Yep, insane is right! InsaneViolin

on . Posted in Inspiration

Words fail to describe this, really, you just need to watch. Sit back, turn up the speakers, and watch the whole thing.

The one thing you need to know:  this piece is a theme and variations, so it's a musical theme (a melody) that's presented and then Herr Roman Kim plays multiple variations on that theme. You'll still recognize parts of the original theme, but it might be played higher, lower, or with 'extra' notes within the same melody.

Think of it as one car (the theme) with lots of options and it comes in many different colors (the variations)--and they're all on the showroom floor.

P.S. Don't try this at home.


A Love Letter to the Teatro del Lago, Frutillar, Chile

on . Posted in Travel

Querido Teatro del Lago,

I had no idea how hard it would be to get to you, and it was worth every painful moment. First the 2 1/2 hour flight to Dallas, then 9 more hours to Santiago, where I had to wait all day (allbeit distracted by downtown Santiago and a delicious Peruvian steak lunch), so we could soldier on another 2 hours on a flight en route to Puerto Montt, where all of us, close to tears for lack of sleep, boarded a bus to ride another half hour to the hotel. Only to be given the news that we would need to travel yet another half an hour the next morning to get to you.

But you were calling to us, beckoning. And we obeyed.


You, on this happy spot, standing tall and welcoming us all in to your warm embrace. There has never been anything like you before! Your colorful exterior, your corridors reflecting the natural light and beauty of Frutillar and Lago Llanquihue.

Even in the first rehearsals it was clear that we would never again have an experience like this. To sit in such an acoustically live room and sing Bach all day...


The Ampitheater at Teatro del Lago; Photo by Juan Millán T.


...and to look past the piano, out the window at this...

Panorama LlanquihueW


You are almost more than I can bear.

And to think, you invited us all here, to Frutillar, from 12 different countries and speaking more than 6 different languages. You knew we would connect, we would make music, we would make friendships to last for years (and projects!) to come.

You knew we would love you!

We shiny, happy people:

Photo by Juan Millán T.


To sing the St. John Passion with Kathy Salzman-Romey and Helmuth Rilling during Holy Week--well, you have really out-done yourself! Maestro Rilling's intimate understanding of the Passion, how Bach wrote each piece, how he selected his motives, and created such drama reaches out from centuries ago and pulls our heart strings today. Only you can move us to such tears.


Ach Herr, lass dein lieb Engelein

am letzten End die Seele mein

in Abrahams Schoss tragen

den Leib in seim Schlafkämmerlein

gar sanft ohn einge Qual und Pein

ruhn bis am jüngsten Tage!

Alsdenn vom Tod erwekke mich,

dass meine Augen sehen dich

in aller Freud, o Gottes Sohn

mein Heiland und Genadenthron!

Herr Jesu Christ, erhöre mich, erhöre mich,

ich will dich preisen ewiglich!


Click here and scroll to #40 for a translation of this text.

Photo by Juan Millán T.


You are forever in my heart. And I can't wait to see you again!



P.S. This was only the first Academia Internacional Teatro del Lago, with new people and new projects in the future! Please see for more information on the world's southern-most opera house and to get more information on the 2nd year of this amazing Academia. You will not regret it!!

Highlights of Chile and the Academia International Teatro del Lago

on . Posted in Travel

Arriving in Chile last week was a pleasure and exciting because no man has schlepped me further around the world and to more places than Helmuth Rilling. He probably doesn't know that, he sees probably thousands of choral singers every year, but really, it's all his "fault." ;)

Or maybe I can give Kathy Salzman-Romey some of the responsibility for this, because she's a mastermind of choral creation.

When I lived in Germany and sang with the Gächinger Kantorei we went to Italy twice (once St. Matthew Passion, the other the Levin edition of the Mozart C Minor Mass or the Requiem, can't remember which), Poland for a night, Vienna for a night, and Israel--3 weeks. Because Maestro Rilling is an epic, one-man diplomatic mission between Israel and Germany. Eugene, Oregon, and now Santiago, Temuco, and Puerto Varras/Frutillar, Chile.

What happens when you travel, sing, and make music (in between meals, of course), is this:


You meet some of the world's most wonderful people (again).

Left:  Kendra Hawley, an oboist with the Santiago Symphony, and behind her one of my best friends, baritone Jacob William Herbert. Below him is Michael Carty, a wonderful singer who was also at the Festival Ensemble in Stuttgart for the Sandström Messiah. In the middle (top) is Bronwyn Thies-Thompson, a soprano from Canada (and my roommate). Below is Elisabeth Marshall, a soprano with whom I should have crossed paths years ago (or last summer at OBF when we were staying in the same dorm, but it never happened). Bottom right is Erica, a woman on a trip around the world after having faced life's greatest challenge--and she is a beacon of light. Thank goodness Jacob met her on the plane, and she invited us to leave our belongings at her apartment for the day--last Friday we all arrived between 6 and 8 am, however our next flight didn't leave until about 6 pm. So we went into the city of Santiago, dropped our things at her place, and toured downtown.

