Restructuring the Empire: Why I Think NOW Is The Time To CHANGE

The time of COVID-19/Coronavirus/Rona/Pandemic has been such a catalyst for change in the world. I admit that at the beginning of it, I believed that it was a political ploy or that people were overreacting. I remembered SARS and the fact that it never became a big issue for the United States. Within a few weeks, I realized the severity of the pandemic, so I began to shelter-in-place like the rest of the world. This is change #1 for me. I went from being a skeptic to being an advocate for mask wearing. It’s ok admit you were wrong and change your ways!

Pre-pandemic, I was teaching over 30 voice lessons each week, while also aggressively pursuing a second career as a travel advisor. My mindset was that if I worked really hard for a while, things would eventually balance out. I might be temporarily crazed, but things would settle down eventually. I assumed that around August of 2020, I would say no to some of my teaching work, in order to teach certain students and devote time to the travel business.

That time came significantly early for me, in the form of a global pandemic. The extra time at home, as well as the major disruption to “normal” life, helped me to realize some things. I don’t mind teaching online. In fact, I mostly enjoy it. I don’t have to drive, it allows for greater flexibility with scheduling, and it actually works very well. However, what I quickly realized is who I want to teach. Some students show up to lessons ready to do the work and learn (a complete pleasure), while some show up and go through the motions (a drain). While I try to encourage them to just make the most of it, I believe in self-motivation and do not try to force people to like something. When the school year ended, that meant that I went from teaching over 30 lessons a week to teaching around 12 lessons a week. The students who were left were mostly students who were closer to my “ideal clients.”

This was change #2. It is best summed up in something I wrote to my students earlier today: “Moving forward, I intend to maintain a relatively small studio of students who value the work of developing a very solid technical foundation that will allow them to use the singing voice as a powerful and versatile instrument for communication. This will allow me give more thought, energy, and attention to each student, both during lessons and between lessons.”

About the travel business, I had worked hard to get the word out that I am a travel advisor, and it was beginning to pay off. I designed some beautiful, exciting itineraries for people to Hawaii, Italy, and places between. The way the travel industry works is that you typically get paid after the travel happens, which meant that I would have a nice income in the summer months from my clients’ trips. Well, all of that had to be canceled or rescheduled. It is common knowledge that the pandemic has been devastating for the travel industry. I have felt so horrible for everyone from cruise line crew members trying to get home to my contacts in Italy who were ready to welcome my clients.

This is change #3. Knowing that my work as a travel advisor would continue, I just accepted the temporary pause and figured out what I could do. That is why I started a podcast, which is called “Just Beautiful Experiences: Travel, Food, Music.” It had been on my mind for a while, but I hadn’t quite figured out my unique spin on a podcast that would bring all of my worlds together. In the midst of a pandemic, I figured out that if I did something to give other people a platform to tell their stories and tell about their businesses, that could help them, it would strengthen our relationships, and it would give us all greater exposure. Episode 6 was just released today, and they can all be heard on Apple Podcasts, or pretty much anywhere podcasts are available, as well as on my website (or the bottom of this post).

Other changes are brewing in my travel world (change #4), which I believe will involve focusing my specialties. I don’t know all of the details yet, but this will include music-based experiences, as well as European adventures and cruises. Along the lines of my podcast, I want to facilitate and curate experiences that help people to feel more alive and then discuss how to incorporate some elements from their experiences into every day life. I will focus less on hustling to book as many clients as possible, especially if it involves travel that might as well be booked online.

Other changes will come as well, and there are some things I’m not sharing yet because they’re not ready to be shared. They’re exciting, though! Let’s call that change #5. 🙂

For some reason, Madonna comes to mind, and I’m sure that sounds strange at first. I remember that on the news or MTV, they would always talk about how she was reinventing herself. I’m sure that many people, including me, thought she was silly for doing that and doing it only for fame. Maybe she was just adjusting until she found the right fit, or restructuring her empire to stay relevant. Change can be scary, and sometimes the scariest part is wondering what other people will think. If you keep changing directions, you must be wishy washy or not really committed to what you’re doing.

I’ll end this with two ideas that helped recently. First: “multi-passionate.” I’m passionate about singing and teaching voice, and I’m passionate about the life-changing possibilities of travel experiences. I’ve feared that people would think I’m not as legitimate in either profession since I’m dividing my time between the two. Pushing through the last part of 2019 and 2020 until the pandemic hit was a crazy time, and the pandemic has helped me to better figure out how the pieces fit together as a multi-passionate entrepreneur. I have to thank Elise Besler for this, as well as introducing me to the work of Mike Michalowicz, which led me to the second idea.

Second idea: “the world’s best.” I watched this YouTube video, in which Mike Michalowicz speaks about finding authenticity, and we have to be “the world’s best” for our world–not someone else’s world. Rather than listening to what the world and everyone else says, “if you truly listen to the rule of your soul, that’s where your best is…if you serve into our authentic self, you’ll be serving the right world, and others will be attracted to it.”

