12 July, 2014

03 July, 2014


Thirty-one is...
  • the code for international direct-dial phone calls to the Netherlands. 

  • In Buddhism, there are believed to be 31 planes of existence
  • There are 31 days in the months of January, March, May, July, August, October and December.
  • In ice hockey 'goalies' often wear the number 31. 
  • Messier object M31, is a magnitude 4.5 galaxy in the constellation Andromeda. It is also known as the Andromeda Galaxy, and is readily visible to the naked eye in a modestly dark sky.
    In music, 31-tone equal temperament is a historically significant tuning system (31 equal temperament)
  • 31 is a London bus route running through Camden Town
And of course,


Having spent my 30th in San Francisco onstage at Davies Symphony Hall singing the role of a lifetime, then quickly following it up with a weekend with my amazing family, last year sure does seem hard to out-do...

Oh: but out-do-it I shall.
Why, do you ask?
Because this thirty-one-derful year I am spending my birthday returning to London (a place I have not spent it in five years since birthday number 26). I can't officially tell you why I am here yet (sigh), but rest assured it is for a fabulous, exciting, bucket-list-esque singing-related reason that thrills me to my core.

But beyond a working identity, London is about the origins of my adulthood, and above all, about the friends I made and continue to love here.

It shall be a day of big reunions
Of revisitations with people
and places
     and a chance to truly look at how far I have come...

To quote my younger self,

MAN: I hate birthdays.
Well, no. That's not true.
I don't hate birthdays.
I love birthdays.
There is nothing that gives me greater pleasure than reminding people how glad I am that they were born.
     I hate my birthday.
We know this. (Remember the Nietzsche-an spiral of 24? The way I tried to get a grip at 27? The way I kiiiiinda got that grip at 29?
It's a passage-of-time thing. (I think it is also why I don't like New Year's Eve, and cut flowers for opening night...I dunno...)
I'm working on it. 

Poor little younger Al. (I wish I could give her a squeeze and tell her it all gets so much better, and life gets so much richer and calmer and deeper once she turns 30...) That said, looking at the list of "31s" above, I have to say, this number is on point: this birthday year I feel truly in my prime, as well as centered and thirty-one-derful.

I own who I am.
Fully. Deeply. Truly

Alexandra Silber.
Singer (a hard-won self acceptance title!).
Teacher (the most thoroughly fulfilling aspect of my life thus far).
Taker of photographs.
Maker of kick-ass salads.
Lover of road trips.
     and crime drama.
     and books.
     and radio. 
     and baseball.
     and carnivals.
     and meteorology.
     and one-on-one talks.
     and vegetables.
     and hand-written correspondence.
     and the ocean.
     and Angela Lansbury.
Human being.

Here's to another year. 

01 July, 2014

Ask Al: So; your child is an artist.

Mozart's Cosi Fan Tutte
Dear Al,

My daughter is thirteen, and has dreams of becoming a professional performer.  I have been impressed by her work ethic, talent, and the confidence the arts have given her; but I also have my concerns about her going to college for, or trying to make a living and a life as an artist.

I am in support of my daughter's happiness, and of course want all of her dreams to come true, but I also want her to be okay! I truly want what is best for her, but I am finding myself desperately uninformed and full of so many fears. 

How can I truly be the best and most productive sense of support?

Thank you,



Dear M,

This is a very brave letter to send. I want to begin there because I think the nature of your letter deserves a nod of great honor. 

I consider your daughter to be very fortunate indeed to have a parent willing to say "I am scared" and "I don't know" and lead them by example as they say "I am willing to ask for help because I don't have all the information." Perhaps most remarkable of all to simply have your actions (as well as your words) say "I SUPPORT YOU." So many young artists never receive that from their families, it is heartbreaking and tragic to witness. So your letter is (more-than-twice-over) a little miracle.

And that is your daughter's first huge advantage--you already are supportive in the very best way: you are open to the idea of your child becoming who they feel they need to become, whether or not it makes you entirely comfortable. That is a huge, epic, beautiful, and rare thing.

Let me also state that I am not a parent myself, which is a factor in my answers.
I do not begin to claim to understand the wrenching desire to protect a child from all harm or misfortune.

