Category Archives: General

Hush-A-Bye: an all-vocal arrangement

I started writing this arrangement in the Cincinnati airport last July. Completing the arrangement, recording all of the vocal parts, editing them all, and learning a ton of new production tools… my site ip . 3 months later this is the result. And I’m hugely proud of it.

Note: most of this happened during Pearl Fisher rehearsals at Seattle Opera. This just goes to prove, that opera and composition and sound production CAN and DO work beautifully together.

London!

First thing I noticed about London: it’s super well-connected!

Wifi everywhere. SIM cards easily obtainable. Lots of public transportation (some of it even provides free wifi).

Second thing I noticed: it feels disturbingly cold. It’s not cold enough to be snowing, but the cold gets down underneath my jacket and scarf, and makes me shiver.

I’m here to sing my very first  UK performance: Traviata, with English National Opera. I’ve performed Violetta before, but always in Italian. Many singers don’t like changing languages, but I find it particularly refreshing. I like having an instant, visceral connection to the text in my mother tongue. And while some singers dislike that the new translation changes musical inflection, I respond that this is a good thing- a new way to understand a masterpiece that was written 150 years ago.

While in the area, I intend to do some more networking for video game sound too. I’m really excited by all of the development meet-ups I’ve been finding online, and also for the global game jam coming up. And hopefully some of this will be combined with opera in a couple of projects that I can’t officially announce just yet…

Best-40

Ellie’s Theme

Hi guys. I’ve got a special treat for you.

I’ve been going back and looking at some of my old compositions- the ones that I didn’t write with my computer in the past 6 months. I want to record and transfer some of these into digital format.

I wrote this simple song for piano solo when I was in elementary school- it was the first composition that I actually purposefully wrote and finished. I brought it back a couple of days ago and tweaked it a little, but mostly I left it alone. The childlike simplicity makes me happy.

How does opera really work?

After a number of rough business moments this past year, I’ve been faced with some serious questions about opera. It’s such a peculiar industry- essentially functioning as a non-profit in the United States, and sponsored by governments in most European countries, and yet the managers and opera house directors are artists are all working for a profit, because, heh- you have to make money to live.

Most artists gloss over this point, because they only aim to do best what they love: sing fricking beautiful music. But then at some point, they have a contract that goes haywire, and suddenly they are wondering how it all really works. So, after I encountered such a thing, I decided to go back to school, and take an online course on Music Business with Berklee School of Music online.

The 3 most valuable things I learned:
1) Opera in the states exists only because of donors. Not only do they love to hear it, they also pour their money and their lives into it, just so that artists can continue to create. Never, ever, ever, shun a donor.
2) The wider music business world is much more dynamic than opera. Classical music is in a sort of bubble, which technology is just beginning to chip away on.
3) An artist can be their own manager, but not necessarily their own agent. They need someone else to help them establish connections.

The most exciting things I learned:
4) Artists don’t need to be limited to just one area of the industry. If you like some sort of other music, do that too. Think of it as cross-training.
5) I like opera/electronica (like in The Fifth Element), and I want to and CAN make that.
6) I also like video games, and want to and CAN make their music TOO.

I still love and sing opera around the world, and will continue to post about it. But I’m going to post about all kinds of music now- and I hope you’ll read it, and listen to it, and love it as much as I do.

After 3 months of Music Business, my happiness level sky-rocketed. I feel more in control of my life than ever before, because I know better how to direct it.

Curtis: the hardest school to get into, and the best

Gaining admittance into the Curtis Institute of Music really was a dream come true. I was surrounded by the highest caliber of young musicians for three years, and the performances were magical.  I cannot write enough good about this school.

