Why Do Musicians Always Wear Black?

on . Posted in Singing

A musician’s motto: Black is black is black is black.

Somewhere along the line, black clothing became the standard for performing musicians. It’s easy on the eyes, looks pretty much the same on different fabrics, and looks just fine on almost everyone.




An ensemble dressed completely in black looks unified. If they’re all wearing a different color it’s sometimes too much stimulation. If everyone is wearing black, then it’s easier to concentrate on the music they are making and the expressions on their faces. Not every ensemble chooses all black, and there are choirs or concerts for which people wear different colors and it can be absolutely delightful when paired with upbeat repertoire!




Musicians play and perform at many different types of events and for this, we typically say the wardrobe requirement is “dress black.” This means look professional, wear nice clothing, and it must all be black. This is why musicians typically have copious amounts of black clothing in their wardrobe. It’s also easiest for an ensemble to match each other well if they are all wearing black.


For funerals and memorial services, musicians, like attendees, wear black. And although it may seem odd, musicians wear dress black for weddings even though it is a festive occasion (unless the wedding party has deemed otherwise). Black is black is...you get the idea?

For more informal occasions, the combination of black pants or skirt and a black shirt already looks professional without being too dressy, and it’s a way for the musicians to separate themselves from the audience or crowd without having to figure out a new outfit for every performance.


Special Case:  Choirs


Many choirs have standard dress for their singers, and most typically there is one dress for all the ladies, which they purchase themselves, plus a standard accessory (a scarf or jewelry, perhaps).  Someone from the organization chooses which color hosiery and most often the guideline is simply “black shoes.”

TIP:  Be sure to polish your shoes before any performance, whether you are a soloist up front or you are in the back of the choir. People notice if you haven't shined your shoes, and it does not leave a good impression. Do it a day or two before and you won't have a chance to forget it!


I’ve discovered that the more ‘serious’ the repertoire and the higher professionalism of the choir, the more likely it is that they will have ONE particular dress for the ladies. However there are plenty of choirs and ensembles that have a standard for women such as this:  long, black skirt or wide-legged dress pants, ¾- or long-sleeved top, modest neckline, subtle jewelry. This also works very well when a specific standard of dressiness is required (and enforced) but having one dress for all the women isn't a logical choice.


For the men, it’s often a black suit or tux with a particular color bow-tie. Often it is also black, however if there is a particular color associated with the chorus, they may choose a different color. For instance, when I sang with the Gaechinger Kantorei in Stuttgart, the men were required to purchase their own burgundy red bow-tie. Use of a vest or a cummerbund is also specified by the choir or ensemble.


From Day to Night


Musicians lead busy lives and frequently leave the house in the morning only to return late in the evening after a day of teaching, rehearsing, and performing. Black travels well and is versatile and can go from the teacher’s studio to a dressy rehearsal and can be dressed up with fun jewelry or a pair of slacks changed out for a skirt in no time for a performance.




Check back TOMORROW for my next blogpost:  “Do Soloists Have to Wear Black?”

9.11.11 - A High Calling to Service

on . Posted in Singing

If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other. -Mother Teresa



On September 11, 2001 I don't think anyone thought about what the 10th Anniversary would be like. People I talk with about September 11th don't talk about the 10th Anniversary, they talk about what happened 10 years ago. We remember where we were, what happened, who we knew who was in New York or working in the Pentagon, or even whom we knew who was supposed to have been in the towers that day, or what story someone just read about the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania. We talk about the cloud, the dust, the stench. We tell the graphic, personal stories told amongst friends--the real stories of 9/11. We remember who in our group of friends took the first vacation or flight after 9/11, and we remember who hasn't flown since.

Sitting in rehearsal today, I noticed I'm not thinking about the future, I'm thinking about 10 years ago. I'm thinking about all the memories I haven't thought of for 10 years. I realized I have avoided thinking consciously about 9/11. And now, at the service of everyone at 9.11.11 - United We Stand tomorrow, I am forced to remember things I don't want to remember.

And that is the turning point--who am I to not want to remember? Who am I to not want to face the waves of emotions that tomorrow brings? There is work to be done. As musicians, performers, clergy, volunteers, we are at the service of those who do choose to remember. We are at the service of those who need to grieve. We are at the service of honoring the innocence that was lost, the people who are now deceased, the knowledge we have gained since, the truth that now stares us in the face. We are at the service of our neighbors, our brothers and sisters, because we are all created equal. We are at the service of grief itself, for when we've accepted our grief, we find out what wisdom is waiting for us on the other side.

This is a high calling for musicians, to be the ones who comfort those who grieve, to be the catalysts for their grieving process. We must remember first, so we can literally create the program to assist those who are grieving. We must face what needs to be faced and create the service that follows. We must lead the way to a better place. We must carry the vision for peace.

It is truly an honor to be of service to all the brothers and sisters in this world, for we must step up and be the first ones to change, to anticipate what will exist beyond grief. We must be the change we wish to see.

