Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Lord Dickens' Declaration - benefit for Spider and Jeanne Robinson

Hi everyone! Trying to get this done from Italy has proven rather difficult, so I'm just going to cut and past the information gleaned from my buddy Matthew Sanborn Smith's blog. It's about the wonderful writer, podcaster and narrator Spider Robinson and his wife Jeanne. She is sick, and they have little money to pursue all the available options for treatment. Please continue reading:

"I need your help.

"Quickly: Science Fiction author Spider Robinson's wife Jeanne is fighting cancer and they're both fighting to pay the bills. 100% of any money used to purchase Larry Santoro's excellent e-book, "Lord Dickens's Declaration," will go directly to the Robinsons. Here's the link: http://www.starshipsofa.com/shop/lord-dickenss-declaration/

"Dec 31st is the last day that people can buy Larry's story. I'd like to end the fundraiser with a bang. Let's get the word out all over the web to let people know on December 30th, there's only one day left to help. Why December 30th? Because if there's only one day left people won't put it off and say, "I'll do it later. I still have time." Make sure you link to the purchase page!

"If you've got a blog, please use it. Tell your friends that are into speculative fiction ahead of time and ask them to blog as well. And let's ask the big boys to mention it, like BoingBoing, Gaiman, Scalzi, VanderMeer and whomever else you can think of. One last big push to help some good people in a bad situation.

"Please tell me what you've done here, even if it's just sending some e-mails or tweets. Or post a link here to your blogpost. And if you happen to get a confirmation from someone like Cory Doctorow, then the rest of us won't all be bothering him for the same thing.

"A few minutes of your time is all I ask and it could make a huge difference for the Robinsons. Thanks!"

A clickable link: Lord Dickens's Declaration

Monday, December 07, 2009

Going back to work

Hi my friends!

Dante is now a full 2 months old! My, how time flies. It seems like the last 2 months of pregnancy (and pregnancy itself) were interminable and now, when I'd like to savor each moment, it just flies by in an exhausted blur!

Anyway, on the recommendation of my midwife, Sabine, and a bit of impatient pushing from one of my pupils (the one I trade lessons for massages with), I started teaching again a couple of weeks ago now! Sabine thought that I needed something besides Dante in my life, to do something for me. Her daughter, Charlotte, comes over on Monday afternoons and I teach for an hour, get a massage and then teach another pupil for an hour. It's pretty awesome. Charlotte is great with the Li'l Poet and I get some quality me time and professional, adult time.

I had originally thought I would start teaching all my pupils in December, but I've decided I just can't. I don't want to be away from Dante that much! :-) Besides, December is a crazy month anyway and short with Christmas, so I've decided I'll start again in January. I hope it works out. I have 8 people and a massage I need to fit in. Hopefully I'll manage on 2 days: Mondays and Fridays, when Charlotte can come. Magnus may be able to take over on Fridays, when he can get away from the office.

So, that's my update. Here the most adorable picture of the Li'l Poet:

Friday, November 20, 2009

Introducing (finally) The Li'l Poet

Yes, I'm finally raising my head from the depths of new motherhood to introduce my baby to the world!

His name is Dante, after the Italian poet. He was born on Oct. 3, 2009 at 2:06am. He weighed in at 4115g or 9 lbs and 55cm or 21.7 inches at birth. A big boy! In the meantime he weighs about 10 1/2 lbs (5330g).

We had a bit of a rocky start, but only mildly so. Dante got a little faint of heart after 12 hours of first phase labor (and all ready to start pushing!) and required an emergency C-section to enter the world safely. Not what I had hoped, but I'm very glad that he's otherwise healthy.

He developed a bit of jaundice too, which made him a very sleepy boy (I called him my little rag-doll for a couple of weeks), and a lazy eater. We had to feed him formula and I had to work to increase my milk supply, but after 2 weeks we went cold turkey and are breast-feeding exclusively, yea!!! He's been doing very well ever since. He cries quite a bit, because he's easily overwhelmed and overtired and doesn't want to sleep, but hopefully he'll work that out soon. The trade-off is that he's always been a good sleeper at night, usually just rousing to nurse once in the middle and managing two 4/5 hour sleeps.

Here are some pictures from the hospital and home:









Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Quick Updates

I'm finding sitting at the computer very uncomfortable these days. It's so easy to get sucked in though! :-)

Today one of my Science Fiction poetry readings has aired on StarShipSofa. It's "Clone Assassin" by Lyn C. A. Gardner.











StarShipSofa Stories Vol. 1 will be released in Hardcover! You can acquire your very own copy in the following formats: paperback, deluxe trade paperback, Hardcover, Kindle, and FREE ebook. Just follow the link.









Tomorrow, 1 October, is Support Our 'Zines Day an event masterminded by Damien Walter, a SF writer for the Guardian Blog! If you are a reader of or listener to Science Fiction and Fantasy literature, show your support of the industry by subscribing to a genre magazine (in print or digital) and/or donate to any number of podcasts, websites or authors dedicated SFF.

Still no little Dante, except in my womb... Small signs that his birth is getting nearer though. Any day now, sweetie!


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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Home Stretch

Long time no see! Yes, I apologize for going radio silent just as I've entered the Home Stretch of pregnancy. No, Dante hasn't been born yet. He's much too comfortable in there! My Mac Mini decided it had had enough (force feeding, I guess) and refused to start up. I took it to the Apple Hospital and they got it to work again. Unfortunately, there are random bits of software which are missing, so random programs don't work properly. I'm clueless about these things, so I think it'll probably be about 18 years before I stop getting random error messages. My friend, Meredith, formerly of the CtK choir in Frankfurt suggested a Big Mac might help. Maybe it's worth a try? ANYWAY...

I have a couple of things to report on:

The Final Wedding Performance

My friends Isabel and Jens asked me to sing for their wedding on 5 September. They chose Laudate Dominum from Mozart's Vespers. We had agreed that if I really wasn't up to it, I could cancel. I felt fine, and my voice was fine, but breath management was weird. I was concerned, because I needed more oxygen than I needed air to sing this piece and my body would get all stressed out by the end of it. Luckily the church was big and the balance with the organ was such that I could sing louder. Strangely, that seemed to help. I "wasted" the air I needed for oxygen's sake and the whole process was more efficient. There wasn't quite the dynamic variation that Mozart suggests, but you know what? I sang well, the bridal couple and several guests were moved, and that's what counts, no?

StarShipSofa Stories Volume 1

The first official Anthology of StarShipSofa's Aural Delights Audio Magazine is available for purchase at Lulu, a print on demand publishing house. You can also download a free ebook version of this fantastic collection of stories. Have a look at the book, which is styled after those wonderfully campy 50's pulp Science Fiction paperbacks, complete with advertisements from 50's magazines interspersed between the stories and original artwork for select stories. Click here. From there you can decide whether you'd like to purchase the book from Lulu or download. In any case, you can also donate to the StarShipSofa. As I've mentioned before, I've narrated countless stories and poetry for the SSS and Tony Smith has become a friend. Three of the stories I narrated for the podcast are appearing in the Anthology. If you listened and liked those stories or narrations you might like to have them in print and you can help out by purchasing the book. All proceeds will go toward production costs of the podcast.

Pregnancy

Officially the due date is 13 October. My doctor has gone back and forth a couple of times whether it should be the 6th or the 13th. She's now convinced it should be earlier than the 13th anyway. She declared that from 22 September she'd no longer consider it a premature birth and Dante is welcome to make his appearance. Being pregnant is definitely getting tedious and I'm so curious to meet my little boy. I've been remarkably free of problems worse than elephant feet and cankles due to water retention. I've started with acupuncture to ease the birth and next week the doc will set some needles to help with the swollen legs and feet. I wouldn't have thought, but these needles are much more uncomfortable than the ones they stick in your face for hayfever! I'm trying to rest a lot, and not over-do it. Not sleeping too well these days. Tomorrow we'll have another consultation and ultrasound at the hospital and perhaps set a last date when they'll induce if he's gotten too comfortable in there. Magnus and I will have birthing class on Saturday. Next week some friends have organized a baby shower for me. I think we are pretty much organized and anything we don't have yet won't be tragic.

That's it for now. I'm planning on reviewing a wonderful Dance production I went to recently, but I'll do that in a separate post.

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Sunday, September 13, 2009

StarShipSofa Stories Vol. 1

If you are reading this blog, you must know that I have a not-so-secret love of Speculative Fiction. I even narrate Science Fiction and Fantasy stories for podcasts, most notably StarShipSofa and Podcastle. If you don't care about Science Fiction or any of that you can skip this post. :-)

StarShipSofa is where I got my start narrating and is a podcast I listen to religiously. It's a place to hear fantastic short fiction from the genre as well as Science Fact, History of the Genre segments, poetry, Film, book and graphic novel reviews, and much more. Tony C. Smith has been producing the StarShipSofa Aural Delights show for nearly 100 episodes now. And to celebrate he's putting out a print collection of a selection of stories which have aired on the show. I had the honor of narrating 3 of the selected stories. Here's what Tony says about the project:

"StarShipSofa Stories Volume 1 is only a few days away from going on sale. Here’s a sneak preview of the cover art, designed by Skeet.

