On being not-ok (mild tw : suicide)

16 July 2012 § 2 Comments

Over the years, I’ve gotten very used to being ok.  No matter what’s going on, if someone asks me how I’m doing, the answer is inevitably going to be “I’m fine!  I’m good!  I’m ok!”  It doesn’t matter what the circumstances are.  I can be bawling, with tears literally pouring down my face, and I will still claim to be ok.

In part, I think this is a cultural thing.  We all ask “How are you?” as a matter of course whenever we see one another.  Instead of being a legitimate inquiry among people who care for one another, it’s become a social formula, along the lines of “Pleased to meet you!” or “Have a nice day!”  It’s not a pleasure to meet your tax auditor.  You don’t want that rude client to have a nice day.  And yet, the words emerge unbidden from your lips, because that’s what’s expected of you.

And so it goes with the polite inquiry.  Does the cashier really care how you’re doing?  Maybe, but maybe not.  Do you really want to tell the cashier about your angina and bunions?  I sincerely hope the answer is no.  But their manager expects them to ask and manners require you to answer, so “how are you” and “fine” become the order of the day, and after a while, it carries over into all your day-to-day interactions.

Further, there are a lot of times (in my life, at least) where, regardless of your actual state, you need to be fine:  you get no choice in the matter, so you’re going to be ok if it kills you.  During finals week, you can be running on four hours of sleep and five lattes and still be “doing well,” because not being well equates to failure under the circumstances.  If five minutes before a concert, you’re sobbing your eyes out in the bathroom and a chorister asks you how you’re doing, you’re damn well going to say that you’re fine, because you have no option but to be fine.  Similarly, when you’re out at karaoke having a great time and suddenly find yourself thinking suicidal thoughts, you’re going to be “ok” when your friends ask, because there’s no fucking way you’re going to own up to anything else under those circumstances.  You’re going to be fine or die trying, possibly literally.

The problem is, these influences add up into an automated response.  You can actually forget that sometimes your’e not fine, and that furthermore, it’s ok to be not fine.  More than that, you may not realize that you’ve forgotten this.  It might take you years until you’re jarred into remembrance, but when the day comes, let me tell you, “jarred” really is the only suitable word for the event.

It happened to me on Friday night.  A hideously unfortunate combination of PMS, heat, humidity, mild dehydration, and Ikea combined to turn my initially rather average headache into a raging migraine.  I was supposed to go downtown with α that evening for dinner, apartment-examining, drinks, and a friend’s birthday; instead, I sent α off to face the events of the evening on his own, while I slept for five hours, woke up feeling like crap, ate, took a giant dose of pain meds, and stared at the nice, dark ceiling for a while until he came home.

Of course, α panicked as I slept and got his mom and baby brother to look after me; the first thing that happened when I woke up was that said baby bro ran for the phone to call him.  Three minutes later, I was curled up on the couch with the phone to my ear as α asked how I was doing.

It took every fiber of effort I could summon (which at the time was not a terribly impressive amount, I’ll admit, but the point stands) to keep myself from replying with the automatic “ok.”  Those two horrible letters were poised to exit my mouth without thought when I stopped myself and reassessed.  The only thing which forced me to pause was the terrifying possibility of having to find the energy to shower, dress, go out, drink, and be sociable, the inescapable consequences of an admission of “ok-ness.”  No, I could not shower.  I could not dress.  I could absolutely not be sociable.  (I could maybe drink, but that’s not saying much.)  So no, I was not ok.  But then I immediately started to downplay it.  It wasn’t a migraine, just a headache.  I was taking ibuprofen.  People were there with me and were keeping an eye on me.  It wasn’t a big deal.  I was going to be fine soon.  He shouldn’t worry.

Now, what’s true and what wasn’t?  It was kind of a big deal.  I don’t get migraines often, and when I do, they’re bad.  I didn’t want to worry α, but there was a very real chance that I wasn’t going to be fine for another day (luckily, it faded pretty quickly and I was functional again in the morning).  It was very definitely a migraine, and frankly, all I wanted to do was curl up and die (not eat, drink tea, watch a movie, knit, or hang with the baby bro, aka the things that I actually wound up doing).

So what kept me from being honest about it?  What kept me from saying “No, I’m really not ok?”  What keeps me from saying that I’m not ok right now, right this second, when it’s anxiety and depression that are giving me shit rather than a visible, quantifiable issue like a migraine?

