Like breathing under water.

26. 1. 19.
     The life of an artist is hardly ever constant, with the turbulent demands for the interesting, the new, the beautiful, and the ugly. I uprooted myself away from the community I knew to pursue my Masters of Music studies at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and it has been a whirlwind of an experience. The entire atmosphere that swirls in the arts culture is continually inspiring, challenging, and innovative while still passionately aflame for artists of history. The holiday season brought a stark contrast, if not a delightful review of my past semester as a Masters student. 

     The holiday season allowed me to reflect on the function of music in society and of intrapersonal connections; how did any classical musicians get here anyway? Not so long ago, the beautiful music was the hook to my internal rhythm, the sustenance to my musical understanding and my artistic approach; it is much more complicated now.

     Music is laid out for us on the page, yet is emotionally charged, from the specific use of a non-chordal tone in an otherwise "normal" sounding chord to the inventive coloratura cadenzas to accent the affect of the piece. The text of songs share the anecdote, the character tells us the context, and the music gives us the story, and the orchestra hints at a world unseen.
The amazing effect, performer and listener alike, is that we understand all of this in our heads, our souls! At minimum, we can understand the story and what the music is trying to convey, whether or not we have a visceral reaction to it.

     It is amazing to think that one small team of artists can cause an entire audience to respond to a piece of music at all. It is amazing to think that artistic teams are able to bring these characters to life and portray recognizable reactions and emotions to audiences. It is amazing to me that there is a whole faculty team that is here to help me understand how to achieve this.

     The road to good artistry is grounded in good work ethic, knowing your music and character work, and respecting others. The rest is subjective, because being an artist is really hard.

    It is a demanding role to play in society, where artists are often mistaken for hobbyists (those who perform because they would like to) than for a professional (one's main paid occupation).
     It is demanding from fellow artists, where each artist has expensive eyes and ears from role models, creative imagination, and their own artistic ideas.
   It is demanding from oneself that constantly digs into the creative land plot, looking for new approaches and  fresh takes on characters and songs.

( name a few...)
     I have seen my colleagues, and myself, break under the pressure and expectations of perfection; I continue to witness the struggles of my now-global(!) artistic community in their journey to finding their art. 

But do you know who is the most successful?

     Those who seek imperfection. Those to shoot for the stars and are completely okay with landing in the atmosphere, or even just a stone's throw away from their door. Those who perform because they have a firey love of music, and need others to experience how amazing it is. Those who share their love of music with abandon, and those who demand to be seen. The colleagues who work hard, and take any word from any person (big or small) with a grain of salt. 

     The artists that are the most successful are the ones who are not looking for success, but rather search for outlets: the art that they release into the world gives them joy and that joy reflects in their art.

     It's amazing to meet more individuals who inspire me to be this kind of artist. It's amazing to see world-class musicians and budding new talent in the same five city blocks. It's amazing that here in vibrant city of San Francisco, I get to achieve the beautifully impossible in tangible ways, every day .//

Turn of the Tides

With auditions drawn to a close, many young artists are left waiting... and waiting...and a friend spoke of one school, until "God only knows."

While the stress of preparing for graduate school has been a journey and a half, through competitions with sudden unfortunate twists, essay after essay, fee after fee: we walk out of the flames of chaos - champions of our craft. 

I have been speaking to many of my friends outside of the music community recently to realize how truly lucky I have been. In this era of 20-somethings wondering about their purpose and direction in life, contemplating their attachment to their jobs, loving avocado toast (it's pretty rad though), and in the seemingly unending search for love - other than the toast, I have been very fortunate. I am part of the many musicians who started music at a young age, first in community groups then moving on to solo study. From there, I went to a specialized arts high school to a university music undergraduate, moving forward into graduate studies while gaining performing experience in between.

It sounds pretty standard for musicians, right? To know where we need to go and what we need to do to get it? As a 20-something, it is easy to take this mental/emotional luxury for granted.

Some of the biggest struggles in life revolve around money - it is a fact. Money, or rather the lack of money, causes stress beyond belief: how will I/we pay rent and bills or mortgage; how will we send our kids to school; I can't afford a new phone; I can't; I can't; I can't. It can be the reason why someone has stayed at a job for 10 years when they meant to only stay the summer and a bit like Jim from the US version of The Office, or marriages and relationships fall apart. 

While money is always a sensitive topic (see Cindy Sadler's article about paying artists with "exposure"), the craft of music is blessed with a different agenda. Music is part of the entertainment industry, and while there are studies upon studies proving the power of music in cognitive function, health, and overall well-being, the majority of the music community relies on the public. The fickle public! I've said it before - pursuing opera is hardly ever about monetary gain. We make music because we love it, and we want to share our love of it (or feel the glory of it). There will always be a fan for our musical favourites, and always a critic in our lowest performances; at the end of the night, there is usually a smile on everyone's face.