To sum it all up, while the world is seeing a major upheaval and restructuring on a much grander and scarier scale, I believe that changes are necessary. Sometimes ugly and scary things, like rioting and plagues, have to happen in order for us to wake up and live our lives more fully, beautifully, and authentically. Hopefully some of these ideas will give someone the courage to make changes, whether they are small, internal changes or big life and career changes. Restructure the empire to be the world’s best!

Alex Ferri, founder of Palmaïa–The House of Aïa resort in Cancun Just Beautiful Experiences: Travel, Food, Music

On August 21-26, I visited four resorts in Cancun. They were all wonderful in their own way, and I really fell in love with Palmaïa—The House of Aïa, which is truly a luxury all-inclusive resort, but they have a focus on connecting with nature, ourselves, each other, etc. In this episode, I had the privilege to speak with Alex Ferri, the founder of Palmaïa about the concept of the resort and how it all came together. I am inspired by people who are passionate about what they do, and I hope you will enjoy our conversation. Please subscribe to the podcast, and be in touch when you are ready to visit Palmaïa. It pays to use a travel advisor!My WebsiteBlog About PalmaïaVideo About PalmaïaTravel InstagramPodcast InstagramYouTube Channel
  1. Alex Ferri, founder of Palmaïa–The House of Aïa resort in Cancun
  2. Nalini Mehta: Ayurveda, Doshas, Rasa, and Yoga Pops!
  3. Suprakash Nashipuri, Cellar Master and Sommelier on Norwegian Cruise Line
  4. John Ratledge on Music, Travel, and So Much More
  5. Cynthia Vaughn: Entrepreneurial Voice Teacher Adapting to 2020

New Year’s Day on AmaMagna

Everything had a bit of a delayed start on New Year’s Day, but I was up, as usual. I had my early breakfast, did a bit at the gym, walked around the ship, watched us go through a few locks, and had lunch. We arrived in Melk at around 2:00, where the big tour of the day was Melk Abbey. That involved a short bus ride up the hill to the Abbey, a tour of the Abbey, and a walk back down the hill and through the town, on our own. Here are some highlights of the day:

As a friendly reminder, I am a travel advisor/agent and can organize these same experiences for you!

Entering a lock on the Danube
Approaching the bridge. Will we make it??
Just made it under the bridge!
Panoramic view from Melk Abbey
Photos are not allowed in the Abbey 🤫
😍

Linz, Salzburg, & NYE on AmaMagna

This marks the time in a trip when I don’t really have time to write, but I will share more pictures and give a few highlights. On Dec 31, we arrived in Linz, Austria early in the morning. We could either go to Salzburg, Cesky Krumlov, or stay in Linz. I opted for the full-day Salzburg tour because I made plans to meet with John Thomasson, my college voice teacher, who is now teaching at the Mozarteum!

The tour left at 9am and made a stop in Mondsee a town in the Lake District where the church is from the Sound of Music wedding scene. It was a beautiful town with an equally beautiful church. That stop was about an hour into the bus ride and about 30 min from Salzburg.

Once we reached Salzburg, we had an 1 hour walking tour of the highlights. At the end of the tour, I met Dr Thomasson, and we saw some other sights, had some lunch, and caught up. It was a great visit!

I met the group again, and we boarded the bus to go back to the ship for the New Year’s Eve celebration. This was a great opportunity for a nap. We got back in time to get refreshed for dinner, which was a special menu for the occasion. Fireworks had been going on all evening, by the way. After dinner, the party started in the lounge. Then, at about 11:45, many of us went outside to see the fireworks. They were the coming from every direction, on both sides of the Danube, and we were told that they were just people in town shooting off their own fireworks. The city didn’t actually have fireworks! It was the most amazing show I’ve ever seen, and it seemed to never stop!

After midnight, there was a beautiful spread of party food in Al Fresco!

HAPPY NEW YEAR from AmaMagna!

AmaMagna Day 2: Vilshofen-Passau

As much as I hate to admit it, I left home feeling slightly under the weather. I was dealing with lots of congestion and a slight fever, so I decided I should go straight into town to the Apotheke and ask for something to help my symptoms. They were very helpful and gave me some medicine, along with some tea. I took three doses of the medicine, and although I think it made me drowsy, it really dried up the congestion!

We were to be back on board at 11:00 to leave for Passau, so after one last look at Vilshofen, I made my way back to the ship. I walked around the top deck a bit and watched the people untethering us from the dock. What was AMAzing is that this ship turned around right in the middle of the river.We just spun around and headed in the other direction!

Before lunch, there was a talk from Christian, the cruise manager, who told us about upcoming excursions. That went on until 12:30, when lunch was served. Lunch in the main dining room was a Bavarian lunch, and it really was a feast. There were many types of sausages, pork, salads, potato salad, cheese, desserts, etc! Everything really was excellent. After that feast, I had a bit of a nap to prepare for the Castle Hill Hike that I had signed up for.

