Thursday, December 29, 2011

SHH!!! Silent Auction!!! & My "Hollywood" Debut

I hope you all have had a wonderful holiday season, and the best of luck to you all during the new year.

I had an interesting last few days with my family.  A girl caught her hair on fire while singing on stage at the Christmas church service I went to.  I sang Schubert's Ave Maria after that but abruptly following me was the congregational hymn Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer.  How's that for church?

Also, this coming Monday, I will share some great news about a new gig I got with film director and Senior Vice President of Talent for MTV, Randy Sosin.  He is casting something for the NFL that will involve me and we will be filming early next week!  I'll let you in on some secret info then, so be sure to check back.  Amazingly, I will be paid as part of the Screen Actors' Guild!

Anyway, this is the final blog entry for 2011 and I wanted to give you a peak at the KCVI Celebrity Auction that will begin next month!  If you don't already know, one of my biggest passions is the Kansas City Vocal Institute.  We provide free or greatly discounted music education to children and families in Kansas City.  Also, it is a free service for all of our teachers to use to acquire students during this tough economic time.  We have 19 teachers and all are either earning or have earned a graduate degree in Music.

I am so very proud of everyone who have given their time and talents to this, and part of keeping the price of lessons at significantly low or free of cost is with the use of our scholarships.  Last year, we had 24 scholarships created and sponsored by some of the world's greatest artists and musicians including: Angelina Jolie, Maya Angelou, David Cook, Melissa Etheridge, Yo-Yo Ma, Randy Newman, Stephen Sondheim, John Williams, and many more.

Last year, I asked our donors if they would provide any autographed items that we could auction and have all the proceeds go to their respective scholarships.  Because of how successful it was, we again asked our donors to do the same.  Many donated items once again toward their scholarships and we created several new scholarships as well.

This year, we will have a private and public auction.  The private auction will be a special silent auction for some items and the public auction will be utilized with ebay.  More information will be made available on New Year's Day at

So, here is a list of items for our second annual KCVI Celebrity Auction.  Some of these items may only be available in our silent auction, so if you are interested in any of these, be sure to apply for our silent auction online starting January 1.

List of current donors entering items into this year's auction:

John Williams (5 Oscars, 4 Golden Globes, 21 Grammies) once again has graciously donated the front page of the Star Wars orchestral score!

Eric Whitacre (world-renown composer, Grammy Award nominee) is donating a handwritten, autographed manuscript of one of his pieces to be selected by the highest bidder

Morten Lauridsen (National Medal of Arts recipient) donated an autographed score of "O Magnum Mysterium" and autographed CD of "Sure on this Shining Night" and a "Lux Aeterna" score

Zubin Mehta (former Director of the New York Philharmonic) donated an autographed baton.

Stephen Flaherty (Tony Award winner) donated autographed CDs of "Suessical: the Musical" and "New York Pops"

List of new donors and their items entered into this year's auction:

Joyce DiDonato (world-renown operatic soprano) donated two autographed posters from her production of "La Donna del Lago" at La Scala.  It is signed along with others in the production including Juan Diego Florez, one of the most famous opera singers in the world, as well as, John Osborn, Daniela Barcelona, and Roberto Abbado.

Kronos Quartet (Grammy Award winner) donated an autographed photo and an autographed CD "Rainbow"

The Kansas City Royals (Major League Baseball) donated four premium tickets to any game during the upcoming season.

The Lyric Opera of Kansas City donated 2 redeemable certificates for two seats to any upcoming operas this season or next season in the new Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.

Esperanza Spalding (Grammy Award winner) donated an autographed CD of her album "Chamber Music Society"

Chanticleer (Grammy Award winner) donated an autographed CD of their album "A Portrait"

Betty White (7-time Emmy Award winner) donated two different personalized autographed photos 

Donald Trump (business magnate) donated an autographed photo

Martina McBride (4-time CMA "Female Vocalist of the Year") donated an autographed photo

George Porter (Grammy Award nominee) donated an autographed CD of his album "Water"

Neil Armstrong (First Man on the Moon) donated a photo

Stanley Clarke (Grammy Award winner) donated an autographed photo

And there's still more to come! So, be sure to visit on January 1.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Opera World Mourns Loss of Prolific Composer Kim Jong Il & More Operatic Christmas Gifts

Kim Jong Il (1942-2011)
Allegedly composed six operas and wrote the world's leading guide on operatic art "Kim Jong Il - On the Art of Opera"

Kim Jong Il - toy figurine

Beethoven - statue

Kim Jong Il (Dear Leader) was one of the greatest musicians in history.  He is arguably most famous for besting Tiger Woods as the greatest golfer of all time by hitting 11 holes-in-one on his first golf outing in 1994 on North Korea's only golf course.  Obviously, the game was too easy, and he subsequently retired after his lone golf round of 38 under-par.

