6: From the Keyboard to the Podium with Kristin Ditlow

Show Notes:

๐—›๐—ฎ๐˜ƒ๐—ฒ ๐˜†๐—ผ๐˜‚ ๐—ฒ๐˜ƒ๐—ฒ๐—ฟ ๐˜„๐—ผ๐—ป๐—ฑ๐—ฒ๐—ฟ๐—ฒ๐—ฑ, ๐˜„๐—ต๐˜† ๐—ฎ ๐—ฐ๐—ผ๐—ป๐—ฑ๐˜‚๐—ฐ๐˜๐—ผ๐—ฟ ๐˜„๐—ฎ๐˜€ ๐—ฒ๐˜ƒ๐—ฒ๐—ฟ ๐—ป๐—ฒ๐—ฒ๐—ฑ๐—ฒ๐—ฑ ๐—ถ๐—ป ๐˜๐—ต๐—ฒ ๐—ณ๐—ถ๐—ฟ๐˜€๐˜ ๐—ฝ๐—น๐—ฎ๐—ฐ๐—ฒ?

The European tradition of a conductor’s training comes from opera houses. In a theatrical setting, there are many elementsย  to juggle — from staging to singing, from tech cues to the off-stage banda. It is helpful to have a coordinator to โ€œdirect traffic,โ€ and the main responsibility of all this became the role of the conductor.

In today’s episode, I chat with conductor Kristin Ditlow, who started her musical career as a vocal coach. She has played for many famous voice teachers, vocal studios, and numerous opera productions before she added conducting to the many hats that she wears.

Kristin will share with us what she learned from being a vocal coach to arm-waving in front of the ensemble, and also her tips for any conductor just starting out and conducting or learning your first opera.ย 

Links Mentioned in Today's Episode

Email:ย kditlow@unm.edu

Website:ย https://www.kristinditlowpianist.com/

Instagram: @kristinditlow

Facebook: Kristin Ditlow


Instagram:ย @theconductorspodcastย /ย @tingchaowen

Website:ย www.chaowenting.com

Facebook:ย Chaowen Ting

Chaowen: 0:02
Hi everyone, this is Chaowen, recording in May 2023. After finishing the first season of The Conductor’s Podcast, I have decided to give this podcast project, a dedicated website with more user friendly functions. So now we have a brand new website called theconductorspodcast.com. Straightforward, right? And now we also have its own Instagram handle. It’s also the same @theconductorspodcast. So all the show notes have been moved to the new site, and I invite you to come check out all the resources and happy listening.

Kristin: 0:50
So I would say for conductors who are just starting out, if they’re coming from a symphonic standpoint–let’s say they played the violin, the cello, the trumpet–and then they’re starting to work with a singer; how do they do that? The first thing is to work with a good translation. So really know exactly what the character is saying in two ways. One is that you could say the sentence in your native tongue. The second way is that you know absolutely [what] every word means.

Chaowen: 1:21
Hey there, welcome to The Conductor’s Podcast. I’m your host, Chaowen Ting, a conductor with over 20 years of experience working with professional symphony orchestras, opera houses, new music groups, and vocalists. I’m also founder of Girls Who Conduct and have mentored hundreds of conductors from across the globe. I created The Conductor’s Podcast to share all the behind the scenes secrets with you, while I interview conductors, musicians and business gurus from around the world. This is a space created for conductors, conducting students, musicians, and non-musicians who are curious and interested in learning more about the profession, craft, industry, and business. Shy away from the real talk? No way. Money, hardship, growth, and the roller coaster of a conducting career are all topics we discuss here. I will give you simple, actionable step-by-step strategies to help you take action on your big dream, move through the fear that’s holding you back, and have a real impact. Now, pull up a seat, make sure you are cozy, and get ready to be challenged and encouraged while you learn.

