Monday, January 31, 2011

The Skaters' Walze

Yesterday afternoon I watched the men's Figure Skating Championship battle for the national prize. I must say that overall, the men's level of performance was more consistently higher than the women's the day before. I have no idea why this should be true- and what do I know about figure skating? I have an eye for the combination of technique and emotion, whether it's on the operatic stage or the ice rink. Maybe that's my criterion. 

The first three young men who skated were each amazing. I don't think any of them made a mistake. I will never understand the grading system for figure skating. The 27 year old man that won did not complete either of his Quads in good shape. Each time he had to put down a hand to steady himself. Other than that he skated very well. I hated the music he chose to skate to, however.

The thing that really impressed me is that while I have been comparing figure skating to singing viv-a-vis technique and artistry, it is obviously more closely allied to ballet. In both cases someone is writing a choreography for the skater or the dancer to perform to some kind of music. I think that perhaps the reason it doesn't work as well in skating as in ballet, is that in ballet the choreographer fits the dance steps to a pre-ordained score, while in skating, with its obligatory figures that must be performed, the choreographer starts with the choreography and then tries to find music to fit.

This seems to result in having a mishmash of music from the same composer, or even different composers, fitted to a series of jumps and twirls. Once in a while this works, but often, in what I've seen in the past two days, it becomes disjointed and annoying musically.

I remember seeing ballets choreographed by the great George Ballanchine, where the dancer and the music were one from beginning to end. The ballerina went on point at exactly the moment that the music called for this to happen. The great dance choreographers were also great musicians and understood how dance and music must step together. Not always on the beat, which for a long time was the watchword of Mark Morris, but in line with the musical energy.

Years ago, when I was a church organist, I established in my church in Red Bank, New Jersey, a Sacred Dance Group which performed in church. Dance in church goes very far back in history. The altar boys in the cathedral in Seville danced a ritual on certain high holidays. The remarkable woman who was my choreographer, Winifred Widener, had danced under Martha Graham, Hanya Holm, and Doris Huymphrey, the three great originators of the modern dance movement. She choreographed works like Messiaen's Les Anges from his great organ suite La Nativité. The combination of great music and great choreography in my local church set people on their ear! Winifred often would say to her young dancers (these were teen-agers) 'move against the music, not always with it'. She produced magical results and our dance group performed in Barbados, Trinidad, and Tobago.

I seldom see this kind of greatness on the ice rink. Perhaps the skaters should just do all their jumps and leave the music to the dancers.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Ice skating in Puerto Rico

Last night I had to take a break from the grim news coming out of Egypt. One of my Smith students has been spending some time in Egypt this year. I hope and pray that she was only there for the fall term. I spoke with a colleague at Smith yesterday asking her to check up on my former student to make sure that she is home and safe.

Last night, to get a reprieve from the bad news, I watched the US Women's Figure Skating Competition. Again I am struck with the similarity of performing as a figure skater and performing as a singer. I have not been on ice skates since I was in high school. And I was no figure skater! A few of us would go to McCamley Park in Battle Creek and stagger around the frozen pond. Since it was only about two feet deep, there was no fear of falling through the ice. None of us tried to be Sonja Henie, who was the great skater of the day.

In both singing and skating there are a few common points to observe if you want to achieve success. First of all, you must make your technique a second nature, so that when you perform you can forget thinking about the technique and just go for it. 

Last night I especially enjoyed Scott Hamilton's quiet comments while the young women were on the ice. I don't know if he teaches, but he would be a great teacher. He would exult when they pulled off a difficult triple something or other, and be sad for them when they fell on their butt.

It's the way I feel when listening to one of my students perform, especially when I am not at the piano with them. It's not too big a secret that the pianist has a lot to do with what happens with any singer or instrumentalist, in spite of the fact that in newspaper reviews we are generally given one line indicating that we were there!

One young woman, who won first place last night, skated above the ice. She floated through a complicated program and made it look easy. A fine singer does the same thing. Both need to so completely absorb the technical aspects of their art that one doesn't watch or listen to technique, the listener simply smiles in amazement at how simple and inevitable everything looks. Clarity, ease, precision, perfection.

