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Thursday, December 30, 2010

There Are Two Sides to Everything....Reflections on German and American Culture

So, since I am back in Germany some things have come to my attention that I would like to share with you, Dear Readers, about differences in the cultures of Americans and Germans.  Some things are positive, some are not so positive, and some are merely observations.  Here goes!

Things I really love about German Culture:

1. They separate their recycling meticulously.  They make a distinction between bottles which are given back for monetary reimbursement, green and white glass containers and bottles, cardboard and paper, plastic packaging materials, things which can be composted, and simply "all other things which don't fall into the categories mentioned before this one".  What a great system- and helpful too.  (Though, I do have to say, things can get a little stressful sometimes when you are, let's say, opening something which has all of these materials included, or perhaps, three or more of the materials in the categories included, then....it's no picnic to open 5 trashcan lids in short succession.)

2. They have freshly baked bread in every bakery, and it is usually a really wonderful variety of types (e.g. pumpernickel, sunflower seed, poppy seed, rye, multi-grain, cinnamon raisin, potato, sourdough, sweet yeast dough etc...).  Although, there was a news report I heard the other day, that they throw a lot of this lovely bread out at the end of the day now because no one wants to shop at the bakery that at the end of the day only has 3 loaves on display.  It turns out that the customer now wants to have the same chance at a large selection as the customers who might have come in at 9am that day and therefore, the baker is now almost forced into baking more bread throughout the day, simply so that the customer is satisfied at the end of the day (regardless of whether or not all the loaves will be bought or thrown out).  In essence, hopefully the consumers in the future will be less picky and the bakers will bake less bread just to throw it out at 6pm.

3.  They sell unbelievably cheap freshly cut flowers all over the place, even at Aldi!  And, they are just beautiful!! I mean, where in America can you actually buy freshly cut blooms which don't look half wilted for approximately $2.50?  (1,99 in Euros)

4.  They encourage people to drive less by having a very efficient train (regional, subway, streetcar, intercity) and bus system, even for the very smallest of towns.  There are normally very frequently occurring bus stops (even in the oddest of places- for example, the other day we were driving on a highway outside of Duesseldorf and there was a bus stop right on the side of the highway seemingly nowhere near an on-ramp, or other means of accessing this stop to pedestrians....but...maybe it was just for those getting off a bus to change to a different one? Not sure but anyway...) and the times that the buses run are normally not less than every 20 minutes.  The fares for these modes of public transit are also quite reasonable.  They are raising the fare in 2011 for a single ride in Dortmund in the "A zone" (basically the entire city center) to 2,30 Euros, but that really is still quite reasonable considering that owning a car, paying for gas, paying for parking, paying for insurance, and paying for a driver's license here in Germany is quite expensive.

5.  They don't litter (on the whole)!  Can you believe it?  Honestly, there are very few instances that I can remember thinking to myself, "Whoa! This place is filled with litter...gum wrappers, bottles, cans, etc...." and I sadly can't say that same thing when thinking of places in the USA with which I am familiar.  Although, on the flip side, they do often have tons of cigarette butts lying around (as many people still smoke here, even though they are now considering adopting those frightening images of people dying on cigarette packs, like the USA is also now considering).

6.  They have the most awesome indoor swimming pools I have ever seen!  Honestly, in America we normally associate indoor swimming pools with olympic-sized pools for lap swimming, or Aquacise for elders.  However, in Germany they have a type of pool called "Freizeitbad" which literally means "free-time-pool" and which could include any or all of the following: an olympic-sized lap pool, a pool strictly for diving with different levels of diving board, a warm salt water pool with jacuzzi areas to lay or sit in, a salt water jacuzzi, a normal jacuzzi, an area for babies to swim in which is only 2-4 inches deep and includes slides and fountains and water toys, a rock climbing wall overhanging a pool, water slides, tube slides, speed slides, saunas of various and sundry types, inner tube slides, regular temperature pools which are shaped so that the swimmer can swim from indoors directly to outdoors, and even pools which have currents that allow you to float along like many of the lazy river rides we are accustomed to from water parks in the USA.  I mean, why don't we have anything remotely like that in the USA?!  I wonder that every day.  Well, congrats to the Germans for being brilliant on this one!

7. They drive fuel efficient cars!  Yes, they are normally quite small, and they are something which we Americans could probably never get used to on a regular basis (unless you are already a happy Honda civic driver, or a car of similar proportions) but, to their credit, they seem to manage just fine without driving around a however-many-ton Ford Excursion or Cadillac Escalade just to pick up a few things at the store every day.

8. They have really reasonable grocery prices, especially for things which in America you'd pay a bundle, like chocolate, muesli, alcoholic beverages like beer (of course this is the one everyone knows), fresh veggies and fruits, and fancy meats and cheeses.  (Keep in mind my idea of "fancy" refers to things which I don't normally eat in America, like Camembert or Gouda.)  Another good thing about their grocery set-up is that they tell you where everything fresh (veggies and fruits) is grown right on the shelf next to the price, and that way you can make educated choices about whether to purchase something from Chile versus Germany, etc.

Though, I recently found out that these prices at the grocery store are due to government subsidies of things which are considered 'necessary' for a healthy diet (so, produce, milk, eggs, flour, salt, etc).  Therefore, no wonder! However, why don't we do this in the USA again? It would certainly make all the lobbyists' jobs easier and then the milk industry wouldn't have to pay those people to get the gov't to care about milk, therefore lowering our milk prices at the store. Hmm....yes....that might be a great idea, actually!

9.  They are quiet in public.  Sometimes, honestly, for my taste a little too quiet.  It makes me want to stir up a ruckus.  But, it is truly serene sometimes when you are in a very crowded place, and I find myself stopping to consider, that something like that could honestly never happen in a normal circumstance in the USA.  It just would be simply impossible.  Someone would always be saying something.  It's just how we're wired, I guess.  But again, kudos to German people for really understanding and being courteous when in public with unnecessary chatter and saving all of our hearing ability!  Maybe we won't need those hearing aids at age 80 after all... :)

10.  They have invented something which is installed in most bathroom stalls (not sure about Men's rooms honestly, never even dreamed of entering that jungle...sorry, Men!) and is designed specifically to hold a liquid sanitizer that you can squirt onto toilet paper and use to clean off the seat of the toilet before coming into contact with the toilet seat and your germ-free (hopefully) backside.  How brilliant!  I mean, how many times (Women, I am talking to you!) have you thought, "Whoa.....that's okay! I really don't have to pee quite THAT badly...." after going into a stall and witnessing something that absolutely scared the pee right out of you!?  I mean, yuck!  Well, thank you again, Germans, for thinking ahead.  Backsides all over Germany (and places besides America) applaud you!

11.  They have had the foresight to make Opera (after all, let's face it, this is a blog from an Opera singer about operatic topics, so therefore, there had to be something in this post about Opera, right?) an affordable evening (or afternoon, for matinée performances) out for a family of four to attend, and they program operas for children which are interesting and musically worthwhile, and which keep their audiences interested for the future when they have families and children of their own!  This, might be, hands down, one of my most beloved features of German culture, even if it is quite in danger of being a thing of the past in the years to come (due to decrease in government support monetarily speaking).  For this, I give Germany ten thumbs up! And, believe me, I only have two to give, but I know at LEAST four other people who would give both their thumbs up about this too!

12.  They only let people (legally) set off fireworks on New Year's Eve.  Let the wisdom of that statement sink in for a moment.  No more times when someone, at some oddly inappropriate hour, decides to set off fireworks in a too-close proximity to your bedroom window while you're sleeping, or where the rocket lands in your pool and you find it the next day, or where your neighbor's kids set off fireworks on a random Tuesday afternoon just for fun and scare the bejeezus out of you while you're concentrating on something important.  Yeah, no more of any of that stuff!  How much clearer do I have to make this?  It's honestly just plain obvious that we should follow suit in the USA.  Am I right?

13.  They invented such wonderful culinary delicacies as Rouladen, Apfelstrudel, Sauerbraten, Sauerkraut (are we noticing a 'sauer' pattern here?), Kartoffelknoedel, Weisswurst, Brezeln, (Bier) (but everyone knows that was actually the Monks in Germany who did that) and Gummibaerchen.  Therefore, they are to be praised for these things, and for all the other wonderful foods that they do have in their arsenal.  Without their innovation in the kitchen, we would certainly be lacking some pretty important foods that I personally love, so again, yay Germans!