Dear Leader was not only the greatest golfer in history, but he was also apparently the greatest defecator as his biography claims that he indeed did not relieve himself.  As is the case in golf, I suppose he gave that up since he was so successful upon his first try.  Dear Leader also can control the weather, invented the Hamburger, roller-bladed often, and wrote over 1,500 books in four years.

Dear Leader will be missed by many.  He often quit tasks that were too easy, or that he excelled in too much. But thankfully, he found hobbies that were more challenging (aka a hobby that he was the worst at). He spent most of his life working on these things that he was not proficient in, including being a Dictator and composing operas.  Despite his slight deficiencies, the opera world lost one of the greatest composers of our time - and certainly the least known opera composer since "The Abduction of Figaro" was discovered, written by the long lost and similarly talented composer P.D.Q. Bach.

Dear Leader's book, On the Art of Opera can be downloaded by clicking here.  Perhaps you are not ready to experience a glimpse of the divine, so I will spare you the pain and supply you with small quotes from his much beloved book, which I actually read.  I warn you not read too much, as His Central Brain's (that's a real title of his) glory will radiate your mind into a glorious yellow-cake weapons-grade uranium mush.
"Opera teaches a lot about people's life and struggle. That is why everyone likes opera."
I knew everyone had to like opera, but I didn't know why until now!
"Only opera art which champions the interests of the revolution and implements Party lines can be loved by the people"
I guess I was wrong; an opera about preserving "traditional marriage", capital punishment, and dissolving arts funding IS a good idea.
"For an opera to be popular, arias and recitatives must be replaced by popular songs and orchestral music"
As one blogger put it..."oh, like Mamma Mia"...that is an awesome opera!
"Dances must only be used in important scenes" Grease
"Art for art's sake is pointless"
...spoken like a true artist!
"Recitatives are difficult to sing and awkward to listen to"
 Maybe he was trying to sing the English translations in the Schirmer opera scores

 "The lyrics are the main element of a song. Songs can be good or bad, depending on their lyrics.  All the texts of songs must be written in rhyming verse"
Two hours of rhymes are never a bad thing!

"Opera is a musical art but the audience, when enjoying an opera, pays attention primarily to the sets and backdrops."

That's unfortunate...

Other phrases of a genius:
"Songs form the major component of opera"
"Composers must never seek harmony for harmony's sake." 
"There should be a theme song in an opera.  The theme song must be a masterpiece in terms of both words and music.  It must be perfect" 
"The opera singer has to sing while acting and act while singing."
"Some singers who portray such villainous characters as a landlord or policeman should perform exaggerated, superficial actions, instead of singing well."
So, goodbye Dear Leader.  I think I speak for everyone when I say that you certainly deserved nothing of what you gained.  Those of us in the opera world would like to thank you for your overwhelming gift of ridiculous prose and hope you see the same deserving fate of Don Giovanni.

Now on to a happier topic!

click here to see gifts (1-5)

6. Wagner's Ring Cycle Bracelet - Do you have trouble remembering the plot to Wagner's 15 hour-long opera cycle?  Well, now there's an easy way to follow along at  They offer bracelets that tell the plot of the opera through colored beads and charms for over twenty of your favorite operas.  And they come with a description card so you can remember all 94 plot elements (that's right, I counted all the different beads and charms) and follow along like a rosary within Wagner's cylce of Das RheingoldDie Walküre, Siegfried, and Götterdämmerung.

7.  Look like Wotan or Brünnhilde in this Walküre (Valkyrie) knitted hat in the Met's gift shop.

8. Swarovski crystal opera glasses.  These teeny tiny opera glasses start at $300 and contain 1300 Swarovski crystals.

9. Nothing says "You're a pretentious opera nerd" like the operatic stylings of Michael Bublé.  And, nothing says "Merry Christmas" like "pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death". In his new Christmas Album, he places himself on the Mount Rushmore of horrible classical cross-over recordings, certainly not overshadowed by the beloved Susan Boyle, with one of the worst  performed versions of Schubert's Ave Maria.  And with its gloriously horrific diction, this would be a great gift to give to those opera geeks of whom you are annoyed with, want to be mean to, or want a free diction coaching from (as in their rage, they will surely dissect all of this song's atrocities - you'll be sounding like an ancient Roman in no time!).

