Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thinking out loud....

I just read about Michelle Obama's lovely dress for the first state dinner at the Obama White House.

I love this woman! I just love her! She even reminds me of my mother and she makes all women proud. I will dedicate some posts to her very soon.

Today, it's something else on my mind. Read this...

"The strapless gown features hand cut sterling silver sequins sewn on nude silk chiffon, which create an abstract floral pattern. The dress is entirely handmade, requiring three weeks of work by 40 people, completed in Naeem Kahn's family workshop in India."

And yes, the gown is truly beautiful, I love Naeem Kahn and MO's choice was perfect.

Here's the mind twister, three weeks, forty people. Hmmm, if I had that, would I have chased myself away from home?

Just thinking out loud........

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Still working on corset....

I finally decided on a pattern for my corset. It's one that my teacher actually demonstrated with in class. My class mate Diane let me use hers. So here's my work in progress.

Here's the pattern

My cut out fabric, lining and underlining.

And here's the corset, sewn, not pressed yet! I'm just so excited. No tailors! Just me!

I can't wait for the finished product!

Watch this space!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Baby Steps

Hi all,

I’ve been MIA. I hope you had a great weekend. I had a very ‘PENSIVE’ weekend. But it’s all good!

I’m taking a whole range of classes in school, and it’s been just wonderful! I’ll talk about them in another post. In the meantime, one of them is an “Advanced

Sewing” class and our main area of focus is “Haute Couture Techniques”.

Now, for my friends and former clients, the question would be; “What is she doing in a sewing class?”

Well, before I continue, let me address these curiosities.

- I was never ‘taught’ how to sew, everything I did was by sheer determination, curiosity, passion, persistence, stubbornness and perfectionism, but I never really learned from a teacher, from books, yes, but not in the conventional way.
- I really never actually did any sewing, that was left to the tailors and seamstresses, my job was to design, cut and supervise
- The moment you say ;”I know it all”, it’s time to die!

Ok, so how much do I love “haute Couture”? Let me count the ways!!!!! I believe every fashion designer’s dream is to design and make a couture gown. Totally hand crafted, with all the fine details of the trade. No mass production here!




Throughout the semester, we’ve been learning various techniques; seam finishes, hems, dealing with very delicate fabrics- The works

We have a wonderful wonderful teacher.

Colleen Poteet. Learning from her/being taught by her is a pleasure in itself. She is passionate about the craft and passionate about teaching. She’s also such a sweet person. I feel so blessed to be in her class. I took the beginning sewing with her last semester, just out of curiosity (remember, Leonarda is a very curious animal!) and I’m so happy I did. We made a bag, a skirt and a little boy’s shirt.

Once again, I see my friends wondering….and I say again, learning is the best thing!

One can never know enough. Just ask my mentor, the great Leonardo Da Vinci himself!

The main task for the class is to design and produce the ‘best garment you’ve ever made’. For my classmates, I can see how this could be a great challenge. For me, it’s much more than a challenge, of all the hundreds, thousands of clothes I’ve designed during my 12 year career, this has to be the best. How do I top that? How do I challenge that?

This is how. The class requires 1 garment. Between me and you and me, I’m going to make seven. Yes, seven Haute Couture garments. Why? Because I need to challenge myself, my teacher won’t even know. It’s a personal thing. I may have designed thousands of garments, but I’ve never ‘designed, draped, cut and sewn from beginning to end SEVEN Couture garments. (Welcome to my ‘Renaissance!!!!’) Why seven? Well, usually, the minimum number of pieces for a collection is 12. But, 12 is quite daunting (I have only about a month left! And yes, I’m crazy!) So, I’ve settled for 7. One outfit for every day in a special week of the life of a fabulous woman like……maybe Leonarda?

One of our main areas of concentration for this class is ‘Corsets’. And so I’m building my whole collection around corsetry.

Some corsets

I’ll share my inspiration, my mood board and my sketches in a future post (still fine tuning!) but in the meantime I just want to share what I’ve been doing so far.

This is some of the fabric

Here is a ‘draped’ dress, to see what it’ll look like, it’s not sewn yet.

Here are a number of corset muslins on a draped shirt, I’m trying to figure out which one I want to use.

So, wish me luck!

I’ll be back!


Monday, November 9, 2009

The Anthropologist


I just found this at The Anthropologist by Anthropologie.

"The Anthropologist is an online space for inspiring works and inspiring individuals.
It is a testament to the idea that revealing the passions of one person can result in the progress of many."

My sentiments exactly!


Sunday, November 8, 2009

Diane Von Furstenburg

I mentioned the legendary DVF in my last post and I remembered this fabulous article that I read not too long ago.

I identified so much with the article and I was so inspired, I just thought I should share.