"Skeet’s brief was to create a picture that would pay homage to the 50s SF pulp magazines. I think he’s produced an amazing piece of work.

"Get ready for the 16th September when the book will be available to buy in print form. There will also be a new website and free eBook released on that day.

"I hope you think it captures the style and feel of the SF Golden Years?"

I'll post again when it's actually available and I hope you will consider purchasing a copy. All monies go toward supporting Tony's efforts in producing the StarShipSofa.

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Monday, August 31, 2009

More weddings - and singing for them too

I apologize for not having posted in a while. To be honest, I've entered the nesting stage, I think, and don't have a ton to post about. I really must figure out what I can post about when I take my baby break from teaching and singing, which will likely be from October through the end of the year.

Anyway, what I have been doing lately is singing at weddings. A couple of friends here in Hanover got married recently and asked me to sing at their weddings.

The first was in a beautiful church in a convent outside of Hanover. I was worried about this one, honestly, because the organist didn't arrive back from her vacation until 2 days prior to the event and hadn't received the music. We were doing Schubert's Ave Maria, which is no big deal for anyone worth their salt. But the other song was a German pop song made famous by Yvonne Catterfeld: Für Dich, written by Dieter Bohlen (who else?!?) of the German Pop Idol series "Deutschland sucht den Superstar". I believe there is even an English version of it. The music the couple provided us with was sparse and when playing what was written gave no indication of what the song should actually sound like. The rehearsal with the organist was a disaster. It sounded strange on an organ and she'd never actually heard Catterfeld's recording. I suggested we might actually use a Karaoke version I'd found on iTunes (for rehearsal purposes), if we could get a decent sound system. We organized that contingency plan, just in case the organist didn't manage to arrange the accompaniment well. As luck would have it, she had listened to the recording I gave her and practiced the shit out of it, so it sounded decent enough. The difference between everything being played on the organ and the one song a recording was actually worse than doing this pop song on the organ. The bride and groom were over the moon with how it turned out, so a win in the end. The organist was actually good and a nice person, so that if anyone hires me to sing and needs an organist I have someone I can recommend.

The next wedding is Saturday, Sept. 5 for a good friend of mine. They were initially reluctant to ask me to sing considering my state (9 months pregnant), but in the end we decided we'd choose a song and if I don't feel up to it, then I just won't sing. Luckily, I've been spared much difficulty with singing this pregnant. I have a VERY long waist, which means there is lots of room, UNDER my diaphragm for baby. I just don't have an abdominal muscles for emergency support at the end of phrases. All that means is that I have to breathe a bit deeper or more often and make sure I'm not tempted to have to eek out that last drop of air in my lungs, 'cause it just ain't happening. So far, I feel fine and my voice is shaping up after the long bout with a throat I had in August. I will sing Mozart's Laudate Dominum from the Vespers, which is just a lovely piece. The organist knows the version with choir, but I have a version with violin obligato, so he will work out a hybrid of the two. We'll rehearse the day of and so we'll just have to assume it will go well. :-)


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Monday, August 03, 2009

Review: Lister Musiksalon - Vivaldi and Bach

Oh, it's been a while now, but Magnus and I attended a concert at the Lister Musiksalon (the List Area Music Salon), which is run by our neighbor, Roger Heimann, out of his design/advertising studio.

This was the 2nd one I've been to, and coincidentally they were both by Professor Adam Kostecki a Hochschule für Musik und Theater (the Hannover Conservatory for Music and Theater) violin professor. Now, I like violins, but it wouldn't necessarily occur to me to choose to go to a purely violin concert. The first concert I heard at the Musiksalon was a recital of this professor's students. The quality of the playing and musicality of these kids was very high and so when I heard that Prof. Kostecki had put together a little orchestra of HMT students and they would be playing Vivaldi's Four Seasons and Bach's Double violin concerto I decided it was time I go again. Broaden my horizons, you know? :-) Ha! I'm a sucker for baroque music, even without voices.

Now having heard the concert, I'm not sure I've ever actually listened to the entire Four Seasons consciously. Everyone, literally everyone knows a few snippets from their inclusion in advertising, and I'm no different. But the entire piece is just marvelous and the student orchestra did a fine job. Even if they were playing modern instruments. :-) Prof. Kostecki played the solo violin in the first and 2nd movements and a student played the solos in the 3rd and 4th. I was moved by the professor's performance. He is from Poland and has his students play a lot of polish music, which I am pleasantly surprised to say, I've liked a lot. The orchestra did an encore by a polish composer, Henrik Mikolaj Gorecki, which was just fantastic, with elements of minimalism.

I just heard that the orchestra (also called Hannover Kammerorchester) has traveled afield to give concerts. If you see one led by Prof. Adam Kostecki, Hannover go hear them. It's worth it.

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Friday, July 31, 2009

Narration on PodCastle! Daughter of Botu, by Eugie Foster

We are interrupting our regularly scheduled broadcast....

Just wanted to let you know before it gets old, that one of my major narration projects has just gone live over at the main fantasy podcast magazine - Podcastle.

It's called Daughter of Botu, by Eugie Foster. Eugie Foster is an wonderful writer living in Atlanta and you may have heard any number of her stories in online podcast magazines such as EscapePod, ClonePod, PseudoPod and Drabblecast. You can read more about her and her over 100 publications at her website.

Daughter of Botu, an eastern story of whimsy, can be found in Eugie's short story collection, "Returning My Sister's Face: And other Eastern Stories of Whimsy and Malice" (follow the link to Amazon.com). It also received honorable mention in "The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Sixth Annual Collection", edited by Gardner Dozois. It's the story of a young "rabbit", a Daughter of Botu, who meets, falls in love with and marries a local prince. At court, in human form, her life changes drastically, and not necessarily for the good.

I really enjoyed narrating this story. It has a fairy tale quality with delightful, distinct characters.

Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

USA Trip - part III - Missoula, Montana

The trip out to Missoula was uneventful except for me feeling like doo-doo. We skipped breakfast at the hotel and opted to eat at the airport after checking in. I stupidly decided to eat only fruit salad and drink coffee, forgetting that they weren't going to give us anything at all on the plane. And they didn't! Not even pretzels. I was weak when we arrived in Missoula, but it was lunchtime so we went to this great Burrito place immediately. Tom, Barb & Sam had come to meet us at the airport, so that was a treat, getting to see the whole family right away. Tom had to go back to work after lunch, though.

I hadn't been to visit my brother since they'd finished the addition. The last time I was there, it was just the raw building and they were still living in the old part of the house. Now it looks fantastic with a wonderful 2 story Great Room and the master bedroom upstairs above the new garage.

Our first evening there we made a production of making homemade pasta with a fish Alfredo sauce, which was just divine. We tried to use the KitchenAid pasta making attachment, but the recipe was too sticky so we ended up using the hand-cranked pasta-maker. It's basically the same as the one we have, but we have a motor attachment. It was fun, everyone got involved.

I celebrated my 40th birthday on July 8th and Tom, Barb & Sammy got me a pedicure treatment at a local fancy spa. We managed to get an appointment on my birthday, so I had beautiful feet and bright red toenails for the rest of the trip! We went out to dinner with Barb's sister, Nancy and her husband, Shawn. The boys (who are of an age) stayed with the babysitter. We went to The Silk Road an interesting restaurant which serves an eclectic collection of international dishes in tapas size. You are meant to share and it was wonderful. You can even vote on the coming month's offerings on their website. After an extended dinner we headed back to Nancy and Shawn's and had cake and fireworks. They bought me a grasshopper cake. Let me just say that mint and chocolate are just about the perfect combination. Peanut butter and chocolate ranks up there too though. :-) I decided that the first day I don't have any of my birthday cake is the day my birthday is officially over. We ate cake for the next 4 days at least. The boys were so excited about doing the small fireworks they'd saved just for this occasion. We adults played with the sparklers.

We took a drive one day to a Mountain Fire Watch tower on a mountain south of town, the name of which is escaping me. It was a beautiful drive with views of Missoula and the surrounding countryside. We were able to drive all the way to the base of the tower, which is a tall wooden structure with a room at the top with windows on all sides and a walkway all around it. The stairs to the top are more like a ladder, but I had surprising little trouble with them, considering my pregnant condition. Just took it slow - the climbing gets me out of breath in a hurry! At the top we had a view of the entire area and the ranger (who lives in the tower 24 hrs a day 10 days on, 6 days off) pointed out all sorts of things.

On Friday after my birthday, we had a cook-out in the backyard and many friends and their kids came over. We had fish on the grill, including Tom's famed 85 lb. paddle-fish caught a few weeks earlier. There was also salad fresh from the garden and pizza. We played Sam's version of Croquet with the kids. It was a hoot.