But I have been both an artistic child and adolescent,
     as well as a dedicated teacher to students just about your daughter's age for a few years now,
and therefore have some knowledge of this pivotal time-of-life,
as well as extraordinary compassion for your concerns.

Here are a few Dos and Don’ts . . .


1. DON'T Compare.
Think about it: you would never say
“Well, Suzy is roughly your height and she is skinnier than you are, and far more naturally beautiful, so you have to eat less and work out harder and maybe wear more makeup and get a haircut to be as pretty as Suzy...” 
… Um, that would be child abuse. Certainly pretty abysmal parenting, and at the very least, mean.

I am here to tell you that art is just as, if not, in many ways, more personal than a physical appearance, so why would any loving person subject art to the same irrelevant scrutiny?
Do not compare, scrutinize, or judge their talent/skill or ability to anyone else. 

Growing up comparing yourself to others is hard enough, we don’t need our parents egging us on as well. “Well, why do you think Suzy got the lead in the play and not you?” just leads to expensive adult therapy bills (and probably a lifetime of horrible holiday dinners...

Basically, unless you are a seasoned artist yourself, assume that you aren’t one to judge! One cannot possibly begin to criticize color/design/composition, or tone/pitch/legato, or truth/style/interpretation; or any advanced principle of art without the experience to back it up.

Artistic appreciation, of course, is different, and can be enjoyed at every level of artistic skill. That is one of the great joys of the arts! But the energy behind artistic appreciation and competitive scrutiny is palpable--you and everyone else will know the difference.

Statistically, most adults:
  • quit dancing by 15
  • stop singing in undergrad, and 
  • drawing by the age of 9. 
Following that logic, that adult’s level ability to judge another drawing resides at a fourth grade level.  All children are in a rapid state of mental growth, so although an adult may see/hear a restless, emotional child singing in the shower off-pitch, that child could be in the presence of a major breakthrough in their musical intelligence.  To use a visual art metaphor: the rough scribble is not important; the color choice and spirit of experiment before the scribble…major artistic breakthrough.

Which brings me to

2. DON'T try to get “ahead” of others.

Being better than other kids in their grade/age group is meaningless. Sign your children up for a “race” they didn’t know they were running, then watch them shrink into a hole to hide from the failure surrounding the thing they once loved.  If they are prodigious early on, they might freeze as others catch up and surpass them over time.

The flip side of this is if by chance they excel in these advanced classes, they develop an inability to accept correction, or even see error in their own work. 

3. DON’T Destroy the “LIKE.”

Ask a child why they draw, sing, play in the mud, or eat all the cookies. 
They will give you a very simple answer: “Because I like it.” 

So whatever you do, DON’T DESTROY THE “LIKE!”

A child’s mind is so full of wonder—whole imaginative universes exist in there! And that sense of real play gives them a form of creating an actual representation of the wonderful expansions of their mind, soul and body. When they “discover” a new thing, they draw/sing/physicalize it, it becomes a manifestation of the spark within.

So many potential brilliant children lose their initial focus on the “like,” and replacing it with focus on achievement—the things can be seen and measured. But when the “like” is killed or replaced too soon, it does not matter how finely skilled the artist later becomes, they may eventually give it up because the “like” is so far gone, that when all the artistic struggles rear their heads, (which they absolutely will) there won’t be enough passion to sustain them.

Succinctly: encourage a fueled passion. When skills or careers falter, the love will be deeply felt, and see them through.

4. DON'T look for the Magic Pill. There is NO Magic Pill. 
Yeah. There just …isn’t. Whaddya know? Just like everything else in life.
No quick fixes.
No secret formula.
No one to bribe.
No competition to defenestrate.
No incantations you can do for your daughter’s career naked in the moonlight in the woods behind your house.

So to avoid singing “Rose’s Turn” after your kid graduates from high school, keep these thoughts in mind:
'No Magic Pill' means allowing yourself to nurture an unconventional view of both success and of excellence; then, passing those values on to your child. It's kind of like on the airplane when they tell you to secure your own in-case-of-emergency oxygen mask before assisting others—you are no help to your kid if you are passed out drooling on a liferaft yourself. Secure your mask then help keep them grounded by giving them the tools to keep themselves grounded.



