• Failing Forward

    What does it say about me if I can’t keep my commitments?

    Revisiting the sunny optimism of early January 2023.

    I didn’t achieve any of the goals I set for myself in January– not a single one.

    The blog has lately become an airing of my deepest grievances and insecurities. This unintentional openness has garnered more attention than any of my past blogs, even the ones about Taylor Swift’s Midnights or my polyp. I guess people like to see someone being honest about their struggles or something. I didn’t mean to become some beacon of vulnerability, but I’m continuing that today. All of your messages and comments have, frankly, emboldened me.

    On to my latest failures.

    I started January intending to practice daily, learn new arias, get back into regular lessons, consume zero alcohol, apply for three artist grants, actually get something out of the Met competition, and publish two blog posts per week. Oh, and I also intended to lose weight, but I left that out before because of my inability to reckon with the shame of participating in diet culture. So much for that– if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you missed last week’s blog post. (TW: disordered eating, body image issues)

    Another failure: leaving peace signs behind in 2023.

    A couple of weeks ago, I reached out to a teacher in the Twin Cities. I have an instructor with whom I do Zoom lessons, but I was advised that no one here in the Twin Cities knows me as a singer yet, and it might be wise to get involved with an instructor who has connections in the metro area. 

    This voice teacher makes me believe the universe is giving me a second chance. 

    Wait, I’ve said that before.

    Fine, third. Or fourth. Honestly, I’m probably on my tenth chance, but you get my point. 

    From the first lesson, she treated me like I knew what I was talking about, that I was intelligent, and that I knew how the voice worked. She taught me like a professional who just needs a good set of ears to keep me on track. There wasn’t a single time she treated me like a student; it was just a fellow musician guiding another. She didn’t promise me a career, comment on my appearance, or belittle my skills. I told her I just wanted to work, and she said, “you will.” That’s it. She didn’t pretend to be some all-knowing savior who had all of the answers: no toxicity, no gimmicks, no bullshit.

    I became technically distracted by the idea of creating pharyngeal space and maintaining a low larynx, but in doing so, I unintentionally reintroduced tongue tension to my laundry list of vocal problems. My new teacher taught me some tongue stretches (yes, non-vocalists, tongue stretches) to help me relieve unintended pressure that I had confused with proper adduction. My vocal cords immediately began to adduct more freely and solidly than when I was forcing them together, a remnant of the coercive phonation I had to use with the polyp. 

    I haven’t mentioned this on the blog, but my voice still fatigues sometimes, especially my speaking voice. Once I begin to feel fatigued, I start doing what my speech-language pathologist (SLP) calls “guarding,” where I try to be careful but somehow make it worse. I’m gripping my pesky tongue instead of letting it flop around! I am quite literally holding my tongue.

    And all of you thought I had an inability to hold my tongue. Joke’s on all of you; I’m holding it all the time! HA! HA HA HA!!

    All of this vocal nonsense was caused not by my inability to “speak like a singer” but rather by my attempt to sound like someone I’m not. 

    There’s a metaphor in there somewhere. Let it come to us naturally.

    I nearly canceled my appointment yesterday with my new SLP because my voice is doing mostly better. However, my better judgment encouraged me to attend the appointment, and I’m so glad I did. I was given a slew of tongue stretches and exercises specifically for injury recovery to tire out my tongue so it can’t interfere so much when I’m singing and speaking, gosh darn it. 

    I have my high notes back. I can sing coloratura again. My vibrato is more even.

    Ok, so back to my goals. I didn’t have a lesson and coaching weekly, but the lessons I’ve had have been transformative. I didn’t practice every day, but my practice sessions felt easy and productive. So, did I fail?

    The shock I felt when I realized my last teacher still didn’t have all the answers. Insert, “I had to find the answers myself” quip here.

    When I take the pressure off my cords and the base of my tongue, my voice isn’t quite as heavy as I thought. My young self hoped I had this huge voice that just needed years of time and wrangling, but in reality, I’m just a mid-sized lyric soprano that took longer to cook than others. Listen, I think I could sing a great Mimi, but the fact is, my natural color is a little less warm than what most casting directors are going to want from a full-voiced Puccini gal (but call me if you need a Musetta!) I was forcing that heft and darkness, which took away the cut and clarity of what my vocal cords wanted to do when I set them up correctly. It turns out I was on the right track a few years ago repertoire-wise; I just didn’t have the technical chops to execute my rep well.

    So, I haven’t learned two new arias, but I am resurrecting three arias I loved to sing. They’ve all been on the shelf for at least four years. There’s a particular danger to singing old repertoire because the old technique can creep in, but these have been tucked away for so long that I can navigate them with an ease and spontaneity I never would’ve thought possible a few years ago. Does that mean I failed?


    Oddly enough, the Met competition and grants go together. I already talked about my Met competition experience, but I’ve moved past the feedback. My vibrato will be under my control once I stop clamping down on my tongue, and that’s already in the works. I reconnected with a colleague with whom I threw around new ideas for collaborations fueled by the two (not three) grants I applied for in January. We have some projects and ideas in the works for the next few months that may not have come to fruition if I hadn’t sung in the Met competition. So was that a failure?

    A merry belated Princemas to all.

    The real reason I wanted to do Dry January was less to do with my vocal health and more to do with my weight loss goals, but I didn’t say that before. I was ashamed that I lost all of my COVID weight and regained it in one year. I wanted to do it again and keep it off this time. 

    Skinny people are disciplined. I am not skinny. Therefore, I am not disciplined.

    This message is what my brain usually likes to tell me.

    Alcohol is filled with empty calories, so why not forgo it for a month to jump-start my weight loss?

    But then my weekend in Iowa happened, where ideas were shared over a bottle of wine. Princemas, the annual Christmas celebration with my best friends, was filled with laughter, stories, and drinks. A friend who came back into my life had a birthday party. I enjoyed a beer at a basketball game. 

    All of these events were fun, and they would’ve been fun without alcohol, too. Maybe this one was a bit of a real failure, but I don’t feel that bad about it. I feel worse that I couldn’t lose weight this month, even though, in the same breath, I’m appalled and angered by diet culture. It’s tough for me to shake free from the roller coaster of gaining and losing a few pounds month by month as I balance my self-hatred with my desire to enjoy myself. Did I fail, or did I just force myself into a cultural expectation I didn’t want to uphold in practice?


    When I look back at all the ways I failed in January, I reflect on a pretty formative month. I began projects, revitalized my singing technique, and feel freer than ever vocally, both in my teaching and singing. There were numerous fun events, travels, and moments that forced me to have some conversations I’d been putting off. All in all, it’s been a great start to 2023, and I can’t wait to keep failing forward. 

    I’ll see you when I see you– obviously, I didn’t hold myself to those two blog posts per week, but I’m grateful that what I have shared has resonated with readers. I hope you give yourselves some grace.

    Victoria

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  • Body Image as an Opera Singer

    My own quest to stop fighting my body

    TW: This post discusses body image, body dysmorphia, fatphobia, and eating disorders. If that’s not for you, I’ll see you next week. Take care.

    As a performer, my body is under constant surveillance. Despite the stereotype of a “fat lady who sings,” the opera industry is nearly as fatphobic, at least with their female singers, as theatre, film, and dance. However, in the interest of fairness, the pressure for baritones to appear as “barihunks” certainly highlights the visual appeal that the opera industry is attempting to cultivate. What will get more butts in seats? Men with abs, of course!! 

    Opera is an aural medium. The voice is the most important thing, and everything else is secondary. I love that about opera, and despite increasing pressure for high-level companies to produce recordings of their shows for streaming consumption, I hope it continues to emphasize the voice. That’s a primary factor that sets opera apart from other performing mediums.

    Regardless, becoming an opera singer opened me up to criticism about factors outside my voice, and my physical appearance certainly wasn’t exempt from this. I have been told to wear short heels only to auditions because I’m already too tall for many tenors. I have been told my arms are too fat and I should cover them up. I’ve been told to not wear a particular dress because people can see my tummy rolls when I breathe. I’ve been advised that I looked thinner in college and should return to that. I was told that people wouldn’t trust I was a lyric soprano if I didn’t gain weight. Someone even suggested a nose job if I had the extra money. Young singers are notoriously flush with cash.


    Before I really get going, I have to begin with two caveats.

    First, I fully recognize that I move through the world as a thin person. Ignore that my BMI (which is largely B.S.) edges on the questionable side of “healthy.” The need to fall within the green at any doctor’s appointment has remained a constant reminder of my failures.

    Secondly, I am still unpacking my internalized fatphobia. I have fat friends. I do not view them as failures, yet, I consider myself a lesser person if I gain weight. The podcast “Maintenance Phase” has really helped me to start reframing this mindset, but I’m a work in progress. You’ll notice this throughout the post.

    I just want to talk about the history of my relationship with my body and how being a singer has kept me constantly aware of how I look. It is not my intention to take out my tiny violin and boo-hoo my appearance when I know I am perceived as a relatively thin white lady. 


    Me in second grade. Duluth, MN, 2001.

    The first time I remember becoming acutely aware of how my body looked to the outside world was in second grade. My dad took home video of my little sister’s backyard pool party, and I was there with my two best friends as well. There was a shot of me in my Minnie Mouse bikini I had proudly acquired in Disney World, and I noticed my tummy rolls as I happily slid down a slide into the pool, blissfully unaware I was markedly larger than my thin friends. I remember feeling intensely embarrassed as I watched myself onscreen, and looked down at my stomach. There were rolls. They’re the same rolls I have today, over twenty years later.

    My friends in elementary school were all skinny. I was one of the smart girls– sharp, fast, and confident– and then I realized I was also a little fat. My friends were perfect dancer girls. They weren’t loud. I was everything all at once, rolls included.

    I didn’t go through puberty at an earlier age than my friends, not really. Early puberty can happen with girls who develop more quickly. I just had a little more fat on my body, and my mom gently encouraged me to wear a training bra. She was so good. My mom never drew attention to the fact that I grew taller and fatter than my peers at a faster rate.

    However, my already developing body image issues were exacerbated by a health problem that followed me through the rest of my childhood. When I was in elementary school, the school nurse noticed an unnatural curvature in my spine. Unfortunately, as I grew, the angle in my spine became more pronounced. As a precaution, she sent me to a specialist in town who diagnosed me with scoliosis and kept an eye on my back. The angle got more pronounced as I grew, and the doctor referred me to Gilette Children’s Hospital in St. Paul.

    On February 2, 2005, in 7th grade, my doctor fitted me with a plastic brace to coax the right lumbar part of my spine back toward the center. I dieted for a week in advance since I knew I would be getting weighed.

    I really hated getting weighed.

    In the interest of honesty, I still hate getting weighed.


    I can’t find a single photo of me wearing my brace online, but here’s a photo of the type of clothing I was trying to wear under my extremely bulky scoliosis brace. I definitely should have been wearing my brace here. Northfield, MN, 2007.

    The plastic brace really messed with my brain.

    The right hip of the brace stuck out significantly, as it constantly pushed my spine back into place. The fashion in 2005-2007 was to wear a tight tank top with a polo or short-sleeved shirt layered over the top. It didn’t afford the luxury of subtlety. At a certain point, my body hatred overcame my desire to heal my spine, and I stopped wearing my brace to school. I felt like an alien, and I couldn’t do it.

    Eventually, the jig was up. I had to start wearing my brace again. I followed the rules of wearing it 23 hours per day, seven days a week, followed by only needing to sleep in the brace after my doctor felt I was through puberty. Finally, I was at my last appointment during my junior year of high school. 

    My doctor, a well-respected British man, happily shared that the brace mostly resolved my scoliosis, and it was safe to say I could stop wearing the brace without the worry of relapse. I was free.

    Well, kind of.

    The doctor noted that I had consistently gained weight since our first appointment when I was in 7th grade. Since I had gone through puberty, there was no reason for me to be gaining weight anymore, and I should lose some weight. 

    I was horrified, embarrassed, and defeated.

    It should have been a fantastic day! The brace had cured my scoliosis without surgery, which rarely happens. I should’ve been ecstatic.

    Instead, a doctor who specialized in the spine needed to tell me that I, a 16-year-old girl, should lose weight. I’d like to mention here that I was not what was considered to be overweight, but I would still argue it wasn’t part of his treatment to comment on this regardless of what the scale said. 

    I restricted myself to 1,000-1,200 calories per day and lost 25 pounds during my senior year of high school. No one was worried because I was never underweight. Looking back, I had definitely developed an eating disorder. Luckily for me, it only lasted a few months. I know it could have been much worse.


    My childhood obsession with my weight, unfortunately, followed me into adulthood. Throughout my adult life, I have navigated poor body image (I’m now told this is called body dysmorphia) and equated being thin with having discipline. Although I try to eat foods that make me feel good and exercise daily for my physical and mental health, too often, it devolves into calorie counting and shaming myself when I falter, which happens frequently. I feel constant pressure from myself and my industry to lose weight.

    If I’m eating whole foods, restricting calories, and doing rigorous exercise daily, I’m a success. If I don’t follow my meal plan, I’m a failure. I’m trying to break this mental block.


    I’m seeing the opera industry change through criticism from singers, and I even see it in musical theatre. It’s refreshing to see a variety of bodies appear on the stage. When I saw Beauty and the Beast at the Ordway, the woman who played Belle was incredible and wasn’t super thin. I wish my little self could have seen her onstage or onscreen and felt unstoppable rather than defeated by my appearance. 

    I want to celebrate my body rather than constantly ridicule it, but it’s complicated. I’m excited by the prospect of more inclusivity and representation happening onstage and am grateful for the loud voices in the industry pushing for that. I struggle with the anger that women are expected from birth to look beautiful for the enjoyment of men and also want to be perceived in a certain way. These thoughts constantly feel at war with each other as I unpack a lot of internalized shame surrounding weight. As I shift my mindset on singing, I am also trying to shift my relationship with my body. It’s the only one I have, after all.

    I am very terrified to share this post today. I’m afraid of being called out for fatphobia or making people uncomfortable by sharing too much. I’m constantly scared that my openness will diminish my ability to book gigs. However, whenever I share my experiences, singer friends flood my inbox with gratitude for my transparency. So, I guess I’m writing for us. I hope we can continue to unpack the baggage associated with our appearance and advocate for centering the voice in the opera industry.

    Thanks for reading.

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  • Feminist Fridays: Gretchen am Spinnrade

    What if men cared more about preventing unwanted pregnancies?

    Our guy Franz. I see he escaped some facial deformities that often accompanied late-stage syphilis. Photo: Wikipedia, baby!

    I know it’s a Sunday, but Feminist Fridays are BACK! We’re digging into one of my favorites today with Schubert’s Gretchen am Spinnrade (Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel), a wild ride worthy of aria status, using the famous Goethe text, Faust.

    Let’s back up and talk about our guy Franz Schubert (1797-1828). He wrote around 600 vocal works, primarily lieder (art songs) in his short life, in addition to symphonies, sacred music, operas, and piano and chamber work. He famously died officially of typhoid fever in 1828, but many scholars postulate he died of syphilis. I’m not sure why this is so scandalous; many people died of syphilis back in the day. No, seriously. Everybody was dying of syphilis, and it was gnarly. Thank goodness for penicillin, am I right?

    Schubert made the most of his short time on earth by becoming one of the most prolific German art song composers of all time. The sheer number of works he composed over a few years is truly astounding, and we can thank him in many ways for ushering in a new era of compositional style. Beethoven reportedly was impressed!

    The agony!!! Gretchen at her spinning wheel. Artist: Frank Cadogan Cowper.

    Gretchen am Spinnrade is perhaps Schubert’s most iconic piece for soprano. Although it is an art song, the intensity, storyline, and relationship between voice and piano evoke the dramatic sensibility of an operatic aria. He wrote the song at the tender age of 16, further proof of his compositional genius. 

    Ugh, one of the best. Enjoy the incredible vocalism of Kiri Te Kanawa.
    Google Translate meets my own poetic translation for clarity.

    Let’s talk about the story of Faust for a minute. Although the character of Faust has been around since the 1500s, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s play is one of the most consequential and well-known interpretations. In two parts, Goethe tells the story of a medieval man who sells his soul to the devil.

    But I don’t really care about Faust– I care about the beautiful young woman, Gretchen (or Margaret, the two names are used interchangeably), whom he seduces and impregnates.

    She accidentally kills her mom with a sleeping potion meant to keep her unaware of Faust’s visit, her brother condemns Faust, who kills him with the devil’s help, and Gretchen drowns her baby. Gretchen is then imprisoned for murdering her child, and although Faust attempts to free her with the devil’s help, she refuses. Ultimately, she is pardoned by God as she dies.

    Woof. Romanticism, man.

    This song is set before all of the tragedy unfolds. Gretchen has met Faust, and his charms consume her. She sits restlessly at her spinning wheel, heard in the piano accompaniment, as she obsesses over her love for Faust. They haven’t had sex yet, but her longing for him builds in the vocal line as the piano accompaniment imitates her increasing inability to focus on her work. 

    Definitely turned some heads while reading this in Iowa.

    Like many women before her, having sex with a man was the worst choice Gretchen could have ever made. The implication of this choice was unfairly 100% on her. I finished a fabulous book, Ejaculate Responsibly: A Whole New Way to Think About Abortion, by Gabrielle Blair, while sipping a delicious chai at a coffee shop in Ames, Iowa, last Sunday. It’s a short read but supremely validating and angering all at once. 

    Blair was able to clearly articulate a frustration of mine in the conversation surrounding unwanted pregnancy and abortion: 100% of unwanted pregnancies are caused by irresponsible ejaculation, and yet, women bear most or all of the responsibility of preventing unwanted pregnancies.

    Through 28 straightforward arguments, Blair attempts to shift the abortion issue away from legislating women’s bodies and toward a focus on equalizing the playing field of responsibility in preventing unwanted pregnancies. Assuming both parties are fertile, women are fertile for approximately 24 hours per month, whereas men can impregnate a woman 24/7, 365 days per year. Despite this, women account for 90% of the birth control market and face stigmas surrounding prioritizing men’s comfort and pleasure over pregnancy prevention. 

    In Gounod’s opera, Faust, the devil had a hand in helping Faust seduce Gretchen, which could be a commentary on how tempting it is to sin, or it could be a way of absolving Gretchen of her actions. Regardless, love makes people do stupid things, like getting knocked up and accidentally killing their mom with a sleeping potion. Right?

    In my mind, Gretchen resembles Ophelia– a tragic character swept up in the problems of and mistreatment by men, only to die, tortured, and alone. She fits nicely into a literary trope of helpless women who become victims at the hands of the men who were supposed to love them. At least Hamlet also dies– In Goethe’s version of Faust, the hero goes on to have an entire part two without mentioning how he ruined Gretchen’s life and caused her demise. At least she got to go to heaven. Yes?

    My hope for a modern Gretchen is that she could fall in love and have sex with a man who understands that preventing unwanted pregnancies falls on both parties. By taking control of her sexuality, our modern Gretchen can restlessly daydream at her spinning wheel without worrying about a life-upending change. It makes for a far less dramatic story– distinctly less darkly romantic but much more empowering.

    The devil can still condemn Faust to eternal damnation, though– he’s the worst.

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  • Listening to Myself

    Or, learning to trust my own ears and experience

    Tell me you’re a millennial without telling me you’re a millennial. Ames, Iowa, 2023.

    When I sing at a competition, I usually try to put my phone backstage or in the audience so I can record a voice memo of my performance and listen to myself afterward. Directly afterward. My heart is still pumping from adrenaline; I’m warm to the touch from executing vocal acrobatics for eight minutes straight. Hearing my performance played back is a way of prolonging that kick of excitement. Singing in public edges on terrifying in a way that makes it electric. I love it. I’ve spent a lot of tears and money just to get a hit of that addictive feeling.

    I did not win at the Met on Saturday, which I consider neither to be a personal nor professional failure. My choice to compete in Iowa rather than Minnesota was complicated but made more straightforward because the pianist is my friend and colleague. Post-performance, I grabbed my phone and headed to the pianist’s studio to unwind. I lay on the floor and popped in my earbuds to listen to my performance.

    “Why!” my boyfriend texted.

    My brain was still swimming in post-competition fog. What was he talking about?

    “You can’t feel how you did? I mean, why are you listening to your performance immediately after performing?”

    “Because I’m a monster,” I answered, only half joking.


    He had a point. Why was I listening to my singing directly after my performance? Why couldn’t I just feel how I had done without listening to it secondhand and dissecting every melisma, breath, and vowel?

    We are literally taught to do this.

    Singers are instructed not to trust their own ears and experience. We’re always encouraged to seek someone else’s opinion, whether from a coach, teacher, director, or conductor. While this is helpful and necessary during our studies, we continue to devalue our views over time in favor of someone else’s long after graduation. I felt this impetus in my fellow competitors— I felt their hunger and eagerness. I felt it because I know it intimately, and it’s hard work to untangle myself from that mindset. Distancing myself from that familiar feeling is the only way to be an artist rather than a cog in an increasingly unreliable machine.

    Listening to myself is a way of reliving the experience of performing while also forming my own opinions in retrospect on how I sang. I can then take notes on what needs to be improved objectively and provide feedback.


    As I announced to the judges and the audience I would be singing “Quando m’en vo’,” my brain popped in: why are you singing an aria that 22-year-olds offer? Pretty embarrassing! And then the other part of my brain chimed in, “you’re singing this because 30-year-olds actually get hired to sing Musetta, and you’ve got a fuller voice and enjoy a character role. Now shut up and sing.”

    This dialogue happened before the pianist even played Musetta’s flirty opening theme. It took me a line or two to get out of my nervous/excited state (it’s hard to tell the difference sometimes), and then I was free. I had an absolute blast. They asked for my Mozart, a wickedly melismatic piece from Don Giovanni, which I hadn’t performed outside Seagle’s safe audition class walls, but it was ready for the public now.

    My mind flicked to my old teacher, who assigned it to me as a vocal exercise. One lesson, he commented that I “might actually be able to sing this one day.” Well, that day came on Saturday, two years later. I recalled the time I once threw my phone across the room listening to a coaching of this piece because I thought I sounded so awful. I cried and yelled that I “still couldn’t fucking sing.”

    I put it away for a while after that outburst. I’m glad I gave Mi tradì a second chance.

    Somebody please stop me from continuing to throw up a peace sign in 2023.

    I don’t listen to my recordings after I sing in a competition because I want to ruthlessly critique myself (usually); I do it because it almost always makes me feel better. I had a blast singing on Saturday, especially the Mozart. That piece can be disastrously dull, and I know for a fact that I made it exciting. It was exhilarating, and I hope it was also for the audience.

    Anyway, back to not winning. I didn’t listen to anyone else sing that day except the three people before me, who I heard through the green room door. All three sounded fabulous and won awards that afternoon. Letting go onstage was enough of a win for me.


    The Met competition is attractive to young singers because it offers a slim chance at operatic stardom, and judges stay after the awards ceremony to give feedback to each competitor. This time with judges allows the panel to gush over the winners and explain to everyone else why they didn’t win. However, it is one of the few places to get direct feedback from an outside source as a young artist. Sometimes the feedback is valuable; other times, it is not.

    When I take a step back, it’s pretty bizarre. I get onstage and perform vocal gymnastics that it has taken years to execute, and then I hear about everything I’m still doing “wrong.” Of course, wrong is usually subjective, so the best course of action is just to sing and not worry about what the panel wants to hear. For example, one judge felt I didn’t change tempi enough in Quando. That’s his opinion, and if he had been conducting me, I would’ve followed. How was I supposed to know that my interpretation was strawberry ice cream and he preferred mint chocolate chip?

    Admittedly, I fell back into the young artist mindset during feedback. The first two judges were kind and complimentary but also picked on some minor aspects of my singing, some of which I agreed with and some I didn’t. I’ve been singing long enough to differentiate, but I still felt annoyingly defensive and frustrated.

    When I got to the last judge, I was in a mood because I felt myself slipping headfirst down the slide of young artist mentality. After he offered some constructive criticism and praise, he shook my hand, and something came over me. I said, “can I ask you a question?”

    Uh oh. The tears were coming. But I went for it anyway.

    “I’m 30. Do I…like…stop doing this?”

    Tears streamed down my face. It was horribly embarrassing. I almost didn’t include this anecdote, but I felt I had to be honest with all of you. Here I was, asking this man who heard me sing for less than ten minutes and spoke with me for maybe three minutes about his opinion on my life’s trajectory. What was this demon that came over me?

    He looked bewildered. He replied with something like, “What? With an instrument like yours? You should only quit if you don’t love it anymore. This business is just hard.” And then he gave me a hug, or at least I think he did– it might’ve just been another handshake, but it felt like a hug.

    I was horrified, but it was also kind of hilarious. 

    I escaped upstairs to the pianist’s office and told her what happened, and she said, “it’s good for these judges to remember that singers are human beings and not singing machines.”

    That made me feel better. The demon was gone.


    If you’re wondering if I’ve always been cool, the answer is a resounding yes. I highly recommend Dog-Eared Books in downtown Ames, Iowa.

    I spent the rest of the weekend exploring downtown Ames and making handmade jewelry with a cat in my lap. For your information, Ames has a barbecue place that is better than some North Carolina BBQ I’ve consumed over the years, which was a welcome surprise. 

    My pianist friend and I said “cheers” to never calling myself a young artist again this weekend. I have a handmade pair of earrings and a new attitude to commemorate the occasion. 

    A dear singer friend texted me on Sunday asking, “so, what’s next for you?” and I simply responded, “who knows.” He immediately replied, “who cares.”

    Who knows; who cares. It certainly won’t be boring.

    Let’s just say I assisted Jodi without overstating my involvement in making these earrings.

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  • Ode to Young Artists

    Saying goodbye to the opera pipeline

    I’m done being a young artist. I would say it’s been a good ride, but it hasn’t.

    I’m competing in the Met (now known as the Laffont Competition) for the last time this Saturday. However, I’m barely viewing it as a competition– I’m retiring my young artist mentality while still giving it one last go. As my hand-boiling pianist, Dobby the house elf, would say, “just go beyond the fuck it.” 

    “GBTFI” is scrawled across the top of many arias in my binder, but I rarely achieve it. I care so deeply about how others perceive me that it strangles my ability to produce art. I respect people who say, “I don’t give a fuck” and mean it because I give so many fucks. So, I’ll let you know if I’m able to GBTFI this weekend. That’s the goal.

    My first time competing in the Met. Hint: I did not win. Columbia, SC, 2017.

    The Met competition is a magical place where eager young singers fresh from their conservatories sing careful performances of well-known arias as if to say, “PLEASE pick me.” It’s academic and cautious. Technically near-perfect winners emerge to sing their pristinely coached arias at the next level. Some winners have fabulous careers at the Metropolitan Opera, and others disappear into obscurity. This industry has no sure way forward, but winning the Met competition does help.

    Thirty is the soft cutoff for breaking into the opera industry through young artist programs, colloquially known as YAPs. Certain companies will hear artists through age 35 for a young/resident artist position, but most are looking for the youngest candidate with the shiniest resume and surest technique.

    I believe this attempt at a thirst trap was posted when I had three auditions in one day. I did not book any of them. New York, NY, 2019.

    For those outside the niche world of opera, let me explain what YAPs are and the traditional pipeline for young singers.

    First, we should start with the journey to becoming a young artist in the first place. Most opera singers attend a four-year university or conservatory and graduate with a Bachelor of Music in Voice. During this time, they take lessons with a teacher, study music theory/aural skills, music history, acting, diction, and languages, coach with a pianist, and perform in juries and recitals. The best training programs will stage complete operas, usually with graduate students in the leading roles, but smaller colleges will mount opera scene programs. Where students obtain their undergraduate degree matters considerably for the connections their teacher will have with young artist programs and pay-to-sing programs and the school’s reputation. It will impact their ability to get into a top-tier graduate school.