On Saturday, we drove up to Seeley Lake, which is only about an hour away. We were going to go all the way to Glacier Nat. Park, but decided the drive was too long. Tom's friends the Pryor's have a cabin right on the lake that we could stay in and it was beautiful! We went on a hike to Morrell Falls, a huge waterfall after an easy 1 and a half hour hike. Afterwards, some of us went for a swim and some of us couldn't get into the glacial waters past our knees! As reward for the hike we went to Lindey's Steakhouse right in town. You go there to have steak, steak or ground steak, with salad, sauteed mushrooms, potatoes and homemade bread. There are no other options. Since the steaks were just huge, Barb and I opted to share. It was the perfect size and a beautiful meal. Magnus' craving for a really good steak while in the US was more than satisfied.

Unfortunately, the evening was slightly marred for me when my insulin pump started acting crazy. Just before dinner (after I'd ordered my virgin strawberry daiquiri) the buttons started acting funny. Barb even drove me back to the cabin to get a fresh battery, since that was the error that came up at one point, but that didn't help one bit. I finally had to leave the battery out and use my emergency set up (my old pen that I used before I got the pump). After dinner I used the one functioning mobile phone among us (Barb, the mother!) to call the Minimed Customer Service. After waiting on hold for an hour (!) the rep told me it sounded like "Severe Static Shock" and I should leave the battery out for at least 2 hours and try again with a completely new battery (not the one I'd already tried). Unfortunately, it was the only spare I'd brought to the lake with us and it was already past 10pm. I decided to make do for the night and buy new batteries in the morning. Needless to say, I didn't sleep very well, but my blood sugars were pretty good over-night anyway. The rest for the pump did the trick. Thank God! I was not looking forward to 3 days of the old system before getting back to Germany. Apparently, the Medtronic pumps are susceptible to static shock, which makes the buttons stop functioning. The explanation was that Montana is so dry and we had been on a hike for 4 hours that afternoon. Ugh.

The flight home on Monday consisted of 3 flights (Missoula-->Chicago-->Munich-->Hannover) and 16 hours of travel. We had the worst seats ever, but after having originally declined to trad with us for his window two-seater that he had to himself, a man offered to let me sit there for a couple of hours, so at least I could stretch out and get a little sleep! I was dead when we arrived home and it took me several days to recover and more than a week before I felt at all normal again.

If you'd like to see pictures of this portion of the trip please go to my Facebook photo album.

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Monday, July 27, 2009

USA Trip - part II - Chicago

Since Magnus had never spent any time in Chicago (although we've flown through or to it several times on the way home to Madison), we decided to leave Madison a day early and do a bit of the tourist thing there. Our flight to Missoula was the next day at 10am, so that was another reason to go a day before: the trip to Chicago from Madison is about 2 and a half hours and so that would have meant leaving by 6am at the latest. We prevailed upon my dad to spend the day with us there, serving as chauffeur as well. He's always game to drive someplace and it had been many years since he'd been in Chicago too.

Our plan was to drive to Larry Santoro's place near Wrigley field and then make our plans from there. Larry is an author, a director, a movie buff, who I met through StarShipSofa. He's had several stories aired on the podcast and has been active on the forum connected to it. I thought, since we were going to be in Chicago, it would be fun to meet him face-to-face.

Larry lives in a cave. Well, not literally, but he lives in an upstairs apartment (above a restaurant) at the back of the building and there are only windows at the back (short end of the one room), which makes the whole place sort of dark. But cozy! He and Tycelia (his wife) have used the shelves and shelves of DVDs as well as couches to delineate smaller spaces. He must have thousands of DVDs and books. And the biggest TV I've ever seen.

We went out for lunch nearby. I wish I could remember the restaurant's name. It was a Swedish place and they had the best cinnamon rolls ever. Think Cinnabon, but actually good. Not overly sweet, but in a good way. The pecan roll wasn't too shabby either. I had a lovely omelet as well.

After lunch we headed into the city on the L, running commentary courtesy of Larry. It was like getting a guided tour. Our mission was to get on a river boat tour. Unfortunately, we had to wait a bit, due to faulty info we received on the telephone. But that was fine with me. Larry posted his pictures on Flickr. Check them out! The tour was great. We rode first "down river" past all the architecture and then back "up river" toward Lake Michigan. Sound backwards? Well, yes, it is. The City of Chicago, lo, these many years ago, in a feat of engineering diverted the Chicago river to the Mississipi so that they could get fresh water for the city from the lake. We went out onto the lake for a view of the buildings on the lakefront.

From there we walked down Michigan to Millenium Park, where we ogled the "Bean", a huge reflective silver sculpture, in the shape of a bean. It has another, more official name, but damned if I can remember what it is! We also took a look at the bandstand designed by Frank Gehry. I'd love to go to the free open air concerts there!

My dad drove us to our hotel near O'Hare and we went to TGI Friday's for dinner and conversation.

All in all a great day. It was a hoot meeting and getting to know Larry and Tycelia. I bought his book of short stories, "Just North of Nowhere". You can read his Blog "At Home in Bluffton" where he says some very nice things about me, my singing and my narrations. Thanks Larry! It was a pleasure to meet you and spend the day with you.

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Trip to the US - last one for a while

This is not at all career related, but I expect my blogging in that respect will take a back seat to more personal themes in the coming months. Hope that's ok with you!

So now that I've entered my official 7th month of pregnancy, I won't be traveling very much any more. No more airplanes for me.

We returned last week from our last overseas trip. This time to the USA. We visited family in Madison, Wisconsin and Missoula, Montana as well as a pit-stop to meet the famous Larry Santoro in Chicago in between.

We arrived much later on Wed. 1 July than I had realized we would. When we got out of customs and baggage claim at O'Hare airport, it looked like we just might catch the 4:00pm Van Galder bus to Madison after all, so we went chasing from Terminal to terminal, but no luck, it left without us. The next one didn't leave till 5:30pm and it was a good thing actually because when we sat down with ice cream to wait and I went to check my blood sugar, I realized I must have left my monitor on the plane. Panic!! But Swiss Air was amazing. I went to the ticket desk and they called it in and while I waited (maybe 10 minutes) someone showed up with it! Phew! We arrived in Madison at about 8:30pm and my mom picked us up. We went straight home and had sandwiches for dinner.

The next few days were basically filled with spending time with my parents, eating, doing some shopping, eating, sleeping and eating some more.

We celebrated Independence Day with fireworks at Elver Park (with my dad) on July 3 and by watching the annual Greentree 4th of July parade, which begins at my old elementary school (Falk) and ends at the park (Clayton), and always goes right past our house. Magnus and I helped my oldest childhood friend Naomi and her son Riley decorate his bike, which is an essential part of the tradition. This year the weather was unseasonably cool and it rained for 5 minutes on either side of the 5 minute parade (for a total of 15 minutes). After brunch with friends and neighbors we went down to the park for the festivities. I was looking forward to games and contests (3-legged race, potato sack race, dunking machine) and other attractions (food, drink and a pony ride), but was bitterly disappointed. There were only a few games for the kids and some food and pop. Later they did have a great magician who performed for about 20 minutes. He was fun. Patty, one of my best friends from High School and CapitolAires Drum Corps came by briefly with her sister. It was great to see her again and catch up. Naomi invited us to her house for a cookout that evening.

On Sunday, the day before we left Madison, my dad hosted a cookout and I made a blanket invitation to my friends in Madison. A few key people came (Wendy & Jim, Kathy, Laura) and a couple of people I haven't seen in ages (Diane + newish family and Lola - friend Matt from HS's mother). It was delightful to see all of the them. And my dad served the world's biggest steaks from Jacobson's Meat. I complained bitterly that my belly might be growing beyond all proportions, but my stomach is getting inversly smaller!

Some pictures:



The grand set up in front of Falk Elementary School



Off we go!



Riley and his glorious bike



The masses watching the parade

Part II - Chicago next!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Madrid, Spain

Got back from Madrid late yesterday evening. We were supposed to arrive home at about 6pm but our flight was delayed in Madrid already. Ugh.

We had a great time. We arrived on Friday evening and met the groom-to-be and a group of his home-town, Italian friends for drinks and dinner. I think we ate dinner at about 10:30 pm. Which, by the way, is totally normal in Spain. A little difficult for me, because I've been in bed by that time of late... We visited the La Latina quarter and had a great meal.

We stayed at the Hesperia Hotel, which is a 5 star, and worth every star. Especially since it was only €130 per night! I don't know if that was a special rate Antonino got for us wedding guests, but I'm not complaining.

