I feel like my posts continue to grow further and further apart. I get really busy, and then I have to fit a ton of stuff into one blog post! This will be one of those posts. This week has been really long; so much has happened. On Sunday -- Entschuldigen Sie: Sonntag, 13. Juli -- we had AIMS Opening Ceremonies. This is an official welcome from the city of Graz. There are several universities in Graz, and the ceremony took place at one of the biggest, Karl-Franzens-Universität. The building in which the ceremony was held, the Aula, was absolutely beautiful. The hall was filled with paintings and rich colors. The AIMS Chorale sang again, and several officials welcomed us with speeches in English and German. The US Ambassador to Austria even sent a letter, which was read at this ceremony! The AIMS Orchestra played a fabulous work by Bartok. They were working on two days of rehearsal and they were absolutely phenomenal. Our orchestra is incredible.

The Aula at Karl-Franzens-Universität

After the opening ceremonies there was lunch at the MENSA there on campus (which is where AIMS normally gets lunch during the week). Afterward I went to practice, but as I sang, I noticed that my voice didn't feel right. Nothing hurt, but it was irrationally difficult to sing. My voice was very clouded, and it required so much effort to get out notes even in my passaggio. I left the practice room a little worried, but I figured it was nothing that a nap couldn't cure.

I took a nap upstairs in our room, and then Emily and I went to dinner. There is an American-style restaurant in town owned by an American lady. The restaurant is called Beat, and Emily had heard about their truffle mac-and-cheese and nearly died of anticipation. Unfortunately for her, they were out of mac-and-cheese that night, but she made up for it: In her words, "If I can't have mac-and-cheese, I'm gonna have bacon."I think this is also my brother Luke's life philosophy.

Sunday night the finals of the World Cup showed in essentially every bar and restaurant in Graz. Emily and I and some friends went to Gösser Bräu, the restaurant/bar next door, to watch. There were several huge screens with projectors set up all around the (dark) restaurant. We sat with our friends Jen and Laura, and throughout the night various other AIMSers joined us. I cannot tell you how cool it was to watch Germany win the World Cup in a German-speaking country. It's an experience I'll probably remember for the rest of my life. Our friend Jonathan was so nervous he was chewing on his Deutschland jersey.

On Monday morning I could not sing. At all. I went to my coaching with Andreas and had a lot of trouble getting sounds out. I was concerned, so I asked Dr. Anderson, one of the voice teachers here, for his advice. They instructed me to rest and not talk. All of you who know me also know where this is going. I have a really hard time not talking.

That night was the reception at Schloß Eggenberg. We refer to it affectionately as AIMS Prom. Several people had volunteered to do hair if necessary, and luckily I was able to get a time with Lubbock's own Daniel Hogan -- a former Tech student (Wreck 'em) who has been involved in several of the same productions as I have. He's also the hair and makeup wizard. He legitimately works magic. He didn't even have to curl my hair, but it was totally the best my hair has ever looked.

Front of reception hair

AND BACK.

Schloß Eggenberg is no longer a residence, but a museum. It's not far from die Altstadt and the main parts of Graz. All of AIMS piled into two city buses and rode to the Schloß. The long walkway at the entrance traces its way between green lawns -- home to several peacocks! We passed through a large arch to a courtyard in the middle of the Schloß, which was paved with cobblestones. I'm going to let you in on a secret: Don't wear heels on cobblestone roads.

Schloß Eggenberg

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Everyone looked fantastic. The girls all wore gorgeous evening gowns and had their hair done elegantly. The guys wore tuxedos and suits. All we needed was dancing -- but there wasn't actually any dancing. The reception took place in the Planetsaal, the Hall of the Planets, a grand room with lots of chandeliers. There were speeches, and the AIMS Chorale sang again. Many of my fellow AIMSers were excited about the free alcohol that came after all the pomp and circumstance. I was overjoyed by all the time I got to spend with my new friends -- no less, in a castle and in a gorgeous dress.

 

Roommate photo!

Me, Emily, Lauren

 

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I cannot tell you how loved I felt that night. Even in such a short time here at AIMS, I've met so many delightful people, who for some reason seem to think I'm pretty cool, too! This reception made me realize how many wonderful friends I've made here. It was probably the most fun I've ever had, and it was so joyful and magical. Also there were lots of good photos taken there.

Left to right: Emily, me, Laura, Jen

Left to right: Emily, me, Charlotte, Morgan, Shelby

Jen took this and I absolutely love it.

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What a beautiful evening!

I tried to rest my voice at the reception, but I couldn't resist talking some. I woke up Tuesday morning to the same lack of singing voice. After 8 am German I went to the doctor on staff at AIMS, and he asked me if I was sick. Thankfully, I wasn't: there was no phlegm, and my throat wasn't sore. Truth be told, I had over-sung. I was, in typical Sara fashion, so intent on drilling something into my voice that I overdid it. The doctor told me there wasn't much that could be done, other than silence and steaming.