    I went to a choir college because I thought I wanted to major in music education, and then I stayed once I switched my major to vocal performance. Although some singers from Concordia have gone on to have traditional operatic careers, it is not nationally known as a training ground for opera singers. Strike one.

    Generally, undergraduates are told the next step is going to graduate school. If a young singer is exceptionally talented and their school is a pipeline for specific pay-to-sing programs (these are precisely what they sound like– you pay to spend a summer doing more training with talented young artists,) they might graduate with some pre-professional experience. I spent my senior year at Concordia making recordings and auditioning for various grad schools for which I was not qualified due to my shoddy technique, lack of performing experience, and singing in the incorrect fach. Although I got into several programs, I didn’t get money. A wise professor told me not to go to graduate school unless I got a full ride because otherwise, I’d be paying for someone else to go to grad school. 

    I took a year off. I gained performing experience in the Twin Cities but didn’t find a teacher. I coached arias, but my singing wasn’t improving. I auditioned for two more graduate schools and got into UNC Greensboro, but they weren’t giving out scholarships that year. The teacher I wanted to study with advised me to move down to North Carolina and study with her for a year because the potential was there, but I needed the technical work, and I did. I spent the year studying with this teacher, but I also spent the year waiting tables and becoming entrenched in server life. I got the scholarship in the end, but in a way, I wasted two years. Strike two.

    First day of graduate school, 2017. Greensboro, NC.

    Back to the perfect young artist– let’s say they get into one of the name-brand graduate schools or conservatories. During their two years of graduate study, they will take all the same classes they took in their undergraduate degree (not even kidding), plus some vocal pedagogy courses. Hopefully, they will graduate with pristine technique, a couple of pay-to-sings or low-level young artist programs under their belts, a district win at the Met competition, and are ready to audition.

    Alright, so let’s talk about auditioning for young artist programs. There’s this website that looks like it hasn’t been updated since 1995 called YAP Tracker, and it’s where pretty much every company posts their auditions for young artists. Accessing this website costs $55 per year (or $95 for two years). There are also many competitions, training programs, and general scams to suck young artists dry of what little money they have listed as opportunities on the site. 

    During the pandemic, many opera companies finally got rid of their application fees, but before this, most companies charged between $5-$50 to apply to their company. Can you imagine paying money to apply for a job, not knowing whether or not you’ll even get an interview? In 2019, I paid over $1000 in application fees alone. I didn’t receive auditions for over half of those companies. We can talk about my stupidity later, though.

    Generally, there are summer YAPs and year-long resident artist contracts. Some premiere summer YAPs include Santa Fe Opera, Wolf Trap Opera, Glimmerglass Opera, Merola Opera, and Des Moines Metro Opera. They are extraordinarily competitive to get into, and young artists spend the summer singing in the chorus in exchange for networking, connections, coaching, visibility, and a small wage. Many talented young singers are hired for these opportunities while they are still in graduate school or shortly after completing their degrees. Although each company will employ a couple of dozen artists, the positions are extraordinarily competitive, especially for sopranos, who make up nearly three-quarters of all auditioning young artists.

    Year-long residencies are reserved for those artists who have completed their formal training and are hired to serve as chorus, covers, small roles, and outreach artists with a company for their entire season. Usually, these artists include one soprano, mezzo-soprano, tenor, baritone/bass, and pianist. They are extraordinarily competitive, especially for sopranos. Do you see a pattern here?

    It’s essential to post bathroom selfies while in New York because otherwise, how will people know you were granted auditions???? RIP Shetler Studios. New York, NY, 2019.

    So, what’s on this application? Although they can vary by company, applicants generally have to provide proof of their date of birth, a resume, and headshot, and send 2-3 video recordings of contrasting arias made within the last year. Within two weeks or (hopefully) more of the audition dates, applicants are notified whether or not they have received an audition with the company. Rejections are called “PFOs” or “please fuck off” because they generally don’t offer any feedback or reason for why artists weren’t granted auditions. It is not recommended to reach out to companies for feedback (unless they say so); hence, the emails are a (usually) kind and professional way of saying PFO.

    Most companies hold auditions in New York in October-December, and some also hear artists in Houston, Chicago, Cincinnati, or wherever their company is located. Artists are responsible for travel expenses and sometimes securing a pianist for the audition. At the audition, young artists offer one aria of their choice and present the panel with 3-4 additional arias in different languages and styles and sometimes a musical theatre piece. Generally, the panel will choose one more aria to hear, say thank you, and that’s it. Most auditions are around seven minutes long. If they want to chat, that’s a good sign. Some singers get offers in the room, but this is rare. Companies usually call or email to extend an offer within a few weeks of auditions.

    This year, I got an email from a prominent company that said they received 1,200 applications and granted 400 singers auditions for something like 30 spots. That’s for a prestigious summer YAP. I figured out for another company, a year-long residency, that they are hearing 150 singers for four spots. Someone I know in the industry shared that nearly all of the 200 applications they had received so far were from sopranos. If you’re attempting to do any math here, our odds as young artists are not good. 

    An old teacher of mine said music is one of the only industries he can think of where if you’re not the best, you don’t get a career at all. Think about it– there are star doctors, but there are also mediocre doctors. No mediocre musicians are making a living off of being a musician.

    I’m so grateful for my summer with Seagle. World premiere of Harmony, Seagle Festival, 2021.

    Right before the pandemic, I got into one of those prestigious pay-to-sings on a full ride. I thought this was finally it. Finally, I was breaking into the young artist track. Sure, I was 27, but it was better late than never, right?

    Hello, COVID-19! But, I found an excellent teacher. We went back to basics. I improved; I went to that summer program in 2021 and was finally on my way.

    Some things are not meant to be, and I’ll leave it at that. Strike three.

    Some singers go from conservatory to young artist programs to management to mainstage careers. That is the path. However, many singers don’t fit into this path. Some go into academia or go to Europe, others start winning competitions, and some go into church music, professional choral work, or musical theatre. Many young artists in the traditional pipeline get burned out before they can break into mainstage gigs. Lots of people leave the industry. It’s expensive and can be disheartening.

    Something I lost in chasing the YAP track was the joy of singing and my sense of creativity. I wasn’t playful or imaginative anymore. I was the singer nervously showing up to the Met competition and begging the panel to pick me. 

    Well, I pick me. I applied for two grants for projects of my own creation yesterday. Those are competitive too, but I feel good knowing I’m in the driver’s seat for once. I have more control and agency than I thought.

    This post isn’t a “poor me, here are all my excuses” lament. I made mistakes. I’m still working through years of technical woes. I don’t feel bad for myself.

    I can’t talk about what it’s like at these prestigious programs (I’ve heard some wild stories), but I can speak to what it’s like to be on the outside, desperately trying to claw my way in. A handful of singers have contacted me to say they appreciate my honesty about my experience and the industry, so this is for them. There are genuinely fabulous singers at companies, universities, and programs around this country, and if you know anybody who is a consistently working classical singer, appreciate they have indeed risen to the top of an incredibly cutthroat career.

    It feels so good to shed the young artist mentality. After years of study, practice, and performance, I can finally acknowledge that I know what I’m doing. I have valid thoughts on the music I’m singing and don’t need to be told what to do. I recognize where I need to continue growing as a singer and practice that improvement without judgment. 

    I don’t need to ask permission to be an artist. I’m here.

    Goodbye, YA life. It works for some singers, but it was never for me.

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  • ‘Til Death Do Us Part: Frauenliebe und -leben Part 8

    Who are we, if not the people we love?

    This post belongs to a series formerly known as “Frauenbild Fridays.” Click here to see the original post.

    Well, fellow feminists, we’ve come to the end of our first song cycle, Schumann’s Frauenliebe und -leben. Since this is a piece about a woman’s life and love, we can assume the last song features our protagonist on her deathbed, reflecting on a life well lived with her family and fulfilling career in the rearview mirror.

    Wait, we forgot something– a woman’s life in this period wasn’t hers! 

    The last piece in Frauenliebe, “Nun hast du mir den ersten Schmerz getan,” translates to “now you have caused me my first pain,” and refers to the death of our protagonist’s husband. Of course! It’s not her death that ends her life but rather her husband’s. We should have known.

    At first glance, the lyrics remind me of the now defunct Hindu practice of Sati, also known as “widow burning,” where some women would burn themselves alive on the funeral pyres of their dead husbands, either willingly or unwillingly. In Frauenliebe und -leben, our protagonist metaphorically resigns herself to death as her husband’s body lies in front of her. It is a dark and macabre image.

    I adopt a critical eye immediately, so I’d like to take a step back and assess two things before I get all cynical. First, Chamisso wrote these poems in the aftermath of the Sturm und Drang era, a precursor to the Romantic period translating to “storm and stress.” Alongside the stereotypical themes of the time, such as nature and romantic love, the romanticization of death and strong, negative emotion also pervaded literature, art, and music.

    This is what comes up when you Google Sturm und Drang. Rock ‘n’ Roll, baby!! I’m moody now! Angst!! Turmoil!!! | Abraham van Beijeren, River Landscape

    It makes sense that folks of the 1800s were obsessed with death and dying. 1840 was a time in which death was much more normalized than it is in our culture equipped with modern medicine. In the 1800s, the global average of childhood deaths was a whopping 43.3%. Nearly half of all kids died before they even reached adulthood! Of course, it wasn’t smooth sailing once the surviving children reached adulthood– the average lifespan in the 1800s hovered between 30-40 years of age. Next time I feel like I haven’t accomplished enough, I’ll just remember that if I had lived two hundred years ago, I’d probably be dead by now!

    The second factor I’d like to assess is a little squishier: love. When someone close to us dies, a tiny part of us also dies because we are part of each other. Through seven songs, we discovered our protagonist’s intense love for her partner and expanded upon her experience to center herself rather than her husband.

    Grandma and me at my high school graduation. I look awful, but I think she looks cute, so we’ll roll with it. I will not be taking questions about my sunglasses. Northfield, Minnesota, 2011.

    My grandma died nearly seven years ago, leaving behind a little gap in my heart. A grandparent is often the first acute death young people experience, and it was difficult to cope when my grandma died. I’m fortunate that those closest to me have lived long lives thus far, so I haven’t experienced the pain of losing a parent, sibling, best friend, or significant other. However, I can still imagine our Frauenbild doesn’t know how to go on without her closest confidant– it was hard enough for me to reckon with my grandmother’s death.

    In short, I think Frauenbild’s grief is warranted, even if her outlook is antiquated and colored by the views of men at the time. 

    Let’s allow the lyrics to speak for themselves for a moment.

    Translation from, surprise, Google Translate.
    I do not know what Jessye Norman is doing with her rolled “r” here, and frankly, I don’t care.

    The poetry in this piece evokes the acute pain of loss. Even in the translation, we can feel the burden of grief our protagonist is grappling with. The broken iteration of Seit ich ihn gesehen as a postlude is quintessentially Schumann and makes me cry, I won’t deny it. The piece is a beautiful end to the cycle, but not to this woman’s story.

    Although her husband is dead, I want to hear an epilogue where she continues to grow alongside her grandchildren. I want to read her memoir recounting her travels with friends. I want our protagonist to volunteer at a hospital or mentor young colleagues in her field. I want her to go on living.

    The beauty of existing as a 21st-century American woman is finally becoming the main character in our own stories. For so long, we lived in service to God and husband. We existed only to produce more people, which is a powerful job but limiting when we see all the options available for men.

    I savor my worth as a human not being tied to whether or not I’m beautiful, married, or a mother. My value doesn’t lie in producing sons who can go on to do something great; I can be something great myself. Women have only experienced this power in the mainstream sense for a generation. I won’t take it for granted and I won’t let anyone take it away from me.

    The death of our Frauenbild’s husband may have been the end of her story, but it’s not the end of our modern twist. After my grandpa died in 1999, my grandma went on to retire as the English department chair at Le Sueur High School, travel around Europe with her friends, and remain an integral part of my childhood. I’m sure she missed my grandpa deeply, but I only remember her as a sharp-witted, independent woman who lived and loved joyously. Although the grief of losing a loved one leaves a hole that no one can fill, our protagonist’s life will continue because it is her own, just like my grandma’s.

    Thank goodness– I can’t imagine being a sidekick in my own story.

    One of the last times my grandma was healthy enough to hear me sing live. Concordia College, 2014.

    Now you’ve caused the first pain

    But it hits me.

    You sleep, you soft, merciful man,

    The sleep of death.

    The abandoned one looks ahead,

    The world moves on.

    I have loved and lived, 

    I go without you.

    I find joy in those around me,

    The grief dulls every day,

    Where there was lost happiness

    New life grows.

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  • New Year’s Resolutions Versus Actionable Goals

    Why set myself up to fail when I can enable myself to succeed?

    Herbie’s new year’s resolution for 2023 is to drive me crazy while I try to work!

    The level of cortisol that floods my body in the last week of December feels increasingly uncomfortable every year. Those days between Christmas and New Year’s Day fluctuate between profound laziness and rigorous goal setting. Not only do we spend half of the month stuffing ourselves with delicious treats and socializing far more than usual, but our culture expects us to come out the other side with a laundry list of goals for the following year. It’s almost too much for my little brain to handle.

    “What’s your new year’s resolution?”

    I’m naturally goal-oriented, but sometimes I fall into the trap of setting goals so vague or huge that I automatically set myself up for failure. I’m trying this year to set smaller monthly goals that will contribute to my overall progress. Maybe this is something you’ve heard before, but I call them actionable goals.

    Goal-setting is good for us—our motivation, focus, and productivity increase when we set actionable goals. Even if we don’t achieve the targets we set for ourselves, pursuing a goal engages our brains and encourages perseverance. That’s pretty cool.

    We often set new year’s resolutions that require a massive lifestyle upheaval. Most people abandon their half-hearted attempts to save more money, lose weight, or change careers within two weeks. Interestingly, around 43% of folks who make a new year’s resolution expect to fail by February. Imagine if we change our mindsets to believe we could achieve our goals! 

    This year, I’m trying something different to manage expectations and eliminate that pesky failing-by-February factor. If I set month-by-month goals, I am less likely to give up by February– doing something for a month is far less daunting than taking it on for the year.

    Herbie’s second resolution is to take more naps.

    Most people quit their new year’s resolutions by February because they lose motivation. If you know me well, you’ve already heard my thoughts on motivation, but if you haven’t, I’ll lay it out here. Before I get into trouble, I’d just like to say this mindset is effective for me (most of the time), but that doesn’t mean it’s the right way of thinking for everybody. Do what works for you– I’m just sharing a trick I use.

    Ok, so here it is: motivation doesn’t really matter. Rarely am I motivated to do the things I do. I hardly ever feel like working out, but I do that almost daily. I am seldom inspired to practice singing and work on my rep, but I do that, too. I didn’t feel motivated to write this blog post today. I’m not motivated to write lengthy grant statements or edit clickbait articles for the freelance writing training I’m going through. However, it doesn’t matter if I’m motivated– if it’s on the schedule for today, I just do it. Within 5-10 minutes of initiating the task I set out to do, I no longer dread it. 

    So, regardless of my motivation, my actionable goals for January are listed below. I was scared to share them with you, but I think it will help me stay accountable.

    Victoria’s January Goals:

    • Attend one lesson and one coaching weekly
      • Now that my voice is improving, I need to stay accountable with my repertoire preparation and technical goals alongside professionals who know my voice and have a good ear.
    • Practice 20 minutes per day 5x weekly
      • I’m surprised at how much I can accomplish in 20 minutes, but I haven’t gotten into the habit of regular practice since the polyp. If my voice continues to improve, I hope to up this to 30 minutes in February! Musicians will know this is hardly anything, but I need to remain vigilant in my vocal use and not over-practice, which was part of my problem leading up to the polyp diagnosis.
    • Implement feedback received at Met Competition
      • I almost bowed out of the Metropolitan Opera’s yearly competition (again) but decided that since this was my last year to compete, I would go. I want to take my feedback to my teacher and coach and make it a technical and artistic focus over the next couple of months. It’ll be an excellent way to jump-start my performing for the year and receive feedback in the business.
    • Learn two brand new arias after the Met Competition with a focus on competition arias
      • I’m done auditioning for YAPs, but I’d like to be competition ready by next season. Nobody has gotten my fach entirely correct, so I want to pick pieces that I like to sing and aren’t too heavy for my voice (this, I believe, was another issue contributing to the polyp– over-darkening my voice to fit into bigger repertoire.) No better time than January to begin anew! 
    • Apply for three grants for artists
      • Applying for grants is a new skill for me and takes time and effort. However, it is an excellent way for artists to receive funding for creative endeavors.
    • Publish two blog posts per week
      • As I introduce more singing into my life, I don’t want to lose building my writing skills and platform here with you all. I’m continuing with two posts per week despite increasing responsibilities elsewhere!
    • Dry January
      • I’m joining many of you on this one for my vocal and physical health. I’m not worried about this since I eliminated alcohol in October and most of November.

    As you all can tell, I’m definitely not quitting singing. My monthly goals are actionable and reasonable yet push me in the new direction I’m headed. I feel a little intimidated by this list, but not completely overwhelmed. If I had simply listed the following:

    • Schedule coachings and lessons
    • Practice more
    • Learn new arias
    • Apply for grants
    • Keep blogging
    • Don’t drink alcohol for a while

    I would have been setting myself up for failure because these goals are neither specific nor actionable.

    Herbie’s last actionable goal is to render our shower unusable.

    I want to share a final thought on my monthly resolutions or goals–it fills my soul to do stuff like this. I would feel like a lost sheep if I didn’t force myself to improve or achieve something. However, I get it if you can’t wait for this first week of January to be over so people will shut up about this crap. 

    If you’re like me, and you want to set those resolutions but are worried about failing or holding yourself accountable, I encourage you to make monthly goals alongside me. I’d love to hear about them– it will keep me going too. 

    Unlike last week, I’m excited about my trajectory this month instead of scared. I can stick to these goals this month and set 2023 up to be the best year yet, or at least better than last year, which shouldn’t be too hard.

    Set some goals, enjoy the journey, screw motivation, and forgive yourself if you fail. It’s all just an experiment, anyway.

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  • 2022: Parting Thoughts

    The view that changed my mindset. Mantasoa Lodge, Madagascar, June 2022.

    Rarely do we notice the trajectory of our lives change in an instant except in retrospect. I had one of those moments in 2022, but it took me months to internalize it. Staring out into Lake Mantasoa with a cup of Malagasy coffee in my right hand, I listened passively as two creative colleagues discussed future projects and grant applications, only half listening. After all, I planned to keep studying with my teacher for a few months until I was magically the desire of every young artist program and agent in the country. As I zipped up my pink raincoat to brace myself against the morning breeze, their attention turned toward me.

    “Victoria, if you could design any artistic project for yourself, what would it be?”

    Flustered, I said, “I’m not really a creative person. I just want to have a traditional career.” I will never forget my reply.

    Years ago, I should’ve figured out that a “traditional” music career would never happen for me. 2022 is the year I finally started to embrace that.

    By the end of the trip, I had resolved to apply for two prestigious grants and felt like a genuine performing artist for the first time in over two years. Everyone there viewed me as a colleague–not a technically deficient student, but a fellow musician. I lost that feeling somewhere in the endless rejection and criticism. Sometimes, you just have to go to a different continent to gain perspective, I guess.


    Fast forward a few months, and I’m nervously retooling my definition of being a working artist. I have a pesky tendency to plow through my life full speed ahead without acknowledging my growth and setbacks, never satisfied with my progress or trajectory. What better time to look at myself than the end of an especially precarious year?

    I’d be lying to you if I said this year was easy. I was able to hide my failures behind the walls of the pandemic, but after two years of a career-imploding tornado, this was the year I finally had to clean up the mess left behind. I’m still picking up what’s left and figuring out what I can do with them. I sort of feel like a puzzle missing a few essential pieces.

    When I look back on this year, I will remember sleepless nights with a new puppy that my old voice teacher told me not to get because she would “be a distraction.” I’ll remember almost backing out of the Madagascar contract, which was professionally and personally life-changing. I’ll remember mourning the end of a toxic relationship and healing other connections that had endured damage for one reason or another. I’ll recall running my voice into the ground and planting the seeds for vocal rebirth. Either I’ll look back and think this year was when I was able to shift my singing career in a way that would change my life for the better or was the beginning of the end of my musical goals. I don’t know that part yet.

    Ready to giddy up into 2023 sans polyp with my doggo- October 2022.

    Looking forward to 2023, I’m uncertain but optimistic. Singing is taking me abroad at least twice next year. I’ve developed new goals and project ideas with mentors and collaborators, so stay tuned there, too.

    I came as close as I ever have to quitting singing in 2022, which caused me to think deeply about the things I like about being a musician. I like being challenged, problem-solving, working with others, self-motivation, attention to detail, being in front of people, and having a flexible schedule. There are careers outside of singing where I could have those things. Unfortunately for me, the things I love most are music, singing, and the arts. So, here I am– not quitting a career that seems to want to abandon me consistently and figuring out where I can meaningfully and realistically fit into this incredibly cutthroat industry. I’m open to widening what that means.


    The last thing I want to say this year is thank you. Writing this blog kept me focused when I was at one of the lowest points of my life. I have a paid freelancing gig that I’m starting in the new year because you all empowered me to keep writing– I finally felt good at something. Every time you reached out to me to say you enjoyed a post, that my honesty spoke to you or that I made you laugh kept me going and allowed me to open up my interests and skills to another medium outside of music. I honestly can’t thank you all enough for reading my selfish ramblings twice per week. You give me hope.

    Happy New Year, everybody.

    Victoria

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  • Is “Les Misérables” an Opera?

    “Do we fight for the right to a night at the opera now?”

    The historic Orpheum Theatre in downtown Minneapolis, December 2022.

    I spent the day on Saturday in delightful anticipation of the second to last performance of Les Misérables at the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Minneapolis. Having performed the show myself during my training at College Light Opera Company in 2014, the musical holds a special place in my heart. At our sitzprobe (literally translating to “seat rehearsal” and referring to the first rehearsal with orchestra), I started to cry as the orchestra wailed on the iconic “Look Down” motive that opened the show. People could tell me Les Misérables was as derivative, corny, or irritating as they wanted– I didn’t care. To me, it was an incredible piece of theatre.

    There’s a power in the story and music in the show that captivates me. I remember long drives to auditions from North Carolina to Washington D.C., where I would turn on the 10th-anniversary recording and scream “On My Own” with abandon. I nearly forgot to save my voice for the audition panel the next day. I never was a belter, except when cruising up I-95.

    Two CLOC posts in a row?! End of Act 1, Les Misérables, College Light Opera Company, 2014.

    Les Misérables, or as it is more colloquially known, Les Mis, is undoubtedly one of the most successful musicals of the modern era. Continuously performed at London’s West End since 1985, it marks the second longest-running musical in the world after the Off-Broadway run of The Fantasticks. This beloved, iconic musical is doing something right.

    The third U.S. Tour is currently playing across the country through June 2023, and on the night I had the pleasure of dancing in my seat and mouthing every word while fist-pumping like a sports fan at every loud applause, the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis filled to the brim with patrons. The energy was as electric as any movie premiere or football game I’ve ever attended. The audience buzzed in anticipation of the high B in “Who Am I?” cheered with the Thénardiers in “Master of the House” and held their breath during Valjean’s falsetto passage in “Bring Him Home.”

    Brimming with anticipation for the show! Orpheum Theatre, Minneapolis, 2022.

    Standouts in the show included the golden-voiced lead, Jean Valjean, played by Nick Cartell, whose vocals were as powerful as they were touching and delicate. I nearly melted out of my seat when Fantine, played by Haley Dortch, wailed, “You let your foreman SEND ME AWAY!” during her arrest scene. Fantine’s time onstage is so short, and an excellent performer like Dortsch will leave the audience wanting more. Minnesotan patrons especially welcomed the fabulous Christine Heesun Hwang to the stage as the tragic Éponine. A Minnesota native and alumna of the Hennepin Theatre Trust’s Spotlight Education program, she played Éponine with such earnestness and prowess that the nonsensical love triangle plotline almost made sense. Finally, I was a huge fan of Devin Archer’s uniquely powerful voice as the student rebellion leader, Enjorlas. The role is considered “baritenor” but requires the performer to sing the full range and power of a traditional baritone and wail on high notes like a tenor. His distinctive timbre, both incredibly bright yet full, made me want to hear him sing operatic music. 

    This cast was the most vocally consistent I’ve heard in a long time, so kudos to the entire ensemble for top-notch singing. The score of Les Mis is notoriously tricky, with nearly impossible expectations placed on the performers in terms of range and production–Fantine’s belt on the words “shame” and “be” come to mind– and this cast expertly rose to the occasion. 


    In my review of Beauty and the Beast at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, I argued there were aspects of musical theatre that could help popularize opera in the mainstream. However, if I postulate that Les Mis is actually an opera, then we’ve already done that. In that case, our frilly Mozart productions and dramatic Wagner epics are doomed to play to dwindling audiences until through-composed pop operas, like Hamilton and Les Mis, overtake our antiquated performance art for good. Right?

    Maybe.

    I’ve already lost a few folks by positing the idea that Les Mis might be an opera, but let’s look at the facts. As previously mentioned, the work is entirely sung-through, like an opera. The orchestra never ceases playing (except during applause and intermission), and there is sung recitativo in place of spoken dialogue. 

    Well, what about the plot? Opera plots tend to be convoluted, implausible, and overly dramatic.

    Before I get to it, I just knew all of you needed to see this picture of me as the Trinket Hag during “Lovely Ladies.” You’re welcome. College Light Opera Company, 2014.

    In Les Mis, a man convicted of stealing a loaf of bread breaks his parole and is followed around France by a vindictive police officer. Meanwhile, a woman with an illegitimate child is fired at a factory run by our ex-con, and she guilts him into adopting her child on her deathbed. The ex-con takes the girl away from two swindling tavern owners, and they live a life of hiding in Paris. 

    But wait, there’s more!

    It’s now 1832, and there are students primed to stage a revolution in the streets of Paris, and one of them spots the adopted girl. She’s hot! Unfortunately, there’s already a girl- the daughter of the swindling tavern owners. She’s in love with a student boy, but he doesn’t care and wants the adopted girl. The ex-con learns of this and decides to stay for revolution day to keep the boy safe for his girl. The daughter of the tavern officers is the first to die in the rebellion.

    After every student is killed in the streets, the ex-con drags the boy through the sewers so his daughter can nurse him back to health. He manages not to die of sepsis. Meanwhile, the ex-con helps the policeman out of a tough spot, and the officer can’t handle this, so he commits suicide. The ex-con is old, the boy and girl get married, and he repents of his sins (stealing a loaf of bread and breaking his parole), and the girl’s birth mother welcomes him to heaven.

    Convoluted? Check. Implausible? Oh yes. Overly dramatic? 100% and I love it. 

    So, Les Mis has an operatic plot and is through-composed. Musically, it features leitmotifs throughout that signify different characters’ themes and emotions. However, the singing style is drastically different than that of opera, which requires mastering a challenging and demanding technique that often takes years to execute.

    Operatic music utilizes a classical singing technique and does not require amplification due to the optimization of resonance and the science of sound. It is the original musical theatre. However, in recent years, major opera houses have begun incorporating microphones into their productions. Most of these houses existed before the advent of amplification and featured singers that could produce a sound that didn’t require microphones. So, what’s the difference if opera singers are hooked up to mics now?


    One glaring difference is that of language. Although the composition of viable American opera is increasing, traditionally, the most beloved operas are in Italian, French, or German. In Europe, where opera was born and continues to be most popular, most people are multilingual because the country next door often has a different official language.  In contrast, most of Europe could fit neatly inside the continental United States of America. 