The most memorable experiences were the operas. Curtis’s Opera Department puts on at least 4 major operas per year. Nothing teaches more than experience, and they were always sure to bring in highly qualified guest conductors and stage directors, as well as provide excellent coaching in various languages. I’m posting pictures below of some of the best moments caught on camera:

Cleopatra, in Antony and Cleopatra, by Samuel Barber

24948_407063776873_744021873_4962146_8119862_n 24948_407064941873_744021873_4962215_5203179_n CleoBed

Plus mp3 of “Give Me Some Music”:

 

The Cunning Little Vixen (in Czech!!! thank you to Milos Repicky, for those coachings)

Cunning Little Vixen (Czech) VixenBlanky

 

And Marguerite, in Faust

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I truly still dream about my time there, maybe because I loved it so much and sometimes wish I was back. Final pic: from graduation, with a much-loved benefactor and brilliant composer.

CurtisGrad2

How to get the most travel out of your degree

So… you’ve finished high school. You want to get a college degree. Phrassertantjasmount Where should you spend the next 4 years of life?

My advice: take 5 years, and learn the most through travel and study abroad.

Just after high school, I went to Rouen, France, with Rotary Club Student Exchange. I attended a French high school part-time and the Conservatoire de Rouen full-time. By the end of year 1, I was fluent in French, and could sing French coloratura with grace and ease.

Then I attended Pacific Lutheran University in Washington for 2 years. This is where my standard liberal arts education took place, so I can write beautifully in English (see this blog), as well as construct a fugue or chorale. I also sang a couple of operas, and learned how to die on stage (Street Scene, Anna Maurrant, 2007).

While at PLU, I signed up for another study-abroad program in Chengdu, China. WOW. Not only were my eyes opened to an entirely non-Western way of living, my heart was also touched by the tenacious humanity I witnessed in rural places like Tibet. And I also learned some much about Chinese music, including extensive work on a set of Chinese folk songs at the Conservatory in Chengdu. The MP3 of one of those is at the bottom of this post. The pictures below are from a trip to Mt. Everest, seen only by the light of the full moon, and a concert in Chengdu.

Everest in Moonlight

ChinaConcert

And after France, PLU, and China, I decided to formally finish my Bachelors degree at Oberlin Conservatory, in Ohio. This school is hardcore training for any would-be opera singer. I was completely immersed in music studies for two years, hardly coming out of them for socializing or free time. The theory and music history classes are fierce, though not nearly as fierce as the opera production auditions. domain info I sang in three operas while at Oberlin, and landed leading roles in all three.  Below is the most amusing of those- myself and Alexandra Roth as Stepsisters in Cendrillon (Cinderella).

StepSisters

 

Undergrad was simply an amazing experience- in which I learned equally about life and music. If you’re going to pay $40,000 a year, then take my advice and get the most bang for your buck: travel, ask questions about everything, and don’t waste a moment.

Extra goody: a recording of my favorite Chinese song that I learned in Chengdu, and will always keep in my repertoire. The English title is “The Rose’s Three Wishes”

Nuvoletta

Taken from a text by James Joyce and turned into music by Samuel Barber, no song has ever meant more to me. Nuvoletta has been my song since I was 16, and it also embraces the very moment I discovered my passion for singing.

It was my senior year of high school, in the WA State competition. My mother was at the piano, and I was singing. Time seemed to slow down, and I could feel my blood pulsing. But I let it pulse into the song, and poured all of my nervous energy into conveying the importance of this story to the audience. Cymehemricomp Towards the end, Nuvoletta jumps off of a balcony with a swirling crescendo/decrescendo. To my astonishment, the audience had become as wrapped-up as I in the music, and some people leaned forward as the music increased intensity. I saw them settle back in as I finished “she was gone…”, and I knew from that moment forward that I would sing. I had been able to touch people with the beauty of music, and it made me glow inside with purpose.

My goal since that day has been to reach the audience. I don’t believe in stagnant beauty in music- rather, I believe in dynamic beauty and contrast, which create an overall story and sense of journey that the singer and audience take.