Music doesn't lie. If there is something to be changed in this world, then it can only happen through music. -Jimi Hendrix


5 Tips for Taking a Gig (or Not!)

on . Posted in Singing

Simplicity is key! One of the guiding principles suggested in Ratgeber Freie* for whether or not a gig is worth your while is

"Does it make me happy? Does it make me rich? Does it make me proud?"

and if the gig in front of you meets at least 2 of those 3 guidelines, it's a good idea to take it. If the gig only meets 1, then you ought to be pretty clear on why you're taking the gig--or why you're kindly turning it down.

It's a great way to decide whether to take a gig or not and that's where I usually start; in addition to that, here are several other basics I consider from the very first conversation:

1. Money, honey! This MUST be a clear, upfront, and open topic. If not, say no! Find out if the payment will be made at the first (or final) performance or if the check will be mailed within 1 (or 2) weeks of performance; this is usually stated in the contract, and concert organizers love to get contracts settled & out of the way asap. (Please refer to #3 for more information on this important factor.)
2. Location Where do the rehearsals take place? Where is the gig? Travel time and cost may be an important factor in deciding whether or not you can even make it there. Block off all the rehearsal time in your schedule now and plan extra time to get there and have time to eat if it's around a mealtime. In New York I took a gig and the organizer remembered on Friday night to tell me the next day's rehearsal started at 9 am in Queens--an hour and a half away! Keep in mind that you always need a written commitment, which brings me to #3.

3. Committment Is there a contract? Or at the very least a confirmation letter? Frequently emailed correspondence functions in this manner, but some people just aren't that great with planning. Go ahead and ask--it's your work and you have every right to know all the details. When in doubt, send a friendly, professional email stating all the information you have and ask them to simply reply and confirm it.
TIP:  If you need to charge something like a flight on a credit card, make sure you have a committment before you make the purchase! If you haven't been clear about your expectations with paychecks and reimbursements, it's too easy for people to be late in their payments or even worse, not to pay you at all.
4. Favors Only do favors for musician friends you know, have integrity, and who will be more than happy to pay you back. Worst case scenario:  you do a 'favor' (e.g. work for free) for someone you don't know that well, the music isn't that great, you have to work hard to fit it into your schedule, it stresses you out, and afterward you find out the other singers got paid or got another gig out of it and you didn't. It's too easy to get into a lose-lose situation this way. Donations of time & talent for worthy causes and fundraisers aside, you ARE a professional and working for free devalues your work and your industry. (More to that in this blog post.)
5. Tools If you're a guest singer at a workshop, for example, will the workshop be providing a piano/electric keyboard for you? You may or may not need to provide your own music stand and/or stand light. Do you have a sturdy, travel music stand? Do you have the right size black folder for your performance or do you need a new one so the bent corners of your coffee-stained score won't stick out? It's pretty amazing how many black folders and binders one singer can collect through various gigs, and somehow I always need a different folder. If you're a harpsichordist and you bring your own harpsichord, when can you bring it in to let it acclimate and tune it? I have a harpist friend who set aside a block of hours for every wedding she plays, as she needs to be there quite early to tune her harp, and then she tunes it again before she tunes it again.
Take it from me--it's easier to ask in the beginning than to find out later when you're deeper into the process and conversations can get unnecessarily sticky. And, well, take it from me because I've learned some of these things the hard way. Make sure you're on the same page from the start and all will be well!
* Ratgeber Freie is a handbook for freelancers in Germany which explains laws and regulations as well as services available for artists of all kinds (think business consultations and health insurance).

Thriving After Domestic Violence

on . Posted in News

I am a musician and also a survivor. I am a survivor of domestic violence. I have been a survivor since August 26, 2008, and today is my third Anniversary of Freedom.

Now it’s time to thrive.

This is a powerful part of my story, of my journey, of my healing, and tells the most about me and who I have become. This is why I am so grateful for everything I have accomplished.

The History

In 2003 I got married and moved to Germany to be with my now-ex-husband. I call it a “marriage” because it was anything but a marriage. In 2008, I had one chance to leave him and I took it. It was purely a decision based on the fact that I knew I couldn’t stay. He was beginning to get physically violent--it was serious.

The chance came when I was on my first solo visit to my parents in five years. It was a beautiful, summery Friday afternoon. I started reading a book I had picked up at the library, Lundy Bancroft’s Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men. In the book was the number for the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy BancroftIt took me several tries to actually make the call, as I was literally shaking and didn’t know if I needed to call, but I had a feeling that it would be a good idea to talk to someone. Finally I called, and a woman named Ella answered.

“Are you in a safe place to talk?” she asked. “Yes, I am, I’m alone at my parent’s house,” I replied. “How can I help you?” she asked in a calm tone of voice. I began to sob, “I’m so scared…” All my fears and hurt feelings and questions poured out of me.

Ella spoke with me for 1 ½ hours that day. After our conversation, I opened up to my parents and told them what the “marriage” was really like, that it was anything but a marriage, with the criticism and fights and severe disparity of who controlled how much money. I told them that no matter what I did, it was never good enough and that I had gotten so much hurtful criticism from him day in and day out. The emotional abuse was unbearable.

It was then that I was presented with the opportunity that every victim of domestic violence wishes for: the opportunity to leave safely.

And I left.

