II first heard this song 8 years ago. I was going through YouTube watching videos of my favorite singer, Josh Young. When I saw a Video that was titled âJosh Young Sings Amazing Graceâ I was expecting a hymn, but instead I found that I was watching a promo video for a new Broadway musical: Amazing Grace. Josh Young, who was cast as the lead of the show, spoke a little bit about what it was about and we got to hear snippets of 2 songs from the show, Nothing There to love being the one that hooked me.
Happy #MusicalTheaterMonday! This week I sang Mother’s act 2 solo from Ragtime. I saw Ragtime for the first time a couple of weeks ago and I think everyone needs to see it. I have NOT been able to forget about it since I saw it. It is one of my best friends’ favorite musical and so we used the opportunity as an excuse for her to come and visit. We saw the show together on opening night, and this was a piedmont opera production so there were three chances to see it and I had to go back closing night and see it one more time. The story itself is compelling and devastating and mind opening, but I think for me also knowing a lot of the people on stage just made it even more impactful.
For me, the biggest thing I walked away with is a more tangible understanding that we are all the same, and our differences come from our surrounding environment and experiences. It was incredible. Everytime I get the chance to go and see a show (versus being in one) I am reminded of the power we as artists have. We have the power to open minds and hearts and change people. I fully believe that-probably because I have been changed by art.
I have recently started what I hope will be a series on Instagram: #musicaltheatermonday and because instagram is not the place to write out a lovely deep dive into my personal connection with a song; I brought my keyboard over here-this blog was literally made for that. (Thank you Eric, for pointing that out)
I started Musical Theater Mondays off with “Only Love” From Frank Wildhorn and Nan Knighton’s The Scarlet Pimpernel I found this show a couple of years ago a when I was looking for a musical theater song written after 1968 that my classical singing throat could do justice. I ended up going through a list on Wikipedia by year of when shows were written and I remembered loving Jekyll and Hyde, as well as Bonnie and Clyde which were both written by Frank Wildhorn…So I saw The scarlet pimpernel which was written in 1997 by Frank Wildhorn and listened to some of the songs and I knew as soon as I heard “When I Look at You” I had found my piece. I considered “Only Love” too but it didn’t fit quite as well for the competition I was applying to. As I was preparing for the competition I was doing my research and it didn’t take long for my inner dork to get distracted and jump down the rabbit hole-I could not get enough of this musical, of this story in general! That is a topic for a different post, but I now consider The Scarlet Pimpernel as part of my top 3 favorite stories, right up there with Tristan and Isolde, and John Newton.
I would love to play this role one day. I think the story has SO much to make us think about and to teach us and so until then I will just sing you all bits and pieces of this wonderful score and these beautiful words.
The buttons below will take you to videos of me singing these 2 songs! :)
Normally I would NOT start with this opera, I would wait until I hooked you with operas that are more conventionally accessible. HOWEVER The Met is doing daily Free Streams of Operas because of COVID-19 and tonight they are streaming My all-time favorite opera: Richard Wagner's Tristan und Isolde! Click HERE to go to the stream! (it is only available until MARCH 24, 2020 at 6:30 pm EST)
Wagner's operas tend to be a little complicated and sometimes hard to follow. I think this one is actually one of his more accessible ones in terms of plot. So its up to you on How you want to read the full synopsis. This one is fine to read the whole thing before you watch, you won't lose anything by knowing what happens, or you can watch the opera and read after you finish each act, or read the whole thing after you watch, or not at all!
She keeps his true identity concealed and sends him back to England so that she never has to face that gaze again. After she relates this all to her servant she confesses that she loves the English Knight, and anguishes that he does not return her love and has repaid her kindness with mockery. Unknown to her, the knight does return her feelings, and has won her for his uncle because it will make her queen which is a much deeper thanks, he believes. Unaware of this she resolves to kill herself and the knight with the death potion her mother has sent among others. She orders her servant to prepare the potion and summons Tristan by refusing to leave the boat until he comes and atones for his wrongs against her. Brangäne is too fearful to prepare the death potion instead. Once they drink the potion, there is no going back. But it is too late and once they land they can no longer belong to each other as Isolde is married immediately.