Years ago, I set myself up to give the perpetual impression of a superhuman.  Just like α, most of his peers, and most of my peers, I did lots of things on not a lot of sleep, food, or me-time.  I kept going and going and I acted like I didn’t want to stop, when in reality, a lot of the time, it was more the fact that I couldn’t find a way to stop that kept me going.  And now that I’ve finally come to the conclusion that I don’t like being that person, and that I much prefer being a regular human being who sleeps a lot, eats a lot, and sometimes gets sad and scared and panicky and depressed and yes, suicidal (ok, I don’t prefer that part, but it comes with the territory regardless so I may as well acknowledge it) – how do I talk about being all of those things to a person who doesn’t like to admit to needing a night off now and then?  The answer, sadly, is that too often, I can’t.

It has come to the point where I feel guilty pretty much non-stop for being a regular human being.  And I can’t deal with that anymore.  So please, consider this my declaration of sanity and humanity:  I am a normal human being.  Often, I’m ok, but sometimes, I’m not.  And being not-ok is FINE and GOOD and even (sigh) necessary.  If I’m sick or tired or scared or having a panic attack, that’s ok.  The world will spin onward, and I will do better if I admit to being not ok.  And I think we, as a culture, need to do better about owning up to not-ok-ness.  Please, y’all – can we make it ok to be not ok?


Something Interesting

24 March 2012 § Leave a comment

I subscribe to delanceyplace, which is basically a mailing list that sends an interesting quote or excerpt from a book/article/whatever every day.  They’re always good, but today’s was particularly awesome, so I thought y’all might enjoy it:

In today’s excerpt – the black neighborhoods of Detroit in the 1950s and 1960s were teeming with teenaged musical talent-Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, Otis Williams and others. Most passed through the doors of the 4,500 seat New Bethel Baptist Church, pastored by the “flashy bon vivant” Reverend C.L. Franklin-so high-profile that he merited mention in Time magazine. In the decades leading up to the 1950s, more blacks from the South had poured into Detroit-filling churches like Reverend Franklin’s-than any other Northern city, seeking the solid-paying jobs of the automobile industry. The young singing star of Reverend Franklin’s church, a touring gospel star by the time she was fourteen and an object of fascination for teens in the neighborhood, was his daughter Aretha:

“While Aretha was discovering her vocal capacities on the altar of the New Bethel Baptist Church, the surrounding Detroit neighborhood was humming with music of all sorts. Otis Williams recalls hearing wonderful things about that little Franklin girl who had people in awe of her voice when she sang on Sundays. In 1964, Williams became world-famous as one of the Temptations. A skinny little neighborhood girl named Diane Ross joined two school friends, Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard, and together they became the Supremes. (When she became famous, Ross changed her name from Diane to Diana.) Friends of the Franklins, the Robinsons, had a little boy named William, and he was interested in becoming a pop singer. Everyone called William by his nickname, ‘Smokey.’ …

“According to Smokey Robinson, ‘When Aretha was a child she could go to the piano and play-nearly like she plays now! None of the rest of us could just go sit down and play the piano and sing like that!’

“Aretha remembers all of these singing stars as kids in the neighborhood with little more than their dreams and their vocal talent. ‘I didn’t really know Diana,’ she reminisces. ‘On my way home, I would see her from time to time. She was screaming off the back porch one night at somebody, and I said, ‘Oh, that’s that Diane Ross girl.’ Smokey and I-our families had been friends going back till I was nine, ten years old. Smokey would come over with his group [The Miracles] to rehearse. Erma and I used to love the Flamingos. We did ‘I Only Have Eyes for You.’ We knew all the Flamingos’ dance routines, so when Smokey was trying to put something together for the Miracles, we showed him what we knew. That was probably one of their first bits of choreography. And we did it gratis!”


“Music industry executive Billy Davis distinctly remembers that era in Detroit. ‘In hindsight, there certainly was a lot of young talent who was inspired by each other,’ he recalls, ‘and inspired by groups like the Dominoes, the Four Buddies, Ruth Brown, the Ravens, and groups who gained their popularity in the mid-fifties. Independent record labels began to spring up, because all this talent was there. It was easy to put out a record in those days, and very cheap. In 1956, with $500 you could record it, press it, and take it around to your local stations and get it played. Within two or three weeks you might have yourself a hit. It was very active and alive and inspiring. You could discover a talent one day, have them in the studio within a week, and have a record out and on the air within two weeks. It was an exciting time in Detroit.’