Chaowen: 2:42
Hi there, welcome to Episode No. 6 of The Conductor’s Podcast. I’m your host, Chaowen Ting, and I’m thrilled that you’re tuning in with me today. If you’re familiar with the European tradition of conductor training, you probably already knew that it focuses heavily on opera, as opera productions were historically why a conductor was needed in the first place. In a theatrical setting, there are many elements to juggle, from staging to singing, from tech cues to the offstage banda. It is helpful to have a coordinator to direct traffic, and the main responsibility of all this became the role of the conductor. In European training, the repetiteur, coming from the word “repeat” or “practice”, will serve as the vocal coach, helping singers to get prepared musically, from learning notes, to language diction, to singing in the correct musical style. Once singers have learned the music well, there are often a few musical rehearsals with the entire cast and the conductor for everyone to get the music polished before beginning staging rehearsals. A staging rehearsal is when the stage director is in charge. They discuss dramatic elements with the singers and decide how to act while singing to better tell the story. The singers also learn the blocking, meaning where they will be standing on stage and how and when they are moving, and all of these decisions need to take music into consideration. During this process, the repetiteur will be playing the piano production of the orchestral score for the cast and the director, repeating things as many times as needed, hence the name, as it’s definitely a lot of repetition. The reason why I’m telling you all about opera productions and preparation is because our guest today Kristin, lo started her musical career as a vocal coach. She has played for many famous voice teachers, vocal studios, and numerous opera productions before she switched to–or a better word might be ‘added’–conducting to the many hats that she wears. In today’s chat, Kristin will be sharing with us what she learned, from being a vocal coach to arm waving (conducting) in front of the ensemble. And [she will] also [share] her tips for any conductor on starting out and conducting or learning your first opera. Again, if you’re listening in a car or at the gym, all resources will be available in the show notes online at chaowenting.com/6 [now theconductorspodcast.com/podcast/6].

Chaowen: 5:52
Welcome to the show, Kristin. And I can’t wait for you to share your story and experience with my audience.

Kristin: 5:58
Thank you so much for having me today.

Chaowen: 6:01
Thank you. So before we get started, though, will you give everybody a brief intro–just a little bit about your background and how you got to where you are now?

Kristin: 6:10
Sure. So I started–as is the the path often, I think–with a lot of repetiteurs in in Europe. I started as a pianist; I’ve been playing piano my whole life. I started piano when I was five, and really took to it very quickly. I added other instruments along the way. So I was a pretty serious clarinet player in high school. I also have studied organ, and I play harpsichord professionally as well. I did play violin for a while–I was not as good at that. And I played accordion, which is also fun. It’s a keyboard, so it’s it’s not such a big jump from you know, keyboard instruments. But they actually started conducting as a drum major in high school, this is not really that that fancy of of conducting. But I did do marching band all four years of high school and was the drum major. But then, through high school, I decided I really wanted to pursue the piano, really, as a pianist. And at that time, I was already quite employed. (I mean for free, which, you know, that’s what high school is like.) But I played for my high school choir, so I was an accompanist for them. And in fact, in high school, I got started running sectionals for the high school choir. So I got my start kind of assisting, really, pretty young. So when I was in a senior in high school, I did the traditional route that a solo pianist would do: I applied to major music schools with the gamut of repertoire that soloists would do: Bach’s preludes and fugues, classical sonatas, romantic pieces, 20th century things. I ended up going to Oberlin for undergraduate, which was amazing. And then while I was there, I got the first, I would say the first big step into the path that I am doing now, which was [that] they had an amazing vocal accompanying double major with the soloists. So with that came a lot of languages, it’s like 32 credits of languages or something that I took, along with opera scenes, and some literature, some very important literature classes, song literature classes. So I got my feet really wet there. And that was so important because I also was playing for a lot of pretty major voice studios. And a lot of those people are now retired or passed on, but I got to cut my teeth playing vocal repertoire lessons with people like Marlene Rosen, Lorraine Manz, Richard Miller, and Daune Mahy. I mean, that’s amazing.

Chaowen: 8:46
As an undergrad?

Kristin: 8:47

Chaowen: 8:48
Wow. That’s such an amazing opportunity.