We were up on top of Santa Lucia when the cannons went off becuase, you, know, they fire the cannons every day at 12. There is no warning.


Except you feel the air moving across your legs before the sound comes and holy canoli is that loud!

Peruvian steak for lunch:


And then a sad good-bye to Kendra and Erica as we headed back to the airport to catch our flight & bus to Puerto Varas. Our one day together was a lifetime.

Puerto Varas and Frutillar are both on the lake Llanquihue (picture below). It's REALLY, REALLY GERMAN here, as Germans started a settlement in this area in about 1854. Go figure! But hey, if there wasn't any land, any money to be made, or any food, people usually went elsewhere. It's still the case. So here, the windows open and tip like in Germany, the plugs are the same (as well as with many other countries), there are Kuchenladen (cake stores) that sell German-style cake, and there are German autos all over the place.

There's always a little excitement on any trip, and this time it was being awoken at 4:45 am by a fire siren and then seeing this out the window:

PuertoVarasFire  PuertoVarasFire2


Luckily it was not nearly the size of the wildfire that has destroyed parts of Valparaiso, and I have no more details on this fire, however any fire is destructive and traumatic. The Teatro del Lago announced this week that the proceeds from our concert in Temuco will go to the relief efforts in Valparaiso. ♥

Click here to see the banner of the Teatro del Lago, which is a picture that shows how the theatre was built into the water.

OK and last but not least, what you've probably been waiting for. The view of the volcano across the lake from the Teatro del Lago.

Note the moon in the picture.


That's it for now, I gotta get ready for rehearsal. Love from Chile!

Go make music!

Happy Passover and happy Easter, everybody!


You Don't Always Get Your Ideal Fee.

on . Posted in Singing

Some organizations just don't have a large budget, yet they offer great concerts, wonderful experiences, and provide wonderful resume-builders for singers. And we should, for all reasons, sing them and bring music to people. That is, after all, the whole point. So let's look at a few ways that organizations offer and singers accept gigs that are perhaps lower on the pay scale but high on education, respect, and worthiness.

a/k/a How to ask a singer to sing your concert when you't have much money. And for singers, how to accept a good gig that's doesn't pay a whole lot.

a/k/a Rules to live by.

When you're offering:

1) Don't ever call it "exposure." Just take the word out of your vocabulary. See my previous two articles for reasons why. If you're still not sure, read them again.

2) Be up-front:  when you ask a singer about your concert or service, give them the who, what, when, where, and how much. It's rude to make someone ask "What is the fee paid?" and it puts the recipient in an awkward position. So just lay it all out on the table right away. This sets a great precedent for being upfront and goal-oriented; clear communication makes everything quicker and easier.

If you're emailing the offer and not calling, send all of these facts in ONE email with a descriptive subject line like "Handel Messiah on December 15 in Ourtown, OurState?" It's so much easier to refer back to one email with the facts than to have to search 8-10 emails and put everything together.

When you send a confirmation letter or contract, you can copy and paste the information between the email and letter/contract, which saves you time, too.

3) Keep things hard-and-fast:  stick to your rehearsal times and keep your emails succinct and to-the-point. This keeps everything productive and efficient for everyone involved.

Then if you send an extra reminder email or you need to notify everyone of a change, they will take note simply by the fact that you've sent an additional email or perhaps you've sent this email with urgent status.

4) DO offer what it is:  experience, possibly new repertoire for the singer, education for everybody all around (since we musicians really can't afford to stop learning) and a great time together making beautiful music.

Music is a small world and if you like to work with someone, or think you will enjoy working with them, then ask! There are so many reasons for performing and creating great music together. We cultivate our working relationships this way and quite literally:  you reap what you sow.

5) If your budget is tight right now but will be more generous in the future, only offer future gigs when you know you will follow through.

This happens when organizations are just starting out or when they're transitioning in their own set-up or mission. If you need a favor, call it in from someone you know, trust, and would be open to hearing it. If you can honestly say that you'd be happy to offer them something in the future, go ahead. But don't make empty promises. You'll reap that fairly quickly in return.

