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December 4, 2012

Family and Opera

It is 10.30 in the morning and my adorable terminator and princess have just left the building. I am sure that most of my neighbors are thankful that they are now spared the constant rustle and bustle a 6  and an 8 year old inevitably bring with them. On the other hand here I am, missing them terribly already which brings to the fore the, arguably, only really serious problem that one has to live with in order to have an international operatic career; long periods away from loved ones. I mean, really? How can you not miss someone who tells you that you are still a great, graceful skater despite the fact that your skating prowess is not unlike a drunken bull in a china shop?

I think few established opera singers would argue that there is anything more difficult than being away from one’s family and friends. Skype and long weekend trips make it easier but the latter still doesn’t really replace the beautiful everyday moments like picking up your kids from school or tucking them into bed. I have flown to Malta at crazy times, sometimes immediately after concerts, just to be able to pick my children from school the next day.

This is one of the reasons I take a sabbatical off singing professionally a couple of months a year and it is also why you might see me, very early, checking in for a flight sporting a face that should really be still resting on the pillow.

In the end the most beautiful sounds I have heard to date are the spoken words “papa.” Of course the phrase “you are the best dad in the world” comes in at a very close second….

Comments

  1. Lovely heartfelt description of – as you say – the most difficult part of the job.
    When I started gathering interviews for my book about tenors, it was pre-skype days. And for some of the guys in the late 1990s, they were just starting to carry laptops with them. I heard lots of stories of calling home every day to stay involved that way… flying home in the middle of rehearsals or between performances (to the dismay of opera company management) for a quick visit… and some who lost the connections forever.
    Thanks for this description of a part of your world – and bravo for scheduling the annual vacation for yourself.
    ciao,

  2. Bente Smidt

    I really understand that it may be difficeult. I’ve often thought about it regarding other singers, especially my favourite soprano Kiri Te Kanawa, whom i’ve followed for decades now. You spend so long periods of being away from home. We must all be very grateful to you that you’re dedicating so much time and energy to your singing.
    I’ve just received the CDs with the greatest tenors of the world. I love it, and recommend it to all my friends. Thank you!

  3. Rosa

    Te admiro como cantante y mucho mas como persona, por tu gran humanidad.
    Tengo un hijo que es Director General tiene dos hijos de la edad de los tuyos y solo les ve los fines de semana.

    Gracias por compartir tus sentimientos con nosotros.
    Estoy deseando de verte en el Baluarte el 14 de enero

  4. I always feel rather sorry for singers when they mention being away from their families for long periods of time. I’ve read articles with other tenors who mention just bawling with homesickness, and it makes me want to give all you wonderful musicians a hug and all my gratitude for sharing your wonderful music with us. It was nice that your kids got to join you and help you with your ice skating. Hope you get to be with them again soon!

    • admin

      there are way worse things in life and we are so privileged to get to do what we love for a living. thanks for your feedback!

  5. Christine

    What lovely heart- warming comments! Really enjoyed reading. Keep this up and God bless you and your two special bundles of joy.

  6. Joanne

    Joseph…. I can understand perfectly how you feel…..God Bless You and Keep you strong. You have a beautiful family …. treasure every moment you can.
    Shame on us who just come and listen to a performance and most of the time do not appreciate or realize what huge sacrifices you Singers have to do.
    Keep Up the Good Work….:-)

  7. Vincent

    Joseph,
    You have such a wonderful gift and what a great joy it must be for you to share it with the world of music. Your many fans realize the sacrifices that you make to share your voice with them. You are one of the greats!! Thank you for your gift!!

  8. Anne Boardman

    Joseph -

    I have always admired the effort you put forth to spend time with your children. And as they grow older, you’ll need to work even harder but the rewards are certainly there. My husband and I have worked very hard to maintain solid relationships with both our children and actually to parent them (this seems somewhat rare in this day and age.) It hasn’t been easy at times and we didn’t have careers that take us all over the world like you do. However, now that my youngest is 31 (Vicki) and my oldest is 33 (Billy), we can truly say that we have participated in the formation of two fine adults that we can also call our friends.

    All the best.
    Anne

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Joseph's Blog

July 11th, 2014

10 tips to overcome vocal fatigue

The end of my operatic season is night and pretty much invariably, year after year, its when I feel most tired and in dire need of my annual summer break. Singing the last few performances culminating with my Malta yearly summer concert can be a challenge – especially when I have to tackle a total of around 19 arias/songs!
Thankfully there is stuff that works for a tired physique and voice. Here is what works for me -

1. Move! Working out, swimming and even a long brisk walk will do wonders for your circulatory system. Don’t do this on the day of the performance but definitely in between.

2. Silence. If you are singing a lot than it is imperative that you keep mum during other hours and only talk if its absolutely necessary. Limit phone conversations too as much as possible.

3. Diet – 3 main meals a day are a must. Avoid foods high in lactose and sugar and go instead for protein, veg and loads of fresh fruit. Keeping your blood sugar relatively constant is important and regular, healthy meals will lessen the likelihood of acid reflux. Its also important not to eat late in the evening. I try to avoid eating after 6pm whenever possible.

4. Steam inhalations – Get a big pot or steam inhalator, throw in some bicarbonate of soda and sea salt and just inhale the healing/relieving vapours! This is really beneficial to basically all your upper respiratory tract and will dislodge mucus and other impurities from your throat.

5. Nasal irrigation – Not the nicest “procedure” but it does remove all kinds of “junk” from your nose. Make sure you always rinse with saline water and there are prepared sachets you can get from virtually any pharmacy.

6. Sleep – Its boring but a good 8 hour sleep is unbeatable to get the voice back in shape. Acid reflux sufferers will also find relief by tilting their head upwards by using two pillows to avoid nasty acid creeping up their throat during their slumber.

7. Stress – or the lack of it. Absolutely avoid stressful situations which may include noisy places/bars. Your throat tenses up automatically even if you don’t speak apart from the fact that you can “tire” your ears out. There have been some studies that our “ears” tire out too so the avoidance of high decibel places is a must!

8. Vibrator – Yep that one. Apparently tests have shown that massaging your throat with a vibrator is beneficial to the surrounding neck muscles. Apparently there are some therapists that employ such “devices” already…

9. Humidity – A constant dry environment can spell disaster for your voice and general well being. If you are in a cold climate and the heating is at full blast, chances are that the relative humidity is low. Invest in a humidifier and let them rip! We all have slightly different comfort levels. For me what works best is around 55 to 65% – just like a good cigar!

10. Arguments – Whether of a business or personal nature do walk away from these when you are singing. Even if talking is not involved the mere thought or presence of something negative will automatically tense your neck muscles and raise the incidence of acid reflux!

 

If everything of the above fails than you need a vacation! Choose a high humid climate with beautiful, clear seas at hand. Swimming in the ocean/sea is truly beneficial for the voice as long as one avoids the worse hours of the sun.