Kristin: 8:52
Yeah, so I was I was playing all of those voice lessons a week, really learning as much. So I feel like at Oberlin, I got 10 lessons a week, because you’re in the other studios, you have your own studies, of course, and then then you’re in other people’s lessons, and you’re just like a sponge. I think that’s exactly what we should be our whole lives, but especially as undergraduate students, that’s what we should be–we should just be giant sponges. So right after Oberlin, I was a little bit like, ah, you know, I don’t know that I want to do a solo degree. I love playing solo repertoire–I’ll get back to that in a moment–but I just thought, I don’t know that you can make very much money doing that. And I’m the daughter of a fourth grade teacher and an accountant. So they were they were like, well, you’re a practical person, Kristin, you know, you’ll make a good decision. So I moved back to Philadelphia and also continued working with singers. Then I did my master’s degree at Westminster Choir College in vocal accompanying and coaching. And then while I was there, I also assisted this amazing choral conductor, two of them actually: I was one of Joseph Flummerfelt’s assistants for the Westminster Symphonic Choir, and I also worked with Dr. Andrew McGill, who is still a mentor and friend. And so I got to do those things, and then I studied vocal accompanying and coaching with JJ Pena, who’s now on faculty at New England, Yale, and Juilliard, I think he teaches at all those places. So it was it was just this amazing time to be there. And again, you’re in and out of these very, very high-powered voice studios, you’re working with a lot of great singers, really learning what they need in terms of support from the keyboard. You’re learning style every time you play an art song, aria, oratorio–all of those things, and I’ve learned them first from the keyboard side. And then right after Westminster, they hired me to coach and prepare their opera scenes and teach diction, which I did. In 2007, I left and got a staff job at Curtis Institute of Music, which I worked at for three years, on the vocal staff, so I supported there–again, playing lessons and playing stagings. And it was there where I thought, you know, I really want to pursue conducting, but I don’t know that anyone’s going to take me seriously as a twenty-something-year-old person without a conducting degree.

Chaowen: 11:17
Did you feel, maybe a little bit self-conscious of how people would see you differently now? Because you were so good at what you were doing,

Kristin: 11:25
I would say partially so. One thing that I really had to get used to was the fact that when you’re in front of an orchestra, the high sounds come out of the left of the conductor. You know, when you’re playing the piano, the treble sounds are higher, and they come out of your right hand. The orchestra is [the] opposite. So that actually took quite a bit of getting used to. And another thing that I had to get used to quickly–and this i still sometimes the case–is I’ve always been, I feel, an incredible listener at the at the keyboard, which is the definition of a vocal collaborator–you’re listening all the time. And the singer, once he or she or they are singing, they are in charge. And then also just thinking about, you have to command an ensemble of people that are looking at one note at a time, and then you make the whole. So it was a bit of a jump to really understand on a deep level how the orchestral players were thinking, because it is a different mindset than when you’re used to looking at either the full score or even a piano reduction, when you’re looking at the oboe part or the cello part or whatever. You have to get in their mind too and think: exactly what do they need from me? They need a clear upbeat, they need a clear indication of when to play this accompanied recitative. And I think also, too, a third thing that I would add–and I don’t know that this was about going from being a vocal coach to being a conductor, I think it was more about my own personality, which is that before I wanted to jump into a new thing, I wanted to be sure I was ready and that I had all the skills. And what was interesting is that–forgive me, but a handful of my male colleagues in the profession, were less concerned that their skill set was complete, and they would just put themselves out there for opportunities. And I think that’s a fine line to walk, right? Because experience generally shows up right after we need it. So thinking about, Okay, I’m basically ready to start this thing, and then I will learn as I go on this particular project–which actually I feel like every time we’re in front of an ensemble, we are learning as we go. Even with an ensemble that has played together for a long time, it may be a piece that they don’t know, maybe it’s a world premiere. And now all of a sudden, you are doing something new with them. And then if it’s a pickup group or a pit that doesn’t play together very often, even with a standard work like “Norma” or “Le Nozze di Figaro”, you’re still having to mold it to that particular cast.

Chaowen: 14:13
Yeah, it’s always an adjustment.

Kristin: 14:15
Yeah. So I’ve never found it to be something, you know, locked and loaded, and I’m not also not saying it’s a completely Ikea furniture experience. It’s basically together, but then you have to really tweak it and customize it to what we want, if that makes sense.