The hike began at 3:00 and was a 3 mile walk all together. It was a pretty slow moving hike, which was fine except that I was freezing!! The hike was to a cathedral at the top of the mountain. It is a place that draws pilgrims who walk up a specific staircase (on their knees, I think??) to receive some sort of blessing. I need to check my facts! Here are some beautiful photos from the hike:

After the hike, I took some time to thaw, and then it was time fo “sip & sail” before dinner. I was signed up for dinner at The Chef’s Table, which I was excited about. I was seated at a big table full of fun people, who all work in travel. That worked out really well for a long dinner.

AmaMagna Day 1

As one would expect from a German train, it arrived right on time in Vilshoven—11:24 am. I walked through the lovely town down to the river and walked right on the ship after telling my name to the man at the door.

My first view of the ship!

I was escorted to the reception desk, which was friendly & efficient. They told me that my cabin was not ready, but if I went to the Lounge or Al Fresco Restaurant, they would find me when it was ready. Honestly, I was a bit skeptical that they would come find me any time soon.

I went up to Al Fresco and the lounge, and I had a bit light lunch. It was basically a vegetarian experience because the only meat available was on sandwiches. (With cucumbers). As soon as I was standing up from my table, s very kind gentleman approached me and told me that my room was ready. He took me there and showed me around to be sure I understood everything. He was there to answer any questions, and he gave me some advice about when and where to make dinner reservations.

My light lunch in Al Fresco

I enjoyed the room for a bit, then went to make my dinner reservations for The Chef’s Table, Al Fresco, and Jimmy’s Wine Bar. I explored the ship, which is absolutely beautiful, and I eventually went back out into town since I didn’t have any commitments until the welcome cocktail and safety briefing at 5:30.

Being Sunday, nearly everything was closed, except for a few restaurants. Vilshofen is a completely charming town, and it is fun to see the Christmas decorations still up since they will stay until Epiphany.

At some point, I took a much needed nap and attended the welcome and safety thing at 5:30. Everyone was greeted with a glass of sparkling wine and a toast with the captain and the hotel manager. then, there was a gathering in the lounge. While it was nice to be sailing with only 150 or so people, the major introvert in me mostly sat and observed the others, trying to figure out what my fellow passengers are like.

We had a bit of a chat from several important people, including the captain, cruise manager, and the hotel director. It was good and informative, but I felt that it went on a bit long! However, when it was over, it was time to go to the tent for the Vilshofen Oktoberfest, where they had local beer, pretzels, and music. I found a table with a couple who looked nice, and they were lovely, along with their other friends who joined a bit later. It was a really nice time with Bavarian music and dancing, and it seemed to loosen up the crowd a bit.

Hotel Manager speaking in the lounge

Dinner was to be served at 7:45, and I was going to the main restaurant. I sat at a large table with a couple who were just sitting down. It turns out they are also from the Atlanta area! Soon after, a couple from London joined us. It was a somewhat interesting dinner, but I’ll focus on the food and service. We had a very good server who seemed to be handling three tables. He told us that things might be a bit slow since it’s the first night. I didn’t quite understand that since it wasn’t the first night of sailing ever. It was fine, though. After we placed our orders, the courses flowed well, and the entree was the only thing that seemed delayed. This was a multi-course meal with soup, salad, sorbet, entree, and dessert. It was an excellent meal!

Sea Bass
Beautiful dessert (forgot what it was!)

After dinner, which means around 10pm, I went to the lounge to see what was happening. I had a cup of peppermint tea and relaxed there a bit. Then I went downstairs to see what was happening in Jimmy’s since there’s supposed to be something at 10pm. I saw one table of people but nothing really happening. It was time for bed anyway, so that is what I did!

AmaMagna Journey Days 1/2

After sleeping for almost 11 hours (unheard of), I woke up at almost 8am took a quick shower, quickly threw my things in my suitcase, and enjoyed the most beautiful breakfast in the Sofitel Munich Bayerpost. Now I am on the train and have time to write a bit about my journey here and my day in Munich!

Sunrise from Sofitel Munich Bayerpost

My direct flight from Atlanta to Munich was at around 6pm on December 27. For some reason, I got to the airport around 2:30. I usually enjoy hanging out in the airport lounge, but this was excessive. Oh well, I was through security in about 30 seconds and in the lounge a minute later! It was packed! I found the quietest spot I could find and just relaxed until about 5:00. I walked to my gate, and the flight boarded on time and left basically on time.

The flight was so pleasant that there’s not really much to talk about it, except for Delta’s new “elevated” main cabin service on international flights. Things were a bit delayed because the air was a bit bumpy as we started, but once they started serving us, it was lovely. It began with a hot towel and a menu. The menu had choices for appetizer and entree. The appetizers were caprese salad or a salad with shrimp, and entrees were chicken Marsala, grilled chicken salad, or ravioli. Before they came through with food, they gave everyone a bellini (peach purée with champagne)! It wasn’t the most amazing drink, but it makes you feel a bit like they care, rather than treating you like cattle (although cattle should be treated well too)!