Several of the skaters were all about the technique and seemed to be hitting the viewer over the head with how difficult everything was. It made me tired to watch them. They looked clumsy and uncomfortable on the ice. You knew ahead of time when they were going to take a fall.

I have seen the same thing happen with singers who try so hard to sing that it becomes a burden. I find that at any level a wise singer should make singing look easy.

'Art is the emotion played on the technique'. This motto can work for both singers and skaters. Both face the same fear of falling on their butts, literally or figuratively.

So singers should watch the really great figure skaters as well as the really great singers to see how it can be done. Then absorb your technique and 'just sing the damned song!!'

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Another Puerto Rican singer or two

With a little help from Wikipedia I have found two more classical singers from Puerto Rico, Amalia and Antonio Paoli, sister and brother. (Sounds Italian, right? The father was from Corsica (like Napoleon) and the mother from an island off the coast of Venezuela.) They grew up in Ponce, a Spanish colonial city, in the south of Puerto Rico. I visited Ponce several years ago. It is a charming city and a great producer of Puerto Rican rum. 

Antonio had the more brilliant career of the two. He was born in 1871, dying in 1946 in San Juan. He was called 'The King of Tenors' and 'The Tenor of Kings'. He sang before many crowned heads of Europe during his career. Amalia was born in 1861 and became well known in Puerto Rico as a fine singer, receiving a scholarship to study in Spain. She was a soprano.

She managed to bring her entire family to Spain with her. Her brother, whose full name was Antonio Emilio Paoli y Marcano, was under the protection of Isabel de Bourbon, Princess of Asturias, the sister of the king of Spain. Thanks to Queen Maria Christina, Queen of Spain, he was given a scholarship to study in Italy. At one point he served the Queen as guard to her son, King Alfonso XIII. He studied at the Academia de Canto La Scala in Milano.

He made his major operatic début in Paris in William Tell of Rossini. The French newspapers declared that he should be named ' The Tenor of France'. During his career he was often compared to Enrico Caruso, singing throughout Europe, the Americas, and world-wide. Just before World War I he lost his voice and had a career as a boxer! Later the voice returned and he continued to sing and to teach voice.

Eventually, he returned to Puerto Rico where he attempted to start a Conservatory of Music which never came to fruition. This may explain the dearth of opera singers from Puerto Rico.

Justino Diaz was born in 1944, nearly one hundred years after Amalia Paoli, and has had a  major operatic career. So far, these seem to be the major opera singers Puerto Rico has produced.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Sing a tropical song?

I have been scratching my head to think of opera singers who have come from Puerto Rico. I checked it out on the web and found only the name of Justino Diaz who has had a real career. A couple of the other singers listed had Italian names, which makes sense. (I am Italian, so may be biased!) But none was familiar to me.

What made me consider this is that some years ago John Ferris and I taught in the British West Indies. We worked with church organists and with church choirs in Barbados, St. Vincent, Trinidad, and Tobago. The singing was simply beautiful. These singers could stay right on pitch while singing a capella for hours on end. We attributed their lovely voices and abilities to the salubrious weather. The sound they produced was effortless and wonderful. Puerto Rico certainly has the same glorious weather so I'd like to hear some singers here to see if the same thing is true.

I'm sure that Puerto Rico has produced many singers. Certainly in the ethnic and pop fields there are several who are well-known, but where are the classical singers? It may be that there has not been a tradition of opera or classical singing in the Island.

I'll keep looking for others besides Diaz who have had major careers and let you know what I find.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Amor mio!

I have fallen in love with Walgreens!

As embarrassing as it is to write that sentence, it is the gospel truth. As a depression baby, I admit to looking for ways to save money, especially when I am staying at an expensive vacation hotel. I am also looking forward to spending next January and February in a condo next door to this hotel next winter and I like to plan ahead.

While there are several nice restaurants withing walking distance to the hotel, and while I dine there from time to time, once in a while I just want a sandwich for supper.

The Walgreens just down the block from the hotel, and right across the street from next year's condo, is simply amazing in the variety of items it stocks. Maybe all Walgreens have this same combination of things we can't live without, but since this is the first Walgreens I've been in for a while, I was amazed!

