Thursday, July 29, 2010

All that has happened...(Part 1)

Three weeks later, and a lot has happened. I would say this trip rates somewhere between "life-changing" and "totally worth it"...meaning I still have yet to see what all comes from this trip, but I can say without a doubt or hesitation that it was everything I wanted it to be and more.

(Sorry, no pictures this time...there will be some in my next post on Hamburg!)

Let's wind the clock back three weeks. The entire group of IPAI students arrived the night of July 4th. We were all tired and a little sad that we were missing out on Independence Day with our friends and family, but we were very excited about getting started. After our welcome dinner and a (not-so) quick tour of the town with Darla Earnest, we all went to bed ready for rehearsals. I won't bore you with a day-by-day account of what happened, because many days had a very similar pattern. We would get up for breakfast around 700. We had German language and culture class at 800. We had coaching for the life of a performer at 915. From there we would go to our assigned voice lessons or coachings, which alternated days. The hotel would serve us lunch, afterwhich the Musical Theatre students would go to acting classes while Opera students would go to dance, and two hours later we would switch. The evengs were full of rehearsals, both for the large company numbers as well as smaller group songs we were divided into. Aside from the occasional change as the need would arise, the majority of our time was spent in this intensive routine. The plan was to simultaneously prepare us as a group for our showcase performances both in Kiefersefelden at the end of the month and for an informal viewings in Hamburg (for MT students) or Munich (for Opera), as well as prep and train us for auditions in our respective cities as well. We lived and breathed our music and our craft. Here I will just focus on some of the memorable aspects of the training in Kiefersfelden.

The training we received this summer itself was more than worth the cost of the trip. I have grown, both vocally and as a performer, in three weeks what would have taken me a school year to achieve. The morning sessions with Darla were invaluable. I really wish I had the opportunity in school to study German. The language makes a lot more sense than I thought, largely due to the fact that English is Germanic in origin. Darla gave us a crash course in German culture, particularly Bavarian culture. Whenever you think of all the cultural clichés of German culture, they primarily reside in Bavaria, the south-eastern region shared with Austria. Darla taught us all the terms and phrases for basic communication, from standard greetings ("Grüß Gott/Grüss Gott" = "Greetings in the name of God") to how to ask for directions or order food. The people here are exceptionally friendly, and they are always ready to help and willing to wait while we Americans stumble over our butchered words. Often the younger people are eager to speak in English both to show what they know and to practice, in addition to simply being curious about us. We met many fun and interesting friends around town at the restaurants and pubs.

My voice lessons in particular were rewarding. My voice instructor was Matt Nesmith, a theatre teacher from University of New Hampshire who will soon be taking over Bruce Earnest's old position at University of South Dakota. He was a very personable and easy-going guy and clear instructor. He was eager to get to know not only what kind of singer I was, but also who I was as a person, so he could more clearly connect song interpretation and performance. One of the most interesting experiences of the entire trip happened while I was in a voice lesson with him. We working on more clearly communicating the text of a song, and he asked me about the situation in which my song takes place. At this time we were working on "Everybody Says Don't" from Stephen Sondheim's Anyone Can Whistle. The character, Hapgood, is a rougish idealist who has strived all his life to set people free as individuals. He has come to town to admit himself to the local asylum as a form of retirement, for he sees the free-spirited people inside as more content and free than the people outside dully going about their miserable lives. Matt took this idea and decided that in order to help me communicate my character's intention with the song, he had me sit down in a chair and then proceeded to tie me up. His reasoning was that since my character came to town with the intent of being admitted to the insane asylum, I should sing the song as if I were in a strait-jacket. This forced me to not get distracted with movement and action, and gave me a more urgent need to communicate visually in the only way I had left: my face. Moments like these proved to be some of the greatest breakthrough's in my time there.

We also did a LOT of dance training in our short time at IPAI. My body is still aching from all the stretching and drilling we did. Our dance instructor was a man named Chris Niess. He comes from the University of Central Florida, and was one of the most interesting characters we met. A shorter bald man who walked about with a cane, at first glance I did not expect him to be our dance instructor. He focused a lot on making sure we were grounded in our movements while keeping our bodies and faces lifted. He coached us on movement in our interpretations of our solo pieces as well as group numbers. He whipped the 30 or so of us into shape in less than three weeks, and did so with a spirit and tenacity that was infectious. Here was a man who was excited about what he did, and wanted us to allshow how excited and committed we were too.

I think that is one thing that defined this entire trip. All the instructors that came here from all over the states and Europe were all infectious in their enthusiasm to help us grow and learn. Here we were thrust into an environment that was quite simple one of the most ideal learning situations that could be constructed. We were in training a majority of the time, with the remainder of our time being left up to us to either rest or practice on our own. We had lots to do, but for once we had plenty of time and opportunities to do it. In the end, it rested on us what we got out of this experience. For myself, I feel like it couldn't have gone better. Not only did I improve as a singer and a performer, I gained incredible experiences, made invaluable contacts for my career and education, and made memories and friendships I will cherish all my life.