Things I don't especially like about Germany, but for which I appreciate America all the more....

1.  I recently had a quite powerful hankering for Cheddar Cheese.  Not any particular kind, just something with a sharp taste and cheese-like consistency.  Now, normally I would be able to find this cheese in endless variety in America in nearly every grocery store I enter (except convenient stores, and nowadays, even Wawa has those single cheddar cheese to go sticks so.....).  Anyway, much to my dismay, after running through Real (pronounced "Ray-ahl"; their version of Wal-Mart) I was saddened to find out that in fact, they don't have 5 types of Cheddar cheese at every supermarket like we do in the states.  However, thanks to the good old Irish Cheddar cheese lovers, they do carry exactly one type of Irish Cheddar sold in the deli case.  I guess I will have to content myself with that until I get back stateside, but I must say, that was a sad realization.

2.  Something else I recently discovered when we had that rather large snow storm (more like a snow marathon!) was that here in Germany, the only thing that they really care about when it snows, more than I'd like to admit to myself, is the Autobahn.  Therefore, if you live in a town, city, or village, it is all equal- you are not being plowed out!  Period.  Nothing else to it.  They will not plow your street, and they will not plow the street next to yours- they simply do not plow.  They figure that there is a reason why they instituted the law about everyone being obligated to install snow tires on their cars, and therefore, why should they plow?  It would hardly be necessary!  I mean, really.  It's not like you have a small car with a low wheel base, or anything!  (A.K.A. be ready to own a snow shovel and go at mountainous piles of snow with a gusto like you never dreamed you possessed.)  Also, not my favorite part of German culture, but it has given me great arm muscles!

3.  I must preface this next comment with the fact that I have become spoiled from my time spent living in NYC, but, I do find it terribly annoying (on occasion) that here in Germany they have strange store opening and closing times.  For example, the post office down the street from our apartment is open from 10am until 1pm and then from 3pm until 5pm.  How they find that to be convenient to the customer, I will never know.  And, it's not like it's not a necessary or important place to go--I mean, everyone needs to go to the post office sooner or later, right?

Also, because I was spoiled from living in NYC, I am used to being able to buy pretty much anything that I need at nearly every time imaginable, and if not, then ordering it on the internet, and having it delivered to my door the next day in a timely fashion.  (Who am I kidding? I never ordered anything online and had it delivered!  But, the point remains, if I wanted to, I could-thanks to websites like freshdirect.com and soap.com, and no, this is not an ad for those sites.)  At any rate, that convenience of time flexibility for shopping is certainly not present in Germany.  If you want to get things fresh you should go shopping early in the morning (preferably around no later than 10am) and if you want to get things later in the day, then you better get them before 8pm, because otherwise you will have to wait until tomorrow.  Now, here's the thing, I understand that this is not really so inconvenient and I am sensible enough to see that really, there is normally nothing so urgent that it can't wait another day to be bought.  However, there is just something about the fact that I am forced into these hours to do my shopping that irks me.  I mean, what if I am (like I am) a night person, and get much more active in the later part of the day?  Should I really be forced to be rushing around to get all my errands done before 8pm on any given day?  And, God forbid it is a Sunday (where nothing is open except the Bakery- if you are lucky, and then only until 12 noon at the latest!).  I mean, am I selfish, or do I just not like these particular rules?  Not sure which, but nonetheless, it still irks me.

4.  Finally, this would not normally be a point of contention, however it's the end result that disturbs me the most.  They, as a culture, eat entirely too much processed sugar and food that is just plain bad for them.  And I am not just talking soda, candy, chocolate, and ice cream, but also pastries, cheeses, puddings, dairy drinks, fruit juices which let's just say aren't 100% fruit juice, fast food (Mc Donald's, Burger King) and too many fried foods to name here.  The thing is, for a culture that has such hearty and healthy heritage in its own cuisine, but who eats so badly on the whole (more often than most Americans I know) it is absolutely astonishing that nearly everyone here is not completely obese.  And, by not completely obese, I actually mean, most Germans could probably feel completely comfortable in their own skin when stacked up against their American counterparts, because they look amazing!  How they do it, I will never know.  But, these people hardly have one ounce of fat on them!  I mean, they are taller than most Americans on average, they are more muscular, and they are less likely to get winded after climbing a huge set of stairs, or, you know, a mountain.  Whichever.  (Go figure!)

5.  Lastly, and most oddly, the Germans' penchant for the idea of FKK.  No, this is not some strange branch of the group in America who wear white hoods and have strange beliefs, but rather, a section of society who partake in what they term FKK, in German called "Frei Koerper Kultur" or, literally translated "Free Body Culture".  In essence, being totally naked around complete strangers for lengthy periods of time, a.k.a. "NUDITY".  For those of you who are interested in reading further, you can look it up on wikipedia (the German version) under FKK.
There are several nude beaches in Germany, places to go camping in the nude, and even family getaways for those who wish to be completely nude for the entire trip.  (Possibly barring the flight, if that is included...but, who knows!)  At any rate, that gives my American sensibilities a bit of a shock, because I think fundamentally we are a visual species but....yeah.  Again, not my favorite part of German culture.

And, on that note, (seriously, what could follow that!?) I will close and wish all of you a wonderful start to a very happy and healthful New Year 2011!!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Berlin: Day 2

We got a late start considering our late night the evening before, and by the time we got out of bed, showered and out of the hotel it was close to 11:00am. The plan for the day was to see Berlin historical/tourist sites that we both hadn't seen before. Therefore, the two things on the list were the man-made waterfalls in Kreuzberg in Victoria Park, or the Oberbaumbruecke which is located near the Warschauerstrasse S-Bahn stop heading east from Alexanderplatz.

Because it was such a damp and windy winter day out, and also because our sneakers were still soaked from the adventurous romp through puddle-filled streets the night before, we opted for the bridge instead of the park.

The bridge is a really interesting piece of Berlin architecture that is something which is very unlike the majority of architecture in the rest of Berlin (that I have seen thus far, anyway). I am not very sure about the history, so I am providing this link to the wikipedia article HERE. Our trip to the bridge was uneventful, we took the S-Bahn and then took the U-Bahn to Schlesisches Tor because we had decided to walk over the bridge on our return trip to the S-Bahn stop (we made a small circuit because it was too cold to walk the entire way). It took possibly all of 30 minutes to see the bridge and walk over it, but the thing we stumbled upon after the bridge exploration was really the place we spent most of our afternoon.



The East Side Gallery is home to many famous works of art relating to the Berlin Wall, its fall and its reception around the world. The website can be found HERE with more information historically about its intended purpose, but I would like to post a few pictures to give you, Dear Reader, a sense of what it was like for me and the boyfriend. The immediate observation that struck me were that the size of the wall was immense beyond my imagining. After seeing that much of a complete section of the wall still standing, it gave me a more accurate sense of what divided Berlin must have been like. It struck fear into my heart just looking at the wall now that it is a non-issue; I can't imagine how powerful a symbol it was for those who lived with it day-to-day. It was also really moving to see what sort of pain a division like the wall caused on a global scale (as attested to by the art on the wall in the Gallery which was contributed by international artists). It just all goes to show that what this photo says is true (for good deeds and for bad deeds).



I also had to take this picture, even though this is an ironic juxtaposition of the more sobering images from the wall.



At any rate, after we walked around at the East Side Gallery for a few hours, we had worked up quite an appetite, and we were excited for dinner. We were meeting a fellow Opera singer friend of mine who had been in Berlin for auditions, and like us, longed for sushi (since she too lived in NYC for a while). Another friend of mine who lives in Berlin had recommended this place to me near Jannowitzbruecke called “Don Sushi” with the stipulation that “it wasn't the best décor, but the food was great”, so I instructed the NYC Opera singer friend to meet us there. We took the S-Bahn to Jannowitzbruecke and began our sushi quest. It was nearly ended prematurely too, when we found a place called “Don Sushi” on the west side of the street that was closed and undergoing renovations, but I had a hunch that my Berlin friend wouldn't have steered us wrong, plus, I know the somehow very asian pattern of owning two restaurants on the same street (or in the same area) with the same name (learned this in NYC with the restaurants Wondee Siam 1 & 2....need I say more?) and so we pressed on down the street in hopes of finding another “Don Sushi”. Lo and behold, it appeared across the street after about another block and a half. Jackpot!! So, we go inside, order a coke and a Mango Lassi (can't believe they had them, but they were delicious!) and look over the menu. Not only did my Berlin friend bring us to a great restaurant but also someplace where we wouldn't break the bank! It was our lucky day. So, we ordered the normal stuff: Eel, Salmon, Tuna, and Spicy Salmon and decide to wait for my NYC friend to show up. After about a half an hour she arrives, but looking frazzled. Turns out she couldn't find a cab and had trekked nearly halfway across the public transit map because of a construction project going on around the area where she had just rented a room (Hohenzollernplatz). Yikes! Well, at least we were able to console her with reasonable prices and great food.