Dinner was pretty tasty! Dessert was Ben & Jerry’s cookie dough ice cream, and you can’t go wrong there! I watched a bit of the movie “Coco” before going to sleep, and after sleeping pretty well, thanks to my new “turtl,” I finished the move just in time to land. Once we landed, we were taken by bus to the terminal and immigration. That was all very easy, and I got on the Lufthansa Express Bus, which was a 45 min ride directly from the airport to the Munich Hauptbanhof for 11 Euros. The best deal!

The Sofitel Munich Bayerpost is right next to the train station, so although it was 10am, I went to see if I could check in. I couldn’t, but I was allowed to check my bags and use the spa for the sauna, steam room, pool, and showers. This was the best thing possible! I stayed there until almost noon, and then I walked to a classic Bavarian beer hall that I had heard Rick Steve’s mention. As I approached, there was a group of men outside smoking and wearing Lederhosen. I was afraid they might be a group of silly Americans, but since I sat near them, I saw that they were just a bunch of German guys hanging out. I should have taken a picture of the menu, but I had some sort of boiled beef with mixed vegetables. I thought the menu said sauerkraut, but it turned out to be freshly grated horseradish! It was all just what I wanted, except that I actually wanted sauerkraut.

I walked back to the hotel and found that my room was still not ready, so I decided to keep walking (to stay awake) and went to Old Town. Ah, this was what I wanted to see, because the hotel & train station area was more grungy & modern. I would compare this to the area around Penn Station vs Greenwich Village. There was a small Christmas market still going. I tried getting a Glühwein, but they only took cash. (Side note: I couldn’t find my debit card, and I still don’t know where it is. Therefore, I don’t have access to an ATM!)

I continued walking, just seeing what I could see, and I ended up at the Viktualenmarkt, which was wonderful. While it’s always there, I felt like I was getting some of the feel of a big Christmas Market. I wanted to get back to the hotel to check in at 3, so I figured out the public transportation and took the subway to the Hauptbanhof. My room was ready!

I got to the room, which was great. It was on the 7th floor (out of 8), which meant it was above part of the building and allowed for a great view. I was waiting for my bags since they insisted on delivering them to my room. After a while, there was a knock on the door, and it was not my bags, Instead, it was 2 people delivering champagne, a fruit bowl, and a bar of chocolate. How nice!

Finally, my bags came, so I was able to charge my phone and put on clean clothes before going out to find dinner. I walked back to the OLD TOWN to see what I had missed, such as the opera house, Hofbrauhaus, and to experience the Viktualenmarkt with some money. I saw a soup place there, and that was exactly what I wanted for dinner—Goulasch! It was delicious and really helped to warm me. I walked around a bit more and finally. Had my gluhwein, which was delicious. It’s basically just mulled wine.

Glühwein
Munich Opera House

I went inside one big hotel because I saw a rooftop bar from outside. Once I got in, I decided I didn’t want to go, although I’m sure the view would have been great. As I left, though, I noticed a shrine to Michael Jackson. WHY?? I started walking in the direction of my hotel and took the train back to the station since it was cold, and I was tired!

MJ Shrine

I went to bed just before 10pm, and just as I had turned off the light, there was a knock on the door that said it was housekeeping. They must offer a turndown service? 10pm seemed late for that, though! I “yelled” at them from bed and told them that I was in bed. I slept well until about midnight, and after reading for a bit, I slept until 8am! I suppose I needed it!

Travel: How to get the best VALUE

My company is Pilkington Travels, LLC, and I would be honored to help you plan any trip, large or small, so that you get the best value and have the best experience. Feel free to contact me using form below, visit my website, find me on Facebook, and follow me on Instagram.

We all want a great deal, and I understand that! I am very thrifty in many aspects of my life so that I can afford to travel. I don’t really like the expression, “you get what you pay for.” Sometimes you pay for a little and get a lot, or sometimes you pay for a lot and get little. It isn’t necessarily black & white, especially with travel.

Here are a few ways I think you can guarantee the best value for your time and budget!