Chaowen: 14:38
So Kristin, as you say that you’re constantly wearing the different hats of a vocal coach and also a conductor, how do you prepare your work? And do you prepare your works differently? Or I’m just really, really curious like for the arias or other things that you’ve been playing for so many times in the past, if you have to now conduct it, do you have to do something to adjust that?

Kristin: 15:03
I do. So first of all, when you go from a piano reduction score to a full score, when you make that jump, there is inevitably information that’s missing, that the full orchestra score does not have, and that can be anything from instruments that are playing or not, to passage work that’s completely missing, things that double the singers. Also, other considerations, like for example, there are leaps in anything from second violin or viola parts in the Mozart operas’ bassoon part. As a pianist you might leave out as we won’t play everything in a rehearsal. If you play everything, it sounds kind of ridiculous and it becomes not helpful to the staging process or to the coaching process. But in the orchestra, they play everything. And you have to consider that these very wonderful individual human beings are playing these parts. If there are tempi that are taken that either make the tonguing and articulation slightly impossible, or bowing repeated notes, things like that. So that will inform a tempo that, as a pianist, will sort of like leave something out, and then it gives the singer a false idea of what’s possible. So I think we have to watch that, that’s one thing that’s definitely the case when I’m making that transition. Another thing I’m used to is that from a pianist’s perspective, I control my own sound. I put my hands on the keys, and I just play. It’s rhythmic, it’s percussive, it’s immediate. Orchestras, depending on how close they’re sitting to me, how large they are, how deep the pit is…they can respond very, very differently. And I haven’t yet had the opportunity to work with a lot of European orchestras, who generally, especially northern Europe, they tend to play maybe a little behind the beat–it just seems that they play behind the baton. So I’ve been more used to the playing on the baton or as close to it as possible. That’s a big adjustment too, is that the orchestra, when you’re starting out, will feel incredibly behind to someone who has played these scores a lot. With that also being said, I’ve done a lot of working my way up through the ranks of sometimes playing my own rehearsals, and then jumping and conducting–and that’s actually a process I enjoy a lot, because I’m able to be there from the beginning. And the singers also trust me. So by the time I’m in the pit with the orchestra, I’ve been around the whole staging process, I know where their problems might be, because I’ve been through them with the whole thing. And that’s a really delightful process, actually. Then sometimes also, another challenge is that since I keep my cards so close to my vest in terms of playing these scores, when I have a rehearsal pianist who plays it differently–because it’s a different human being than I am, period, end of story–I’m always gonna be like, you know, Does it really go that way? I don’t think so. So I know I can be particular, but always in the service of the music, and always, you know, try to be the best colleague I can be with my rehearsal pianist, because I also know what a difficult job that is, really including them in the rehearsal process, because that I’ve had so many experiences, both as a repetiteur, where I feel incredibly engrained and invited into the process, where my input about language and pronunciation has been welcomed by the conductor–often my languages are better than the conductor. So I would be tasked to help with that, and I found that really delightful. There have been other times where I literally think the conductor didn’t know my name. It was like, if I showed up and played, they could have cared less who it was.

Chaowen: 18:51
Yeah, you’re the “lesser sound” orchestra to them, right? So you’re just kind of a temporary thing.

