Gosh. Where’d I leave off?

Oh yes. Sunday.

It is so glorious to get to sing with that room full of people. I guess you couldn’t see, but there were trillions of them in the Ballroom for the afternoon gymanfa session. I have no idea how many there actually were. A lot. You can hear them—aren’t they gorgeous?

I haven’t sung The Holy City in years—at least a whole year!—but deciding to perform it with Alan wingin’ the accompaniment felt like the most natural thing in the world. As if my last performance of The Holy City at a North American Festival of Wales gymanfa had been the day before, instead of two years ago, in 2006. Being able to do this just blew me away—perhaps just as nice a prize as getting another chance at the National Eisteddfod in Wales.

If you were at that gymanfa session, people… you made my month. It was so satisfying to sing that song with you!

Other notable items, regarding Sunday: Eilir Owen Griffiths led the gymanfa I performed at, and he was 1000% hands-down fantastic. I hope I someday again have the privilege of watching him in action. Best gymanfa ganu ever! My favorite quote, from Eilir Owen Griffiths: “Singing is not formal. EVER.” Word.

Ever since, I’ve been working up a wonderful little music project to basically replace my current presence. I’m super excited about it, but I was (of course) swamped with work the minute I got back to Austin, and it’s not quite finished yet. If you’re interested in my wonderful little music project, though, . It’ll help keep me moving. ;}

To the North American Festival of Wales, and all its attendees: THANK YOU, again, so much. Saturday’s competition and ensuing rewards were amazing, but singing with all of you on Sunday was the highlight of my whole week. You’re fantastic.

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There is, obviously, a lot I missed in these posts. I missed the part where I had some crazy King Kong movie on in the background while I was getting ready for the competition Saturday morning, for instance. It was kind of awesome. I hated to leave the room when it was time to go; I was amazed that I had found something appealing in the sea of obnoxious, horrendous daytime television. (Why do people bother paying for cable? There’s nothing there! It’s like this evil toxic wasteland of reality TV and shopping networks and pay-for-porn. Not that I am coming out against pay-for-porn, I am surely not, but come on. Cable and satellite assortments seem to be almost entirely filler, and don’t present a whole lot that isn’t on the web.)


I have a lot more to say about the rest of Saturday, and all of Sunday (when I performed at the afternoon gymanfa sans music), and then of course the rest of my week… But I’ll try and restrict it to the really good stuff. And I’m going to take a break first, because wow, people, you will not believe what I did Thursday night.

Okay, you probably will.

But it’s still bonkers.

So Thursday evening, I board a plane from Pittsburgh to Dallas, anticipating a three hour flight. I pee. I eat some nice food (the only food I have with me, the only food I expect to be edible until I get home). I board the plane. I squeeze myself back into my seat to make some room for my laptop in coach, and happily connect to the intarwubs despite the fact that there isn’t really enough room for me to do so. (I used to hate flying. Now I hate flying in coach. Flying first class ain’t half bad.)

It’s about a half hour before we’re supposed to land, and the captain comes on the con and tells us that they won’t let us land in Dallas; the weather is too lame, and they want to keep us in the air another hour. But we don’t have enough fuel for that, so we’re going to Tulsa to get more. Tulsa, huh? I’ve never been to Tulsa. Extraordinarily lame.

So we go to Tulsa. We sit on the ground for about forty minutes. I read my book. We finally leave (they didn’t let us go into the airport, and they’ve closed up shop anyway, so there’s no edible food to be found) and head for Dallas. I chew my last few pieces of gum and try not to think about dinner.

We arrive in Dallas two and a half hours late (at about 9:30pm) and I scramble towards the gate they tell me is most likely to get me to Austin. I get there and they put me on standby. I wait FOREVER, skeptical that they will let me on a plane, because I’m 14th on the standby list and it’s incredibly crowded. What I really want is for someone to tell me the likelihood that I will ever get on a plane tonight, but no one will. They all tell me to sit down and shut up and wait my turn.

My turn comes two hours later, at 11:30pm, because (as I dreaded) there’s no room on the plane for me (and twenty other people). They give me a voucher for a $40 room at a Quality Inn and a standby ticket for Friday morning. I ask questions and get curt, not-very-useful answers. I’m on my own.