“Before Motown Records was founded, and made million-selling stars out of the Miracles, the Supremes, and the Temptations, the local musical marvel was clearly Aretha Franklin. Don Davis, who grew up to own a recording studio in Detroit called United Sound … remembers those days, when all eyes were on teenage Aretha. ‘We spent an awful lot of time as kids in Reverend Franklin’s church,’ says Don. ‘Those Sunday nights, when he would finish preaching, we would listen to little Aretha up on-stage, and she’d turn the whole church on its cheek. Man, we’d look forward to that!’ ”


Author: Mark Bego
Title: Aretha Franklin
Publisher: Skyhorse
Date: Copyright 1989, 2001, 2012 by Mark Bego
Pages: 16-18

Aretha Franklin: The Queen of Soul

by Mark Bego
by Skyhorse Publishing

Happy Hilary is happy! (I.e., long boring post about voice.)

11 February 2012 § Leave a comment

If you haven’t, you might want to read this post.  I’ll wait.

Done?  Ok, here we go:

Today, my friends, was a beautiful day.

Dad has a great soprano in town for the Brahms – Anne-Marie, an incredible singer and even better pedagogue who teaches at OSU and hails originally from Romania.  She’s notorious for being able to hear (and correct) vocal problems, both from bad technique and from legitimate damage – even just by hearing people speak, sometimes!  And of course I’ve been freaking out about my voice and how unreliable it’s been, how much tension I’ve had in my throat, etc., so I was simultaneously so relieved and so nervous to sing for her.

I don’t think I’ve ever been more at ease while singing for someone for whom I’ve never sung before.  She’s a very comfortable person to be around in general, and knowing that she knows her way around vocal issues and could potentially hear what I was dealing with and fix it – it was such a relief, before we even began, despite how nervous I was about my voice itself.

It wasn’t quite your standard lesson – just a half hour, maybe less, and she only had me vocalizing – just warming me up, really, no intensive technique, no Vaccai, no pieces.  We talked about some basic issues of support and resonance – things that I knew, but reiterated and rephrased in ways that were new to me, and always good to hear, of course.  And the exercises we were doing were very basic – a lot in the middle voice, a little with the lower, lots of ah and ee vowels.  (Actually, I think only ah and ee vowels!)  We worked a lot with placement, resonance, the shape of the vowels, the relationship between the three, and eased on up into the upper range.

As soon as I got towards my A-flat/A, it was the same as ever:  the sound was there, but tight, and my throat was crazy tense, my larynx was way the hell too high, and the whole thing just felt terrible.  So I stopped and said so.

We started talking about it, and working through it, and one thing led to another.  I’ll cut to the chase:  my problem, that tension and discomfort, is not an issue of vocal damage, but rather one of technique.

Basically, as far as we can tell, what happened simply an accumulation (or perhaps re-accumulation) of bad habits.  I’ve had issues with tension in my singing before (for various reasons), but thought that they were mostly exterminated, the sort of habit into which I’d fall only when I was exhausted and just wanted to produce a sound to get through the rehearsal, the lesson, whatever.

WELL, after a month of voicelessness and recovery, I’d gotten back into that habit in a big way.  As I sang through my issues (which I did have to do in January, to prepare for and then make those damn audition recordings), I was tensing to make a sound come out, as I did – without realizing it, thinking that it was just part of the cold/loss of voice – every time I sang during that month, to see where I was, etc.  But after having no voice for so long, even once I had my voice back, I wasn’t expecting it to be there, since it wasn’t at all and then was unreliable for so long, and so I was nervous – would the sound be there?  Would it be what it was supposed to be?  What would happen?  I would tense in anticipation and preparation, to try to make sure that the sound was what I wanted it to be and/or what it should be.  And at the same time, I was cautious – almost too cautious – and tensed instead of supporting properly, was afraid of singing too loud, or too high, or too anything, really.  And so finally it became a habit again, and I tensed automatically once I got into my head voice.  And because I spent so much flipping time in the past learning to un-tense, and put so much effort into it, and got so excited when I realized that I was basically past it, it didn’t even occur to me that it was something I was doing.  I was so sure that I was done doing that that I simply assumed now that it was a purely physiological issue (as it was, to some degree, at the beginning).