So Tuesday was my silent day. It was rough. I had a lesson, and thought I would be immediately dismissed because of the condition of my voice. Praise God, I wasn't. Dr. Colón had me do some exercises that would cause my vocal folds to come together in a healthy way. After this vocalise I felt much better. She worked that day in a single octave of my voice, the middle portion: from middle C to the C above it. She hears a lot of color in my middle voice, and she wants to expand it and grow it throughout the rest of my range. In addition, though, if you have no middle voice, then you have a hole there that will not allow you to transition easily between registers. A weak middle voice can make for some unhealthy singing.

At this point, I was incredibly frustrated. I could hear people all around me singing beautifully all the time, while I could not. I would try to produce some sound, because my throat felt fine -- shouldn't I be able to sing? When only croaking emerged in my speaking voice, I had a terrifying flashback. Last summer, in 2013, I was unable to sing for at least a month or more. I'm not sure why that happened, but it did, and I was practice-less for a while. I feared that it would happen again -- this time at the biggest opportunity I've ever received. At that point, I burst into bitter tears.

I know that God can take it when we're mad at Him, and it's a good thing, because if He couldn't, then I might be in trouble right now. I questioned Him. No, questioning isn't the word. I demanded what the heck He was doing. I took out a lot of rage on Him. How could You, I asked Him. How could You allow this to happen to me at the biggest opportunity of my life. You gave this to me. You know I've been looking forward to it for months. How could You allow this to happen to me?! I was not very composed. I threw my empty water bottle across the room, I slapped my desk a lot of times and probably terrified Kate a little bit. Emily found me sobbing and assured me that everything was going to be okay, and somehow I pulled myself together and became less of a blubbering mess.

Jesus never ever ceases to amaze me. As the furious, demanding, utterly presumptuous words left my mouth, even as I thought them, a new thought came to my mind: My darling daughter, I love you, and even though you can't understand this now, this is for your good. Don't you just hate that? I do. When I'm upset like that, I don't care what's best; I care about what I want. In those moments, what I want is best, I think. I remember saying, "What He gives me is what He gives me, and I'll just have to deal with it." But in that moment, in all my fury and impatience, then the Holy Spirit chose to tell me of His love for me, of His great plan? I directed my frustration toward God while crying into His shoulder for comfort. What kind of God is this, that we can be unrighteously, unjustly, arrogantly angry at Him, and He will still love us so much that we must respond in kind? Who does that? I am so, so grateful that He does.

The first voice studio class was that night. I'm becoming obsessed with Strauss more and more every day, especially his magnificent opera Der Rosenkavalier. Angelica, a native Grazer in my studio, sang Sophie's part of the lush and gorgeous duet "The Presentation of the Rose." Um, hello. It was the most beautiful thing I've ever heard; I'm listing to it as I write (Frederica von Stade oh my gooooooosh). All the girls in my studio (yes, we're all girls) have wonderful voices, but the best part is that all my colleagues have been so loving and supportive of me even in the midst of voice rest. They all tell me their own personal vocal remedies. It's so sweet: we're a community.

Wednesday was much, much better. I had a coaching on Wednesday morning, and Andreas and I began work on the text of a new piece I'm learning. I used the word "funky" to describe the mood of a song and he said, "Funky. Yes, that's perfect. I like this word. That's exactly what it is. Funky." I'm singing on Friday (Freitag, 18. Juli) in eine Meisterklass, so Andreas and I went over the song I'm singing for it. It's a song I've known for a little while, a rather obscure Schubert Lied called "An die Entfernte." In between all the diction notes and tempo discussions, Andreas told me that my face was too sad. "This relaxation -- it is just an idea. You do not have to allow your face to droop." Then, "I see in your character that you are very smiley. I think you are a happy, a funny person. You like to laugh, you like to smile. Allow that expression to come through when you sing." It was one of the nicest things I could have heard.

This week in ATS (Audition Training Seminar) we have been reciting English texts to songs as dramatic monologues. For my junior recital next year I'm working on some songs by a Canadian composer, Colin Mack, who set poems by the also-Canadian poet Gwendolyn MacEwyn. I recited one of those poems, "Dark Pines Under Water." It is very different from any poem I've ever sung: very mystical and abstract; when I sing it, I have darker pictures in my mind. I really enjoy this class because you can tap into what you already have inside of you, maybe finding something new you didn't know you had. Andrea helped me to come to a better understanding of the poem, but also of the way to deliver it; this heightened delivery will help me when I begin to sing it.