I tore my life apart over a span of mere days, giving up an entire “marriage,” my business in Germany, and everything that I had built for myself there. I literally fled the country. It was the single most terrifying thing I’ve ever done and I give thanks every day that I not only realized I needed to leave, but that I had a safe opportunity to do so, the complete support of my family and friends, and the support of a shelter and a truly amazing advocate at that shelter.

Through that shelter I attended a workshop led by Lundy Bancroft, the author I mentioned earlier; I took the opportunity to tell him that I had been in an abusive situation and had realized I could leave because I had read his book and thus called the National Domestic Violence Hotline. I said to him, tears welled up in my eyes and so choked up I could barely speak, “It’s been 8 weeks and 2 days.” He said, very emphatically, “Congratulations! Good for you!”

Soon after that, I stopped counting the days and weeks since I had left. Now I only notice the seasons passing.

Just the same, the road that I have walked since then has been very, very long and very, very hard. Starting my life over again is the most difficult thing I have ever done. And I wouldn’t give it up for anything.

And now:  thriving!

Life_is_so__much_funAugust 26, 2008 marks the turning point in my life where I chose to live my life rather than try to survive something that wasn’t my life at all.

Now it’s time to recognize what the last three years have brought me. I have my friends again, I have my family again, and I have made new friends and have new family members. My tribe has grown magnificently and I am honored and blessed by many wonderful friends and acquaintances. I’m on the path of my career and enjoying every minute of it. Most importantly, I’ve discovered that life is an adventure meant to be enjoyed.


The blessings that I have received in the last three years are immeasurable. Not only have I found my way to self-confidence, joy, and enjoyment of life, but I have discovered my career path, talents I didn’t realize I had, and methods of self-expression I had previously only dreamed about.

Most of all, I’ve started having SO MUCH FUN! So let’s get on with it! Let’s get on with having a seriously good time!

Making Magic in South America: Mozart, Moses Hogan, and Plenty of Steak - Part II

on . Posted in Travel

There are certain ways that music touches us and one of these is when music becomes something more than sound and silence over time. Basilica_de_Guadalupe_in_MercedesIt happens when everyone lets go of their distractions, latches on to the group's motivation, and lets the music flow. This is what happened on tour in South America last month.

Three of our four concerts were sold out, the first one having been about 95% sold out. It's always something special and is a momentous goal achieved when a musician hears the words "95% sold out" or "sold out!" It's a validation of our work and an affirmation for our souls--the knowledge that there are so many audience members becomes a catalyst for even better music-making.

The concert in the Basilica de Guadalupe in Mercedes, Argentina was one of those concerts; it was standing-room-only, freezing cold in an old, unheated church and everyone was wearing multiple layers to stay warm (the choir and the soloists that is). Audience members arrived 45 minutes to an hour early, and the mayor and his wife were sitting in the front row. You could FEEL the vibe of the audience.

As the orchestra entered, the choir and the soloists, we knew the church was going to be full, but I personally wasn't prepared for it to be overflowing with people.

And as a mezzo, when that vibe is there, it's an extra comfort that the soprano is the first soloist to enter. It lets me get a peek at the audience before I'm standing right in front of them. This time I was really grateful for this convention, as the size of the audience took my breath away.


Every seat in every pew was filled with people sitting shoulder-to-shoulder, people were standing and milling around in the back of the church, the transepts were filled with people sitting and standing, and people surrounded every column all the way to the back of the nave. I've sung in a lot of churches in the last decade and I had never seen a church that full.

So you can well imagine how potent that vibe was even before the concert began. Richard Hynson, our conductor, then began the Mozart Requiem and you could see the audience's ears perk. People two-thirds of the way back would pop up to see the orchestra play for a minute, then sit down again. As we soloists began our musical entrances, the gazes of a thousand people would shift simultaneously to look at the soloist who had just entered. You could feel the intensity of their engagement with us and their engagement with the music. It was palpable.

Mozart's Requiem is a very dramatic and moving piece of music all by itself. Add a huge audience, ready and willing to take a musical journey with you, a fantastic conductor and dozens of talented singers and orchestra members, and the music created will transport you to somewhere else. External thoughts and concerns simply disappear and there is a venerable time and space that gets created--where everyone becomes a part of the music.

I am endlessly grateful to have had this experience with the beautiful people I met in Mercedes who provided me with a memory to last a lifetime. We created that experience together. This is what music-making is all about.

9.11.11 United We Stand - Live on MPTV!

on . Posted in News

9-11 logo





On September 11, 2011 I'll be joining the Bel Canto Chorus and the Milwaukee Chamber Orchestra for a FREE commemorative concert of Mozart's Requiem in downtown Milwaukee.

This event will be broadcast LIVE on MPTV 10.1 at 3:00 pm and rebroadcast the same day at 6:30 pm on MPTV 36.1.


This event is also an acknowledgement of first responders and veterans. From the press release:

United We Stand will feature appearances by local and state government, community, and religious officials. First responders and veterans are encouraged to attend in uniform, as they will be publicly honored during the concert.


Although the event itself is free, premium tickets, which include chair seating and access to the post-concert reception, are available at $100 through the  Bel Canto Chorus Box Office at (414) 481-8801.