The wedding was lovely, Alicia looked so Spanish in her veil. The wedding reception was at our hotel - a blessing! We had finger food and drinks until about 4:30pm and then moved on to lunch (!). Yes, lunch. That's what they called it anyway. The food was fantastic. I had a bit of trouble with the start of the finger food, because it was all raw. But then they brought out some yummy things I could eat. It was really too bad, being in spain and not being able to eat the Iberian cured ham (basically raw) and a lot of the fish finger food. But I didn't starve!

We spent a lot of time with Antonino's Italian friends, and had a great time. They didn't complain about my slow pace or need for frequent breaks. I expect they barely noticed. Italians can't walk and talk at the same time anyway, so I often found myself walking even slower than I needed or out-pacing the pack! We took the subway everywhere and someone always got up to give me their seat. It was very sweet. We visited the main tourist attractions: The Royal Palace, the Cathedral, Plaza Mayór, Plaza del Sol, Gran Via. Drank cheap beer (well, I didn't!) and ate great, but inexpensive food. Nom!

We forgot to charge the camera batteries, so no pics at this point. We used Magnus' phone instead...


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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Is there such a thing as too much vacation?!?

On the eve of taking off on the first leg of 2+ weeks of travel (for fun) I'm finally getting around to blogging a bit. 

I was away for a good week, lazing at the seaside near Pisa, Italy; attending a wedding in Siena; and touring medieval hill towns of
Tuscany. It was a great trip. I needed to get away, get somewhere warm and sunny (as opposed to staying in cold and grey Hannover), read lots, walk, eat good food and feast my eyes. It panned out: Hannover stayed cold and rainy while we were sweating and doing our best not to get sunburned in Italy; We spent 3 days with the In-laws in Lido di Camaiore, loungeing poolside (reading, reading, reading) and walking along the beach. I managed NOT to get a sunburn, miracles of miracles; We ate extremely well, which you have to work hard not to do when in Italy; and we saw lots of beautiful places. We visited Lucca, San Miriato, Volterra, Siena and Vicopisano, all within an hour's drive of Bientina where we were squatting at a friend's place, and most of them medieval towns situated at the top of high hills with great views of the countryside. Actually, Volterra is quite a bit older than medieval. It was founded by the Etruscans thousands of years before the Romans arrived there. 

Anyway, here are some photos from our trip.
















You might have noticed a certain roundness to my mid-section.  I've mentioned it elsewhere, so most people who follow this blog, will know already that I'm expecting! A little boy will grace us with his presence sometime in October. Official due date being my dad's birthday: 10 October. We are immensely pleased.

Tomorrow we're flying to Madrid for the weekend. Another wedding to attend. Next Wednesday we'll be on our way to the USA, where we'll first visit my parents and friends in my home town of Madison, Wisconsin; spend a day in Chicago (and have lunch with the famous author, Larry Santoro) before heading out to Missoula, Montana where my brother and his family are planning the most amazing 40th birthday party for me! :-) 

See you around!

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Narration: Gunfight at the Sugarloaf Pet Food & Taxidermy, by Jeff Carlson

I've just been told that my narration of Jeff Carlson's story "Gunfight at the Sugarloaf Pet Food & Taxidermy will be available on StarShipSofa from tomorrow (Wed. 10 June, 2009). This was a fun one to do, especially because it made me think of my brother and his family who live in Montana, where this story takes place. If you get a chance, pop over to the website and download the show. I'm sure the whole show will be worth listening to. And if you like it, go show your appreciation over at the StarShipSofa's Forums. Tony always starts a new thread for each new Aural Delights show. This one will be No. 88.

Enjoy!

Also, M & I are going to Italy tomorrow for about a week. We'll be spending a few days at the seaside near Pisa with the In-laws, including M's sister and boyfriend. Then on Saturday we're attending a wedding (a former colleague of M's in Karlsruhe) in Siena. Then a few more days near Florence. It'll be nice to have some warm weather and sun.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

My Blog Wordle

For something fun:

Ah man! I wanted to publish the code for the link to my cute Wordle. I entered the text of my blog onto this site (www.wordle.net) and it created a colorful word cloud. I think this is the link:

My Blog Wordle

Original title, I know.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Feedback: Michael Bishop feature on StarShipSofa

A few weeks ago the StarShipSofa ran a shorter than normal Aural Delights show which featured SF writer Michael Bishop (No. 82). I did the narration for the main fiction story, Vinegar Peace - or the Wrong-Way, Used-Adult Orphanage.

In the course of working on the narration I had the chance to correspond with Mike and learned that his internet connection is too slow to stream the podcast or download it, so I offered to burn him a CD of the show and send it when it came out. He must have listened to the show the minute he'd opened the envelope, because I received the loveliest of thank you emails I think I've ever gotten. It made me get teary. Here is an excerpt:

Dear Diane,

Your recording of "Vinegar Peace," along with your letter, arrived yesterday, not long after I'd sent you an e-mail. Please know that everything arrived intact and that we are heartily grateful to you for your thoughtfulness and generosity in providing us with a CD of your narration of the story and my introduction, a CD that also contains lead-in music, Tony Smith's extraordinarily kind remarks about the "privilege" of presenting the story, and a sensitive reading of "Jamie's Hair" by Jim Wilson (a.k.a. Dale Manley).

If you would, I'd appreciate your telling Tony Smith how much this episode of "StarShipSofa" (or "Audio Delights"?) means to us and to apologize to him for my not getting back to him sooner with a positive response to every aspect of the program. ... In any case, a bravo to everyone for every aspect of this show and to the artist who did the powerful online cover for it.

Diane, your reading is pitch perfect, as is your singing of the lullaby "All the Pretty Horses" -- I really like the way that, at a certain point, your narration resumes over the singing -- and your rendition of the "hymn" "Bold Gory." These touches, along with your credible impersonations of various characters throughout, animate and lend what seems to me heartfelt emotional depth to the piece. Thank you so much.

...

In any case, Diane, I have no doubt at all that you were the right person to narrate "Vinegar Peace." Bless you.

Sincerely,

Mike


I am grateful for his kind words.

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Review: Handel's La Resurrezione (NDR Radiophilharmonie - Hannover)

Wow, it's been ages ago - I simply forgot to blog about this concert.

A good friend, and my husband's boss, is a massive fan of all that is baroque. For his birthday, he invited the two of us and a few other friends to join him in attending a concert of G.F. Händel's rarely performed oratorio "La Resurrezione" (the Resurrection).

It was performed by the NDR (Northern German Radio) Radiophilharmonie orchestra in the NDR Landesfunkhaus Niedersachsen (Lower-Saxony State Broadcasting House) as part of their baroque concert series.

I was a little skeptical since the orchestra is not a specialized baroque orchestra and I had never heard of any of the soloists (but that doesn't mean much, to be honest). The director, Michael Hofstetter, however was someone I had heard of as a specialist in baroque opera. That, and Hannover being a hot-bed of baroque music, I figured it would probably be good after all.

I was not at all disappointed with the orchestra and the conductor and his interpretation. It was a large orchestra, with many added baroque instrumentalists (who were sadly not credited anywhere, not even in the program!), including 2 theorbo players, 1 theorbo/baroque guitar, harpischord and Viola da Gamba players (whom I actually know (Irene Klein, Berlin) and spoke with in the interval). Irene Klein is an excellent Viol player and she had several obligato parts in the arias, which I very much enjoyed. The Radio Symphony orchestra played sensitively and/or dramatically as needed. The acoustics of the hall are excellent for instrumental music and it was a delight to listen to them. The Radio Choir was also excellent, but they had a thankless job. 2 pieces one each at the end of each act.

The singers on the other hand, while not bad, were nearly all of them not very good, in my humble opinion. I know, I have this problem: Being a voice teacher and attuned to hearing the slightest faults in a voice makes it nearly impossible for me to enjoy vocal concerts. It's rare for me to hear a voice I'm completely pleased with.

Unfortunately, there was only one voice I found little fault with (the Tenor, Bernhard Berchtold, who sang the part of St. John, the Apostle). The only things I didn't appreciate was his lack of dynamic variation (all on the quiet, gentle side - could be worse, right?) and his utter lack of legato singing. He was also often short on breath, probably from not singing legato. Otherwise, the quality of his voice is quite fine. A light, lyrical tenor with perfect diction - really the only singer whose words were understandable and correct. He has an advantage being a tenor though.

The next best singer, Stephanie Houtzeel, Mezzo-soprano, who sang Maria Cleophas, sang with a rich, even tone and was very musical, with lots of variation. The biggest problem with her was that she was impossible to watch. So much tension! One of the people we were with likened her physical presence to that of ??? (drat! can't remember his name right now (pop musician), it's been on the tip of my tongue for hours now...). She would stiffen her right hand and shoulder, pull her head toward her left (!) shoulder and grimace, singing basically out of one side of her mouth. That just screams that things aren't working to me. She was, however, very deft at covering it up, and she really does have a fantastic talent. Just makes me sad that there's obviously no one telling her these things, or that she hasn't noticed it herself and gotten help. We singers are just too proud sometimes. Or scared.