All this time, I’ve had Marty calling the car rental companies downstairs. I’m afraid to go down there without being certain they’ll be open and willing to rent me a car that I can return in Austin the next day—I don’t want to lose the hotel and standby and replace it with a night of sleeping in the deserted airport. But Marty has discovered that Hertz will rent me a car that I can return in Austin, and they’re open. I hightail it to the rental car bus stop outside baggage claim, where apparently a bus will take me to the rental car area a good twenty minutes from the airport. I find this sort of amazing, but I want to get home. I do NOT want to go to an unknown hotel and go to sleep and put back on the same clothes I wore all day today and then wait in airports for another two or twelve more hours hoping to get on a plane when everyone else left in Dallas tonight is on standby, too. TO HELL WITH THAT. I’M DRIVING HOME.

The bus is vacant, and the bus driver is this awesomely friendly, talkative and jovial guy who strikes up a conversation with me immediately. We yammer for awhile and he finds out that I sing opera. As seems to happen pretty often, he asks me to sing something. Normally I decline, but, uh, the bus is empty—and he’s really nice. So why the hell not? I sing the first few lines of Voi lo sapete. This makes him incredibly happy. We talk about competitions and operas for awhile. This is one super-cool dude.

When I get off the bus, I shake his hand and introduce myself and tell him to have a great night. We wave as he pulls away and I hop on into the car rental center. I head straight for Hertz, and a very nice man rents me a $200 Corolla with an auxiliary input for my iPod. DUDE. I happily pay him his $200, I get in my (electric blue, 1000 miles on the meter) Corolla and I head for Austin.

My iPod lasted me two hours because I had charged the battery in my mother’s car on the way to the airport. I can barely believe my luck in this respect, because my iPod is REALLY OLD and the battery never lasts very long. In fact, sometimes it spontaneously loses its charge without even being used. So the fact that it’s full of juice just before I decide to make a middle of the night three hour drive from Dallas to Austin is kind of awesome and crazy.

I talk to Marty on the phone every forty minutes or so. The first hour I am full of juice, just like my iPod. I am feeling so good about this idea, because I really wanted to get home. But the really big impact here is the fact that staying in the hotel and getting on standby for Friday morning was essentially being willing to entertain the risk of being in airports for a whole new day, and there was no way to guarantee that I’d get home in some kind of reasonable time frame. I was sick of being jerked around by airlines. That $200 bought me independence and free will. I’d be tired, probably, but I’d get home. And I’d feel great and in control of my own circumstances, instead of being miserable following instructions and waiting for someone else to make it better. I’ll take the three hour drive, thanks!

The second hour I’m getting kind of tired, but I’m okay. I keep the music loud and I chat with Marty, and I tough it out. I’m open to the possibility that I’ll need to pull over somewhere and take a cat nap, but I’d rather not do it alone in the middle of the night, while it’s pouring rain and storming. So I keep going. The storm gets worse and better here and there, with really amazing heat lightning and occasional monsoon downpours. This slows me down, but I’m okay.

The third hour I am seriously tuckered out, dehydrated and sleepy. Driving through rainstorms is hard. I’m still alert and I still feel like I can drive, so I keep going. I’m paying a lot of attention to myself to see if I’m driving weird, or missing things I should have seen, or finding myself too close to other vehicles. None of these things is happening, but I keep an eye out. I’d rather stop than crash, of course.

Twenty minutes from home.

Ten minutes from home.

I turn onto my street while talking to Marty. I rummage for my key card and let myself through the gate. I start to laugh hysterically as I park the car. “WAIT TILL I TELL THE INTERNET WHAT I DID!” I howl. Marty thinks this is incredibly funny. I do too. I park the car backwards and my parking job is perfectly straight (wow). Marty comes out and hugs me and carries my carry-ons in. I walk with him into a house. I am in a sleep-deprivation haze and totally zonked, but really happy that I drove home instead of waiting around for planes, and really happy that Marty stayed up to chat with me on the phone and meet me when I got home. It is 3:30 am. I have now spent 14 hours traveling, without food, through the middle of the night—when the past few weeks have had me going to bed by 11pm, at the latest. I’m exhausted!

