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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Summer Voice Festival Part DEUX

Summer Voice Festival Part DEUX:

A musical blog, in which Erin has a hard day for no reason, and then remembers why she is here now and hear now, and then luxuriates in some of the most beautiful music on earth.


This blog may or may not take some turns for the happy, the silly, the giddy, the dark, the depressed, the whiny, the pity party, the come-uppance, and the reverent. Fasten your seatbelts…

(suggested soundtrack:
Air, Alone in Kyoto)

            One of my most infamous ex-boyfriends recently wrote me a note. It read: “Dear Erin. Manhattan School of Music. Really? How’d you get in? I mean, that’s where Marsi went to school.” (his ex-girlfriend previous to me.) Hm. Subtext… subtext… subtext… the answer is… I applied, I sent in an audition, and they accepted me. But that’s not the real answer because that’s not the real question… All this shows me, of course, really, is that after all this time, he still has no idea who I am. Why do I, a truly, sincerely, practicing, life-affirming person, open my blog with this note of notoriety? I don’t know. I don’t plan this stuff. But it seems important. I hope you’re listening to the soundtrack as you read this, because I am listening as I write this. I’d love for us to have a communion here, if you’d like. Any you, even notorious you, beloved you, sweet you, motherf$%er you, every you, me you, you me you, Ali Baba and John Paul Jones.

            I’m being cheeky, but also a little sad, a little goofy, and a little angry, and a little wonderful. Just a little.

            So Saturday were the big auditions for placement into scenes and productions. Auditions have long been difficult for me. I am really good live in performance, and really good on tape….. auditions, well, that’s a different story. I am learning to own myself as much in an audition as I do in a full performance. I did not plan well for this audition, however. Or rather, predictably unpredictable, I changed my mind at the last moment about what to sing. Since I am here to learn, rather than do the sensible thing and sing the song most likely to get me cast in a production, I decided to sing my most exciting piece that would show the folks what I can do and where I am going. So I sang a coloratura mezzo piece, “Una Voce Poco Fa.” I so love this song, and I am currently experiencing (somewhat, but without the identity swapping bits of the opera) the same sort of life as the heroine I was playing…

(Insert soundtrack #2: From THE JERK: )

            Well, I tried some of the new things I had learned from my lovely teacher and didn’t feel grounded. Oh. Alas. Sigh. They asked for some musical theater, so I sang eight bars of “A Sleepin’ Bee.” Then they asked about cabaret. I told them I had recently performed a one-woman show about my love life and could sing “Making Love Alone” for them. They laughed. And then laughed some more. I have such a way of making people laugh when I never mean to. ! ;) So I sang it and they laughed. I wished I had offered only opera, but I did what I did and I couldn’t take it back.

            I always give myself 20 lashings after any audition. I am working on reducing the number to 18, and then 15, and then 12, and then, well, you get the picture, with the optimal number being 0. Or maybe even being like, “Go Erin! Yeah! You did it! You sang an audition and I think you are wonderful just for putting yourself out there.” But of course, some things, perhaps all things, are “progress, not perfection.” So, feeling a bit needy, I called my mama. She talked me off the ledge. As she has sooooo many times.

            Meanwhile, at the school, everyone was convinced they knew me already. People kept asking me if I was a grad student here, or if I had gone to such and such school, or if I knew such and such person, and how did they know me, where did I live, etc. I admit, I was having a Groundhog Day experience myself, in which I felt as if I had lived this life but not exactly like this, but sort of similar, 50, 500, 5000 times before, every time a little different, some better, some worse, but…. It wasn’t déjà vu, but as if it were a recurring theme in a dream…

            “I’m afraid if I kiss you, I’ll fall in love with you.” “You will?” “Then I don’t want to.” “You don’t?” “My mother sacrificed everything to send me through cosmetology school.” “She did?” “She has this dream for me to be someone.” “She does?” “To marry someone with power, money, vision. Someone with a special purpose.” “I’ve got one!!!! I’ve got a special purpose!!!!” “You do?”

            The above scene did not happen on Saturday, but in that moment from THE JERK… I don’t happen to have the Special Purpose that Steve Martin is talking about… if you don’t know what I am talking about then please, please, please do yourself, and humanity, a favor and RENT THIS MOVIE! But I DO have those same fears, and those same hesitations, and those same dreams, and my own version of a special purpose… more on that in a moment.

(Insert Soundtrack #3: Believe.