When you're accepting:

1) Watch out for red flags like wording that insinuates that you're young/inexperienced/need the work. Exercise caution if things aren't spelled out in the first email; AVOID ACCEPTING right away. To get more information and better insight, ask the questions you need to know. Ask who, what, when, where, and how much. Ask why if it's a fundraiser--which organization is receiving a donation from the event?

2) Be very clear on why you’re singing it. Whether it's a new piece, another line of experience on your resume, a piece you've always wanted to sing, "easy money" for a piece you've already performed, networking, or an excuse to wear your new suit or concert dress, know why you're doing it. This is for you and only you.

Remember it can be as simple as "Because I want to."

3) Turn it down if you don't have time to do it well. It's still work, so if you can't do it well, don't accept it. (Or you can learn this lesson the hard way. ;) )

4) Frequently building a career is akin to creating a mosaic. There are lots of different parts to it and in music, those different parts pay different amounts. Be sensitive to the fact that the organization offering you work may be on a strict budget. Remember, music is a small world (a very, very small world). Treat others with respect unless you need set a boundary and be assertive, and still do that with respect and class.

If you would like to work with someone, or think you will enjoy working with them, then accept! There are so many reasons for performing and creating great music together. We cultivate our working relationships this way and quite literally:  you reap what you sow.

Is there an echo in here?

5) Treat every singing event as if it were paying you your ideal fee. While you never know when one gig might lead to another, you're still meeting new people and making new connections at every concert; showing up ready to do your best is one of the best ways to create a solid, respectable reputation. It's like the theater adage, "There are no small roles, only small actors."


Myth: "Exposure" is Legitimate Payment for Singing. BUSTED!

on . Posted in Singing

It’s time to mythbust [insert dramatic music here] “Singing for Exposure!”

(N.B. this is not singing for free according to the Singing Donation Budget or when you take a lower-paying or free gig because it makes you happy and proud even when it doesn’t fill your pocketbook; this is concert presenters who ask you to sing for a lot of hours for dirt cheap.)

More and more frequently people offer ‘exposure’ as a benefit for professional musicians to sing a gig that’s poorly paid (or not paid at all), as if exposure were directly equal to and as effective as money.

“Exposure” is wrongly offered to singers as a concrete, quantifiable benefit, similar to a 401(k) match or an employer’s share of a health insurance payment. Your neighbor works in an office and gets a 1% match for 401(k) funds, you get exposure from a gig. Your friend has a low-deductible health insurance plan through her employer, you get exposure from singing.

Myth #1: Exposure is a benefit directly derived from the gig.

BUSTED: Exposure is a nebulous, unquantifiable element. It is a RESULT of work completed; exposure is what happens when the work is completed, it exceeds expectations and happens to be heard by just the right people. So it’s the right work, done in the best way possible, at just the right time and just the right place for the right people to hear it and act upon their excitement so as to hire you immediately.

In other words, the stars must align and multiple human beings (all with free will) must seize the opportunity in the same way at the same time.

How often does that happen?

Myth #2: Exposure is a form of payment.

BUSTED: Have you ever heard of a corporation including “exposure” as part of the pay & benefits for an employee? Or even for a contractor? People work, which gets them experience and perhaps results in exposure, but they work for money.

“Pay me less and get me exposure!” said no employee ever.

For a lot of people the archetype of the ‘starving artist’ holds fast in their minds. As if money doesn’t matter to us somehow, like we don’t have rent, car insurance, food, and clothing to pay for, it just magically appears. Overflowing grocery bags of complete meals with fresh vegetables magically manifest in our kitchens when we return home from rehearsal at 10 p.m., the dry cleaning bill is mysteriously paid when we pick up our gowns and tuxes, and we just get free cars from the dealer. Random people on the street give us lunch because they can see the invisible sign above our heads that proclaims,

“I’m an artist! I do it for love, not for money!”

It’s so moving to them they can hardly find a sandwich fast enough.

Myth #3: Exposure is a benefit equal to money.

BUSTED: As in any business, there is an exchange of a good or a service for money. You exchange your work (practice time, coachings, travel, rehearsal time, singing in the performance) for a pre-determined fee, known as the Artist’s Fee, a/k/a an Honorarium. With any reputable organization, you will have all this in a contract well before the concert or at the very least a confirmation letter. It’s pretty clear, isn’t it?

So let’s add “exposure” to the mix. Put on some gloves, this gets messy.

Exposure happens during the concert and after, with audience members who hear you and maybe they will find your website and see more of your concerts, other musicians who might ask for your business card and call you later to collaborate, maybe a reviewer may like you and write something nice, maybe another conductor who is friends with the concert presenter hires you. These things may be there, or maybe not.

