What’s Up? Catching up with LOSA Members in Quarantine

On March 13th, I went into Lyric for a rehearsal only to find out the devastating news that the Ring Cycle would be cancelled. For me, I was completely shocked. I had convinced myself that we would continue on with our rehearsals.  We had a bit of time before performances would take place, even though I knew that, with the spread of Covid 19, cancellation was a possibility. There were a lot of tears shed at this meeting at the top of scheduled rehearsal. For myself, an understudy for one of the Valkyries, I was excited to be a part of my first ever Ring Cycle. It was an extreme disappointment to find out that it wasn’t going to happen. I can’t speak for everyone but I don’t think any of us really had a grip on how dire the situation in the world was at the time.  I certainly didn’t imagine having to be in a shelter-at-home situation for an entire two months. Initially, I stayed in Illinois.  Shortly after I found out that other gigs were cancelled for the entire summer, but that I would still be able to teach my private voice students online, I decided I wanted to go out east to be with my parents, in order to help them out. It was the best decision I could have made and gave me a peace of mind that I could do all of their errands etc. for them and they wouldn’t have to leave the house. I have had days that I wanted to stay busy and days that I certainly felt it was all I could do to simply exist. It made me feel a bit useless, but I was also seeing my friends on Facebook expressing those same waves of emotions.  That, for me was validating.  I even saw a friend tell someone else that there was no right or wrong in how we should be feeling during this time and I agree 100%.   

So, I decided to reach out to our members to see how they are staying motivated and what they are doing with their time at home. Some people thrive on a set structured schedule even when at home. Others, like myself, tend to go with how they are feeling each day.  Some days, we just have to push ourselves to get some things done. For me it has also been very inspiring to see how friends and colleagues are helping others out. For example, I have had several phone calls from colleagues just checking to see how I’m doing. A couple friends surprised me with corona virus care packages.  I also received a letter from one of our wonderful dressers at Lyric who committed to writing personal letters to people. Ah, the lost art of letter writing. It’s something I have always loved. All of these things I have been seeing others do have inspired me. Our LOSA outreach program gave us the opportunity to write letters to individuals in assisted care facilities where we have performed. It has been an extreme joy to send letters out to our elderly and those unable to care for themselves. I don’t know the people who are receiving my letters at those facilities, but I’m hoping just by letting them know people care for their well being, it might bring some sunshine to their day.

In any case, the responses I received from our LOSA members made me feel completely validated in my ups and downs. I think we are all concerned about what the near future of singing holds for us.  It gave me encouragement to not only hear the wonderful ways they are keeping busy, but also they were all very expressive in how they are feeling these days. I admire all my colleagues and each one for very different reasons.

Desiree Hassler has always baffled me with how she keeps her life in order and excels at it. She has a stunningly beautiful soprano voice, four children, is a full-time chorister at Lyric and is on faculty at Moody Bible College teaching both private voice lessons and Italian diction. She is homeschooling her four children right now, teaching voice lessons and Italian diction.  She has also committed to learning a new role (Lucia-and we all know that’s not an easy task.) and is gardening. She states “I am grateful that our family has been healthy and we’ve got food on the table. I miss singing with the chorus more than I can say. Some days it is hard to find the desire to sing, even though I miss it. Other days, it is just what I need.”

Dramatic Soprano Christine Goerke shows off one of her newly minted bacon print facemasks, during her downtime from the stage due to the Covid-19 Pandemic.

Christine Goerke, our amazing Brunhilde from Lyric’s Ring Cycle that was cancelled, was kind enough to write in letting us know she is sewing facemasks. She’s selling some, making some for neighbors and people who can’t get out, and has donated a huge batch of them to the Albany Medical Center. She’s working on her next batch of 150! She says “it’s so easy to feel helpless-this is helping me to feel useful, helping me to feel as though I have a purpose right now.” She’s a complete inspiration to us all, not only a world famous operatic soprano, a mother, a wife, but also a wonderful human being doing her best to help out health care workers in a dire situation in which there is a huge need for supplies, facemasks being one of them….a superwoman indeed!

Holy Cow! Christine Goerke – Heroic Valkyrie by day – has been filling her days with mask-making for her friends and colleagues during the pandemic. Brava!

Another one of our choristers, Sharon Garvey-Cohen, is a single Mom who works multiple jobs to make ends meet. She is in our full-time chorus.  She has two daughters, has a church job in which she conducts a small choir and teaches private piano and violin lessons. Her friend told her about a group in Oak Park called Chicago Mask Makers.  She immediately started going through her fabric so that she could start making masks.  She had two other LOSA members (Elisa Billey-Becker and Pamela Williams) provide her with extra supplies. To date, she has made 60 masks for the group and an additional 20 for friends and family. On top of that she has been writing to her choir once a week and sends them YouTube videos of anthems and secular pieces. She mentions that, “Having a college student home has presented a special challenge, but it’s been a joy to take walks around our village in between her classes as she was used to walking a lot on campus. And, I get to be a fly on the wall for her harp and voice lessons. Cooking and baking together as family has been so much fun as well as fighting over the kitchen. We don’t go out much and are finding a rhyme and rhythm to our strange new home life.”

Stephani and Craig Springer, one of the couples in our LOSA group, are both full-time choristers and have been teaching private voice students 28-30 hours per week. Craig just finished teaching his 2nd semester at Chicago College of Performing Arts, CCPA, at Roosevelt University.  Stephani has 25 students at both Downers Grove North and South High Schools, and at Willowbrook High School.  She is also making sure their girls are completing their schoolwork. Stephani mentions that, “It’s been challenging to keep my girls spirits high when their soccer seasons were cancelled. They continue to train at home virtually. When we are not teaching, we are gardening or walking our two dogs, Beau and Duncan. Every night ends with family movie night with each family member taking a turn picking a movie. We are hopeful that we can take our family vacation to the Outer Banks at the end of June.”