I get my continental breakfast here at the hotel: a Quesita and a Majorca with tea and pineapple juice. But from there I'm on my own. I find I can get lunch and the occasional supper from Walgreens right across the street. Once I'm living here next winter, I can add breakfast to the items I can buy there. Cereal, eggs, milk, cheese, lettuce, you name it

There is a Super Mercado about a fifteen minite walk from here where I went today to get fresh fruit and a few other items, but other than that, it's Walgreens for me! The walk is good for me, but I don't want to carry too heavy a load of groceries home with me. Next winter I will call a cab to come home from the Mercado when I have too much to carry.

There are two very nice restaurants within walking distance: Mi Casita and a Chinese restaurant. Mi Casita is muy tipico. We had lunch there on Sunday when my friends from Connecticut, Elisa and Joe, joined me for the day. Their cruise ship docked early that morning in old San Juan and their flight to Bradley didn't leave until 7:00 p.m. that night. At Mi Casita Elisa and I had a wonderful grilled chicken salad with a pitcher of delicious Sangria, and Joe had chicken with rice and beans. Everything was great. We sat on the beach, we sat on the balcony, we strolled around, and had a great time together. The other night I ate at the Chinese restaurant and had a very good Orange Chicken. I seem to be on a chicken frenzy! There are a couple of other restaurants withing walking distance which I will try in the next few days. 

But tonight it was a ham and cheese sandwich from Walgreens.

God, I love that place!

Morning sounds

It's delightful to waken here in Isla Verde to the sounds of a Puertorican morning. My windows, I have eight facing the sea, are always open and in the otherwise silent morning hours, the sounds of the sea, rolling up against the white sandy beach, a distant rooster sounding the alarm, reminding me of summer in Sandisfield, and a little brown dog in the private house under my window coming out and barking to wake anyone who missed the rooster's cry, are my alarm clock.

There are three elegant private homes next to the hotel, still standing among all the glamorous high-rises that line the beach. They are immaculately maintained and I'm sure are worth a fortune. The property must be worth several million dollars. I wonder how long they will last?

My morning ritual begins with turning on WNBC from New York City to see how many feet of snow fell last night (often one or more!). Then after my shower, I go to the fitness room downstairs and spend fifteen or twenty minutes on the treadmill to get my heart started. At home, after about seven minutes on the treadmill, I begin to wheeze. 

Then, today at least, come to the Business Room to check my email and write today's blog.

The amazing thing about this salubrious climate is that all my winter respiratory symptoms, runny eyes, runny nose, wheezy lungs, have disappeared! I wonder if I can take the trip off my income tax as a medical benefit?

Fat chance!!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

I'm hooked!

Call me crazy, but I just put a deposit on a condo here on the beach for next January and February! Someone had to do it.

Paradise lost?

Even Paradise has its drawbacks, apparently. Today I decided to take the public bus down to Old San Juan. I've been there a number of times during previous trips, but I thought I would pay the old town another visit. I've always taken the bus in the past. The bus stop is just a block from the Water Club so I strode over there expecting to board and ride it to the old city. There were about eight people waiting at the Parada. Apparently, they had already been there for a while. After about twenty minutes, a taxi slowed down in front of us in the street and held up three fingers; this meant he would charge each of us three dollars to take us to Old San Juan. I decided to wait for the bus thinking that as soon as they sped off in the taxi, the bus would come.

Actually, it did. Packed to the doors! I decided to skip the bus ride and the old town and return to the hotel. I often sit on a large balcony over the entrance where I can enjoy the breezes and read a book in peace and quiet. For two days a man with a large cigar has shown up when I was there, filling the ocean breeze with something besides the aroma of seaweed! Today he has apparently gone his smokey way. Instead, I got a cigarette smoker. The Hotel is smoke free so I guess that this is the hangout for the lung cancer seekers.

Apparently the buses do not run on a schedule of any kind. "Not even of any kind!', as the valet said in The Importance of Being Earnest', when Algernon had eaten all the cucumber sandwiches promised to Lady Bracknell, and Ernest asked him if there were no cucumbers in the market.. 

There are only two buses for this route: the T5. One comes from either end of the long route. You can wait up to an hour for it to arrive.

I've seen the millions of gift shops in Old San Juan enough that I may just decide to stay here in pleasant Isla Verde and skip the bus and another visit to the old city.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Guilt trip?

