Sunday, March 23, 2014

"I Should Have Been Made of Chrome"

There are constantly new child opera singers and blues singers showing up to audition for various “Something something’s got Talent”. Like this one.

First of all I have to say I think it’s wonderful that children have an interest in  music. Opera and Jazz are wonderful genres that I, too, worship and that move me every time I listen to them.
What worries me is how these young children's parents encourage their young onto a stage. If you know your child is impressive, or what I’m getting  at, does a great imitation of opera or jazz then take into consideration what you are  subjecting your child to.  It is not just public reaction and the judges warm praise, but more importantly the damage this can inflict on a young persons vocal chords as they are continuely  encouraged to sing this way. They are pushing their vocal chords to sound like someone else and this is something that can seriously damage the voice and the child's future as singer.

I admit that 4 years ago I arrived in Stockholm with my own version of "imitation damage". My voice was messed up, for a lack of better words, from many years of being allowed to imitate opera. I had no guidance into finding my own voice, I was  led to sing in head voice any way it was possible. I started out innocently enough at thirteen with a good young head voice, but later when I became a fan of opera I started to push my voice to sound like everyone else. Thankfully I have strong vocal chords. Prior to opera singing I belted out Christina Aguilera ballads on a regular basis. I remember how hoarse I’d be after singing for an hour. But to me I figured that was normal and didn’t question it.Thankfully I’ve never had any permanent damage  to my vocal chords and hopefully never will.  I have become extremely aware of my vocal chords and there fragility and I notice a slight strain on them when I use them incorrectly. If I sing right I don’t feel a thing other than the sound I produce and the sensation of it flowing out of my mouth.

In addition to voice damage many argue that a child lacks understanding of the music and is not able to convey the emotions of the song. A child does not know about heartbreak, betrayal, love and so on in the way an adult may have experienced. Their lack of life experience makes it challenging to feel any raw emotion in their singing. But it is obvious that some people are just impressed by someone that can sing on key and somewhat nicely. Even my father comments after a concert “Wow, you weren’t off-key at anytime!” That is all he hears or perhaps listens for – not the emotions of the song. This is the same man that can tell what’s wrong with a car or motorcycle just by listening to its motor...I should have been made of chrome.

I suppose there are things to be said about being able to imitate and impress. It means the children must have listened attentively in order to produce sounds like that. But, my final thought is that it is important that these children are left to grow and mature and to find their own unique voices.

xxErika Grace

Photo: Åke Cappelin - Check him out here.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Harsh Reality

Most of my friends went to audition in Copenhagen at the Opera Academy this weekend.

None made it through to the second round.

This is the harsh reality…

You can be good, great, amazing and there is still going to be someone better… Or is it luck? Is it when the the judges are having a good day that you get through?

I spoke with my teacher today sharing my frustration. He laughed at my worries as it doesn’t really involve or concern me personally, but it does.
It worries me that I could one day be too old (they usually will set a limit at 30, and some places even younger) and have to realise that I’m just not good enough, that is why I chose not to apply anymore this year.
I know that I’m not good enough now, but I’m still considered young.
Don't get me wrong, I don’t feel 24 is an age to feel old about. I’m quite content with my age, but in singing world, the clock is ticking. I have friends that are well into their music studies at good music conservatories around Europe and I’m not. 
I am constantly told not to compare myself to anyone, but how can I not? Everyone says “You’ll get in next year”. I’ve been living in Stockholm for 4 years soon and I’m still not in. I’ve soon accomplished "Stockholm Operastudio", which opens doors and has taught me tremendously about opera, but it’s not sufficient enough. Becoming a singer takes 8-10 years depending on what kind of voice one has. I have a slightly larger voice, so it is natural that it takes more time for me.

It only makes it more evident that I’m in need of a serious back up plan. 
I, personally see it as a privilege in life to be able to be educated. There are people in the world that have nothing, no basic schooling and that is all they wish for in life, a way to make life better for themselves. I have a great life in one of the richest and safest countries in the world. An education is expected of me. I expect an education for me, because I deserve one. I really want it to be music and I’m prepared to fight tooth and nail for it, but if that is not enough I still want something I’ll enjoy just as much…And here I am back to that good old question I was asked as a six year old: 
What do I want to be when I grow up?

xx Erika Grace

Photo: Åke Cappelin

Friday, March 7, 2014

Opera, the music and embracing who you are...

This weeks productiveness has been on hold as I caught a little virus… typical. I guess it’s my body telling me to relax for some days…

I find myself, yesterday and today, thinking of music which is something I do a lot, embarrassingly. Sometimes I create my own music in my head, other times I’m listening to something already written in my head. 
Yesterday I explored which sent me to a Mozart opera I once saw as a young girl in my home town of Bergen, Norway “Die Entführung aus dem Serail” The Abduction from the Seraglio.
It was some crazy production from Berlin, and boy, was I intrigued by all the nakedness and sex that was involved in the production. I honestly couldn’t and can’t remember anything of the music because I was too concerned with watching the naked people running around taking showers in the nude on stage, stripping their clothes off and simulating sex, S&M, bondage, you name it, I can still see the scenes in my mind but I can’t remember a single aria. So when “Fach me” (appropriate name!) suggested Konstanze's role I thought “maybe that would be something for me.” I looked it up on Spotify then on and was
S-H-O-C-K-E-D by the fact that "fachme" could even think of suggesting that to me…. I was literally thinking “Fach me!? no, Fuck me! No chance in hell!!!!” I’ve never heard anything so crazy and spectacular before and the sad thing is that I can’t remember a single bit of this aria from the production I saw. ("Ach ich liebte, war so glücklich")

