Tuesday, December 31, 2013

What a Tremendous Year! {Favorite things Part I}

There's no way I'm going to be able to talk about all my very favorite things of 2013 in one post, so maybe I'll spend the next week or so looking back on it. For now, here are my favorite albums, nails swatches, and vacations of this year.

Albums I listened to in their entirety for days at a time:

20/20 Experience by Justin Timberlake (because I mean, who didn't)
When JT had this on iTunes for the preview, I was so surprised at how non-Justin Timberlake-y it sounded. It was like this complete work of art that he made with no pressure or expectations for a radio single. I couldn't get enough of the album and felt like if he extended each song 10 minutes longer, I would've been okay with that. 

On repeat: Blue Ocean Floor

Three Kings by TGT 
Makes me think of this sultry summer. Finally a bunch of low voices on an album together. And what amazing writing. Tank KILLED every entrance, background vocal, solo line, hook on this album. I also want to add that I never even noticed that the album was called something beside TGT.

On repeat: Explode

Random Access Memories by Daft Punk 
What a dope album, reminds me of my mini-vacay to Virginia Beach in May. Daft Punk aficionados say this isn't their best though. Upon further investigation of their catalog, I discovered that they are right. But this was still an album I listened to for days and days.

On repeat: Doin' it Right

Honorable Mention: Beyoncé's self titled album, Dreamboat Annie by Heart, Rhythm and Repose by Glen Hansard

Favorite nail designs

I like to keep it simple in most situations but I always add an accent nail (or Party Nail as some people inexplicably call it) or two to express my style. I'm generally a bit of a Plain Jane fashion wise so I use my nails as the chance to be bold. These are a few of my favorites this year because of the textures and the blend with my skin color. I've always been a fan of anything that is includes glitter and sparkles, and I love metallic effects.

As the year progressed, I became slightly obsessed with Holographic effects and will probably bring that into the new year. 

Can't get enough of: Flying Monkeys by OPI and Beyond Cozy by Essie

Favorite Destinations

Miami (this deserves a separate  post)

VA Beach

New Orleans (This is definitely getting a separate post)

I was going to include food in this post, but I could just go on and on. Maybe later in the week. But here are a few favorite food things in NYC worth mentioning: 

The Poblano Ranch Dressing at Just Salad specifically the one on 7th ave in Park Slope
The Grand Avenue Latte at Outpost in Brooklyn
Artichoke Pizza from Two Boots on the UWS
Braised Short Rib Pasta from Atrio Wine Bar at The Conrad

Stay tuned for part two!

Did any of your favorites make this list?

4th City: Charlotte, NC - Friendship Missionary Baptist Church {Tour Life}

In October 2013, I went on my first National Tour with Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. I sang the Abyssinian Mass written by Mr. Marsalis with Chorale Le Chateau led by Damien Sneed. 

After DC we took a semi long ride back down to North Carolina. I had never been to Charlotte before and everyone mentioned to me how cool of a town it was. We stayed right downtown Charlotte and they were right, it was a really nice area and I wished I could've stayed and explored longer!

We got there not too late at night and we had the night off! A bunch of people went out bowling and as I am the worst bowler and most competitive game player in the world (doesn't matter if it's Volleyball or Tic-Tac-Toe, I aim to destroy you!), I decided to sit that one out and do my hair. And well, I used to know how to do my hair but that night, I'm not sure what happened. So I took a much needed rest that night at the hotel with my funny looking hair, some pizza, and my kindle. The good life!

The next day was when we actually performed at the beautiful Friendship Missionary Baptist Church. This would be the first time we were performing the piece in a church and there was something so special about that. The mass was slowly becoming closer and closer to our hearts and no longer just a piece we rehearsed all year and were taking on the road, it was now part of us.

Mmm, bisque.
I'd the say the most fun I had was after the concert when some of the girls from the alto section started free style singing in the dressing room. We were definitely having church in that room! It was just amazing to hear what those girls could do with their voices and their unrehearsed harmonies. We were all becoming a lot more familiar with each other and it was starting to feel like I was on the road with my closest friends and family. Some of us even went to Karaoke that night. I'm certain someone has this on tape but I'm not going to look around for it for everyone's sake.

