Ruminations on moving to Europe, Minimalism etc.

 

 

I’ve spent the last, say, three weeks selling all my stuff because I am moving to the other side of the world in a month’s time. I knew that downsizing was going to be a great time anyway because (like most people from the ages of 20-30) I had accrued way too much stuff thinking that I needed it. To no-one’s surprise it turns out I really didn’t.

The biggest offender for me was undoubtedly makeup. I mean, who can blame me? It’s awesome! There’s something almost pornographic in the act of applying lipstick (Tim Minchin – lipstick is for making your lips look more like the lips of a happy vagina, am I right?). It happened towards the end of last year when I purchased one of those holiday season gift set doobies from M.A.C. Cosmetics. I love the brand and the quality of those products – they perform very well on stage as well as in normal life – but I felt so physically sick after I had purchased them. I realised it had to stop there. I knew there was a Colourpop order of about 16 lipsticks coming to me soon as well. Way too much. Who the hell needs that much lipstick? I thought I did, but after a year of not buying makeup at all I realised that I really don’t.

So the first thing worth noting is that I have saved $1,289.00 in 2018 not buying makeup. Thats the cost of my one way ticket overseas. Incredible. The second thing worth noting is that I still have a total over supply of everything makeup related. I’m not going to need anything new any time soon. The only thing I purchased was cream concealer when I ran out. I damn well purchased two of them because they were half price, and then of course I got home and found both my Kryolan and my Ben Nye colour wheels… I mean really! This particular concealer can double as foundation though so that’s good. I’ll forgive myself that one mistake.

The next thing I observed in this purge was how much plastic I was wasting. Of course I recycle all of my containers when they’re used up, and am faithfully enjoying the ‘back to M.A.C.’ campaign, but so much of my makeup was recycled before I had finished it because I had opened it, swatched it, worn it a couple of times and then not continued to do so for whatever reason. It sat on my vanity and wasted away. Literally. Wasted. A crying shame, actually, when I think about it too hard. That’s me contributing to the plastic pollution problem by succumbing to capitalism and vanity. Sigh.

Needless to say I will not be letting myself get back to that state ever again. I’d say it will take about 3 years to get through all my stuff, as long as it doesn’t expire first.

I’d always thought I needed this much makeup because of the stage. WRONG. Probably to no-one’s surprise, I realised that once I found a look I liked I just recreated it every time. The act of putting on makeup before performing is something I enjoy enormously. It centres me and helps me to become zen. While focussing on my words etc I don’t have the brain space to also try a new look/ attempt that cut crease I’ve always wanted to. This lead me to creating a custom palette, which was such a spectacular move. It also started my minimalism journey – but I shall elaborate on that later.

So while in Florence this July, I wandered into a Wycon store. It’s. A brand of makeup which is very affordable, and I have thus far only come across it in Italy. I had time on my hands and I still love swatching red lipstick, even though I am not allowed to buy any. What I found there, though, was an empty palette that I could buy for €5. I grabbed it immediately, knowing this was the answer to many of my desires in terms of downsizing my makeup. (Does anyone else find that packing a face palette as well as an eye palette along with heels and what not is just way too much to face when you’re already going to an audition?) I had this beaten up, much loved Kat von D shade and light face contour palette which I LOVED, but had totally used up all of the lighter setting powders, and only used one pan of the contour shades, so why was I lugging around this A5 sized thing everywhere with me?

The Wycon palette changed my life. I de-potted my contour shade and chucked/ recycled the rest (mere scrapings left, don’t worry), and proceeded to de-pot my Limecrime Venus palette as well, my NARS ‘orgasm’ blush and a couple of single shadows I had from around the place. Placing all of that in the one palette and re designing the layout was one of the most satisfying things, and I felt so liberated afterwards. I will never, ever buy a palette again (unless I know I will use ABSOLUTELY EVERY SINGLE SHADOW IN THERE). The beauty of using the ‘build your own’ system is that when I run out of my any shade I can replace it with the same or similar without having to purchase an entire palette. I cannot begin to tell you how much joy this gives me – eternally surprising given how delighted and inspired I used to be with buying new makeup. If you want to get in on this idea the clear winner according to the YouTube beauty community is the ‘Z Palette’, but INGLOT also do one, and obviously Wycon too.