  1. Use a travel advisor! Travel is PERSONAL, and our job is to help you get the best value and be sure you have an itinerary that is customized just for you. A good travel advisor has partnerships around the world to ensure that you are getting what you want. We also have access to special pricing and special amenities that add extra value to your vacation. As a Virtuoso advisor, I have access to highly vetted partners to ensure that you get exactly what you pay for. You also have an advocate from start to finish to help things go smoothly, make wise choices, and help if anything doesn’t go smoothly. If you haven’t used a travel advisor, or if you are afraid of paying more for your travels, I really suggest you give it a try!
  2. Try an ocean cruise! Before I went on my first cruise, I was very skeptical and had no idea whether I would love or hate the 7 days on board. By day 7, I wanted to LIVE on a ship. It was the most carefree, fun vacation I had ever had. Since meals, accommodations, and transportation are part of the trip, there are no worries. You wake up when you like, eat when you like, etc, and you get to explore several interesting, new ports. Cruises have a bit of a reputation for nickel & diming you, but with the assistance of a travel advisor who knows how that works, you will be sure to enjoy the value of a cruise! By the way, most of my experience is with Norwegian Cruise Lines, and I love them. I can help you find the best fit for you!
  3. Try a river cruise! Enough with the cruise talk! No, never! I have to separate the ocean cruising from river cruising because they are a totally different ballgame. River cruises are a bit more expensive, but probably not as much as you might think. Of course, you still have the meals, accommodations, and transportation that are part of the cruise, but other things are included as well. River cruises usually include 1 free shore excursion per port, and they include wine & beer at meals. Although you have to fly to Europe, they also often offer free or discounted flights. They are also a smaller and more intimate experience. I am particularly a fan of AmaWaterways, but Viking, Uniworld, and Avalon Waterways, among others, are wonderful. Booking through a Virtuoso agent gets you even greater value!
  4. Try a tour. I’m sure this makes some people cringe and gives you visions of being on a charter bus with 60 people. Ick! This isn’t necessarily true. There are a number of providers that offer small group tours and groups various sizes, even private tours. Your travel advisor knows the reputable companies! If you are traveling solo (solo but not alone), or if you like to meet people when you travel, this can be a great way to go. Also, the added value of a tour is that you probably have a guide, all of the planning is built in, and the cost is probably reasonable since it has been negotiated by the tour operator.
  5. Choose your destination wisely. This may seem obvious, but some places are more expensive than others. Norway is amazingly beautiful, but it is quite expensive. Locations even vary in price. For example, the Dominican Republic is a great value right now because of the bad press. If you’re afraid of dying, you really should fearing that. This article, along with others, discusses how the deaths were unrelated, as well as how the media created too much hype about them. Also, Mexico is a relatively inexpensive place to visit, but it’s no less wonderful! Again, your travel advisor can help you find the location that gives you the best value!

P.S. I forgot to mention all-inclusive resorts, but they can also be a great value. In this post, I compare all-inclusive with cruises.

I would love to hear from you!

UPDATE Sing at Sea 2020: Singing & Wellness Cruise

I am a travel advisor and voice teacher with almost 20 years of teaching experience (bio at the end of this post), so I am combining my passions into one fun and exciting opportunity!

SING AT SEA!

Come and commune, relax and revive, on land and at sea where your wellness will thrive!

If you enjoy singing, want to be a better singer, or think you can’t sing and want to try it out in a safe environment, then this cruise is for you! If you enjoy travel, then this cruise is for you! If you love food, fun, and community, then this cruise is for you! Contact me below.

Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady, June 7-12, 2020

  • Fly to MIA (on your own, or I can arrange)
  • Cruise leaves from Miami
  • Pre-cruise hotel optional (and highly recommended). If you do this, we will have a pre-cruise dinner to get acquainted and get the party started! (I can bundle flight & hotel)
  • Embark on a 5-day cruise to Costa Maya, Mexico and Virgin’s FABULOUS “Ibiza Inspired” exclusive beach club in Bimini, The Bahamas
  • Enjoy all of the amenities of a brand new cruise ship, including meals, entertainment, and accommodations.
  • Participate in daily singing and wellness activities, including private lessons
  • Fly home a happier, healthier person because of the experience of singing, travel, wellness, and community.

The Itinerary:

  • Day 1 Miami – Departs at 07:00 PM, Depart 2 hrs before
  • Day 2 Sailing
  • Day 3 Costa Maya – 09:00 AM, local time
  • Day 4 Sailing
  • Day 5 The Beach Club At Bimini – 09:00 AM, local time
  • Day 6 Miami – Arrives at 06:30 AM
Scarlet Lady!

Since I am starting this small, anywhere from 3-10 participants will be ideal. Each participant will have private voice lessons, group classes, and discussions over dinner. No matter what, I will ensure that there is plenty of time for FUN!

The estimated cost for participants should be $2000 or less (plus flight), depending on the cabin chosen. Non-participants may join you in your cabin for a reduced rate. Also, Scarlet Lady has solo cabins, which means that solo travelers don’t have to pay double!

Please contact me with your interest and availability, and I will answer any questions you might have.

Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady Beach Club at Bimini
Jonathan Pilkington’s recent solo engagements include Verdi’s Requiem, Mendelssohn’s Elijah, Haydn’s Creation, Handel’s Israel in Egypt, Mozart’s Requiem, Handel’s Messiah, and Orff’s Carmina Burana. He sang the tenor solo in New York premiere of Mendelson’s Humboldt Cantata and was the tenor soloist for Elliott Carter’s The Defense of Corinth with the National Chorale at Avery Fisher Hall. He was a guest soloist at the 2014 Bassi Brugnatelli International Conducting and Singing Symposium in Robbiate, Italy. Additional performances include concerts with Lyric Intermezzo in Augusta, GA, a recital appearance at Reinhardt University, and solo recitals at Piedmont College and Winthrop University. In early 2017, he completed a tour of concerts with Karen Sigers, piano, featuring the songs of Samuel Barber, including a performance at Spivey Hall in Atlanta. In October 2018, he toured California to promote an album of songs with classical guitar, including transcriptions of Schubert’s Winterreise. Pilkington has performed many major choral works with the New York Philharmonic, American Symphony Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, and others, and has been guest lecturer in vocal pedagogy for University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point, the Sautee Chorale, and St. Bartholomew’s Church in Atlanta. With degrees from Shorter College (B.M.), Westminster Choir College (M.M.), and the University of Georgia (D.MA.), Pilkington, formerly Assistant Professor of Music at Piedmont College, now teaches at The Lovett School, United Music Studios, Perimeter College-Georgia State University, and The Galloway School, in addition to his own private voice studio. As a dedicated voice teacher, he has participated in the highly selective NATS Intern Program and competed further training at the LoVetri Institute for Somatic Voicework™ at Baldwin Wallace University, and he serves as the NATS District Governor for Georgia. He also serves as a staff singer at First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta.

Intentional Work in Music & Travel: Making the World a Better Place

You might say that I have entered the “gig economy” in my own way. I am a freelance voice teachersinger, and travel advisor. I love all of the things that I do, and that is important to me. Without the security of a full time job, a bit of stress can enter in, especially when things that I thought were going to happen don’t happen. It is easy to feel mistreated or misunderstood and to be motivated by stress, fear, or money.

I’m quite certain that those things are not going to lead to success, so I have to remind myself of what I realized at the end of July. As I was leaving a week of training for both singing and travel, I began to put some things together. I was wondering how the two careers I’ve taken on will work together, and it started to become clear as I made my way home.

As a singer I believe that I can make a difference in the world by affecting the audience members. They might not go solve climate change because of hearing me sing, but they might be kinder to the person who cuts them off in traffic on their way home. It’s a small change, but who knows, it might save a life!

My high school voice students sometimes say that they don’t want to major in music because they want to do something that makes a difference in the world. I understand that they mean, of course. They want to work biotech or in a non-profit and make a big, tangible difference. That is wonderful, and I respect that! If someone believes they can be happier and more fulfilled doing something other than music for a career, then they should do the other thing. 

I do hope (and believe) that my teaching makes a difference, though, even if it is not realized until years later. Maybe I make someone aware of a postural issue that could have developed into a bigger issue later in life. Maybe the tedious work of vocal technique makes a difference when a former student is a heart surgeon. Maybe the study of voice remains with the student who goes on to become a lawyer, and singing is the only thing that brings them joy.

In the travel business, it would be very easy to get caught up in trying to sell the most high-end, luxury  hotels, resorts, and cruises since more money is made from them. Honestly, I hope the find the clients who can afford those things, and I don’t see any harm there. However, I must come back to what inspires me about travel. Mark Twain’s quote sums it up best: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” I’ve said it before, but each time I travel, I learn something else about the world and the people of the world, which makes me a better human. I want everyone to be able to travel, in whatever capacity is best for them, so that they will have similar experiences.

The other side of travel is seeing amazing (natural or manmade) sights of the world, and John O’Donohue’s words sum that up: “Beauty is that in the presence of which we feel more alive.” This quote is in my email signature, because it applies to singing and travel. First, I think our minds have to be set on seeing and recognizing beauty, then the beauty of music, or of people, places, things, and experiences, will make us feel more alive, thus making us better people and making the world a better place.

For the “cherry on top,” I must mention my other favorite quote, which really brings everything together. While it may sound religious in nature, I hope that even an atheist can see the value in the words of St. Irenaeus of Lyon: “The glory of God is the human being fully alive.” Music and travel ultimately make us more alive and more human, so this is the world-changing intention that I have for my work. I’m putting it writing and making it public to hold myself accountable to it!

Blue Hill at Stone Barns!

Sometimes an experience is so monumental that a picture being worth a thousand words is still inadequate. An attempt to capture the experience of Blue Hill at Stone Barns in words and pictures is truly futile, but it will help me to remember the experience and share it with those who might be interested.

Our dinner reservation was for 8:30 pm, and they suggested arriving around 30 minutes early to walk the grounds and possibly have a drink before being seated. We arrived a bit after 7:00, because we didn’t want to feel rushed. Stone Barns was the Rockefeller’s dairy farm at one point, and I believe I remember correctly that it was donated to Blue Hill for the restaurant. Further research might be needed.