But the really glorious thing is that – well.  I’m not past the tensing yet, and I need to unlearn it all over again, I guess.  Hopefully it’ll go a little easier this time around (and faster!!).  But in singing Anne-Marie’s vocalize aimed at getting past the tension, she also had me producing a sound and resonating in a way that I’ve never managed before.  My voice was – HUGE.  There’s honestly no other word for it.  I’m so used to having the smallest voice in any given room, ensemble, show, whatever.  And here’s Anne-Marie telling me, with the proof in the sound, that my voice has potential to be big, as well as wide.  Wide, I’ve known for years – I have a big range, and I always have (in fact, I assumed for the longest time that my range was normal and the ranges of people around me were abnormally small, because I just didn’t know any better).  But big?  Until today, I would have laughed my large-yet-well-formed derrière off at anyone who used that word in the same sentence as my voice.  But I trust Anne-Marie.  And Dad – you should have heard Dad raving about the change he’d heard, about the resonance, the size, the everything.  And he wasn’t even in the same room as us!  He was elsewhere in the apartment, and he could hear that shift.

How cool is that?  That’s another “never before today” thing.

Between the two of them, with what I heard myself, I have no choice but to believe them.

AM and I talked a lot about the idea of freedom in one’s voice – the lack of tension, the alignment, resonance, the shape of vowels, support, how all of these things combine into a free and powerful sound.  And hearing her and Dad rave about my voice and the progress afterward, and thinking about how producing and hearing that sound felt – it made me realize a few things, which I should have known and did know already, but which required a little reminding.

I have a good voice.  It’s not perfect, it’s not ideal, it’s not (yet) entirely trained or built, but it’s MINE.  Mine.  I only get one, and this is it, and I’m blessed to have it.  It can do some incredible things, if I give it the chance.  But sometimes, I’m afraid of my voice.  I’m afraid to be too loud.  I’m afraid to really let loose, especially in my upper range, where the sound is hard to control.  And I try to control it, all the time in all the ways – I try to control the tone, the quality, and especially the tuning.  Thing is, when you’re singing way up high, that doesn’t work.  You have to just relax and let go, support it, and hope to hell that it’s where it needs to be – and if you put in the work, it will be.

I put in that work, and I’m still putting it in.  I’ve earned the right to be loud, to take up some vocal space, to make myself known.  And apparently I’ve got the instrument to take up that space in a hefty way – now, I just need the confidence.  I need to be better about being loud.  I need to be better about being confident.  I need to be stronger, more sure of myself.  The only person who gets hurt when I don’t is me (quite literally – being afraid of being too loud is actually hurting my production and technique!).  And if I screw up – so I screw up!  I’m a student, I’m training, I’m working, and I’m human.  I’m allowed to mess up.  I’m expected to mess up.  The world won’t end if I sing out of tune here and there; life will go on if I miss an accidental in rehearsal and someone notices.  I need to stand up and let go a little.  No one else will do it for me.  And that feeling – that freedom, that power that came from singing those exercises, from hearing that solid, resonant sound coming out of my mouth – that’s the best I’ve felt since I reached Cairo.  I almost started crying.  This is what I’m here to do, and I’m damn well going to do it.

Watch out, world.

today’s edition of “must not laugh, must not cry, must not laugh, must not cry…”

9 February 2012 § Leave a comment

It’s really common in Egypt – especially in/around Cairo – to see all manner of odd things on the road.  Some examples:

– Three guys driving a teeny little ATV down the street at speed – two in the actual seats (without belts or harnesses, duh) and one sitting backwards on the hood.
– Entire families – I’m talking husband, wife, and 2-3 kids – all crammed together onto a motorbike, again going down the road at speed, the wife often sitting side-saddle with full skirts, etc.
– Old-fashioned donkey carts, complete with donkeys, generally (but not always) hauling produce, generally (but not always) early in the morning, pretty much always on highways…yeah.
– Beat-up cars held together with duct tape, string, plastic bags over broken windows, missing anything and everything up to and including doors.

And last but very definitely not least, trucks.  All kinds of trucks, all old, all beat up, especially pick-ups and big flat-bed/open-air trailers, with giant, weird cargos precariously tied on or stacked up.  You see everything – wicker boxes of produce, construction supplies which you swear will fall off at the next abrupt stop, twenty men crammed à la clown car into the back of a pick-up, or, best of all (before tonight, at least), two men sitting on top of a huge load of PVC pipes precariously tied onto a full-size flat-bed tractor-trailer, going down the highway at speed.  And they’re not panicking – they’re just sitting there, casually holding on to the ropes binding (sorta) the pipes to the trailer, chatting away, smoking cigarettes.