            Saturday evening I visited a friend from childhood and we revisited a few old times, and new ones. I loved that I could connect with this sweet man in another incarnation. When I was a little girl, living in my mom and dad’s house next to the woods, at our house on 13th St in Sauk Rapids, I could look out the back patio door, through the oak trees, and see his front door across the street and a bit kitty corner. He and his sister would come over and play for hours, and of course the infamous story is the year he was a vacuum cleaner for Halloween. He was the cutest thing.

Odd feelings.

            Nothing ever goes the way I expect it to go, so as much as I can, I try not to expect it to go anyway at all. That evening was the Barbecue for all the singers and staff. About half the singers got up to sing and it was for me such a joy, such a luxury. I sat and listened, thinking to myself, what a wonderful gift each person her has, and is, to this world… what a sweet gift I am giving myself, to be amongst so many wonderfully talented people. I suppose the gift of being a few years older than most (not all, but most) of the others is that I can appreciate being here differently. I can’t say better or worse because I can only speak for myself… but the gift of spending all day with other singers who love music as deeply as I do… and don’t get me wrong. It isn’t that I am not grateful for my day job, or the experience my life has brought me touring in pop and cabaret and rock bands, and living in Hollywood, and having loss and grief and joy and life and having enough life experience to know that there is always another day, another chance, another thing to wake up for, and it can all start right now… but still. I know the toil of not fulfilling one’s dreams… I know a little bit about flirting with “deferring the dream,” and then losing sight of it…. And so I know the deep presence of love available through “musik!” and I was so grateful for the gift of getting to learn so much.

            I sang Carmen- the Habanera…. Of course I didn’t just sing it. I had to be me. So I climbed up on chairs and got everyone else to sing the chorus. Look. I could say I was a good little girl and I sang a real pretty song. But damn if I’m not Erin. I just follow the spirit in the moment, and am thankful now upon writing this with some reflection, for time and age and wisdom, to be able to have some appropriateness these days. I had a blast, though. And people sang along, so it was fun for all of us! I used to sing it back in the days of Le Cirque Rouge in a bustier and top hat, so this was actually quite tame in comparison.


Kurt Weill, as sung by Anne-Sofie von Otter

            I have long loved Anne Sofie von Otter. I’ll never forget once, I had this guy I was sorta halfway seeing, and really liked, who lived in San Francisco. I went to visit him there, and we spent a day browsing music and bookstores, and I found a CD of Anne Sofie von Otter and Elvis Costello…. then we went back to his place, where he lit a fire (I know! Right in downtown San Fran.) and poured some champagne. We turned on the music, and he put his arm around me, and he looked down at me, and I looked up at him, and he leaned in…. and suddenly I was freezing cold and yet sweating and he said… “Um, Erin, you’re kinda burning up.” I nodded. “No,” he said, “like, you’re giving off a lot of heat.” It hit me. Boom. “I think I need to lay down,” I said. Three days later I woke up. I had been in various versions of fever delusions during which time, apparently, I accused the poor guy of trying to poison me. I believed he was in league with the ex boyfriend (mentioned in the beginning of this blog) and that he was slowly killing me. The opposite was true; he had taken several days off work to nurse me to health, calling his Uncle the medical doctor to get advice on whether or not to bring me to the emergency room, and constantly changing my sheets because I was soaking them through in fever sweats.

            I never heard from him after that, except for a few pleasantries on Facebook. I do NOT blame him. He was wonderful enough to take care of me while I was very sick and all I did was accuse him of trying to kill me. Sigh. Anyway.

            My lack of polish doesn’t extend only to my love life. No. It also extends to my singing life. And I was, and am, very excited to be learning more about where I lack professionalism, skills, diction abilities, and, where, in general, I try too hard….

(SOUNDTRACK: Anne Sofie again, another Weill tune):
(from The Seven Deadly Sins)

            Most of the day was spent meeting my fellow singers, meeting the directors of the opera scenes I will be in and learning from my wonderful teacher. And the technique she is teaching me is so much simpler than how I sing, and so much more relaxed. And again and again, the message is: Too much. Too hard. Trying too hard.

            Oh! To be an overachiever. It has a special frustration all its own, and then you try hard not to try too hard and then you eventually just call your sister or try not to call your mother for the thirtieth time all needy-like, and you just go to the Crepe place near your new apartment and say, give me your most delicious crepe, and they make you a crepe with nutella and strawberries and bananas and raspberry sauce, and you sit and eat it and gossip with the girls about men and love and Lauryn Hill, and you forget you ever tried too hard in the first place and calm yourself thinking about…


Ah, beautiful moments, sad and happy all at once. Some Groundhog Days happen only once, I guess.