Also luckily, during our dinner at the Sushi place Janet called to reschedule my voice lesson for the next morning to Wednesday morning at 10am, so that was great- it gave me a little more time the morning of the audition to prepare. I was convinced that the audition tomorrow morning would be great.

And, to ensure that it would be, I had made an appointment with the Theaterhaus Mitte to rent a practice room from 9-10pm that evening (for 5 Euros per hour- what a steal!) and we proceeded there after finishing our lovely dinner with my NYC friend. It wasn't quite that easy to find in the pitch dark (it is not as popular to put up a streetlight on every corner in Berlin I've noticed as it is in NYC) and once we did find it, it still took us a 5 minute walk through a complex of buildings to get to the brightly rainbow-colored building all the way behind the others. At any rate, the room was huge, had good acoustics and decent pianos, and it was all mine for the next hour! So, the practicing went well, I went over the few problem spots that I knew in my audition pieces for the next day, and then we called it a night and turned our feet towards the hotel and a comfy bed.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Berlin Not A Total Bust

I had an audition in Berlin on the 28th of September for the ZAV there and I will now dutifully report to you, Dear Readers, on what occurred during my time there, and the results of my audition.  (Possibly, not in that order.)

DAY 1:
I arrived in Berlin on Sunday around 12:15pm and did not have my audition scheduled until Tuesday at 1pm, therefore, I was able to fit some other touristy things into my trip, prior to my audition.  So after leaving Dortmund that morning at 8am and arriving in Berlin that Sunday afternoon with my boyfriend aboard the ICE, we decided to stash our luggage in the lockers at the 'Zoologischer Garten' S-Bahn stop, (an S-Bahn is a regional train system that interconnects with the subway station system in Berlin- much like the New Jersey Transit system connects with the Subway at New York Penn Station, for those Readers from New York, or at least familiar with its transit systems) and then we hastily made our way to the Berlin Zoo, which happens to be not only the first zoo built in Germany, but also the largest zoo in the world, with over 14,000 animals living there.  We had a pretty large chunk of time to kill before checking into our hotel (we weren't allowed to check in before 3pm that day) and before meeting my friend Tonia for dinner that night at 6pm, so we were able to spend a really long and nice afternoon at the Zoo. 

And luckily, we were prepared with our umbrellas and warmer clothing for Berlin, because it was remarkably damp and cold the entire time we were there, especially during our walk through the Zoo that first afternoon.  It's actually kind of funny looking back on the fact that we purposely hunted out the different habitats at the Zoo that were located in buildings (the Raubtiere- a.k.a. Tigers, Lions, etc...; the nocturnal animals, the birds....) simply because they were inside where it was warmer.  It was the kind of day where you just wanted to go back to bed; it was that cold and yucky out. 

At any rate, our zoo adventure was certainly interesting.  I saw a practically newborn Hippopotamus which was just ADORABLE.  I mean, Gap better consider featuring this thing in their kids' clothing commercials, otherwise there might be some competitor that comes up with the idea first, that's how cute this thing was!!  I must have stood there 'Oooh-ing' and 'Ahh-ing' for at least 10 minutes until my poor boyfriend could tear me away from it.  And honestly, it never crossed my mind that the baby would some day grow up to weigh as much as a small car; I just wanted to snuggle it now!  Well, needless to say, that part of my day never came to fruition.

We also managed to get a gigantic Bull with humongous horns really really mad at us (actually, that was more my boyfriend's doing) somehow by just looking at it.  It was actually pretty scary!  It actually happened like this: the boyfriend was looking at this bull, and then there was a point where it turned and looked at him (and mind you, this thing was really close to the fence-there might have been one foot separating this thing from us) and then it didn't flinch after it locked eyes with him for at least a minute, after which I started to get this really creepy feeling, and I said twice “Honey! Don't stare at the Bull!” but to no avail.  The next series of thoughts happened quite fast.  I wondered if the fence was electrified.  I had a horrible image pop into my head of this thing charging the fence and the fence losing.  Then, I proceeded to get us the heck out of there by pulling my boyfriend to the next animal pen (while he meekly uttered in a terrified and shocked tone of voice, “I just couldn't look away!”). Talk about bull!

Then we got into another interesting animal encounter (courtesy again of the boyfriend).  It was a rainy day and the boyfriend wants to visit the petting zoo (which undoubtedly will be part of every German zoo- not sure why, but it is).  Okay, so we get the requisite handful of those food pellets that are a must for every petting zoo encounter, and we proceed to enter the two sets of swinging gates that enclose the petting zoo area.  Apparently it was not a very often visited petting zoo, or else those goats hadn't gotten fed in quite some time, because upon the boyfriend's proffering of said pellet-food, he got rushed by several goats all at once, and two of them were even cheeky enough to put their hooves all over his jacket and pants in their haste to reach his now upheld hand.  Therefore, we did an about-face and tried to hastily exit the petting zoo after throwing the food  away in sheer terror of more muddy clothing being created, and wouldn't you know, the boyfriend can't get away from those darn goats!  They practically made a little fence around him with their bodies and they just wouldn't let him go until they were sure he had absolutely no food on his person (and to a goat, that's a pretty wide-open category).  So there he is surrounded by goats, while I'm trying to make a retreat out the gate and some of the goats spot me leaving, decide that it's more exciting to escape their enclosure, and forcefully fling wide the first swinging door about to barrel through the second set when I luckily grab the door and push with all my might against the force of the goats.  Luckily I weigh more than two goats, I guess, because they weren't getting through to the outside.  However, there was still the problem of boyfriend trapped within the goat circle.  Therefore, I go against my better judgment, charge back into the goat pen, grab boyfriend's hand and start dragging him toward the exit through the goat circle and through the first set of swinging gates when two more goats come through behind us.  Therefore, it's us on the outside of the last set of gates, pushing with all our might hoping that someone will come on the inside of the goat pen, and let these goats back through the gates on the other side to their proper home.  Just in the nick of time, the Mom who was on the inside of the enclosure with her three small children sees our plight, and comes to the rescue in her yellow rain coat letting the goats back in on the correct side of the pen, and actually saving us from probably twenty more minutes of goat-centric hysteria.  Thank God for  that woman!

After that, it is safe to say that the zoo trip was pretty uneventful in terms of 'excitement'.  Though we did get to see some great Elephants, Sea Lions and Fur Seals, Rhinos, Parrots, various interesting tropical varieties of Pigeon (who knew?!), a brand new baby Meerkat, the Polar Bear formerly known as the 'Baby Knut' famous round the world for being the first born in captivity- who is now fully grown and virtually indistinguishable from his fellow bears in the enclosure (shouldn't there have been some info on how to tell him apart?), Okapi, and some really cute nocturnal Desert Foxes (with humongous ears and teensy noses).

Then around 5pm after we were quite cold and had had enough of being outside in the damp fog, we went back to the Zoologischer Garten S-Bahn station, picked up our bags and went to the hotel to drop our things off.  We had just enough time to check in and take our things upstairs before we had to meet my friend for dinner at 6pm at this lovely restaurant which I suggested in an earlier Blog post, Transit.  We finished dinner around 7pm and then we had tickets to see the new revue at the Friedrichstadtpalast that night, called Yma, that began at 7:30.  Therefore, we began walking in the rain to the Friedrichstadtpalast, as it looked quite close to our hotel and the restaurant on our map of the city.  However, much to our dismay, after walking for what seemed like an eternity through puddle-filled streets, we made a wrong turn down a street that ran parallel to the street we wanted, and took a 10 minute detour further in the wrong direction before, as a last attempt at finding it before hailing a cab, we went down an alleyway that looked more like a small moat, and somehow came up right next to the Friedrichstadtpalast.  Phew!  Talk about luck.  Although at this point, our pants were both soaked up to our thighs from the driving rain and our shoes were completely water-logged from all the puddles; but we had made it, nonetheless!