Friday morning we found my baggage waiting for me at the Austin airport (whew!) and returned the rental. Then, of course, I did a lot of sleeping. But I was home and that’s all I cared about. ;}

More than twenty-four hours later, I’m still really glad I spent that money. I find it fascinating how costs translate into benefits. I didn’t pay for a rental car; I paid to get home under my own power, I paid for a surefire solution to the problem of airports. I paid to be instantaneously independent. If I could have paid the airline attendant $200 to get on that last flight to Austin, Thursday night, I probably would have done that too. Interesting. It’s fascinating to me what things are worth.

So I may be a nut, but I’m a nut who got home earlier than the airlines wanted me to. I kept thinking to myself, this is what Spenser would do. I think that’s really, really funny. And I’m really glad to be home.

More Pittsburgh posts (and videos) are on their way!

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Part Six: The Results (and the Video)

by Megan M. on September 10, 2009 · Comments (Blog) |

If you’re looking for the beginning, it’s right here. ;}

And here’s the part where my brain drops right out of my head, because I honestly don’t believe that this really happened.

Guys, I put my all into this thing, but I don’t know that I actually expected them to send me to Wales again. I thought about how nice it would be, but I don’t know that I really even considered the possibility—beyond pure speculation—that I would actually win the thing again, that they WOULD hand me another check and a few weeks later I would be making travel plans. What!? No. What?!

“We marked this very closely,” Gwyndaf told us, “It was a very close one. And the one thing that will matter in Wales—is you’ll only be singing in the Eisteddfod in the Welsh language.” He said later, “It purely was on the Welsh”—and oh, you could feel the expectation in the room, because I’m sure many of them were largely unable to identify the exact accuracy of our Welsh diction, the same as me. And then Gwyndaf presented second place to Sabrina, and, audibly, the whole room let out a breath.

And my mouth fell open, again, because it always does, I can’t help it, it’s the same big dumb gaping face I made when I won in Orlando. I am not suave. In fact, I am so far from suave, when this happens, I am the anti-suave. I am completely shocked, just because I really didn’t think this would happen—especially after seeing just how polished her performance was.

But then he gave first place to me. And I walked up in a daze, and they handed me certificates and a trophy—the same trophy I won in 2005, a tiny bit worse for wear but the exact same one—and shook my hands, and we all exchanged hugs, and I was just so flabbergasted I could barely speak.

I had been catapulted into an alternate universe and I simply didn’t know what to say.

In fact, even now, I don’t know what to say. So I’ll show you my competition video, instead, with Alan Thomas playing the wonderful accompaniment. My gracious and enterprising mother shot it for me from the back row.

Thanks, Mom.


If you’re looking for the beginning, it’s right here. ;}

Saturday: Lift-Off

I don’t remember Saturday very well. I slept in as late as I could, and took as long as possible getting ready. I ordered breakfast up to the room. I carefully styled my hair (to whatever extent it’s even possible to style my hair, when it customarily does whatever the hell it wants) and put on my new spiffy makeup the way Emily’s email tutorial had instructed. (Man, she knows what she’s talking about. Thanks, Em.) Bra, check. Shoes, stockings, check. Freaking awesome concert dress, check. Black shawl with subtle shimmer discovered and included by my mother, check. I was in good shape. Time to go.

I went downstairs and discovered my father and a friend of the family sitting outside the Ballroom, shortly before I discovered that the room I’d be competing in was the King’s Garden (or Le Bateau, depending on which door you use)—not the Ballroom at all! I’m not sure how I managed to miss this information, but this was news to me. I had stayed surprisingly calm and collected until then, but when I realized the room would not be the same room I’d already sung in (and visualized in my head!) part of me was certain—absolutely certain—that NOW was the time to panic.

Instead of actually panicking, I went in to discover my mother and grandmother already occupying the otherwise empty competition room, showed my mother how to use the video camera I’d brought, and spent a few minutes singing my aria to get a feel for the sound. It was fine; once I had sung, I felt pretty much fine again. People started filtering in, so I went outside to talk to my Dad and distract myself for awhile.