Kristin: 18:58
Like furniture, you know, and in that case, if you don’t disrupt the rehearsal process, then in their mind, you’re doing your job correctly. So I would say those are all challenges. And then of course, if my life were to ever turn out so that I were conducting more symphonic repertoire, I would welcome that. I see the contribution that I’m making more in the operatic and oratorial field–I’ve had so much experience doing it, and I love it so terribly much. I don’t have a dog in the fight about how the bowing is to be done in the second movement of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, though I love the piece and have studied it of course, and know it, but I don’t have strong opinions about it. [On the other hand,] I have very, very strong opinions about the bowings in the overture of “Cosi fan tutte” or “Le Nozze di Figaro”, for example–I mean, a very, very, very clear idea. Because that’s where I’ve lived and where I think I’ll continue to live. So I would say for conductors who are just starting out, if they’re coming from a symphonic standpoint–let’s say they’ve played the violin, let’s say they played the cello, the trumpet–and then they’re doing a conducting competition, and in the second round, they have to work with a singer. You know, how do they do that? The first thing is: work with a good translation. So really know exactly what the character is saying in two ways. One is that you could say the sentence in your native tongue. The second way is that you know absolutely what every word means. Where are the verbs? Where are the adverbs, where the adjectives, the nouns, the most important words? And then the third thing is: what might be difficult or challenging for a singer to pronounce, depending on: is it an indication of a fast tempo? Is it something that has to be just rattled off the tongue really fast, maybe in a free way? There’s some parts in the accompanied rest. Nozze di Figaro, for example, comes to mind, where it’s a part where it’s very easy for the orchestra, the orchestra is holding a chord, but the character speaking has to really, really be quick about articulating something. And then we just have to support them. And then we have to know when to bring the orchestra back in. So in terms of text, again, translation, and then as much as we can, be able to pronounce at least a few [relevant terms], you know. For example, I don’t speak Russian; it’s something I really want to learn. But if I were charged with conducting something like “Eugene Onegin”, I would go have lessons with Russian speakers and Russian coaches before that project would start. But for someone who is really getting their feet wet into the Italian repertoire, and by the way, you had asked about what advice to give to people–in terms of conducting in the US, we still do Italian shows more than anything else. That’s still the bread and butter of the repertoire here. So I would say for anyone who wants to get better at operatic conducting, [they should] go to Italy and perhaps if you have four to six weeks, go to a language immersion class where you are actually speaking it. And also to that end, I would recommend a small to medium sized city, because you will be forced to practice the language when you go to, say, supermercato, when you go to the butcher, when you go to buy your gelato or your vino. What has been lucky actually, during my time at Eastman, I was on faculty at this wonderful Italian immersion program, “Si parla, si canta”. So I worked there for six weeks, but as part of my salary, I got daily language classes. And then over the period of two summers, I was able to become completely fluent in the language, and that has really been a great service to my career, because when I give singers pronunciation notes, they take them. They respect what I’m saying.

Kristin: 22:48
You would actually suggest for conductors, or anyone interested in knowing more or going to this operatic field, to really learn that language as opposed to taking a diction book and learning the IPAs, right?

Kristin: 23:04
I guess, here’s another way to think about it, which is: so if you want to have Italian food, you can certainly go to Trader Joe’s–and I love Trader Joe’s, I’m not trying to, you know, [talk bad about them]–and you can buy their tortellini and you can buy their sauce and you can buy their pasta. You can, you know, you can make it, and depending on what you’ve purchased, within 15 minutes, you can get a pretty decent tasting meal. But I feel like that is also not how these pieces of music and the libretti were created. These pieces of music and these these giant pieces of language like again, the Da Ponte operas of Mozart–those are pieces that are very near and dear to my heart, so I talk about them a lot–they were created by an Italian whose family was Italian for a long time. And as a composer, certainly, Mozart was not native Italian. But he spoke the language fluently as a young person and had a real gift for language setting. So the Italian, especially in the recitatives, is perfectly set. I mean, the diction books are really important. And those are a great first step and certainly, I mean I’m a practical person, so if you have work in the States and you can’t afford to–for whatever reason, family, money, time–you can’t afford to just pack your bags and go to Italy for six weeks and then spend money on a language class, you know, I get it. Yes, those are those are super helpful. The Nico Castel translation volumes are helpful. The Evelina Colorni book, Singer’s Italian–that’s great. But I think, also, to go back to the Trader Joe’s cooking analogy, these libretti and these pieces of music were created by the equivalent of an Italian grandmother making her own pasta and going out to the garden and picking tomatoes from her garden and basil from her garden and cooking it. So one is just from the ground up, you know, understanding how the language works. And when when you and I spoke briefly on Friday to prepare for today’s class, another big challenge with the Italian repertoire is that a lot of the repertoire done, the libretti are 200 some years old if not older.