The truck that took the cake, however, was spotted while on the bus home from uni this evening:  a pickup containing perhaps ten or twelve large cardboard boxes, stacked precariously as usual, and two timpani – un-boxed, un-cased, un-covered, not even tied down, with boxes half on top of them, hurtling unprotected through this dusty, polluted city at full speed.  And I thought, oh, God, those poor timpani – does the owner know that they’re being mistreated in this way?  Surely they must know.  Maybe they don’t care.  Maybe they don’t understand how to treat timpani.  Maybe they’re not actually timpani.  Maybe I’m seeing things.  Maybe it’s part of some experimental music project.  (Ok, that last is pretty unlikely here.)  But who the hell would move timpani like that?

So I mention it to Dad in passing – “hey, Dad, you won’t believe what I saw today” – and his jaw dropped.

Turns out, they were probably the AUC timpani.  They were being moved tonight in preparation for the rehearsal in Zamalek tomorrow, and it’s not like this is a city full of timpani (or of classical concerts, for that matter).  And they were coming from/going in the right direction.

I mean, they’re not the best timpani, and they get abused all the time (because AUC has no idea how to treat its musical instruments, despite Dad’s best efforts)…but oh, the look on his face.  And oh, those poor, poor timpani.  So sad!

think thonk thunk

7 February 2012 § Leave a comment

I was waiting outside the office of my new voice teacher yesterday (a story for another day) and ran into another of her students, who was also waiting for her.  Lara was very nice and we stood and chatted for a while, talking about this and that, comparing backgrounds, etc.  I explained that I had been living and studying in New York, but came here to study and live with my parents.

Her response:  “Oh, good!  It’s so much better to be here than to be alone.”

Lara is part Egyptian, part Italian, and part Lebanese, so I get that she comes from a very traditional, family-oriented background.  She probably honestly thought that I was all alone in New York, and thank God I came back here to be with my family.

But I can’t stop thinking about what she said, because honestly, it’s the exact opposite.  I left behind my extended family and a whole huge surrogate family of friends, the people who got me through the last five years, not to mention my work, my voice teacher, my church/church family, and my city, to come to a city I don’t know and to live with my parents.

Don’t get me wrong – I love Cairo, I’m glad to be here, and I’m thrilled to be living with my parents, as odd as it feels at times.  (After all, I haven’t really lived at home since I was seventeen.)  But I’m definitely not less alone than I was in New York.  It’s not a bad thing, but it’s not as cut and dried as Lara would make it out to be, either.

Just another cultural difference:  here, your family is your family; there, your family is – well, a lot more than just your family.  And so I’m in the odd position of being thrilled to be with my family, but also missing my family a great deal.

Just thinking, that’s all.

Oh, God, voice voice voice…

4 February 2012 § 1 Comment

So some of you have been hearing me moan…endlessly…about my vocal problems.  For those of you who haven’t heard the endless moans, here’s the background:

Right before I left for Cairo – on New Year’s Eve – my throat started to feel very tight.  I had to sing Vespers that night, and while the music isn’t too high, the Ds and E-flats were very uncomfortable.  Thing is, I’d spent part of the afternoon scrubbing mold off the walls in the basement, so I assumed that I’d just gotten mold into my throat and that it would work its way out overnight.

Except it didn’t.  My throat was sore all night, and I had the same problems the following morning.  Fortunately, I was able to sing alto at church that morning, so I didn’t have to strain and I figured it would be fine.  Anyway, I didn’t have time to worry about it, what with the last-minute packing and the flight out and so on…

Fast-forward three days.  I got to Cairo, we settled in, and I had a full-blown cold, with no voice to boot (which is pretty unusual for me).  Yay.  But then again, everyone else had been taking turns being sick at home – this is what you get for hanging out with a Molly and a Ruby.  Four- and one-year-olds do have a tendency to bring things home.  (Fortunately, they’re more than cute enough to make up for it!)  So I slept a lot and stared at my ceiling a lot and whined a lot.

Well, a week after my arrival, I was still sick and slowly going insane, so off I went to the campus clinic.  They didn’t exactly inspire confidence – it was freezing outdoors, so my ears were very cold, and as a result, they weren’t able to take my temperature.  Cold ears = I’m temperatureless and thus a physical impossibility, apparently.  Really comforting.  But a doctor had a look at my throat and listened to me breathe and said that it looked to him like a cold which had then become a sinus infection.


