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A Singer Prepares


Ramping Up and Chilling Out


It’s autumn at Juilliard and life is busy. In Vocal Arts, the third- and fourth-year students are gearing up for their production of Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro later this month. Coffee-fueled news junkie Joshua Simka, a fourth-year tenor from Pompano Beach, Fla., races through a day of class, rehearsal, freelancing, reading, and relaxing.

Joshua Simka

Joshua Simka


6 a.m. I’m not one to reach for the snooze button in the morning. In fact, I typically wake up a moment before the alarm rings and promptly hop out of bed.

7:05 a.m. Having taken my time getting ready for the day, I spend some quality time with my favorite New York Times columnists and sections. During the day I’ll also be keeping up with the news on my phone. Being informed is extremely important to me and resonates with the social responsibilities of being an artist. I also take a quick look at my e-mail and reply to anything immediately pressing.

8:45 a.m. Espresso! I’m truly addicted and on a typical day I’ll probably have had two or three double espressos by noon. While I sip my coffee, I contemplate the day’s schedule and revisit my influx of e-mail.

9:15 a.m. At school, I stop into one of the fourth-floor practice rooms. Finding an empty room—even at this hour—is a greater conquest than one might think. While it’s early for singing, I feel most comfortable when I warm up my voice in stages, so I just sing a couple scales. Later I’ll be back for more.

9:30 a.m. I’m not sure how it happened that even as a fourth-year, I still have a pretty full class schedule. History of Singing is taught by Cori Ellison, who’s new to the Vocal Arts faculty this year. Despite the early hour, I always find something to take away from her encyclopedic knowledge of opera and our offhand discussions in class. This morning we learn about Verdi, one of my favorite operatic composers, and listen to excerpts from a historic recording of Maria Callas singing Violetta in La Traviata.

10:50 a.m. Now that my voice is more warm and my body more awake, it’s back into the practice room for a more thorough warm up. I sing scales for a while and review passages from the music I intend to sing in my lesson, coaching, and staging rehearsal later in the day.

12:10 p.m. If you can sight sing well enough, church work can be very lucrative for a singer, especially in New York City. After another double espresso (to go, please!) I head over to the East Side for a memorial service at the Church of Our Saviour on Park Avenue, where I also work as a cantor.

2 p.m. My voice lesson with my teacher, Marlena Malas: I sing through a set of Britten folk songs I’ve put together for my senior recital this spring.

3:07 p.m. After a great lesson, I head to Whole Foods at Columbus Circle for a curried chicken salad sandwich and a cup of black coffee.

4:30 p.m. I race uptown for a vocal coaching with Tom Grubb, who teaches French vocal literature. We polish up a set of Gounod songs for a performance in class tomorrow. Unlike instrumentalists, who might practice for several hours at a time without a break, a singer can’t go so long without tiring the voice. I tend to get a lot of my singing practice during my daily coachings and rehearsals.

6 p.m. It’s the third week of staging for Figaro and we’re called to rehearsal almost every evening. The show has been double cast and John Giampetro, the director, makes use of both contemporary and 18th-century worlds to accommodate the split roles in his interpretation of this repertoire staple.

9:10 p.m. After rehearsal, my good friend and fellow tenor Robert May, who’s also in the show (he’s Don Basilio; I’m Antonio), and I go to Epicerie Boulud for an espresso and to discuss the production so far. Robert also tells me about the Dostoyevsky he is currently reading, Demons, and I stammer as he grills me on my limited knowledge of Russian Realism.

10:20 p.m. I’m now downtown for a late dinner, stealing a moment to relax and meeting a friend who attends the New School. After a plate of pasta and a glass of wine (yes, I’m 21!), I throw back a double-espresso nightcap.

11 p.m. I tend to be very ephemeral in my listening tastes, often spending only a few days or perhaps a week listening to as much as I can of a particular composer’s oeuvre before moving on to someone else. On the subway ride home, I listen to the Juilliard String Quartet’s 2009 album of Beethoven’s late quartets. I just got off a Copland kick and now I’m thinking about putting some Chopin on my iPod.

12:19 a.m. So, I’m a serious reader. By the end of the day, I find that my reading becomes far more leisure-driven—as opposed to news or something for work or assigned for school. Tonight starts off with a mind-bending piece by Shirley Jackson, “Paranoia,” which was published posthumously in a recent New Yorker.

2 a.m. I try not to stay up too late on nights before a big day of singing or an especially demanding schedule, but I’m a night owl as well as an early bird—and my schedule tomorrow isn’t too grueling. I always have a stack of repertoire that needs to be memorized or some Italian vocabulary to study. Before bed is the best time to get that kind of work done—this time it’s French phonetics.

2:55 a.m. After one last e-mail perusal, it’s off to sleep. I have taken up the practice of turning off my phone and leaving it outside my bedroom. With only three precious hours until I’ll be up again, I can’t afford any interruptions!

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