Other members such as Nick Ward, are doing solo recordings. He is recording anthems for his church choir at St. Chrysostom’s Episcopal Church but also recorded a virtual La Boheme along with Ryan Opera Center Alumns, David Govertson and Bernard Holcomb with /kor/ Productions. (You can find the livestreams on YouTube under “Boheme 2.0”) Ward mentions that, “For the first few weeks of staying at home, I didn’t have any motivation to sing. It was tough-but eventually I started picking up a few projects. Once I started picking up these projects, I really wanted to get my singing back into good shape. I’ve started a 100-day practice challenge, which I’m documenting via Instagram. I’m glad to have found some projects to keep me singing until we can all sing in person again!” You can follow his practice challenge on Instagram at redbari11.

Michelle Wright has been busy homeschooling her 5th grade daughter, Grace. Both she and Sharon Garvey-Cohen mention that they are watching the Metropolitan Opera free nightly opera streams. Wright says, “It is fun to actually see some of the productions I have also performed in at the Lyric, like Eugene Onegin and Romeo et Juilette.” She was set to make her debut at Haymarket Opera as Arnalta in L’incornazione di Poppea, but it was unfortunately cancelled. She, like Desiree, has taken on the task of learning new repertoire. She’s learning some Mahler Lieder in hopes of performing them this fall.  She took a brief break from teaching, but is now back up teaching via Zoom. She states that, “I’m trying to stay positive but I truly miss my Lyric friends and miss performing for our patrons. I’m hoping to be back soon.”

Janet Farr, one of our full-time sopranos, had hip surgery back in February and says she is walking twice a day putting in at least 10,000 steps to build up her bones. On top of that she is taking a course in contact tracing through Johns Hopkins. Through this course she has a greater understanding of how the coronavirus works and what to look for symptomatically. She is spending time singing each day and is going back to singing old art songs that she has performed in the past or ones that she loves. She is keeping busier than she wants and is also working on a long-term project to become fluent in German. She purchased a book with German lessons and has made it through 88 lessons with only 5 pages left to go. Farr refers to singing at Lyric and said: “I miss our camaraderie and am desperate to come up with a solution to “Opera in the Time of Coronavirus.”

“How can I keep from singing?” says Jeffrey Taylor of our full-time chorus. He is practicing every day and recording solos for his church (First United Methodist Church at Chicago Temple).  He says he has been impacted by the coronavirus in two ways professionally. The first, obviously, being that our season at Lyric was cut short.  Second, in the summer, he works as a tour guide downtown giving tours to tourists from around the world. This spring no tourists are coming and many of the areas that he shows on his tours are closed. That has been put on hold as well. Jeff has been helping his son get used to online college classes.  His wife, Elizabeth, is a nurse practitioner and has been doing drive up testing for Covid-19. He stated: “Health care providers truly are today’s heroes.” They are celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary in June. Together, they are building a fruit and vegetable garden. Jeff also wrote: “I’m looking forward to the day we can perform live opera again together for everyone!”

Alex Guerrero wrote in saying he “managed to get back to his home in New York City prior to the lockdowns and has been channeling his creative and artistic energy by spending more time composing, a passion he ordinarily doesn’t have enough time for, and also enjoys collaborating on the ever expanding array of virtual performance projects. He’s also working on expanding his side-hustle as a music copyist and engraver marketing his services to clients who (not surprisingly) now have the time to focus on projects that had been shelved.”

Anyone who knows Hoss Brock from our chorus, knows he is our go to person for learning how to make homemade bread. During this time at home he is baking two loaves once a week and says he is running out of room in his freezer.  Not only has he been baking bread, he has also been experimenting with other culinary adventures. A couple examples of new recipes he has tried is a dutch baby and seered tuna tacos with marinated slaw aioli. Fascinatingly, Hoss has a collection of about 40 trees that he has been working on since 2010 which he has been cultivating to become Bonsai trees. It is an art form all its own to know which branches to cut back and how to develop the trunks of these trees. He also had found a way to stay connected with friends from the chorus and has been involved in a weekly Dungeons and Dragons campaign with other choristers. Lastly, Hoss has a collection of 132 game miniatures from The Order of Vampire Hunters and this time has given him a chance to paint all of them. Sounds like he is finding lots of unique ways in which to stay productive.

Pamela Williams and her sister had a trip planned to the Dominican Republic, which they, of course, had to cancel. They both sponsor children there and had planned to meet and visit with them for the first time. So, she pivoted to her Plan B. When she found out about our cancellation at Lyric, she immediately went out and purchased supplies to do some work on her house. She has painted three rooms in her house and her outside shed as well as rearranging her furniture. She was able to do a live video interview for her conductor friend, Alexandre Innecco, in Brazil and participated in an Arts Day in Morton Grove via Zoom. In addition to this, she has participated in putting together video projects (such as a virtual chorus of our members performing together), did a live performance for Gilda’s Club for a Mother’s Day Tea along with other LOSA members Kelsea Webb and Ken Donovan and one of LOSA’s very dear friends, Bradford Newquist. Pam is on our outreach team and you will hear a lot more about what she and the team have been up to in our outreach update article.

After receiving the responses of what these members alone have been up to, I find a huge sense of pride for what they are doing and feel a wonderful sense of inspiration for and from our group. This is only a small number of our members and I’m so grateful and humbled to work alongside them and all of my colleagues on a daily basis. Thank you for your contributions, your commitment and your generosity to those not only that you know, but to those that you have not met and still go out of your way to show your kindness to. Your actions make this world a better place to live in.  For that I think I can say we are all very thankful!