So he prescribed three different medications (Egyptian doctors are notoriously medication-happy – and operation-happy, come to that) – an antibiotic, what seemed to me to be a regular over-the-counter cold medication, and throat lozenges with enzymes claiming to kill bacteria in the throat and promote the growth of “healthy” bacteria to replace said germs.  (Said lozenges included a warning, stating that those sensitive to chicken protein ought not to eat them.  Yeah, I was confused also.)  I was carefully instructed to take the full course of antibiotics and to come back in four days if I still wasn’t feeling well.

I trundled on home, crawled back into bed, took all the medications as instructed, and waited.  And lo and behold, I did indeed get better!  Well, kinda.  I got functional.  But my voice wasn’t coming back.

Well, ok, I’d been sick for a while, and it took me a while to get to the doctor.  Plus I’d been under a lot of stress, and the pollution in Cairo is notoriously horrible (and got into my throat right as I was really getting sick).  It made sense for me to take a while to get better, right?  So I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

I tried to sing every few days, and I improved, but very slowly.  No voice at all yielded to a decent chest voice, and then my middle voice kind of came back, warble-y but there, with no head voice at all, and then slowly the head voice returned, in bits and pieces, but not completely.  And of course I needed to make recordings for summer program applications during that time – that was a joy.  (And by “a joy,” I mean “a complete shitshow.”  Having problems singing simple E-flats – worse, in front of an incredible accompanist and an even more incredible recording technician – is frankly humiliating.)  But then the progress slowed down.  And now, I seem to be stuck!

I’ve been doing everything by the book.  I’ve been sleeping absurd amounts (and needing it – last time I was this tired all the time was when I had mono last summer), eating equally absurd amounts of absurdly healthy food, avoiding dairy and chocolate before singing, drinking water and juice and tea until they began to pour out of my ears, getting reasonable amounts of exercise without overdoing it.  I’m out of ideas.

And it gets better and worse.  There are days when I sound just fine, even towards the top of my range, but only for half an hour.  There are days when I can sing for an hour, but only as long as I don’t get into or past my passaggio.  I can force it, but there’s no comfort, no freedom of sound, the tone quality is shit, there’s no flexibility, and at the end of the day, the top of my head voice is still gone.  And if I push, my throat hurts the next day, if not right then.  There’s no progress, no matter how I work (or if I don’t work at all – vocal rest has done nothing).

Singing has become a balancing game.  I can sing rehearsal tonight as long as I don’t sing tomorrow; I can practice today as long as I don’t have to sing later this evening; if I warm up well now, I should be ok for chamber choir tonight, as long as I don’t sing in the Brahms tomorrow night.  And it doesn’t feel good!  It’s nervewracking.  I never know if I’m going to be ok that day or not, and I’m holding back.  My voice-teacher-to-be actually commented on it at my audition – that I sounded scared, that I was treading carefully.  That sums it up, really.

The worst of it has been the lack of outlet.  Singing is a big part of what I do, of who I am, and that’s always going to be true, whether I decide to go into it as a career or go for conducting instead.  It’s what makes me happy.  It’s my stress release.  So the fact that I couldn’t sing at all for nearly a month, and am now having problems to the point that I no longer trust my voice – to sound the way it sounds (or has sounded or ought to sound, rather), to be there when I need it, to do what I expect it to do – that’s killing me.  I’m sure my parents are in fact ready to take a gun to my head, and I can’t blame them – I’ve been cranky and irritable and short-fused and miserable company ever since I’ve arrived.

What do I do?  My chances for a role in a program this summer are officially blown.  It’s been well over a month now, and I’m not able to work properly.  Dad’s theory has been that the amount of time that I was sick (and the amount of time that it took me to get better), plus the stress of moving and starting school and homesickness and so on, plus the hideous pollution here (worse than New York, I’ll freely admit) has added up to cause these problems.  But even if that’s the case, I can’t go on like this.  One of my main reasons for coming here was to work as a singer – to study, to learn, and to prepare for grad school auditions.  And being here, away from my friends and my city and my family (the rest of it, I mean, much as I love my parents) is hard enough – being here and not being able to do what I came here to do is killing me.  I’m out of ideas.