So now let me address part two, or perhaps the crux of this essay: Minimalism. I never, ever thought I would become this person, but I am rushing towards this lifestyle with every fibre of my being. Everything changed for me when I was in Europe for 2 months this year, living out of a suitcase (doing the opera singer thing, yo). I thought, initially, that it would be a really difficult time not having all my clothes and my STUFF with me, but it was the easiest thing ever. I took five lipsticks with me and I finished two while I was away. Recycling those containers felt like such an achievement! The only thing I missed was my laptop, but I managed to do all I needed with the iPad (but I had to pay for microsoft word for a couple of months and stuff – so will be avoiding that this time around).

When I moved house at the beginning of this year I had to downsize by two thirds – an enormous job. It literally took me weeks. I thought I would never recover. Did I miss my stuff? Not even a little bit. I couldn’t even tell you what I used to own and why I had it.

Never. Again.

I’m downsizing again at the moment because I’m moving to Germany soon, and I can’t take all my stuff with me, obviously. A friend of mine came to pick up some books from me the other day and he said “You have so much stuff! What are you going to do with all your stuff?!” And I realised he was absolutely on the money. So I have been donating and selling pretty much everything I own, or don’t think will be useful for me in the next three years or so. I had a pretty fab collection of second hand classics in my bookshelf, but someone else is going to now be able to buy them for $2 a pop at Vinnies, and enjoy their wonders. That is a fantastic thing. Likewise I am donating my musical instruments to the ‘Don’t Stop the Music’ project – so a child somewhere in this vast country will have a guitar to play on. That’s awesome. Absolutely awesome.

I’m keeping my Bärenreiter editions of the Mozart/Da Ponte operas, Zauberflöte, Trovatore, Traviata and Maria Stuarda because these are things I need to study, and I know I’ll sing all of these roles in my career (obviously waiting a couple more years for the Verdi, but we all knew that). Everything else is going to dear friends who I know will love and use them. This makes me incandescently happy.

Three boxes only will be going to storage. Three 52 litre containers, and that’s it.

The goal is to get all my stuff down to one large suitcase if I can manage it (might be hard given I invested in two couture dresses this year – no regrets, by the way). I’ll have to wear my ski jacket to the airport, but that’s gonna be ok. Totally worth it, I reckon.

My other goals are:

  • Gradually making my tax a paperless affair and entirely digital.
  • When I need (and only when I NEED) a new dress or piece of clothing I will make an effort to invest in something tailored beautifully which will last ages. Fast fashion and I have never really been friends, but I think I owe it to the planet I get to live on and make art on to do my part. I also owe it to myself to dress properly, you know?
  • Never buying things on a whim. Sometimes I think about how people during WWII couldn’t even have butter, and they managed fine. I think I’ll be right without mountains of stationary and lipstick, you know?

So this whole exercise has been more than worth it. It has been life changing, actually, and I am so thrilled to have done it. I feel much lighter as a human being and so excited to not have to think about all of my stuff everywhere. What a joy. Funny how this sort of sifting process totally frees up your creativity too… you’ll be interested to know that my practicing is much more focussed. Thank goodness.

Contact me if you would like some ideas on de-cluttering, but if you want something you can watch while you chop your vegetables just type ‘minimalism and decluttering’ into YouTube. There’s a plethora of interesting advice there.

 

Jess xx

Performance Anxiety

Performance Anxiety

 

Ahhh old mate Performance Anxiety… That little voice in the back of our heads that tells us we aren’t good enough…

I thought it was time to pen a little something on this topic, because I seem to be at a point in my career where performance anxiety doesn’t affect me as much as it used to. Suffice to say I am certain there will be moments to come in my life when anxiety rears its ugly head and becomes unbearable again, as these things come in waves, but perhaps future Jess will find some comfort in these ideas, so that’s something.