1. DO Facilitate, Facilitate, Facilitate.
  • Do your homework
  • Ask for help (like you are right now by writing/reading this!)
  • Keep your cool
and of course,
  • Do everything you can to encourage them to keep writing/drawing/singing/dancing/doing what they love to write/draw/sing/dance/do.


2. DO tell them.
Tell them how happy you are to see them writing/drawing/singing/dancing/practicing.
Tell them how proud you are of their hard-work.
Tell them how much you love to bear witness their artistic process,
Tell them how all of it makes you feel. (Even if they get all "Ugh Mooooom" on you, you can have confidence that you are the artsy version of the Moms in every Olympics commercial, and someday they will know without a shadow of a doubt that you supported them.)

3. DO teach them to LOVE it. 

The only true constant motivation in life is the feelings we get when we work to bring to life something that only existed in our minds or souls or bodies before we somehow manifested it in the physical world.
Show them how to love to write/draw/sing/dance/do by living your own passionate life.
Get better and better all the time at gardening, tennis, or making German chocolate cake, because passion drives excellence.

Lead by example.

4. DO respect the differences between Knowledge vs. Intelligence.
Detailed (aaaaaall soap-boxy, and at length) here.


5. DO be prepared for when they fall down. 
Because they will.

Honesty corner: I went to over 60 auditions last year and got 4 of those jobs. (The rest came to me through professional connections, or knowledge of previous work, but that's another essay).
I was crushed when I didn’t get into X school.
Cried when I wasn’t considered for A.
I raged when I lost out on B.
I doubted myself when C didn’t work out as I’d hoped.

My own (awesome) mother knows that she can’t “fix it.” There is no Principal to call, or Drama teacher to plead with. All she can do is hold me while I hurt, and reiterate how proud she is of me as an artist and as a human being. Her continuous parenting of her adult artist daughter includes support… and nothing more. I can’t speak for my amazing mother, but I’d wager she would say that true support is as much of a skill as singing—just as tricky and just as rewarding when you get it right. It is about knowing when you simply hold your child’s hand to help them endure the tough parts with dignity and grace, mine them for the lessons, and walk onwards with courage and integrity so that the glories are even more triumphant and full of joy.

Concisely, this is my ultimate message:
That is your job: you can’t drive your child’s car, but you can be a solid, calm, true companion on the inevitably bumpy drive.

6. DO emphasize the pursuit of EXCELLENCE, versus the pursuit of SUCCESS/FAME.
That lesson will stick with them forever, and applies to all circumstances, levels and walks of life.

Society fills our heads with enough unrealistic dreams of grandeur, fame and glory for its own sake—be the antidote for your child. Show them that you value their passion, their hard work, their consistent pursuit of excellence. And remember: success is not about what you do, it is how you feel about what you do.

If this Love of and for art is strongly rooted in them, reinforced with realistic support, encouragement of hard work and passion, and a healthy dose of ethics, then there is nothing that will stop their greatness. 
They will improve at an accelerated rate because they will still love the act of creation. 
They will stretch their growth beyond the course curriculum because every assignment will be a labor of love, and personal joy, not a grade. 
Their love for the work will expand their capacity for creativity. 
Their careers will find them.

They will continue to reach for personal wonder,
for awe in their world,
          their work,
in their humanity,
     in their artistic practice;
NOT for the paycheck, the awards, or the notoriety... 
...And they will do so for the rest of their lives.



20 June, 2014

Serving Maria

Dame Kiri: honoring the legacy.
Tonight, as I was doing the dishes in my ever-warming fifth-floor walk-up in New York City, a song began to play on my iTunes shuffle.
It was "One Hand, One Heart" as sung by Kiri Te Kanawa and José Carreras from the 1985 studio recording conducted by Bernstein himself. (Many of you may be familiar with the documentary film made about the making of this recording-- for many of us it was a consummate first glimpse behind the scenes of the music world).

I stopped.
Bright-yellow gloved, and covered in soap suds, I stopped.
The music was stabbing me in the heart.
I folded over and listened to them sing...
     and I cried.

It sent me back a year-- to Al on the subway/on the streets/in a hundred voice lessons/in the shower, pouring and pouring over the Marias of the past-- Carol Lawrence, Marni Nixon, Josefina Scaglione, and Tinuke Olafimihan, trying to glean any musical understanding I could. But particularly from Dame Kiri's flawless, totally inaudible breathing, the shimmer of her high notes, and the effortlessness of her phrasing.