I came back just about twenty-five minutes before starting time, and dropped my stuff off near my family so that I could check my makeup in the restroom. In the restroom, I reapplied some makeup, turned to make sure my dress was all where it was supposed to be, and as I took off my shawl to decide whether to wear it while singing…

…I discovered…

…that I seemed to be…

My mouth fell open.

I looked like I’d been crawling around in a chimney. Everywhere the shawl had covered, I was sooty—and not in a way that was wiping off, like fabric threads.

The shawl had dyed my skin.

I put the shawl back on.

I left the restroom.

To my mother I said, “Emergency. Come with me.”

And she did.

For the next seven minutes, I cackled with freakish calm as we scrubbed my shoulders and arms with restroom paper towels soaked in water and soap. Maybe it was a cheap shawl. Maybe it had never been washed. Who even knows. But I was definitely dyed, and the dye was vaguely purple. We scrubbed and it came off in bits, the way heavy dirt can be rubbed out of skin. I couldn’t believe it. I was actually supposed to be in there fifteen minutes early to draw straws—but I was in here, scrubbing dye out of my skin.

I continued to laugh it off and didn’t seem to really be worried. Grace under pressure, I suppose, but what a bizarre thing to discover just before the competition. I was lucky that we mostly got it off, and I opted to abandon the shawl for the rest of… EVER. Holding it on would get annoying, anyway. I stopped to ask my father if he could see any dirt / soot / purple on me on my way into the room, and he said he couldn’t—so I forgot about it and scooted over to where the other competitors were waiting.

PURPLE doesn’t even match my DRESS.

We drew straws—actually folded pieces of paper in a cup. I was second. And let me tell you a little something about what goes on in my head when I get involved in something like this…

There was one singer there who I felt I was particularly competing with—and she was fantastic. (Her name is Sabrina Coleman Clark, and you should hire her. She’s incredibly good at what she does!) I had caught the tail-end of her rehearsal Friday morning, and I already knew she was a very exciting performer. I’d been looking forward to hearing more from her for the last twenty-four hours, regardless of what that meant for the contest results. (It’s always fun to compete with people I’d gladly see win instead of me—and this was no different. It’s a little bit thrilling! And of course, it presents a particular sort of challenge, which I love.)

Sabrina drew “straw” number four. And all I could think was, Whew—at least we’re not singing back-to-back! Teeny bit harder to directly compare our performances that way! Har, har. Megan M., Voice Competition Strategist.

I sat down, and listened to the first competitor. Then my name was announced. I stood up.

And I went up on the platform to sing.

Everything went reasonably well; I didn’t feel 100%, but I didn’t make any of the mistakes I’d been training myself out of for the past few days. In fact, for the most part, I felt good—it felt good to be up there in front of people, good to inject some emotion, good to see smiles on people’s faces or see them swaying or pressing their hands to their hearts. I had no idea how well I was doing, in my diction, but I knew that the sound felt very good. Not perfect— not the flawless technique I’ll always want—but very good. Enjoyable. Natural.

I finished singing, thanked the audience, gestured to Alan for well-deserved accompaniment kudos, and went back to my seat.

There is so much in here, it’s hard for me to get it all in—to even figure out how to write it all down. There was a lot of certainty on my part that Sabrina had it—and although I did feel a tiny twinge of disappointment I think that’s really what I expected, that she would win first place. Her presentation was truly polished, and she certainly has a comfortable stage presence where I, after two years of focusing almost exclusively on non-musical projects and making a living on my own terms, am most definitely a bit rusty. She clearly does this often (and should). Gwyndaf Jones—the wonderful Welsh tenor who adjudicated on the singing—said as much in his notes. And so my certainty wasn’t so off the mark.

There was one thing I couldn’t identify, however, and that was the diction. I knew that I had mostly achieved the Welsh diction I’d been working on, and I was much more sure of this after the other adjudicator (who had been focusing entirely on Welsh diction) gave us her notes and told me how excellent my Welsh was (twice) despite there being one word that needed a bit of work. That made me feel good, but didn’t tell me how good it had all been. The adjudication notes for Sabrina didn’t tell me much I didn’t already know, either—except that her singing and presentation had been fantastic. And we knew that!