We managed to get inside just 3 or so minutes before the show started and we prepared to spend the next 1.5 hours drying out while being entertained by some of the most scantily-clad figures in Berlin performing amazing dance routines, and feats of acrobatic fancy, all while singing covers of recently popular songs reasonably well.  We weren't disappointed.  Well, perhaps with the singing.  But, then again, I'm not usually too tickled by performances of covers, let alone ones that are not superb.  However, the rest of the performance was really wonderful.  The dancing was really great, and the acrobatics were breathtakingly frightening in their degree of difficulty.  All in all, it was really an enjoyable evening.

Then after the show, we wisely took the S-Bahn from Friedrichstrasse to Hackeschermarkt and poured ourselves into bed after a long and physically exhausting day.

(Look for Day Two's Adventures posted above this post!)

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Leipzig: A Two-Fold Journey to Discovery


(This post was written on October 13th, 2010)
I am on the train this morning heading to Leipzig. Thus far I've woken up at 7:30am after getting to sleep around midnight (packing and getting organized takes a lot longer than one might think) and I'm on the train somehow fully awake now (even after less sleep than I would normally prefer). Thankfully the train is only an “IC” (Intercity) and not an “ICE” (Intercity Express) though this train goes no less fast. The problem it seems normally with ICE's is that there are a TON of passengers on it who are noisy and loud (people on vacation or school kids on class trips) and therefore they're not the most restful traveling experience for multiple-hour trips. However, this “IC”, the first one I've been on actually, seems to be very sparsely populated, and filled with business travelers (thank God!) of the very quiet sort. So, I might actually get some rest on the 5 hour trip after all.

Regarding today's game plan: I've got my audition with the ZAV in Leipzig at 3:40pm, my train arrives into the Hauptbahnhof (Main train station) at 1:18pm, and luckily the ZAV is only approximately a 10 minute walk from the Hauptbahnhof, so I've got plenty of time once I get there. Normally at the ZAV (the gov't agency for unemployed opera singers and other performing artists) they have at least one “Einsingraum” (warm-up room) and bathrooms and waiting rooms, so that makes it easier too to do an audition like this in one day. I am counting on arriving on time to Leipzig, then making my way directly to the ZAV, where I will change out of my traveling clothes (a wool 3/4-length coat and underneath that a fleece—winter has officially started here in Germany!) and into my audition dress and makeup and jewelry. Then I am planning on getting to the warm-up room and doing a little vocalizing there, and then possibly eating a small bite of lunch, and filling out the audition paperwork and getting 'in line' in the waiting room. What I should possibly explain at this juncture, is that German ZAV's schedule multiple people for the same audition slot (let's say 5/6 people per half an hour) and because of that, upon arriving at any audition, you should always ask who is in your time slot (normally they'll be nice enough to tell you and not lie to you that they're in the half hour before you) and then you kind of argue amongst yourselves who will be first and last and so on. Sometimes it's easy (someone will volunteer to go last or first) and sometimes everyone wants to get the heck out of there so you practically have to draw straws to see who gets to go first. At any rate, I'm hoping that I can go first today. It will give me a chance to see Leipzig a bit, and also, I just hate waiting and listening to everyone sing before me. That part is my least favorite. Though, I have brought Janet's book (Nail Your Next Audition) along with me this time, and I am planning on re-reading the sections that I found most helpful regarding staying focused the last moments before the audition begins.

Therefore, since I am still on the train now for about two more hours, I will be writing the remainder of this blog entry once I am on the train ride back from Leipzig and can tell you about how it all went! Wish me luck ;)


Leipzig: The Conclusion

So, the story after I arrived today in Leipzig goes something like this: the train pulls into the Hauptbahnhof here in Leipzig, I get out, and ask a DeutscheBahn worker how to get to the Leipzig Opera house (since I looked at it on Google before I left this morning and it seemed to be nearby). He told me how to get there- walk straight out of the train station, down the stairs, out the front door, across the double set of streetcar tracks and then simply continue straight until you hit a 'T' at the Fussgaengerzone, and then make a left and you're there. The Bahn man was right! It took me about 10 minutes to walk to the Opera house. I figured that the walking would get my energy up after sitting on the train for all those hours, and looking at the Opera house might cull some inspiration for today's audition, since it could turn out to be a future place of employment. (Strangely enough, I'm not sure candidates for employment in other fields do things like that. I mean, does a future Apple store employee simply stand outside the store gazing up in amazement? Maybe. But, maybe not. Just an observation that the widely held belief that singers are different yet again is being proven true, while I am trying through this Blog, to make my experiences accessible to the non-singer. Ah, the irony.)

After the Opera-house-gazing, I went inside hoping to find a gift shop or at least information about a guided tour (who knows what kind of time my audition would take- perhaps it would be finished early) but they do not actually have a gift shop, I was informed, and they don't do tours except in the mornings. Drat. So that option was out. Upon further consideration (a.k.a.- looking at my cell phone clock) I realized that I should be getting to the audition (I had an hour til my time slot- 3:40pm) since I wasn't sure how far that was from the Hauptbahnhof. I traced my steps back to the Hauptbahnhof, asked several people which train stopped near Rosa LuxemburgerstrasseStrassenbahn and took it two stops to the exact place I needed to be. (Gott sei Dank!) I hopped out with my multitude of bags (a canvas carry bag with remnants of breakfast and lunch inside, which is serving this evening on the ride back here as my dinner, a book bag with my laptop inside and various sheet music copies for the pianist as well as copies of my resume, and my purse) and looked across the street- fortuitously I was standing directly across from the ZAV offices! I went inside and up to the 4th floor where the office was located and asked the secretary if she could direct me to the auditions and where I was able to change into my audition clothing and warm up my voice. She first asked me to fill out the personal information sheets that are normal at all ZAV auditions (they ask for your address here in Germany, your cell phone number, your birth place and date, your nationality, your foreign language competency, your past engagements and your repertoire that you are offering at today's audition) and then directed me to a small office that she told me was the warm-up room. (Yikes.) Normally there is a piano in a large-ish room that they use as a warm-up room at all the ZAV's that I've been to thus far. Not so with this particular location. At any rate, I made the best of it and just did some tongue trill scales and surprisingly the acoustics in that tiny office weren't all that terrible. After about 10 minutes of warming-up, the Secretary knocks on the door and asks me if I'm finished because the next candidate is here and needs to warm up now. So, I told her I was finished and then she directed me to a long hallway lit on one side by the sunlight streaming in through floor-to-ceiling windows (it must be awfully cold then in winter!) and told me that at the end of the hallway to my right was the women's bathroom and at the end straight ahead was the audition room. I dashed into the bathroom and changed into my audition dress and put on my makeup and jewelry. As I was finishing up my makeup and hair I heard the girl who had finished warming-up after me put her things down in the hall. I popped my head out of the bathroom and asked her if she wouldn't mind going ahead of me because I wasn't quite finished with my makeup yet (after all, it was only approximately 3:15pm and I was scheduled for 3:40 originally) and she actually said that her original audition time was 3pm, so that was fair anyway, luckily. Then as she was finishing her first song (I could hear clearly through the audition room door straight into the waiting hallway and in the bathroom too possibly through the wall that bordered the two rooms) I finished my routine in the bathroom and came out into the hallway to gather up my materials (Lebenslauf, Photo, Repertoire List, and notebook of music for the accompanist) and then waited about two minutes and she emerged and said I could enter.