Once upon a time, almost exactly a year ago, there was a day when I was riding the subway up to Julliard for a voice lesson. The very same 1985 studio cast recording of "One Hand, One Heart," had come up onto my iPod, and I fell apart on the 1 train. I just surrendered to the music, allowing the tears fall down my face moved by the truth and beauty of it all as a few thoughts aburptly struck me:
  • I was conscious of the fact that I was making my way up to sing along the very streets where the 1961 movie version of West Side Story had been filmed.
  • I was conscious that only a few months before, I had made my way to this very place to audition for Michael Tilson Thomas.
  • I was aware that Bernstein's own breaths and gestures and feelings were in that moment, ringing in my ears...
  • I could not believe that of all the sopranos on earth, Michael Tilson Thomas--one of the greatest minds in music--had chosen me. I could not believe what he was giving me the chance to be a part of. 
  • I would not doubt his judgement, nor would I allow myself to let anyone down. 
It was in that moment on the train that I vowed to profoundly honor this role, and this legacy.
I endeavored (and continue to endeavor) every single day to deserve it.

You know, whoever you are, no matter where or how publicly you work on your art, we all must remember that art is, at its core, a service industry.
It is simply not about us, the artist, our ego and its agenda.
It is about the story.
It is about the truth.
It is about finding within the text and music and silences in-between, what makes us the same.
It is about serving the character,
     and in serving them, doing everything in our power to get out of our own way so that their story can be truthfully told.

I know that there are probably thousands of better singers than I. Some of them are the people I grew up admiring. Some of them are my friends. Some of them were in the cast of West Side Story with me! Some are distant phantoms I will never know or meet but I admire from afar. Many are singing beautifully in the shower in Iowa or New Zealand or Latvia. For many weeks before I reached San Francisco I allowed myself to be bogged down by those "better singers," in awe of their tone, legato, and breath control, and frankly, their life of training which I had truly only just begun.

One day in rehearsal it hit me very simply: I cannot be them.
There is only one them.
Just as there is only one Alexandra Silber.
This is not about comparison.
This is not at all about my voice, my high notes, legato or breath control.
In fact, this isn't about me or about singing at all.

This is about Maria.

And I knew in my soul, that I had a great deal to say about her.
I knew Maria in my bone marrow.
I had the ability to let Maria use my vessel to tell her story of love, courage, hope and strength.
I had the capacity to choose Maria's story over Alexandra's fears and insecurities.

And if I could find the strength to focus on Maria, rather than focusing on
     my self,
     my voice,
     the magnitude of this opportunity,
     the artistic company I am keeping, or
     the enormous legacy I am joining...
...then I would be just fine. Because Maria would be served, and with that purity of intention in mind, I trusted that the rest would fall into place...


Back in the kitchen standing over the dishes, as the final chords of Te Kanawa and Carreras came to a close, I realized something...
I realized that one day, there existed the possibility that the next inheritor of this great legacy, that future Marias-to-be, that people might be sitting on the 1 train bursting into tears with...me.
With Cheyenne, and MTT, and I.

And thanks to a chance encounter on iTunes shuffle, I saw it fully: this was the legacy.
Not my name on a roster of Marias on a Wikepedia page.
No. This moment of profound, connected-to-the-core, deep musical feeling alone in my kitchen.
Or on the 1 train...

None shall part us now.

17 June, 2014

I've Been: California 2014

Three Sisters

Being 'Aunt Al'

Getting to know the tiny little new Silber: Charlotte.

Putting Hannah in owl pajamas
Playing softball!
General frolicking
Jumping on the bed
Reading stories
     singing Hannah to sleep

Force-feeding my nieces [total critical] musical theatre

Doing some serious eating with my big brother

Thoroughly inspecting [what feels like] every single mall in Northern California

Shame about the view...
Playing in the pool
Sunning by the pool.

Climbing up the mountain and drinking and entire bottle of champagne whilst taking in THIS view [see right]

Walking up mountains
     and through forests

Surveying the “LAND!” my brother bought

the view from the ferry
Driving to Alamo with my former student, Jonathan...

