Performing in a pandemic
I was so excited to be contracted for performances during the holiday season at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia! After nearly 2 years of no performing, I couldn’t wait to join the Philadelphia Orchestra again in their choir, even if we had to be masked to rehearse and perform.
On Sunday, December 19th we began rehearsals for Messiah. Before we could enter the rehearsal room, each singer took a rapid Covid test. Those who were negative were able to begin rehearsing that day.
We were tested (either rapid or PCR) every day and sometimes twice a day until we opened on December 21st! The day before we opened, they had to replace 6 choristers, the conductor and all 4 soloists. Luckily, the orchestra was able to hire replacements and the show went on!
Sadly, the next day we received word that they cancelled our second performance and all remaining shows through January 2nd. We are still waiting to hear whether or not we will be able to perform at Carnegie Hall on January 11th.
While the cancellations are so sad, I know that they must do whatever will keep everyone safe. I am keeping in my thoughts everyone who tested positive, or who was exposed. It’s a scary time, and so disappointing for those who were unable to celebrate Christmas with their families. We are also in good company with many Broadway shows being cancelled until further notice.
I urge everyone to please continue to wear a mask (especially while singing in groups) and to get tested before meeting together.
Christmas is coming!
Can you believe that Christmas is next week?!? Time really is flying by. Some of our favorite holiday traditions are baking cookies, singing carols, and driving around to look at the lights. We hope you had the chance to see Downtown Bentonville Square's lights this season---it will take your breath away!
We also had the chance to see "A Christmas Carol" at Theatre Squared at the Fayetteville Public Library. What a gorgeous performance! We love the classic Dickens story, and seeing this adaptation was lovely. It really puts you in the Christmas spirit!
This month, our Arkansas singers are involved in many different holiday productions:
Scrooge in "A Christmas Carol" at the King Opera House in Van Buren, AR
Noel at Bentonville High School
Siloam Springs Middle School Christmas Concert
Various Christmas pageants and cantatas
We're so proud of all of your hard work and bringing joy and light to the community!
Thank you to everyone who helped us in our canned food drive this season! On Thanksgiving day we were able to bring the donations to Care Communities in Rogers. We really appreciate your help in feeding the community this holiday season!
Preparing for a big audition!
Often, when I tell my students I have an upcoming audition I’m preparing for they say, “Woah, you still have to audition?”
Yes, even professional singers still audition. I’d like to share with you my most recent audition experience.
In September, I was asked to re-audition for a gig that I’ve held since before Covid. It is not strange to be asked to re-audition…things change in a year and a half! I was thrilled to get the chance to sing live for humans again!
In preparation, I took 2 lessons with my own voice teacher (YES, I still take my own voice lessons as the voice is always growing and changing…and aging!). We warmed up, and worked through technique for my chosen repertoire. The company asked for 1 aria/art song in English and one in either French, Italian, or German.
I chose “Joy” by Ricky Ian Gordon and “Du gai soleil” from the opera Werther. I love singing both of those pieces, and they fit my voice well. They are also just different enough to be exciting and show off a couple of higher notes where my voice sparkles!
The company also asked that we prepare to sight-sing. This is always so nerve-wracking! They give you several lines of notes and a starting pitch. After 30 seconds of looking over it, you must begin! I look for the key, any tricky rhythmic places, wide intervals, or accidentals. I trust my musicianship and use a combination of solfege, pretend piano playing with my fingers, and interval recall to sing through the line. My best advice is to just keep going! Try not to judge yourself as you’re singing through. Did I sing the lines with 100% accuracy? No way…but I did keep going, trying to nail the rhythm and accidentals! As someone who is a much better “preparer” than “on the spot” singer, I was relieved when I came to the end!
Auditions are always nerve-inducing, but if you prepare fully you’ll be less nervous. Allow yourself to really become your character, so you’re not thinking about anything else. You can’t truly be present as your character if you’re thinking about your dress, what the conductor is thinking, or what you’ll have for dinner
I walked out of my audition feeling grateful and fulfilled. I sang for an actual human being!!! It was truly thrilling.
This past weekend I had the joy and honor of serving as a judge for the 2021 NW Arkansas All-Region Choir!
High School students from the NWA region (Bentonville, Rogers, Siloam Springs, Fayetteville, Centerton, etc.) submitted around 3 minutes of audition material so we could score them and rank their submissions. The top 20 in each voice part will be invited to join the prestigious All-Region Choir! This Choir works with a guest conductor (often a highly acclaimed college choir director, or choir professional) to perform a public program of beautiful choral works.
I heard over 120 individual recordings of 3 audition song cuts for Tenor/Bass parts. I was asked to offer a score 1-30 or 1-10 depending on the category for feedback in: Musicality, Diction, Accuracy, and Tone Quality. I remember auditioning for these choirs when I was growing up in North Carolina! It’s amazing to be on the other side of the table now.