Oh also, I had this sumptuous She Crab Bisque for lunch at the restaurant in the hotel. I'm still dreaming about that bisque.

Fashion Corner + DYI

Fashion Finds
Credit: The Polishaholic
Also, this is the precise color I have and I promise you it doesn't look like this.
While I was out Christmas Shopping, I stumbled upon a Leopard Print blazer and a discounted China Glaze Holographic nail polish. I haven't worn the blazer out yet, but it fits me like someone made it for my body type. I can't wait to throw it on. Will more than likely pair with all black and a metallic heel.

I tried out the "holographic" China Glaze and was really disappointed with the lack of hologram. I'm going to stick with Color Club when it comes to that particular nail effect.

Favorite OOTD
Let's pretend that I go out all the time and wear fabulous things to various events. While that may be a thing of the not too far future for me (here's hoping!!), I can assure you that it is not happening at this time. SO it was very easy for me to narrow down my favorite outfit of the day during the past week.
On Saturday night, my mom threw a holiday event for family and friends and her color scheme was silver, white, and blue. I, of course, didn't have many of these colors at home so I went around to my favorite stores to see if I could get bargain on a quick dress within the color scheme. Lo and behold, I found this White A line pencil dress with Grey Houndstooth. It also came with that silver belt. I mean how perfect was that? I didn't have to look too hard. I paired it up with my favorite blue pumps by Guess and a couple pieces I had laying around the house. I found that G Clef necklace at one of those jewelry stores on 34th street that's always having some blow out sale. The necklace itself is Sterling Silver as most costume jewelry doesn't agree with my skin. I think I also got that magnetic bracelet from the same store.
Also, blue smokey eye!
The closest thing I have to a full body shot.

Also, OMG DYI Magnetic Makeup Boards?!?
My friend Brittany put me on to a little do it yourself project that I plan to do in the upcoming weeks: Magnetic Makeup Boards. Looks like you just get a nice frame (or a not nice one at a thift store and spray paint it), attach some sheet metal (from Home Depot), decorate the sheet metal, throw some magnets on your make-up and voila! Okay so I made that sound a bit more complex than what I was aiming for but I cannot WAIT to do this!! Here are some photos of my favs from the web:
Credit: Samanthafranz.buzznet.com

Credit: kristenscreationsonline.blogspot.com

Monday, December 30, 2013

Third City: Washington DC - The Kennedy Center {Tour Life}

In October 2013, I went on my first National Tour with Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. I sang the Abyssinian Mass written by Mr. Marsalis with Chorale Le Chateau led by Damien Sneed. 

We drove to DC early in the morning and I slept most of the time. I was so afraid to be riding a tour bus everywhere, but it was so totally fine. I had some amazing meditative music and it always kept me pretty zen. Before I knew it, we were in DC (it was only 3 hours anyway). I was SO excited to be back there as I hadn't really stepped foot in DC in a good 22 years. Yikes! What?

I was also extremely excited to sing at the Kennedy Center and to see my best good friends Parker and David. I was definitely taking pictures of everything like that tourist that I was.
There's me on the right, with the hat on! Behind the piano!
Photo credit: Frank Stewart
Mmm, lobster.
In between soundcheck and the show, we got to go out in the city and have lunch. I had THE MOST DELICIOUS Lobster Ravioli at CIRCA at Foggy Bottom. I mean, so good. After that we went up to the top of the Kennedy Center to look at all of DC from there. I was told the that view at night was stunning, but I didn't get a chance to indulge. Next time, for sure!

I actually bought a wig for the tour. I don't normally wear wigs, I don't know how to put them on or ANYTHING. I had my friend Lauren Michelle help me out with the pincurls and the actual putting on of the wig. I was pretty excited too and I was telling just about everyone that I was walked by that I was wearing a wig. How convenient!

But by the time I got on that stage, I was sweating bullets and I felt like my scalp was slowly being ripped off of my skull. I was also afraid to move too much just in case it shifted or something. And to top it all off, I wore the most Presidential dress I could find, because you know, we're in DC and everything. BUT I only brought knee highs, not full stockings. SO between my wig potentially falling off and the entire audience noticing that there was about 1/8 of my legs showing between the knee highs and the dress, I was very happy to stand in the back out of anyone's line of sight. As luck would have it, I was moved to the front row at the last minute. Yep, of course. Cheers!