The determining factor here is that exposure of your singing to others is completely out of your control. You cannot make another musician call you, you cannot make other musicians collaborate with you, you cannot magically please a reviewer into giving you a 5-star review, and you cannot make another conductor hire you based on what you sang last month.

It is all up to them.

You can only do what is fully within your control—you CAN offer your singing through concerts, sing many auditions and competitions, you can post on social media and send out a newsletter, you can blog. Increasing your output (via concerts sung, posts written, your newsletters, announcements in alumni papers) increases your readership and your networking, and this could lead to some particularly advantageous situations, however those situations are RESULTS and all of that is completely out of your control.

Myth #4: Sometimes one concert leads to the breakthrough a singer needs! Who cares if it doesn’t pay?!

BUSTED: There is no such thing as an overnight success. Singing is a long, slow burn of a career—it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Singers are not ‘discovered’ from a single concert, they get work through auditions and recommendations; it’s a culmination of hard work, determination, and an astounding amount of people skills. Singers have a career of momentum that needs to be kept up. Think of it as a wave that grows and changes as it nears the shore--whatever that singer's goal is, that's the shore.

One concert may very well be the tipping point—the wave starts to break and they can stand up on that surf board and ride the wave--indeed that happens to performers—they worked hard, connected with others well, someone called them up out of the blue and voila they were jumping in for someone who was sick, saved the day, got rave reviews, and all of this flurry of activity helped their awesome reputation spread like wildfire. These singers seized particular opportunities but/and they were ready to jump when the opportunity presented itself. They hit the shore.

To Sum It Up:

Offering ‘exposure’ as a benefit an excuse as to why a singer should sing a poorly-paid or unpaid gig is just plain dumb. Key is that presenters who do not offer ‘exposure’ as a benefit don’t need to. They know the value of their own organization and their audience. And they know that is the fulfillment of the agreement--everything else is icing on the cake.

It is immoral to suggest that one particular concert will lead to a career breakthrough. Just as no teacher can ever promise that her or his student will 'make it big,' no concert presenter can ever reasonably suggest that their concert will make a career.

I don't ever promise my mechanic that giving me a break on a tire rotation will make their months' cash flow goal because I might tell the right people who might become customers. I’ve never asked the mechanic to work on my car for cheap, either. I don’t promise him that he’ll get more work when he does work on my car. He does the work, I pay him, end of transaction.

Does your local sandwich shop ever say, “Sure, you can pay in exposure! Which concert did you sing?”

Usually they just want you to pay for your sandwich with cash.


Read more:

An experiment on payment in doughnuts

A handy flow-chart on saying yes or no

The economic impact and several ideas of how to retain the value of your art (through the lense of physical art, not sound art)

"Exposure" isn't Payment for Singing. MONEY is.

on . Posted in Singing

I once received an email asking if I would sing a series of concerts for what was a very low sum of money. As is typical in negotiations, I countered with an offer that was higher and noted that if my request exceeded their budgeting, I would gladly put them in touch with other singers. Pretty standard.

The presenter said there were no more funds, but s/he could offer exposure, which is when I ended the exchange with a friendly “My fee for this would be $X and I’d be happy to work with you later for less time and/or more money.”

To put it in terms of clothing, I was offered minimum-wage pricing, I countered with discount-store-level pricing, and forewent industry-standard prices because they were unrealistic for the situation. (Calculated out by the hour, this gig paid significantly less than the temp job I quit in December.)

It didn’t work out. Oh well—c’est la vie. This was a situation in which I thought, “Hey, ok, maybe another time. What’s next on my list?” and went on my merry way.

Then came the second round of emails. Keep in mind the first conversation had completely ended and weeks had passed since then.

What I read was the most disrespectful, patronizing email I’ve ever received. It was a helping of “I’m going to give you a second chance,” flavored with “You’re young and you need this gig,” a splash of “this opportunity could mean the difference in you getting future gigs,” a dash of “OUR organization gives you credibility and WE will give you exposure!” a greasy side of “Your colleagues are doing it for what I offered you [then listed  my colleagues who had accepted the fee],” and topped it off with “You’re not making the right decision.”

Hold the phone. “I’m going to give you a second chance”?! What is this, the cheating ex-boyfriend come back to beg?! No, my response was no. No is a complete sentence. Thus endeth the conversation. And this person had the audacity to come back and tell me that *I* was being given a second chance?

Puh-lease. I was not born yesterday.

My response was a blunt three lines of 1) I told you the first time, I do not bank on exposure, 2) my colleagues can do what they want, and 3) my answer remains no.

That relationship has ended. And I’m OK with that—no one has the right to talk to anyone else like that and I absolutely will not tolerate it. And to tell me which of my colleagues agreed to what fee—highly unprofessional, disrespectful, and back-handed.

