Old Dog, Meet New Trick. (WOOF.)

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I’m on record as being a big fan of trying new things – my own career path is a twisty one, that largely echoes those experiences and topics that I find interesting. But, I have to be honest – I’ve got a great job, a great personal life, and it’s all remained pretty static for the last few years. There are inherent challenges in both professional and personal aspects of my life, but they’re not of the earth-shaking kind. (And I’m quite grateful for the stability and comfort – life is good!)

One of the projects I’ve been closely involved with for the last several years is Center Stage from Wolf Trap. The chamber music series that I program for The Barns at Wolf Trap spins off into a nationally-syndicated radio show that’s heard in Fairbanks AK, San Juan Puerto Rico, and on hundreds of public radio stations in-between. I’ve been involved as a producer for years – which loosely translates into doing research for the on-air personalities, listening for inaccuracies in their narration, and keeping them plied with coffee and munchies to keep the train on the tracks. Spending a few intense days in the studios at WETA talking music nerdery of the highest order with some great musicians is a respite from the opera world that I both enjoy and have come to crave. It’s fun!

This year, we weren’t sure if we were going to continue the series: we had a million internal discussions about its future, about the communities that we were trying to reach. (I personally reach for Sirius or Spotify or Pandora before terrestrial radio most days…is public radio relevant anymore? I’d hope so, but who knows?)  We threw everything – every aspect of the program –  up into the air. When the pieces reassembled themselves? Well, the series had survived. I was named Executive Producer! (Sounds so fancy!) The format had changed a bit, as had the on-air personnel.

They put me in the booth.

To talk.

On air.

(Ouff.)

It’s been admittedly years since I listened to my own voice through a headset – likely when I was singing, trying to critique my technique or performance for improvement. But I was always singing someone else’s words, with beautiful music behind it. Now it was just me – nothing in the sonic landscape to distract from my voice, as I prattled along. RK, a veteran radio announcer colleague and pal, fed me lines and tried to encourage me.

It. Was. Terrifying.

I’m thinking that one circle of Hell is a plane of existence where you have to listen to everything you’ve ever said, played back to you. (Here’s the breakdown: It’s 20% vocal ticks and fillers, 75% sounding reeeeeally dumb; maybe 5% of the time something gets from brain to lips that sounds both clear and vaguely intelligent.)

I had watched the guys banter effortlessly for years from the control room. They made it look easy! But it sure wasn’t. I got home that first night with a fatigued voice (because I usually don’t talk for 8+ hours in one day), and a foggy mind. But I also felt really good – I had tried to develop a new skill, and while I still sounded like Howdy Doody, I was enjoying the process and was starting to feel like maybe it was something I could actually do.

By the end of the second day in the studio, RK and I were starting to work out our back-and-forth, and were really having fun. We wrapped 13 shows, and afterwards we all walked across the street to grab a beer, chat about what had worked, and talk about the new direction the series was taking.

It felt like a new start, an exciting beginning. And I’m grateful to have had the chance to learn something new.

You’ll be able to hear Center Stage from Wolf Trap on a public radio station near you beginning in July of 2015. And there’s an email address listed as part of the broadcast that you can give feedback: I’d love to hear from you! (But be gentle – it’s my first time!) Thanks to the gang – Rich, Vic, and Bruce – for being so patient with me, and for the folks at Wolf Trap and WETA for being so supportive. Can’t wait for the next sessions!

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