As for the other singers: The 2 sopranos and the bass, all have beautiful voices and loads of talent, all spoiled a bit by technical deficiencies. Kirsten Blaise, who sang the Angel, was thrillingly facile in the coloratura bits, and had a good sense of the dramatic. But otherwise, her big problem was that when she sings loudly the registration is too chest register dominant, which then drops out when she takes the weight off. The effect is that she has essentially two voices and only two basic dynamic levels with which to sing: loud and dramatic (and shrill) or quiet and breathy, which is certainly an emergency measure but she uses it for dramatic effect, so it comes across as artistry. The juxtaposition of these two modus operandi is a bit shocking to the listener's ear. Heidrun Kordes, who sang Maria Magdalena, has left little impression on me after a few week's removal, I'm afraid. I remember having some pretty distinct impressions, though. Ah yes, she had some pretty odd throat constrictions, which popped into "view" on certain vowels, most notably, (E) as in "bed" or "said". This was unfortunate because otherwise, she has quite a lovely voice. The bass/Lucifer, Josef Wagner, had just one dynamic: fortissimo, epidemic among basses as well as poor diction.

I find it shocking how rare it is to find a classical singer you can actually understand. Concern these days is often placed solely on a "beautiful" sound at the expense of nearly everything else. If singers would pay more attention to vowel quality and intensity many of the inconsistencies and "problems" would melt away and the tone become more unique and truly beautiful. But many are so busy covering up technical deficiencies they have no idea how to actually remedy them.

OK, off my soap box now. It all sounds quite dire what I've written, but I think most listeners would have been quite satisfied with the concert and the level of musicianship and the quality of what was offered. All in all it was an excellent concert, me, I would just like to hear a good singer more often than not.

The concert is being broadcast on NDR Kultur Radio (98.7 MHz) on 26 June at 8:00pm (20:00). Listen and tell me what you think!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Catching up - UK trip

Wow, I'm a bad blogger. I have fun and perhaps interesting things to blog about and I don't manage to get around to it...

2 weekends ago Magnus and I attended some friends' wedding in Sheffield, England. We took the opportunity to visit some other friends in N. England and had a bit of a whirlwind trip because of it. We stupidly flew to Manchester instead of Newcastle, which would have been wiser, because we then jumped into a rental car and drove the 3 hours to visit Tony Smith of the StarShipSofa.

This was our first face-to-face meeting, in the flesh, as it were and it was quite exciting! Tony records the new weekly Sofanauts show on Friday afternoons and so I appear on episode No. 5 as a live studio guest! What a gas! You can listen to all or a bit of it here: Sofanauts No. 5 In case you don't know, the Sofanauts is a new panel-type podcast in which Tony invites 2 or 3 guests and there is much talk and discussion on current events or issues in the Science Fiction community. It's fun, but perhaps only if you're interested in that sort of thing.

Tony and Mrs. StarShipSofa are gracious hosts and the kids are great! Their house is beautiful, full of bright colors and quirky art and character. Tony's daughter vacated her room for the night so Magnus and I had a bed to sleep on - thank you E! Tony receives complimentary copies of several new books each week and they are starting to pile up. He practically begged us to take a few off his hands. So we did. Titles by Hal Duncan, Cory Doctorow, Anne and Todd McCaffrey, Patricia Biggs and Alison Goodman. We had a lovely evening just gabbing about various and sundry over dinner and into the evening. Unfortunately, we had to leave relatively early the next morning to drive to Sheffield for the wedding, which started at 1pm.

The wedding and the reception were beautiful and we knew a couple of other people at the wedding. The couple being married were Jane and Anthony and Jane and I sang in the CtK Choir together in Frankfurt and Jane took singing lessons from me for about a year. I suppose I met Anthony at the same time as Jane, because he came to Frankfurt to visit our choir director, Stephen Hartley, and sang with the choir when he was there. It was lovely to see Stephen and Joyce, whom I haven't seen since he left Frankfurt. We never managed to travel to York to visit them while we were living in London. For shame! I fizzled pretty early and we skipped the Ceilidh in the evening, which I would have loved, but I think fast energetic dancing is out for the time being... (more on that later).

On Sunday we drove up to Lancaster to visit our friends Andy and Lizzy and their 8 month old Phoebe. We had a great time just catching up. We visited the Butterfly House in Williamson Park near the Ashton Memorial and I took some photos with my new Nokia, but they're not so great. Let see:


Friday, May 08, 2009

Report: 15th Free the Voice seminar in Frankfurt

Near Easter each year, Dr Hochs Konservatorium and the German Musician's Association host and sponsor the singing technique seminar "Free the Voice". Cornelius Reid himself gave the masterclass for the first 10 years and handed the reigns over to Carol Baggott-Forte, when, at 92 years of age, he decided it was too much to travel to Europe. I first attended the seminar in 1996 and have been hooked on Funtional Voice Training ever since. I attended every year when Cornelius was still coming, traveled to New York City to have lessons with him and found myself teachers employing his theories here in Germany. The first year Carol took the masterclass over I was only in town for 1 day, so I listened and was impressed. She seems to channel Cornelius in mannerisms, but she has her own style. She is extremely knowledgeable and yet intuitive, combined with a kind of fearlessness she gets amazing results in a short period of time, just like Cornelius did.

It always seemed to be the same situation, that I was traveling when Carol was in Frankfurt and so I had one lesson with her until 2006. By that time I'd moved to London and was gladly informed that she was doing a seminar in Brighton, just a short train ride away. It was amazing. I had had a bad cold, basically losing my voice and 3 weeks later it hadn't really recovered. I was still having trouble with notes in the upper passaggio and above and I was traveling to the US the week after the seminar to sing concerts with Elysium. Ack! Carol worked magic on my voice, took me in a new direction, which has turned out to be the beginning of wonderful changes in my voice and technique and I felt like I'd never sung better! Since then I've attended nearly every class Carol has given in Europe traveling to Lyon and Paris, France and to Frankfurt and also organized for Carol to teach in Hannover in February.

This years seminar was a good experience. I was able to attend for an entire week, listening to lessons for upwards of 6 hours a day and having 3 lessons myself. Unfortunately, I had had a(nother) cold just after the St. John's Passion concert and was still hacking up pflegm from under my larynx just days before going to Frankfurt. I had a lesson on the first day of the seminar and the cords were still swollen. They decided they were done after about 15 minutes. Until then it was a very good lesson. :-) I waited until the end of the week to take the other 2 lessons and they were great.

I wanted to insert the recording of my last lesson that I made on my phone, but for some reason it won't upload. Sigh.

Listening to lessons is a very valuable experience as well and I always try to listen to as many as I can. It's interesting to hear the progression from one lesson to the next as well. Carol's focus is more and more on professional singers and teachers of singing, so the level of the singers attending is quite high. There's not a whole lot of relevance for my own teaching since I teach beginners, young singers and amateurs for the most part, but it's ear-training which is all-important.

And the great news is that it appears Carol is serious about moving to Europe for at least part of the year. Her husband is Italian and she really enjoys doing these seminars here so they are now taking steps to make it a reality. She doesn't know where they'll "settle", but anywhere in Europe would be really helpful and facilitate any classes she gives around Europe. w00t!!!

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Report: St. John's Passion / Johannespassion - Wiesbaden

Man am I behind! I sang the soprano solos in the St. John Passion at the Bergkirche (Hill Church) in Wiesbaden over a month ago! In my defense, you might remember that when I returned I was still in the midst of my enforced (by our ISP) internet-less period. Then, Magnus and I took off for our Easter visit to the In-laws in Italy. I had about 24 hours at home before I left for Frankfurt where Carol Baggott-Forte was teaching for a week. I'll write about that in a subsequent post.

Anyway. Overall, my experience was a good one. I had an easy trip to Wiesbaden, arriving quite early. The other soloists were very nice, which is always a plus and I had a chance to chat with the Alto soloist (who actually lives in Hannover too) and the Bass soloist. I was a little nervous for the rehearsal, which I attribute to wondering so much whether I was prepared enough and concerned that it had been so long since I sang in such a production. My singing wasn't stellar in the rehearsal, but it wasn't horrible either.

I stayed with my good friend and colleague, Bastian Baumann, who played the portative organ for the Passion. That was a stroke of luck because we were able to run through my arias at his house on the day of the concert. Bastian has a lovely way of getting the best out of me, giving clear suggestion as to how to improve things. He does this in such an encouraging way and that helped to calm my nerves.

The church was full to the brim and there were several of my former pupils from Frankfurt as well as my friend Caroline in the audience. We soloists were able to sit with our backs to the audience when we weren't singing, which for me was a God-send. The soprano soloist has but two arias to sing in this oratorio and Bach was so kind as to put one within the first 15 minutes and the 2nd (more difficult one) within the last 15 minutes. If that doesn't sound like a bad thing to you, then picture sitting in a cold church for an hour and a half between arias while your voice and your body falls asleep. Sitting facing the orchestra and choir meant that I could discreetly sing along with the choir and thereby keep my voice alive. It worked beautifully and I was even more satisfied with the 2nd aria (Zerfliesse mein Herze) that I was with the first (Ich folge dir gleichfalls).