Once we parked, we weren’t quite sure where to go, so we wandered around the gorgeous grounds a bit until we ran into a very helpful young man. He was so perfectly pleasant that he was almost Stepford-esque. Unfortunately, we didn’t get his name. I’ll call him Nigel. He suggested that we look at the vegetable gardens, the walk around to see the greenhouses, where we might see some sheep and chickens. Finally we should wrap back around an make our way inside to the bar. Nigel said he would meet us there.

We weren’t exactly dressed for walking around a garden, or really for walking anywhere. Bree was wearing heels, and I was wearing new shoes that were starting to give me a blister on one foot. We suffered, though, and made it look good.

There were some young tomato plants and some peas growing. I’m sure there was plenty other produce growing, but that is as far as we ventured into the vegetable garden. On our walk over to the greenhouses, we took a few photos, and we also saw the chickens. As we approached a door, which we hoped led to the right place, someone (not Nigel) offered to take a picture of us. As we entered, we were greeted by Nigel, who instructed us to make ourselves comfortable, and someone else found out our names so they knew we had arrived for our reservation.

Nigel brought us a turmeric spritzer, along with a towel for our hands. We looked at the drink menu and felt it was necessary to order one of the creative cocktails. Mine was called “Rhubarb Reviver,” and Bree’s was “Bad Reputation.” I wish I had taken a picture of the cocktail menu! We requested to go outside, and Nigel escorted us out there. That is the last we saw of him, unfortunately.

The sun was setting as we sat on the patio overlooking the farm. Over to our right, someone was grilling things. We had not yet had a bite to eat, but everything was so perfect.

Right at 8:30, someone found us and took us to our table. The dining room was beautiful. The lighting was perfect, and a long table with an amazing floral spread was in the center of the dining room. I would estimate that 50 people were there. On our table was a booklet, a napkin, a flower arrangement, and a birthday greeting for Bree. It was explained that they would start bringing us food soon and that there was no silverware on the table. Silverware would be provided when they thought we needed it.

I tried taking notes about the courses as they were brought to us, but I missed some of the details. The first course was baby vegetables. They were lightly dressed/seasoned with something, and they were delicious. We experienced the true flavor of each vegetable.

Next, a server came by with a vase holding fennel fronds and said “a flower delivery.” We each took a frond and ate it. The stalk part tasted like fennel, as one would expect, but the frond part was quite sweet.

Next, we were presented with turnips with peach something (a description I missed). The person who brought it dusted the plate with poppy seeds as if he were sprinkling glitter.

Around the same time was a plate of pickled stuff (also missed the description). By this time, I think we were beginning to be simultaneously overwhelmed, amused, comfortable, and having a great time. Each “course” was presented by a different person, who placed it in front of us, pleasantly recited the description, and walked away. It was never a stuffy or pretentious experience, and everyone was so kind and charming. If we had a question, they were happy to answer.

I almost forgot the wine. Instead of the doing the “Unconventional Pairings,” we asked if they could give us two glasses each throughout the evening that would work well with the food we would be served. We first had white and later red. For each glass, we were given a taste of two different wines to see which we prefer, then a glass was poured. I could have done that all night long, and next time I might like to have the experience of the unconventional pairings.

Moving on with dinner, we were served kohlrabi (another missed description). Around about the same time, we each got a small cone of beef tendon popcorn (kind of like pork rinds).

We were also served weeds (on the arched structure), which came with a dressing for dipping. As the weeds were presented, it was explained that many weeds that grow are actually quite tasty.

Along with the weeds, we were served duck feet. Duck feet! The closest thing I could compare them to is crispy chicken skin. We also got some grilled fava beans.

We’ve now come to a highlight of the whole meal, which was pork liver with chocolate. Although I’m pretty adventurous, liver always scares me a bit. This was heavenly!

Finally, we were given silverware, which was wrapped in a satchel. Amazing.

All evening we had observed someone walking around the dining room with what appeared to be a branch from a tree. He finally visited our table and explained that what he was carrying was knotweed, which is apparently related to rhubarb. What arrived next was a knotweed spritzer. Perhaps this was a palate cleanser, because it seemed to be a turning point in the meal.

What came next was bones, asparagus, and cheese. The asparagus was what they called asparagus tartare with strawberry compote. What made this particularly interesting is that the server showed us three different egg yolks on a tray. One was from the typical egg that is raised on the farm, the other was from chickens that had been fed red peppers (the yolks were red). I actually can’t remember what the other variety of yolks was. We were to choose a yolk, and the server would grate a bit of it on top of the asparagus dish. This is one of my few minor complaints about the whole dinner. It would have been better if we could have tasted each yolk to decide which we wanted. There wasn’t really enough grated on the dish to taste it, so the idea was really interesting but I feel that the experience could have been more fulfilling.