In my opinion, it is this "I can't..." mentality that is stunting this generation of bright and brillant thinkers. There is a beautiful trend happening called the "Yes Theory," where you say yes to things you naturally oppose or tackle your fears head on because in this challenge you cannot say "I can't do this." (Please keep in mind personal safety- don't chop your arms off.) The biggest adversary is not the world, but our perception of the world. 

What is holding you back? What is the thought that comes running in front of you, telling you, "no, no, no, no, we can't do that,"? For me, mine was a simple thought:

"You are not good enough."

This would then spiral into a whole web of internal lies: You lost the competition class - not good enough. You have flabby arms - not good enough. You double text - Lord! Not good enough. You didn't sing the past few days - not good enough. Look at you - you are not good enough.

Across all professions and walks of life, each person has their own web that is intricate and complex; some are very dense with these lies and others are not. Some people ignore this dusty cobweb for years until someone (or themselves) walk too close with a flame. Some notice the stray strands and pull them out and away from their path. Some don't know the existence of this dust at all.

So what can we do, as artists and young adults moving forward into this almost job-forsaken world, mining us to choose between stabilty, emotional health, or rigidity? Love.

Love openly and freely. Love what you do. Love the output of your efforts. Love your friends. Love your lover(s). Love your family. Love the feeling of success. Embrace emotions and be gentle to yourself. Love the food you eat. Love the adventures you take, big or small. Love the dogs you pet. Love the dreams you have at night. Love the dreams you set in the sky. Take charge of your life by taking charge of who you want to be and become. Love yourself. Love others. Love the air you breathe. Love the steps you take.  Love the music you hear and the music you make. Say, "I can." Say, "I can do this." Say, "I am doing this." Love openly, and freely, and without borders.

That's all we can do. //

Unforgettable summer

The impact is immeasurable. 

However, undergraduate programs are often lacking in one thing: performing opportunities. Summer programs give a glimmering package of jam-packed learning, performing, memorizing, diction study, and networking. These programs give the chance to travel outside of our incubator bubbles, to visit the country, the world! A participant can return with a newfound sense of self with new experience to throw proudly onto their resume. But perhaps I was very lucky in my cherished experience - and I can't wait to do it all over again. //

Why summer programs are so sought after

3.10.2017. - Summer typically brings out the comfy lawn chairs, relaxing days at the beach, bon fires, raving music festivals and other Canadian-esque past times in this neighbourhood. But not for young artists, specifically, classical young artists. Summer programs are in full swing, some kicking off the coattails of post-secondary exam sessions and unrelenting until Labour Day weekend. 
     I was one of those young artists. Auditioning for Darryl Edwards in October, by June I was on an overnight flight with many talented singers and pianists head to Rome, Italy with Puccini on my mind. I was lucky to know some people in the program as well as some faculty members (at least by name) that gave me a sense of ease in the air of excited nervousness. My nerves quickly faded as the star-studded faculty, beautiful outdoor performing spaces, amazingly authentic food, and new friendships began to bloom.
     The importance of attending such programs is to hear different opinons on the same topic - you. From the varying styles of teaching to the different tactics of learning and even using eye-opening technology (thanks, Kevin McMillan!), I got to know my voice more than I had ever before: from the formants I was not making (oops) to the applied science of engaging your muscles for optimal singing. 
     It is this kind of high in knowledge and experience that made one smugly wonder - what did I accomplish in undergrad? However, the thought is only a visitor. Undergraduate studies in voice develop the essential needs one needs to continue in this field: technique, emotional connection, and diction. In these essential studies, one truly builds themselves from scratch, and for that effort of oneself and supporting faculty, it cannot be forgotten for a second! 
Out with the New, in with the Old
January 5, 2017
The ringing cheers of a new year bring forth many aspirations. The gyms filled with resolute fitness workouts, fridges filled with green...perhaps a keen eye counting carefully the colourful bills leaving its cozy place. With the welcome of the new year, many people are challenged to be the person they were unable to be in the year prior, often jolting out of their regularly scheduled programming to jump-start the new chapter in in their lives. 

Why do this? As someone guilty of uprooting her own life in the middle of an academic year for a new year's goal, and subsequently failing to continue after February rolled around, I began to wonder. Why do New Year's Resolutions seems so sound, yet fizzle out without a trace of the inspirational kindling that lit the fire bright before? 

I believe it is because of change. 
If you are not willing to risk the usual, you will have to settle for the ordinary. 
- Jim Roth
around them, often more than not, resolution-makers will revert back before spring has sprung. 

Be daring, be stubborn, be the cheerleader that you would be if you knew someone was going to give up. If you had to give yourself a pep talk, some real talk, what would you say? Every resolution, big or small, is a step closer to becoming the person youwant to be, creating your legacy. 

Aim high, and don't mind if you fall down or catch your hand on a splinter. Be gentle to yourself when you are weak and accept the challenge when you can go just one more minute, one more rep, one more recipe, one more page, one more mile.