            Rain, and rain, and more rain. I have always loved the rain. To me it is profound, and poetic, and lush, and cleansing. Tuesday was a special day…


Nitin Sawhney

            I decided to go for a jog in the rain. I needed a good cleansing of my emotional palate. I was trying way too hard, I was too hard on myself, I was having all these inner dramas. I mean, don’t get me wrong. I was having a ton of fun listening to wonderful singers, and learning, and eating, and sleeping. (yes! Finally getting good rest.) But I also… well, in setting up having no expectations of how anything would go during this time, I discovered a strange re-experiencing of my fretful and difficult youth: I was watching myself expect to know things I didn’t already know…. Do things I couldn’t already do… I wasn’t letting myself have the freedom to be a true student. So I went for a nice run along Riverside Park in the rain, praying for freedom, and availability, and-

            ….there, what was that? I stopped in my tracks. I turned around and looked down. There at my feet was the biggest four-leaf clover I had ever seen! I bent down to pluck it when… what was that? There was a five leaf clover! And there! Another four leaf clover! And there! And there! And everywhere I looked. I was in a field of four and five leaf clovers. I selected as many one hand could hold, a bouquet of magic, and walked, giddy, back to my apartment. I texted a few people the picture, and then decided the world of facebook might like to see these sweet little wonders…


                        I have had the benefit of hearing some wonderful singers. I have been running the gamut of emotion. I don’t want to bore you with the run from needy to angry (with self) to joyful to bliss. I want to leave this tome only with bliss. Who knows what tomorrow may bring, who knows what the next moment may bring. But in Masterclasses with Neil Rosensheim, and then Ashley Putnam, I have been able to watch people transform. I have learned so much. I have heard Menotti, Sondheim, Rossini, Mozart, Verdi, and…. I will leave you with this. I heard an incredible singer perform this (and was excited that I have her teacher as my teacher for this program, and in the room that used to belong to Leontyne Price….)
(And you all know how I feel about Strauss.)

Breit' über mein Haupt dein schwarzes Haar, 
Neig' zu mir dein Angesicht, 
Da strömt in die Seele so hell und klar 
Mir deiner Augen Licht.  
Ich will nicht droben der Sonne Pracht, 
Noch der Sterne leuchtenden Kranz, 
Ich will nur deiner Locken Nacht 
Und deiner Blicke Glanz. 

Spread over my head your black hair,  
and incline to me your face,  
so that into my soul, so brightly and clearly,  
will stream your eye's light.   
I do not want the splendor of the sun above,  
nor the glittering crown of stars;  
I want only the night of your locks  
and the radiance of your gaze.
and, another woman who tread these same halls…
Now it is time for me to go to sleep and awake refreshed. I will try hard not to try too hard. I will try not to punish myself for the subtleties of frustration in my heart that probably only I have noticed, and I will avail myself to the best of my awareness to the freedom of having room for life to occur. Good, bad, ugly, beautiful. Life. Life life life… self. Room for self. And love. And music, and fun. And joy. And laughing at all my foibles. What a piece of work is (wo)man.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Manhattan School of Music Summer Voice Festival Part One: Journey to Surrender

Erin Elizabeth Muir: the Summer Voice Festival

Part One:

A Journey to Surrender

Well, this has certainly been quite the journey already and today is only the first day of the program itself! My program started, of course, back on Easter, when I learned I was accepted to the program and decided to do a kickstarter to fund the tuition for the program. In the last month since then, I have been so honored by all the people- some that didn’t know me at all, and others who were long lost friends, and yet other friends near and far and close and closer and even REAL CLOSE, and family… by al these people pitching in to help me get here, to help me pay the tuition, housing transportation costs…. By the wonderful folks just sending words of encouragement…. By the four amazing men who are baby-sitting my dog (each separately. He doesn’t require THAT much attention. I may. ;-) but he can do one on one.)

Anyway, thanks again, everyone, for that support…

And now here I sit in my little sublet apartment in Harlem, writing this blog just to try and cover the first few days of my experience! I live near the Cotton Club, which is fun for me, being a jazz buff. I’m one subway stop north of the school itself, and I believe this neighborhood is in that estuary of gentrification meeting artists meeting old school Harlem inhabitants. Everywhere there are people hanging out on their front stoops, there’s Afro-Cuban drumming and pigeons cooing, children laughing and food… everywhere food. Last night I broke my no dairy rule (I try to not eat it too much if I’m singing because it makes me all phlegmy) and ate a Cuban from Flor de Broadway, with lots of garlic and pickles. YUM YUM…. And topped it off with coconut juice and some sweet plaintains.