Eating THE most amazing meal with his entire family

...playing bocci ball
...and WINNING!

Making friends with a gorgeous South Carolinian family on the San Francisco Bay ferry!

Giving directions to tourists and feeling “very” San-Fran-local

The team.
Going to the dentist. In San Francisco. Because that’s where my dentist is.

Walking across downtown San Fransisco…literally

Just… ya know…launching the West Side Story CD (Eeeeee!)

Reuniting with so many friends made last year!

Singing "I Feel Pretty."

In the presence of Rita Moreno

And freaking out
making-out with Cheyenne Jackson
...in the women’s bathroom…


....where I discovered that everything is named after a bird... Cool.

Love is Strange premiere

Flying to LA for a quick hello

Having lunch in LA with people I saw 4 days ago in NYC, because, friendship.

Getting "real talk" from my second family.

Driving to Cheyenne's house
drinking smoothies
falling in love with Jason, his fiancé, 
     and Billie Jean, his dog. 
...then singing along to ourselves on the CD in his living room. (Mature.)

Then supporting the gorgeous Cheyenne at the premiere of his new film “Love is Strange.”

Staying in Michael Arden’s cabana… while he is in London, because, friendship.

Taking excessive photographs of his cat, Eloise (because evidently I have an addiction to taking cat photos...)
Business: with the sea.

Driving in the city in a Ford hybrid LIKEABOSS...

Getting long overdue Manhattans (because Manhattans are delicious.)

Going to the beach with amazing friends.

Having my (now annual) “business with the sea.”

Brunch and drinks
and Brunch dinner
and Brunch and dancing
     with a lot of amazing pals, old and new.

Making a lot of new friends.
Making a lot of 'lemonade...' 

Our Girl Band: Mermaids of Babylon
Loving my birth city. Loving it big-time. 

Seeing the “For the Record” and loving it.

Partying hard and late and dancing LIKEABOSS in the LA



...a shit ton of sunshine.

07 June, 2014

Ask Al: Knowledge vs. Intelligence

Dear Al,

A few weeks ago my son completed his Freshman year of University. He is a dance major at a well-regarded institution, and while his dance abilities are (as objectively as a parent can state) extraordinary, his academic grades continue to suffer as they did throughout his high school education. It has crushed him.

I believe in my son fiercely. I don't care that his grades suffer in math and reading, but of course this is the real world! Grades matter! And critically, his academic GPA hugely influences his scholarship money.

The worst part is, I can feel my son "closing up," identifying as "stupid" and "slow," neither of which he is. He is warm, engaging, a social dynamo, musical, thoughtful, and the understanding and command he has of his physical body is incredible. 

As an artist yourself, do you have any thoughts about this? Most importantly, how can I help him respect his individual talents and "smarts?"


Mom in Pittsburgh


Dear Mom in Pittsburgh,

Whoa Nellie. Thank you so much for writing, because do I ever have something to get up on my soap-box and preach about this!

Society values and measures two types of intelligences: Linguistic (words) and Numeral (numbers). Those are the only two ways we determine “smart-ness” in our children today. In my humble opinion: That. Is. Crazy

Psychologist Howard Gardner's has developed the pioneering theory of "multiple intelligences.”  In the original edition of Thomas Armstrong’s (incredibly accessible ) book 7 Kinds of Smart, based on Gardner’s theory, Armstrong identifies seven distinct, measurable intelligences.

These include:


PEOPLE (interpersonal intelligence)
SELF (intra-personal intelligence)

In the revised edition, he adds two newly researched forms of human intelligence:
NATURAL (regarding one's natural environment)
EXISTENTIAL. (regarding one's place in known existence)

The theory holds that new intelligences are developing in the human psyche all the time. (Dear Everyone, Please read this book.)

Schools have to manage and assess the learning of children, so they create tests, establish incredibly limited benchmarks. Those SATs and ACTs? They exclusively measure only linguistic and numeralintelligences, and perpetuate the educational myth that anyone who doesn’t succeed in these two areas is not “smart…”

But the creative mind does not progress in a conventional manner, and our culture, as a whole, has bought-off on this concept of intelligence as an end-all gospel truth. Mastery of these "measuring tools" (ACT, SAC, GPA) grants access to scholarships, top schools, careers, and massively affects the future of our children.  Also, the Arts are often treated as expendable "frills" in our public education budgets. Emphasis on SAT scores and 4.0 GPA's leave little time for other pursuits.