The bones were very interesting. A white bone and a black bone were placed on our table to explain how bones are recycled. The server explained that the black bone had been carbonated in their carbonizer. These bones are used as charcoal for the grill. They are also used in aging the cheese that we were served. They called it bone char cheese, and it was so lovely with the oat bread. It looks like brie, and that is how it tasted, except a bit better.

The other very interesting thing about the bones is that a scientist from Philadelphia is studying the difference between bones from animals raised on their farm versus bones from animals raised in less ideal conditions. He makes bone china from the bones and has found that it is significantly stronger. The cheese and bread were served on this china, and I believe other courses were as well.

Next up were two courses that really made me laugh. The first was described as “joy choy with last year’s sardines.” Joy choy is related to bok choy, and it was not explained why last year’s sardines were used instead of this year’s sardines!

Bathroom break:

Following the joy choy and old sardines was “duck from recent slaughter.” It was served on top of some stones and was absolutely divine! This was served with a bit of asparagus stew. At this point we had also moved on to our red wine selection. I wish I had made notes on the wine, but there’s only so much I can do!

The lady who seemed to be our main server appeared and instructed us to gather our silverware satchel so that we could go on a little journey with her. She put our wine glasses on a small tray and escorted us out to the dreamy “shed” we had seen earlier in the evening. On the way there, she asked where we were from. She was interested to know that I am from Atlanta and mentioned that one of the other servers is from Atlanta and talks about going to Staplehouse, where I recently had an amazing dining experience.

Back to the shed! She told us that we would be served a course there, so she left us alone for a while. Then, a few minutes later, someone else brought us “the first of the peas with pullet egg.” It was delicious, and this part of the evening was especially magical. It’s hard to imagine how they coordinate the timing of everything so that everyone gets a turn in the shed. After we finished there, she took us on a short walk to show us some things, such as the herb garden. She explained that they were waiting for the chamomile to be ready so that all of their teas could come from the garden.

Soon after we returned, someone came by and took our “flower” arrangement and replaced it with orchids because they were going to cook the other one for us. It was an arrangement of “Christmas tree” (spruce or fir?) and asparagus. They also changed our candle. Also, the person from Atlanta ca,e by for a nice little chat.

What came next was most interesting. Simply put, we were served tacos that we had to assemble; however none of the ingredients were “normal.” First of all, the meat was a fish head. Then we had a lazy Susan with pea guacamole, bacon salsa, cream, greens, and a seasoned salt. The tortilla shells were made from something interesting too, but I have forgotten. This was all explained very quickly. However, despite the weirdness and lack of instruction, it was delicious and fun. There was a surprising amount of edible flesh available on the fish head. I truly wonder who got to eat the rest of the fish, though!

Following the fish head tacos was a plate of pork. It wasn’t really explained at all, but we definitely had pork belly and tenderloin. Also, our asparagus was served on top of the Christmas tree sprigs! They had grilled it for us.

Following that was a salad of experimental greens. I believe there was also duck involved in the salad. What made this particularly interesting was the dressing. The server arrived with a small copper pot. She explained what was in it, such as balsamic vinegar, etc. She took our candle and poured the melted stuff into the pot and said, “Don’t worry. It’s not wax. It’s beef tallow.” Melted beef fat was the fat portion of the salad dressing! She then poured the dressing onto our salads. Fascinating and delicious!

Along with the salad was served bone marrow. I find bone marrow to be delectable and disturbing at the same time.

Finally, around midnight, it was time for dessert. They brought out a tiny birthday cake for Bree. I believe it was a cheesecake.

Following that was the real dessert, which was a dollop of ice cream (scooped at the table) on top of slivers of rhubarb. They also poured a small amount of a chocolate sauce on the side of the ice cream. It is barely visible. This dessert was very nice and not very sweet. The rhubarb was tangy, the ice cream was creamy and not sweet, and the chocolate provided the most sweetness.

Alongside the ice cream was a small soufflé in a glass cup. It was amazingly delicious. The soufflé and the ice cream were both made from the same cream, which I believe they described as reduced milk, or something along those lines.

Just when we thought we were finished, we were served one more course. There was honeycomb, strawberries, cherries, and rhubarb needles in a haystack. Two of the strawberries were pickled and were quite tasty. The rhubarb needles were fun, but I did not find them particularly good to eat. Along with dessert, we also ordered a green tea and a latte.

This is why I couldn’t just post photos of the meal. I think they needed explanation. Believe me, it was not the quantity of the food that made the meal amazing. It was the creativity, inventiveness, and the overall experience, along with the flavor of the food that made the meal mind-blowing. As we left the building around 1:00 am, we were encouraged to return during another season. There are so many other restaurants in the world to explore, but I truly do hope that I will dine at Blue Hill at Stone Barns again, especially since I learned just before writing this that it has been named the #12 restaurant in the world. Congratulations to Chef Dan Barber on winning Chef’s Choice Award, which was awarded by his peers.

What a night. What a place. What a meal. I’ll never forget it!