his first tooth.  It sounds small, but when I was feeling swindled and was stuck all the way across the country from my family, this took on a dramatic import.

 * As much as I wanted to sing, I was singing poorly, and panicking.  I was trying to prove with every new performance that I deserved to be at SongFest.  As you can imagine, this only made my singing worse.

Hence, the sobbing and the general coming-apart-at-the-seams stuff.  I’m not proud of it, but it happened.

The awesome parts of my SongFest experience can’t be summed up in one single moment.  There were so many…

* The joyous and enthusiastic leadership of Michael Barrett (Leonard Bernstein’s associate conductor for several years), was a sight to behold, as he conducted a choir of SongFesters in a large, outdoor concert.  I’ve never seen a conductor enjoy his job more than Mr. Barrett, even in rehearsals.  Oh, and did I mention that one of Bernstein’s daughters, Jamie, was at the festival, as well?

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I’m up there, somewhere, trust me. That’s Jamie Bernstein sitting to the far right.

* A moment never to be forgotten: a friend and I performed for Jake Heggie, and he sat in the front row of the theater, watching, with a look of rapture on his face.

* Working with the collaborative pianists was a constant lesson in musicianship.  I learned to stand closer to the piano to form more of a duo, and in doing so, the pianists and I were connected not only by notes and rhythms, but by breath, as well.

* I took copious notes during the many Master Classes I attended.  It was like going back to college to sit in a room and scribble away!  I learned an enormous amount from the instructors, whether I sang for them or not.

* I had a perfect, perfect roommate – she was kind and generous, and never hogged the bathroom.  (I don’t know if she can say the same about me!)  I met new friends and hopefully, future collaborators during the month of SongFest that I never would have met any other way.

Oh, and there was the Hollywood club I got into, thanks to a suh-weet hook up (thank you, Todd and Loralee!);  plus, I was able to attend my cousin’s wedding and spent an evening on the town with the newlyweds;  I got to tour great art galleries in my free time;  I was given opportunities to stand in a room with a composer, sing their songs, and get feedback; and when things didn’t go well, I could drown my sorrows out on the patio bar at the Omni Hotel, just a short stumble from campus.  Priceless experiences, all.

I think that when I say that my SongFest experience was both horrible and awesome, I’m giving the same response as anyone else who participated.  There were great moments, moments when we felt we could achieve and learn infinitely.  There were moments that made us want to, well, curl into a ball on the floor and cry.

Here’s the unique part of my story: when I got up off the floor from crying, I dried my eyes and put on a fancy dress.

Fancy lady

Then I got the text from my pianist that we were back on for performing that night.

I’d been #songfested.  That pretty much sums it up.

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