Howeve, more than all of this, I believe the most valuable thing I have gained in the last few weeks in an increased sense of self-confidence. I have not always been the most confident person; in fact as a child it was one of my greatest struggles. Yet, with the help of friends and family and, above all, God, I built up and developed my confidence to where I was a fairly independent and self-assured. I still struggle with doubts, as everyone does, but I also dealt with my limitations which I viewed as insurmountable. I always thought of them as the boundries of which I had a healthy awareness. Chief among these were my vocal abilities. I got into singing relatively late compared to most musical theatre students. Before college I never sang outside of church. Even though I am aware of my significant growth vocally over the last couple of years, I still always felt like I was coming up short when compared to people who had been doing it their whole lives, or worse, those who were "naturally gifted". I always took comfort in the fact that I had a gift for performance and acting, and what I lacked in singing I could make up in the performance and character portrayal. I never used this as an excuse; I still worked hard on my voice, approaching the training as I do every other aspect of my craft, but still the self-doubt persisted. This is not necessarily a bad thing; a certain level of dissatisfaction is part of what drives us to be better, but this shouldn't come at the cost of our confidence. This past year has been especially hard, between having a fairly mediocre senior year in the theatre and preparing to go out into the big scary world. This trip has changed that for me, or at least given me a boost in the right direction. I know the kind of performer I am. I know my abilities. I know my potential. I know my worth. My self-confidence is through the roof. I feel like I could knock down a wall with my chest. Come what may, I will meet it head on. I may or may not be ready for it, but I have God at my back, so I'm going to try anyway. School is over, it's time to grow up. So bring it on. Let the lighting flash. Let the thunder roll. Let the storm winds blow. Let the hard rain fall. Let the trouble come. It will only make me bring it on!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Heart of Bavaria

It has been a few days since I arrived here in Kiefersfelden, and they have just flown by. Peter, Beca, and I took the train from Budapest early in the morning on the 1st to Salzburg, where The Sound of Music took place. After much confusion, we found our train that took us over the border to Rosenheim and then on to Kiefersfelden. We thought we were going to be able to relax, but no sooner had we walked in the door than we saw Steven O'Leary come bouncing up ready to show us around. We quickly tossed our belongings into our room, changed quickly, and hopped in Bruce Earnest's car. He took us up the side of the mountain to the famous Hechtsee; it is a mountain lake about 3 miles outside of Kiefersfelden. Since then we have walked up there on our own. We follow the mountain stream running into the town up a small trail along the side of the mountain until we crossed over a bridge and came to a beautiful waterfall.

We followed the steps zig-zagging all the way up the side of the mountain. The top of the water fall led us past a small dam, and suddenly we were standing on the edge of a spectacular mountain lake. The crystal clear water spread out in the distance between the rising slopes. The lake actually straddles the border between Austria and Germany, and on the far side of the lake access is owned by a Count! We didn't go over there because they charge a Euro to use their diving boards, so we walked around the side to a large boulder and jumped from there. The water was cold but refreshing in the sun, and we could see far down below us.

After a wonderful time of swimming we started the trek back down the mountain. We have spent the last couple days exploring the town. We have found some wonderful places to eat around the town. The Cafe Gluck is a favorite for us all. Our lodgings, the Hotel zur Post, has a fantastic restaurant and bar.

Today was when a majority of the IPAI participants have come rolling in. It has been a whirlwind of greeting people and learning names and faces. We had a large dinner tonight to meet everyone, followed by a guided tour around the town with Bruce's wife, Darla. Tomorrow we hit the ground running with auditions and masterclasses, followed by rehearsals...I am very nervous!

By the way, we have also been watching the World Cup games in the bar here. The fans here are awesome! GO GERMANY!!!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Brief Stay in Budapest

I have been here in Hungary for 3 days now. It has been very nice having this buffer time between traveling and starting work at the International Performing Arts Institute. Pete's family have been wonderful hosts. Yesterday they took Pete, Beca, and I down into Budapest to see the city. We wandered all around, taking in the sights; we climbed Castle Hill to what is known as Buda Castle, a large palace of the Hungarian kings. The hill rises above the Danube River and the city beyond. At the edge of the hill stands the Fisherman's Bastion, an iconic portion of the city walls so named for the guild of fishermen that were responsible for defending the city.

We walked across one of the bridges over the Danube and visited St. Stephen's Basilica, as well as saw the magnificent Hungarian Parliament Building, the second largest in Europe.

Interestingly, it was built during a time of Austrian occupation. The reigning Austrians didn't want the Hungarians to build something that lasted, so they were forced to build it out of the native limestone, which would deteriorate over time. As a result, even to this day they Hungarian government must constantly perform repairs and refurbishment on the structure.

Before dinner we took a trip up to the top of one of the most unique sights in Budapest, Gellért Hill.

The Hill is named after Saint Gerard (Gellert), a Venician bishop who was one of the first Christian missionaries to the area. The locals did not take well to his efforts, as they placed him in a barrel with spikes hammered inwards and rolled him down the hill into the river. They certainly have a rish history here! Since then the hill has been used multiple times for its stratgic military position. The statue that can be seen at the top of the hill is the Liberty Statue which was erected by the grateful Hungarian people in rememberance of the actions of the Soviets when they liberated Budapest from the Nazis during World War II. However, as we know from history, things with the Soviets soon soured, and the Soviets actually used the hill as a location from which to shell the city below during the 1956 Hungarian Revolution.

After dinner we took a boat ride up and down the Danube River to see the city at night. It was beautiful seeing all these historic buildings and cathedrals all lit up, shining like beacons of the testament of hope in the night. Pete was not exaggerating when he said this was one of the most beautiful cities in all of Europe. I can't wait to come back here with our friends from IPAI when we are done in Germany. For now I have to pack everything up as the three of us are getting on a train early in the morning to take us through Salzburg, Austria and then on to Kiefersfelden, Germany!

We will have a couple of days to settle in and to prepare before everything gets started on the 5th. I hope I'm ready; I've been practicing my music and trying to learn everything I can before we get there...I can't wait!

Next time you hear from me, I'll be in beautiful Bavaria!