I went into the room and handed the judges (there were two women and one man on the panel) my informational sheet and my other materials, and the notebook to the pianist. Funny enough, the pianist and I were both wearing the same color blue (and the judges even remarked on it that we must have planned it to match- LOL). So far, so good- no 'boese' judges. :) Then I said I'd like to begin with 'Mein Herr Marquis' from Strauss's Die Fledermaus (which was another coincidence because the girl who had just sung before me sang one of Price Orlofsky's arias from the same opera) and I realized for the first time just how dry the acoustics in that room were. It was really difficult for me to monitor what was coming across overtone-wise while performing, so I simply did my best to outweigh any possible vocal-overtone-loss from the acoustics through amping-up my acting a notch. It must have done the trick. They seemed less perturbed than when I first met them (and that's an improvement) and they asked if I had Pamina's aria from Die Zauberfloete with me. I replied (probably with a confused look on my face) that I did not have that with me nor did I sing that aria normally, and they then deliberated in whispers amongst themselves for a short while and settled on asking for 'The Doll Song' next, from Offenbach's Les Contes D'Hoffmann. I offered to begin with the second verse, and they agreed that that was a good idea since it's such a long song. I did the same thing with this second piece as I did with the piece before; I simply acted the heck out of it and sang it as best as I could tell from the sensations that I was getting physically (since I couldn't really hear a darn thing reverberation-wise). Then came the decision-making part, of course. (The part that I usually dread since you never know what you're going to get- it's like....totally maddening.) They asked me to sit down in the dreaded chair that they place before their table and the man on the panel began. He said (auf Deutsch, natuerlich) that he was also on the panel at my audition in Berlin two weeks prior, and that then he absolutely did not like my singing whatsoever. He explained then that I had begun with the Queen of the Night's Vengeance aria and it sounded way too 'old' for me to be singing it, and that then I sang Adele's aria from Fledermaus (the one which I had begun with today) and it was okay, but certainly not something he liked. However, he said, he liked very much what I did today because I began, as he put it, “Very charmingly and with a lot of emotion and portrayed the character effectively, as well as sang with a more clear tone and more precision.” He then went on to say that as much as he liked the Adele today (which was already more than he liked it in Berlin), he liked the Olympia (the Doll Song) even more, and he could see through my portrayals today and my singing that I had improved and that I had a 'stage personality' (in other words, that I could act) and that he would like to offer me a chorus audition for a smaller opera house (somewhere where, as he put it, there would be a possibility that I would be offered after a while of chorus singing, the ability to sing small roles in the repertory ensemble of solo singers at the house).

I tried not to make my disappointment obvious, and told them all that I was very pleased that they enjoyed my audition so much and that I had made a good impression on them, and of course a better one than I had made in Berlin, and that I was looking forward to their email regarding the chorus position.

So, that's the outcome thus far. I will let everyone know what happens with it, and I am excited to report that at least through that, I have finally figured out the German Opera system a little better. It's all about the acting, people! Because, let me tell you, I did not sing differently than I did when I sang in Berlin. It was simply two different songs! I mean, who can compare Olympia and Queen of the Night? It just doesn't work. But....ah well. At least now I've got the system down, right? (Wink, Wink.)

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Saarbruecken!

(Note: This post was supposed to appear on the 27th of July, so please do excuse my tardiness in posting it now, I just have been swamped lately with getting things up on the blog.)


I had an audition on Monday of this week, the 26th, in Saarbruecken, which is located approximately 4 hours southwest of Dortmund by car and is the capital of the state of Saarland. The audition was for an Opera studio in the region of Saarland and Luxembourg (the country--Saarbruecken is right near the border of Germany and Luxembourg) and in particular for the opera by Jacques Offenbach called 'Ba-Ta-Clan'.

I actually received the invitation to this audition from my successful audition in Stuttgart with the ZAV (office for unemployed opera singers, basically) and he then recommended me to the conductor who was looking for singers for this program. The caveat of my being able to audition was being able to speak French in the audition (as the productions would be taking place in both French and German speaking areas, and they would be conducting the rehearsals in French as well). So, I began practicing French like crazy with an online language program (offered through my public library in PA, actually!) called Mango.  Thankfully, the practice paid off.

The day of the audition the drive to Saarbruecken (located in the small-ish state in Germany of Saarland, very close to the borders of both Luxembourg and France) lasted about 4 hours, but I was luckily the passenger, as my boyfriend was nice enough to drive me there and back (since he knew that I hadn't yet mastered a manual car, as well as the fact that I needed to concentrate mentally on the music I was about to sing).  At any rate, we got to the audition relatively early with about 35 minutes before my scheduled audition time for me to change into my dress and fix my hair (the makeup was applied in the car, as I wasn't sure we would have enough time there once finding a parking spot and everything for me to do it without rushing).

Upon entering the audition site (the Musikhochschule there in Saarbruecken) I headed for the bathroom, put on my dress, and finished my hair- I was ready!  I wandered over to the benches positioned outside of the audition room and hoped to find someone who I could ask for the location of a warm-up room, when fortunately the director of the program for which I was auditioning (the Saar-Lor-Lux Opernstudio) came out of the audition room and introduced himself.  He was wonderfully nice and told me where the practice rooms were (right around the corner, conveniently) and said I was the next person after the Baritone who was currently going to be singing.  So, into the practice room I went!

I warmed up for about 10 minutes and then came out again, not knowing whether to speak French or German or English with the other auditioning hopefuls who were waiting.  I tried French, and then when it was pretty poor with a few of the auditionees, I switched to German, and finally when that failed- they could at least all speak English.  It did seem that there was a wide age range and skill range of applicants, from having talked to a few, and I was really not sure what to expect.

After the Baritone sang his last few notes, the director of the program came out to get me in order to begin my audition.  The audition was held in the concert hall (so far, so good) and there were two other adjudicators in the room besides the Conductor/Program director.  He introduced them as the Assistant Director and the Intendant (the Stage Director).  They both spoke French (yikes! It begins!) and I tried my best to say what little I had learned in the past two weeks from my Mango studying.  At any rate, it seemed to go okay since neither of them were offended (phew, pronunciation was correct, I guess) and I went onto the stage and handed my music to the accompanist.  He had looked briefly at what I brought earlier in the hallway before I went in, and now he seemed mildly bewildered.  I began with "Les oiseaux dans la charmille" from Jacques Offenbach's Les Contes D'Hoffmann and it was a complete disaster.  The accompanist just couldn't play it AT ALL.  I mean, it's not a complicated accompaniment, and if nothing else at least he could have played one of the hands in the right tempo (right?).  But, to no avail, I tried to get him to take my tempo (which was not fast by any means, but, which was MUCH faster than he wanted to go) and then when he just was completely lost at about 1 minute into the piece he completely stopped playing altogether and just let me sing the rest of the piece a capella.  Talk about crazy!  I honestly was so shocked that he did not know the piece and that he had done so badly that I really didn't have very much concentration left to put into my singing (and hopefully, although I can't promise anything, my shock and dismay didn't read TOO loudly on my face).  At any rate, I got through it surprisingly well, I thought, after such an occurrence, and I sang the next song that was titled "No.2 Romance" from the piece that they were going to be performing, also from Offenbach, called Ba-Ta-Clan.

Then, of course the requisite 'sit-down' with the jury panel was called for, and I waited with baited breath for them to say something about the accompanist's gigantic flop, but it was as if it never happened. Strange... So, they said they very much liked me and they weren't sure whose voices would match together best (since the opera Ba-Ta-Clan is written only for a Soprano, Baritone, and Bass-Baritone) and that they would need to consider that blend before getting back to anyone about getting the gig or not.  Therefore, they thanked me for the audition, said they very much liked me, and then sent me on my way.

The drive back to Dortmund seemed hopeful as that was the first audition in Germany where the adjudicators seemed so pleased with my singing (and in Germany they don't tell you that often) and so I hoped to receive something positive via email in the days to come.  However, all of my expectations were left unfulfilled when they responded to me approximately four weeks later saying that they were very sorry but that they had not yet chosen a Soprano (still!) but that they were not going to be choosing anyone who had been at that audition and they would be holding another set of auditions with completely different singers in the next week.  Well, you can imagine my surprise upon reading that email.

But, I guess it just wasn't the right gig for me.  No matter, I will keep pressing on! :)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

What do Opera Singers DO all day long?

That question has been asked of me by many a person, and many a non-opera singer (of course). I'd like to use this post to debunk any and all myths associated with being an Opera singer and rid the minds of the masses of the perception that this career is easy, or that there is enough to do to maintain it in only 3-4 hours per day. 

If you have Opera singer friends, or family members, then you already know that Opera singing is really a very time-consuming and demanding profession. Just ask my boyfriend- I've got plenty of work; he nearly has to pry me off the computer at night just to get me to sleep. So, what is it that takes up all of this time, you might ask? Well, let's hack away at this answer categorically, shall we?