You are the key to your own success. When you are feeling brave, don't be afraid. The world is waiting for your step. Your future is shifting in anticipation. Are you ready?
Change is the most terrifying word to a person living in an socialized setting. The word implies that something in your lifestyle visage is warping from what it used to be. It implies that it will be difficult to turn back and simultaneously difficult to step forward. 

New Year's Resolutions contain everything that we wish we could have in our life - cleaner eating, fitter appearance, organized scheduling, better budgeting. Ultimately, it comes down to whether or not you, the resolution maker, is prepared to leave behind the familiar lifestyle and routine of being.

Now, I am not implying that every New Year's resolution is a life or death or move across the globe situation, but rather that many resolution-makers are unprepared for the difficulties that come with making a drastic change in lifestyle. Afraid to upset the people

November 23, 2016 

Senioritis: a colloquial term that primarily students use to describe their attitude in the final years of study. Symptoms include sleepiness, writer's block, stress-crying/eating, and a disdain for younger classmates. Those affected by seniorities have the tendency to skip class, ignore assignments, and overall have a sense that they will be so much better once they get out of school. At this point of their study, they feel that they either know it all, or know nothing at all. 

But what if senioritis is not just limited to academic students? 
If you adjust some of the words in the above definition, senioritis seems to be what Internet friends call "adulthood", and realizing that the adults around them have been experiencing seniorities for most of their lives. No matter if people are polar opposite to one another, they are all experiencing the know-it-all or nope-it-all attitude. 

So where does it leave the new wave of freshman-adults, who have been taught by books and pictures on how to boil water, do taxes, to be a decent person? A lovely slump, stuck between wanting to chase after every dream and burying ourselves in soft duvets. 
But there is always a way to combat senioritis, to fight the herd mindset to "let someone else figure it out." It isn't easy, it isn't always fun, and it certainly is not the well-beaten road that is so inviting to our eyes. And my way will be different from yours, as each raindop has travelled its own journey.

You can do this, friend. Hold your head up high and run your best marathon of living, to look forward to your goal and all the new amazing experiences that it will bring.

It gets better. - A.M.
Tips for Living Well in a Crazy World

October 24, 2016

"What are you up to these days?"

As a fresh undergraduate, aside from being asked when I'm going to get married, this is the most common question that I am asked by friends, colleagues, family, family friends...almost everyone I know has asked me this question. I usually reply that yes, I have a great job at a music school in Oakville, I coach some talented youth choirs at the church I sing at, I'm in a fantastic choir in Toronto, I finally have time to see my friends without the distress of losing precious studying time - yet somehow people are unsatisifed with this answer.

Deciding to pursue a profession where life is shrouded in mystery seems to freak a lot of people out. Simultaneously, it opens a door for "helpful" tips:

"I know someone who sings, maybe you can sing with them!"
"My son is getting married, you can sing for his wedding!"
"What's your next step after you leave that place?"
"You can't really make a career out of singing, right? You're good with people, there's still time to do another degree!"

I'm admittedly a very patient person, and respond usually with a joke about fees or that the weather doesn't fit the shoes that I want to wear for that occasion. Walking down the well-lit path seems much more favourable, I'm sure, but unfortunately for me, I know what lies in the dark path: it is crazy, it is exciting, it is different, and it is way more fun that walking with everyone else! The mystery that comes with the lifestyle of a performer, not just as a  musician, is so interesting to me: you are surprised at the opportunity, surprised at the process, surprised at the outcome, surprised with how you have changed as a person, surprised at how you have changed a life other than your own.  For me, it is like realizing that the letters of the alphabet creates words, and the words have so much meaning, or numbers when followed by symbols and other numbers, can create a different number that means something completely different- it seems mundane, yet it boggles my mind. I am able take this voice of my soul and sing words written by a heartbroken poet set to music by a lovesick husband for his beloved wife and make that music mean something for someone I haven't met before in my life.  

One thing is for sure: I'm in no hurry. In no way putting down any of my amazing collegues who are done graduate, doctorate, or other multiple degrees and other life accomplishments, I am in no hurry to pursue my graduate studies. The world moves so quickly, with attention spans becoming shorter and shorter by each new innovation of technology - within it all, there was always time for music. Someone, right now, is making music. Practicing, recording, performing, rehearsing, volunteering. I'm not looking for a way out, no shortcut to fame nor for another "tip". I'm searching for the new way, the next chapter in my life. 

So, the question still remains: What is Christina doing these days?

Answer: I'm falling in love with music again. Want in?

Performing with an orchestra!

For the first time!

What was it like performing with an orchestra for the first time?

Pretty badass.

I had the privilege of singing alongside one of my best friends and colleagues, Chantal Grybas; singing duets with her is an experience like none other.

There was an amazing crowd, and the orchestra was absolutely fantastic. Ranging from grade 2 or 3 to university-age and professional musicians, it was a great pleasure to be singing for them. Thank you to all for your support as I prepared for the great piece that was Mozart's Grand Mass in C minor! 

Photo Credit: Leslie Bentley, from her Facebook page