10.  A bottle of wine. I know I was a little hard on #9, and if you actually give #9 as a gift, PLEASE give a bottle of wine to help with the anxiety.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

An Operatic Christmas Wishlist

I know I am a little late this week, but I wanted to throw some Christmas gift ideas out there for any opera lovers in your lives.  This week and next week, I will have five unique gifts.

1. Renee Fleming's album "Dark Hope".  Renee is one of the world's greatest opera singers, but last year she produced a pop album, singing remakes of famous pop songs.  Here is the closing track, Hallelujah - which was made famous by Leonard Cohen.

Renee Fleming - Hallelujahfound onChillout

There's not much I can say as far as a critique is concerned, because it isn't performed with intent of great vocal virtuosity, as are most pop songs.  Essentially, if you are entertained, then she did a good job in my opinion.  And, I really like this song.  You may remember, and I certainly do, that this song was sung as the "song of peace" at the 2010 Olympic Opening Ceremony.  I cannot play the video from the broadcast, but here is a home video from it.

Anyway, Renee certainly doesn't get as vocally involved as what many pop singers would, but the album is somewhat interesting for those who love and know her voice.  HOWEVER, don't be confused that I am hinting that I want this for Christmas.  I am certainly content with Renee's PBS Christmas specials.

2.  Perhaps I'm biased but these T-Shirts based on Kansas City's Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts are pretty awesome.

3.  Japan has a new trend! - which is great for us in America because we certainly need more things to laugh about in these gloomy times.  Behold - Pro Voice Pills!  They cost about $2.50 and contain Magnesium and Malic Acid - commonly found in Apple Juice.  On the onset, most singers would say, "oh! that makes sense" since many blindly revere Apples as a kind of wonder fruit for singing.  HOWEVER, this sweet-tart-flavored pill also, evidently, makes your throat slightly numb, thereby calming your throat and nourishing your body to create a great singing voice.  Numbing is a big no-no.  Pain is a good thing, because it tells you when you are going too far.  If you can't tell that, you can easily injure your voice.  Nonetheless, I'm sure - as many people often debate against me when it comes to "old wives' tales" - it's all in their heads.  I tend to rely on science when it comes to debating, and I am fairly certain that if anyone has any benefit from this, it must either be from a placebo effect or because they enjoy losing arguments.  This would be a great gift for those in your family who are musically challenged - however, they will likely try to sing if you give it to them...on second thought, be sure you have a glass of wine first so you can bear the torture.

5.  I'm not trying to be pretentious (I just am) but I really want a "no coughing sign" to hold up during performances.  It would be ideal if it would light up so I can just hold it up while an aria is sung, so the old guy hacking in the back that doesn't want to be at the opera anyway would kindly leave so I could at least hear one whole phrase!  


Last weekend I was privileged  to perform at the Kansas City Southern Railroad's winter ball at the beautiful Union Station in Kansas City.  Here are some pictures from the event.  The place is gigantic, like a capitol building, and echos about as intensely.  I performed some Christmas carols with two other singers, and sang a solo Ave Maria - sadly, the Schubert version...Bach/Gounod is my favorite, but I couldn't find the right key as I was looking for it at the last minute.

The place and event were gorgeous, as you would expect with brass choir, string quintet, opera singers, a red carpet with a bouncer.  The appetizers were set out along an enormous ice train sculpture (as seen below).  They had giant shrimp, crab claws, and oysters.  Oh, and for a plate, a giant cool is that?  I only was able to have the appetizers, but it appeared as if they had bottomless wine!  I was jealous.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Finals holdup...

My finals schedule will postpone this week's blog entry until tomorrow...sorry for the wait!

Monday, December 5, 2011

New York Auditions

I love New York.  It seams like everything works the way that I work. Painfully fast, crowded with busyness, professional but panicked, and yes - without much sleep.  In many ways I am perfectly comfortable with the Big Apple, however it certainly has no limit to stress.