Overall, I'd say the quality of this production was extremely high. The choir was, as usual, excellent and Christian Pfeifer (the Music Director and conductor) put together a fantastic baroque orchestra. I can't wait to hear the recording. When I get it I'll post my arias for your listening pleasure either here or at MySpace (providing the link, of course) or both.

The one review that appeared in the local paper after the concert was quite favorable all in all. The critic was slightly less impressed with my performance that with the other soloists, writing "Diane Severson proved to be very discreet and agile, she could, however, gain a bit more aplomb." I actually felt rather calm during the concert and could concentrate well on singing the music and being in the moment, but I guess I can't be surprised or wonder much about the critique.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Michael Bishop featured on StarShipSofa (I narrated the main fiction)


I narrated Vinegar Peace, a SF story written by Michael Bishop for his son Jamie Bishop who died two years ago at the Virginia Tech shootings.

" "Vinegar Peace" grew from this disaster and from a grief that I can't imagine ever laying totally aside. Jeri and I mourn Jamie's loss every day in some private way, and we think continually of all the other parents and loved ones of the slain and injured who will carry a similar burden with them until they die. We think, too, of the parents and loved ones of the dead and wounded from the United States' optional war in Iraq, who long for their dead and who pray for their injured with an intensity not a whit different from our own. How ironic that our son died on American soil. How sad the wasted potential and disfigured lives resulting from violence everywhere. And forgive me the inadequacy of these remarks. Clearly, I wrote a story because I could not address either my outrage or my grief in any other way." - Michael Bishop

StarShipSofa - http://www.starshipsofa.com - is very honoured and humbled to be allowed to bring this story to a wider audience. I know I speak for the SF community when I say our hearts and prayers go out to Mike and Jeri and all the families who have to live with this grief every day.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Narrations on StarShipSofa

Recently, I reported having done a lot of work lately on narrations for the StarShipSofa. Many of those stories haven't aired yet, but these are the ones that have:

Poetry by Ann K. Schwader - In Aural Delights Episodes #69 and #70 toward the beginning of the shows you can hear "Time Trapped" and "If Cold is a War" respectively.

Bruce Boston "People" poems - This is a small collection of 3 poems which are loosely related, entitled, Chess People, Marble People and Gargoyle People. On my suggestion Tony interspersed them throughout the show. I thought, since they have similar structures, listeners might get more out of them if they could hear them in one show. Normally Tony would have only included one per show. Feedback on the Forums was positive!

Aural Delights Episode #71

The good ship StarShipSofa undertook the massive task of publishing in audio all the Nebula Award Nominees in the Short form category. You can hear the one I narrated - "26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss" by Kij Johnson in Aural Delights #72 This is a nice story, and not so out there that folks who don't like Science Fiction or Fantasy much might actually enjoy. It's about 30 minutes long, so not a whole lot of investment!

Enjoy!

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Monday, April 06, 2009

Returning soon!

I apologize for the decided lack of communication on all fronts: email, phone, blog, Twitter, facebook and MySpace have all been experiencing Radio Silence. We have broadband at home and 2 weeks ago tomorrow it simply stopped working. No landline or internet! The company we use (1und1) has terrible customer service! Anyway, I'm writing this using my phone so I'll keep it brief. I just wanted to let you know that I should connected up again on Wed. I have a couple of things to report on and then I'll be heading to Italy for 10 days: Easter with the In-laws. After that I'll be attending the 15th annual Free-the-Voice seminar taught by Carol Forte in Frankfurt. So, you won't be hearing much from me till May most likely. Until then have a blessed Easter!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Stumble Audio

I just discovered that my CD "Silence" with lutenist Meinhard Gerlach is on Stumble Audio. This is a fun site, where you hear random tracks from CDs available on CD-Baby. You can give each track you hear a thumbs up or down and choose your favorite genre or listen completely randomly.

Silence can be found in the Contemporary section of the overall Classical genre. Here's a link to the song "Silence":

Title from Silence at Stumble Upon

And yes, we do get paid (granted it's peanuts!) for each play. From stumble audio you can click links to go to CD-Baby or Amazon or other sites to buy the album (or just listen to the whole thing). If you like what you hear, please don't forget to log-in and give it a thumbs up. I'd suggest pausing it or logging in early, because you can't back-track once the song is finished playing. If you end up at Amazon or CD-Baby, please write a review. We'd be eternally grateful!

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Upcoming events

A flurry of activity is marking my days lately. Well, relatively speaking anyway. Aside from teaching and recording for the StarShipSofa (and not much of that actually), I haven't done much the past few months. That has changed to a certain extent (I'm still not what a lot of people would call busy, and stress isn't really a part of my life at the moment, but, you know, it's all relative).

I will be singing for a wedding on March 21st. Weddings are small, low-key affairs for me. I usually sing 2 or 3 songs (in this case it's 2) and they are usually songs that are familiar to me and not too difficult technically. I'll be singing Amazing Grace and Climb Ev'ry Mountain (from Sound of Music) for this one. Had a bit of a hiccup when 2 days ago the organist called and said she is bowing out of playing these songs for the wedding. Huh? She said, the arrangements were not suited for the organ (well, I told her *that*) and she didn't want to play them. I think she thought that I had chosen the music I was to sing. I said to her, I have a hymn accompaniment for Amazing Grace which is certainly more suited to the organ, if that would help, but as for Climb Ev'ry Mountain, there is simply no other arrangement that I could find and I had hoped she would be able to cope. I was wrong. She simply flatly refused (2 weeks before the wedding I might add) and said she'd already spoken to another accompanist, one that had an electric piano that he could use. Fine with me, but is it fine with the Bride, I asked. Well, she hadn't spoken with her yet, but she would. So I called the new accompanist to arrange a rehearsal and discuss things with him. He asked me about his payment. What do I know? That's something he and the Bride and possibly the organist are going to have to work out. He told me the organist said I'd arrange that! Sheesh! She seems to live in la-la-land, this one! So, to make a short story even longer - it's all worked out now and I'm sure I'll prefer working with the pianist more than I would have the organist!

A couple of weeks ago I got a call, out of the blue, from a church musician in Wiesbaden, Germany for whom I've sung before. He wanted to know if I was free on April 4 to sing Bach's St. John Passion? I tried to remain calm, but in my mind I was saying, "Duh! I would be over-joyed, I would kiss your feet for giving me this opportunity, Thank God I'll get to sing a real concert again!" I told him, "Yes, I'm free and I'll be glad to sing for you again." Yippee! It's been about 2 years since I sang solo in an oratorio, and I tell ya, I've missed it.

So now, I've got my work cut out for me. I'll keep you posted.

I've recently finished recording a couple of stories for the StarShipSofa, which will be airing eventually. One was a story I've been working on for months. The Green Calling, by Storm Constantine. It's not that long, about 45 minutes total, but for some reason, I was have a really hard time with this one. I recorded most of it, got distracted and when I came back to it, I realized that it sucked. The accents were horrible and my narration was flat. I realized also that just recording the rest would not cut it either, because there'd be no way I could match the beginning to the end. So, I just re-recorded the whole thing. Then came the editing. Because I'd played with accents on this one (and the still suck, but not as much as before) I had a lot of flubbers to edit out. I can't say how many hours I spent on this one, but it was far and away the most of any story I've done so far.

Another story is Vinegar Peace - or the Wrong-Way, Used-Adult Orphanage by Michael Bishop. This is a great story. Mr. Bishop was motivated to write this story as a way of processing the grief over the death of his son in the shooting incident at Virginia Tech a few years ago. This is an event that was actually covered on the news here and I remember it distinctly. I corresponded with Mike a few times to work out some of the details and clear some things with him. He's a very gracious man and I enjoyed our exchanges. I had two songs to sing in this one and it's a powerful story. He also wrote a short commentary, which will follow the story when it airs on StarShipSofa.

Upcoming recordings are: 26 Monkeys by Kij Johnson - a Nebula Nominee! I'm really looking forward to this one; Poetry by Bruce Boston; Daughter of Botu by Eugie Foster - this one will be fun too, it's for PodCastle; Silence in Florence by Ian Creasey; and Project Mastodon a novel by Clifford Simak that I'm doing for SFAudio.


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Friday, February 27, 2009

Opera Review - Idomeneo, Hannover Staatsoper

I've been meaning to write this review since we went to see the opera, but life kind of got in the way...

For Valentine's Day my husband surprised me with tickets to see Mozart's first successful opera, Idomeneo at the Hannover Staatsoper (State Opera House). I'd never seen it and didn't know much of the music, just the odd soprano aria or two, so I was excited!