Anxiety has always manifested itself as an evil little voice in my head, telling me I am not good enough. Super helpful, right? As soon as I approach that top note or that long, melismatic phrase, the voice says “Oh yes, this is the bit you’re going to screw up cos you actually suck. Ok well have fun then bye.” Cool. Thanks anxiety. Thanks brain. Super grateful. ❤

I had a mentor at Uni by the name of Tessa Bremner, whose input on this particular subject I really appreciated. She used to talk about that little voice, and called it something along the lines of ‘the parrot on your shoulder’, which is obviously an awesome metaphor. Whenever I had a brain block and the anxiety took over (usually to the point of me not even physically being able to sing anymore) she would tell me to “knock the parrot off”, and keep going. At first, doing exactly that was impossible; but I kept at it and succeeded eventually.

So I found myself in a place where, if I yelled inwardly at myself, I would be able to perform. Marginally better, yes, but there was a long way to go.

So much of what we do depends on a positive self-image and self love. I started to realise that when I focussed on what I was doing well, I started improving much faster (instead of damning myself whenever I got something wrong). To this day the performance recap I do with myself usually goes a little something like this:

‘OK so that particular section needs some work, but you nailed this bit and I loved the following things about that performance blah blah blah’

This manner of thinking has helped me no end. When I approach a performance now, I don’t panic about it (as long I have done the work – and I ALWAYS do the work). There will eternally be that rush of adrenaline before you walk out onto the stage – but that of course comes under the umbrella of ‘good stress’, and we need that energy to get through our performance.

Positive self talk, and acknowledgement of how far we have come is an incredibly helpful thing. Find yourself a teacher/ mentor who will encourage you positively, but know that it’s pretty much exclusively up to you to talk yourself up in a positive way. Know that you have something special and you have stories to tell. Keep going. Be kind to yourself.

It’s so hard to do, but practise (haha) and it will get easier. You will reap the rewards and see yourself improve much more. Go you good thing! I believe in you!

Auditioning for Schools in the UK

Blog Post.

The fist one.

Ever.

It’s a bit exciting.

Having travelled recently I thought it might be worth recording my experience for all the other young opera singers trying to break through the good old glass ceiling and get some exposure in that Mecca of Opportunity: the Northern Hemisphere.

Now let me get to the question you’re all thinking: How much will it cost? Will I be broke forever if I go? Are there special cooties overseas that I need to worry about? Well there are many different things to consider when going on this trip – here’s a breakdown for ya:

Part One: Of Budgets and Suchlike

  1. Return plane ticket: $2,500
  2. Cost of auditions at the Colleges and Schools: $1,100
  3. Accommodation: $2,000
  4. Extra travel: $1,000
  5. Singing lessons $1,000
  6. Amenities: $700
  7. Contingency: $2,000

So the total comes to a bit over $10,000. Ahhhh the exchange rate. Such fun.

Now, let me mention a disclaimer; I am the luckiest person alive and managed to stay with family and friends (therefore not paying rent) for the entire two month period I was away. So that was pretty fantastic, not gonna lie.

As to those of you who do not have this spectacular luxury, do not despair! There were several other Aussie song birds in the motherland while I was there as well and the general consensus was that staying in an Air B’n’B was the best thing. You can make your own food and practice etc. Staying in a hotel and eating out all the time gets very boring very quickly, and staying in a noisy hostel with backpackers is going to suck when you think about all the sleep and focus you need to audition well.

Next disclaimer; As to auditions, I could have done the bulk of them in one month. I was overseas for the extra month to have a wee sabbatical and meet many of my extended family. This extra month was made all the more worth it because I was invited to audition for the Opéra National du Paris Young Artist Program. Which brings me to the next part of the blog: The actual auditions.