I have been speaking to and emailing friends back in the frozen north and have learned that they are having night time temperatures that are far below zero and daytime readings that are not much above that point.

I really feel a little guilty basking in daytime temperatures in the 80s and nights that don't go much below 70.

But not too much!

Friday, January 21, 2011

C'est la vie! You bet!

Yesterday I looked at a couple of rentals in the tall apartment building right next to The Water Club. I'm thinking that next winter I may spend an extended time here in Isla Verde. The one I liked is on the 16th floor with amazing views in every direction and soft breezes blowing in every window.

The beach here is extraordinary. It stretches for miles in both directions in one long, gentle curve. You can see all the way to Old San Juan to the west. This afternoon, stretched out in my beach chair, watching the various shapes and sizes strolling by or tanning, I found I was getting the rear view of a young woman in a bikini who should have looked in a rear-view mirror before putting on that particular number. Rolls upon rolls.

The neighborhood has lots of shops and restaurants and, of course, apartment buildings. I find the people here to be very sweet, gentle folk.

I'm catching up on my reading under a couple of palm trees. At my age, this is the life!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Warm is better than cold

I am spending the next three weeks in Isla Verde, Puerto Rico at the Water Club Hotel. Already the winter in Massachusetts smacks too much of Greenland. The tropical breezes on this white sandy beach, just steps from the front door of the hotel, lure me to recline in a beach chair with a good book and a crossword puzzle watching all the people wearing swim suits they should not be wearing. I am fairly modest in shorts, sandals, and a shirt, staying under some palm trees to avoid turning bright red. Not a lot of musical opportunities here, but I am storing up heat for my return in three weeks.

Keep cool up north!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Teacher! Teacher!

I had another wonderful afternoon's conversation with my friend whom we shall call 'The Other Voice Teacher'. It is amazing how many things we agree on! Imagine, two voice teachers agreeing on anything? She has had an even longer career as performer and teacher than I and we enjoy getting together and talking SINGING and SINGERS!

Today, one of the topics was the use of imagery in teaching voice. Both of us use it extensively in our own work. When a friend and student of mine was writing her doctoral dissertation some time ago, she chose the topic The Use of Imagery in Teaching Singing. She interviewed a number of singers and teachers on the subject, including my friend and myself, and came up with a wonderful study of this part of a singing teacher's arsenal.

I told my teacher-friend of a German mezzo-soprano who was singing the alto part in the St. Matthew Passion of Bach in a performance at which I was playing organ continuo and at which a student of mine was singing the soprano solos. This mezzo, in the first rehearsal, asked the conductor, 'Do you want this with or without emotion?' She managed to sing everything on the flat side of the pitch so I assume that she was singing 'without'. Maybe imagery would have helped her performance and her pitch. My student, who has perfect pitch, had a great time in the duet trying to tune to this unemotional tuning!

My doctoral student interviewed one singer, a tenor at the Met, who said he never used imagery; neither did his teacher. Both my friend and I agreed that singing , or teaching, without using imagery is a lot harder that singing and teaching with it. I think that singers who don't use imagery as a part of their technique must have a much more difficult time producing beautiful, free sounds. It must be boring just to sing the notes 'without emotion', which imagery surely inspires.

Olga Averino, with whom both of us had studied at various times, always said that she assumed that every singer wanted to make clear, free, beautiful sounds. Obviously, this doesn't always happen. If you are producing your voice simply from a physical to-do list, it is just not going to work as well as using your own set of images. Olga often said, 'If you think what you want to happen before you do it, it's very apt to happen'.

We also got on the subject of wobble-itis and decibel-itis, which seem to be popular parts of so many vocal techniques in today's operatic world. My friend and Mentor, Searle Wright, when wishing someone well before a concert always said: 'Sing Good! If you can't sing good, sing loud!!' Too many singers take only the last part of this to heart.

I remember asking my dear friend, the late, great dramatic soprano, Lucilla Udovich in Rome, why so many sopranos were wobbling these days. Lucille had a wonderful, sonorous voice without a sign of a wobble. You can hear her on the VCR of Turandot opposite Franco Correlli as proof. She replied, 'I guess they think that's what opera singers are supposed to sound like'. You can find out more about this wonderful singer whose career was shortened by back trouble, on Wikipedia. In the 80's she and I did concerts together in this country with her sitting down to sing. At that point she was not able to stand for any length of time. What a voice! She also did Master Classes for my students in New Jersey and at Harvard while she was in the USA.