Dearest Mom in Pittsburgh, these measurements are of knowledge and not of intelligence. (Particularly intelligence as defined by Gardner and Armstrong, above.)

Knowledge is information that enters the mind as a result of learning. The dictionary says this:

noun: knowledge; plural noun: knowledges
facts, information, and skills acquired by a person through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject.

It is not to be dismissed, but it is achieved through memorization and often, mimicry.  Knowledge is easy to measure, thus easy to manage, and judge “smart” children from “not-smart” ones.  I don’t think I even need to articulate how damaging the labels of “not-smart,” “struggling” or, sadly “stupid” can be. Those labels and identities are toxic! Poisonous to the confidence of a growing human being, and can castrate even the most resilient spirits.

And knowledge is not intelligence.

©hula seventy
Intelligence is about capacity. Capacity for understanding, for the application of knowledge in a practical or skillful manner. For example, your son's emotional depth, married with what you describe as an extraordinary command and understanding of his physical body will not necessarily get him a high SAT score, but it positions him in ideal place to be the dancer he aspires to be. Intelligence encompasses the individual child themselves, with all their gifts, depths, experiences, understandings, talents and shortcomings and all their “letter-conditions” (ADD, ADHD, OCD, etc).

Think of it this way: a person may learn and know the steps of a great classic work of the ballet, but it does not mean they dance it skillfully or with expression. One may know the tune and lyrics of a song, but that doesn't mean they sing it with the furthest depth of human understanding.

When knowledge and intelligence marry with talent (innate) skill (learned) and hard work (required), together they comprehensively inform the present and future of an individual. 

Knowledge alone did not create the result. It was how that individual child chose to utilize that knowledge. The development of the creative mind is not measurable. Especially creative intelligence. There are no tests for this, no tools, no software, so don’t even try.  But as parents and teachers, we can encourage creative intelligence to develop naturally and brilliantly in our children; and as individuals, within ourselves.

I had a remarkable student last year in my acting class at Pace University. Let's call him James. James was a student accepted to the University through a program that provided acceptance slots for students with specific talents that weren't conventionally "good" students academically. But grades schmades--James was a great company member, a natural leader, outgoing, charismatic, and so deeply feeling (in fact, one of the most deeply feeling in his entire year group). He just didn't have the language skills to fully express that depth of feeling. He needed another way. It took me a little while to discover James' gifts, but when we entered second semester and the class became more physical -- I saw James in all his glory. I knew immediately that James' intelligence was in the movement of his form. There wasn't a single thing in the universe that escaped him if he experienced and expressed it through his body. Once I discovered that, I knew how to reach him. But critically, I named it for James, in front of all classmates. And I could see him stand taller, and get braver, because (I wish and hope) he felt truly seen and respected, so it gave him permission to more deeply respect himself.

Mom in Pittsburgh, I cannot change the system.
I wish I could.
But your instinct is totally spot-on: your son possesses intelligences that deserve respect. From you, from the world, and above all, from himself. 

One final thought about artists specifically:

Michigan State University physiologist Robert Root-Bernstien claims that most Nobel Prize winners have arts-related hobbies. French Physicist Henri Poincare said aesthetics was a "delicate sieve" that helped scientists sort through the confusion of facts and theories.

    •    Nobel Prize-wining chemist Road Hoffman is also a poet.
    •    Condoleezza Rice trained as a concert pianist.
    •    Leonardo DaVinci invented flying machines and painted the Mona Lisa.
    •    NFL player Rosey Grier used… um, needlepoint, to calm himself before big games.
    •    Thomas Jefferson played the violin.
    •    Einstein said the imagination was more important than knowledge.

Artists see, hear and feel the things other people ignore.

Artists see, hear and feel the over-looked, microscopic, or outright hidden links between everyday experiences, people and things. 

Because our artists, just like our scientists and great thinkers, have to see the world both as it is, as well as how they dream it to be.

Work hard.
Cultivate knowledge.
Honor Intelligence.



©hula seventy


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