    Photo: Reddit.

    As a classical musician who has traveled internationally to various countries, I see immense value in learning other languages and cultures, but I am afraid I do not belong to the American mainstream in that way. If New Yorkers and Texans spoke different languages, there might be a discernible effort in the American school system to become bilingual. Still, the necessity isn’t there, even if it seems like Texans speak a different language than the rest of us sometimes.

    America was built on a disconnection from European ideals. Although many of us have learned to love European languages, art, and music, there is still a certain level of snobbery or elitism associated with anything European. Opera hasn’t done itself any favors by continuing to mount the same tired productions in languages Americans don’t care to understand, with singing that often requires the same amplification that pop and musical theatre do. Some critics of modern opera singing might postulate that this is due to the academization of the once vibrant art form, but that’s a discussion for another day.


    I don’t want opera in America to become a genre where we water down great works with musical theatre voices and English translations, even if it sounds like I’m advocating for that. I wonder, however, if genre constraints limit opera’s future here.

    For example, Donizetti’s Elixir of Love and Wagner’s Das Rheingold are both beloved operas from the standard repertoire. However, the same singers in Elixir would likely not sing any roles in the entire Ring Cycle. The shows have drastically different vocal production and overall style. It would be like comparing a classic musical theatre piece like Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel with Legally Blonde: The Musical. They’re technically the same genre but are simply not the same.

    I think we’re limiting ourselves by putting opera in a neat little box and calling all of it the same when it’s not. I obviously love opera, but I don’t love all operas! For example, my favorite operas tend to be comedies or productions with a strong female lead. You could apply these filters on Netflix or Hulu when selecting a movie, but as soon as music is added, it becomes one genre. 

    People who love Les Mis would also probably love the intense drama and iconic hits such in Bizet’s Carmen, the visual spectacle of Verdi’s Aida, or an ensemble cast with intertwining storylines like Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Categorizing opera and Broadway musicals together as simply, you guessed it, musical theatre and then distinguishing between comedy, drama, or any other genres from there might encourage audiences to broaden their expectations of what it means to see an opera. 


    Unfortunately, we live within the confines of genre. So is Les Mis an opera?

    Given our current constraints, no, I don’t think it is. Classical and contemporary singing techniques are incredibly unique from each other. Although it overlaps in operatic spectacle, plot, and structure, the musical production is vastly different. Additionally, the instrumentation is consistent with that of a rock musical, complete with a synthesizer and drum set, two instruments that would never find a home in a traditional orchestra pit. Although some operas are beginning to use amplification, this should not be accepted as the norm where it is expected and frequently necessary for musical theatre. 

    Regardless, if you consider yourself to be a musical theatre lover but have bristled at opera, I encourage you to open your mind to the idea of opera as the original musical theatre. Think about why you enjoy your favorite musicals. Is it the style of the music? The plot? Maybe it’s the dancing, the incredible costumes, or your mom used to listen to the original cast recording in the car. Whatever reason you have, I assure you, there’s an opera you will also enjoy. You can even ask me for recommendations!

    If you love Les Mis as much as I do, you’ll find it has much more in common with standard operatic repertoire than you think. Les Mis can be more directly compared to opera than most other musicals. Blast the end of Act 1 of Puccini’s Turandot featuring Luciano Pavarotti and Montserrat Caballé, and see if you get a few shivers down your spine. If you’re anything like me, that recording is as powerful as the dream cast singing “One Day More.”

    Start at 1:50 for maximum enjoyment, and turn that volume all the way up.

    Les Misérables may not be an opera, but the sold-out Orpheum Theatre on Saturday made me hopeful for our art form. People will always be hungry for entertaining drama and an inspiring message carried by fabulous voices. Opera isn’t dead in America; it’s just waiting for proper appreciation. 

    Tomorrow comes!

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  • REVIEW: Join Me for Dinner at Gavin Kaysen’s Mara Restaurant and Bar in Four Seasons Minneapolis

    Between bright Mediterranean flavors, a warm atmosphere, and creatively crafted drinks, Mara packs a culinary punch worth celebrating.

    Mara Restaurant and Bar’s sleek, inviting bar area.

    Since its opening in June 2022, Gavin Kaysen’s Mediterranean-style restaurant nestled inside the luxurious downtown Four Seasons Hotel has been the talk of the Minneapolis/St. Paul food scene. Mara Restaurant and Bar is the fourth major restaurant the James Beard Award-winning chef has opened in the Twin Cities after Spoon and Stable, Bellecour Bakery, and Demi. Also available in the Four Seasons is Socca Cafe, featuring grab-and-go bites crafted by Kaysen. This week, the Star Tribune hailed Mara as the top restaurant of 2022

    The warm, sleek restaurant was packed to the brim on Thursday evening, so my boyfriend and I snagged a couple of bar seats, where we were dynamically greeted by our stellar bartender and server, Jess. After receiving menus and the juiciest green olives I’ve ever tasted, we comfortably settled in for what was sure to be an incredible culinary experience.

    Juicy little salt bombs.

    Mara’s scaled-down and polished cocktails align with the dinner courses. Guests are encouraged to start with a light and refreshing apertivo, such as their Bichrome Martini, a cocktail made with Kapriol gin, cardamom, chamomile, and secco (dry) vermouth. The menu also includes two mocktails and two fascinating-looking sparkling teas for guests who prefer not to consume alcohol. Upon viewing the characteristically bright orange Campari behind the bar, I opted for a Negroni, which Jess fabulously crafted.

    My delicious Negroni (not sbagliato with prosecco in it, sorry Emma D’Arcy).

    There are three intermezzo cocktail offerings, including the most phenomenally unique old-fashioned I have ever tasted. Warm, nutty flavors, including hazelnut, pistachio, and fig, define the cocktail. Another winner is the Arpege– a fresh, floral beverage sporting a delicate sprig of flowers and incorporating jasmine, rose, almond, Pamplemousse Du Nord gin, and vodka.

    Finally, Mara offers a list of calming digestivo to exhale the variety of flavors diners enjoy throughout their meal. According to our bartender, Jess, the XXX includes a cognac so incredible it could be consumed alone. The resulting concoction of cognac from Pineau Des Charentes, Cardamaro, and Seville orange settles the stomach and excites the taste buds one last time. For something a little simpler but equally unique, I enjoyed an amaro similar in mouthfeel to Amaro Montenegro called Marseille, with a bottle sporting a little plague mask I couldn’t resist.

    Look at this cute lil guy! A black plague inspired drink is one I will choose every time.

    Mara’s dinner menu features three courses meant to be consumed from left to right. On the left, diners choose from vegetables and spreads, with highlights including hummus, baba ghanoush, and beef tartare. Continuing to the center portion, guests select their second course from an array of raw and cured meats and fish, leading to the third category, the dinner section of the menu. The offering includes selections from land and sea and two plates of pasta. We opted out of the spreads, vegetables, and cured meats as we were presented with a list of delectable bar bites that were impossible to pass up.

    The culinary experience matched the luxurious cocktail offerings. Our first bar bite was the Grilled Spanish Octopus. Bright with saffron and orange, this colorful dish combined beautifully with the octopus’s tender texture and taste. Fried potatoes, or papas bravas, accompanied the octopus, which certainly brought Mediterranean flavors to the forefront.

    Grilled Spanish Octopus with papas bravas, saffron, orange, and pine nuts

    Our second appetizer, the Pinchos Morunos, combined the most perfectly grilled and seasoned lamb I have ever tasted alongside flavorful tzatziki, spring onions, and lavash, an Armenian flatbread similar to a pita. The meat was perfectly fabulously prepared and the tzatziki sauce sparkled on top of the lamb without stealing the show. 

    The fabulous Pinchos Morunos dish comes complete with tzatziki, spring onions, lemon, and lavash.

    My boyfriend and I like to cook high-quality ribeye steaks in our sous vide at home. We’ve created a system of seasonings, temperature, time, and searing methods that have turned us into snobs preparing the perfect steak. If there was a restaurant that could outdo our amateur abilities, we knew it had to be Mara. We opted to split the 24-ounce ribeye for two and were blown away.

    The 24-ounce ribeye for two is accompanied by cipollini onions, Hen of the Woods, and beef au jus.

    The steak, prepared with beef from Peterson Farms, was perfectly tender and had notes of woodsmoke flavor from the perfect sear. The cipollini onions and Hen of the Woods mushroom complimented the dish without overpowering the ribeye’s flavor. It was the best steak I’ve ever had and showcased the power of top-notch culinary skills– we never could have prepared a steak this flawless. A ribeye is never complete without a glass of red wine, so we chose the rossese from Liguria, Italy to accompany this course. I’m no sommelier, but the lightness of the herbal-noted wine communicated welcomed opposition to the inherent heaviness of red meat.

    The Maraklava tastes as beautiful as it looks.

    For dessert, we followed the recommendation of Jess and ordered the Maraklava. A straightforward take on baklava, the Greek pastry characterized by layers of phyllo dough, nuts, and spices, this dessert was the fireworks show at the end of a culinary evening unlike any other. Tucked into the perfectly flaky layers was a wintry mix of pistachios and walnuts, topped with a sweet yet herbal wildflower honey and bee pollen cremeux and served with a side of heavenly saffron ice cream. The gold flakes and rose petals shimmering on top indicated a dessert colorful in both looks and taste.

    Chef Gavin Kaysen has delivered culinary excellence to Minnesotan diners again with the bright and flavorful cuisine characteristic of Mediterranean fare. Whether you’re out for drinks and dessert after a show or celebrating a special occasion, Mara has a variety of mouthwatering dishes that will keep guests returning again and again.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    Where is Mara located?

    Mara Restaurant and Bar is located inside the luxurious Four Seasons Hotel at 245 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55401.

    How Do I Make a Reservation?

    Guests can make reservations at https://www.exploretock.com/mara. The bar is first come, first serve.

    How Expensive is Mara?

    It depends on what you’re looking for. For drinks, dessert, or bar bites, expect to spend around $50-100 for two people. If a whole dining experience is on the table, it will likely cost $100-250 for two people.

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  • Taylor Swift’s 1989: The Rise and Fall of #GirlBoss Energy

    This piece belongs to a series in which I analyze Taylor Swift’s albums through the feminist lens leading up to the Eras Tour. For the first essay in the series on “Speak Now,” click here.

    Taylor Swift in 2015. Courtesy of Billboard and Dave Hogan/GI.

    Greetings, fellow Swifties! The results of my Instagram poll are in: it’s time to take a deep dive into Taylor’s fifth studio album, 1989. Released in October 2014, this album, produced by Big Machine Records, marked Taylor Swift’s official move away from country music and complete immersion into the pop genre.

    During this time, Swift’s public image perpetuated by the media also shifted from that of an innocent young girl to a sexually charged and even manipulative businesswoman. Interestingly, this was also the era in which she suffered most severely from an eating disorder and received backlash for promoting white feminism through her “squad” of model friends, largely thin and white like her.

    #SquadGoals. Photo courtesy of InStyle and Kevin Mazur/Getty Images.

    The years following her explosion in popularity were marked by extraordinary controversy, culminating in the now infamous phone call with the artist formerly known as Kanye West and his ex-wife, billionaire Kim Kardashian. After this fallout and absolute crucifixion from the media, Taylor Swift largely disappeared from the public eye for nearly three years before the dawn of her Reputation era.

    This album pulses with bangers, marked by six incredibly successful singles regularly played on the radio to this day. The album’s lead single, “Shake It Off” is considered to be her most successful single of all time. Although in the past I have written this single off as lyrically weak and irritating, upon closer examination, the maturity expressed in Swift’s takedown of her critics is far more nuanced than that of “Mean” in Speak Now. In essence, “Shake It Off” is the album’s crux: Taylor Swift announced to the world with 1989 that she was a grown-up pop icon and no one could take her down.

    Numerous songs on 1989 are dripping with #girlboss energy. Now considered a derogatory term, “girl boss energy” rose to prominence in the mid-2010s and refers to women who are self-made, successful businesswomen acting as their own bosses. Often, critics chastise these women for chasing success at the expense of others, all while spitting out quips such as “Boss Babe!”, “Get it, girl!” or “Yassss queen!” As late as 2022, Taylor Swift is closely associated with the “girlboss” stereotype in “Gaslight, Gatekeep, Girlboss.”

    A great example of Girl Boss Energy. Courtesy of Hot Beauty Health.

    In my last album analysis, I concluded that although Speak Now embodied certain feminist ideals, criticism that she perpetuated negative feminine stereotypes, such as victimizing oneself and focusing only on boys, was well-founded. What I’m curious to unravel in 1989 is whether or not Taylor Swift warranted the dialogue surrounding her as a cringe-inducing “girlboss” during this time of grave unrest and turmoil in her public image.

    Before we begin, let’s form a working definition of white feminism. Typically used as a derogatory term, white feminism refers to the stereotypical feminist movement that applies to cisgender, heterosexual, non-disabled, often beautiful women that neglects women of color, LGBTQ+ individuals, or those with disabilities. The media heavily criticized Swift during the mid-2010s for perpetuating this stereotype as conversations surrounding intersectionality in feminism became more prominent. 


    Backstage as Hedy LaRue in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. College Light Opera Company, 2014.

    1989 dropped during the fall of my senior year of college, just after I had spent a summer in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, performing with College Light Opera Company. I had just changed my major to vocal performance, and I still consider that one of my life’s most formative and enjoyable summers. Like Taylor, there was a boy I was into, but it wouldn’t work out for one reason or another. Transitioning back to academic life when I had spent all summer really “doing the thing” was incredibly difficult. I also didn’t know how to become a performer or what to do next, I didn’t feel seen or appreciated at school, and I felt a little lost. Fortunately, Taylor Swift’s fifth studio album came just in time to lift me out of my funk and make me feel “finally clean.” That’s the power of her songwriting and the best reason to embark on this morning’s journey. 

    For each song, I’ll provide my favorite lyrics, a short analysis through a feminist lens, and then give a feminism score. The rankings are simply by level of enjoyment.


    16. You Are In Love

    Favorite Lyric: “And you understand now why they lost their minds and fought the wars/And why I’ve spent my whole life tryin’ to put it into words”

    There’s some carefully crafted lyricism in here. Still, overall it doesn’t give me anything I didn’t already get from “This Love” or “Wildest Dreams.”

    Feminist Score: B because it paints a realistic romance rather than a fairytale for which Taylor had become known.

    15. Shake It Off

    Favorite Lyric: “It’s like I got this music in my mind/Sayin’ it’s gonna be alright”

    Listen, I don’t like this song. Maybe I’m not a real Swiftie, but I’ve always found this song lyrically weak and pervasively irritating. However, upon analyzing her music through a feminist lens, this piece is critical in illustrating her transformation from a fragile young country star to a powerfully intelligent businesswoman. 

    Feminist Score: A. Sure, it’s a piece co-opted by girl bosses everywhere to justify rude behavior and hustle culture, but it’s an enormously transformative and inspiring piece to independent achievers everywhere.

    14. How You Get The Girl

    Favorite Lyric: “Remind her how it used to be, be/Yeah, with pictures in frames of kisses on cheeks, cheeks”

    This song is perplexing. It’s the only song on the album I could criticize as “filler.” However, I’m about digging deep, so I’ll do my best. This song boils down to a nonsensical list of things to do to get a girl that overall feels manipulative and derivative. However, it’s a sick beat, as Taylor might say.

    Feminist Score: F. Men, if you go through a breakup with a woman, the appropriate response is to not show up at her door unannounced and refuse to leave until she breaks down and gets back together with you. Major yikes.

    David Krieger/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images via Billboard.

    13. I Know Places

    Favorite lyric: “Something happens when everybody finds out/See the vultures circling, dark clouds”

    This piece is interesting because it forces the listener to empathize with two highly successful celebrities who just want to be typical together. Still, their relationship isn’t strong enough to withstand the constant media attention. It’s neither of their faults that their relationship crumbled (RIP Taylor and Harry) but rather the intense scrutiny and pressure they constantly find themselves under. And she manages to make something so sad, so boppy once again!

    Feminist Score: B. She is taking control, and they appear equally unequipped to sail the waters of their tumultuous relationship, but there aren’t necessarily any themes of feminism outwardly portrayed here.

    12. I Wish You Would

    Favorite Lyric: “We’re a crooked love/In a straight line down”

    A quick note on this lyric- I always thought this lyric was “we’re a crooked love in a street lying down,” which makes absolutely zero sense, but late at night at College Light Opera Company in 2014, my fellow young artists and I would walk down to the beach and lay in the road and look up at the stars since there were never any cars. It always makes me smile.

    Ok, feminism. I mean…meh? Just once, I’d like Taylor to drive the dang car herself (maybe she caught on to this– “and he was tossing me the car keys, fuck the patriarchy, keychain on the ground,” anyone?), and it seems to be a metaphor for her not being in the driver’s seat of her relationships. This song is reminiscent of Speak Now themes from Taylor.

    Feminist Score: C? I guess?

    11. Wonderland

    Favorite Lyric: “Didn’t you flash your green eyes at me?/Haven’t you heard what becomes of curious minds?”

    I have a definite soft spot for this bonus track. Apparent allusions to Alice in Wonderland aside, this piece romanticizes a toxic relationship in which the narrator’s man behaves in a manipulative and demeaning way. Yikes.

    Feminist Score: D, only because I might be overreacting. What do you think? 

    10. Style

    Favorite Lyric: “’Cause you got that James Dean daydream look in your eye/And I got that red lip classic thing that you like”

    Remember when Taylor Swift dated Harry Styles? It truly feels like a lifetime ago. We’re back in her “I’m sitting in the passenger’s seat, and you’re driving, and it’s hot. I’m pretty with my red lipstick on, isn’t this the American Dream” vibes of earlier albums but with a synth-pop beat. 

    Feminist Score: C. It’s neither empowering nor derogatory, and it’s a jam.

    9. Blank Space

    Favorite Lyric: “Boys only want love if it’s torture/Don’t say I didn’t, say I didn’t warn ya”

    This song might as well be the #girlboss anthem. I’ll admit that I grew tired of this song after hearing it in every restaurant, mall, elevator, bar, and shop on the planet for years on end, but after revisiting it, nearly every line is a zinger. Like Shake It Off, Taylor playfully and confidently derides her critics, with every line encompassing a sick burn. The song embodies shallow feminism typical of the mid-2010s but is powerful nonetheless. If the media thinks Taylor Swift is a boy-crazy maneater who only dates men to later spit them out for material, then that’s what she’ll give them. 

    Feminist Score: A-, only because the #girlboss energy is a little intense and cringe, and I saw one too many women caption an Instagram post with “cause darling I’m a nightmare dressed like a daydream” in 2015.

    Courtesy of PopCrush and Dimitrio Kambouris/Getty Images.

    8. Welcome to New York

    Favorite Lyric: “Walkin’ through a crowd, the village is aglow/Kaleidoscope of loud heartbeats under coats”

    What an album opener. Close your eyes and imagine the first time you heard this song and how it made you feel. I once romanticized the idea of living in New York. Although that dream has passed me, the excitement of landing at LaGuardia Airport while blasting this song through my earbuds will never leave me. She is independent, lighthearted, and dancing. There is no boy in sight. This song always rang of individuality and confidence to me, and what is a #girlboss without exuberant enthusiasm?

    Feminist Score: A. Why not? It makes me, a woman, feel unstoppable.

    7. All You Had to Do Was Stay

    Favorite lyric: “People like you always want back the love they gave away/And people like me wanna believe you when you say you’ve changed”

    Well, she gave up her power here, but at the same time, she’s standing up for herself and saying hey no you left me good sir and I’m not just going to come running back to you. Either way, it is a complete jam and is overlooked as one of the best songs on the album.

    Feminist Score: C+. Poor Taylor got broken up with again, but she’s not moping about it. Like a typical #girlboss, she’s an independent woman who doesn’t need a man!

    6. This Love

    Favorite Lyric: “Your smile, my ghost/I fell to my knees”

    I can’t imagine a better sequel to “Last Kiss” than this incredible piece of raw emotional vulnerability. Folks are critical of Taylor’s lyrics that imply that she isn’t in control of her relationships and remains under the control of her partner. Although “currents swept you out again” could be considered such a lyric, the portrait of a relationship coming to a boiling point is effective and effervescent. She manages to evoke action alongside reminiscence, romanticizing the past while remaining concrete. Feminist? Not sure. Beautiful? Absolutely.

    Feminist Score: C, I guess.

    5. Out of the Woods

    Favorite lyric: “Remember when we couldn’t take the heat?/I walked out, I said “I’m setting you free”

    This song is such a vibe. The echoing, chaotic synthesizer evokes a sense of anxiety that Swift says defines the album. The lyrics honestly and openly paint the picture of a dissatisfying and crumbling relationship. For critics who claim Taylor consistently portrays herself as the victim, this song is a foray from her stereotype in which she shares in the blame for the dissolution of the relationship. Owning up to one’s shortcomings without submitting to one’s partner or allowing oneself to be gaslit is profoundly feminist.

    Feminist Score: B. She’s waiting for the guy to potentially save or end the relationship, but the nuance of a more mature relationship sets this transformative album apart from previous ones.

    4. Clean

    Favorite Lyric: “The drought was the very worst/When the flowers that we’d grown together died of thirst”

    This is an incredible and, to no surprise, cleansing song. Just a fabulous album closer. Taylor is standing on her own two feet; she’s no longer heartbroken and ready to take over the world as a newly minted pop icon. In girl boss speak (which is really just speech patterns co-opted from black and queer communities), that’s “Yas queen! Slay!”

    Feminist Score: A. The arc of this album, from manipulative heartbreaker to healed icon, deserves a chef’s kiss.

    Courtesy of ETONLINE.

    3. Wildest Dreams

    Favorite Lyric: “You’ll see me in hindsight/Tangled up with you all night/Burning it down”

    Man, Taylor really couldn’t catch a break during this era- remember the colonialism controversy surrounding this music video? I’ll admit it to all of you– I ugly cried so many times thinking about a boy who had fully moved on from our brief relationship while listening to this song. If that’s not peak Taylor Swift, then I don’t know what is.

    Maybe it’s the steady synth-pop beat or the assuredness in her demands, but this piece holds a quiet power in heartbreak that is different from her past breakup songs.It’s another “Last Kiss” style song of 1989, but she revels in its beauty instead of wallowing in her sadness. Also– is this the first time Taylor wrote overtly sexual lyrics? I’m into it. Own your sexuality!

    Feminist Score: A- because for a breakup song, she handles herself pretty well and doesn’t seem to define herself by the end of this relationship.

    2. Bad Blood

    Favorite Lyric: “Band-aids don’t fix bullet holes/You say sorry just for show/If you live like that, you live with ghosts”

    Best lyric on the WHOLE ALBUM RIGHT HERE! Wow. The music video for this piece sparked the white feminism conversation. Swift cast all her beautiful, white model friends in this music video aimed at a feud between Taylor and Katy Perry (they’ve since made up!). The sentiment of this piece is where girl boss feminism sours. In stepping on people to attain perceived success, girl boss sentiment allows for a vindictive, ruthless attitude wrapped in a hot pink feminist bow. You go, girl! Gaining power or success at the expense of other women or important relationships is not feminist. To me, this song represented the height of #girlboss energy and contributed to its fall. Regardless, it is a total bop, and I once blew out a speaker in my car listening to this song.

    Feminist Score: B, because standing up for yourself is cool, but tearing down others is not.

    1.New Romantics

    Favorite Lyric: “We cry tears of mascara in the bathroom/Honey, life is just a classroom”

    Those of you who have kept up with my rankings for years know this is in my top three favorite Taylor Swift songs, period. It is everything to me. I think of “cause baby, I could build a castle out of all the bricks they threw at me” every time I get a rejection email. Singers are constantly singing “heartbreak as our national anthem.” The pop beat is infectious, and the sentiment exudes the poppy, optimistic flavor fueling fans of this era through power and independence. Is it feminist? In the shallow, mid-2010s way, I think it fits the bill.

    Feminist Score: A.


    The specific strain of feminism portrayed in 1989 as an album and Taylor Swift’s life at large at the time of its release is a fascinating cultural phenomenon. Swift is such a massive star that her actions, attitudes, and music itself can shift the way an entire generation of fans view themselves and choose to behave.

    John Shearer/LP5/Getty Images for TAS via Billboard.

    When 1989 dropped in 2014, Taylor Swift skyrocketed to the world’s leading pop icon, leaving her country roots behind. She was as unstoppable and admirable as the girl boss movement she embodied. However, over a year and a record-breaking world tour, Taylor Swift fell from pop’s most prominent darling to a vile, manipulative monster vilified by the media. Similarly, women who embarked on a journey of self-made, peppy entrepreneurship quickly went from feminist icons to vapid, mockable frauds who bore the brunt of male-dominated criticism. 

    Is feminism worth it when it only makes space for women who are cisgender, heterosexual, white, and beautiful? With discussions surrounding intersectionality in feminism in recent years, the conclusion should be that feminism isn’t serving us as a culture unless it includes all female-identifying humans and includes discussions of race, sexuality, beauty standards, and disability. 

    I don’t blame Taylor Swift for getting caught up in this rhetoric. She has since changed her ways, and her music’s messages have evolved as culture’s discussion of feminism advances. In a vital way, her music serves as a marker for the advancement of social and cultural norms.

    #Girlboss energy may be declining, but 1989 will live on as a prime example of the cultural movement and continue to deserve the label as one of the best pop albums of all time. With its release, Taylor Swift proved she was truly unstoppable.

    Album Feminist Score: B. Female empowerment bogged down by the girl boss movement and the misfortune of embodying the stereotype of a white feminist.

    Which album should I analyze next? Let me know in the comments!

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  • Feminist Fridays: Motherhood as a Choice, Not a Duty

    Motherhood is no longer the all-consuming, defining feature of modern women.

    This post belongs to a series formerly known as “Frauenbild Fridays”, where I analyze German art song through a contemporary feminist lens. Click here to see the original post.

    I have a lot to say about An meinem Herzen, an meiner Brust, the seventh song in Frauenliebe und -leben,  but before I do, I want to be cautious. I am not a mother, and I have never been pregnant. My feelings about having children and watching people I know give birth to babies are complicated by my views on womanhood and resisting the bonds with which biology and culture have chained us.

    Listen, I love babies. See? Sheer joy.

    Technically, this is the only song in Frauenliebe und -leben that isn’t about a man. It’s about the baby our protagonist produces with her man and how she hadn’t felt joy until she had a child. Honestly, I have heard that it’s an experience unlike any other from both mothers and fathers, so I’m not going to discount that, I swear.

    Luckily, we live in a country and time where most women have the freedom to choose whatever path they like, regardless of whether or not having children is involved.

    That being said, there is still a cultural stigma against being a childless woman.

    Here’s a list of questions and comments young men are simply not receiving:

    • When are you getting married?
    • Are you going to start having kids soon?
    • What do you mean you don’t want kids? I’m sure that will change as you get older.

    Don’t forget the judgments if you are pregnant:

    • You’re breastfeeding, right?
    • What type of birth are you doing? 
    • You’re only supposed to gain a certain amount of weight.
    • Oh, that’s a very interesting name you’ve chosen.

    People seem to forget that childbirth is inherently dangerous. According to the most recent data from the National Center for Health Statistics branch of the CDC, approximately twenty maternal deaths occur in the United States as a direct result of pregnancy and childbirth per 100,000 births. This number is shocking- the USA has by far the highest maternal death rate in the developed world. For example, in Germany, maternal mortality hovers at around five deaths per 100,000 live births. There are various complicated reasons for the disturbingly elevated maternal death rate in the USA. Most are focused on issues of racism and accessibility of prenatal care, complicated by instances of intimate partner violence and the overall health of American women

    Source: World Health Organization courtesy of Washington Post, 2015. Maternal death rate is currently on the rise in the US, so it’s actually higher than what this graph portrays.