And I will leave you with my favorite Isolde, Swedish Soprano Birgit Nilsson, Singing the Liebestod. This is the video I show anyone who gets caught up in me dork-ing out over Tristan und Isolde. (This is probably my favorite aria ever)
I love opera. I love it so much that I believe everyone can love opera, they just have to discover what the opera world has in it that they love!
Because I feel so strongly about everyone's capacity to love opera I am starting a new blog series: The Dorkie Diva's Opera Guide. I will be posting about different operas sharing basic info, a teaser blurb, a full synopsis (watch out for spoiler warnings!) a "Bonnie's Blurb," links to videos and other materials you might find helpful, and depending on the opera, more! all in the hopes that something will pique your interest!
I hope you find an opera you love!
I feel like my world is being flipped upside down this is not necessarily a “bad” thing, actually I think it is a good thing. I think I have been and will be challenged in ways that are preparing me for something exciting. However I don’t think my world has ever been quite this shaken up before so there is a lot of processing happening over here with me.
Let’s start at the beginning. I started my final year of my bachelor’s degree this past August and my next step was very clear: I was going to go to graduate school and get my masters in vocal performance…duh. So I applied to 5 schools…I was only offered 2 auditions and after hearing my auditions the schools decided I wasn’t a good fit. So I am 0 for 5. THAT WAS NOT PART OF THE PLAN.
I'm thinking that I might abandon the whole “plan” thing, because it’s not practical and it really only stresses me out because nothing ever happens according to the plan. I'm thinking about adopting more of a “project” mindset. So, the next big project is duhh duh duh duhhh: Project Gap Year! I don’t know exactly what this project will look like, but I do know that it will encompass a few smaller projects, and that it will be what I choose to make it.
I want everyone to know that, even as I got “no” after “no” I never once thought that not getting into grad school means that I am not good enough to be a singer, or that this was the end of something. I love this too much to give up that easily and I am really excited to see what I think about this time in my life 10 years down the road.
Thank you for all of your support and keep an eye out for some upcoming projects :)
I just got back from participating in my first ever summer intensive, and I cannot believe the experiences and the things that I learned in three weeks! I don’t even really know how to begin to share everything! I think I'll just start at the beginning...
Then Monday I started rehearsing for my scene which was the opening of Beethoven’s Fidelio (Side note: Those of you who have visited my blog before or who know me, know how much I ADORE Beethoven, if you don’t you have to understand how over the moon I was when I got the casting email saying I was singing Marzelline in Fidelio, it was a fabulous moment!) That week was my toughest week because that was my big performance, and it was a big scene for everyone involved. but it was worth all of the stress and I am so proud of how it turned out! I am so grateful for the people who I got the chance to sing that piece with. I learned so much from them and they helped me through the more stressful moments, they made that scene even more special.
During this second week we also had a guest, Peter Randsman, and once again I was totally encouraged and inspired by everything he said and the way he talked about Opera. Mr. Randsman, if you happen upon this, Thank you!!!
There were so many fabulous new people I got to meet and get to know and learn from but there were also many people who I had worked with before but who I got to know and grow with and be inspired by. Michael Redding was one of those people. Having a lesson with him and unlocking some super cool breath things and just talking with someone who I admire so much was something I needed; and again God put him there right where he knew we both would be! Then of course there were all my pickle pals who I am so thrilled that they were there to share this experience with me.
I am so grateful for the #OPERAtunities that the Vocal Arts Festival at The Opera Theater of the Rockies gave to me and for the people that I meet and grew closer to through this program. I will never forget the people I met or the experience of this past summer!
I tried to write this a couple nights ago, but I couldn't quite get it out. God never ceases to amaze me. He has put me right where I am supposed to be. I love going to school here in Winston, for so many reasons. One of the big ones is that I have an amazing opera company in my backyard...quite literally. Every time I have seen a Piedmont Opera production it has affected me in such a special way. and I finally got the opportunity to be a part of a production. My first professional opera gig!
