Visiting Artist: Nicole and Her Voice

I am not at all a performing artist. I don’t like when people stare at me, and even though I will get up and talk in front of people (or read in front of people), I am usually running on pure adrenaline and about 2 seconds from passing out. So reading Nicole, of Truffle Honey‘s, description of what it is to sing and how she found her voice fascinates me. I think so many of us wander around, unsure of what to do or where to go next with no clue what our passion is. And that was Nicole. And then she found it and she’s been chasing it ever since. This is an absolute gem of a Visiting Artist and I am so excited to share it with you.

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When people ask me what I do, I usually give them the simple version and tell them my occupation. I tell them that I work in Finance and then, if the conversation goes beyond that point, I’ll explain that I sing on the side and also have a food blog that I work on in my spare time, too. While I completely consider myself an artist when I self identify who I am in life, it’s difficult for me to define myself as an artist to others (besides close family and friends, of course), because people usually expect that if you “are” something, you’re getting paid to do it. I think that when and if I get paid to sing and start landing principal roles in operas as opposed to supporting ones, I will have an easier time sharing my artistry with others as a tangible part of my life.

Opera fell into my life so randomly. I’ve always been a musician (I started piano when I was 5 and violin when I was 8) and throughout college, I was a 1st violinist in my university’s orchestra and also played at a local church in my home town on Sundays. The organist at that church was also a retired opera singer and voice teacher (with whom I studied for 2 years after beginning to sing) and she recruited me to sing in their annual Christmas concert a few years in a row just to have extra bodies and voices in the choir. Singing became something I absolutely loved and was completely different from anything else I had done in my life, musically. After downloading a few Mozart operas from the library and watching them on DVD, I became instantly obsessed. I decided, a month shy of graduating college with a BA in Economics, that I didn’t want to do finance at all, and that I needed to continue fostering my musical talent by singing because it was something I was meant to do. There wasn’t any rhyme or reason behind the decision and no clear explanation for it; one day it simply struck me, hard, as I was standing on Wall Street after a dreadful Finance interview. I started singing then, at 22, and have only been at the game for 3 1/2 years (much less than others my age), but it is now a part of my life that has made me see the world completely differently.

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This gives me ridiculous chills. First, that she would have the guts to acknowledge she need to chase another dream at the tender age of 22!! And second, because a similar incident happened to me – where I was chugging chugging chugging along in one direction and suddenly realized NO! I don’t want to go down this path, and switched it up at the last minute during my last semester of college. Amazing.

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Being an artist fits into my life in random every day ways that are often internal. The most poignant aspect of artistry in life is the way it helps me identify with other artists. I fit so well with creative people and we’re able to understand each other in a truly deep, real way. I feel the most comfortable when I’m in “artist mode” because that role is the most natural for me and is where I’m truly able to express myself without fear of condemnation or judgement. When I’m at a rehearsal or surrounded by other artists, I feel like I’m more myself. The quirks come out, I can have a little fun,  and I trust people more.

Living the identity of an artist is something that’s not always easy because while it’s fulfilling, it requires sacrifice. Being an artist is a bit about who we are and what we live for each day, and it’s also part focus and working towards honing our craft and delving deeper into what we’re passionate about. Some days it’s hard to be an artist when everything else points toward more lucrative and practical professions. After working all day and trying to live a well rounded and social life, there isn’t always time or energy for the art. But finding the motivation to move on, to practice, to schlep to voice lessons or rehearsal or send out audition materials and devote ourselves to art even when it isn’t convenient, is a huge part of the battle.

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This clarity is amazing. I wish I had the ability to say this out loud without going arrgghh! WHY IS IT SO HARD! BLAAH!! And stomp my feet and slam doors. Nicole! You’re a ridiculous inspiration. Reading things makes me realize I just need to accept the plight of the artist, that it’s hard work and that sometimes I just need to grit my teeth and do it and stop raging against it. You are amazing.

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Learning music is a creative and highly technical process. As a singer, singing songs or arias isn’t the main goal when you’re young, like me, and are still working on getting the voice out of your body. Developing a solid technique is the goal. When I practice, which is usually an hour at a time as many days a week as possible, I begin by stretching out my back and doing breathing exercises to help center myself. Then I start by doing simple, 5 note scales on different vowels, and then continue with more complex scales. While I sing scales, I think about solid breath support, breath control as I release each phrase, avoiding tension in my throat and jaw, and placing the tone in a resonant spot in the mask (front of my face) while lifting my soft palate and keeping my phrasing in line. When I practice, I’m thinking about all of these ideas at once and I’m always trying to improve and remain aware of what my vocal mechanism is doing. After I sing scales, I start singing music. Learning a new song is first about the notes, second about the phrase, and third about getting the song into my body. It has to come naturally and be a song I can sing when I’m feeling good or bad or tired or pissed or whatever. Translating the language (Italian, French or German, most often), learning what the words mean, pronouncing everything correctly, and making the song come to life in the context of the larger story are all parts of daily practice. When the technique and the emotion strike balance, there’s a feeling of complete euphoria and truth that is so incredible to experience. This doesn’t happen every day, but when it does, it’s very exciting.

Translating the practice to an audition or to a rehearsal is another aspect of what I do. I haven’t performed a major role yet, but I’ve done concerts and have sung some small roles and ensemble things over the past 3 1/2 years, and the process of creating characters and situations on stage is something I love. Reacting and feeling with the other people on stage, creating scenarios and bringing words and notes to life within a story is all part of performing and singing an opera on stage.

As a musician and artist, I hope that my future is full of music. I hope to develop my voice to its full potential, sing complete roles, and sing as often and as widely as possible. My goal is to sing even if I don’t get paid to do it. I want to meet more singers, participate in singing programs and young artist programs, which train young singers as they emerge into professionalism, and to learn as much as I can about what I do. I want to work with other singers and musicians to find truth within our music, and perform as honestly and passionately on stage as possible. I always want music and singing to be a part of my life, even if it never becomes my full time profession, because I can’t imagine living without it.

If you, or someone you know would like to be featured here, and undergo my rigorous questioning (it’s fun! no, really it is!), please email me at betterinrealife at gmail dot com.

5 thoughts on “Visiting Artist: Nicole and Her Voice”

  1. Love the idea of having a very set routine before engaging in practice. This seems something every artist, regardless of the discipline, could benefit from!

    1. Yes. It’s inspiring for sure… And makes me wish writing was a more physical activity … Somehow the physical warm up of it all makes perfect sense…. But doing writing exercises just make me feel like I’m wasting my time…. Even though it shouldn’t.

      1. Have you read Lynda Barry’s “What It Is”? REALLY interesting book on creativity. She’s a writer/artist herself, and there are a couple things she advocates that really stuck with me:

        1) If your brain is stuck, go for a walk. Movement is essential to keeping the creativity flowing.
        2) In the same vein–she writes absolutely everything by hand. No computers. She thinks the movement of connecting the pencil to paper is key. She also says to *always* keep your pencil moving. If you’re stuck/thinking, just doodle. Don’t let the pencil stop.

        It’s interesting, I DO find for myself that when I write by hand, the writing goes in more unexpected places. But alas, I am such a slow writer, it’s not always practical…

  2. Thank you so much for asking me to participate, Lauren! Sometimes being an artist can seem so lonely, but being able to come here to this site, share, discuss, and see what other artists are doing is a gift. You’re amazing!

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