Emily wanted to go to look for a skirt after class on Wednesday. She had seen a really cute one at H&M, so she asked if I wanted to go with her. Um, are you kidding. That's only my favorite store in the whole world. Emily got an entire new outfit. I bought a dress, a skirt, and a top. I'm not one for retail therapy, but sometimes new clothes do the soul good.

On Wednesday afternoon I was scheduled to sing in our coaching studio class. I had been marking and singing down the octave that day in my coaching, so Andreas told me I could do the same in studio class. I sang last, after two baritones around my age, and as the piano prelude played, I decided just to go for it. I sang everything in the octave and in tune, and it felt good. My voice was not too pressed, and all my sound was there: not all technically aligned, but it was there. I was overjoyed. Later one of my studio-mates told me that if I hadn't prefaced my song with a note that I wasn't 100%, he wouldn't have been able to tell. Chalk one up for Sara. And praise Jesus, always and forever.

Wednesday night, we had another masterclass, given by the fantabulous Christa Ludwig. This woman is essentially a living legend; she has sung all kinds of roles all over the world. Now she is retired, adorable, incredibly artistic, and sassy. She's pretty much the cutest thing ever. This masterclass was laid out a little bit differently than normal. Instead of an aria followed by a short lesson period, all the singers performed their arias in a row, like a concert. Then Christa Ludwig would coach them one by one in that same order. My two favorite performances were by a mezzo-soprano named Viktoria and the aforementioned Daniel the Awesome Baritone. Daniel sang "Se vuol ballare" from Le nozze di Figaro, and, surprising nobody, he was amazing. Viktoria sang "Wie du warst!" from my new favorite thing ever, Der Rosenkavalier. I thought she was the best one of the evening. Her tone was so rich and full and absolutely perfect for the role of Oktavian.

The site of the Christa Ludwig Masterclass, Minitoritensaal

This hall is behind the cloisters of Minitoritenkirche.

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Before I left Tech for the summer, a couple of the voice teachers there (shoutout to Dr. Ankrum, if she reads this!) remarked to me that they thought I was developing into a mezzo-soprano. At first this totally freaked me out, and I had a mini-identity crisis: I've been a soprano my entire life! As I've read and listened more, I've come to be very open to the idea. Now I've heard such wonderful mezzo singing that I would be totally down for mezzo-ness if my voice decided to go that way (I've been working on a lot of Cherubino recently). But Dr. Colón is very wise. She says, "The voice will tell you what it is." I've probably heard that about fifty other places before, but I like the way she says it. It's made me realize that I am on a journey. I'm freaking nineteen years old, for the love of God. I'm not going to know for a while. I just have to sing what I'm comfortable with, and as I grow, I will come to know my voice better. It's like getting to know a new part of myself. As I grow and change, so does it -- or rather, I see new things in it. And even though I'm stupid impatient 99% of the time, I'm ecstatic to be able to get to know my voice in that way.

Today. Donnerstag, 17. Juli. Today has been a good day. We had Artistry of the German Lied this morning. This class takes up two class periods and is really fascinating. The first section involves a lot of group diction work. The second section mostly consists of learning about Lieder composers and their styles. Right now we're studying Franz Schubert, his styles, and some of the poets whose works he composed. We hear some fabulous music in the process, too. The day we get to Richard Strauss is going to be a grand day. Directly after Lied class I had my lesson.

Guys.

I can sing again.

I cannot get over Jesus. In the midst of my waffling back and forth and saying I trust but not really trusting and then really trusting and all my nonsense -- in the midst of my unfaithfulness He is always faithful. He is so much better to me than I could ever deserve. Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good.

My lesson was basically awesome. I sang two arias for Dr. Colón, both Cherubino's. For those of you who don't know, the character of Cherubino is a fourteen to fifteen-year-old boy undergoing puberty and discovering women. The role is played by a mezzo-soprano, and it just so happens that I love those arias. I feel like there's some technique yet that she wants me to unlock, but it's so subtle that I have yet to light upon it permanently. There will be lots of prayer and practice involved in that.

Tonight the first orchestra concert takes place. Jen and Laura are both singing in it, so Emily and I are going to support them. In the meantime, I'm studying music (pretty much my default stage), and I have a practice session scheduled. I can pretty much hear all my teachers cautioning me to TAKE IT EASY, so let me take this moment to tell you that I will, I promise! As I mentioned before, I'm singing in a masterclass tomorrow for the German pianist Ulrich Eisenlohr. He has recorded all 600 of Schubert's songs. No big deal. I'm excited to sing for him and be coached by him, since his knowledge will be so much greater than my own. But that's what we're here for: to learn.

Many thanks to those of you who are praying me through this journey. Without your prayers and love and support I would probably be an emotional wreck. Praise Jesus always for His grace to me, which I nowhere near deserve.

Stay tuned: masterclass, free day, and all my music!

As a postscript: Emily, me, Laura. Probably one of my favorite photos.

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