So now, I’m appealing to you, friends and singers.  What am I missing?  What have I not tried?  It’s not a humidity issue – we’re on an island in the Nile, and it’s cool outside, so the air is actually quite damp.  I’ve tried all the over-the-counter remedies I can think of, from the medications the doctor prescribed to Theraflu sent from the States (thank you, Eric!!) to cough drops to sinus-draining things (SinuSqueeze to the rescue, ugh)…plus, of course, the unusual step of actually taking care of myself (eating well, sleeping enough, etc.).  I’m out of ideas.

Dr. Neveen (my teacher here) has recommended a doctor – the best in Egypt for this sort of thing, apparently – and I’m also going to sing for Dad’s Romanian soprano, who apparently incredible with vocal problems.  But until then…I don’t know.  I’m stuck, and it sucks.  Help, please?

Well, that was a thing.

2 February 2012 § Leave a comment

I survived the first week!  Actually, I came out of it in better shape than most of the professors and administrators in the music department – they’re still sweating in their offices, signing last-minute forms, sending emails, and hoping desperately that no more students will show up with convoluted issues requiring immediate resolution…I, on the other hand, might actually be done for the week!  Er, probably.  Hopefully.

The fruit of my labors:  a final(ish) schedule!  I have fifteen credits – for which I’m registered, anyway – plus a class which I’ll be auditing informally.  Drumroll, please…

Academic classes:
– ProTools I – basically, “how to use ProTools” and the basics of MIDI.  I’m really excited for this one – the professor is incredible, one of the best music tech guys in Egypt, and at the end of the class you’re actually prepared to take the proficiency/certification exam that Digidesign (the makers of ProTools) offers.  I’ve already done similar coursework with Logic (another DAW, for the uninitiated), so it shouldn’t be terribly challenging but should be terribly interesting and fun.  Any class where you spend your time playing with drum machines and editing music is more than fine by me…
– Music in Film – there’s been some drama with this one, actually, but I think it’s settled now.  The course time has changed three times now, and I was aware of none of these changes until an hour ago, at which point I found out that (a) it’ll be offered at 3.30p, not 2p, and (b) there’s no session this week (it’s a once-weekly course) because of said drama.  So I have no idea what to expect with this class, but I’m optimistic.  This is actually the first time it’s being taught here, and it’s a new prof, so I’m enjoying the sensation of guinea-pig-dom…
– Music Theory I – after four semesters of music theory with my old enemies Aldwell & Schachter and several whacks at it on my own, I pretty much understand nothing about theory.  Technically, I shouldn’t need this course, but I’m sitting in on it anyway.  Maybe I can finally get somewhere with it!

Private lessons:
– Conducting, with my dad.  We’ve actually had two lessons already – so far, so good!
– Piano – no prof assigned yet (part of the first-week madness, alas), but Dad claims that it will be good.  Personally, I have to admit that I really miss my old teacher from Columbia and would very much like to be studying with him.  (He was a great guy and – probably more importantly – had the patience of a saint, a critical requirement for anyone sitting with me at a piano.)  But I’m cautiously optimistic (and nervous already about the jury).
– Voice, with Dr. Neveen!  She said that she wanted to work with me literally as soon as she heard that I was coming to Egypt, which made me very happy because working with her was part of the reason I came.  I miss my old teacher, Patricia, very, very much, and I’d like to be studying with her, but as I lack the money to do so, this is my best option.  Insha’allah I will get to work with Patricia again someday, and in the meantime, Dr. Neveen is a wonderful teacher and I’m very much looking forward to starting with her.  Now, if only I had a voice…

– The chamber choir here at AUC.  I’m TA-ing this as well as singing in it (assuming the paperwork ever goes through – ack!), so it’s actually kind of in conjunction with the conducting lessons.  It’s a lovely group – ten ladies, some really beautiful voices, and interesting rep, so I’m excited!
– The Cairo Choral Society, which is actually a community chorus “in residence” at AUC (I think that’s the official relationship, anyway).  I’m their librarian, might wind up doing sectionals with them, and am singing soprano.  They’re a great group of people (though not quite on par with the Summit Chorale vocally) and they also do good rep – Brahms right now (!!!) and this and that for a combined concert with another choir in April.  I think that rep is still being selected, actually, but all the possible choices have sounded good to me…

So, that’s my semester.  (Probably.)  Hope you’re all having a lovely Thursday; enjoy your weekend (or, er, Fridays, lol) and stories of classes will come soon…

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