I would like to offer some recording/auditioning best practices:
From a judge’s perspective, we really want you to do well! It is so exciting to hear a truly polished recording! I’m looking forward to attending the All-Regions concert later this year and hearing all of these beautiful voices together.
Back to School Already?!?!? How to Keep Student's Voices Healthy During the School year
One of the parts of NWA that has amazed me the most in my first few months here is just how early classes begin. The schools closest to the studio, Bentonville High School & Rogers High School, began school on August 16th! This is much different than our NJ students who often don't return until after Labor Day Weekend.
The start of school is one of the biggest resets of the year for many of our middle school & high school students. Gone are the long days of summer with ample time for play and exploration, replaced almost instantaneously with tough classes (ughh Calculus), sports practices, club meetings, and endless hours of homework. Back to school is often just as difficult for parents who suddenly have to coordinate pick-up and drop-off, pack lunches, and dust off their own skills to help with homework.
I've been fortunate enough to work with many high school students through Finely Tuned Voice Lessons. Below are a few pointers I often give at the start of school to keep middle school & high school students and their voices Finely Tuned during busy high school days.
Stay Hydrated: hydration is one of the most important steps to keeping the voice healthy and in top shape-its also one of the most overlooked pieces by young singers. Sending your kids to school with a full water bottle will help to keep hydration top of mind during their busy days. I recommend a HydroFlask water bottle but they are EXPENSIVE. I personally just use a regular water bottle and refill it at home every day before I leave the house. #BudgetFriendly.
Consistency is Key: Many young singers think that if they can't practice for a half-hour or more then it's not worth practicing at all. This could not be more false! Helping your student block off even 15 minutes each day to practice, whether it's warming-up, singing through the tough part of a song (shower singing is great) or even just to review lyrics will help keep music skills sharp. If 15 minutes seems too difficult, have them start with 5 minutes and gradually work to increase the practice time from there.
Keep the Voice Finely Tuned: The voice, specifically your vocal folds, are part of your body. And just like your legs or your arms they will weaken without activity. I have created a playlist of some of my favorite voice warm-ups on the Finely Tuned YouTube Channel that provides short and simple warm-up exercises to help keep the voice in-shape even with limited time.
Good luck to all of the Rogers, Bentonville and remaining NWA students in your first few weeks of school! I'm cheering for you!!!
Moving parts, finding joy
People ask me all the time: “Do you like it here in the Bentonville/NWA area?”
Without hesitation, I enthusiastically answer, “Yes! I really do!” Sometimes they assume that since I’ve lived in New York City and New Jersey that I won’t like it here. What’s funny is that I have liked everywhere I’ve lived for one reason or another.
New York City was bustling, full of driven people all pursuing their dreams. It was really energizing and inspiring to live there.
New Jersey brought us closer to my husband’s family, so we felt really supported there. I also started Finely Tuned Voice Lessons there, so it will always have a piece of my heart.
Finally, the NWA area (Bentonville/Rogers) has already taught me several things. As a southerner (I was born and raised in North Carolina), it’s nice to be back in a friendly town. People stop and talk to you and genuinely care how your day is going. Young and old both know “Amazing Grace” and sing it with such conviction. There’s a little bubble of diversity here, a meeting place of culture, arts, and brilliant minds. I’m excited to keep connecting with people, hearing their voices, and their story, helping them grow and find the joy in singing.
We were walking through Downtown Bentonville and as we approached the square we stumbled upon a group of people gathered to play a pick-up jam session! They were seated in a big circle, each person with their instrument or lyric book ready to solo when their turn came around. I saw guitars, violins, a double bass, harmonica, and a banjo!
I love that on a random summer Friday night there’s a community of musicians (some may be professional, others hobby players) playing and singing! What joy! I think that’s the root of why we enjoy listening to and physically making music—it’s joyful.
Joy is what I strive to create in the studio when someone is here for a lesson. We find your voice and find the joy in singing! Singing should feel good, and I love to help make it easier for you. Make an appointment for a private voice lesson in our Northwest Arkansas studio and have the most joyful 30 minutes of your week singing with me! We’re in Rogers, close to Bentonville, Cave Springs, Pea Ridge, Centerton, Lowell, Springdale & Fayetteville. I can’t wait to hear your voice!
Yes, you read that correctly...we are relocating to Arkansas (specifically the Bentonville/Rogers/Fayetteville metro area)! We are incredibly excited to explore this beautiful region of the country and look forward to teaching singers in person at our new Rogers location: 3607 W Beech Drive Rogers, AR 72756.
Are you in the Rogers/Bentonville/Cave Springs/Fayetteville area?
Sign up HERE for in person lessons!
Maria Palombo is the founder of Finely Tuned Voice Lessons, a private voice studio accessible anywhere with internet! Voice lessons are for all, regardless of age or ability!