This afternoon we went on to talk about body position- posture. My friend said when she saw a singer's chest push down when they were going for a high note, she knew it was going to be a catastrophe. You must keep your body in a line at all times. I brought up a famous diva whose beautiful voice turned sour because, in my humble opinion, of the tight-fitting gowns she insisted on wearing. There was just no place for the air to go. She was taking gasping, high breaths with heaving shoulders and chest. No-no!

We talked about how everyone's voice changes as one matures. The wise singer changes with it. Otherwise it will have disastrous consequences. She reminded me of the joint concert Maria Callas and Giuseppe di Stefano did years ago which ended both of their careers. It was hard to pick who sang worse. They both had had wonderful instruments, but they were at a point in their lives when they should have retooled. My friend told me that when she had sung with de Stefano in Vienna, he would often have to quit after the first act! Just pooped out. Not good!

I heard a tenor do this in a performance of Turandot that Sarah Caldwell put on at the Boston Opera House. Eva Marton was the Princess. In Act II, when she sang 'Straniero! and turned her face side to side to reach every corner of the hall, the first three rows of audience fainted from the gorgeous blast. I had never heard such a loud, and beautiful, voice. Unfortunately for the tenor, he tried to match her, decibel for decibel, a sort of operatic 'Anything you can sing, I can sing louder!' Well, he couldn't. And by 'Nessun dorma', he was whispereing. The love duet became a soprano solo with him gasping in the sidelines.

All in all it was a great afternoon. We're going to get together again when I return from Puerto Rico at which time she has offered to hear one of my students, who is preparing for a major audition, sing an aria that my friend premièred and is still the unquestioned definitive portrayer of that role.

On the way home I caught the last part of the Met's broadcast of La Traviata on my car radio. I was underwhelmed with the singing. As I told my friend, upon leaving, 'I'm getting to the point where I just don't like singers, just like Olga Averino!' At least not many at the Met these days.

Grumpy old man!!

Friday, January 14, 2011


Lady, Laddie, Benjy, Taffy, Toulouse II, Sissy (Hüpferl von Ferchensee), Benjy, Zumba, Casha.

These have been the dogs in my life. I miss them all. They just break your heart by dying before you do.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Fela, musician, composer, activist

I spent this afternoon at the Mahaiwe Theatre in Great Barrington at the invitation of my friends Ben and Susie. The Mahaiwe is a 1905 theatre that has been beautifully restored in every aspect except the heating. On this frigid January afternoon I had to put my outside coat back on at the intermission to keep my teeth from chattering.

The whole purpose of this trip was to see the live telecast from London of Fela, a musical theatre piece presented by the English National Theatre, which had been presented in New York City and around the world earlier. It is based on the tragic and frustrating life of Fela Anikulapo Kuti, who was a Nigerian multi-instrument musician and composer, pioneer of afrobeat music, human rights activist, and political maverick. (Wikipedia-source)

Born in 1938 into a family where his mother, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, was a feminist activist, and his father, Reverend Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti, was a protestant minister, he went to London to study medicine in 1958 but studied music instead at the Trinity College of Music. He later went to Ghana to find new musical direction and was the inventor of 'afrobeat'.

This play, directed and choreographed by Bill T. Jones, is a musical journey through his life as a musician and as an activist. Coming to the United States in 1969, he became influenced by the 'Black Panther Movement', which greatly influenced his views on life and on freedom.

This play with music begins before it begins, with a sort of 'Hello Symphony'. Actors and musicians are on stage in the gloom doing various things including speaking, singing quietly, and playing various instruments before the action actually begins.

Since there is no curtain for the stage, there is nothing to go up to signify the play is on. But the real action finally begins. The person portraying Fela, a lithe, muscular young man, played and sang the title role with incredible energy and stamina. I have never seen anyone sweat this much on stage since I witnessed Elliot Gould's Broadway début ( with his soon-to-be wife, Barbra Streisand in I can get it for you Wholesale) at which time sweat poured off him every time he moved. This is often called 'Flop-Sweat!. It is a danger to your co-actors. In this case, I don't think it was flop-sweat; simply the result of incredible physical and emotional energy being released. This part demands that the title character is on stage the entire time, singing, dancing, emoting, leaping about, all of which this man did wonderfully well. He must lose five pounds at every performance.