It was clearly a difficult choice for the judges, and I wouldn’t have wanted to be in their place. Gwyndaf paused after their notes for a moment, went back to the judges’ table, then returned to the microphone.


If you’re looking for the beginning, it’s right here. ;}

Well, Why NOT Get Sick?

It was my own fault, honestly. Marty’s birthday is August 26th, so the previous weekend we had a party and some fun evenings with friends, and the inevitable influx of wheat, sugar, and dairy. One little exception at a time, I can generally keep up with (though I shouldn’t). But all of them at once and in quantity… nope. The big problem is that I can get away with it for awhile. I think, Oh, I’m fiiiiine. And then I find out that I’m wrong!

And so that last week of August, I didn’t touch my music. Not so much because I couldn’t… but because my every tiny mote of energy was bent on doing the work that had to be done before I left. It would have been reasonable to finish this work if I’d been healthy. With a sinus infection, it took everything I had. Needless to say, I didn’t get out to buy a strapless bra. Marty spent a lot of time taking care of me. And I spent a lot of time wrapped in a blanket, sipping tea with whisky or drinking lemon-ginger shots, pumping out project work.

The day before my flight left, I felt mostly better. I was still easily exhausted, but my other symptoms were pretty much gone. I went to the MAC counter at Saks Fifth Avenue and bought half the makeup my little sister had recommended. (At this point I knew nothing about makeup. The woman there made me up; it was fun.) I went home and crashed. Marty helped me pack. The next day, I flew to Pittsburgh.

My mother picked me up at the airport and took me home to Youngstown. I spent the next three days mostly relaxing. I did a little bit of work, and I ran my music to the rehearsal accompaniments Kim had kindly recorded for me. I gave mini concert sets for my grandmother in the living room. I sang for the dogs. Then I crashed some more, because I was still getting tired from little things like showering—but it was getting better.

Checking Into the Hilton (and Out of the Internet)

On Tuesday the first of September, my mother drove me into Pittsburgh. We went to Ross Park and bought the rest of my makeup from an adorable man who clearly knew exactly where everything was. We went to Nordstrom and told them just how in-a-hurry we were, and the kindest, loveliest woman rushed around finding a strapless that fit me. It turned out that they didn’t have the right size in the store for what I wanted—but I suggested that I try a difference size down just to see if it would work. It did, and we bought it. We thanked her and dashed away.

You know some of this; we checked into the Hilton Pittsburgh, and their wireless was broken. They insisted that it would be fixed in a day or so. (It stayed broken the entire time I was there.) I used the internet by sitting on the floor outside my room, or squeezing onto one corner of the farthest bed, or (occasionally) risking a trip to the lobby to see if it was working there. When connected, it was very slow. But the hotel was ultra-posh, otherwise enjoyable (if you don’t eat, drink and breathe internet the way I do) and I managed all right.

Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday I made sure my pieces were—finally—memorized.

I cemented my Welsh, repeating phrases to remember to use the right words. I had succeeded in setting aside almost all of my workload while in Pittsburgh, and I had a lot of downtime. I slept. I kept myself fed. I rehearsed alone in my room (wondering how obnoxious I seemed to the neighbors) and waited for someone to complain to the front desk. (No one ever did. Whew.) I watched Keith Olbermann and Bill Maher on the spiffy flatscreen. I watched the gorgeous view outside my window, and the gorgeous view outside the Executive Lounge windows. One night, I noticed them building something crazy in Point Park. (It turned out to be a portable football field. They worked all night for a few nights in a row. It was a riot.) I read my book. I slept some more.

Wednesday evening Joan arrived in Pittsburgh and came up to my room to go over my pieces with me. We read them through, adjusting bits and pieces, and then I sang them for her. She called my attention to two places, praised my progress over all, and that was it. I am always surprised when this sort of thing goes well, because I have so little internal compass for whether my Welsh is correct. It often feels like quite a bit of uncertain gut intuition refined with Joan’s guidance and, well, just doing what I’m told! But the outcome always seems magical to me, especially this time.) I thanked Joan—gratefully and profusely—and we went our separate ways to bed.