My only regret about being here, of course, is that my dog isn’t here with me, but there will be days that I will be gone for 12 hours and I just couldn’t bear the thought of poor little Henry being stuck in a strange new city without getting out to take care of his needs! So last Tuesday I brought him over to my friend Woodruff’s, his first baby-sitter. Woodruff was very patient with me as I cried but pretended I wasn’t. As I was choking up showing him Henry’s food and toys, he said, wanna hang out for a minute and settle Henry in? Whew. I got a last little time with my little Muppet and then said good bye for 6 weeks. I was sad, but Henry looked at me like, “Yeah, Mom, I get it. You’re gonna be gone til July. Geez. Let me go play with the boys now.” At least, that was my anthropomorphized version of his underbite-grin. Later, W sent me a pic of Henry napping on his lap. I knew then, it would be alright with my little bundle of puppy love.

An on to New York City! I arrived Thursday morning. I took the red-eye flight from the city I love, my city of Angels, and got in to LaGuardia around 9 am. The flights (I somehow gave myself a stop in Chicago) were uneventful and fitful for sleep. I had booked a car to take me into the city because, according to the website, it was only $9 more than the shuttle. I was a bit surprised when the total was $38 more than the shuttle but since the driver was 30 minutes late picking me up, drove like a mad man to my place, sort of hit on me and then offered to show me around, I figured, I would just pay and skedaddle! Oh, hey, Mom, if you’re reading this, don’t read that last part. ;-p

I’m staying in a sweet 2B sublet very near the river (just half a block away!) with another lovely opera singer, a soprano, singing in a production of Don Pasquale. Once I got into the place, and unpacked, I was off to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see one of my best girlfriends from LA! Wait, what!? Yes! It seems that a number of my friends were all converging upon this big Apple all at once. Alison and I had lunch with her friend that works for the museum and took in the Prada special exhibit. Amazing and, well, quirky! I mean, I know a lot of people tell me IIIIii’m quirky, but, um, I’ll take a slight backseat to a few of Ms. Prada’s creations. From there I ran to a voice coaching with my LA Coach Bill. Wait. What!? YES! Another Angeleno descending upon the streets of New Amsterdam. To be fair, he actually works bicoastally. Still, there we were. Breathless, I made it through the Card aria for an audition coming up, and am better the woman for the coaching.

And then, my energy went WHooooooot. Crash. I needed a break. Luckily, my darling friend Debbie, whom I met in Los Angeles (wait, what?) but who lives here now these past many years took me to the Ayurvedic Café for dinner. This is a lovely café which, every day, prepares dishes to incorporate all 7 flavors required in Ayurvedic cooking. At the end, we visited the shrine devoted to Quan Yin, goddess of compassion, and each took a “fortune.”

Mine read:

“Trust that everything you strive for will be taken care of in the absence of your fighting and your worrying.”




That is something this gal definitely needed to hear.

I breathed in deeply, and thought about that night, several years ago, beneath the stars in Rishikesh, the lilting mother Ganga river singing to me, and me to it. I dropped into that joy, and love of singing, and feeling of freedom that comes from the surrender of just letting go.

I’m here, I thought to myself, As I always have been. Everything else after “here” is just joy.

Friday morning I awoke to pigeons cooing. I smiled and thought of Bert, of Bert and Ernie fame. I went for a long jog along the river… here’s how perfect the weather was for a run: I actually extended it by 20 minutes. Trust me. That ain’t how this chickee usually rolls. … but it was lovely, lovely, lovely. I ran a bunch of errands, met the fellow who is subletting MY place in LA in June and gave him the keys, and then went to meet with my vocal teacher from Manhattan School of Music for the first time.

Now, originally, when she and I had been emailing about setting up a first meeting, she said that the lesson Friday evening would be at her home studio, just 4 stops from where I live. No problem! Friday evening, around 6:40, I got off the train and wandered up toward her home. Suddenly, I wondered if I had it correct, because her personal assistant had e-mailed all of us assigned to her studio about times for Friday and Sunday… I rechecked the email and to my dismay, my confirmation email (from Wednesday) said “up at the school.” Uh, oh! I called my teacher, Joan, on her mobile phone. No answer… of course, as she was busy teaching! So I left a message: “Hello, Joan! This is Erin Elizabeth Muir, your mezzo 7 pm student. I’m near your home but I’m just rereading this email and I see that it says the lessons are up at the school! I am so sorry to call and leave this message but in case I am late, I am just erring on the side of the school. I’ll be right there!” I ran to the train (with my purse and my backpack, in my flipflops and short/long skirt fluttering away, hoping not to sweat… er, um…. Glisten…. Too much for my sheer aquamarine chiffon blouse over my nude tank top!), hopped on, hopped off two stops later, and then rechecked my email… wait… wait… a more recent email… Friday night’s lessons are at Joan’s home studio and Sunday’s lessons are at the school…. Argh! I ran back to the train, got on, got off two stops later, ran around the corner and into the building and took the elevator up and arrived at?