Luckily, there were no knee high or wig mishaps and we had another thrilling concert. My phone had no reception so I sent my friends in the audience about a million texts before I got to meet up with them really quickly and take about a thousand selfies before getting on the bus to the hotel which wasn't very close to the venue this time around. My dinner was these AMAZING Angus Sliders and Truffle Mashed Potatoes at the rooftop revolving restaurant in the hotel. I'm drooling thinking about them. BRB walking to DC to get more.

Also, they were topped with fried onions.
Here's a snippet of our performance!

Weekend Round-up! {Dec. 27 - Dec. 29}

Well this weekend didn't involve too much singing but it was still a busy one. On Friday, I had some grandiose plans of making a big dinner or going to get my nails done or something like that. But instead, I waited until the eleventh hour and went to the stores at Union Square to look for a dress for my mother's holiday dinner event. I ended up with this lovely Grey and White Houndstooth dress since the colors at the event were Silver, White, and Sky Blue. I went with Blue pumps and Grey Opaque tights. I might do some sort of fashion post later in the week highlighting my entire ensemble, which I never got a full length picture of! Ack!

On Saturday, I had two things to accomplish before the party: Getting my hair done and buying Halal Chicken for my Muslim relatives. I did both with flair and ease and I took pictures of both the chicken and my hair, but I think you'd be more interested in seeing my hair. And OMG I did a blue smokey eye for the first time in my life. This is pictured above.

The party was a success but MAN was I tired after breaking everything down and helping my mom clean up. I wanted to make this Sunday my last brunch Sunday with a huge flair and flourish but I decided to keep it indoors and catch up on a whole bunch of Homeland and blog of course. I also spent a bit of time preparing for my upcoming recital you're all coming to on Saturday.

How was everyone's weekend??

Second City: Norfolk, VA - Chrysler Hall {Tour Life}

In October 2013, I went on my first National Tour with Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. I sang the Abyssinian Mass written by Mr. Marsalis with Chorale Le Chateau led by Damien Sneed. 

Our next stop was Norfolk VA to sing in the Chrysler Hall. After two days in Chapel Hill, I was almost sad to leave. Then of course I remembered we had so many other cool places to go to.

We got to the hotel pretty early in the afternoon after a bit of a drive and the weather was just incredible. I don't think I ever got used to how deliciously warm the temperatures remained while we were out. We got to our rooms and still had some time to enjoy our surroundings. We were right on the water so a bunch of us went out back and pretended we were on vacation for like 5 minutes before it was time for soundcheck.

This time around when we got to the Chrysler Hall, we couldn't help but take pictures of the house. And some of us (read: me) thought it might be cool to have a photoshoot all the way downstage. So much fun!!

After another delicious dinner, we got ready for show 3. This was a great audience too and we got a great ovation from them. After the show, I was so wired from all the energy. I was starting to hear the piece in a much more different way than I ever had in rehearsal or even in the 2 previous shows.

Additionally, we found out that The Virginia Arts Festival had an after-party and invited us to it. This was the first of a few surprise events that occurred after the concert. I remember thinking to myself  "Wow really La Toya, all of the dresses that you have in your suitcase and you didn't think to bring one with you for after the show?!" But like everything, it was completely fine for us to hang out as we were. We all had on our Chorale Le Chateau hoodies so it was uniformed enough. The food was delicious and the wine was plentiful. We all got back on the tour buses and threw an impromptu dance party...on the bus, because, tour life.

When we got back to the gorgeous hotel, who was sitting on the couches in the lobby but the man himself! I was probably the last to know that Wynton is the coolest most approachable dude ever, so when I saw him there, I immediately thought of the most professional greeting to say so that, you know, I'd look professional when greeting him. I probably said "Good evening Mr. Maestro Marsalis sir" and courtesyed or tipped an invisible hat or something, who knows, seemed appropriate! I was so tired that night and thankful for the experience in Norfolk and was very ready to get to DC the next morning!
Photo credit: Frank Stewart

Here's a clip of us singing the Our Father that evening

Sunday, December 29, 2013

This is my fav-or-ite show, because it is my show. {How to recital in NYC}

Can't believe my concert is a few days away!! So, this is the first solo recital that I've done in about 6 months and it's also the first time I've done a concert completely by myself. No guest artists, all La Toya, all the time. It's Saturday January 4th at 8pm sharp! Don't be late, I'm literally starting at 8pm and ending with enough time for us to have a reception, yaaaaa!