On Friday, I rehearsed with Alan Thomas, who is fantastic. We rehearsed in the Ballroom, which was perhaps one of the most exciting places I’ve had the opportunity to make noise in. The sound and shape of it felt so good, I felt like I could sing forever—even after the first set, when I botched the words or the diction or the timing. Alan helped me get my tempos closer to what I had been rehearsing with, and everything was instantaneously better. I relaxed. I sang two more songs, echoing to the rafters. They went well. We stopped.

I uploaded the recording I had taken of that rehearsal to the internet (it took just about forever) and called John, who was glad to listen and give me some pointers Friday night. I changed my rehearsing, now, because we were close; I breathed the music instead of singing outright, and I kept my eyes closed. I was picturing the room in front of me. I was imagining the energy exchange of an audience that appreciates the music in front of them. I was working out my final interpretation and the sequence of emotions I wanted to use—simple, but applicable. I was trying to stop analyzing it and start feeling it.

A few times I sang in front of the picture window looking out at Point Park. I don’t think anyone noticed, but it would be very funny if they had. ;}

Saturday: Lift-Off

I don’t remember Saturday very well, but I’ll surely do my best to recount it…


If you’re looking for the beginning, it’s right here. ;}

Thirty Days and Counting

In August, I scheduled my voice lessons. I learned the songs. I guessed at the Welsh until—glory of glories!—I colluded with the gracious and generous Joan Mandry and my ever-persevering mother to receive an audio cassette of Joan’s amazing Welsh diction by FedEx. (Meuryn’s Min y mor, spoken poetically, is a truly beautiful piece. I highly recommend you listen, if anyone ever offers you an opportunity.) On receiving Joan’s recitations I adjusted my Welsh, practiced when I could fit it in (between paying projects, that is, and trying to nudge my budget to this side and that to accommodate my musical exploits) and periodically requested that Marty drive me to San Antonio for my voice lessons with John and rehearsals with Kim—John’s wife, an incredibly accomplished pianist. In the past I’ve driven to San Antonio myself, but in this case we were doing visits week after week, and I didn’t think I could take the traffic. Good thing, too, because I think I fell asleep on the drive home every time. Thank you, Marty.

At my last in-person rehearsal, Kim prodded me on my memorization and I forced myself to look away from the music. I had roughly 80% of the lyrics memorized by then. My Welsh wasn’t quite there; I kept noticing items that didn’t match Joan’s pronunciation, and I adjusted these as I noticed them.

A week and a half before August end, I went shopping. Vasa and I spent four hours browsing for a concert dress (well, and breaking for sushi)—and with really only twenty minutes before we had to head home, we decided to drop by White House Black Market. We probably wouldn’t find anything, but at least I could see what they had, if anything looked promising. Why not?

I walked in the door, scanned the store for long dresses, and plowed straight through to the back. A woman looked up and asked if she could help me. “Anything long and mostly black in a 12 or 14,” I said, all business. Like lightning she shuffled through a nearby rack and handed me two dresses. Not much of a selection. I took them and scooted back to a changing room.

The first dress I tried on was spectacular, and fit me perfectly.

It was strapless and long, with a gathered fold down the front. I didn’t have a strapless bra to try with it, but I propped myself with my hands to look at everything in the big center mirror. All agreed with my spectacular assessment. But I’d have to buy a bra. “Nordstrom,” the woman told us. I looked at the price tag—$150 marked down to $100. Perfect. “It’s worth it,” I said. “I’ll find a bra.”

Vasa and I skated out of that store in unadulterated glee. Imagine, shopping for four hours and finding the perfect dress in a store I’d previously been sure I couldn’t shop in—size, price!—in the very last twenty minutes!

And we got home on time, too. I still think Vasa is my lucky shopping buddy. Thanks, Vasa. ;}

Music, check. Perfect dress, check. One week before my flight to Pittsburgh, I got sick.

Yep. You heard me.

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If you’re looking for the beginning, it’s right here. ;}

And then…

I’ll tell you—this year, I thought competing was going to be an awful idea. I already had so much on my plate that I couldn’t imagine giving a competition the time and preparation it deserved. I didn’t want to do it halfway, especially since I was determined to beat my performance in Swansea the next time I had an opportunity to compete in the National. If I was going to do it, I was going to do it right.