First, there is the necessary musical preparation that takes at least 3-4 hours per day (and I am talking here just about sitting at the piano and going through your music note-by-note). Normally for me, I practice singing full-voice for approximately two hours per day, and that is only after I've warmed up (which normally takes around a ½ an hour) and then sometimes when I am extra good (but which I should actually do ALL the time) I will also do an hour of yoga before my warm-up (to get the body really warmed up properly). Therefore, you can already see that singing is the sort of profession where things are quite mixed up together categorically speaki(we've already dealt slightly with staying fit, musical preparation, and focused concentration for long periods of time). Keep in mind that this should all be done after having had a healthy balanced breakfast (except for the yoga- try to do that on an empty stomach, to which I say, HA!--because it never happens in that order for me somehow, if I want to get anything else done in the day).

The other categories which take up a large part of my day include a multitude of “electronical information thingamajiggers”. I spend about 5-6 hours per day on the computer: doing research for auditions/competitions, applying for said auditions/competitions, keeping you all up-to-speed through composing Blog entries (at which I have lately been horrendous-but in my defense- I was spending more time on the audition/competition application part of this category), and checking various social media networks (email accounts, one personal and one professional, Twitter, and the infamous Facebook) to make sure that I'm not missing an important piece of news from a friend/colleague and to let everyone know, between Blog entries, that I'm still alive over here. Keep in mind, once those audition applications are finished being typed up, or formatted, or re-formatted, or scanned and saved, or printed out, or ALL of the above, then they also must be collated, filled-out, organized, prepared, put together, and taken to the post office (a.k.a- more time consumed)!

Beyond those two large chunks of the day (I'm already up to 8-10 hours there solely with those two absolutely necessary parts of opera singing) I should also normally spend time on the following things: eating lunch, eating dinner, cooking said meals (hopefully in a budget-friendly and healthy way, if it is possible to accomplish both at the same time) and then doing additional tasks related to the first category's activities. Namely, paying attention to how I am doing health-wise purely physically (by meditating, doing more yoga, going on a solo walk, or checking in with my Alexander Technique progress). 

There is also often work to be done (when learning new music, which at this stage in my career is most of the time) in terms of translating music (if it's in a foreign language) and writing in International Phonetic Alphabet to my music (this is important to remind me of the correct pronunciations at all times). I should also spend time watching the videos of my most recent voice lessons and coachings to determine if I'm doing something well in those videos (if so, good Julia!), or to determine if I am doing something horribly wrong... or standing in a ridiculous posture... or making a face that is just plain ugly during singing (if so, bad, bad Julia!). 

Of course there is also my mental health that I need to monitor in this profession, as there is quite a lot of stress that accompanies singing (more on that in another related Blog post) which needs to be gotten rid of in a healthy fashion, otherwise that terrible four-letter word happens, and I'mthe word sunk for audition season (in this case, I'm referring to the word 'S-I-C-K', for those of you now imagining more colorful four-letter-words). I often like to relieve stress by reading a good book (the titles currently falling under this category are as follows: Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks, and Desert Queen—recommended by the stupendous Lauren Flanigan—by the author Janet Wallach) or writing an email to a friend, or calling a friend, or, simply taking a nap! 

Then there is always the obligatory personal life (who needs it?!) that gets in the way (I mean, …... that keeps me balanced) and which needs tending to on occasion (I mean, who would want to live with me if I never talked to them?). And which, honestly, if there wasn't a sort of “safe haven” for me to escape all of the things associated with this career choice of Opera singing, I would really not be able to do this. It is like the famous saying, those who work hard play hard. Well, I wouldn't really call my personal life 'playing hard', but I would liken it to a soft landing after a long day.  For me with the demanding nature of this career it is important to have someone to come home to who is comforting and reassuring. In all sincerity, my personal life is one of the most important factors in my Opera singing success plan, because it gives me a sense of grounding and separation from my career in my down time (and, if I didn't happen to get a positive result out of that last audition, I won't have as high a proclivity to feel like my life's over; Bonus!).

Therefore, there is quite a lot, as you can see, to keep me occupied with this career of Opera singing. 

And that wasn't even mentioning the time associated with completing applications for grants (for those of us who don't have rich relatives who are willing to pay for everything..... or who have recently won the lottery.... or inherited a large amount of money) as well as taking time to do things completely unrelated to Opera (which most people with normal 9-5 jobs would do on a thing called a 'weekend', which is, I'm told, completely devoid of work associated with one's career, to which I say, I've never seen this....'weekend'- what's it like?). In other words, the entire explanation of why Opera singers are sometimes paranoid, uptight, cranky, crazy, and generally spread-too-thin, has just been covered. If you have any questions, please re-read the above. :)  And then, if you still have questions- ask someone with time on their hands...in other words: not me, nor any other opera-singing friends you might have.

Please, Dear Reader, do take this all with a lighthearted understanding. I do actually LOVE Opera singing, it's just that sometimes one has to present the cold, hard facts of how difficult a thing is, in order for those who aren't in one's shoes to appreciate just how hard one is working (even if most people with 9-5 jobs would like to believe that an Opera singer is someone who just 'sings' all day, to which I say, LIKE THAT'S SO EASY!).

Hopefully this was informative to those of you who weren't expecting an introspective on my life's work.  And, without irony, if you do have any questions, please, as always, feel free to comment! I'd love to hear from you!!  And if you want to compare relative difficulties of your career with mine, that would be superb! I would love to hear about someone else working so hard (it would make me feel better)!

On The Death of Dame Joan Sutherland: Ode to Joan

On October 10th, a very superb singer, and I'm told just as excellent a human being, was lost to the world and the Opera community. Joan Sutherland, a Soprano, of the Dramatic Coloratura variety, died at her home in Switzerland at the age of 83.

Instead of exploring the tragedy of this death, I would like to take this time to explain to many of you who might not have known her work quite so well, why she was amazing at what she did, and why this particular loss, is quite a meaningful loss to myself.

Joan Sutherland was a legend even in her own time (and let's face it, that's an accomplishment when such luminaries as Mozart had a difficult time doing that while still alive). She was married to the famous conductor, Richard Bonynge and she grew up in Austrailia before gaining her first big success at the Royal Opera House in London and then subsequently moving to Brooklyn with her husband where she lived for quite a long time during her many numerous collaborations with the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.

Her voice and her personality are the stuff of legends. She was the person who actually is credited with starting Luciano Pavarotti's career: she found him singing La Boheme at La Scala and being booed off stage, and by helping him to find his high notes through teaching him her technique of doing it, she created a megastar of him, as well. Thereafter the two were said to be best of friends and collaborated quite a lot on many notable productions ( like La Fille du Regiment and Il Trovatore at the Met).

Although she might not have been the most perfect singer when it came to dramatic interpretation (as some might suggest) or diction (as most might suggest), let's face it, the woman had the voice! There are numerous times where I've seen her on YouTube, or heard a recording of her, and her voice is just unmistakable. It couldn't be anyone but her. Her voice was simply stunning, and I bet that every person who has heard her, either recorded or live, will admit that. She found the perfect mixture of beauty, strength and uniqueness that is ideal for an Operatic voice, and it was even so perfect as to make her other foibles (the possibly not perfect dramatic interpretation on stage and the sometimes questionable diction) practically non-issues (and to a picky, educated Opera public, that's saying something)!

Coincidentally, I had just contacted the Sydney Oper House a few weeks ago to find out where I could mail a fan letter to Ms. Sutherland, since her work meant so much to me and my own experience of Opera. She was a person who made Opera something to strive for, for those of us who are still working on 'becoming something' in this field. She set such high standards in terms of technical sound perfection, and she also presented a likable persona both on stage and off, which is a difficult combination to find normally in someone who is so famous.

Ultimately, I would like to thank Joan Sutherland for consistently doing her best in this profession and putting such love into it that her contribution to opera was able to touch such a wide audience (those already within the profession, not to mention, those who merely became familiar with Opera through hearing her name or hearing her sing).

I guess I did get to write that fan letter after all....