There's still time to get your tickets: http://www.eventbrite.com/e/la-toya-in-concert-tickets-9614237443 (unless you're reading this after January 4th 2014, then...OMG it was so awesome, you totally missed it!)

I started putting together concerts after I completely quit working day jobs last Fall. It was one of those, if you build it they will come moments. It was around October and after a well deserved vacation visiting my friend and her family for a week (Hi Angie!!) I realized I had nothing lined up for the Winter. I legitimately had nothing lined up AT ALL for the foreseeable future. While this would normally *freak out* the average opera singer, I'm not your average opera singer. I thought to myself, I know ALL this music...so why not do a recital. We had to do them in Undergrad and Grad and it's almost like second nature to me at this point.

I also had so many friends in town (ya know, since I'm from NYC) who were/are always asking me when they could hear me sing next. So it was almost like "duh La Toya, do shows".

I feel as though each time gets better, whether it's me picking the right space, the right repertoire, or just singing well. It's also giving me the experience all performers need to get up in front of a group of people to perfect their craft. No matter how much practicing you do in the practice room, nothing really compares to singing for an audience.

It's also really fun for me to be completely in charge of every aspect of planning and executing a concert. I'm the event coordinator, the marketing manager, the admin assistant, the social media manager, the media consultant/ad person, oh and I'm THE TALENT. While it can feel a little overwhelming in moments (however brief these moments may be), it's so gratifying to see something you've envisioned take shape and be a success.

Here's a clip from my February concert "Love Songs". After a tumultuous week of my lil bro in and out of the hospital (he's totally fine now), wrapping up at a temp gig, and finding out I was selected to be in the Abyssinian Mass Tour with Wynton Marsalis & having the first rehearsal within 24 hours of finding out (whaaa!?) I performed this entire recital on a FLAMING SORE THROAT. I even made an announcement about it because I was 87% certain my voice was going to fail before it was all over.

Dernier poème by Poulenc (La Toya Lewis) from La Toya Lewis on Vimeo.

To all the naysayers, I say, it IS possible to perform on your own dime in this town, you just have to have the patience and the gall to do things for yourself. And to all the hopefuls thinking about going on out a limb I say, if opportunity isn't knocking, build yourself a door. 

Saturday, December 28, 2013

First City: Chapel Hill {Tour Life}

In October 2013, I went on my first National Tour with Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. I sang the Abyssinian Mass written by Mr. Marsalis with Chorale Le Chateau led by Damien Sneed. 

Originally, when I went on my first tour this year, I wanted to write about each city and show you pictures of my food and all that. While I did eat and take pictures of everything, I didn't lift a finger to write down all my experiences.Well, while it's still fairly fresh in my mind, I'll write about as many cities as I can remember.

Our first stop was Chapel Hill. It was a pretty long bus ride that started out at 3am and we made quite a few stops. One of my most favorite was at Cracker Barrel somewhere in Virginia. Just about everyone who doesn't have a Cracker Barrel within reach of them is OBSESSED with it. I am no exception. Doning our super dope new hoodies with our names emblazoned on the back (thanks Damien ^_^), we descended upon the first of many Cracker Barrel oases.
Photo credit: Jorell Williams
It was all pretty much a blur after that because I recall getting to the hotel, remarking to myself (and everyone) how AMAZING it was that it was still so warm in October down there and then going to sleep.

Also, I didn't get very many pictures because I was so tired! AND I got a little sniffle over night, so for the first concert my voice was so shot! I was super bummed about getting a cold so soon but I also not bummed because, I'm on tour.

 I had never been to UNC Chapel Hill before, nor had I been on a college campus in a long time, so I was oddly (and tourist-ly) excited as we pulled up in our fancy tour bus, looking important. We got to sound check and there was a buzz of excitement. This was our first performance after all the rehearsals! Eventually, when we got to the performance spaces (as you'll see) we all spent an elaborate amount of time taking pictures of the house and of the band. But for now, here's a picture I "snuck" because I didn't want to be *that* person.