So I’m questioning should we be allowed to make such distracting productions that the music fades into the background? Does sex really have to sell everything? Even opera? I’m no prude, (I’m no exhibitionist and definitely not promiscuous) but some part of me wishes that the emphasis should still be on the music and the singing. 
I feel that love should be portrayed as it is with kisses, sex and passion. I think that is important to wipe away the old fashioned traditions of opera. They sing and sing and sing about how madly in love they are, but never kiss!? That is not love, that is not reality and that’s shitty acting. I think all artist should be prepared (and they should prepare their partners, just in case) for kissing on stage. I have fellow singer couple-friends that have made deals with each other where they allow kissing on stage and rehearsals, because it matters for the art. It has to be included in love even when it’s pretend love. 

Anyway I just felt all these memories flooding to the surface thinking about being a teenager (I know, it’s not that long ago!) and how I actually spent more time with my classical music friends going to operas and piano concerts instead of sneaking out and getting drunk for the first time and chasing boys.
I love Edvard Grieg and I found myself thinking of his A Minor concerto today. I’m listening to it as I write. I really love his music, it’s not only beautiful and full of passion, but some pieces are so descriptive of Norwegian nature especially Bergen's nature.
I first heard the A minor concert live with some girl friends when I was about 16 years old with Leif Ove Andsnes on the piano with the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, now that music I remember clearly. I went out and bought a CD with him playing it. Only he can truly bring that passion of Grieg’s music alive for me.
It makes me think about how strange I am. Is it normal to be a 16 year old like I was? I’m not much of a brain, I hated school, I avoided doing me home work except for the classes I really liked. I loved reading the book assignments and English. I still remember the plays our teacher made us study, one of them being “Jeppe på Bjerget” by Ludvig Holberg written in 1722 which still touches me to this day. I even preformed his awaking monologue recently with my acting class at school. I guess I chased the men worth chasing: Mozart, Grieg, Leif Ove Andsnes… I guess some of us are just born or meant for something different. I definitely don’t have it from my parents, well, possibly my mother. She was always curious as a child. A reader. She would read anything she could get her hands on and she still does. I don’t remember a single day without her holding a book in her hands. Sometimes I’d walk into the living room and she’d be crying over something she just read or flipping the book back to the front page to read it all over again in the same day. My mother took herself from the indian reservation in South Dakota, to Norway, Bergen, to have me, to now having an opera loving daughter that much rather hung out at the Grieghall as a teenager rather than accidentally turning her into a grandmother….
Where does it all come from? I have no idea. I can’t even explain myself to myself. 

We are often told to embrace the things that are unique about ourselves. I’m a Norwegian and Native American mix that sings opera. I’m pale white, slightly tall with lots of legs and arms and a some ass… Just writing about it makes me want to crawl under my bed. Thank god it’s Friday, lets grab us a beer and toast ourselves tonight! 

               Looks like this has become a standard pose for me, on and off stage....

xx Erika Grace

Photo: Emelie Joenniemi &Åke Cappelin

Monday, March 3, 2014


I have to admit... I'm tired.
I'm a little tired of opera.
All though everything is going great with my development vocally I feel tired.
I'm tired of all the difficulty, the tediousness with phrasing and shaping the vocals correctly, singing on air "Sul fiato della voce". Bla, bla... I mean I do it when I practice, but just because I have to, not because I enjoy it.
Maybe a laid back attitude will be helpful. Being "lazy" and not seeking perfection as much as I'd normally do. Most of these thoughts come from the Monteverdi music I have to learn, It is overwhelmingly difficult because it's simple. I'm scared I won't be able to learn it well enough. I really want to do this ancient music justice, but I tend to be sloppy. I guess It will be many days clapping rhythms by my piano... that's the only way I know how.
Right now I just want to sing spirituals and jazzy sounding things. I miss just singing and belting my heart out.

My mind is truly spinning around my life right now. I finish school in June and have to find a normal people job without any loans to lean on.
It's scary.
I feel really scared about not going to a music school and more importantly not having a job that has to do with music. I hope I'll find auditions and some projects and concerts I can perform in, but there is no guarantee.

I also want to take the time to see if I truly want to go on with this... Can I do it?
No matter what friends and family and even teachers tell me, I have to truly want it. And I don't know if I do. I feel I've given up a lot of life to follow my dreams. I only know music, I don't know life.
So that is my goal from June on, to just live a little. See what life has to offer...
All though I think any job will be fine, I'm not sure any job will constitute as living either... I guess this will truly help me make up my mind. I can always sing, I don't need to be a well educated singer to continue singing.

 I just don't want to have to go through life feeling like I never truly tried.

xx Erika Grace