The Pirates of Penzance, is not what one might call a profound show, but being a part of this production was a profound experience for me. I Loved every single second of this entire process. More importantly, however, I loved working with the amazing people that were involved with this production. I loved learning from these incredible artists, and being so incredibly inspired by them.
To everyone who was a part of this production: I hope you all know that you each have a very special place in my heart. I hope you all know how much love I have for you and how much I respect I have for you. I am so grateful God put you in my life! I am completely overwhelmed with Love and gratitude. I just wanted to try to tell you all how amazing the past couple months have been, getting to know, and work with you. you have all reminded me of the sheer joy that should come from doing this very special thing we get to do. I will never, ever forget this adventure and I will never forget you! you are all in my prayers!
Dear Beethoven, November 10, 2017
My name is Bonnie Blackwell and I am a 20 year old soprano studying music at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. You have been the subject of my History of Musical Styles class for the past 2 two weeks, and this past Tuesday we read your Heiligenstadt Testament, while we were reading that I wholly understood everything you felt.
I know what it feels like to not be able to hear the person sitting right next to you; I know how it feels to have someone look at you funny when you’ve asked them to repeat themselves for the fourth time; I know what it feels like to have someone just give up on you because you can’t hear what they are saying. I know your pain, but then again I do not.
You have also been an inspiration to me because I am deaf in my left ear, and If you can do what you did while going completely deaf then certainly being only half deaf couldn’t stop me from being a musician. Something that I didn’t realize about you is that you went deaf during your career. I always thought you were deaf since you were a child, like me.
I do not remember what it was like to hear out of both ears. I did not know that I was missing an entire world of sound. I was completely unaware that when I listened to music I was missing at least half of what I was supposed to. Recently, very recently actually, I received a Bone Anchored Hearing Aid (BAHA). This is a hearing device that is attached to a little snap that my Dr. attached to my skull. There is a little electronic device that acts as my eardrum and transmits the vibrations to my cochlea and enables me to hear. I don’t know if they knew about the in’s and out’s of the ear during your time, but hopefully you know what I mean.
I can hear now, and I can now imagine how you felt losing the sense that is so essential as a musician. I’m so sorry. Whenever I think about you going through that my heart breaks for you. I wish you were here now because you wouldn’t have had to go through that. You would be able to experience again that joy you spoke of in your testament. And I could give you a hug. That’s what I really want to do.
When I got my BAHA one of the first experiences I had where I noticed a difference in sound was when I was listening to one of my friends play your “Pathetique” Sonata. I knew something was different, but I didn’t know what specifically caused the change. I did notice that I could hear every color, every tone and every harmony that he would gush about. Once I finally realized that my understanding of the music came from my being able to hear it I was ECSTATIC! I was so full of joy and the joy hasn’t left, and I don’t think it ever will.
I’ve always loved your music, and knowing more about you and your life only makes me love it more. Herr Beethoven, I don’t think your music would be your music had you not gone through everything you did. Including the loss of your hearing. Isn’t that just wild to think about? The thing that you thought was your down fall turned out to be the thing that made you, and your music, what you and it, are!
I am a musician, and as I mentioned before I am a soprano. Two things that I have always wanted to sing are the solo in your ninth symphony, as well as the role of “Leonora.” One day I will sing both of these and I will be able to represent you to the listeners because I think we more alike than anyone else you will get the chance to sing your music. Also I will do your music justice because my hearing has affected my singing more than I ever thought it would. My intonation has gotten more accurate as well as just my overall musicianship.
I wish you had gotten the opportunity to experience the gift that I have been given, but you didn’t need it. You still changed the course of music history. You still inspire countless musicians, and you have inspired me profoundly. I just want you to know that you are not alone, and at the very least I understand all of the pain you felt when loosing your hearing. \
Instead of giving you a tangible hug I will give you a musical one every time I sing one of your compositions. I will do everything I can to give a performance that you would be proud of every time I sing your music.