Part Two: The Auditions Themselves

While overseas I auditioned for five post-graduate programs: The Royal Northern College of Music (Manchester), Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama (Cardiff), Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Royal College of Music and The Royal Academy of Music (London). The experiences at each of these places were varied. Some were extremely positive, and others were not. As they are all musical institutions (and therefore extremely necessary for humanity) I will not elaborate on which were good and which were bad out here on the internet… so buy me a drink and I’ll tell you in person if you really want to know!

Some of the auditions were held in a small room with a two person panel, and some were held on a stage with a three – to – five person panel. Most of the auditions in the CUKAS system are in two parts. You go in and sing an aria or two and have a chatette with the panel, and then they ask you back for round two if they like you. Yours truly had a mixed bag with all of them, and two offers by the end of the tour. Sensational.

The audition at the Opéra National du Paris was the first of it’s kind I had ever experienced. Never have I been so privileged as to be able to audition for a contracted position. I waited behind the stage and then was introduced to the panel, went on, sang my aria… and that was that, really. It is my understanding that panels at this level always have a poker face – so prepare yourselves for that inevitability and don’t be thrown off your game because of it.

Part Three: CUKAS

Ah CUKAS…. So much of my life was spent on that online world of enrolment. Seriously, set aside about a month to get it sorted. You’ll need at least that long.

  1. You have to write a personal statement and list a whole lot of references as well (one academic and one character FOR EVERY APPLICATION).
  2. The cost of each audition ranges from £40-£100 With the exchange rate I ended up paying about $1000 AUD for all mine.
  3. (At time of writing) The CUKAS website is absolutely terrible to navigate. Possibly the worst and most confusing university website I have ever come across. Thankfully they have extremely helpful chat/online help… which almost makes up for the site.

Part Four: Practical Audition Stuff

  1. A few truths; you will ALWAYS WITHOUT FAIL wakeup with razorblades in your throat and a big pimple on your face the day of the audition. That said; neither of these things will impact your ability to perform, if you’ve done the work. So go out there AND BE AWESOME COS YOU ARE.
  2. Arrive early. I cannot emphasise this enough. If your audition advice letter asks you to arrive 30 mins before your audition, make sure you are there 40 mins before your audition. If you’re travelling around London, the tube is awesome but there is a lot of ground to cover. Also, the District and Circle lines are VERY slow so leave plenty of time to get where you need to go! You also have no reception on the tube as you are underground, so you can’t generally call someone to say you’re running late.
  3. The metro in Paris is pretty fantastic. I found it very easy to get around while I was there. Yay Paris!
  4. Take your time with your makeup. Steady hands make for even wings and blending skills. Slow breaths people, slow breaths.
  5. Remember that the result of the audition has very little to do with you. Get in there and tell a story – that is the best you can do. Then buy yourself a beer or an icecream. You did good : – )
  6. If you don’t get selected for the audition, send an email asking for feedback. Panels are usually happy to give you something constructive if they have the time.

Part Five: Useful Tidbits

  1. I took a QANTAS cash card over with me, which was AWESOME. You can load AUD, pounds, Euro and other currencies onto it. You can also withdraw cash in the local currency (even if you only have AUD on your card – the exchange rate is automatically calculated… ah the joys of modern technology) from ATMs with this card. It made the money side of things very easy, especially as I had a pay cycle from my normal job come through after I had left.
  2. I purchased a British sim card when I arrived in London from Three. It cost £40 for the month and came with UNLIMITED DATA. This meant that I could call whomever I so pleased on Facebook/Viber/Facetime/any other data based app, and it didn’t cost me anything extra. I mean, COME ON.
  3. If you’re seeing coaches while away, take cash to them. The going rate in London is £60 – £80 for a session.
  4. Banlangen Granules are the best immunity boosting thing ever. It’s worth buying some from an Asian apothecary (I got mine at the one in Haymarket, Sydney). The advice I was given by some wonderful mentors was that it was likely I would fall ill while there (especially after the flight and drastic change of season), and would be extra susceptible to the germs, as they would be foreign. I didn’t get sick while there, and I had a Banlangen tea every day. Coincidence? I don’t know… and I never will.