    It’s not all doom and gloom today– childbirth would have been much more dangerous for our dear Frauenbild in 1840. According to a study published by the National Institute of Health in London, between 1700 and 1935, approximately 5-29 per 1,000 women died in childbirth. This number was considerably higher in women unassisted by medical professionals. If we convert this back into our modern measurement, before the advent of modern healthcare, anywhere from 500 to 2900 women per 100,000 live births were dying in childbirth in London. Never mind that childrearing was the woman’s sole responsibility and birth control wasn’t an option– women just kept popping out babies until menopause or dying in childbirth. No thanks. Then, women had the heartbreaking experience of watching their kids die from a childhood illness. Thanks to vaccines, we no longer need to worry about this unless people keep neglecting to vaccinate their children

    Childbirth in developing nations continues to endanger women. According to the World Health Organization, “Women in less developed countries have, on average, many more pregnancies than women in developed countries, and their lifetime risk of death due to pregnancy is higher. A woman’s lifetime risk of maternal death is the probability that a 15-year-old woman will eventually die from a maternal cause. In high-income countries, this is 1 in 5400, versus 1 in 45 in low-income countries.”1

    I applaud and respect women who choose to embark on the fabulous journey of motherhood and hope to be among you someday. However, we need to acknowledge that pregnancy is inherently complex and dangerous and should only be undertaken at the desire of the pregnant person in question. 

    I’m grateful that motherhood isn’t the all-consuming, defining feature of modern women. It is no longer a woman’s duty to birth babies, but rather a privilege and choice.


    Some folks might think this tempo is a little frantic, but I think this piece is meant to be VIVACE! It’s just cuter this way. Deal with it. Barbara Bonney soprano | Vladimir Ashkenazy, piano.
    Translation courtesy of Google Translate.

    The aspect I appreciate most about this piece is its sheer, unadulterated joy. What makes my eyes roll toward the back of my head is the sentiment that motherhood is the only feeling that elicits such joy in women. Maybe if a female poet had written the piece, I would feel differently, but the idea that men were doing women a favor by occupying them with children is an old-fashioned view that I am glad has mostly gone by the wayside.

    I find intense happiness when I get a coveted gig for which I auditioned. Elation rushes over my body when I receive positive feedback regarding my writing. I experience a boost in serotonin when friends laugh at my jokes or when my boyfriend tells me how much he loves me. Adrenaline floods through me at the top of a roller coaster and during the high note of a showstopping aria onstage. Love radiates through me as I hold a difficult yoga pose or taste delicious flavors prepared just for me. Joy comes to me in all places and times if I allow it to enter my life.

    Many of my friends have started having babies. Meanwhile, I struggle with the inherent unfairness of women who want satisfaction both in career and family because women still bear the brunt of domestic duty, even in the healthiest relationships. Like Liz Lemon, many contemporary women want to “have it all.”

    Where are my 30 Rock fans?

    I want to enjoy what I have without expectation. That’s my hope for our Frauenbild and all of us.


    Joy is breaking out into song and bathing in the applause. It’s the delight of positive feedback and laughter from a joke. Joy comes to me at the top of a roller coaster, and when I’m alone with the person I love. Happiness is a baby’s laugh or a satisfying workout. It finds me when the smells of my cooking fill the kitchen and when I’m sipping a cup of coffee. Joy is everywhere, it is me, and it is you. I live in happiness as a woman without expectations.

    ____________________________________________________________________________

     1World Health Organization. (n.d.). Maternal mortality. World Health Organization. Retrieved December 16, 2022, from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/maternal-mortality#:~:text=A%20woman’s%20lifetime%20risk%20of,45%20in%20low%20income%20countries.

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  • What Opera Can Learn From “Beauty and the Beast” at The Ordway

    How can opera maintain its vocal tradition while appealing to a broader American audience?

    For the first time in what felt like nearly forever, not to reference a different Disney movie, I had the pleasure of attending a live musical, Beauty and the Beast, at the Ordway. The show was the first locally produced musical at the Twin Cities venue since before the pandemic.

    I’ve been a little sensitive lately about my level of success in the performing arts, and sometimes seeing musicals or operas makes me sad. My trip to the historic St. Paul theatre on Saturday was part of my birthday present, and at first, I was less than thrilled. These were the people who were able to achieve what I was not. 

    Put the world’s tiniest violin away, lady. Belting and dancing were never your strengths.

    Stepping foot inside The Ordway always feels like a special occasion. Usually, I’m here to enjoy Minnesota Opera productions, but the hall is more suitable for musicals that require amplification. The space’s acoustic is often inconsistent for operas, making it challenging to hear singers over the orchestra.

    Beauty and the Beast was one of my favorite movies growing up, mainly because of my love of Belle. She was everything I was not; she was introverted, kind, patient, and beautiful. The one thing the two of us had in common was our shared devotion to reading. However, this was my first time experiencing the Broadway production. I was familiar with “Home” and “A Change in Me” due to a callback situation from years ago, but other than that, the additional songs were entirely new to me.

    Ready for a good time. The Ordway, St. Paul, 2022.

    The set, designed by Adam Koch, transported the audience to a French-inspired fantasy. The village and Gaston’s lodge embodied warm colors and bright lighting, designed by Cory Pattack. In contrast, the castle’s deep blues, purples, and intense shadows provided the atmospheric shift to communicate Belle’s fear and discomfort. She is the bright and warm light tasked with bringing love to the enchanted castle.

    Belle, played by Rajané Katurah, was a perfect Disney Princess from the moment she stepped onstage. Her lines dripped with saccharine sincerity, paired with a powerful, contemporary musical theatre sound. Although I would have typically preferred a mix-belt vocal production for the role of Belle, Katurah’s raw instrument was so incredible that her contemporary pop style won me over by the time she belted “A Change in Me” with such emotional breadth that I forgot to breathe for a moment. It was affirming to see a beautiful woman who didn’t fit the exact mold of a stereotypical Disney Princess (super thin and white) perfectly embodying the leading lady– representation matters, and it was refreshing to see a diverse cast onstage.

    Other notable performances include the Beast, played by Nathaniel Hackmann, whose vocal production most closely aligned with a classical sound. The Beast can be an awkward character to embody onstage, but he played the role with an earnest vulnerability that won me over from the beginning. Mrs. Potts, played by Jamecia Bennett, performed a rendition of “Beauty and the Beast” that was absolutely breathtaking and resulted in resounding applause from everyone in the house. Her perfectly executed runs and creative ornamentation provided the magic necessary for the iconic ballroom scene. Finally, Gaston, played by Regan Featherstone, was an absolute delight. Like any good Disney villain, he was as awful as he was entertaining. His full, warm voice and top-notch dance skills, as evidenced in the showstopping number “Gaston,” indicate a bright, continued future as a performer.

    However, my favorite part of the show is a credit to the fabulous ensemble. In “Gaston,” the chorus of villagers, perfectly choreographed by Robbie Roby and Renee Guittar, engage in a complicated clinking of glasses reminiscent of the “Cups” song popularized by Anna Kendrick. This raucous tavern scene invigorated and entertained the audience to great success.


    I attended Beauty and the Beast on a Saturday matinee. The show began promptly at 2 p.m. and concluded at around 4:30 p.m. The audience appeared engaged for the entirety of the production, which included an approximately twenty-minute intermission. It was predominately filled with families and skewed on the younger side.

    I say all this because I am keenly interested in live theatre, specifically opera. Why do Americans love musicals more than operas? Opera is musical theatre, after all. 

    Beauty and the Beast has name recognition, familiar tunes, and an easy to follow plot. Regardless of whether a venue is staging an opera or a musical, those factors increase ticket sales.

    Additionally, the singers in this production embodied the vocal style popularized by contemporary pop, R&B, and rock singers today. They’re exhibiting the sound and style of music their audience regularly hears. Americans often mock a stereotypically operatic sound– in fact, the audience giggled at Madame de la Grande Bouche every time she touted her “opera voice.”

    Unlike many operas, the show was an appropriate length for a modern audience and featured familiar, hummable music. There are recognizable tunes in many operas, but overall, there is a copious amount of filler music, especially in baroque and classical operas, during which the public’s attention span begins to wane. Additionally, 21st-century opera is often challenging to sing for the performers themselves– I can’t imagine an audience member whistling a melodic line from such difficult music!

    Perhaps most importantly, musical theatre is an American creation sung in English. Opera companies make accommodations in the states by showing supertitles above the stage, but this is not without its cons. The public misses action happening onstage because they are busy reading, or a significant plot point is given away on the supertitle screen before the characters reveal the action.

    Many opera companies around the country mount one musical theatre production per year, and I think that’s an excellent way to ease Americans into opera. The way we sing is impressive– when we sing well, we fill an entire theatre with sound, cutting through an orchestra without amplification. There’s a reason that many opera companies will produce shows such as Sweeney Todd or Carousel– the style of those musicals can be executed well by a cast of opera singers. 

    I’m not an arts administrator. I’m just a singer. But when I hear folks in the opera industry lament that live theatre is dying, I want to correct them– opera is dying in America. It appears to be available only to the elite, a culturally rich minority who grew up listening to operatic music or somehow ended up as a classically trained musician who learned about the repertoire and tradition throughout their education. This model is neither an accessible nor sustainable way to produce meaningful art.

    The operatic style of singing and production has a place in American society. Suppose companies were more open to cutting the run time of productions, considering an English translation here and there, and expanding to musical theatre. In that case, maybe opera companies could also mount month-long runs of shows, like Beauty and the Beast at The Ordway. However, if we ignore the kind of art that a mainstream audience enjoys, we may not survive. Unamplified singing with a full orchestra is one of the most impressive musical feats on the planet, and people love to be amazed. Opera is live entertainment, not a relic in a museum– it’s a tale as old as time!

    The Ordway’s Beauty and the Beast production runs from November 30-December 31. Tickets are available at ordway.org.

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  • Who Am I?

    (For my musical theatre people: I’m Jean Valjean)

    Allowing ourselves to just “be” rather than constantly “do”

    Look, I climbed a literal mountain! Our social media addictions feed our desire to showcase accomplishments. Hurricane Mountain, The Adirondacks, September 2021.

    I had ample opportunity to track my accomplishments as a kid. The millennial generation was known for our participation awards, but I never needed those (hair toss). I got good grades, made it into honors bands and choirs, and performed roles in school plays and musicals. I didn’t need a participation award to quell my eternal need for attention; I already got it when I excelled. You’ll notice that sports are nowhere on my list of school activities– I wasn’t good at them. In fact, I was downright awful–my brain just can’t fire those hand-eye coordination neurons very quickly. I avoided what didn’t garner immediate external validation.

    Since we as Millenials spent our childhoods showered with praise for our accomplishments, it’s no wonder many adults today define themselves by their jobs. I have the distinct pleasure of not having the career I want and aligning the entirety of my person with that lack of a meaningful operatic career. It’s not a healthy combination.

    A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a precursor to this post about grit. For more on passion, perseverance, and grit, CLICK HERE.

    I lamented on Instagram that I had no auditions in October 2019, but it was okay because I didn’t define myself as only a singer anymore. If only I had been telling myself the truth and not just trying to comfort myself with likes on social media. Greensboro, NC, 2019.

    A couple of years ago, I tried to define myself not as a singer but as a whole person who sings. This shift in mindset was a lovely thought on paper, but what I neglected to cultivate was the actual practice. 

    I didn’t and haven’t stopped associating my worth as a person with my identity as a singer. For example, I am more worthy if I perform well or have an excellent coaching; I am garbage if I get rejected from multiple auditions or don’t sing as well under pressure as intended. 

    The untangling began when I was diagnosed with a vocal injury in October and was embarrassed to identify as a singer. Could I even call myself a musician without gigs or auditions on the horizon?

    When I stop defining myself as a musician, my other identifying traits trip me up. Ok, well, now I want to be seen as attractive and healthy, so I take the time to style my hair, makeup, and clothes. I make a spreadsheet measuring my macros so I can eat well and exercise daily. Oops- I ate a cookie at a friend’s house, snacked on some chips, or had a couple of glasses of wine. I didn’t feel like cooking, so we ordered DoorDash. I didn’t push myself as hard as I could have in my workout. Now, with my tummy full and my pants tight, I lament that I have failed to uphold the beauty standard I set for myself. Why is it so hard to become thin? Why do I care about this, anyway?

    Ok, so I won’t be the fittest person alive. That’s fine; I like food too much anyway. Let’s focus on some of my other traits. I may not be the best singer, but I am disciplined and hard-working. My to-do list stares me in the face, daring me to get started or fall short of my expectations. I sit at my tablet to write, edit my samples, and fix my cover letters. Ding! A text from a friend. Ding! An email; I’d better see if it’s about an audition. Ok, it’s not, but suddenly I’m on Instagram scrolling through other singers’ successes. Ok, back to writing. Back to practicing. My puppy needs to go outside. Is it already time to leave to go teach voice lessons? Jeez, somebody needs to vacuum in here. 

    What an incredible surprise and disappointment when I realized I was less disciplined than I thought. After all, if I were genuinely disciplined, that Excel sheet measuring my macros would be no problem. Does your brain do this to you, as well?

    Disconnecting my identity from what I do is more complicated than I thought it would be.

    Sometimes, I get to wander through the literal wilderness, not the proverbial wilderness of my shortcomings. Mantasoa Lemur Sanctuary, Madagascar, June 2022.

    Bear with me for a second as I recount a Bible story from the Old Testament. Yes, this is happening. If it helps you to infuse a religious meaning into this tale, feel free, but the parable itself has been eye-opening to me through this time of transition, with or without spirituality attached.

    In the story of Exodus, the Egyptians free the Israelites, but it’s not easy going from there. Fast forward, and Joshua prepares to lead the Jewish people to the Promised Land. However, they wander in the wilderness for forty years before crossing the Jordan River into Canaan, the land of milk and honey. 

    When I look back on my choice to pursue a classical singing career, I cringe at the number of wrong turns I took along the way. Every grad school visit, new teacher, audition I wasn’t ready for, and day job I took felt like stepping closer to the banks of my proverbial Jordan River when in reality, I was wandering in circles in the desert. That’s a brutal truth to face. I feel like I’ve been meandering in a wilderness of my own design for nearly ten years.

    Milestones are meaningful to me, so it’s no surprise I’m putting so much pressure on my thirtieth birthday. A recurring thought in my mind has been the lamentation that I have nothing to show for myself. This mindset is wrapped up in what I do. I can’t help but feel that it’s inevitable I will cross a river into my own promised land soon. I’ve been wandering for so long, and it didn’t feel aimless before, but it does now. The question from a few weeks ago of what comes next continues to loom over me– I still don’t know. I’ve experienced my fair share of uncertainty throughout my twenties. I do feel sure, however, that I’m ready to stop meandering. A shift in perspective is a dip of one toe into the river’s banks.


    It’s challenging for us not to define ourselves by our successes and failures in work and our personal lives. Every time I try and identify myself with traits I have cultivated rather than my accomplishments, that lets me down as well– I’m not disciplined, funny, extroverted, or creative all the time. I constantly fall short of my expectations. Sometimes, I am a lump of coal.

    I hate to get hippy-dippy, but I’ve settled on not defining myself. Assigning specific traits or identifiers to ourselves results in self-limiting beliefs. We don’t have to do anything special to be worthwhile humans; we just have to be. When we allow ourselves to simply be, our paths are more sure, free of judgment, and straight ahead– the wandering in the desert ends. The way forward is the right choice, and if I ever free myself from my bruised ego, I believe that road will become apparent.

    I am Victoria, and I am not a singer. I am a person who sings. 

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  • Frauenbild Friday: Frauenliebe Pt. 6

    Honestly, I’ve been dreading this one a little because there’s no way around it– this song is about sex, and my mom and all of her friends read this blog. It’s also about sex in a very pre-sexual revolution sort of light– intimacy leads to babies, this is the only function of sexual relations, and everything else is SIN, I TELL YOU!! SIN!!!! Mom and friends, I’m sorry. 

    I’ve been dying to use this painting since I started the blog. DO NOT SIN, or the devil will visit you in your sleep!! The Nightmare by Henry Fuseli, 1782. Image courtesy of theartstory.org.

    Even in 1840, we know people had sex outside of marriage. In fact, young men were encouraged to “sow their wild oats,” so to speak, with prostitutes and the like, while women were expected to know absolutely nothing about sex and needed teaching from their husbands. Haven’t you all watched Bridgerton? The shame of losing one’s virginity and the burden of unplanned pregnancy has always fallen on the woman, and that hasn’t gone away. A quote from The Breakfast Club comes to mind regarding virginity as a woman: “If you say you haven’t, you’re a prude. If you say you have, you’re a slut. It’s a trap.” Remember in my introduction to Frauenbild Fridays when I mentioned the “Madonna/Whore Complex”? People love to shame other people about sex, especially women and members of the LGBTQ+ community.

    Most people know Margaret Atwood for her novel turned TV show, The Handmaid’s Tale. It was my favorite book I studied in high school, and it inspired me to read all of Atwood’s work I could get my hands on. Most of her writing is centered around dystopic future universes dripping with seething commentary on our current world. However, she wrote a historical novel in 1996, Alias Grace. It’s set around the time our song cycle was composed. One of the most riveting and angering plotlines is a maid in the tale engaging in a romance with a son of the family she works for, who gets her pregnant. He claims she got knocked up by somebody else and refuses to acknowledge the child. Knowing she will lose her well-paying servant position and reputation, the maid attempts to abort the fetus. She bleeds out on her bed and dies. So yeah, that’s what happened in 1840 when a woman had a Süsser Freund encounter–or perhaps 2040 if we keep eliminating reproductive rights. 

    Sexuality is a controversial topic these days. Many people in the United States believe that unless you’re attempting to conceive a child, any sexual act is unholy and their job to punish. Right-wing commentators unleash a vendetta upon the LGBTQ+ community daily. Reproductive rights diminish around the country. A small group of people’s desire to control American citizens’ private lives is disgusting, unacceptable, and, unfortunately, historically consistent. When will we learn?

    Intimacy is just that– it’s intimate. It’s a shared moment between two (or more, you do you) people that is no one else’s business. Intimacy is the glistening glue holding this piece together. When I hear this song performed well, it’s almost as if I’m uncomfortable invading this private moment between two people. Their hopes, dreams, and wants are between just the two of them. 

    Jessye makes the most difficult song in the cycle sound easy peasy. *chef’s kiss*
    You know the drill. Thanks, A2 level German knowledge and Google Translate.

    This song is just so beautiful. From personal experience, it’s also wicked hard to sing– it’s incredibly exposed and requires precision equal to that of a tightrope walker. The understated accompaniment, paired with the impossibly long vocal lines, paints an atmosphere of sensuality and privacy from the first chord. As the piano line animates in the middle section, the vocalist gains energy and courage, and the relaxation back into calming bliss is a powerful musical experience.


    I’m so happy that our Frauenbild can practice vulnerability and experience safety and security with a partner she loves. I delight in the fact that she was married at a time when falling pregnant out of wedlock was life-threatening. I’m thrilled that she experienced a positive sexual awakening. Everyone deserves that, and not everyone is safe to love who they want to love right now or even how they want to love.

    God called on his people to “love thy neighbor.” Let’s do that. 


    Sweet friend

    I am amazed at everything you do

    Everything you are

    What you could be

    And when I am in your arms

    I know I am safe

    I know I am loved

    I know I am home

    But mostly

    I know you.

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  • ‘Tis the Season

    On Friday morning, instead of rising blissfully full of turkey and mashed potatoes, I woke up with the telltale signs of an impending cold. I went on the attack. Canceled plans? Check. Extra hydration and rest? Oh yeah. Echinacea, Vitamin C, Zinc, and Zicam? Absolutely. Raw garlic? Yikes, but let’s do this.

    I hope you had a better Thanksgiving than my dog.

    Unfortunately, despite my best efforts, the cold has changed its permanent mailing address to my nose and throat. I know exactly how I acquired this unwanted tenant–teaching is opening oneself up to a petri dish of possibility every day. A student waltzed into my studio last Monday, and when I asked my standard, “how are you today?” she replied, “I’m good; my throat hurts really bad, though!”

    Did we learn nothing from the pandemic?

    Guilt rushes through my whole body. I drank wine on Thanksgiving, and alcohol torches the immune system. I didn’t stand a chance. The classic shame reel plays in my brain: “This is my fault. I bet responsible singers didn’t drink on Thanksgiving.” 

    Nobody likes being sick, but singers can’t get sick. A cold, allergies, or flu could mean ostensibly setting fire to hundreds of dollars. Unfortunately, I couldn’t nip this cold completely in the bud on Friday, so here I am, four days later, hacking away and feeling my vocal range dwindle by the hour. It’s like having the polyp again, except snot rolls down my face as I type. Too graphic? Oh well, bodies are gross. You’ll be ok.


    Overzealous voice teachers love to tell their students what they “need” to do to care for their vocal health. Drink plenty of water. Avoid alcohol and caffeine. Don’t smoke. Eat well and exercise daily. Sleep with a humidifier. Get adequate rest. Avoid loud environments that require a raised voice. Don’t scream or yell. Be perfect and do not have fun, ever. You will get sick and lose your voice. It’s no wonder my first reaction to getting a cold (a mild illness that we all know is notoriously difficult to avoid) is that it’s my fault. Hey, brain– I’m just a human who was out in the world with other humans, and this caused me to catch a minor cold. Stop being so mean. I can hear every voice teacher I’ve ever had lecturing me in my head as I tell my other inner voice to shut up.

    For example, this is the kind of literature that keeps singers up at night:

    From “The Functional Unity of the Singing Voice” by Barbara Doscher.

    Of course, I read this now and think, “how did I not realize that a spiral of vocal misuse and a general laissez-faire attitude toward my vocal health was going to hurl me toward vocal injury?” My answer to that question is in a few of my past posts: denial. I also think scaring students into believing a single glottal attack gone wrong or yelling at a party will result in permanent vocal damage. Haven’t you ever heard a baby cry? Their vocal cords are fine.

    At worst, this minor cold might cause me to cancel auditions and sing less well at a gig this weekend. That is truly the worst outcome, but many of us genuinely lose it when we’re ill because we risk losing income and opportunities. I know professionals who quit singing because the sheer pressure of remaining in pristine vocal health at all times is too emotionally and mentally taxing.


    Despite my Nyquil-induced haze and copious napping over the long weekend, I still sat at my tablet to write. I may be forced into a polyp era of vocal rest until this cold passes, but writing has yet to betray me. My vocal folds and nasal passages are an absolute mess, but my mind and fingers still work. Singing is so fickle; writing is not. As long as I’m conscious and inspired, I can put words on paper. It’s comforting to know I’m not rendered completely useless by a sniffle.

    I feel myself shifting away from singing just a little. I’m not sure if it’s permanent, but I need to feel like I’m working toward something meaningful, and opera just isn’t there for me right now. I’m not sure if it was ever really there. The familiar feeling of imposter syndrome sets in as I browse articles on how to start freelance writing– who am I to write about anything? What do I even know? 

    The quest for a purposeful life haunts me as my thirtieth birthday looms closer by the day. I wanted to be a full-time operatic performer. Who am I kidding? I still want that. I pursued that dream, albeit with many mistakes that likely prevented the desired outcome, at the expense of everything else throughout my twenties, and I can’t shake the thought that I have nothing to show for myself. 

    The catchphrase, “life is short,” is meant to inspire us to take risks and enjoy ourselves because time on this earth is fleeting and precious. I agree; don’t get me wrong. However, if you’ve spent enough time around me, you probably heard me posit, “life is long.” This privileged saying relies on my fortune of living in a relatively peaceful country with adequate healthcare and the hopeful absence of early-onset illnesses and accidents, but if all goes well, life is long. I have time. You have time. Life may be short, but if we’re lucky, it’s not that short. The ability to pursue a meaningful existence doesn’t conclude at thirty years old. Admittedly, it gets a little more challenging to pursue my particular goal, which I already feel. Companies that heard me in years past when I was a worse singer don’t grant me auditions anymore because of my age. I believe Taylor Swift recently called herself a “geriatric popstar.” She’s 32 years old.

    I’ve decided that my thirties will be about diversifying my skills. I crave the operatic career; I really do. That’s not going to disappear. When I look past the desire for a life in music specifically, I feel an impetus to do something interesting, something most people wouldn’t be able to do. I want to enjoy all of what life has to offer and achieve something great. Maybe it’s a bit Pollyanna-ish, but I believe we’re all capable of something great; we just have to dig deep inside ourselves to discover what we can offer.


    On Saturday night, I popped a couple of Nyquil, made myself a cup of Good Earth tea, and settled on the couch to watch the 2019 biographical comedy film Dolemite Is My Name. Eddie Murphy stars as Rudy Ray Moore, an aspiring singer who works multiple dead-end jobs to support his equally dead-end musical career. One day, inspired by the stories of a homeless man who visits the record store where he works, he begins a stand-up career that leads to a string of comedy films in the 1970s. He is known as the godfather of rap.

    Rudy Ray Moore felt like a failure. His attempts to forge a musical career led only to closed doors, and he was stuck. Due to his creative mind, work ethic, and a stroke of luck, Rudy eventually made his mark in the music industry. He didn’t give up; he merely diversified his skill set and shifted his perspective. I admire that. 

    We may not have learned to stay home when we’re sick from a two-year global pandemic, but I think we learned how to modify plans when necessary. I didn’t believe I would ever live in Minnesota again, and here I am, happily typing away in the suburbs. I wouldn’t be writing at all if I hadn’t been open to exploring options outside of a strict performing career. Openness is the most important quality I’ve cultivated over the past couple of years. I’d like to take a page out of Rudy Ray Moore’s playbook– I’m open to exploring skills outside of singing. 

    Fa la la la laaaaa la la la LAAA.

    At this exact moment, however, I’m most open to another cup of tea and a dose of DayQuil. The snow is falling beautifully outside, the lights of my garland flash on the fireplace mantle, and I need another Kleenex, or I’ll scream. ‘Tis the season, indeed. Eat your raw garlic, and take care. You’re still a worthy human being, even when you’re sneezing on yourself.

    Happy Holidays.

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  • HOLIDAY SPECIAL: Feminism in Taylor Swift’s “Speak Now”

    Is Taylor Swift’s music as anti-feminist as critics say? And if it is, does it matter?

    Greetings! I hope everybody feels physically and emotionally full from the weekend spent with family and friends.

    I’d like to introduce a special series that will take place over the next few months leading up to Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour. You’ll never know when I’m going to drop a Taylor post instead of a regular blog post, so it’s best if you ~subscribe to my blog~ if this is the content you crave. 

    If you’re an avid follower of my album rankings, you’ll notice that despite my background as a musician, I have little to say about the musical components of her pieces. I am obsessed with Taylor Swift specifically because of her carefully crafted lyricism. Pop music is notoriously catchy, meaning it follows a basic musical form by design. Her musical writing is pretty straightforward and not particularly innovative– it exists to serve as a vehicle for her words. Taylor Swift is a poet worthy of comparison to any of the great poets of the past few hundred years. In a rap battle between Emily Dickinson and Taylor Swift, I pick Taylor every time. I said what I said!!

    Taylor Swift has gotten an unfair amount of flack from non-swifties ever since her career took off in 2006 with the chart-topping hit “Teardrops on my Guitar.” This piece encapsulated the stereotype of music crafted explicitly for teenage girls (literally me), but I was too cool for it, above it. I remember straightening my hair in the bathroom, wearing a tank top layered over a short-sleeved shirt, low-cut flare jeans, and heavy eyeliner when this song came on the radio for the first time. I hated it. 