As we approached the opera house we passed Littfaßsäule (one of those wide pillars onto which they paste posters of current and future events) with a poster for the opera. We looked at each other in horror. Oh no, it's a modern production. Just so you know, neither of us is a fan of modern productions, which is to say modern costumes, modern sets etc. I love costume dramas (movies) and Early Music, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that I don't like them. That said, if I ever saw one that was really well done, then I'm sure I would like it, but I never have, sad to say. In this country, they love minimalism and nudity on stage (even if it has nothing to do with what's going on on stage) and as far as I'm concerned, if you are going to do an opera from the ranks of the standard repertoire with modern production elements, then certain other aspects (the singing, the acting) MUST be top-notch. And unfortunately, this is rarely the case. But before I get ahead of myself let me just say this: We were not excited by the prospect of Idomeneo set in the modern world.

Magnus had gotten us really excellent seats, 2nd balcony, first row, towards the middle so we had a great, head-on view and good sound.

The curtain went up and the entire stage was WHITE, with a huge white block (about 12 - 15 feet (4 - 5m)high, 6 (2m) feet wide and 25 - 30 feet (6-8m) long. HUGE. This block was mounted on a mechanical turntable and it slowly spun around. It did this throughout the entire opera. The costumes were completely in white and all the singers had blond hair (or wigs) and white (real or painted) skin. So, monotone is the only and quite accurate word to describe it. Later, when Idomeneo appears bloodied after a harrowing sea voyage, there's lots of red "blood" that gets distributed. Pointless, but a welcome relief from all the white. The stage director (Philipp Himmelmann)also did nothing to help the audience understand the mistaken intentions and intrigues of the story. The characters often sing duets, but aren't actually singing to each other, in fact, if it had been a movie they probably would have used a split screen to indicate that the people aren't actually in each other's presence. But here, the singers acted as though they were singing to each other, touching one another and gesturing: "Why doesn't he realize I love him!" "She spurns my passion - how shall I live?1?". Um, sorry, but I think the stage director completely missed the point.

So, on to the actual singing. The singers, for the most part, were fine. I was pleased to see that my favorite singer from Carmen (Arantxa Armentia) was playing Electra. Unfortunately, she was overly dramatic (which given that her character is the most dramatic one, is reason to forgive her that) and she over-sang the entire time, occasionally to the point of ugliness. Strangely, she was the one who over-sang the least in Carmen, which was my biggest criticism of that opera. Why would she do so in a Mozart opera?!? The other female singers, as I said were fine, especially Ania Wegrzyn, who sang Ilia. She has a fine lyrical voice with lots of understated power. Barbara Senator (Idamante) was a bit weak, especially in comparison to Wegrzyn, but the quality of her voice was pleasant. My biggest gripe: You couldn't understand a word any of them were singing. The vowels were much too dark, (which is a-typical of Italian) with little differentiation.

Tomasz Zagorski, who sang the title role of Idomeneo, was magnificent, however. Nuanced and lyrical, with subtle emotional qualities able to express themselves. AND you could understand his Italian. A fine belcanto-style voice. He deserved much more of an ovation than he received. I'll keep my eye out for future roles he sings.

The orchestra, as usual, was solid and enjoyable. The musicians were occasionally more entertaining than the opera itself.

Besides Zagorski, the choir was a highlight of the evening. They were omnipresent, for which I pitied them (I know what it's like to be required on stage even when you have nothing to do). But they have a wonderful ensemble quality with some fine voices doing the bit solos.

Let's see. Maybe the 3rd opera we see in Hannover will be the charm? At least this one was a definite improvement on Carmen.


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Monday, February 16, 2009

We'll be trudging up the mountain...

Yes, last weekend I was in Switzerland. Magnus and I took off to visit my friend Jane (the Viol player) in Aarau where she lives on Saturday.

We flew into Zurich and had a few hours to kill before catching a train to Aarau. We did about half of the main tourist tour. Zurich is pretty cute for a biggish city. We went to a Pizzeria near Jane's for dinner. Yum.

Sunday, we left quite early in the morning, took 2 trains (picked up a friend) and a bus to the side of a mountain, had hot chocolate first (as one does) and took off. It didn't take long before we had to strap on the snow shoes. Have you ever worn snow shoes? Do you have any idea how heavy those things get after about 20 steps in 3 feet of snow?!? Do you?!? I thought not. Well, I didn't either. I just thought, when Jane suggested it, "How cool, I've always wanted to try that!" I did quite well until about hour 5, when my slow plodding became weary trudging. We still had an hour to go. I'm ashamed to say I let Jane carry my small backpack the rest of the way (she insisted!)and it was a huge weight off my back. And my feet, quite literally! OK, all complaining aside, we wandered through pristine snow and saw almost no one (although a group of about 15 Germans passed us coming the other way). We ended up at a little plateau with several mountain cottages that belongs to the Spelunking club that Jane is a member of. This was pretty rustic - it had only a gas fired space heater (which worked fine because there was only one small room) and gas lamps. No running water and a latrine next to another building 50 yards away through the snow. We made Fondue for dinner. It was heavenly. We slept in the unheated attic, which was basically open to the elements. Jane's boyfriend had joined us there in the evening and created a warm nest for us out of wool blankets and 4 or so sleeping bags. I had also brought along my arctic sleeping bag so I was toasty! Except for my nose. Magnus had to flip his head one way and then the other an hour later to warm up his ears periodically.

One mishap: Magnus lost both his cell phones, which were in his jacket pocket in a plastic bag. Ly went all the way the next morning and didn't find them. By the time the snow melts and someone picks them up they'll be ruined...

We had a leisurely breakfast, packed up, strapped on those damned snow-shoes and slid down the mountain. We caught a bus to Interlaken and another to the base of the mountain across from the famous Eiger, ??? and Jungfrau mountains. From there we took a "train" straight up the side of the mountain and then a ski lift (in a cabin) two stations to the top. There we rented sleds. We had a lot of fun sledding down the mountain. Unfortunately we only had time for two runs.

We took the last lift down and returned to Aarau. We had a nice dinner at Jane's with her boyfriend, Tino as well. Next morning we took the train to Zurich, where we only had about an hour and a half. We wanted to look around, but Jane told us about a Mexican shop close to the train station. They weren't open for another 20 minutes when we got there so we had a cup of coffee in a nearby cafe. We bought salsa, spices, corn flour (yellow and blue!), black beans, chorizo and jalapeno peppers. Mmmmh! We also wanted to buy some Swiss cheese so headed over to the Coop and bought three different kinds: Guyère, Brie, and Vacherin. Mmmmh!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

La voce libera - Masterclasses in Hannover a Success!

Yes, folks, the masterclass week in Hannover is come and gone and was a complete success! Carol arrived on Monday evening and taught a few lessons (I got one too) at my place on Tuesday morning. Wednesday was the first day of the official seminar and everything went very smoothly. It was great seeing some participants from classes in Paris, Lyon or Frankfurt and to hear their sometimes astonishing improvement. We had one hiccup due to the fact that I'm not really the best of organizers: Instead of 11 lessons to teach on Thursday (already 1 more than prefered), suddenly there were 12 people on the list! Ack! Luckily, I was able to convince a woman from Hannover to come to my house on Saturday for a lesson. Phew, narrowly missed the dog-house there!

I can hardly believe it, but we made it in under budget! That means that our participation fee was just right. Not too low and not too high. Double Phew!

We would love to make these classes in Hannover, Germany a yearly occurance. It depends on Carol's availability and on the other seminar weeks in Germany. It would be best to spread them out logically. Carol and Aldo are considering living in Europe (probably Lyon, France) for a few months of the year in winter. That would make logistics sooooo much easier! Will keep you posted.

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Monday, February 02, 2009

Be Like Bruce - Forgive. Accept. Hug.

I went to Frankfurt this weekend. I lived in Frankfurt for many years, and still maintain close ties to my friends and the church I went to - the Church of Christ the King, one of the English language churches in the city. Unfortunately, my reason for the trip was not a happy one. Bruce Hunter, a long-time, upstanding member of the church, a singer in the Darmstadt Opera Choir and the church choir, father of 2 teen-age daughters was killed tragically in a bicycle/automobile collision Tuesday, 20 January. He was riding his bike and an elderly driver was blinded by the setting sun. The man reached to pull down the sun visor and got caught on the steering wheel (don't ask me! I don't know how that happens) and veered to the side hitting and ran right over Bruce. He died on the scene.

Now this is someone who was very active in the church, but not only that he was one of the most positive, loving, inspirational people any of us had ever known. He always had a huge smile on his face and a sparkle in his eye. His faith was strong. He wore loud clothing. His voice was rich, and warm and powerful. It's hard to believe he's really gone on to the Kingdom of Heaven he was so fervently believed in. He helped create the Kingdom of Heaven here on Earth, which is where it really needs to be.