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Further Rotterdam Photo Introspection

 A good friend of mine, Dan, whose informative and interesting music journalism blog can be found at: http://postpostrock.wordpress.com/ , was very kind to provide me with information about those cool things that I took a photo of in Rotterdam that looked like bubbles sitting on the water in the harbor.  His addition is as follows:

...those odd "floating," semi-transparent structures are geodesic domes, which were patented by the visionary American architect and inventor Richard Buckminster Fuller.  Interestingly enough, one of SU's architecture profs gave the arts journalism folks a seminar all about  B. Fuller and and his designs--really futuristic stuff worth checking out.  Even more intriguing is the indirect music connection.  Fuller once taught at the short-lived Black Mountain College, an arts-centric liberal arts school considered very progressive for its time.  Other guest teachers included John Cage, Lou Harrison, and Merce Cunningham.  It was kind of an idyllic American utopia for creativity.

So, thank you very much to Dan, whose informative nature and lovely blog-following has helped all my readers out! Thank you all for being so interested!! :)

Ford's Snazzy German Advertising Adding Spunk to Autobahn Experience!


On the back of a large tractor-trailer recently, I saw a very interesting and fun ad from Ford Motors, the owner of the tractor-trailer, presumably.

It was a picture of a red Ford Mustang with racing stripes and over the picture it said, “Klar, den haetten sie lieber vor sich”. And what is funny about that to those of you who don't speak German, is that the following things could be implied by this sentence:
1- Perhaps Ford was suggesting that if that Mustang was driving in front of you, it wouldn't be as slow as this truck is right now.
2- They might also be imagining that it would be nicer to look at then a truck.
3- Or, they could always be conjecturing that if the Mustang was in front of you on the Autobahn you'd be safer then if it was behind you (driving at high speeds and running you down since you'd be driving at the normal rate of only 120km/hr).

At any rate, great advertising on Ford's part, and thanks to them for the Autobahn Amusement!

Monday, September 20, 2010

ACK!!! The pianos are 'geschlossen'!!! Um Gottes willen......!

So, lately I have been encountering what seem to be roadbumps along the path of success.  And the most recent is actually the lack of practice rooms with pianos available to me in Dortmund.  I have asked everyone that I know, and I am now desperately begging churches and public spaces in Dortmund with pianos if I may somehow have access to those pianos when they are not otherwise employed, because the pianos that I was happily using, without bothering anyone else of course, have now all been securely locked to those who are not music students at the Technische Universitaet Dortmund.  To which, I say a firm and resolute "DRAT!"

Therefore, plan B, which has yet to come into existence of course, must be quickly enacted, otherwise, as they say in America and NOT in Germany, "I am f*cked!" for my upcoming auditions.  Because of the urgent nature of such a situation, and possibly the knowledge of you, dear Readers, I am asking anyone who knows anything about possible pianistic-free-time-usage in Dortmund is very heartily encouraged to please comment on this blog as soon as you finish reading this!


NOTE: For those of you who are interested in my audition progress: this piano shortage snafoo will make it all the more interesting for me to go through with my audition for an agent in Duesseldorf the day after tomorrow (Wednesday the 22nd of September).  We will see how THAT will go!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Rotterdam Road Trip!

A Dutch trashcan-'Restafval'. Called similarly in German: 'Restabfall'.
So, normally on any given Sunday  in America I wouldn't have the chance to visit another country within a day's drive of where I live in Pennsylvania.  Yesterday, I found out that this was not the case if I live in Germany.  Or, I guess, for that matter, many locations in Central Europe.

This is me with said trashcan.
Yes, yesterday I was able to drive two hours (or, rather, ride as a passenger) to the lovely city of Rotterdam where I visited my lovely friend Ashley and her beautiful family and then when almost compelled to begin the drive back to Germany was instead persuaded by my adventurous boyfriend to explore the city further for a few more hours as the daylight dwindled.

Ah, bikes!
cool buildings at downtown harbor.
Luckily, he had the right idea with that instinct.  We were able to see a lot of things, even though it was a Sunday in the later part of the afternoon, which I automatically consider the most un-tourist-friendly time of day in European cities.  And, who can blame them?   I understand that at least once a week it is nice to get a break from one's work.  Though, I was pleasantly surprised by Rotterdam's tourist friendly store hours (most were open til 6pm on Sunday evenings) and their large variety of outdoor tourist-friendly sights and experiences.

Note the cube houses-they are actually museums and hostels!
Strangely dazzling weather at harbor.
Not sure what these were but...cool!
More superb weather!
More downtown-harbor area.
This ship was HUGE! And just parked in the harbor. Apparently it came from Portugal-nice!
Since Rotterdam is a port city, and one of the biggest ports in all of Europe says my boyfriend, we were able to walk around quite a bit by the water of the canals and the harbor, seeing all sorts of wonderful bridges, boats, skylines and vistas of the sun's beginning to fade.  Though we missed the zoo, which apparently has an underwater tunnel where fish swim over you and you can experience the sea from a bottom dweller's perspective (which we will undoubtedly have to do next time we are there), we did get to see many remarkable architectural styles (something Ashley noted Rotterdam is famous for and becoming moreso year by year) and that was pretty darn good, I think, for a Sunday and a two hour drive one way, right?

Oh, and I should note one thing about the interesting looking trashcans in the first pictures-they are actually really small but the metal grate below them holds as much trash as one of those dumpsters we are used to seeing outside of businesses in America.  Therefore, they are emptied by being picked up by the trash trucks with the part that sticks out on the top of the can  and dumped into the trucks.  And the funniest part about that is, when you are throwing trash into the can the area below is so large you can't actually see the bottom.  Who knew?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Back in Germany and Ready for Audition Season!

Hello Dear Friends/Family and those of you who belong in none of the above categories, but still simply subscribe to read about my zany operatic life and adventures:

I am lucky enough to have arrived in Germany safely on Thursday morning (9/9/10) in Duesseldorf International Airport and survived my relatively quiet and stress-free flight from JFK on Wednesday night (and there were no screaming babies or people kicking me in the back of my seat- and it was AIR-BERLIN- can you believe it?!).  At any rate, I am slated for a few important auditions coming up here in Germany and I am excited and prepared for some wonderful experiences.  I will be posting entries on this blog as often as possible (I will try to go back to my 1 post per every 3 days rule from earlier this year), but if I haven't posted anything in a few days, I might be traveling to or from an audition and have no mobile internet access.  If that is the case, please be patient, and something fun/informative, or both, will be posted soon, rest assured.  In conclusion, I am happy to be back and bringing you all along on this journey of a lifetime through uncharted waters for me and my career aspirations.  I am so glad you'll all be with me every step of the way.  Hugs from Germany!!!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Julia's New Posts Will Be Back Soon!

This is just a quick message to all of you, Dear Readers, that I will be back to posting at this website in the middle of September, since I am currently working very diligently on completing many applications for the fall audition season in Germany and America.  Wish me luck! (No really, good luck wishes are very much appreciated!!) And I hope, of course, that you all are enjoying a wonderful summer and are excited for the next post when I am finished these applications.  So, I'll be in touch soon, or as they say in German, Bis bald!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Still Leben Ruhr 2010





Last Sunday, July 18th, I was not expecting anything extraordinary to happen. I woke up, ate breakfast and got dressed. My boyfriend wanted to visit some 'world's longest picnic on the Autobahn' or whatever it was he was talking about excitedly a few weeks ago, so that was on the agenda, as well as getting some more practical work finished for my upcoming auditions and voice program in August. Naturally, my curiousity was peaked when he had mentioned something like this a while ago, but normally highways and picnic tables don't provide my imagination with a feeding frenzy of zany imagines, so, I simply thought, okay, let's see.
Honestly, the idea of this whole project didn't sound all that exciting: the Ruhr area decides to close a major highway on a Sunday in July to open it for pedestrians and picnic tables on the one side and bicyclists and skaters on the other side. Doesn't really bring to mind the next Woodstock or Lallapalooza, does it? Especially since my mind went right to thinking, 'Oh goody! Let's walk on a (probably) crowded highway in the middle of a blisteringly hot day without any purpose besides wanting to look at all the other goons who fell for this community togetherness ploy!'. Needless to say, I was not enthused, but figured I could get through it for one day, if only to add it to the list of my new experiences in Germany.