Mama don’t play that game.

The point that I hoped had gotten through, although I highly doubt, was that I do not bank on exposure—literally. I bank with money, just like everyone else. Occasionally I bank with favors (thank you Steven Covey) and on swaps—traditional barter culture is alive and well. But really, I am a human being who has invested a ginormous amount of money in her education and training, I’ve got great experiences under my belt, and I love to expand my skills and learn new pieces, all the while working with great organizations from small church congregations to pillars of music in the Midwest. We are all in the same industry and partake in the same market. We are all in this together.

There is a deeper level at play here that is not obvious at first glance and may push buttons for a few people so let's go:  I’m a woman asked for what I wanted (I negotiated) and then I said no (I ended the conversation).

*Nicole pushes random buttons and ticks off a whole bunch of people.*

In his book The Gift of Fear, Gavin de Becker aptly notes that

when a man says no, it’s the end of the conversation;

when a woman says no, it’s the beginning of a negotiation.

In my totally unscientifically-researched, real-life experience, this is very much true for a large portion of the population. Not everyone operates in this way, but in enough of it that when I need to negotiate, I brace for either impact (worst-case scenario) or further development (best-case scenario). Occasionally the response is a resounding yes, and then I go celebrate.

The early seeds for learning to negotiate began with the book Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever. Just the chapter titles give you an idea of the breadth of this topic: “Opportunity Doesn’t Always Knock,” “Nice Girls Don’t Ask.” “Low Goals and Safe Targets.” Babcock & Laschever thoroughly hash out the conundrum women face every. single. day.

Luckily they also wrote a second book entitled Ask for it: How women can use the power of negotiation to get what they really want. BOOM. Read it. Understand what to do and then do it.

Add to it that I run my own business—it’s an entrepreneurship or, because it’s just me, I qualify as a “Solopreneur.” I’m a female solopreneur. I deal with money, I’m comfortable talking about money, I like to learn about money, and I enjoy taking care of my money. I even geek out over finding efficient ways to enter transactions in my bookkeeping.

I’m a female entrepreneur who knows her own value. That can be really uncomfortable for other people. I have the brains and support network to determine if a gig is going to make me happy enough, proud enough, and/or paid enough. I do not call myself satisfied when someone else has "been kind enough to let me do something.” (Barf.) This can rock the boat for a lot of other people—people who are happy to assume that when you are mid-30s and a single female, that you are either a) still supported by your family (?!), b) receiving alimony (!!!), or c) have a sugar daddy.

The saddest part is, within the last 18 months, people have asked me each of those last three questions.

Just stop and take that in for a second.

So even though I am comfortable with money, budgeting, and investing, have my head straight on my shoulders in regards to which gigs are good projects, and I run the two branches of my business (music & German) with organized flair, my being is often reduced to someone who is a female artist and therefore I must be dependent on my family, my ex-spouse, or I must whore myself out for nice clothes, fancy dinners, and a boyfriend who’s 20 years older than I because other people need to think that “someone is taking care of me.”

I work. I teach. I sing. I coach. I adjudicate. I practice. I write. I recommend. I network. I hustle to get things done and I know what my time is worth down to the quarter-hour.

And my time is worth a lot more than the suggestion that someone else should “take care of me,” the heinous idea that it’s ok if I don't get paid much because someone else is paying my bills, and that “exposure” is something for which I should hope because God forbid I actually form a career out of good, old-fashioned hard work and get paid appropriately for it.

What I really hope for is to be an excellent example for my teenaged students—currently all girls. I hope that in every lesson, they see that I am young and single and I am my own boss. I hope they realize that it is not a marriage/someone else's money that will define them, but who they are as people, and that it is possible and achievable for them to run their own business(es), too. If they want!

What I pray for every time I adjudicate is that I can create a sense of accomplishment for the student when I fill out that adjudication form—that no matter their score, they will feel respected and challenged and that it will give them new motivation for singing and give them the true sense that they belong in music.

What I strive for when I sing is to connect with everyone listening. To give all the listeners a moment in time that takes them away. Life is hard and music makes things a lot better. To entertain people, to give them something to laugh at, to be moved by, to bring tears to their eyes so they might revisit a precious memory or work through a bit of grief.

This is what I bank on.

It takes money to get there—money to pay the rent, buy groceries, pay the cat’s vet bill, put gas in the car to drive to adjudicate, to pay for coachings so I’m ready for gigs, buy flight tickets. It takes me managing my money well and negotiating conditions and fees high enough that my business runs, pays me enough to live on decently, and I can continue to work in this business. It makes me happy and keeps my bank account happy, too.