Of course, this is what we tell ourselves when we put off anything. I am really, really good at it. I’ll tell myself for ages that I’m waiting to do it right, I’m waiting for the resources, I’m waiting for a sign. Sometimes this is true and good—but sometimes, I’m just waiting. Most of the time, I don’t need to wait—and you will find this is true for yourself as well. Most of the time, I already have everything I need. You see, I had already technically “put off” the North American Festival of Wales for two years after finishing the National in 2006—always something, always a little less money than I needed, always distracted by this or that or the other thing. Always waiting for my technique to be better, waiting to be certain I could win. And this year, I had heard rumors that the David G. Morris award might be discontinued after 2009. Did I really want to miss what might be my last opportunity to have the trip largely subsidized by people who loved and supported me, with money I didn’t have to raise from scratch? I had other ideas up my sleeve, but this competition was the thing that made the most sense, and winning it was the only scenario in which I knew I’d be accepted to compete in Wales. If I was going back to the old country anytime soon, I’d better at least give NAFOW another shot.

I sent in my application… and promptly became absolutely swamped with work.

I was terrified. Tim, you can poke me about positive language all you want and it’ll still be true. I was totally terrified. I “knew” I was in over my head (right, whatever), I “knew” this had all been a bad idea, I “knew” I was going to make a fool of myself. (And thanks to Tim, at a certain point I remembered his very helpful advice and started stripping such “certainties” from my repertory once more!) For a month or two, I stuck my head in a hole and did things I knew I did well. I built websites and idea plans and web businesses. I worked up marketing campaigns for Marty. I refined our workflow, our organizational systems, made new-and-improved spreadsheets to track our finances, logged consulting time with wonderful clients, answered questions, solved problems, made friends. Everything was getting better—and more challenging, if that’s possible. Any time I looked up from my keyboard and noticed how close we were getting to September, I felt a little queasy. I’ll never be able to do this, I thought. And I’d go back to work, and feel pretty much fine. BUSY. But fine.

This was not simply a matter of me being unwilling to look my commitment in the eye. This was a matter of just about every moment I had being necessarily focused on paying our rent, our electric, the ISP, and so on and so forth. With no competition looming in my immediate future, my workload and ongoing concentration would likely have been exactly the same. But I was also unwilling to look my commitment in the eye.

Scared people do goofy things, you know?

Fast forward to July, two months till curtain. I now have the music in my hands. I asked my mother to order it, sight unseen, with no sure idea of how well the pieces will go or if the keys will be quite right. David Williams wisely suggested that I might sing the two pieces I would sing (in some alternate universe) at the 2009 National Eisteddfod, where they give you a choice of two pieces, then a second required piece. In this case, the required piece was Min y mor, by Meuryn and Eric Jones. The choice was a hoppin’ Verdi or a glorious Mascagni. I chose the Mascagni because I was pretty sure I could do long lines and howling high notes justice, and the runs in the Verdi would take me ages to pin down (though I hate turning down Verdi). The aria in question was Mascagni’s Voi lo sapete. I made my decision by watching them on YouTube. (Yes. You heard me right. YouTube.)

I should mention, at this point, that without my mother and David Williams to be patient with me and help me fill in the pieces, I probably would never have made it to NAFOW this year. I had my hands so incredibly full keeping all the balls in the air, I would likely not have managed to set aside the resources needed to get this thing rolling. Without David’s suggestions and support, I might never have chosen my pieces—and without my mother’s constant questions and offering of assistance, I might not have gotten the music ordered, or the dress or makeup purchased, or the hotel booked, or the lessons scheduled. It’s because of them I got to Pittsburgh at all. I am appropriately grateful!

So in July, I was traveling. My father had surgery and I hopped a flight to Northeast Ohio to hang out around the house and keep an eye on him. When I returned, my voice teacher—John Van Cura, my wonderful cousin also of Welsh descent—was still out of town for another few days, but my delay in scheduling turned into two weeks as I plowed through paid projects to reach some financial equilibrium—and suddenly it was August.

Thirty Days and Counting

One month to get everything done—that was August.