Chaowen: 25:18
Yeah, I was going to bring that up, because my first opera conducting experience was Haydn’s “La Canterina” and there was no translation available. It was an undergrad studio opera project that actually was a last-minute assignment because the other assigned conducting student had a thing that he needed to be away for. So it was assigned last-minute and my teacher was like, Okay, you need to learn every single word. I was like, Okay, but I’m having trouble finding what those words mean, because of the ending changes, and it’s a tense, and I found myself googling all the different Italian tenses and rules and still not getting it.

Kristin: 26:11
Well, that’s first of all, that’s very normal. And it’s funny, because for how classical singers are trained, they start singing in Italian because generally speaking, the vowels are clear and pure, and there are less of them than, let’s say, in French, which has almost literally triple the amount of vowels that Italian has. So the Italian pronunciation rules, especially the basics, they can be caught on quite simply, especially also if someone has, let’s say, sung in Latin in a choir–those vowels are very, very close to Italian vowels. So that does help. However, the grammar in Italian, especially grammar in antiquated Italian, again, that these Baroque, neoclassical/classical, the reform operas of Gluck, for example, as well–and even the Rossini operas: the grammar is incredibly complicated. Because you have the issues of the conjugations of the verbs and the nouns get put into the verb and you don’t have separate nouns; you have to understand that that’s how it works. The endings are very difficult. So in terms of the Italian grammar, there are several big, big challenges that the language has. One is that as you’re translating, the nouns are often implied in the verb conjugation. So right away, if you’re used to thinking in perhaps English, or in French or German, all of the main words in the sentence appear–you can find the subject, you can find the noun, you can find the verb. With Italian, they’re put together. Not only that, then exactly what you said about word endings, or what are called the ‘pronomi combinati’, which means combined pronouns. So all of a sudden, you’ll get a prefix and a suffix in a verb, put together, and then all of a sudden, it’s sometimes three or four words in one. So even for someone who is an advanced practitioner of this, I find it challenging. For someone who is doing their very first opera and trying to Google translate everything, I can’t imagine how challenging that was, and very time consuming. And because that work–you mentioned the Haydn opera–it’s great music, but it’s not done as much. So the resources that are, for example, available for the operas of Handel or Mozart, they wouldn’t be available for that. So you’re kind of doing it on your own. When I was having Italian lessons, and we would get to the end of a lesson, and then for any of the coaches that were in the room, the Italian teacher would say, Does anyone want to read to me? So we would have the opportunity to practice our pronunciation or elocution. And we would start reading and she would listen to us. And she said, well, that’s all pronounced correctly, [but] half of these words, I don’t even know. And this was a fluent Italian speaker, who had advanced degrees from something called the Dante Alighieri Society, which would be like the Goethe-Institut in Italy: it’s a body of work that allows them to teach Italian as a second language or teach Italian to foreigners. And so these are people who are heavily invested in Italian pedagogy and making sure that people are still learning the language well, and even they said, This is very strange, or We don’t use that word anymore; we might use this word. And all of that feedback was so helpful. So I guess another thing is that, so when I was in Italy, and I would have free time, I would take my score, I would go to a bar or cafe. And Italians, by the way, are very friendly, especially, especially the men…sorry. Like, you asked about advantages of being, you know, being a woman or also being a coach conductor? Well, I will tell you that Italy is abundant with people who, if you’re sitting [and] having a glass of wine at a bar, reading Italian, it’s abundant with people who will listen to you and pronounce it.

Chaowen: 30:03
It’s probably a totally different story if you’re conducting and they are playing under you. But I’m sure that I’ve experienced that, that they’re really just like, open and passionate about talking to strangers. They just want to help you out, and they think it’s so cute that you’re learning Italian.

Kristin: 30:22
So that’s another piece of advice I would give to anyone: as much as you can, travel to the countries where these languages are spoken, and then force yourself to speak. I just read this amazing book about how to have things be as effortless as possible. It’s by Greg McKeown. He says that in order to gain fluency in something, you want to make your first thousand mistakes as quickly as possible, which I thought was super interesting because as classical musicians, part of our training is to avoid the mistakes, right? Like how we practice: we’re trained to avoid them, and/or to practice them enough so they go away, right? We don’t celebrate them enough. But he said, you know, especially when people are learning languages, when if you think about how a kid learns a language or something like that, the kids are making mistakes all the time. And they get corrected by their parents and the people that are around them.