    This is a very terrible photo of me imitating Taylor Swift’s face in 2009. I was clearly not a fan.

    Until her most recent albums, the media heavily criticized Taylor Swift’s music for focusing solely on boys. In this special series on each of Taylor’s albums, I will re-rank every song according to my enjoyment (it could be different than past rankings, who knows what my mood will be!) and discuss them briefly through a feminist lens. To be clear, I’m not ranking them from least to most feminist because I listen to her music not because of how empowering it is but rather for much I enjoy it regardless of messaging. However, before I take up the fight in defense of feminism in Taylor Swift’s music, I want to know if she deserves it. Taylor’s music inspired me to become more confident and self-assured, not apologizing for who I was or feeling like I owed anything to men. Doesn’t that sound like a feminist message? We shall see. The messages we hear in her music are subjective, and I can only provide my opinion.

    I want to examine if Taylor Swift’s music is as anti-feminist as her critics say and if it actually matters. If I am a human who identifies as female and I have consistently drawn strength and courage from her music, can it be anti-feminist? What is feminism if not the unapologetic stories told from a non-male point of view?


    A Fan for the Ages

    Between 2006 and 2010, my perception of Taylor Swift shifted from negative to overwhelmingly positive. Taylor Swift’s new hit single, “Mine,” blasted through the kitchen as my friend and I baked brownies together. Much to my disdain, I discovered that I was enjoying the song. “Is this Taylor Swift?” I asked my friend. She replied, “yes! I actually really like this song!” Again, much to my disdain, I did too. It wasn’t particularly cool to like Taylor Swift, but I was already decidedly uncool. It was 2010, my senior year of high school, and here I was, unironically enjoying Taylor Swift.

    A fan for the ages was born that day, so for that reason, I will begin my special series with Taylor Swift’s third studio album, Speak Now, released in 2010.

    A nice visual of what I looked like in 2010. I’m about to dye my friend’s hair red.

    Feminism (or lack thereof) in Taylor Swift’s “Speak Now”

    Innocent- Favorite lyric: “It’s okay, life is a tough crowd, 32 and still growin’ up now”

    This song is rough for so many reasons. It’s the first of a few Kanye-inspired pieces and frankly the worst one. We can all agree that while the “Imma Let You Finish” incident was likely not meant to be as malicious as it was perceived, Kanye has exhibited some unforgivable behavior in the years since that moment.

    It’s also just not a great song, especially on an album where nearly every other piece is markedly fabulous. Is it feminist of Taylor to condescendingly forgive Kanye in front of the whole world? Ehh.

    Feminism score: I’m giving it a D for rolling over to please haters when Kanye and most other men never would’ve done that. Remember how that incident somehow made Taylor look just as bad as Kanye, even though all she did was win an award? That’s a double standard if I’ve ever heard of one.

    Haunted- Favorite lyric: “Come on, come on, don’t leave me like this, I thought I had you figured out”

    I have nothing to say about this song that I won’t say elsewhere. It’s not her best lyricism, and she’s the one being left by a man, as usual. Meh.

    Feminism score: F.

    Speak Now- Favorite lyric: “And she is yelling at a bridesmaid somewhere back inside a room wearing a gown shaped like a pastry”

    How did Taylor go from breaking up a wedding to singing, “the only kind of girl they see is a one-night or a wife”? I’m proud of her. This song is…yeah.

    We’ve got “I’m not like other girls” dripping from every lyric. Tearing down other women in pursuit of a man is not a good look. However, she does take charge of the situation, and for that, I say, good for her.

    Feminism score: D+. Sorry, Tay, I do love you.

    Enchanted- Favorite lyric: “The playful conversation starts, counter all your quick remarks, like passing notes in secrecy”

    I loved this song, but the magic of it has worn off for me. The fact that this piece is about the Owl City guy is just…a tragedy. I wish I never would have found that out. Knowing what is to come for our girl Taylor, I’m thrilled she eventually moved past this fairytale sheen. Leftover “Love Story” is how I would describe this song.

    Feminism score: Eh, D? It’s just…a boy is magic, and magic is boy, but as a teen, it was nice.

    Never Grow Up- Favorite lyric: “Take pictures in your mind of your childhood room, memorize what it sounded like when your dad gets home”

    An automatic “A” from me since this piece explores relationships with growing up and family as opposed to boys. If you want to discuss sexism in this piece, I’m down; I’m just not seeing it in a meaningful way.

    This album came out during my senior year of high school, and this piece comforted me. At a time when everyone seemed excited to “be an adult” and go off to college, I had a lot of love for my family and was afraid to leave them. It was nice to know she was too.

    Feminism score: A. Taylor taps into universal emotions surrounding growing up and leaving home. Independence! Hooray!

    Better Than Revenge- Favorite lyric: “I’m just another thing for you to roll your eyes at honey, you might have him, but I’ll always get the last word”

    LOL. This song is an automatic fail for many reasons, but I LOVE this vendetta on paper. I am curious about how she will handle this song when she re-records Taylor’s Version of Speak Now. She is RUTHLESS in this song. This absolute take-down was in her all along; the snakes didn’t come out of nowhere in Reputation.

    On a more serious note, slut-shaming is never a good way to handle a breakup. Will I still belt, “she’s better known for the things that she does on the mattress, WHOOOAAAA!!!!!” in the car? You know it.

    Feminism score: F. Slut-shaming is out.

    Mean- Favorite lyric: “You, with your switching sides, and your wildfire lies and your humiliation”

    Taylor intended to reject her media portrayal with this song, but apparently, victims of domestic violence have viewed this song as a source of strength. Hell yeah. And the instrumentals slap.

    Feminism score: Tbh, A. You tell ‘em, Taylor.

    The Story of Us- Favorite lyric: “The battle’s in your hands now, but I would lay my armor down if you’d say you’d rather love than fight”

    If you know my embarrassing relation to this song, then you know. The consistent tone of self-pity and victimization isn’t great, but Taylor’s music spoke to me profoundly at seventeen and eighteen. 

    Feminist score: C. She adopts her signature victim mentality but still manages to evoke courage. Also, maybe she was truly screwed over by these guys?? I don’t think anybody likes feeling like a victim in any situation. I’m just saying.

    Back to December- Favorite lyric: “I’d go back in time and change it, but I can’t, so if the chain is on your door, I understand”

    Ah, Taylor Lautner. This song is heartfelt, earnest, and vulnerable. She takes responsibility for her actions and doesn’t “play the victim” as her critics would say. We love a strong apology. 

    Feminism score: B. She’s begging for him to come back, but she’s also standing her ground and being forthright in her apology. Respect.

    Mine- Favorite lyric: “You made a rebel of a careless man’s careful daughter”

    It’s about a boy, yes. However, Taylor Swift makes clear choices in this relationship. She’s trusting her instincts and leading the way. So what if she’s getting “saved” by somebody– I’ve needed guidance from many people in my life.

    Feminism grade: I will give her a B for the independence of choice with a touch of self-doubt.

    Long Live- Favorite lyric: “It was the end of a decade, but the start of an age”

    I tear up every time I hear this song. We know it’s about Taylor’s rise to fame and her relationship with performing and her fans. However, this album came out my senior year of high school, so for my friends and me, it was about all the memories we would cherish forever, even though our lives were about to change.

    I think about how touchingly beautiful the simplicity and importance of solid friendships are and how my friends and I belted this in my old Buick LeSabre, cruising the streets of Northfield, Minnesota. It was as cool as it sounds. We’re all still friends. 

    Feminism score: A. Female friendship and loyalty are special.

    From my Facebook album entitled, “Long Live.”

    Sparks Fly- Favorite lyric: “My mind forgets to remind me, you’re a bad idea”

    I’ll always throw down for “Sparks Fly.” It’s not remotely feminist. She’s putting her agency entirely in the hands of this man, but you know what?

    I don’t care.

    I love the way this song makes me feel. The romanticism of it all!! Kissing in the rain!! Get me with those green eyes!! This masterpiece is practically German art song. 

    Feminism grade: F. She needs to be saved by a kiss and led up the stairs; apparently, he’s a “bad boy,” which usually means a guy who treats women like garbage for their enjoyment. She feels she can’t control herself around this person. And you know what– it’s a great piece. Come for me.

    Last Kiss- Favorite lyric: “So I’ll watch your life in pictures like I used to watch you sleep, and I feel you forget me like I used to feel you breathe”

    An incredible song. This piece is peak early Taylor before she cared about feminism; you’re all right. Maybe I’m just proving all of the haters correct. But remember, she was COUNTRY FIRST! We must also recall that Taylor was still trying to please her label and therefore didn’t have the freedom to say everything she wanted to.

    I’m so glad Taylor evolved past viewing herself through the lens of the man who breaks her heart. Still, we couldn’t get there without this– it makes her progression that much more powerful and mirrors the experience of many millennials, like myself, who had to embark on the same journey.

    I’d say it’s one of her best songs of all time.

    Feminism grade: It’s an F, but I honestly couldn’t care less.

    Dear John- Favorite lyric: “And I lived in your chess game, but you changed the rules every day”

    To anyone who started respecting Taylor Swift when she released folklore and evermore, I present you with Exhibit A of how she has always been an expert lyricist and artist worthy of every bit of recognition and accolades she garners.

    Every word across this six-minute musical masterpiece sends shivers down my spine. Aren’t we all excited to roast John Mayer endlessly again when she releases Taylor’s Version of this album? I’m so ready. I have no proof of this, but I think her relationship with John Mayer kickstarted her desire to exhibit strength, agency, and choice in her future partnerships with men.

    If you want to rage cry, I highly recommend listening to “Dear John” followed directly by “Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve.” Between the two, Taylor Swift paints such an evocative picture of heartbreak in the moment and in retrospect.

    The progression is compelling. I’m not sure if there’s anything more profoundly feminist than writing honestly about your experiences without protecting the feelings of faulty men.

    Feminism score: A-. There is strength in moving on, and haters will say she victimized herself. There’s nothing anti-feminist about speaking truth to power.

    Speak Now Overall Feminism Grade: C

    Taylor Swift deserves her early criticism in specific ways. She tends to play the victim and leave her fate to the men who ultimately break her heart. However, Taylor explores the complicated feelings of adolescence in a way that makes her listeners feel courageous and inspired.

    When teenage girls were the largest consumers of Taylor Swift’s music, the population didn’t take her as seriously as an artist, which is profoundly sexist. If you pay close attention to her poetic lyricism, however, it’s clear that she has always been capable of high-level artistry, as evidenced by her third studio album.

    Speak Now will forever hold one of the top spots in album rankings for her variety of emotional breadth and the time in my life when I first heard it. 

    Which album should I rank next? Let me know!

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  • Grit

    People who hear me sing often tell me that I am talented. This compliment is supremely flattering. However, I am not an exceptionally talented singer. Hear me out.

    Last week, as I prepared for Friendsgiving, I listened to one of my favorite podcasts, The Jordan Harbinger Show. I enjoy the variety of experts and subject matter he explores with guests on his show, but I only recently began listening to the podcast. This week, he aired an episode from the vault, and I was thoroughly inspired by their conversation. As someone entirely outside of the corporate sphere, the name Angela Duckworth and the book “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance” were altogether unfamiliar to me. Forgive me if you’ve read the book or followed her work for ages– I’m a newbie!

    Duckworth describes talent as a person’s innate ability to learn and apply a specific skill. This definition has not been my experience as a singer, much to my embarrassment and shame. Vocal concepts have taken me years to master, while the most talented singers come by their basic technique naturally. I had a lot of vocal practices straight up wrong. However, I have always been a talented musician, and that’s different. 

    Around the age I began piano lessons. Honestly, let’s just say I’m sharing this because it’s cute and call it a day.

    My parents inherited my great-grandma’s upright piano when I was young. Grandma never played, and although my mom took lessons as a kid, she didn’t keep up her practice. Naturally, like any bumbling toddler, I eyed the instrument with curiosity, and it wasn’t long before I explored the keys on my own. “Explored” might be too kind of a word– I’m sure my mom would say I pounded the antique keys with my tiny fists and screamed along to my improvised compositions.

    At the age of four, I was a little young to begin piano lessons, but my mom couldn’t stand the racket of my exploration any longer. She enrolled me in classes with a kind and patient woman named Carol, who taught in a home studio just a few blocks from our house. I often think of those afternoons since I teach my students from the same books my mom purchased for me twenty-five years ago—Faber and Faber Piano Adventures; what a lasting legacy you cultivated.

    The piano was notably easy for me. I sped through the first couple of books, recited my notes with ease, and played with a general understanding of musicality atypical for a little kid. I wasn’t Mozart or anything, but my teacher mentioned I had an unusually developed ear to my mom. She gave me extra theory assignments when she realized I might be learning my pieces by ear rather than reading the music. Both aural skills and music reading are imperative for a high level of musicianship, and for her observation early on, I am grateful.

    Like many of my fellow millennials, I was placed in my elementary school’s gifted and talented program and was proud that school was easy. Without realizing it, my little brain created the mindset that if I had to try, it meant I was stupid. I didn’t want to try; I only wanted to succeed easily and breezily. Because of this attitude, I stopped liking the piano when I had to start actually practicing. 

    This is the only picture I can find where I’m holding a flute. I’m sure my mom has many at home. All-State Minnesota Orchestra Woodwinds Section, Summer 2010.

    I began playing the flute in fifth grade, coincidentally around the time piano became a chore. My childhood best friend’s mom is a professional flutist and college professor, and I patiently awaited being old enough to take lessons from her. I loved the flute. At first, I just couldn’t get the embouchure right, making me want to quit immediately. However, I initiated a viable sound after spitting rice outside for a few days to get my lips in the correct shape. It was thrilling. I looked forward to lessons with my friend’s mom and took pride in being the best flute player in school. Aside from spitting rice, I didn’t have to work hard to improve– I was a natural.

    A couple of years after I initiated weekly lessons, another student my age began studying with the same teacher. She was also a naturally talented musician, but she quickly surpassed me in skill because she worked hard to succeed. There was a critical difference between us–she practiced intently every day while I practiced maybe twice per week, haphazardly, just enough to get the assignment under my fingers. Her advancement angered and embarrassed me because I stubbornly stuck to a talent-or-nothing mindset. Around this time, I quit piano, stopped practicing flute entirely, and my musical focus shifted again, this time toward singing.


    Dear Reader, you’re likely beginning to notice that I had many musical professionals available to me as a child, and you’re right. I’m incredibly fortunate, but that’s a story for another time. However, I have one last teacher to introduce to the mix–my high school voice instructor. As luck would have it, I grew up with the most wonderful neighbor who also happened to be a retired opera singer and voice teacher. In middle school, I became interested in musical theatre but knew my vocal chops weren’t up to snuff. My voice was decently impressive for a teenage girl, but this wasn’t enough for me– I needed to be gifted and talented like I was in everything else where I excelled. We started lessons when I was fourteen years old. I desired to belt Popular from Wicked, but she had other ideas. She sneakily instilled in me a passion for opera and art song, and I left musical theatre mostly behind after high school. I graduated as a “smart girl” who excelled in academics, singing, flute, and theatre. I was proud of my achievements.

    Go Raiders. Northfield, MN, June 2011.

    If you’ve been keeping up with my blog posts, you’ll remember that I entered college to become an educator rather than a performer. However, if you’ve met me, you’ll know this would not have been compatible with my personality and interests– I changed my major to voice performance by the end of my sophomore year. At Concordia College, I was a moderately big fish in a comparatively little pond. I was the only mezzo-soprano performance major (more on that later), sang with The Concordia Choir, and had the full attention of a small voice and coaching staff. I placed at the NATS competition three out of my four years (don’t talk to me about my sophomore year) and always got the lead role in opera scenes. Although I didn’t get many solos with the choir and didn’t qualify for senior honors, I still blazed through my classes and performances with relative ease. I wasn’t trying yet, which was a pity. I regret this immensely.

    Concordia College, 2015.

    Upon graduation, I had to decide if I would admit that I was not a natural singer but had the potential to achieve vocal greatness if I worked for it. As it turns out, I was not a hot commodity for graduate schools or young artist programs— I was singing in the wrong fach with faulty technique and a misguided sense of artistry. Although I would continue to make a few wrong turns, I recognized that to become a real performer, I would finally have to try. No matter how gifted and talented a musician I was as a child, that wouldn’t cut it in the professional world. Coasting on raw talent doesn’t usually work for anyone in any career.


    This realization brings us to grit. The title of Angela Duckworth’s book spoils the definition of grit in psychological terms: it combines passion and perseverance for long-term goals. Interestingly, she also defines passion as consistency over time rather than a highly emotional state fueled by obsession or infatuation. I have been consistently passionate about singing for a very long period, even when it betrays me or when I don’t reach a particular goal related to my career. While listening to the podcast, I felt a sense of pride. That old flame I wrote about a few weeks ago is grit.

    I sometimes feel like my passion for singing has worn down over the years, but by Duckworth’s definition, it hasn’t. My practice has only become more disciplined and focused as I’ve learned how to try. Unsurprisingly, actually trying didn’t come naturally to me. I didn’t know how to practice or study because I never “had to.” Of course, this is ridiculous–imagine how much more I could have achieved if I had exerted any real effort to improve my singing before the age of 25!


    I wish I had been a natural at singing. Envy bubbles up inside me when I see twenty-two-year-old singers who are already incredible and graduating from prestigious conservatories. That’s what the entertainment industry longs for most– a natural. Everyone loves a natural talent, even if they play, perform, or sing like someone who had to work super hard to level up their skills. However, I can’t let myself get jealous. It’s not fruitful. I was never going to be opera’s next star at twenty or even twenty-five. What I built throughout my twenties instead was grit, and I didn’t even know it.

    “Never take advice from someone who’s falling apart,” Taylor Swift croons during the last song on her newest album, Midnights. I’m painfully aware that I don’t have much about living figured out, but I know that cultivating grit has made me feel meaningful and worthwhile even when I have little to show for myself. “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” They don’t tell us in music school that we have to try and fail hundreds of times, and we still might not succeed in the traditional sense. Performer and athlete are the first job titles that come to my mind that require a substantial dosage of grit, but we’d all be better off upping our “grit score,” as Angela Duckworth describes it in her book. Trust me, you are unstoppable where passion meets perseverance, even if you feel incredibly low.


    I wish I could tell my childhood self that it is noble to care, ok to try, and normal to fail. If I put in minimal effort as a kid, it was impressive to succeed, and I had an excuse if I failed or fell short of my goal. I sound like a talented singer now, but trust me, it has taken years of practice and instruction to get me where I am today, and I still have so much further to go. I’ve touched on this in previous posts, but you never really “make it” as a musician– there’s always another level to unlock.

    It’s easy for me to focus on what singing has taken away from me, but today, I’ll thank singing for teaching me grit. It’s one thing to be gifted and talented and another to do something with that.

    “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

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  • Frauenbild Friday: Frauenliebe Pt. 5

    My sister got married in May of 2021, during an exhilarating time when most people recently became vaccinated for COVID-19 and began crawling out of their shells. People were ready to attend a wedding and have a great time. We all wanted the day to be perfect for my sister, an angel baby of wonder and beauty, who deserved the best day ever.

    Angel baby of wonder and beauty, 2021.

    The bridal party got ready at my parents’ house, and everybody appreciated how relaxed it was. I did Kayla’s makeup in the bathroom, where I spent every morning obsessing over my appearance for fifteen years. My mom laid out a spread of sandwiches and pasta salads on the coffee table purchased years ago. Dad and I spied on the couple’s first look from the bedroom window, gazing out into the greenery and marsh of the backyard. It all felt so familiar, and yet there was a buzziness surrounding every aspect of the morning. Our song for today, written nearly two hundred years ago, captures that same anticipatory emotional state.

    Sun: shining. Tank: clean.

    When I look back on my sister’s wedding day, I think about everyone in the bridal party sitting cross-legged in our sweatpants on the living room floor, eating lunch, and cracking jokes like it was a typical day. We excitedly awaited my brother-in-law’s arrival, enjoyed the casual, candid photos, and fastened all of the buttons, of which there were many, on my sister’s beautiful ballgown-style wedding dress. That was probably my favorite part of the entire day– when I felt my sister’s unusually expectant energy resonate through such a familiar space. She was all smiles, a little ball of happiness. The house was electric.


    It seems like the excitement of such a momentous occasion hasn’t changed much since 1840, but there’s one significant emotion missing from most American weddings today: dread. Listen, if you feel differently, let me know; I’ve never been married. Our Frauenbild is saying goodbye to female company as she enters a life of servitude to her husband and children. Bye sisters! Bye friends! What a bummer. Let’s experience this whirlwind of a piece together, shall we?


    I’m back to Barbara Bonney for this one.
    Google Translate, baby!!! Who needs a poetic translation anyway?

    My sister wasn’t weighed down by a feeling of existential dread on her wedding day because she wasn’t shifting her relationships– I think we can all happily agree that marriage no longer means cloistering oneself away from friends and family. However, it does seem that connections outside of immediate family still tend to weaken over time. Maybe for modern folks, the life change of marriage isn’t what makes adult friendships so tricky to maintain, but rather the pull of so many responsibilities in a thousand different directions. We’re all incredibly busy people, and we can only allocate so much attention to each facet of our lives. Friendships often suffer first and worst in our hectic lives, which is a mistake. I am a massive advocate for prioritizing non-romantic relationships for personal well-being. 

    Was this post just a long con to get you to admire my table setting? Maybe.

    It’s Friendsgiving season. For anyone reading over the age of thirty-five, Friendsgiving is a Thanksgiving celebrated with friends as opposed to family, often held the weekend before the traditional holiday but sometimes in place of festivities with family at all. Little pumpkins and an orange plaid runner decorate my table, and I even have festive rings hugging the cloth napkins I purchased. I mean business. The guests in question this evening are friends I’ve had since childhood, people who know my innermost thoughts and my most embarrassing moments. They have seen me throw tantrums over my hair and laugh at inopportune moments. I’ve been looking forward to hosting them for a couple of weeks now because spending time in their company genuinely makes me feel whole. Friends outside of the partnership of a romantic relationship are imperative to my happiness, and you need them, too. So does our Frauenbild. 

    I don’t have much to say about feminism today (a supreme shock, I’m sure), and maybe it’s the season, but what I’d like to allow us to reflect on today are relationships. The people closest to us make our lives worthwhile, enable enjoyment, and restore our spirits. I think that’s part of the reason I look back on the morning of my sister’s wedding day with such joy– I could feel the positive energy emanating from some of the people I love the most.

    We have these little computers in our hands that connect us to anyone in the world, yet many of us feel increasingly disconnected. Take this opportunity to text or call a friend, see how they’re doing, and ask about their day. They want to hear from you. I need to do this too. We may not have worriedly said goodbye to all of our friends on our wedding day like our Frauenbild, but we still let relationships fade slowly by the day, week, and year when we don’t prioritize the connections that enrich our lives so profoundly.

    Happy Friendsgiving.


    I yawn in my childhood bed, sleepily blinking my eyes awake to the view of old photos on the wall. My sister is wide awake, atypical for her night owl self. We’re opposites in that way.

    “Today’s the day!” I shout in a sing-songy voice, quoting Finding Nemo. “The sun is shining; the tank is clean!” We’ve laughed through this quote on monumental days for as long as I can remember.

    We make our way to the bathroom, and I notice a tight, 1980s curling iron stuffed away in a drawer under the makeup I’ll be using today. I cringe and remember the time I tried curling my hair in 8th grade, and it was a total disaster. I threw a tantrum and was late for school. I sigh and move past the unpleasant thought– there will only be happy tears today.

    I spot some old hot rollers tucked away next to the useless curling iron and recall carefully rolling up my sister’s hair for Rock ’n’ Roll Revival–a much more successful bathroom adventure. That’s the energy we’ll channel.

    The Rock ‘n’ Roll Revival memory in question, 2013. Unfortunately, no photographic evidence remains of the Great Curling Iron Debacle of 2006.

    I stop cracking jokes, so I don’t smear the makeup on her smooth, glowing face. She looks beautiful. Her bridal party arrives throughout the morning, each member cooing over her appearance and filling the room with joy. 

    I run out of good hair day luck and struggle with my own. It’s the 8th-grade catastrophe all over again. One fake eyelash falls like a black spider into the sink, and I kiss that idea goodbye. Who needs falsies, anyway? The sound of excited chatter and laughter fills the house. It’s ok if my curls don’t fall in my face quite right and my eyelashes come unglued; today isn’t about me.

    We throw the dress over her head. Poof! A quote from Anastasia, another childhood favorite, pops into my brain. “The Russian circus– I think it’s still in here!” I meticulously begin fastening every button, step by step. Everyone is watching; the photographer snaps a photo.

    She looks perfect. No dread, no second thoughts. Only joy, surrounded by her best friends and family for life.

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  • Ghost School

    I drive the familiar highway northwest, reminiscing on the countless trips back and forth over four consequential years of my life. I remember when Taylor Swift’s Red came out over fall break in 2012, and we blasted the album multiple times on a carpool trip back to campus. I recall belting Wicked with my sister as she prepared to help me move back into an apartment during my junior year of college. I even drudge up the sleepy ride back from a Macklemore concert in the Twin Cities with friends right before he became famous; thank you very much. This trip was before every Concordia alum moved to the big city, aka Minneapolis, post-graduation. I swear, most Cobbers are either in Minneapolis or Fargo now. I guess I’m one of them.

    Very menacing!!! Photo courtesy of the Concordia College website.

    What is a Cobber? At Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, our mascot is an angry ear of corn named Kernel Cobb, who inspired the slogan, “Fear the Ear.” This is serious and not a joke. Roll Cobbs!

    The campus is mostly the same, although a giant “Welcome to Concordia College” sign spans loudly across the skyway connecting the central part of campus to the sporty side. I didn’t go to that side very often. 

    There’s already snow on the ground and a noticeable chill in the air– it’s funny how big of a difference three hours north makes. I recall many pitch-black nights walking with my fellow Concordia Choir members from rehearsal to dinner, barely breathing because it was so freezing. Up north is a different kind of cold. That cold hits different, as the kids might say.

    See, doesn’t he look a little chilly here? Photo courtesy of THE Concordia College website.

    The building I walk toward hasn’t changed much. A jokester has put a crimson-red scarf on the small statue of Paul J. Christiansen outside of the recital hall– I smile. Someone always did something like this. Most of the faculty names on the doors remain the same as when I left seven years ago, though the space is notably missing the legendary name of René Clausen. His spirit haunts this space.

    The halls are bustling with students; it’s a Friday afternoon, and I’m guessing The Concordia Choir still meets at 4:30 sharp. Everyone stares at me as I pass by, making a beeline for my favorite practice room. Everybody knows everybody at Concordia, especially in Hvidsten, the music building. I’m too old to be a student; there are no guest performers or faculty on the schedule, so who am I? I flash my fake, midwestern smile without making eye contact and keep walking. My room is open.

    Basking in the glow of my insecurity mirror, November 2022.

    I always liked this room because the mirror made the space feel larger. Many hours were spent picking apart my appearance in this broom closet. I remember a specific day when I wore a pair of jeans that had grown slightly too tight and a sweater that never looked right on me. Still, I stubbornly wore the outfit anyway, and I barely got any practicing done that afternoon because I was just staring at my body in the mirror, willing it to change. “I’ll start doing My Fitness Pal again today,” I told myself, my eyes welling up with tears. “I need to run more. I won’t go to Mick’s (the Thursday night spot for Concordia students) this week.” Poor Victoria. How would she feel now, staring in the same mirror, fifteen pounds heavier than the last time she looked into it? Yet another sign of my failures.