He was loved by so many people - over 400 people came to the funeral on Saturday. The opera choir traveled in a bus and sang the Ave Verum by Mozart. The children's choir sang On Eagle's Wings, his daughter Miriam and the youth group performed a song she'd written. The adult choir sang Shall We Gather By the River/Deep River by Carter, and a man Bruce had studied with in Indiana sang the solo. We also sang Give Me Jesus. People came from all over Europe and the USA to be there for the funeral and the choir was augmented by former members (including me). It was like a time-warp. And it was an emotional roller coaster. Singing, weeping, laughing, weeping, singing, weeping, laughing. All inspired by this wonderful man.

It was bittersweet. We've lost a shining star in the world and I had to say farewell. But at the same time, his death achieved what he did in life so well: Many (old) friends (Allan, Kathy, the Sladdins, Dorothee, Annabelle, John N. and more), some of whom I hadn't seen in years, arrived and we sang together.

Someone had made pins for all of us to wear:

Be Like Bruce
Forgive. Accept. Hug.

World Improvement Plan:
Be Like Bruce

Friday, January 30, 2009

La Voix Liberée - Masterclass in Paris

Last week I was in Paris. I really could have been anywhere for all I saw of Paris, but it was nonetheless the wonderful to be there.

I was there for 5 days of Masterclasses with Carol Baggott-Forte, a singing teacher from Canada. I've talked about her and her work in previous posts, here and here. She works with voices in the same manner as my beloved, late mentor Cornelius L. Reid (no not the baseball player!).

We convened in the Canadian Student House on the campus Cité Universitaire in south Paris. They had a nice big room with a grand piano. Unfortunately, it was colder than the dickens, because we had to keep the loud, rattling heater off during lessons. But I digress. There were several people I knew from other classes Carol has given in various European cities (Brighton, Lyon and Frankfurt), it's one big family. We are trying to bring more people into the family, but it is slow going. I was especially pleased that my friend Alexa from Toronto made the trip over. We had fun and formed a nice mutual admiration society together with Thomas from Hamburg.

I had 5 lessons in 5 days. Hoo boy! Are we getting into some tough stuff with my voice. It's a really good thing too, because it's starting to cause problems. I'm confident we are on the right path and that my voice will sort itself out. I will get a couple more lessons while Carol is here in Hannover, so we can continue the work. I would really like to go to Canada and have lessons for 2 weeks straight. Will have to consider that.

It was also incredibly worthwhile listening to Carol teach and I learned some new tricks for my own pupils. Unfortunately, most of the participants in Paris were advanced singers or singers familiar with the work and with a high degree of musical experience and musicality. A lot of it doesn't apply to my own students at the moment and I'd love to pick Carol's brain or hear her work with a beginner with a limited amount of talent. Now that would be interesting.

While I was in Paris I stayed with my good friend and Prosperity Girl Sue and her husband Xavier. It was so kind of them to let me crash at their place, eat their food and take off everyday for most of the day. Of course Xavier had to work and Sue had things to do during the day too, so it wasn't so tragic, but still. They were very tolerant. I had a great time with them. We watched the inauguration together and cried together! :-)

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StarShipSofa - Aural Delights #61

This week on the StarShipSofa:



Aural Delights No 61 Ken MacLeod

Editorial: The Sofa’s Gadgets by Tony C Smith 02:50

Poem: Our Fallen Do Not Fall by Ann K Schwader, blog 20:20

Flash Fiction: The War At Home by Lewis Shiner 21:30

Fact: Science News by Jim Campanella 29:30

Main Fiction: Jesus Christ Reanimator by Ken MacLeod 47:00

Fact: The Sofa Art Cover by Skeet 01:16:00

New Titles: David Williams Mirrored Heavens 01:24:30

Narrators: Diane Severson, Matthew Wayne Selznick, Fred Himebaugh

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Belcanto - La voce libera (or the singing seminar I'm organizing)

It appears that I haven't blogged about the progress of the seminar with Carol Baggott-Forte. Or indeed anything at all!  A gross oversight!

My teacher, Carol Baggott-Forte, who is one of the most advanced teachers following in Cornelius Reid's footsteps, is making a trip to Europe to teach classes for a few weeks. She normally resides near Niagara, Canada.  When I heard that she was planning to teach in France again for 2 weeks, I quick spoke to my colleague and fellow Reid-ite, Tobias Tiedge and we decided we should tried to get Carol to come to Hanover for a seminar at the same time (in order to consolidate costs of flights, etc.).  She said she was willing and we agreed she would come after her classes in France for a period of 3 days.

Tobias and I worked out the details, I created a poster and a brochure/registration form and we sent them out to all our contacts, put notices up on the 'net, hung the poster all over town and posted the notice on the German Functional Voice Forum on Yahoo. That was about a week before Christmas. 

There have been some minor bumps in the road along the way, but at the moment things look very good indeed. 

We have room for 10 active participants taking 2 or 3 lessons with Carol over the course of 3 days, and as of this writing we have filled the course. Our desire is to give preference to singers from Hanover, Berlin or Hamburg and/or to those who've never done this sort of work before. Unfortunately, we haven't had many random inquiries, but a couple.  The rest who've applied are all individuals who have either worked with Carol or Cornelius previously. 

Tobias and I are meeting today to work out final details and perhaps decide on the actual participants, considering we have one more applicant than there is capacity. Registration closes on Friday, so who knows who might still contact one of us.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Symphony concert

I don't go to concerts much anymore. Mostly, I'm too lazy and then the close runner-up reason is I'm generally discouraged from going because I'm usually disappointed. Being a professional musician is hard cross to bear. Sometimes, it can really spoil the fun.

I go to even fewer instrumental concerts, because it just doesn't interest me that much, but I did last night. Magnus and I went to the Opera House and heard the Hanover Symphonic Orchestra play Shostakovitch's 1st cello concerto and Beethoven's Symphony #3 the "Eroica". I really enjoyed myself.

The cello soloist, Claudio Bohórquez, is a young man born and raised in Germany, but of South American parentage. He's really an excellent player - he plays perfectly in tune, has a nice touch and plays very dynamically. The only thing I didn't like about his playing was his vibrato, which often was simply too wide and fast. Vibrato and this goes for voices as well, should not draw attention to itself. There is a range of pitch fluctuation and wave frequency within which the vibrato lends a liveliness, a vibrancy (huh!) to the tone and becomes a layer of color. It is a natural phenomenon with the human voice when the antagonistic forces within the larynx are in balance with one another and can only be perceived on notes of a certain minimal length. Instrumentalist must simulate this phenomenon by cyclical fluctuations of pitch. A cellist does this by wiggling his had back and forth rhythmically. If the vibrato spills out of these natural parameters then it sticks out like a sore thumb and is called either a wobble (too big and slow) or a tremolo (too fast). Well, this shouldn't become a lecture on Vibrato, but I thought it worthwhile to explain myself.

As for the pieces I didn't so much like the Shostokovitch (you can hear it if you visit Bohorquez' website), but it's one of those pieces you really should hear more than once to appreciate fully. That said, it was interesting to hear. Then as an encore he played a Bach Prelude. Now that's something after my own heart! Lovely.

After the intermission (I really don't know how people can down a glass of wine that quickly!) the orchestra played the Eroica, one of my favorite Beethoven Symphonies. They did it justice. And the orchestra itself is entertaining: There's the bald 1st violinist who only moves his arms (only what's absolutely necessary) to play; the bass player who's a dead ringer for Verdi; well, the whole bass section was pretty funny, actually; the violist with the shapely arm; and the conductor (from Essen actually), who had some pretty cool disco moves.

All in all, I'd say an enjoyable evening.

PS: Welcome Mona, my most recent follower! And thank you to all of you for reading my blog!

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Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Warped Passages - the Opera?

I first heard about this project from Fred, a buddy from StarShipSofa, who is also a choral composer. He wrote a terse blog post about it, not giving much info so I went on a search.

Lisa Randall's own site doesn't say anything about the project, or at least I couldn't find any reference for it.

When I googled "Warped Passages opera" I came up with this. The opera will be called "Hypermusic Prologue - a projective opera in seven planes". Which is a strange title, but what do you expect from the intersection of opera and theoretical physics?

OK, so in case you haven't followed any of the links and haven't a clue what I'm talking about: Lisa Randall is a theoretical physicist who's written a book for the layperson explaining the theory of muliple dimensions, i.e. more than just the 3 we see. I read Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time when it came out about 15 years ago and saw the movie, really enjoying both. Randall's book sounds just up my alley. I'm interested in science but have a hard time grasping it, if you know what I mean. If someone can lead me to understand this stuff then I'm hooked - this is why I enjoy reading Science Fiction so much. They generally couch science in a story or prose and thus make it more palatable and with the imagery they create make it easier to understand. That said, the science in SF is not always real, but still.

Anyway, I love opera, I love science. I can't wait until this opera comes out. I hope it comes somewhere close to Hannover. Hamburg or Berlin would be good too. I'll be keeping you posted.

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