I’m uploading four versions of Nuvoletta. I wish I had that first time, back in high school, but I don’t. Instead, I give you Nuvoletta: in 2008 at Oberlin, in 2011 at Curtis, in 2013 with Rachel Chao, and 2014 in live concert in Houston, with Ana Maria Ottamendi at the piano.

Oberlin 2008:

 

Curtis 2011, with Don St. Pierre:

 

2013 with Rachel Chao:

 

2014 live performance in Houston, with Ana Maria Ottamendi:     Nuvoletta – Houston

Wenatchee: tractors, trios, and true love

There has to be a post about where I come from. Some people would think that boring, some artists would think they are SO beyond that, but me— I frickin’ love my hometown.

I’m from central Washington. STATE. (this is for those of you on the East Coast who think that “Washington” automatically means DC) Also, let’s clarify: this isn’t the western side of the state where it’s always rainy. It’s on the other side of the Cascade Mountain Range, which blocks all of those dreary clouds. Central Washington boasts 300 days of sunshine per year. And the culture is a strange mixture of Pacific Northwest, Midwest, and, uh… Aturtedseruc Texas. Yeah- I know that’s strange, but a lot of people seem to have roots from Texas in the area.

What’s even more strange is that the Wenatchee Valley actually has some pretty good music- even though only 60,000 people live there. I was lucky enough to be the daughter of one of the many people who is partly responsible for bringing music to the Valley. Patsy Ford (Mom) taught me voice and piano, starting before I could speak or reach the pedal. Rick Ford (Dad) taught me modesty and humor, and how to shoot birds.

Home
Dad & Mom, the dogs, the orchard, and the lake

My brother, sister and I grew up on a 25-acre orchard by a lake, which was less than a mile from my grandparents’ 40-acre orchard and my cousins. My mother’s side of grandparents and cousins also have orchards, and the whole lot of us can bellow out hymns like only born-again Southern Baptists can. Our family is incredibly close and always, ALWAYS loves each other- even when we don’t like each other. Here’s a picture of the Ford grandkids (I’m sitting on the left tire):

MalagaTractor
Ford Grandkids

I sang in just about every choir, festival, and church in Wenatchee, but the best experience singing in groups while growing up was the Rhapsodies. This was a trio that Casey Thomas, Becca Schuster and I formed our freshmen year of high school, and we continued it until graduation. We sang for community events, retirement homes, cancer fundraisers, competitions, even the fourth of july fireworks show. We even went to Disneyland our senior year at Christmas time and sang there. :-) Our most “famous” song was about a Muddy Puddle… seriously. Listen to it.

Rhapsodies
The Rhapsodies (Me, Casey, and Becca)

Since graduation, I’ve made it a point to stay connected to my roots. Last year, I had a chance I’d always dreamed of– to sing Knoxville: Summer of 1915 by Samuel Barber with my hometown symphony. The way this masterpiece recognizes the simple, yet perfect pleasures of a small-town life– the languorous pace, the nearness of kin, and the backyard stargazing– made it the ideal vessel to thank my community.

Leslie&Me
My former voice teacher, Leslie, & me- after Knoxville
Photo by Pete Checchia

Start ‘er up!

This is the first post on my new website, and I’ve got good feelings about all of it.

First of all- I want to sing-out huge praise to my big brother, Tristan Ford, for all of the work he has put into marketing me online. If any other singers like this website and want one similar, they should contact me and I’ll pass on his email address.

Next- I’m going to spend some time going back through history and blogging about some of my most memorable singing experiences. I’ll be adding images and recordings from way back when. However, don’t be surprised if you see me blogging about an event 3 years ago, but writing in present tense. I’ve gotta put myself back in the moment!

After I’ve finished recapping the past, I’ll start into current blogging about being a young opera singer in a modern world. If opera’s not your thang, then you might as well stop reading. OR- go check out the pics in the media section. Intense, eh? Maybe then, opera will become your thang, and you’ll want to read more. ;-)