The girl who wants to give you a hug,
If you know me personally, chances are I have told you to “Switch me sides!” If you don't know me personally, you probably have no idea what I'm talking about. Let me explain: I'm deaf in my left ear, so if you and I are walking along, talking about something or another and you end up on my left side I will say, "switch me side!," and Then I'll disappear behind you so that you end up on my right side, and I will actually be able to hear what you're saying!
It has been this way for as long as I can remember, but I wasn't born deaf. I got my tonsils taken out when I was 6 years old. When the doctor took my tonsils out he also out tubes in my ears. I think this was due to my chronic ear infections I got as a kid. After a while the tubes are supposed to fall out, key word being "supposed," The tube my left ear did not just fall out, instead it had to be taken out, and in it's place the Dr. found a hole.
The silver lining of this hole thing (lol pun intended) is that it lead the Dr. to what was really wrong with my ear which was that it was sick. So the Dr. went in and took out the sick part, and in doing so had to also remove 2 out of the 3 little bones in my ear drum. So at this point my ear drum is pretty much non-functioning. The Dr. tried to patch the hole and put prosthetic bones in my ear drum, but the patch didn't stick and the prosthetic fell. So they tried to just patch the hole, they did this three more times. When they did this they sliced open the back of my ear them folded it back so they had access to my inner ear. (low key making myself cringe right now) then they did their fixing. well after the fourth attempt the Dr. said to wait a few years and then we would revisit the issue.
I waited more than a few years to revisit the issue. My family moved from Ohio to North Carolina and it just kept getting put on the back burner, mainly because, It didn't really affect my life, and if I'm being honest I was a little afraid that if I got my ear fixed it would effect how I sang. Well about 2 years ago, My voice teacher told me to go have my ear looked at, and so last year I finally did! I went to the Dr. and he looked at my ear and we had a conversation about what my ear's future would be. and I told him that my understanding of the situation is that my ear was "fixable" meaning I thought they could make it to where my ear would be able to hear "Normally." The Dr. then told me that me hearing "Normally" was never a possibility, He said the other Dr. should have listened to what my body was saying by rejecting the patch so many times. Dr. May then told me that the other Dr. did not completely get rid of the sick part of my ear.
So essentially my ear has been sick for most of its life. Now, I know why my ear liked to drain out nastiness! it was still sick! So Dr. May told me that even though he couldn't "fix" my ear he had another plan. His plan was to go in and scrape out all the air cells, where the disease lived:
Then he wanted to seal my ear canal from both sides, this would mean my ear would no longer drain, I would never get another ear infection in my left ear, and I could swim, and actually enjoy it, did I mention no more stinky nasty drainage?!? Dr. May's priority was getting my hear healthy., and that he did!
I got the surgery done on January 4, 2017. and it was the easiest one yet! and once everything was healed. I got my abutment for my BAHA. That was an interesting experience. The abutment is the little metal snap that is screwed into your skull that the sound processor is snapped onto. When I had the procedure I wasn't put under, at all. They gave me numbing shot in my head, which hurt really bad, Then He sliced a flap and drilled the thing into my skull. I could feel everything but it didn't hurt. It was really scary until I knew what it felt like, but once I did, it wasn't so bad.
So on Tuesday (Aug. 1, 2017) I finally get my sound processor. and I am so excited. I have been waiting for so long, and I can't wait to see how this will effect me and my journey and especially how it will impact my musical journey.
I've been asked how being half-deaf has effected my musical ability and vocal ability and to be quite honest I think there has been very little musical ability, if only because I know nothing else. When it comes to how it has impacted me vocally I think it has had a positive impact. Singers focus on how things feel, and my left side is more aware of feelings because it can't rely on hearing. So I think that has been beneficial. and really Its all I know, and I think I've done pretty okay so far.
So, Look out for another blog soon, one that will be filled with all the little exciting things I discover with my new found hearing! I am so excited! I am also so grateful for Dr. May!
Until the next time
The Dorkie Diva
I don't remember exactly when I came up with this, but I think it is so fitting! I really am truly one of the biggest dorks in the world, especially when it comes to Opera and Music and I hope you can see some of that here on my blog! I also hope Then there is the other half which is my diva side, she is only allowed to show herself in my style, and on stage!