    I try not to think too often of how past Victoria would feel about me because I know she’d be disappointed– I established that last week. It’s hard not to think of her in this space filled with ghosts, demons, and memories. But past Victoria was an idiot and didn’t know anything. She had so much to learn. I banish those thoughts and warm up for my brief rehearsal with the exhale-card-holding pianist. Yes, he’s back. If you haven’t gathered this, he’s a recurring character in my life.

    The one and only. Post-junior recital, April 2014.

    “Erika!” He exclaims as I walk into the recital hall. There are no demons in here, only friendly ghosts. I have positive, warm memories of this space. Whether it was hours-long coachings with Dobby the house-elf (as he will henceforth be known in this blog), aria class, or waiting for my entrance as Cenerentola for opera scenes, the energy in the recital hall was always dynamic and inviting. As we drop needle on my pieces and I sing out into the hall, I think of every solo performance I sang on this stage over four years. It feels like home.

    I often look back on my time at Concordia resentfully. When I graduated high school, my goal was to go to Concordia, sing under Dr. René Clausen with THE Concordia Choir, and direct a high school choir. Boom. I had it all figured out. However, by the end of my sophomore year, I realized I didn’t like choir much and that I loved opera. I changed my major to vocal performance, but I didn’t want to quit choir because my friends were there, and I liked going on the tours. Seriously, that’s what kept me in Concordia Choir. I was also hung up on prestige and ~social currency~. I can admit that now. It all looks so silly in retrospect.

    The community of choir brought me back every time. Graduation concert, May 2014.

    I spent years undoing how I sang at Concordia– high larynx, darkened vowels, little vibrato. Regardless, those hours spent in the South Choral Room meant something to me. The demons haunting my memories were actually friendly ghosts.

    I gained so much from Concordia that I couldn’t acknowledge for so long. The faculty at this small school supported me unequivocally. I got to travel the country once a year for free and sing with a nationally renowned choir. I went to Italy, for crying out loud! I was an incredibly naive young woman and became a person in a welcoming, safe and encouraging environment. I made friends for life here, and even though we didn’t connect at Concordia, I wouldn’t be with Casey if it wasn’t for that place. It’s where I met Dobby, who shaped my artistry more than any other teacher or mentor in my entire artistic career to date.

    My perspective on Concordia shifted, finally, after seven years. Regardless of whether or not my audition from this weekend leads to a contract, I’m thankful for the haunting feeling that I made a mistake releasing itself into the universe. I’ll never know whether transferring to a conservatory would have changed the trajectory of my vocal career. I’ll never understand why I stayed at Concordia. I just did.

    If you read my latest Frauenbild Fridays post, you’ll know that one of the rings I wear is a ruby class ring from Concordia. When I lived in North Carolina, nobody ever asked about the ring except to note its beauty, and that was a rare comment. Being back in Minnesota, however, I get plenty of remarks from fellow Concordia graduates or folks who know about the Cobber ring tradition.

    My church choir has a new alto, and she is the sweetest lady. On Sunday, she asked me if I was wearing a Cobber ring. I smiled and exclaimed, “Yes, I’m a Cobber!” The change had already taken root. I usually brush Cobber comments off, but two days ago, I was grateful and proud to be a graduate of Concordia College. I surprised myself yet again. I’ve learned that surprises are everywhere if you pay attention. 

    There’s only one way to end the reflection on my undergraduate institution, and it’s this: 

    Roll Cobbs!

    Christmas Concerts, 2013.

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  • Frauenbild Friday: Frauenliebe Pt. 4

    It’s January 2019 in Baltimore; it’s cold and rainy, but I can remember no snow on the ground. It’s the day after an audition, and despite the bottle of wine my friend and I consumed together the night before, I’m still up early. After listening to The Daily podcast from the New York Times, a ritual of mine since 2016, and consuming my first cup of coffee from a cobber-adorned Concordia College mug, my friend is still asleep. I open up Netflix on my computer and watch an episode of Adam Ruins Everything about marriage. By the time my friend awakens, I’m ready to rant.

    I think I need to bring back the Baltimore trucker hat.

    Even then, I knew I would eventually like to be married to somebody. Still, the whole business just smelled like a scam, and it was enormously affirming for both of us to have the wedding industry exposed by Adam. Because gender roles are thoroughly ingrained in our culture, getting married is still a bigger deal for women than it is for men. As children, my friends and I surfed the David’s Bridal website and created our dream weddings. To this day, I have a wedding ideas Pinterest page that my friend and I have added to over the years. It’s less Tangled-themed than it once was but still lightly Rapunzel-adjacent. It’s a beautiful (fake) wedding.

    When American couples get engaged, the woman with perfectly manicured nails usually creates the social media post. It will probably be her most-liked post ever, at least until she has the wedding and then a baby. She could get the best promotion known to humankind or find the cure to all cancers, and that ring on her finger would still be the most celebrated milestone of her life. 

    Ah, the good ol’ days.

    Until the sexual revolution and feminist movement of the mid-20th century, a traditional American woman’s job was to get married and raise kids. Maintain the house and the children, and serve your husband unquestioningly. It makes sense that weddings primarily focused on the bride because marriage was the pinnacle of a woman’s life. It was the fulfillment of her purpose. Many women today continue to make motherhood the primary focus in their lives as stay-at-home moms and don’t get me wrong, I respect that because that is their choice– hopefully, no one forced them into this role. American women have many options at their disposal today, and I celebrate women who choose to be stay-at-home moms– they are empowered in their decision. There are so many pros and cons to having one parent stay home. The burden of that choice in heterosexual marriages often still falls on the woman, but again, more on that later. I can’t espouse all my opinions on feminism all at once, nor can I fully comment because I am not married, nor do I have children.

    Despite a shift in gender norms, I still notice that in the weddings of heterosexual couples, there is much more emphasis placed on the importance of marriage in the bride’s life. Listen– that Pinterest board is waiting if I get married. I want to look ridiculously hot and take that ring photo, as long as my nails don’t look too crusty. My hair and makeup will be flawless, my bachelorette party fabulous, and the flowers will be pristine. I love a party– despite my commentary about the culture of weddings, do you really think I’d miss out on that if I could help it? Maybe I’ll be more emotionally invested in the wedding itself, but I’d like the marriage to be equally crucial for both of us.

    See, I’ve already had the experience of sweating off my makeup while wearing a wedding gown! Hedy LaRue in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, College Light Opera Company, 2014.

    Before you get too angry with me, I want to be clear that I’m not saying that getting married is stupid or overrated. Marriage is an incredible milestone and a celebration of a union, an equal partnership, between two individuals who want to build a life together. That is something to be celebrated. I am, however, advocating for two equal voices in a marriage that each bring something to the table– maybe more like two puzzle pieces fitting together than one person completely giving themselves over to the other person’s wants and needs—in other words, an actual union.

    That’s not what was happening for our Frauenbild in 1840. She basically sings a hymn to her ring–an intentional choice on Schumann’s part–and vows to give herself over entirely to her husband. Yuck. BUT AGAIN, I’m not here to completely write off ol’ Robby or even Adelbert (ol’ Bert? What do you think?) because modern gender roles are entirely different from those in the 1800s. I can’t expect radical feminism from these guys. Anyway, she sings this hymn to her ring because she is a virginal woman who puts God first and her husband second, and becoming a wife is the premiere joy and duty of her life. 


    The queen of art song herself. Elly Ameling, 1980.
    I actually mostly did this one myself, thanks! But I still checked Google Translate, you know, just in case.

    Listen, there’s some nice stuff in here. The beautiful ring reminds us of the love our protagonist shares with her future husband, the open celebration and acknowledgment of their intense feelings for one another. Love is beautiful, and an intention to stand by someone even after the honeymoon phase is admirable–something I think most of us, deep down, seek to have in our lives. But if our Frauenbild is a modern woman, this is just one significant milestone in her life and equally important to the man in question. She doesn’t serve him or cease to exist outside of him. Instead, she is enhanced and supported by his devotion, as he is by hers. Together.


    Edit: this is a work of fiction and I am NOT ENGAGED!!! This is purely imaginative!!!

    Four rings adorn my fingers. I close my eyes and imagine there are five. Picturing my dry, winter-worn hands and stubby fingernails, I gaze at my right hand. The first, a ruby class ring, catches the light and draws fellow graduates into my sphere. The second, an old costume ring representing my birthstone, glistens in wintry blue. On my left hand, I notice the third ring, an understated opal reminding me of my Grandma, which nestles on the fourth– a ring from one of my best friends. It simply says, “I am enough.” 

    There is a fifth ring curled up against those words. I know I am enough, and someone else thought so, too. It’s affirming, somehow–external validation and all.  I am the same person, whether the ring is snugly fitted on my finger or sitting on a bedside table. It sparkles in every light; it weighs magnificently on my finger, golden and perfect. I’m proud to wear it, happy to show it off, and delighted to add it to the collection. 

    Welcome to the party, little ring. I didn’t become a whole person when I slipped on this precious ring. It’s merely another rung in my journey. Each of my rings reminds me of something I cherish: my education, my favorite color, my family, and my personal growth. And now, a new ring. This ring reminds me of the love I share, the union I’ve formed with another person—what a lovely reminder to have. 

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  • Approaching Thirty

    How can I navigate self-doubt and disappointment as I close out my twenties?

    On Sunday, I went to a beautiful shower for a friend whose baby is due in January. She decorated her home in sage greens and woodsy browns, the room full of laughter as we played silly games and sipped pretty drinks. All the women in attendance exuded excitement and love as she opened gifts and posed for pictures. It was a celebratory afternoon. Additionally, it was my first major social event since receiving my vocal polyp diagnosis, and I knew most of the women at this shower. After fielding questions from kind friends, family, and acquaintances regarding my injury and recovery, I realized that I was right back in my least favorite part about being a freelance singer. It’s a single question.

    “What comes next?”

    Pre-singer purgatory in Paris, January 2020: singing the title role in the modern-day premiere of a lost Classical opera written for Marie Antoinette. Those were the days, am I right?

    Last month, I had a focus—a tangible goal. Don’t sing outside church choir for a month, don’t demonstrate while teaching, and reduce social use. I couldn’t practice, take lessons, audition, or sing gigs because I was in recovery. Now, I’m in a weird purgatory space—a waiting period. The polyp is gone, but I still “need to watch it,” as my mom might say. I tend to succeed with strict rules, but things are now muddy again. It’s messy, and it’s stressing me out. Am I going to have a mimosa at this baby shower? Is it okay to have two? Is it ok to stay for three hours, or do I leave sooner? Do I sing the descant at church? How much of my fifteen minutes of vocalizing per day should I dedicate to repertoire if I take a couple of auditions in the next month? 

    As I ease into the next stage of my recovery, I feel like a helicopter parent to myself. I’m over-protective and constantly panicky. As I began warming into my upper range again, I noticed that my voice hadn’t felt this solid in a long time, maybe even a few years. I’m not sure how to react to this. I feel affirmed in my choices over the past month but ashamed that I couldn’t acknowledge or even recognize my vocal decline. Most of all, I’m terrified that if I talk or sing too much, I’ll ruin my voice again, and it’ll be all my fault. I don’t want this feeling of ease to go away, but I also can’t be on high alert for the rest of my singing life. I’m in a state of limbo.

    I used to tell my old teacher I was in “singer purgatory” between my graduate degree and professional viability. In retrospect, the past two years prepared me for this current purgatorial space. Throughout the pandemic, we worked on fixing the glaring technical issues I had never solved and took out the distraction of auditioning and performing while strictly pursuing vocal excellence. Unfortunately, this in-between space tanked my artistry, creativity, and confidence. When I freed myself from this mindset, I realized I had beaten my voice down for too long in the pursuit of perfection. Lack of patience is what got me into this mess.

    A brief purgatorial relief, a reminder of the joy of performing. World premiere of Harmony, Seagle Festival, New York, 2021.

    I turn thirty in a little over a month. I love birthdays, but I’m a little sad about this one. I told myself that if I didn’t “make it” in the opera business by the time I was thirty, I’d quit and start over doing something else. However, I didn’t intend for two years of pandemic and months of vocal distress to upend my life so profoundly, and suddenly, here I am, staring thirty years old in the face with nothing to show for myself. Not only have I not “made it” in a career with incredible odds stacked against those pursuing it, but I am so far away from my Metropolitan Opera dreams (for now! I’m far away, for now, my optimistic mind pipes in).

    It’s hard not to feel like I’m closing my 20s without reaching any of my goals. I’m disappointed and embarrassed. A sane person would know that now is the time to move on, but I can’t go out this way. In my last post, I expressed excitement for what comes next. But I’m also scared. I wasted my twenties; who’s to say I won’t waste my thirties too? Will I find myself at forty, without a fulfilling performing career, unmarried and childless, lamenting all my mistakes?

    As I read my writing, I edit it in my head. “People are going to think I’m so negative,” I lament. I’m trying to be honest about how this feels. I’ve spent a long time not being honest with myself and others, and it feels terrific to be truthful. However, I think of an old friend who once told me I have difficulty celebrating my successes and spend too much time stewing on my failures. I reflect on his observation often. My wins aren’t big enough achievements for my brain, and my losses are insurmountable. 

    My old friend would advocate for a shift in mindset. I celebrate this fantastic win: I banished a polyp from my folds in a month and wasn’t even on complete vocal rest! I remind myself that I am still in recovery. It is futile to rush this process–I will compromise my progress and waste more time. The voice lessons, coaching, auditions, and gigs can wait. It’s also emotionally draining to regret my past choices and worry about what is to come. We all can genuinely only take things one step at a time. The anxiety of living looms too large otherwise.

    So, I guess the answer to the question I got asked in some capacity over and over on Sunday is, “I don’t know.” I don’t know what comes next. So many of my friends seem to know by now. Their careers are stable; they’re buying houses and having children. I don’t covet a traditional path, but I envy the certainty of knowing where life is going. When I sat in my undergraduate voice teacher’s studio ten years ago, crying because I wanted to change my major from vocal education to vocal performance but was scared I couldn’t do it, I chose this. I chose the “I don’t know,” I chose uncertainty, rejection, and instability. I chose it ten years ago. 

    The fact is, I really like my life right now. I’m physically and emotionally close to my family and friends and cherish the life I’m building with my boyfriend, who I’ve been with for nearly two and a half years. I love my home and the people I spend time with. I enjoy my students, my puppy, and my flexible schedule. However, a piece of the pie is still missing: the performing career. I can’t help but think that if I die without exhausting every viable avenue to a classical singing career, even in a less traditional capacity than I had previously imagined, that would be my life’s biggest regret. I allow myself to be happy in my comfort but know that my most prominent desire currently lies unfulfilled. For that reason, I look forward to jumping back into the world of opera when I am fully healed. I just like it too dang much.

    I can’t audition for agents, sing at competitions, plan an audition tour to Europe, schedule recitals, or audition for gigs in my community. That’s okay. Those opportunities will still be there in a few months. It is a season of gratitude, and I can be thankful for the fantastic people in my life and the privilege of healing. The in-between space isn’t the worst place to be. After all, I can sing again, and it feels great.

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  • Singer Purgatory

    On Sunday, I went to a beautiful shower for a friend whose baby is due in January. She decorated her home in sage greens and woodsy browns, the room full of laughter as we played silly games and sipped pretty drinks. All the women in attendance exuded excitement and love as she opened gifts and posed for pictures. It was a celebratory afternoon. Additionally, it was my first major social event since receiving my vocal polyp diagnosis, and I knew most of the women at this shower. After fielding questions from kind friends, family, and acquaintances regarding my injury and recovery, I realized that I was right back in my least favorite part about being a freelance singer. It’s a single question.

    “What comes next?”

    Pre-singer purgatory in Paris, January 2020: singing the title role in the modern-day premiere of a lost Classical opera written for Marie Antoinette. Those were the days, am I right?

    Last month, I had a focus—a tangible goal. Don’t sing outside church choir for a month, don’t demonstrate while teaching, and reduce social use. I couldn’t practice, take lessons, audition, or sing gigs because I was in recovery. Now, I’m in a weird purgatory space—a waiting period. The polyp is gone, but I still “need to watch it,” as my mom might say. I tend to succeed with strict rules, but things are now muddy again. It’s messy, and it’s stressing me out. Am I going to have a mimosa at this baby shower? Is it okay to have two? Is it ok to stay for three hours, or do I leave sooner? Do I sing the descant at church? How much of my fifteen minutes of vocalizing per day should I dedicate to repertoire if I take a couple of auditions in the next month? 

    As I ease into the next stage of my recovery, I feel like a helicopter parent to myself. I’m over-protective and constantly panicky. As I began warming into my upper range again, I noticed that my voice hadn’t felt this solid in a long time, maybe even a few years. I’m not sure how to react to this. I feel affirmed in my choices over the past month but ashamed that I couldn’t acknowledge or even recognize my vocal decline. Most of all, I’m terrified that if I talk or sing too much, I’ll ruin my voice again, and it’ll be all my fault. I don’t want this feeling of ease to go away, but I also can’t be on high alert for the rest of my singing life. I’m in a state of limbo.

    I used to tell my old teacher I was in “singer purgatory” between my graduate degree and professional viability. In retrospect, the past two years prepared me for this current purgatorial space. Throughout the pandemic, we worked on fixing the glaring technical issues I had never solved and took out the distraction of auditioning and performing while strictly pursuing vocal excellence. Unfortunately, this in-between space tanked my artistry, creativity, and confidence. When I freed myself from this mindset, I realized I had beaten my voice down for too long in the pursuit of perfection. Lack of patience is what got me into this mess.

    A brief purgatorial relief, a reminder of the joy of performing. World premiere of Harmony, Seagle Festival, New York, 2021.

    I turn thirty in a little over a month. I love birthdays, but I’m a little sad about this one. I told myself that if I didn’t “make it” in the opera business by the time I was thirty, I’d quit and start over doing something else. However, I didn’t intend for two years of pandemic and months of vocal distress to upend my life so profoundly, and suddenly, here I am, staring thirty years old in the face with nothing to show for myself. Not only have I not “made it” in a career with incredible odds stacked against those pursuing it, but I am so far away from my Metropolitan Opera dreams (for now! I’m far away, for now, my optimistic mind pipes in).

    It’s hard not to feel like I’m closing my 20s without reaching any of my goals. I’m disappointed and embarrassed. A sane person would know that now is the time to move on, but I can’t go out this way. In my last post, I expressed excitement for what comes next. But I’m also scared. I wasted my twenties; who’s to say I won’t waste my thirties too? Will I find myself at forty, without a fulfilling performing career, unmarried and childless, lamenting all my mistakes?

    As I read my writing, I edit it in my head. “People are going to think I’m so negative,” I lament. I’m trying to be honest about how this feels. I’ve spent a long time not being honest with myself and others, and it feels terrific to be truthful. However, I think of an old friend who once told me I have difficulty celebrating my successes and spend too much time stewing on my failures. I reflect on his observation often. My wins aren’t big enough achievements for my brain, and my losses are insurmountable. 

    My old friend would advocate for a shift in mindset. I celebrate this fantastic win: I banished a polyp from my folds in a month and wasn’t even on complete vocal rest! I remind myself that I am still in recovery. It is futile to rush this process–I will compromise my progress and waste more time. The voice lessons, coaching, auditions, and gigs can wait. It’s also emotionally draining to regret my past choices and worry about what is to come. We all can genuinely only take things one step at a time. The anxiety of living looms too large otherwise.

    So, I guess the answer to the question I got asked in some capacity over and over on Sunday is, “I don’t know.” I don’t know what comes next. So many of my friends seem to know by now. Their careers are stable; they’re buying houses and having children. I don’t covet a traditional path, but I envy the certainty of knowing where life is going. When I sat in my undergraduate voice teacher’s studio ten years ago, crying because I wanted to change my major from vocal education to vocal performance but was scared I couldn’t do it, I chose this. I chose the “I don’t know,” I chose uncertainty, rejection, and instability. I chose it ten years ago. 

    The fact is, I really like my life right now. I’m physically and emotionally close to my family and friends and cherish the life I’m building with my boyfriend, who I’ve been with for nearly two and a half years. I love my home and the people I spend time with. I enjoy my students, my puppy, and my flexible schedule. However, a piece of the pie is still missing: the performing career. I can’t help but think that if I die without exhausting every viable avenue to a classical singing career, even in a less traditional capacity than I had previously imagined, that would be my life’s biggest regret. I allow myself to be happy in my comfort but know that my most prominent desire currently lies unfulfilled. For that reason, I look forward to jumping back into the world of opera when I am fully healed. I just like it too dang much.

    I can’t audition for agents, sing at competitions, plan an audition tour to Europe, schedule recitals, or audition for gigs in my community. That’s okay. Those opportunities will still be there in a few months. It is a season of gratitude, and I can be thankful for the fantastic people in my life and the privilege of healing. The in-between space isn’t the worst place to be. After all, I can sing again, and it feels great.

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  • Frauenbild Friday: Frauenliebe Pt. 3

    A warm-up room in Manhattan, 2018. Bonus points if you know where I am.

    I walk onstage, sweating in my flattering black dress and kitten heels, staring out into a dark auditorium. A dozen other young artists are staring back nervously at me, but I don’t deserve to be here. I’m the worst singer; I’m too old, and they only hired me because they love my friend. I’m going to sound like a stubbed toe. 

    I wait in the wings and absentmindedly run my fingers over the curtain. The soprano onstage in a tight-fitting red dress effortlessly executes a difficult cadenza; the audience is captivated by her vocal fireworks. I can’t possibly expect to sing well after hearing her perfectly executed aria.

    I scan my application for the hundredth time, ensuring everything is perfect. The committee will likely receive way better applicants than me; my project is garbage, and so is my singing. I hit submit and sigh.

    It’s one of the many buzzwords surrounding mental health that comes up so often that it has become less effective, but yes, it’s imposter syndrome, and I don’t know a single singer who doesn’t suffer from it at least a little bit. Given the sheer number of rejections we receive from auditions and harsh feedback from voice teachers and coaches, it’s no wonder that most singers feel inadequate, just like our protagonist in Ich kann’s nicht fassen, nicht glauben.

    A sweet voice for a sweet song.

    I prefer to think of the third song in Frauenliebe und –leben through the lens of her imposter syndrome rather than her eye-rolling worship of a man she “doesn’t deserve.” Give me a break. How many of us have started dating a man only to discover his sink is full of dishes and he doesn’t replace the toilet paper roll? This dude was absolutely not perfect, especially since it was the 19th century. He probably smelled like a troll. The fact that our Frauenbild is experiencing imposter syndrome over a stinky gentleman is ridiculous. I’ve known enough men to know there’s not a single one for whom I’m not “good enough.” The bigger question for the modern woman is finding someone whose personality, goals, and ideals align with her own. I hope our Frauenbild turned protagonist has found these qualities in her smelly man. (I’d like to add here that she is also probably stinky. Everyone reeked in 1840.)

    Let’s take a peek at our lyrics and translation.

    You know the drill. Thanks, Google Translate.

    A word on “slurping blissful death”– this translation is incredible and often changes to something like “savor” or “drink” in a poetic translation, but justice for “slurp.” It’s such an evocative image, even if it disturbs the romantic aura of it all. 

    Women are statistically less likely to apply for jobs in which they do not meet all qualifications than men. Women are more likely to apologize when an apology is not warranted. Women are likelier to add unnecessary exclamation points in emails to soften their tone. Women are less likely to ask for a raise when they deserve one. We are constantly diminishing ourselves to make others comfortable. We need to stop doing this, even when it’s hard!

    I tell a similar story often, and I’ll tell it again here. Before I start, I want to clarify that this is not a sob story and that I do not feel bad for my past self, so put your tiny violin away.

    Boys did not seem to like me that much in high school or college, at least to my knowledge. I grew up in the midwest, where people are overly polite and concerned with being nice, especially women. “Minnesota Nice” is worn like a badge of honor where I was raised. I’ve always been loud and opinionated, and I don’t shy away from showing my intelligence and capability where my input is appropriate. That can be off-putting in a culture that rewards niceness, particularly in women. By the time I obtained my degree, I had fully convinced myself that I was obviously fat and ugly (problematic language, but it’s how I felt), and that’s why boys weren’t that into me. When I moved to North Carolina for graduate school, I was almost shocked by the shift in attention from men. I was precisely the same, and yet I was suddenly “sweet,” “smart,” and “nice.” People in the south thought I was nice. At my core, I am a kindhearted person, but I do not think most people would describe me as nice in the midwest. I am too boisterous. Even though it was difficult, I’m glad I didn’t change who I was to make myself more palatable to men.

    One of my goals coming out the other side of my vocal injury is to take up space in every room I occupy. If I sing at a concert, an audition, or a recital, it’s because I deserve it. I warrant my significant other’s love for me because we are a good pair who complement each other well. I deserve every job interview I am granted, gig I land, and scholarship I obtain. When I’m in a room, I take up space. People notice me. I want them to see you, too. I don’t apologize for who I am, and I don’t think there’s a better person at being me.

    Our Fraunebild deserves her happiness, too. She is good enough.


    I lay my head on his chest, and his fingers interlace with mine. I feel his breath rise and fall steadily, like a clock ticking.

    “I love you,” he whispers in my ear. Butterflies enter my stomach; my spine shivers with admiration and fear.

    “How do you know?” I ask shakily.

    He smiles and doesn’t say anything. I ask again, “what are three things you like about me?”

    Laughing, he answers, “It’s not particular things. I just do.”

    Worry and guilt wash over me. My brow furrows. Eventually, my novelty will wear off, and only inadequacies will be left. Will he still love me when I’m no longer shiny and new?

    He clasps my hand harder and kisses my head as if he guesses what I’m thinking. He knows.


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  • My Little Polyp: Pt. 2

    Click here to read part one of “My Little Polyp”.

    A moment of silence for my vocal polyp, for she is dead. Rest in peace, polyp. 

    It’s Sunday night, two days before my follow-up appointment. Interestingly, I keep telling my friends that I’m anxious and nervous, but after I check in with my body and mind, I find that I am not. I’m not worried. I think I should be uneasy– maybe I’m just used to feeling nervous in situations that warrant some anxiety. Fascinating.

    My voice feels so much better than it did a month ago. Even though I’m not singing high, I can tell that if I were to do that nauseating hum or lip trill test that neurotic singers do, I would be able to vocalize through my full range without pushing or straining. The years spent perceiving my voice have allowed me to notice the smallest of changes; this is why the level of denial that my vocal cords were in any way usual or functional for the past few months was a perfect trick of my brain indeed.

    The best way to track improvement in the vocal folds (aside from getting scoped, like I did yesterday) is the range and quality of the voice, as well as the perceived effort of speaking and singing. There are no nerve endings on the vocal folds, so there can be no feeling of pain or discomfort directly from the vocal cords themselves. So, if you’ve ever heard me complain, “my voice hurts,” I mean, “the extrinsic muscles surrounding my larynx are overworked from attempting to produce more sound because my vocal cords aren’t able to adduct properly.” I think I’m still going to say, “my voice hurts,” because I would still like to have friends.

    The main question I am asked daily by anyone who knows about my vocal injury is, “how is your voice doing?” It is tough to answer because I was shocked that my pre-nodular edema had developed into a polyp in the first place. However, in retrospect, I should not have been surprised. I was thoroughly in denial. Whether or not it was uncomfortable to speak or produce high notes was a daily gamble. This month, I made a conscious effort to be honest about my vocal use and perceived improvement, which paid off in a significant way. 

    November 2022, awaiting my laryngologist, looking supremely thrilled.

    Appointment Day

    The month of relative rest is over, and it’s the day of my appointment. I wake up and drink my coffee as I edit another lengthy application for a scholarship that would take me to Germany. A month ago, my brain might have bullied me into giving up because it’s not like I will ever sing professionally again. My mind doesn’t believe that anymore, at least not today. The caffeine flows through my body, and my fingers plunk away at the keys. I am still not nervous. I feel ready. The thought of a bad outcome does not even cross my mind. 