After sound check, we went to dinner (I didn't take pictures of the food because I still didn't want to be *that* person), and finally went backstage to get ready for show 1. It was so well received and exciting to finally sing this in front of a bunch of people. Tour was definitely off to a great start.

Here's a shot of us from the photographer Frank Stewart, I'm the fifth dot from the left on the top row. Teehee!

Photo credit: Frank Stewart

Friday, December 27, 2013

First Tour: T minus 3 days to go {a look back}

In October 2013, I went on my first National Tour with Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. I sang the Abyssinian Mass written by Mr. Marsalis with Chorale Le Chateau led by Damien Sneed. 

I found out earlier this year that I was going on tour and didn't really mention it to the masses for months and months because I felt like I was dreaming! Showing up to Jazz at Lincoln Center at the stage door every few weeks and rehearsing a piece that the legend Wynton Marsalis wrote...I mean, how could this be real life? It was a question I'd be asking all year long.

I don't really know what I was expecting but whatever that was, it was BEYOND what I could imagine. Firstly, I was surrounded by greatness. From the conductor Damien Sneed to the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and everyone in between, we had some of the best musicians around in that room with us. And every single person in that choir could sing their faces off and it really validated my place in that room. That I was among the best of the best and I was included in that best.
Photo credit: Candice Hoyes

Fast forward to the beginning of October, it was the first of 3 days of rehearsal where we'd be rehearsing the Mass with the band for 6 hours per day. During those 3 days, there were some very interesting guests. On my way to lunch that Monday, I'm the only person in the hallway getting on the elevator and WHO walks out of the Dizzy's Jazz Club with their entourage but Fantasia Barrino. I don't even get star struck by people but for some reason, I was with her. Maybe because we were both at work that day, in the same place, and I was thinking, maybe I shouldn't say anything. But then she said "Hay-llo" to ME in her signature raspy voice. HA! I'm actually a really big fan of her and voted for her every week when she was on Idol.

The 2nd day, Crosby, Stills & Nash randomly showed up to the rehearsal. I don't know why, surely they were performing somewhere themselves and just wanted to check out the production. No big deal I guess. But *I* was freaking out because I spent a year trying to figure out the name of this one classic rock song, but I could only think of this part "Do do do do do DOOT DOOT DO DO". And it was such a long frustrating year because when I typed that into a search bar, don't you know, google COULDN'T TELL ME WHAT I MEANT. Anyway long story short, it was "Judy Blue Eyes" by them and I felt closer to that band after someone finally told me and sent me their CD (Thanks Debi!!). Okay, so that's why it was important to me that they showed up. I wanted to yell to them "Hey!!! Do do do do do DOOT DOOT DO DO. You know what I mean?!?!" What a La Toya-centric coincidence! (I cued up a YouTube Vid of this song HERE just in case you have NO idea what I'm talking about)

Ron Raines!
And on the 3rd day, someone who looked like Ron Raines showed up. Only, it WAS Ron Raines. This sealed the deal for me because after my friend Lawrence Saint-Victor got a role on Guiding Light, I started watching the soap opera to support him. I very quickly became a mega-fan of the character Alan Spalding (played by Raines) and how tremendously exquisite his villainous portrayal was. Just supreme. I loved him. So on that 3rd day when Ron Raines showed up to rehearsal I really had to ask myself if this was real life.

And we hadn't even left for tour yet...!

Here's a clip of us singing from one of our rehearsals that week:

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas Eve {LIKE A BOSS}

I've had such a good, responsible week. How easy is it to be completely irresponsible when you don't have a 9 to 5 or roommates to hold you accountable for being an adult ammirite?! Is that just me??

I digress...this past Tuesday, I had my only church gig of the season (whaaaa?) and there was a bunch of music to learn for it. So I took Monday to carefully go over all my solos and start the arduous task of cleaning my house. I also intended on doing some last minute shopping but never got around to it. I ended the night with a late night viewing of Anchorman 2, which, for all intents and purposes was a good movie and served its sequel purposes.