Chaowen: 31:20
And they are so fluent and confident.

Kristin: 31:22
Right, so we need to have that kind of, I think as much as we can, have that childlike wonder about the language and the pieces of music that we have. I think that’s the sweet spot. I think that’s where we need to be going. And I think that’s what I bring to the podium. There’s so much discovery, and there’s so much play that has to happen before we even get up to the first rehearsal with the orchestra. As much as singers can have a bad rap–first of all, I love them, I work with singers, more than any other breed of animal, I really just adore them and I love what I get to do. And generally in rehearsal, if things are going well, they tend to be pretty playful. That’s a great energy to take to the podium. Because some conductors are not playful.

Chaowen: 32:08
We are very serious creatures, come on. But no, I felt it’s also opening up now more that we appreciate seeing personalities, in addition to, you’re just good at your job, you’re just good at putting things together, you are good at running a very effective and efficient rehearsal. But we now appreciate that personal side more. So ranging from what kind of repertoire you choose, how you addressed a problem, how you solve some conflict, even like you said, you have a totally different idea from your rehearsal pianists, which happens. That’s always us [when we’re] working with orchestras, like, Oh, you play like that–it’s a totally different tempo or how I would like that to be done. But that’s okay, that’s part of this process and we are now in this all together as a part of this creative process. But I love what you said. So if you are ever tasked, like me, to learn an opera for the first time, where the resources are not readily available, you want to say as much as you can, the language in Italian, and find yourself some Italian coach or even Italian teachers to correct your pronunciation so you really get used to language flowing in your body. I found that super useful. And if you can know every word as much as possible, which might sometimes be really challenging, especially with Italian, like I had to decipher which pronoun was which, because there were like eight, and he and she, when they meant something, probably like three, four or five sentences before.

Kristin: 33:55
It’s very confusing. And then also, one other layer that’s significant in the old libretti as well: you find a lot of sometimes very obscure references to Greek and Roman mythology. So another thing that I find myself looking up a lot is, okay, which Greek god was this? And who were they married to? And what did they do? Or who did they kill or whatever. And why is the librettist referring to this? Because also, what we have to remember is that 200 years ago, 250 years ago, people buying opera tickets would have studied the main Greek and Roman myths, they would have studied them in school. And now, you know, we’re so far removed from those–which is a shame because I think they’re very interesting. But now we know them, because of the names of our planets and the names of the months, and we kind of stopped there. So that’s another consideration and it could be another hurdle for someone learning a big opera for the first time.

Chaowen: 35:01
Yeah, I totally feel that. Now, I had just had one last question before we close today’s episode. What are the one or two things that you wish someone had told you earlier in your career?

Kristin: 35:18
I would say first of all, I–and this is getting better as I age and as I sort of tend to it, and it bridges back to a comment I made earlier in our in our chat about being nervous and feeling like I wasn’t ready to do something–I think having a little more courage to either say yes or to ask for things. And I am getting better at that now. You know, now that that I feel slightly more established and slightly more confident in my own skill set, I feel like I’m more able to be the architect of my own career and say, I’m interested in these things, I want to manifest these things to happen, I want to do these programs. Another thing that I have certainly not given up is my life at the piano. So coming up this year, actually, I have a 2-disc solo CD that I’ve gotten a grant to record, of song and opera transcriptions. A few years ago, I would’ve been like, Oh, I’m not ready, I don’t know- [but] No, I’m writing the grant, I’m getting it, I got it. And so that that’s getting recorded in May of 2022. Now, there is a big difference, I would say, between confidence and arrogance. I don’t want to be the second, I want to be the first. So I would say having more confidence in my own ability, because I can be incredibly shy around people, especially around people I don’t know. And when you’re in front of the orchestra for the first time, it can be like an awkward first date: they’re all looking at you, and you hope you’re saying the right things enough so that they don’t hate you. Something like that, where you have to finesse a result. I would say that the second thing is to continue to push myself to make sure that I feel my own growth is in three rings: I have the outer ring that shows skills I’m very comfortable with and have been for a long time, and then things that I’m working on (the second one), and then the third in the center are things that make me very uncomfortable. So anything from a new style of music, to new language, or rehearsing in a language I don’t really speak and then having to get used to that, or whatever. I need to make sure I’m just also pushing my own body to be the most efficient it can be in terms of athleticism, like for example, later on today, I am going to go swim laps. The conductor’s instrument is just like a singer’s: our body is our instrument.