Audition season is upon me, and I prepare to peak at just the right time.  This year, I went out on a limb and flew in on the day of my first audition.  I have never done that before (and have been warned against doing that) but I just couldn't devote too much time away from Kansas City.  On the morning that I flew out, I was greeted by one of my good tenor friends from KC, Ben Gulley, in the waiting area at the airport.  Amazingly, we were taking the same flight to New York.  Ben is one of the best tenors I have ever met, and certainly a great person altogether.  He talked about his upcoming events and plans with Hollywood agents and opera companies from all over the world, etc. etc.  I sounds amazing and it couldn't have happened to a nicer person.

After I arrived in New York, I took a shuttle from LaGuardia to Grand Central Station and ate lunch there.  Then it was off to Nola studios - opera audition Mecca.  Nola is on the 11th floor of a building off of Broadway by David Letterman's studio, kind of close to Julliard and the Met.  It was packed, muggy, and stinky.  It is only a small hallway with seven or so studios connected to it.  Each of the studios have a different company holding auditions with 5-10 minute slots.  So all the upcoming singers sit patiently, cold-sweating outside the doors.   For me, all of my auditions were here or in Shelter studios, which is the next floor up.  Luckily, I had my auditions all back-to-back: New Jersey, Pine Mountain, and Saratoga.  Opera North auditions were the following day.

Once the auditions began, it was kind of a blur.  I didn't have to think about much, other than selected arias, and in the meantime, I was able to talk to all of my opera friends from around the country who were in town. Everything went fine...normal, except for New Jersey.  In the New Jersey auditions, they wanted me to sing Il mio tesoro as my second selection, and it was a little dull.  One of my better qualities is my resonance, or the sparkly clean tenor ring, but that was lost for some reason in that aria in particular.  Besides that, I always begin with Questa o quella from Rigoletto, not because I like it, but because it is short and powerful - I only have a few minutes to show off you know.  Then the company selects any other excerpts that they want me to hear.  Normally, this means an English aria, and for me that means Here I Stand from The Rake's Progress.

I will be anxious to hear from those companies in the coming weeks and I'll let you know what the results are. In general, this year there are many more companies out there than in the past, which is a great sign that the economy is improving.  However, companies are inviting many more singers...this means more competition.

Outside of auditions, I was able to attend the Met's production of Handel's opera Rodelinda.  The sets were great, and it starred one of my most favorite singers, Renee Fleming.  Unfortunately, I had to miss the end in order to catch my train out of Manhattan to get to my hotel.  But, the show was amazing.  Handel operas are packed with arias, one right after the other.  I thought it would make for a very boring time, but it turned out to be an amazing musical experience.  There were two starring countertenors (men who sing in their falsetto, their girly voice).  They lacked the beauty of Renee, who was brilliant and gorgeous, but the countertenors stole the show for me.  As the least technically advanced singers in the production, I was shocked and uncontrollably excited by their musicality.  It was stupendous!!  The audience was on the edge of their seats for many of their arias packed with tension and controlled tones, relaxing only for a moment.  Handel was amazing, and so was this cast.

Also, another favorite part of New York for me is the food.  Here were my two favorite meals:

Lamb Burger with Greek Salad and Humus Dressing along with TWO Chocolate Shakes at The Brooklyn Diner

Steak Sandwich (real unsliced steak) and Maple Bacon Bourbon Donut at Zaro's
Then, before I had to leave for my evening flight back to Kansas City, I had several hours to spare.  So, I went downtown.  Here is a video that I put together about my afternoon.  It's in HD if you click "full screen" and turn up the speakers!

The flight back was a crazy event in itself.  I was left on the runway on Frontier Airlines flight 1803 from 6:55 PM to 10:08 PM without food, bathroom, and electronic device use (which I violated).  It was horrific for the claustrophobic, and completely annoying for those who don't like to smell other people's feet.  In short, I am still trying to receive a refund for my flight.  The reason for the delay was that the pilot they selected wouldn't make his next scheduled flight, so we returned and waited for another pilot.  It was entirely the fault of Frontier Airlines and their mismanagement of their work schedules.  Nonetheless, we arrived in Kansas City early the next morning.

Next week, I will have a lot of information about the next KCVI Celebrity Auction, now featuring another autographed John Williams Star Wars score!  Also for my concert schedule please visit  I miss so many of my friends and family; maybe (as a Christmas present) I will see you at one of my concerts in the near future!

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