    There are really only three things that I gave up this month– singing operatically, extended socialization, and alcohol. The singing is a big one, obviously. However, making temporary sacrifices is worth the feeling of ease I am now beginning to gain back. Singing hasn’t felt easy in nearly a year. My keys turn the ignition, I press my foot to the gas pedal of the car, and I excitedly zip to the University of Minnesota. I am ready to see a much smaller polyp. Still no nerves.

    Sliding a Camera Down My Nose

    Getting scoped is an interesting experience, but my little vocal nerd self loves it. I’m practically giddy. The laryngologist strolls in, profusely apologizing for being thirty minutes late; I laugh and accept his apology. Stunned, he exclaims, “you actually don’t sound bad!” Jokingly, I respond, “just the feedback every professional singer wants to hear! Can I put your review on my website?” He is unsure if I am serious. I am not. I think my joke is hilarious. We move on.

    I sit back in the chair, and my laryngologist sprays this nasty numbing solution in both nostrils. After a few seconds of tongue-tingling bitterness, the doctor slides a long, slithering device with a camera attached down my nose. It’s not that bad, I swear! His hand perfectly blocks my view of the screen on the wall, but he spoils the results anyway. Before I even make a sound, he exclaims, “wow! No polyp!” I immediately emit a “woo!” and see my pretty little cords come together with little effort. An “ee” vowel provides the best look at the folds, so I “eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee” on various pitches (no vibrato allowed!), clear my throat, and do fun little slides through my range. Do you want to see my vocal folds? I feel like a proud parent. Look at my vocal folds. Look at them do things. They’re better than your folds!!!!

    Can you tell I’m just a fabulous singer??? I call this piece “The Flat Foghorn.”

    My laryngologist commends me for my hard work and releases me to my SLP. The micro-hemorrhaging is still healing, and a minimal amount of pre-nodular edema is present, but it’s significantly less than my initial appointment. My voice is the healthiest it has been all year, and I don’t want to ruin my progress.

    Caution versus Paranoia

    Singers tend to treat their vocal cords like precious little princesses up in a tower, and any cough or sneeze will cause them to hemorrhage. I’m not trying to scare singers, they’ve already frightened themselves enough, and spooky season is over, anyway. If I had spent more time resting and healing and less time trying to prove my old voice teacher wrong, I could have avoided all of this. I can and will acknowledge that a highly elevated level of vocal self-care is necessary to pursue a serious career in singing. Coming out of the pandemic, I had become lax in my vocal health. Some people have cords of steel and can beat their cords to a pulp and sing just fine the next day. Most of these people are men, and they would still sing better if they treated their vocal folds with some respect. After this ordeal, I have proof that I do not have vocal cords of steel– my blood vessels live closer to the surface, which makes my vocal folds more fragile. Lucky me.

    My vocal folds, 11/1/22. If you look closely, those little red dots are microhemorrhages. The shiny white stuff is just mucus and spit. Super cute 🙂

    It’s not business as usual yet. I’m a little afraid of singing now, to be honest. I’ve become one of those irritating singers, except instead of a cough, I’m terrified that one high note will send me into an irreversible tailspin. I am being ridiculous, but I do have to take it slow. Fifteen minutes per day of vocalizing, here I come. After this month, I’m full of ideas. Screw auditioning for the same twenty young artist programs and experiencing rejection every time; I have recitals, concerts, and project proposals swimming around in my mind. I am so hopeful for what comes next.

    Update: As of December 2022, I am still vocal polyp-free and avoided surgical intervention.

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  • Frauenbild Friday: Frauenliebe Pt. 2

    Ol’ Rob and Clara having a great time at the piano. Image courtesy of pianostreet.com.

    Alright, here we go. You’ve been on a couple of dates, texted back and forth about your music tastes, consumed too many glasses of wine together–and this new person is the BEST! They’re perfect for you, and you can’t get enough of every part of them. Unfortunately, you haven’t had that exclusivity chat yet, and you think, “there’s no way this person will settle for a loser like me.” Today, we continue our journey of reimagining Robert Schumann’s Frauenliebe und –leben with the second song in the cycle, “Er, der Herrlichste von allen,” which translates as “he, the most wonderful of all.”

    When I auditioned for graduate schools, the typical university required recordings of songs in English, Italian, German, and French, in addition to an aria in any language. Since I was preparing this entire song cycle for my senior recital, the obvious choice was to choose one of the songs from Frauenliebe und –leben as my German piece. I picked this one.

    Mere months after being rejected at my dream graduate school. Obviously I recovered.

    I chose this song at the time because my hand-boiling, exhale card-holding pianist suggested it, and I unquestioningly followed everything he said. I remember deciding to start with this song for my audition at Rice University instead of one of Cherubino’s arias from Le nozze di Figaro. (My transition from fake mezzo-soprano to shoddy soprano is a discussion for another time, but go ahead and put a pin in that.) I began the piece, and all I could think about was how bad I sounded, how much better everybody else was than me, and how I didn’t deserve to be there. I couldn’t wait for it to be over. Apparently, the panel agreed– I didn’t get in. I wish I could go back and tell Victoria to screw the singing and get the unadulterated adoration and joy of the lyrics across, and I could solidify my technique later. I’m still learning that lesson. 

    What a beautifully bizarre album cover.

    Revisiting this piece has set my brain on fire. It is exhilarating and heartbreaking; I love the aesthetic little pianistic turns in the vocal line and the energetic accompaniment. The short postlude neatly ties a pretty bow on the dreaminess of our Frauenbild’s devotion. Her words are a declamation of what she believes to be unrequited love. As I listened to this piece, I thought, “I can’t wait to have my voice back so I can sing this.” I didn’t fully comprehend this song a few years ago. I postulate that my insecurities, underdeveloped technique, and lack of mature artistry prevented me from interpreting these songs with the nuance and enthusiasm they deserve. I am itching to give them another go.

    All that to say– this musical diary entry is more than the average love letter. Let’s take a peek at the translation.

    Translation mostly by Google Translate, if I’m being honest.

    Had I been paying closer attention, my insecure, young self could have channeled our narrator’s emotions into my performance. Like the Frauenbild, I didn’t feel like I was good enough– she didn’t deserve her perfect man, and I didn’t meet the standards for an academic institution. 

    The idea of a man writing about a woman who didn’t feel she was enough for an allegedly perfect man doesn’t sit right with me. I have to remember when Chamisso and Schumann wrote these poems and later songs– in the 1800s, women were still considered subservient to men. God first, husband second, then children, wife last of all. A woman’s husband is closer to God than she is. Stay obedient; Eve was the one who ate the apple, and women throughout history must continue to pay. Women exist to pump out babies until they die in childbirth–can you tell I’ve been watching House of the Dragon? Thanks to the advent of education, medical advances, and birth control, women worldwide have diversified their purpose beyond serving only the interests of men. 

    But boy, oh boy, these cultural norms are hard to overcome. Women color their hair, starve their bodies, paint their faces, cultivate the perfect wardrobe, remove unwanted body hair, inject Botox, and undergo plastic surgery in an effort to obtain an unattainable beauty standard. It signals that we are more beautiful and, therefore, superior to the other women around us and palatable to men. Sure, a woman can be intelligent, hardworking, funny, and brave, but men will only acknowledge those traits in a pretty package. It’s social currency. A man can look like a stubbed toe and be the most successful person in the world.

    So what’s our Frauenbild turned protagonist to do? Certainly, she’s not worshipping this modern man, but she must reckon with her insecurities. I imagine this man is also grappling with his shortcomings; we just don’t get to hear that in the original poetry. We all want to be the best version of ourselves for the person we love.


    “He’s too good for me,” I sigh as I pull on mismatched socks and my tan, heeled boots. He’s so thoughtful when I can be so loud. I watch his delicate mouth as he speaks; his eyes light up–he has a fiery mind and strong optimism. I have a sharp tongue and snort when I laugh.

    He speaks. I’m not listening. His eyes perfectly match his wrinkly button-down shirt–my eyes aren’t that blue; they’re more of a bluish-green. Not so striking. How are his eyes so blue? I wonder if his parents have blue eyes. I wonder if I’ll ever meet them.

    I shift my focus to the cellulite on my arms, the size of my nose, the softness of my stomach. Will he be disappointed? Does he wish I was thinner, prettier, quieter? I’m still trying to ignore what makes me frown in the mirror. Body neutrality, or whatever.

    Crap, he can tell I’m not listening. Nod. Smile. Laugh. No, don’t do that; he’s not funny. He’s cute when he’s trying to be funny, though.

    Yeah, he’ll leave for someone hotter, more intelligent, more successful. Better. His eyes probably light up for everyone; his hand gently touching mine isn’t unique.

     Love is such a scam.

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  • Preventative Healthcare

    The day before I left for college. Unknowingly, I will be forced into appreciating exercise mere days later. This photo has been cropped for courtesy.

    I sit with the chair of the music department at Concordia College as he combs through my busy first-year schedule. A music education degree is essentially a double major. Luckily, I’ll abandon this crusade in favor of vocal performance by the end of my sophomore year. I wasn’t cut out for the public school system; I hate rules and only follow what suits me in the moment. Checking the requirement boxes at my liberal arts institution is lengthy, and I sit anxiously while Dr. Chabora finalizes my courses. He notices that I haven’t selected a physical education class yet. My face crumples. I don’t like exercise. I’m not good at sports, and my lack of athleticism is a source of embarrassment. Unfortunately, Circuit Training is the only course that fits into my tight schedule. I don’t know what that is, but I know I don’t like it.

    Fast forward a few weeks, and I thrive in this class. There are no balls, no teams, and the only person I’m competing against is myself. At 18, I start working out regularly, and I haven’t stopped since. It is nearly as constant of a companion as singing. After circuit training, I began running, started cardio lifting and yoga, then regular weightlifting. As long as it doesn’t include a ball, I’m in. Please don’t throw me a ball, ever. Please. I won’t catch it.


    Unfortunately, my pesky polyp messes with my weightlifting routine. During a heavy lift, the vocal folds remain forcefully adducted, which is why the lifter often emits a sound at the end of the exercise. Have you ever heard a beefy dude grunt loudly at the gym? There’s that release. He may not care about slamming his vocal folds aggressively together at the end of a lift, but I do. So, weightlifting also had to go alongside singing and excessive vocal use. Add it to the list.

    Now, I do super awesome at-home workouts! I feel very cool! Picture 1980s workout videos minus the spandex and hairspray with more challenging moves. Higher reps and lower-weight dumbbells keep me sweating and building muscle without stressing out my vocal cords. However, it makes me way sorer than regular weightlifting. I constantly stretch throughout the day to no avail– I am a big ol’ ball of tension. Fun! I always knew I was a fun person.

    On Thursday, my shoulders, neck, and back are almost unbearably tense. They’re usually scrunchy, but this is a noticeable, pervasive discomfort. I ask my boyfriend to rub my shoulders, and he unleashes a vendetta on my back. “Ouch! Do you hate me?” I ask, only half kidding. He replies that he’s adding barely any pressure. I decide it’s time to go in for a professional massage.

    My previous voice teacher told me once that his health care plan covered weekly massages when he was a contracted festival singer in Germany. Our bodies achieve feats of both athleticism and artistry on the stage, so this honestly seems reasonable to me. Unsurprisingly, this benefit is not typically covered by American health plans because we all deserve to build up stress in our bodies until we die of a heart attack at age seventy, right? 

    Not me. I refuse to die of a heart attack at age seventy! Get me to at least eighty, I say! As a preventative healthcare measure, I resolve to get a massage with cupping for the first time in two years.

    This portrait of cupping therapy looks much more serene than my experience. Image courtesy of iStock by Getty Images.

    Humor me as I briefly share my limited knowledge on the subject with those who do not know what cupping is. Cupping is an ancient Eastern medicine practice that uses large suction cups to reduce pain or inflammation in the back, shoulders, and neck. It increases blood flow and allegedly releases toxic build-up in the muscles. A friend of mine pointed out once that the Wikipedia article for cupping denotes the therapy as “quackery.” Take that as you will. 

    I am not a stranger to cupping therapy, so I tell the massage therapist confidently that I know all about the practice and she doesn’t need to coddle me. Beat the tension out of me, please! I need to get back to lifting heavier; I’m turning into the Pillsbury dough boy over here! After the therapeutic massage portion of our session, she begins to apply the cups, and let me tell you; it hurts like none other. I am a wiggly little worm on that table. She asks me cautiously if she should stop, and I say, through gritted teeth, “No, this is great. I’m good.”

    I don’t think I fool her—just a hunch.

    She tightens another glass cup on my back. I feel a pinch, then a pulsating discomfort, and then a dull heaviness. Soon, at least ten warm cups are throbbing on the back of my body. The massage therapist kneads the dough of my arms and thighs. My head begins to pound. After what feels like an hour, the woman annihilating my back starts to release the cups. The torture devices exhale toxins into the small, dark room. I am free. She tells me she only left the cups on for five minutes because my body is having such a strong reaction and warns me that I need to drink copious amounts of water to allow myself to recover. She sounds legitimately concerned. I’m so tense that I scare a massage therapist. Incredible.

    As I drag myself into a seated position on the table, my vision blurs, and my body feels both light and heavy. I sweat and shiver. Despite my efforts to work through the fatigue and nausea, I spend the next two days feeling violently ill.

    I’m appalled and amused by the amount of toxicity in my system. It is not uncommon to experience flu-like symptoms after a cupping session. The toxins build up in the muscular tissue, are disseminated into the body, and can only be released through hydration and rest. Apparently, one Yin Yoga session wasn’t enough to turn me into a paragon of relaxation.

    Constantly beating up on my body through exercise has undoubtedly made me physically stronger, but I am poisoning myself without taking the time to lengthen and recover those muscles. The parallels to my vocal journey are uncanny. I knew my voice was struggling, but I kept slamming my vocal cords together anyway. I could still improve through fatigue, right? I just needed to push harder and practice more. What I actually needed was this. Rest. I can tell my vocal cords feel so much better. The muscles surrounding my larynx are lengthening, and the inflammation in my folds resolves by the day. I have one week until my follow-up appointment with the laryngologist, and I am optimistic about my vocal recovery. Old-school voice teachers love to say, “Your body is your instrument,” and they’re right, our bodies truly are our instruments. Singing is a full-body experience. It will creep into the voice if there’s built-up tension in the shoulders, jaw, or even the pinky toe. I proudly tell myself and others that I take great care of my health because of my regular exercise regimen, but what can I say about my stress levels if a massage releases an onslaught of toxins that knocks me on my butt for two days? Wellness is not an accomplishment but an ongoing practice.

    A tight muscle is a weak muscle. I follow my own advice and release. Let go. Relax. I shift my focus to loving my body and all it does for me rather than beating up on it and willing it to change. I’m grateful for those blasted cups, the giant fake hickeys now covering my back–seriously, it’s not pretty. I allow this healing process to unfold with the time my body needs. After all, it’s my only body–I might as well take care of it.

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  • Album Review: Taylor Swift’s “Midnights” Is a Modern Masterpiece

    The pop-icon strikes a balance between “Reputation” and “folklore” that is sure to satisfy fans in her tenth studio album

    If you didn’t think I could get more extra, well, I can.

    When I was in high school, I made fun of Taylor Swift. She was so cheesy, so embarrassing, and she sang country music. Yuck. Then, Speak Now came out and…I decided I liked Taylor Swift. Now, my love of Taylor Swift is wrapped into my entire personality. If you only know a few things about me, one of them is probably that I love Taylor Swift. People respect her now because her music is more nuanced, grown-up, and appeals to more than just teenage girls. But if you’ve been paying attention, she’s always been excellent.

    I started ranking Taylor’s albums as a joke beginning with Red, which gradually became an expectation. So, without further ado, here is my completely unedited, official Midnights Taylor Swift review. Oh, and it’s also non-negotiable.

    20. Snow on the Beach– Snooze fest. I’m so sorry. This is a watered-down version of both Lana and Taylor. Next!

    Favorite lyrics: These lyrics spoke to my little Enneagram 3 heart.

    My smile is like I won a contest/And to hide that would be so dishonest/And it’s fine to fake it ’til you make it/’Til you do, ’til it’s true

    19. Labyrinth– It’s nice. 

    Favorite lyrics: I thought the plane was goin’ down/How’d you turn it right around?

    18. Paris– It’s fine. I feel like she’s written this song a thousand times, and this one didn’t really tell me anything new. I still like it.

    Favorite lyrics: I wanna brainwash you/Into loving me forever

    17. Glitch– I keep forgetting this song exists.

    Favorite lyrics: A brief interruption, a slight malfunction/I’d go back to wanting dudes who give nothing

    16. Bigger Than The Whole Sky– Did anyone else think this sounded exactly like Daylight when it started?? This song might be too sad for me, idk. We almost get a little country twang in the instrumental which was exciting!!!!

    Favorite lyrics: Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye/You were bigger than the whole sky 

    That just sends shivers down my spine, it’s so simple and so sad. Ugh. Love you Taylor.

    15. Midnight Rain– It’s ok. Lots of parallels to Lover– it sounds like it could be inserted right after False God. I do like the bride line tying us back to Lavender Haze. Basically I feel like I spend this song recovering from track 5. 

    Favorite lyrics: He wanted a bride/I was making my own name

    14. Question…?— Listen, I don’t want to blame it all on Jack Antonoff, and I know he’s this great producer and whatnot and he and Taylor are the best of buds, but I guess my main thought after this one is just…all of his instrumentals sound the same. And it makes Taylor sound like everybody else. I liked the lyrics, I just am growing tired of the musical homogeny, that’s all. Maybe I am a snob!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I like this song fine.

    Favorite lyrics: Half-moon eyes, bad surprise/Did you realize out of time?

    13. Sweet Nothing– It’s New Year’s Day all over again. I’m a sucker for these sweet portraits of domesticity. V nice. 

    Favorite lyrics: And the voices that implore, “You should be doing more”/To you, I can admit that I’m just too soft for all of it

    12. High Infidelity– I have a rule where I don’t look up other reviews or media about Taylor’s new album before I write my ~official~ review because I don’t want other peoples’ thoughts to cloud my own, but this is where I expose myself as not a true Swiftie. I love her music, but I don’t keep up as intensely with the media surrounding her–so– WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED ON APRIL 29!!!!!!!!!!!!! This is literally going to be the first thing I look up after I post this review. BUT! I love this song. It’s a jam, and she’s not making herself the victim which she’s been accused of doing in the past. 

    Favorite lyrics: You know there’s many different ways that you can kill the one you love/The slowest way is never loving them enough

    11. Mastermind– Technically, this is the closing track. HOWEVER!!! There are more because Taylor is a songwriting machine. It reminds me of Long Live, actually. Very “us against the world.” And when she sings “I sweeeaaaaar” it reminds me of Rent for some reason which is always a good comparison in my nerd brain. The doodle doodle doodle doodle in the instrumentals is very fun.

    Favorite lyrics: No one wanted to play with me as a little kid/So I’ve been scheming like a criminal ever since/To make them love me and make it seem effortless

    10. Vigilante Shit– Damn. This song is sexy. This song is wearing assless chaps with nothing underneath. It sounds a bit Billie Eilish-esque with the ~spooky vibes~ but I mean….this is what we wanted from Reputation, right?? Don’t get sad, get even!!!!! Lots of lines from this one that will be Instagram captions for sure. I loved how sparse the instrumentals are, but the bass just echoes. It’s like she’s just whispering to us. NO BODY NO CRIME BABY!!! Shiversssss down the ol spine.

    Favorite lyrics: I don’t start shit, but I can tell you how it ends/Don’t get sad, get even

    9. The Great War– Bonus track number one slaps, as the kids say!! War metaphors abound. Besides just the overall appealing sound of the piece, I like that she sings about working through a huge conflict that doesn’t end in a breakup. It’s a new arena for our girl.

    Favorite lyrics: Somewhere in the haze, got a sense I’d been betrayed/Your finger on my hairpin trigger

    8. Lavender Haze- So Taylor talked about “Lavender Haze” as 1950s slang for a new love. I love how she bounces back and forth between the romanticism of the ~lavender haze~ and the expectations of behaving like a woman from the 1950s, which some people think women should still embody. She even plays with the Madonna/whore complex!!! Obsessed with this concept. I love that her album openers are very much a vibe-setter. We know what we’re getting– a sound bath that mixes the ethereal quality of evermore with the biting lyrics of Reputation. Rock n roll, baby, let’s GOOOOOOO!!!!! One critique: that weird duck/coo-sounding noise? Basically, anything I don’t like, I’m just going to blame Jack Antonoff. It’s distracting.

    Favorite lyrics: All they keep asking me/Is if I’m gonna be your bride/The only kinda girl they see/Is a one-night or a wife

    7. Dear Reader– Wow, just a beautiful end to a beautiful album. Never take advice from someone who’s falling apart– it just ties up her self-reflective album with a bow. This piece feels similar to Call It What You Want.

    Favorite lyrics: Never take advice from someone who’s falling apart!!!

    6. Maroon- Taylor Swift is obsessed with rose and red wine, and she knows we are too!!! This lady needs to stop spilling wine all over herself!!! She is tying in previous songs with this, and of course, Red. We know how Taylor feels about the color red– she once said in an interview that red evokes strong emotions, so she’s painting us an intimate scene packed with intense feelings. I also really enjoy the relentlessness of this song? It kinda just keeps going and going like a run-on sentence. It reminds me of when I wake up in the middle of the night, and a pervasive memory or thought won’t leave my brain. A bop.

    Favorite lyrics: WE LOVE A TAYLOR BRIDGE! 

    And I wake with your memory over me/That’s a real fucking legacy

    5. Bejeweled– I really liked this one! You know me, I need a bop. I need a beat. Taylor has described herself as a jewel before– I’m personally still recovering from the 10 minute version of All Too Well. A pop anthem.

    Favorite lyrics: They ask, “Do you have a man?”/I could still say, “I don’t remember”/Familiarity breeds contempt

    4. Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve– HOLY SHIT?!? I never would’ve danced with the devil at 19…is she seriously giving us a JOHN MAYER DISS TRACK IN 2022?!?!??!!?!?! This will be the second thing I look up after posting my rankings. This has Dear John written all over it. I REALLY wish we would’ve gotten a bit more country in the instrumentals. I also get mad woman vibes. I REGRET YOU ALL THE TIME?!?!?!?!?  I mean, she just keeps slapping us in the face. Wow. I’m going to be embarrassed if I’m wrong about this, but she didn’t just drop that 19 years old for nothing ok, it HAS TO BE JOHN. 

    Favorite lyrics: Living for the thrill of hitting you where it hurts/Give me back my girlhood, it was mine first/This is when my eyes really welled up with tears, just incredible songwriting.

    3. You’re On Your Own, Kid– Track 5!!! The build on this song is incredible. I kind of feel like this is what The Archer was meant to achieve (and I liked The Archer! It just always felt like it was missing something). We begin with a thumping but subdued beat and Taylor’s breathy vocals, but it’s relentless. By the time we get to the chorus, there is a build of instrumentals that continues through the piece that underscores her climb to fame beautifully. I almost can’t handle how introspective Taylor is in this album; it’s inspiring and sad and beautiful all at once. I had a couple tears at the end of this piece, which is JUST HOW I LIKE IT!!! BATTI BATTI BEL TAYLOR!!!!! DESTROY ME! 

    Favorite lyrics: TAYLOR WITH THE BRIDGE I mean seriously just…*insert Viserys from House of the Dragon saying Gods Be Good here*

    From sprinkler splashes to fireplace ashes/I gave my blood, sweat, and tears for this/I hosted parties and starved my body/Like I’d be saved by a perfect kiss

    2. Karma– Karma is such a recurring theme in the Taylor universe, and I really, REALLY love this song. The beat is incredible. I love how she personifies karma through the chorus. I am also just cackling because Kanye is a complete and utter clown and it’s become really hard to defend him at this point— y’all Taylor ALWAYS COMES OUT ON TOP ok?? 

    Favorite lyrics: Karma’s a relaxing thought/Aren’t you envious that for you it’s not?

    1. Anti-Hero– Ok I’m sorry I feel very basic because I think this is the song Taylor is ~intending~ to sell us as a hit and let me tell you why it is because it IS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! SOMETIMES I ALSO FEEL EVERYBODY IS A SEXY BABY!!!! This song has it all. It bops like 1989. It cuts like reputation. It’s a sad vibe like folklore. She is incredibly vulnerable in this piece, acknowledging her personal failures which felt very close to home at this time. I broke my own rules on my first listen of this album and repeated this piece three times. It’s just too good. I get that this is supposed to be relatable, especially to millennials, but every lyric felt like a read on my entire brain (hey, I didn’t catch the sexy baby line as a 30 rock reference despite my obsession with that show in high school, but now that I know what that is, I’m like yep, can relate) My favorites tend to shift over time (cardigan definitely did not remain my favorite off of folklore) but I think this one is here to stay. She is simply an icon. All hail Taylor.

    Favorite lyrics: There are so SO many– “It’s me, hi, I’m the problem it’s me” is bound to become a meme or something. But I have to go with:

    Did you hear my covert narcissism I disguise as altruism/Like some kind of congressman?

    Overall: I love this album, but I was bound to love it. There were a few tracks that I don’t appreciate as much– yet. Sometimes the slow ones grow on me. My main critique is I wish we got more variety in her vocals– she goes with an ethereal, breathy tone for the entire album, and we know she can do so much more. I think Anti-Hero, Karma, You’re On Your Own Kid, and Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve are four of her best songs ever, period. Taylor remains on top for another album. Can’t wait to make these pieces my entire personality for the foreseeable future. 

    Official album ranking 2022

    (For those of you who keep track, yes, the official album ranking has changed, her rerelease of Red was a reawakening for me)

    It’s also getting really hard to rank these?? All of her music is so incredible the album rankings are based on my mood more than anything. 

    10. Taylor Swift

    9. Reputation

    8. Lover

    7. 1989

    6. Midnights

    5. folklore

    4. Red

    3. Fearless

    2. Speak Now

    1. evermore

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  • BONUS: Official Midnights (3 a.m. version) Review

    If you didn’t think I could get more extra, well, I can.

    When I was in high school, I made fun of Taylor Swift. She was so cheesy, so embarrassing, and she sang country music. Yuck. Then, Speak Now came out and…I decided I liked Taylor Swift. Now, my love of Taylor Swift is wrapped into my entire personality. If you only know a few things about me, one of them is probably that I love Taylor Swift. People respect her now because her music is more nuanced, grown-up, and appeals to more than just teenage girls. But if you’ve been paying attention, she’s always been excellent.

    I started ranking Taylor’s albums as a joke beginning with Red, which gradually became an expectation. So, without further ado, here is my completely unedited, official Midnights Taylor Swift review. Oh, and it’s also non-negotiable.

    20. Snow on the Beach– Snooze fest. I’m so sorry. This is a watered-down version of both Lana and Taylor. Next!

    Favorite lyrics: These lyrics spoke to my little Enneagram 3 heart.

    My smile is like I won a contest/And to hide that would be so dishonest/And it’s fine to fake it ’til you make it/’Til you do, ’til it’s true

    19. Labyrinth– It’s nice. 

    Favorite lyrics: I thought the plane was goin’ down/How’d you turn it right around?

    18. Paris– It’s fine. I feel like she’s written this song a thousand times, and this one didn’t really tell me anything new. I still like it.