I walked in and waited for her to finish with the student before me.

Then I met Joan, and her pianist, Coco. I explained a bit about myself, and we got right to work. Immediately she identified my biggest obstacles with singing at this time: a misappropriation of breathing and my tongue having a mind of its own. (Don’t even get me staaaaarted on that one.) And ultimately, honestly, truly… after she asked me about my philosophy of breathing and I launched into a long poetic treatise on the stars and the heavens and the earth and the … “wait!” She said. “That’s your problem. You’re making it too complicated. It’s not complicated. It’s easy. And it’s going to be difficult for you to retrain yourself to let it be easy.” And then we got to the real work:

Undoing Erin’s hyper-analytical, obsessively pseudo-pscientific practice when it comes to life. I mean. Singing.


She showed me a few things within that lesson that were already so much easier than what I have been doing… things that were building upon the wonderful work I’ve been doing with Calvin…. Things that explained things that he has probably TRIED to get through my thick skull!... and she’s right, it may be hard for me to surrender into it, and yet, then again… it was such a relief and… joy. It was a joy to be singing so easily, so freely. I left her lesson so excited about what I will learn these next 6 weeks… not just for singing but for life…. And I thought again about my fortune from the Ayurvedic Café:

“Trust that everything you strive for will be taken care of in the absence of your fighting and your worrying.”

Maybe I am here to learn better singing, and meet a great manager or even a cute guy. And maybe I’m here because, maybe, just maybe, I need more faith in the moment itself. Less fighting. More trusting. Less worrying. More fun.

So last night, I returned home with my Flor de Broadway sandwich and my roomie was about to watch a favorite movie I haven’t seen since, probably, 2000:

Les Parapluies de Cherbourg…

(The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.)

A wonderful film in which difficult and beautiful life occurs and no one is demonized or made innocent nor evil, but simply each person is alive, striving for joy (and all sung in Michel LeGrand’s amazing, beautiful composing!)

To be honest, my workaholic habit would always have been to go into my room and “work on something.” But I’m here (on earth) to grow, to be alive, to be in joy. So I let myself simply soak in this beautiful film, no umbrellas. Let the rain fall on me! I shall drink it in.

I’m off to warm up now, for my audition for the productions occurring during this Voice Festival are in only a few short hours. I am so honored and happy to be alive. I pray for joy for every living being, for I believe, that is our birthright.

Until next time-

So much love…


“To die for love? What could be more glorious!”
-       Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen

“The French were made to die for love! They delight in fighting duels!”
            -Marilyn Monroe, Gentleman Prefer Blondes

“Toujours, la mort.”
            -Carmen, Card Aria.

“People only die of love in films!”
            -Madame Emery, the Umbrellas of Cherbourg.

Monday, May 14, 2012

finally, a new poem! How the lyric feels within my mouth

How the lyric feels within my mouth

Brightly, sun pours forth in generosity, particles of light drifting ever downward
Upon ten fingers and a smile. One, two, three, four and breathless, I play.
Once again, a magical afternoon with the traffic hurrying by, unnoticing
Of the life and death and passion occurring just a few feet away.

These old black and white keys, chords and rhythm and spaces between,
Moments of music, and- me! How sweet it is to touch the divine,
To hold it in my heart and let it run through me, notes tumbling forth,
Water in a slough, and the trees, and the stars, and the murk, and the purity,

All of nature and all of God and all of man and woman combined into:
Music. What then, is music? The food of Gods, painting upon silence, and
Pleasure, and... And this. This is how it feels to be moved. This is how it feels to dance,
And this, as I sing, today it is French and tomorrow it is German and another day

It may be Czech. And my mouth becomes Venus’ pearlized shell, curved round the top
And pink within, and the strength from the earth and that air from above and lost am I
In something almost un human (and yet oh so very) when I realize this reverberating
(something! What? What is it? It is like falling in love, and capitulating the lover,

it is like the sensation of rustling in one’s heart at the witness of a hundred parakeets
in exodus from a weeping willow in one sudden rush of terror and joy, it is effervescent
and it is) it is within me, coming from me? Nay, not from. Through. And back I am to the
through, for this is how the lyric feels within my mouth, whether I sing for la mort or

l’amour. I sing for you.