To me, the first act went on too long, in spite of the eleven Tonies it achieved on Broadway. The incessant 'afrobeat' music after a while becomes like the Japanese 'Water Torture Technique'. I would have confessed to almost anything to have it stop. A large cast of beautiful and talented dancers, who occasionally sing, surrounded the star. But he is the steel at the center of this production.

In the Interval, as the British would have it, nothing really stopped. Someone was playing the same five notes on a finger harp for about fifteen or twenty minutes. Whew! Thank you, John Adams. There nearly went my sanity. As you can tell, I have a short fuse when it comes to mindless repetition of the same few notes.

The second act was more emotionally connective for me, at any rate, and not as frenetic as the first act. The woman who sang the part of Fela's mother has an extraordinary voice and an unbelievable vocal range- (see Yma Sumac!) This act detailed the beatings and imprisonment that Fela endured as an activist (he attempted to run, unsuccessfully, for President of Nigeria) in his struggle for a free country. His mother was defenestrated and mortally injured during this period. The second act goes into a 'Dream' sequence in which his ghostly mother sings an unbelievably beautiful aria with about a four octave range!

All in all this was an energetic afternoon watching a musical idiom that is not exactly my cup of tea, but which, eventually, with the help of this amazing cast, drew me into the pathos of this story.

At the end, Bill T. Jones, bare from the waist up, lept onto the stage and proved that he can still do something besides choreograph. You should probably see this!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Let it Snow!!!

'The weather outside is frightful!' We had two feet of snow here at Rood Hill Farm last night. It was up to my knees! No problem! This morning not one, but three of my dear neighbors arrived to tunnel me out. One, with a huge tractor and enormous snow blower (it looked like what happens at Butternut Basin when they are making snow for skiing, except this was happening in my driveway!), one with a snow plow, and my young 'technical assistant for the computer' to dig out my snow-smothered car.

I guess they thought that I would perish in the snow storm high atop Rood Hill, like poor Baby Doe Tabor did up there in the Rockies all those years ago. (Listen to Douglas Moore's opera of the same name, based on a true story. For some reason, he was called 'Peaches' when I was getting my degree in the Music School at Columbia all those years ago. He was the head of the department at the time.)

Do I have great neighbors, or what!!??

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Gilded Stage

I am in the midst of reading a fascinating book entitled The Gilded Stage, A Social History of Opera by Daniel Snowman. This is a Christmas gift from one of my voice students and I simply love it!.

It traces the world of opera from Monteverdi and before to the present. I am at the moment entranced by the world of Beethoven and Napoléon. The author, as the title suggests, not only covers operas from various musical and historical eras, but comments on what was going on in the world socially and politically at the same time. Beethoven, whose hero was Napoléon at one point in his life, later denounced the Emperor and changed the symphony he was planning to dedicate to Bonaparte to the Eroica or Heroic Symphony. He also changed the dedication from Napoleon to Prince Lobkowicz.

Interestingly enough, the present Prince Lobkowicz (if they still have princes in the Czech Republic) is a former voice student of mine, William Lobkowicz. He studied voice with me at Harvard, has a beautiful baritone voice, and we did a number of concerts together. Will visited me in Sandisfield this summer with his lovely wife Sandra. They have lived in Prague for the past twenty years reclaiming and refurbishing a number of castles that were taken from the family in World War I, in World War II again, and yet again by the Russians during the Cold War. Will told me that they are currently constructing a large library to hold seven hundred years of Lobkowicz documents.

Beethoven also dedicated the Missa Solemnis and his fifth and sixth symphonies to the earlier Prince Lobkowicz, who was one of his greatest patrons. William is carrying on the family tradition of supporting music by presenting a number of concerts in the Lobkowicz Palace next to the Royal Palace in Prague.

It just tickles me how history can suddenly catch your breath! Bringing the past right into your living room.

William is doing a marvelous job pulling together the Lobkowicz collection which includes musical scores, priceless works of art, and many, many historical documents. Good work! Will! I hope that you are still singing!!