    Favorite lyrics: I wanna brainwash you/Into loving me forever

    17. Glitch– I keep forgetting this song exists.

    Favorite lyrics: A brief interruption, a slight malfunction/I’d go back to wanting dudes who give nothing

    16. Bigger Than The Whole Sky– Did anyone else think this sounded exactly like Daylight when it started?? This song might be too sad for me, idk. We almost get a little country twang in the instrumental which was exciting!!!!

    Favorite lyrics: Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye/You were bigger than the whole sky 

    That just sends shivers down my spine, it’s so simple and so sad. Ugh. Love you Taylor.

    15. Midnight Rain– It’s ok. Lots of parallels to Lover– it sounds like it could be inserted right after False God. I do like the bride line tying us back to Lavender Haze. Basically I feel like I spend this song recovering from track 5. 

    Favorite lyrics: He wanted a bride/I was making my own name

    14. Question…?— Listen, I don’t want to blame it all on Jack Antonoff, and I know he’s this great producer and whatnot and he and Taylor are the best of buds, but I guess my main thought after this one is just…all of his instrumentals sound the same. And it makes Taylor sound like everybody else. I liked the lyrics, I just am growing tired of the musical homogeny, that’s all. Maybe I am a snob!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I like this song fine.

    Favorite lyrics: Half-moon eyes, bad surprise/Did you realize out of time?

    13. Sweet Nothing– It’s New Year’s Day all over again. I’m a sucker for these sweet portraits of domesticity. V nice. 

    Favorite lyrics: And the voices that implore, “You should be doing more”/To you, I can admit that I’m just too soft for all of it

    12. High Infidelity– I have a rule where I don’t look up other reviews or media about Taylor’s new album before I write my ~official~ review because I don’t want other peoples’ thoughts to cloud my own, but this is where I expose myself as not a true Swiftie. I love her music, but I don’t keep up as intensely with the media surrounding her–so– WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED ON APRIL 29!!!!!!!!!!!!! This is literally going to be the first thing I look up after I post this review. BUT! I love this song. It’s a jam, and she’s not making herself the victim which she’s been accused of doing in the past. 

    Favorite lyrics: You know there’s many different ways that you can kill the one you love/The slowest way is never loving them enough

    11. Mastermind– Technically, this is the closing track. HOWEVER!!! There are more because Taylor is a songwriting machine. It reminds me of Long Live, actually. Very “us against the world.” And when she sings “I sweeeaaaaar” it reminds me of Rent for some reason which is always a good comparison in my nerd brain. The doodle doodle doodle doodle in the instrumentals is very fun.

    Favorite lyrics: No one wanted to play with me as a little kid/So I’ve been scheming like a criminal ever since/To make them love me and make it seem effortless

    10. Vigilante Shit– Damn. This song is sexy. This song is wearing assless chaps with nothing underneath. It sounds a bit Billie Eilish-esque with the ~spooky vibes~ but I mean….this is what we wanted from Reputation, right?? Don’t get sad, get even!!!!! Lots of lines from this one that will be Instagram captions for sure. I loved how sparse the instrumentals are, but the bass just echoes. It’s like she’s just whispering to us. NO BODY NO CRIME BABY!!! Shiversssss down the ol spine.

    Favorite lyrics: I don’t start shit, but I can tell you how it ends/Don’t get sad, get even

    9. The Great War– Bonus track number one slaps, as the kids say!! War metaphors abound. Besides just the overall appealing sound of the piece, I like that she sings about working through a huge conflict that doesn’t end in a breakup. It’s a new arena for our girl.

    Favorite lyrics: Somewhere in the haze, got a sense I’d been betrayed/Your finger on my hairpin trigger

    8. Lavender Haze- So Taylor talked about “Lavender Haze” as 1950s slang for a new love. I love how she bounces back and forth between the romanticism of the ~lavender haze~ and the expectations of behaving like a woman from the 1950s, which some people think women should still embody. She even plays with the Madonna/whore complex!!! Obsessed with this concept. I love that her album openers are very much a vibe-setter. We know what we’re getting– a sound bath that mixes the ethereal quality of evermore with the biting lyrics of Reputation. Rock n roll, baby, let’s GOOOOOOO!!!!! One critique: that weird duck/coo-sounding noise? Basically, anything I don’t like, I’m just going to blame Jack Antonoff. It’s distracting.

    Favorite lyrics: All they keep asking me/Is if I’m gonna be your bride/The only kinda girl they see/Is a one-night or a wife

    7. Dear Reader– Wow, just a beautiful end to a beautiful album. Never take advice from someone who’s falling apart– it just ties up her self-reflective album with a bow. This piece feels similar to Call It What You Want.

    Favorite lyrics: Never take advice from someone who’s falling apart!!!

    6. Maroon- Taylor Swift is obsessed with rose and red wine, and she knows we are too!!! This lady needs to stop spilling wine all over herself!!! She is tying in previous songs with this, and of course, Red. We know how Taylor feels about the color red– she once said in an interview that red evokes strong emotions, so she’s painting us an intimate scene packed with intense feelings. I also really enjoy the relentlessness of this song? It kinda just keeps going and going like a run-on sentence. It reminds me of when I wake up in the middle of the night, and a pervasive memory or thought won’t leave my brain. A bop.

    Favorite lyrics: WE LOVE A TAYLOR BRIDGE! 

    And I wake with your memory over me/That’s a real fucking legacy

    5. Bejeweled– I really liked this one! You know me, I need a bop. I need a beat. Taylor has described herself as a jewel before– I’m personally still recovering from the 10 minute version of All Too Well. A pop anthem.

    Favorite lyrics: They ask, “Do you have a man?”/I could still say, “I don’t remember”/Familiarity breeds contempt

    4. Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve– HOLY SHIT?!? I never would’ve danced with the devil at 19…is she seriously giving us a JOHN MAYER DISS TRACK IN 2022?!?!??!!?!?! This will be the second thing I look up after posting my rankings. This has Dear John written all over it. I REALLY wish we would’ve gotten a bit more country in the instrumentals. I also get mad woman vibes. I REGRET YOU ALL THE TIME?!?!?!?!?  I mean, she just keeps slapping us in the face. Wow. I’m going to be embarrassed if I’m wrong about this, but she didn’t just drop that 19 years old for nothing ok, it HAS TO BE JOHN. 

    Favorite lyrics: Living for the thrill of hitting you where it hurts/Give me back my girlhood, it was mine first/This is when my eyes really welled up with tears, just incredible songwriting.

    3. You’re On Your Own, Kid– Track 5!!! The build on this song is incredible. I kind of feel like this is what The Archer was meant to achieve (and I liked The Archer! It just always felt like it was missing something). We begin with a thumping but subdued beat and Taylor’s breathy vocals, but it’s relentless. By the time we get to the chorus, there is a build of instrumentals that continues through the piece that underscores her climb to fame beautifully. I almost can’t handle how introspective Taylor is in this album; it’s inspiring and sad and beautiful all at once. I had a couple tears at the end of this piece, which is JUST HOW I LIKE IT!!! BATTI BATTI BEL TAYLOR!!!!! DESTROY ME! 

    Favorite lyrics: TAYLOR WITH THE BRIDGE I mean seriously just…*insert Viserys from House of the Dragon saying Gods Be Good here*

    From sprinkler splashes to fireplace ashes/I gave my blood, sweat, and tears for this/I hosted parties and starved my body/Like I’d be saved by a perfect kiss

    2. Karma– Karma is such a recurring theme in the Taylor universe, and I really, REALLY love this song. The beat is incredible. I love how she personifies karma through the chorus. I am also just cackling because Kanye is a complete and utter clown and it’s become really hard to defend him at this point— y’all Taylor ALWAYS COMES OUT ON TOP ok?? 

    Favorite lyrics: Karma’s a relaxing thought/Aren’t you envious that for you it’s not?

    1. Anti-Hero– Ok I’m sorry I feel very basic because I think this is the song Taylor is ~intending~ to sell us as a hit and let me tell you why it is because it IS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! SOMETIMES I ALSO FEEL EVERYBODY IS A SEXY BABY!!!! This song has it all. It bops like 1989. It cuts like reputation. It’s a sad vibe like folklore. She is incredibly vulnerable in this piece, acknowledging her personal failures which felt very close to home at this time. I broke my own rules on my first listen of this album and repeated this piece three times. It’s just too good. I get that this is supposed to be relatable, especially to millennials, but every lyric felt like a read on my entire brain (hey, I didn’t catch the sexy baby line as a 30 rock reference despite my obsession with that show in high school, but now that I know what that is, I’m like yep, can relate) My favorites tend to shift over time (cardigan definitely did not remain my favorite off of folklore) but I think this one is here to stay. She is simply an icon. All hail Taylor.

    Favorite lyrics: There are so SO many– “It’s me, hi, I’m the problem it’s me” is bound to become a meme or something. But I have to go with:

    Did you hear my covert narcissism I disguise as altruism/Like some kind of congressman?

    Overall: I love this album, but I was bound to love it. There were a few tracks that I don’t appreciate as much– yet. Sometimes the slow ones grow on me. My main critique is I wish we got more variety in her vocals– she goes with an ethereal, breathy tone for the entire album, and we know she can do so much more. I think Anti-Hero, Karma, You’re On Your Own Kid, and Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve are four of her best songs ever, period. Taylor remains on top for another album. Can’t wait to make these pieces my entire personality for the foreseeable future. 

    Official album ranking 2022

    (For those of you who keep track, yes, the official album ranking has changed, her rerelease of Red was a reawakening for me)

    It’s also getting really hard to rank these?? All of her music is so incredible the album rankings are based on my mood more than anything. 

    10. Taylor Swift

    9. Reputation

    8. Lover

    7. 1989

    6. Midnights

    5. folklore

    4. Red

    3. Fearless

    2. Speak Now

    1. evermore

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  • Frauenbild Friday: Frauenliebe Pt. 1

    I. Seit ich ihn gesehen (Since I saw him)

    Clara Schumann at the piano. © img.apmcdn.org

    I carefully considered which songs to start with, but the choice is clear– I have to start with Frauenliebe und –leben, poetry by Adelbert von Chamisso, and set to music by Robert Schumann.

    Robert Schumann (1810-1856) was a prolific composer of German art song and was one of the finest composers of the Romantic era. One of my favorite bits of lore about Schumann is that he allegedly used a mechanical device to strengthen his weaker fingers while playing piano, which permanently damaged his hand. His wife, Clara Schumann, reportedly discredited this, but she may have had a vested interest in debunking this theory as Robert was studying with her father. Who knows! If you know the actual truth, tell me. Regardless, Schumann gave up his dreams of pursuing a performing career to compose.

    It is more than worth noting that Schumann’s wife, Clara, was a respectable composer in her own right and a far better pianist than he ever was. However, because she was a woman, she is remembered by history as Robert Schumann’s wife as opposed to a musician and artist worthy of our attention. This lack of performance has shifted recently as more musicians wish to interpret the compositions of female composers, both past and present.

    Frauenliebe und –leben was composed during Schumann’s famous Liederjahr, or year of song, in 1840. In that year alone, he wrote 138 songs. Busy bee!! Eight songs make up the song cycle, written for female voice and piano. Mezzo-sopranos often perform the cycle today, but I don’t know why other than the fact that it doesn’t have soaring high notes. 

    Here’s our set list:

    1. Seit ich ihn gesehen (Since I saw him)

    2. Er, der Herrlichste von allen (He, the most wonderful of all)

    3. Ich kann’s nicht fassen, nicht glauben (I cannot grasp it, believe it)

    4. Du Ring an meinem Finger (You ring on my finger)

    5. Helft mir, ihr Schwestern (Help me, my sisters)

    6. Süsser Freund, du blickest mich verwundert an (Sweet friend, you look at me in wonder)

    7. An meinem Herzen, an meiner Brust (On my heart, at my breast)

    8. Nun hast du mir den ersten Schmerz getan (Now you have caused me my first pain)

    Performing Frauenliebe und -leben in recital at Concordia College in Moorhead, MN with the incomparable Stephen Sulich at the piano.

    I love this song cycle. I sang it at my senior voice recital at Concordia College and would like to sing it again. The music is genius, and the sentiment is sweet. Sometimes, in the frenzy of examining literature and art through the feminist lens, we obliterate the presence of romantic love. This omission is not necessary and is frankly ridiculous. Being in love with somebody is excellent! I simply seek to explore the sentiments of a woman who doesn’t define herself by a man. Her love is her own choice and is one of the many beautiful things about her, and it is certainly not the most interesting. Suppose this song cycle was just called Frauenliebe, fine. It’s about a woman in love. But it’s not. It’s called Frauenliebe und –LEBEN (leben means life in German), which implies that this woman’s life was wholly dedicated to loving this man. She is not alone. Many women today still live entirely for someone else, whether it be their husband, children, parents, or a caregiver role in some other capacity. I’m not advocating for selfishness, but I am supporting a self-fulfilling existence, or at least allowing for that option. Screw being a Frauenbild, live your life for yourself, enriched by others. 

    So who is our Frauenbild turned protagonist? Chamisso and Schumann didn’t give me a lot, so she gets to be whoever I want her to be.

    Elly Ameling, a prolific interpreter of art song. Expect to hear a lot more from her.
    English translation sort of by me, sort of by Google Translate.

    Bridgerton was the most popular show on Netflix when it premiered in 2020, and I was one of its many viewers. I even started reading the books–despite the cringe-inducing romantic smuttiness of it all, one of the appealing factors is the deep feeling the characters express for each other. This outpouring of love is quintessentially romantic, reminiscent of our first Frauenliebe song. So what would this love at first sight look like today? Even the phrase makes me roll my eyes, but I’m reminded of when I spent all night texting boys on my flip phone who would never like me back. Now that makes me cringe. I crafted the perfect witty response, gave out careful compliments, and listened intently as they vented about school or girls, as if being the one who was there would enlighten them to my sheer perfection. It was profoundly anti-feminist, trying to be whatever I thought these stupid boys wanted me to be. Alas, eyes glued to the screen, I did it anyway. It was all-consuming; my entire brain focused on the screen of my phone, waiting for it to light up. I imagine our protagonist was subject to the same creeping obsession with being loved. That’s a human experience– we seek love from others. Exhausted from work, she scrolls mindlessly through a dating app, disillusioned from mediocre conversations and lukewarm connections. She starts another interaction out of boredom, but this guy seems different. He’s not perfect, but he grabs her attention. Six feet tall, since that seems to matter on here.

    See you next week for more FrauenFUN!!!

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  • An Old Flame

    I pull on my floor-length black robe and fasten a dozen buttons up to my neck. I throw the worn, white stole over my head as gracefully as possible. I tell myself I’m going to take the robe home and wash it this week. I will probably forget. I hastily grab my hymnal and get in line for the procession. My mouth tastes like stale coffee. That’s right, this isn’t a story about a former romantic partner– it’s about my church gig. 

    Many classical musicians hold a church position which can be a little bizarre and off-putting to explain to the general population. People seem uncomfortable with the idea that we receive money to attend church, but so do your worship leaders and other clergy members. Some religious institutions hire musicians only for special occasions like Christmas or Easter; others have paid choir directors, organists, and section leaders in the choir. For many musicians, a steady church position is our most stable income from singing. We rehearse with the choir on Wednesday nights, wake up early on Sundays for the service, and sing as soloists at concerts and special events. Our voices are meant to enhance the choir’s sound and accelerate the process of learning music correctly.


    I exaggerated a little last week. My laryngologist and speech-language pathologist (now known as SLP; I’m tired of typing the whole thing out) told me to keep singing at my church job but not above a specific note where my polyp starts to interfere. I am still singing; my use is just severely limited. 

    Allow me to give you a little vocal anatomy lesson. The vocal folds are super cool. Both vocal folds come together and vibrate to produce sound.

    Normal vocal folds in action. Again, these are VOCAL FOLDS!!

     We generally speak in a lower register (except when you yell or scream), and the vocal folds don’t stretch much to produce this sound. In contrast, when we sing in what is more commonly known as our “head voice,” the folds begin to stretch.

    Here, you can see a difference in vocal fold length as the singer ascends in pitch. The lower pitch is around a B3 (just below middle C), and the upper pitch is circa C#5, which is still within my safe singing range.

    While my polyp can remain relatively uninvolved with light singing and speaking, it runs up against my other fold pretty aggressively when I get above a particular note. My inability to fully adduct is why the top part of my register has become unreliable. The damaged folds cannot vibrate appropriately because the pesky polyp and the resulting inflammation on the other fold get in the way. It’s also why I have no choice but to sing super aggressively when I’m singing high– I have to slam the folds together to get any phonation. This action is unsuitable for healthy folds and is not advice I would give to any of my students, so I’m not sure why I kept trying to barrel through edema. Proper adduction is key to vocal production, but this was not it. I could not get cord closure because of my inflammation, and attempting to sing through the developing injury made me much worse.


    My polyp chills out if I sing with light adduction and stop at an E5. Singers know this note is not particularly high, especially for sopranos. Still, it is consistently where my normal operatic adduction begins to fall apart. 

    I take my church job for granted. It’s not opera, it’s a choir, but it’s a steady paycheck. I would notice myself feeling this way and dismiss the emotion as usual for church musicians. Not anymore. Now the only time I sing the whole week is at church. I didn’t dread church choir or anything, I’m proud of my position with the choir, but now I genuinely and wholeheartedly look forward to it. My denial got the best of me again last week; I do miss singing, and I miss it profoundly; I feel like a part of me is missing, but I want singing to feel good again. So I’m ok not singing operatically, for now. I want it to feel easy, satisfying, warm, invigorating, and incredible again. Singing in church right now doesn’t feel like that, but it’s also all I have. “Thanks for doing what you can,” my choir director says carefully after the service. Just the feedback every professional singer wants to hear.

    I feel pretty embarrassed because I cannot fully do my job. It’s super kind of my director to allow me to keep my position while I recover slowly and methodically and not all choir directors would have been so accommodating. I may not be allowed to sing an aria, but I’m allowed to sing the hymns at communion, the psalm, and the anthem, save for those higher notes. I understand why singing is so important to people in worship and how it differs from listening to a sermon or reciting a prayer. People get a rush of happy chemicals in their brains when they sing. I’m not a scientist, so I’m not going to even try and explain the logistics behind this reaction, but it’s true– singing releases endorphins. I have an addiction to singing, so reading through a hymn with a congregation usually doesn’t give me the dosage I require. After even a couple of weeks in withdrawal, however, the connectedness of singing in tandem with an entire room full of people is more satisfying than I ever knew it could be. I feel supported and less critical of my sound. That warm, satisfying feeling that rushes over me when I sing fully is still burning deep within me, even though the flame is tiny and barely palpable. 

    A blurry note from a kind director who cast me in my first real role in 2014. I doubt he knows how often these encouraging words kept me from quitting singing.

    Every time I say I’m going to quit singing for good, I notice the little fire burning inside me has not gone out. I can’t do it; I can’t stop. The bonfire inside me burns bright when I step onstage for a role, perform a concert, or sing a successful audition. I am a great singer! I am doing it!! But a lot of the time, it’s an enormous effort to keep that flame burning. I’m always throwing logs on my inner fire. But even when it rains, and I think that this is it, there are little embers still glowing. As long as I’ve been singing, I’ve never known this old flame to go out. I’ll never take my church position for granted again. It’s currently my little boost of serotonin, my little fan to the fire, without irritating my little polyp. Through it all, my persistent flame burns bright.

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  • Frauenbild Fridays!

    In German, Frauenbild translates to  “female image.” I remember first hearing the term in a course on Song Literature (yes, that’s a real course, and it’s two semesters) during my graduate degree, and it stuck with me.

    A Frauenbild is the Madonna of the Madonna/whore complex. She is the perfect feminine image. She exists to assist a man on his journey to self-actualization; she is a prop, a manic pixie dream girl. Frauenbild is just another way of describing the male gaze; the idolatry and objectification of a woman, the act of putting the female figure on a pedestal, and expressing disgust, disdain, and disappointment when she falters. 

    A Frauenbild is quintessentially romantic.

    Admittedly late Romanticism, but a Frauenbild in action.
    Edmund Blair Leighton, 1890.

    I am a classically trained soprano and have spent years studying and performing operatic repertoire, American musical theatre, church music, and art song. Western art song was born in Europe during the Romantic era and encompasses the genre of poetry set by a composer for solo voice and piano accompaniment. Art song was often a way to have fun– anybody wealthy enough to have a piano could invite friends to their salon and sing songs together while they drank wine. Think of it as an old-time karaoke night. 

    Today, art song lives on in the recital hall, and unlike the salons of France and Germany, it has become a tool for developing vocal technique and musicality for the young singer. Nobody is drinking whiskey and shouting Erlkönig anymore, and frankly, that in and of itself is a tragedy.

    If you haven’t seen Jessye Norman’s bizarre Erlkönig, you haven’t lived.

    Back to the Frauenbild– she is everywhere in art song! The presence of an unattainable feminine ideal during this time is not shocking, as our 19th-century composers and poets were nearly all men, and feminism as we know it was non-existent. Women were objects of male affection. For example, take Frauenliebe und -leben, written by Adelbert von Chamisso and set to music by Robert Schumann. It’s an entire song cycle about a woman falling in love, getting married, having babies and her husband dying. It’s also the only major work from this era and genre centering around a woman’s life. (Someone will challenge me on this, I’m ready to be proved wrong.) Anyway, the ONLY MAJOR WORK ABOUT A WOMAN’S LIFE, and men wrote it. Again, not shocking, just a little disappointing.

    An illustration of our Frauenbild from the book Frauenliebe und -leben by Adalbert von Chamisso, illustrated by Paul Thumann.

    If you’ve never heard of German art song (also known as Lieder) before this moment, I invite you not to dismiss this as stuffy nonsense. I love these songs. I don’t want people to stop performing them. I’m tired of classical music hiding in the walls of academia, destined to rot in a museum instead of blossoming in a state of rebirth into mainstream culture. They’re just songs, and I want to have some fun with them.  I want to imagine what the Frauenbild in Die schöne Müllerin was thinking (certainly not about the narrator) or who the woman behind the blue eyes in Brahms’ Dein blaues Auge could be. Did Clara Schumann have blue eyes? Let me know. 

    Welcome to Frauenbild Fridays.

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  • A State of Exhale

    After completing our final concert, the stress of performing on swollen vocal folds washed away.
    Antananarivo, Madagascar, June 2022.

    My polyp and I went to a Yin Yoga class last Friday. Yin Yoga is a slow, tension-reducing yoga practice that I dismissed until this week. No, this is not the story of a white lady discovering herself through yoga. I have a little bit more self-awareness than that. However, lying on a yoga mat surrounded by strangers does have a way of conjuring up some deep-seated memories.


    In elementary school, my friend hosted a spa party for her birthday. Her mom turned the downstairs bedroom into a relaxing oasis with candles, soothing music, and all the nail painting, foot massaging, and pampering three ten-year-old girls could desire. At one point, we were lying on bean bag chairs in our swimsuits and eye masks, soaking in the music. 

    I wouldn’t stop talking. I wouldn’t stop wiggling. One of my friends laughed and said, “you are so bad at relaxing, Victoria!”

    Shame and pride washed over me in confusingly equal amounts. I was too loud and too busy to relax. No one was going to call me lazy. I took on this character trait that would follow me into adulthood with only a twinge of discomfort. Someone still told me I was bad at something, after all. I hated being bad at things.

    The guilt I feel when I am not doing something is immense. I see plenty of social media posts about internalized capitalism, encouraging viewers to examine their need to produce, do, and achieve. But that’s for other people. They’re talking to people working nine-to-five jobs with careers in corporate America who can afford to slow down. Those posts aren’t for me– I haven’t reached my goals, I don’t work hard enough, and I am not a success by any stretch of the American imagination. Besides, if I don’t keep striving for what I want, what will I have to show for myself in the end?

    Up Yoga in Minneapolis. https://www.upyogamn.com/

    Back to my forced relaxation session.

    I contort my figure into a banana shape and inhale against a bolster. Breath is vital to singing, but this is easier because I don’t have to support any sound. My ribs expand, pushing into the pillow, and I relax again. I spent years thinking more deeply about the breath than any human should have to do. The breath is natural. It’s a reflex. We’re going to breathe, or we’re going to die. Sure, we have to manipulate it a bit for singing, but it’s not rocket science.

    I feel a grip in my lower back and exhale the tension—the sounds of the crystal bowls and drum echo in my body. Breathe in, breathe out. Just being here is enough. This active rest is valuable. My polyp is not bothering me right now. I am quiet. I can be quiet sometimes. Extroversion is not the entirety of the personality I have curated for myself.

    Inhale, exhale. I’m genuinely enjoying something that does not involve my vocal cords. What a pleasant sensation.


    Inhale. The act of operatic singing is purposefully suspending the inhale. In the bel canto school of singing, students learn the concept of appoggio to sustain the long, impressive phrases characteristic of classical singing. Appoggiare means “to lean” in Italian. I lean on the inhale when I sing, slowing the diaphragm’s rise. Running out of air too quickly probably means my vocal cords aren’t fully adducting (coming together), or I am not adequately leaning on the breath. 

    Exhale. A collaborative pianist who would provide the impetus for my pursuit of a classical music career has a ratty, torn-up card that he brings with him everywhere that simply reads “Exhale.” He places it in the corner of the piano for recitals and auditions, has a copy on his studio door, and always blows out a puff of air before he plays. I have the word tattooed on my ribcage because of him. An old teacher of mine laughed and said I should have gotten the word “inhale” tattooed since my breathing technique was so wrong at the time. The truth hurts.

    A copy of the “Exhale” card.

    I think he missed the point, and I forgot it, too, for a while. I was reminded of it recently when I sang an audition with my favorite pianist at the keys. The “Exhale” card is looking extra frayed these days. I lean on the breath when I sing, yes. Appoggio is vital for operatic vocal production. But maybe I didn’t realize that I’ve constantly been inhaling in life, taking in more, stacking, pushing, relentlessly and blindly pursuing, and not always in the smartest ways. Exhale is release. It is the act of letting go. That’s what my pianist and mentor was getting at. “Go beyond the fuck it,” he always says, as he practically boils his hands under hot water in preparation to play the piano. Exhale. Release. Let go.


    The discovery that I’ve been singing on my polyp for at least a couple of months is wild. I didn’t know someone could just plow through a vocal injury like that. I’ve done auditions, made recordings, performed gigs, led the soprano section at my church job, taught and received voice lessons, and worked through coaching sessions— let me tell you, every day is a mystery! It is an enjoyable, anxiety-inducing game! I have become that horrifying singer that is always “testing” my voice, letting out little sighs and noises to see if my vocal folds feel anything near usable on any given day. How will my voice feel today? Do a little lip trill, uh oh, it broke at the top– let’s try humming– yikes, that’s even worse! Just warm up through it. My speech-language pathologist reminds me that I am never warming up out of the inflammation; I am simply getting better at slamming my cords together. Hooray! What a thrill!

    My laryngologist had to be the one to tell me not to sing. My permission was not enough for me, so now, I get to rest my little voice on doctor’s orders. My polyp is allowed to take naps much more often. She does not like getting pushed around. Honestly, I feel great. No, for real. I’m as shocked as you are. My polyp and I have not missed singing this week because, frankly, the stress of vocal production has taken away all of the spontaneity, joy, and art of music-making. Acknowledging the injury is hard. Accepting that, save for complete rest, I probably could not have prevented this outcome is freaking hard. But living in a state of exhale for a while is getting a little easier.

    Exhale. Release. Let go. My old pianist would approve.

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Sunset in Antananarivo, Madagascar, June 2022.

Hello, I’m Victoria.

I am a classically trained soprano, and have spent years studying and performing operatic repertoire, American musical theatre, church music, and art song. My voice has sent me around the world, but I’m currently based in Minnesota. For my singing website, visit victoriaericksonsoprano.com.

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