On Christmas Eve, I JUMPED outta bed (read: rolled and/or slid outta bed) and made my last minute presents game plan. Go to Union Square and in one fell swoop, obtain all of my Christmas gifts (and some gifts for me too. Because, presents), and make it back home in time for some more practicing. I went to my favorite local hipster coffee joint, Daily Press Bed Stuy, and got a normal drip coffee. I haven't had caffeine in a while so it made me unnecessarily antsy, jittery, and all out impatient on my train ride. Note to self: slowly eliminate caffeine from diet.

I made it to Best Buy to get my little bro some headphones and made the grave mistake of standing in the "Tablet only" check out line. That line moved so slowly I almost set the place on fire with my GAZE. I mean, I wanted to shake the worker who told me it was okay to stand in that line.

Commence freak out!
Then I went to Burlington (nothing of note happened there, beside me wanting to buy myself presents) and finally Barnes and Noble. I called in advance to have the book held for me at the front so I didn't need to search. But, being the girl that I am, I looked around the entire store like I had never seen books before. I happened upon these gorgeously (newly) illustrated Harry Potter book covers and stood there (in the children's section) and took an incredible amount of pictures. I also started talking to myself. "WOW I can't believe that he decided to illustrate THAT PART!" and "Man, I should just read this entire series AGAIN!"

With all my extra time, I started thinking of other presents to buy my family and quickly decided that I should grab some lunch before I pass out. I walked by a juice store and because I do enjoy a juice or two but don't particularly enjoy making it myself, I went in. Apparently everyone knows about Liquiteria but me, so while I'd like to say this is some new find of mine, I'm just late to the party. They DID however give me two juices to try for FREE. Wheeee, I'll be back.

My phone battery died before I could take a picture of my lunch (like I do), but I can tell you that it was nothing to write home about, and I won't be going back to that Thai place. Bleh.

Fast forward to the Mass - I was able to record myself singing a bit and will probably try to throw that vid together some time this week. But here's a little snippet. It's He Shall Feed His Flock from Handel's Messiah. Hope everyone had a great holiday!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Weekend Roundup! {Dec. 20th - Dec. 22nd}

On Friday, I sang in my old high school friend's wedding at Riverside Church, and it was AMAZING. No hyperbole there, I'm serious. If I were thinking, I would've taken a photo from the stage point of view. All I got is this fantastic photo:

The last time I was here, I was probably an undergrad at Purchase College seeing Renee Fleming live for the first time. This was also my first time singing an Ave Maria with organ for a wedding! So unbeknownst to the lovely Athalie, this was a big moment for me! Congrats girl!
Photo credit: Christina Chatman
On Saturday, I caught up with some old friends at a Christmas Party and Sunday morning I had a delicious brunch (featuring Truffle Mac and Cheese for all my foodies in the house).

I finished up the weekend with a much needed Nature Walk in Prospect Park and a rehearsal for an upcoming Midnight Mass performance. Whew, that's a whole lot!! I'm looking forward to the week ahead. How was your weekend??

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Blog post, the First {in which I introduce you to the blog}

Well, it's finally here! ::cues celebratory music and canned applause::

I've been thinking about blogging about my life for months now, wondering if people would read it or if they'd care. And I have discovered that I'm kind of interesting and maybe I should write about that?

This is a Lifestyle blog...and yes, I know, there are SO MANY of those out there now. Latest trends, who's dating who, which colors you should wear in December but not in April. I can (almost) promise you that this blog won't be that. That's why the by line is La Toya's Lifestyle Blog.

If you're here, it's because you're my friend or we know each other and haven't been able to keep up with each others' lives.What I can tell you is to expect the unexpected (mainly because I don't really know what this blog will turn into).

I do plan to write about anything and everything pertaining to my life! That includes, but is not limited to: all my thoughts, events, activities, and geeky obsessions (Harry Potter, LOST and why those should still be a thing etc.)

Because, let's be serious, who else is an opera singing, foodie,  Outer Space obsessed grammar enthusiast, musical theater loving, Super Mario playing, bookworm, Brooklyn native?

SO, welcome, and thanks for being my friend. Drop me a comment below to let me know you stopped by!