Chaowen: 37:57
Our body and our minds. Yeah.

Kristin: 38:00
Exactly, and our ears, too. So we have to take care of those. So I would say those are probably the two things that [I wished someone told me].

Chaowen: 38:10
Yeah. And I love that you say that. And we all know that it can be so scary to put yourself out there. Especially in rehearsal on a podium, like…thousands of eyes are looking at you. I also wanted to put it out there because there is a study called “The Confidence Gap”, which found [that] men would apply for a position if they feel they are 60% qualified, while women tend to apply only if they feel they’re 100% qualified. But the thing is, when you don’t put yourself out there, people don’t know you have great ideas, because they don’t get to hear them. They don’t get to know you. So really, I just want to encourage everyone–no matter [if you’re a] man, women, nonbinary or transgender–everyone just put yourself out there without being arrogant. Have an open heart and an open mind. Be really honest with yourself because you know deep down: what are things that you’re really good at, and what are things, like Kristin just said, that you’re working on, or you’re not so good or not so comfortable with. But it’s okay, we’re in this all together. We’re always improving, as earlier when you said, every time, even with an established orchestra playing Figaro for the 200th time, it’s a different set of singers, it’s a different conductor, so you have different visions. You don’t have to be an expert, or you don’t have to have a thousand followers on Instagram to validate your own opinion. You can still have a say, and you can still say, Hey, I would like this phrase a little different, because that’s how I studied the score. That’s what the language is speaking to me, which is totally valid. Yes. Yeah. And Kristin, I’m so happy for you to come to the show today. And we’ll put all the books and the references in the show notes. But I wanted everybody to hear from you: where can they find you? Like your website or any social media handles, if they had a question or want to get in touch?

Kristin: 38:55
So I do have a website, speaking of which, that has to be updated–I talked about that maintenance of the career right, and my contact info is is there. I’m actually on Instagram these days more than Facebook, but I do check both of those. I’m not very active on Twitter. That didn’t speak to me as much. I like photography as well, so the Instagram stuff, that made that made sense to me–like how that how that medium works. And then also, my full time job is the vocal coach and opera conductor at the University of New Mexico. So if they want to drop me a line, kditlow@unm.edu is a good way to reach me. But really, I check everything. So I’m not that hard to find.

Chaowen: 42:06
Yeah, thank you so much. And we’ll link everything in the show notes, don’t worry. And go ahead and follow Kristin on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or just drop us a note if you have comments or questions for a future podcast. I’m sure it won’t be too long before I invite Kristin back to talk about all the other things that we didn’t get to talk about today.

Kristin: 42:29
Thank you Chaowen.

Chaowen: 41:40
Okay, there it is, my friend. I hope you enjoyed this episode as much as I did. And thank you so much for tuning in today. If you’re studying operatic repertoire for the first time, whether for an aria, a gala, or a floor opera, don’t forget to always start with the text. Learn the direct translation and meaning of the text in your mother tongue, and speak the text of the opera as much as you can particularly if it’s in a language unfamiliar to you. Try to find some help from native speakers or a vocal coach to get as much correct diction as you can under your belt. In your score study, always consider what might be difficult for the singers and how you can support the singers in your musical decision-making. You can always find the resources and our show notes online at chaowenting.com/6, and I will see you again next week at the same time, same place. Oh, and if you haven’t subscribed to the podcast, I encourage you to do it right now. You can subscribe on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcast or any platform that you’re currently using. I don’t want you to miss any new episodes. Take care and bye for now.