And that was where my pessimistic train of thought was completely and utterly derailed. Not only did I have a wonderful time walking on a blisteringly hot highway in the middle of a Sunday in July without any real purpose besides watching everyone else doing the same thing as I was, (take a mental breath) but I also found out that the German people as a whole are not as conservative as I had imagined. I mean, considering that this entire thing was put together by neighboring cities in the Ruhr Area and there was very little publicity done about its actual date and time, plus, there were no actual events planned save two or three stages on the highway with musical performance schedules in a stretch of 60 kilometers (which is roughly 37 miles according to Google), there were zillions of people there! And each picnic table that was rented (whether by a company, school, group, or family) was colorfully decorated, interestingly bedecked and filled with smiling people who looked like (and usually were) having tons of fun (even somehow after lugging 5 coolers, a beach umbrella, a colorful tablecloth, papier-mache decorations and their three kids onto the highway from a quite-possibly ridiculous distance)! (Keep in mind readers, the only ways to enter and exit the highways were from the on-ramps that were usually used by cars, which means, a LOT of walking even before you get ON the highway!) There were also tables sponsored by University students who needed taste-test volunteers, or organized for birthday parties with friends and family invited, or reserved by Radio Stations to do live broadcasts of the craziness happening on the highway, and also those rented by companies and organizations to promote their businesses or membership or services. Then, besides the interesting happenings at the tables, there were just normal individuals that wandered through the masses on the highway and sang or played music, walked their dog, pushed their stroller, juggled, or wore fun costumes. There were two strolling groups that merit particular mention: a drum circle (playing djembes) on wheels--they had rigged up a massive bicycle which allowed the first guy to pedal and then the subsequent riders to actually play their djembes while bicycling!--as well as a sort-of monorail of retired bicyclists who had hooked up 30 side-by-side bicycles together and rode around looking like an amusement park train ride.

There was practically everything that one could think of going on that day on the A40 highway, and it was a perfectly apt representation of the culture of the Ruhrarea that sponsored it: multi-dimensional, or 'vielfaeltig', as they'd say in German. And, a side effect which I was not expecting: feeling more of a kinship with the A40 highway. I know, who'd have thought?

So, hope you've enjoyed the pictures, and looking forward to hearing your comments!


video video video

Friday, July 23, 2010

Lotte Lehmann Akademie in Perleberg coming up!

Hope you all are doing wonderfully and just wanted to update you that I will be unavailable to be on the internet and updating the blog from August 1st through August 8th but that I will be back online once I get back to the USA on August 10th. Don't worry- just because I won't be in Germany at that point, you can still check on the blog here for all of your Julia's-singing-life-and-life-in-general updates. I will be posting whatever strikes my fancy in terms of musical interest or otherwise. ;)

But, be aware- this isn't the last post until that time- I just wanted to be kind and alert you all ahead of time! So, the posts will keep coming until August 1st, 2010 and then after August 10th!

Just in case you are wondering what this program actually is, and why I will be taking part in it from August 1-8th, have no fear, the explanation is here! (What can I say? I like rhyming!)

The Lotte Lehmann Akademie is a program that is held in Perleberg, Germany this year (and I am participating in the 3rd week of the program which is 8/1/10-8/8/10) and began on July 19th and will end on August 15th. It is a program that helps singers to get a more 'inside track' on the workings of the 'German system' of opera singing and career building, and hopefully will help me to understand better how to effectively portray my 'singing package' in Europe, and particularly Germany.

I am also excited to be working with the faculty there, as they are all knowledgeable professionals either currently employed in the field of Opera, or who are noted professors at the various 'Musikhochschulen' (the name for a university-level musical conservatory in Germany). I think it's safe to say that I am in for a wonderful opportunity- not to mention the chance to meet so many other wonderful singers!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Success in Stuttgart!

So, I have been notoriously bad at keeping abreast of the wave of things that have been happening here lately, however, I am making it up to you all right now by filling you in!

This post will be dedicated to my positive experience in Stuttgart at an audition for their Bundesagentur fuer Kuenstlervermittlung (which covers the German States of Baden-Wuerttemberg, Saarland and Rheinland-Pfalz, and that's it--I think!) and which is basically a different branch of the same government agency that I visited in Cologne in June, but only covers the regions listed above in the parentheses.

This particular experience was much MUCH easier and enjoyable than the one in Cologne from the very beginning. It was a four-hour drive to Stuttgart (closer to 4.5 more likely) and it was a gorgeous day! The sun was shining, it was hot and the sky was blue- so far, so good. Then, miraculously, we did not encounter a single traffic jam on the way there (which is a miracle considering that summer is the time construction on the Autobahn happens most often--and we only took the Autobahn--#'s 45 and 5--so that was another narrowly avoided pitfall. Finally, upon arrival in the outskirts of Stuttgart, it was as if we were driving into Beverly Hills. The countryside was absolutely breathtaking- the bright green wine trellises crisscrossing the rolling hills and the deep valley of the city center surrounded by beautiful mansions and picturesquely winding roads- it was just...perfect. Honestly, after seeing that as the first glimpse of my experience with Stuttgart, I was prepared to have a wonderful day and a wonderful audition.

Well, that was not the end of our luck. We found a parking spot practically right in front of the building where I was auditioning, and we were 10 minutes early (after taking only one wrong turn in the city of Stuttgart---not too shabby considering their roads are TOTALLY confusing for first-timers). Then I go in, change in the bathroom (what, you thought I'd wear my dress the entire ride?! No way!) and go upstairs to find the 'warm-up' room---always a possible disappointment, or maybe even completely non-existent! (Ha.) The room was occupied but the girl just HAPPENED to be leaving right as I was coming (yay!) so I went in, played around on the piano a bit and mentally centered myself for singing (or, rather, tried to channel the beauty and liveliness of the city into the singing I was about to do). The room was wonderful- it was so easy to sing there- the acoustic was ideal, the piano was absolutely in tune and there was even a large floor-to-ceiling window for me to look out onto the scenic city center as I sung. Couldn't get more perfect. Honestly.

Then, I remembered that this particular audition had mentioned in their email to me that there was a possibility that my audition and my experience there would be videotaped and put on television (SWR- one of the main TV stations in that part of Germany) and I wouldn't know it until I got down to the audition room whether or not they'd pick me (yikes!). I guess I had forgotten that, hadn't I? Ah well, somehow even that couldn't stop me from beaming with joy.

So, I finished warming up, went downstairs and waited. My time was at 3:30pm and the people who were downstairs outside of the room waiting to go were at 3pm (and they were already 1/2 an hour late) so I prepared for a longer wait than I had hoped. I talked to the auditionees (one gal was in her 30's and was trying for fun, there were two Korean singers- a Soprano and a Baritone, and later on a girl originally from New Jersey who now lives in Stuttgart and was actually my same age, trying to do the same thing as I currently am. Small world! And, what was funnier, was that we spoke German to one another. I guess I didn't notice until after the audition was finished but, how funny, right?

So, the two people before me were videotaped and interviewed by the TV station crew and I kept thinking "Oh gosh! What happens if they interview me? That would be a chance for me to say something interesting or at least semi-intelligent, but I think I might just get tongue-tied and look like an American idiot!" (I admit, that was probably not the most productive line of thought at the time.) Luckily, they took a break just at the time when it was my turn to go into the audition room. Phew!

I went into the room, there was only one man, and he seemed to be very eager to hear me and also in a very good mood. (That can NEVER hurt!) So, he asked what I wanted to sing first- I began with Doll Song, then he asked for the Mozart---Blonde's aria--and then he talked with me about what he liked, and what I could still work on (thank God there was nothing mentioned that I didn't already know---that was super good news!) and then he said that he'd recommend me for another audition coming up on the 26th of July for an opera studio in Luxembourg but that the audition and rehearsal process would be conducted in French, but I was comfortable with that, right? Of course I was! (Well, I did tell him that I can read French very well but speaking is another matter all together, however he assured me that that would be sufficient.) Nevertheless, I have been practicing my French non-stop since that audition. If anyone needs a good language learning website--check out

Mango Languages


Anyway, that's the good news! He said that he couldn't offer me any positions currently because it was summer break (okay, expected that) but that I should definitely come back in the Fall and bring Adele's arias from Fledermaus along for the re-audition, and that they would very likely have possibilities for me then. YAY!

So, that's that folks- great news, right? I am super excited for the audition on Monday! Cross your fingers and bitte Daumen druecken! ;)