Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A Spotty Blog Interview: Meet Amanda Silliker!

Introduction: Amanda Silliker is a woman with an incredible voice. Mezzo, Opera Singer, teacher, she is a person who digs deep in order to bring solid performances to life, as the interview below reveals.

I am honored to know her.

Back in college days when the rest of us were hanging out drinking coffee and otherwise dodging study time, I remember she was always at a rehearsal or practice of some sort. I admire the depth of her focus and the joy she brings to everything.

She's got a fan page here.


Q) How do you prepare for a performance?

A) Oy vey. Do you mean the leg work learning a piece, or the actual day of/day before ritual? Learning a piece is a process - if the piece is in a foreign language, the very first step is translation. I'm *supposed* to memorize the text before learning the music, but I never do...the memorizations come together. I will often find several different tanslations of a text online and compare/contrast them to find where they agree and (more interestingly) disagree. When I find inconsistencies I either go to someone who is fluent or fine the word in a dictionary to try and determine why that inconsistency arose. I then write the text into my music, a literal word for word - no article is left untranslated or implied!

I learn the music by playing it, listening to it, thinking through it, and singing it. I do memorize the text separate from the music so I can deliver it as a monologue, but I do that concurrently with learning the melody. When I have a larger work that I am preparing I make a CD and play it in my car - resisting the urge to sing along as long as I can! Just very intently listening to the intricacies of the ensemble and direction of the line.

I doubt you want a description of the vocal practice...its tedious. As for "game-day ritual"? I used to clear my schedule of students, but now I only clear for the "big ones" (meaning concerts of great focus or import. Yet another Messiah does not warrant loss of teaching income!). I sleep in. I eat healthy, fluid rich foods (fruit! watermelon and grapes are a favorite!). I push water. I stretch my body and my voice. I shower without wetting my hair, luxuriating in the steam. I put in my contacts immediately following the shower, then the eyelashes. I let the glue dry while I do other normal things - laundry, dishes, whatever.

Whether hair or make-up is next is a toss up - it depends on Melissa's schedule since she does my hair 90% of the time! Sometimes I'll even save the makeup for the at the theater. I get to the theater, walk on the stage a little bit. Stretch some more. Focus. Hermit in the dressing room.

Q) How do you recover from performances?

A) A beer. Sleep in. Who am I kidding? I sleep in every day! LOL

Q) What would you consider the most challenging piece of music you've performed?

A) The Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde - it's outside my fach and took an enormous amount of time, energy, and focus to stretch my voice into it and develop the breath management. Not to mention the intricacies of the music itself. And really absorbing the poetry - my god, the POETRY. Nothing gets me closer to words than studying them for hours on end. And ALWAYS finding something new. Wagner may have been an asshole, but he was also a genius. Seriously.

When I first hear a Wagner piece, I am bored by it - the music kind of washes past me and I can't grasp anything. There's nothing to hum, nothing to tap my foot too, no immediate musical humor that makes me smile. Learning it I feel like I'm struggling - it's like giving birth. I labor, and grunt and moan, rend my garments in frustration at the sheer exertion. And then once it's learned? There's nothing better. It no longer washes past me, but washes over me, engulfing me. I become wrapped up in it, and it takes me places I didn't know could exist.

Q) What has been one of your favorite performances?

A) Probably the Verdi Requiem in 2010 (also with Penn State). I got to sing with people who have regularly performed all over the world (including the Met) and realized I can hang with the big dogs. I also had my theory confirmed that the "higher" you move through the echelons of singers, the more _real_ and genuine we/they are. People I'll sit on a couch with my feet tucked up under me, eating pizza and beer while telling jokes. I also loved the pomp and circumstance around the Verdi - my gown. Oh the gown! I LOVE that part of my job.

Q) As a teacher, what do you find the most gratifying?

A) There are so many things!!! Watching a student catch an "a-ha!" moment, watching them discover their "woman/man" voice (as opposed to the child voice they had been using), being able to explain some complicated concept that has been troubling them in a way they truly understand and seeing the relief, introducing them to the poetry of Verlaine, Roethke, Goethe - and helping them find how incredible it is, and how music helps interpret and augments those thoughts. What I do find most gratifying? Being able to nurture.

Q) What are some of the challenges of touring? What do you gain from the experience?

A) I don't tour...I will dip out of town for a weekend here or there for a performance, but that's different. The Germany trip was a different beast altogether - is that what you are referring to?

Me) Yes. I was really intrigued by the experience described here of the health care system. 

Q) Do you remember what first sparked your love for opera?

A) I never had a spark - there was no "falling in love". Don't get me wrong, I do love it, but it was an acquired love that slowly happened over time. I can't pinpoint "Then. That was the moment," because there was none. I fell into it because it was what my voice did. Familiarity bred the love. And, to be frank, I love performing it infinitely more than I love watching it. Have you ever had a friend, who became your best friend, and then at some point you realized you were in love? It was that.

Q) What advice would you give to someone interested in the same career path?

A) Take more dancing and acting classes than I did! Find someone you trust to work with. Stretch yourself, but find where you feel at home, and trust that feeling. Try new things, give up your inhibtions - you might find a new home. Love what you do, because if you don't, you won't do the work. Be genuine.

Q) Are there any special tricks you have for working around a cold?

A) NEEM. I haven't had a cold in longer than I can remember (*knock on wood and chew a neem leaf*!). That being said, hydrate hydrate hydrate. Ibuprofen. Steam. Salt water gargles. REST.

Q) Is there a particular piece of music that you have yet to perform that you would love the opportunity to do?

A) Since I program my own set lists for recitals, I get to do much of what I want! But there a couple roles that I can't extract their arias and I would ADORE having the opportunity to perform them - Principessa from Suor Angelica (Puccini) and Amneris from Aida (Verdi).

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