Here it is,from


The legendary designer gets personal about her loves, her career, and her style.
By Anamaria Wilson

There is a litany of fine descriptors for Diane von Furstenberg. Among them: candid, coquettish, feline, strong, outspoken, powerful. Her prolific success and glamorous life have been well documented. She is the Belgian-born daughter of Auschwitz survivor Lily Nahmias. At 22, she married Prince Egon von Furstenberg. Her nights at Studio 54 were oft reported. Andy Warhol immortalized her in pop-art portraits. Not content with a lofty title and the role of wife and mother (she had two children, Alexandre and Tatiana, with Egon), she created the famous wrap dress in 1974 and became an overnight fashion sensation. But after von Furstenberg's business hit a significant snafu in the '80s, she opted out and headed for Paris, where she stayed for nearly five years. That, of course, was not the last we'd see of her. She made a triumphant comeback in 1997; rebuilt her company; is now the president of American fashion's governing body, the CFDA; and married her longtime love, media mogul Barry Diller, in 2001. But this is just an enumeration of hard facts. Von Furstenberg is a far more complex creature. Her dear friend Oscar de la Renta describes her this way: "Her energy is boundless, and she is passionate about life and about her children and her friends. At the same time, she's not a social butterfly; she's a person of great depth." Bazaar caught up with her in New York at her headquarters and live-in lair for an old-fashioned heart-to-heart.

Harper's Bazaar: Do you ever want to give it all up?

Diane von Furstenberg: I don't think I have been more active ever than I am now. I've never been busier. I've never worked harder.

And Barry asked me why. But I'm loving my life right now. And I just need 20 years more than whatever is assigned to me, because I feel that there's so much that I want to do.

The wonderful thing about my life right now is just that it feels so coherent. Obviously, first there's my children, and I'm so proud of them. And they are fully grown up, they are aging, and they have children. So I can really say that, okay, they turned out well. My son is a great financier; he's very successful. My daughter is a filmmaker. So I'm very accomplished as a mother and as a grandmother.

Ten years ago I started my business again after having stopped, and I'm very accomplished in my business. And I have great satisfaction because the older I get, the younger my consumers are. And that's kind of fun, and that's kind of keeping me young and making me relevant.

And then as a woman, you know, my great discovery right now is that the biggest gift in life is to be able to give. I realize that I can make one phone call that doesn't cost me anything and change someone's life.

HB: What has your mission been?

DVF: To empower women. Why? Because I wanted to be an empowered woman, and I became an empowered woman. And now I want to empower every woman. And I do it through my clothes, I do it through my words, I do it through my money, I do it through everything.

HB: Was your mother the most influential person in your life?

DVF: Yes. But you know, I'm not the only one; most people's mothers are the most influential person in their life. But my mother survived the camps, and she was very strong. She made me strong, but she wanted me to be strong. That's more important.

HB: And your father?

DVF: My father [Russian-born businessman Leon Halfin] was adorable. My father loved me, which made my relationship with men easy.

HB: Do you consider yourself a feminist?

DVF: Yes.

HB: What do you think drove you to accomplish so much, so young? At 27, you had made it.

DVF: Yes, by 29 I was on the cover of Newsweek. I don't know, but that was lucky. I mean, it's very important to start very young. And I don't know why, it just happened. I got pregnant and everything happened.

HB: Do you still love the wrap dress?

DVF: Yes, I mean, listen, how can I not? It paid for all my bills.

HB: Is there anything in your life that's made you insecure?

DVF: I used to be very insecure about my curly hair, because I lived in a country where everybody had blonde straight hair.

HB: When did you get over it?

DVF: One day in 1976, I did a picture for the cover of Interview. And I had my hair very straight, blown out, and so we did the shoot, we shot the picture. And then my friend the photographer said, "Now wet your hair." And I said, "What do you mean? I can't wet my hair." And he said, "I just want to try something." And my hair was superfrizzy, and of course that's what ran on the cover, and that's how I've worn it since.

HB: Your mother said to you that fear wasn't an option, but was there anything that made you afraid?

DVF: I was terrified the first time that I had a big problem in my business. I was obviously terrified when they diagnosed me with cancer in 1994. I was terrified when my son used to drive too fast. But I do believe in the fact that fear is not an option, so I always try to face it and not be afraid.

HB: Whom do you attribute your independent nature to?

DVF: That's really who I am. I think it had to do with the fact that my mother was in jail, that she was in the camps. I think it must.

HB: So even when you were a little girl, you had that?

DVF: Always, always. And my children are like that, and my grandchildren are like that. So I think that it's probably a little bit in our genes, and then certainly in our education.

HB: Now, you realize that you're a commanding, magnetic presence. Were you always like that?

DVF: You don't see yourself like that. Nobody does. You know, there's a thing about the woman across the room. You see the woman across the room, you think, She's so poised; she's so together. But she looks at you and you are the woman across the room for her.

HB: Do you think European women are more confident?

DVF: No, no. People say that, and this and that, but no. But I think idle women are more insecure. I think it's very important for women to have children, but I think it's very important for women to work.

HB: When would you say you were the happiest?

DVF: I think now. But I think you could have asked me many times in my life and I would have always said now. Except my 40s. In my 40s, I wasn't always the happiest, but I probably would have said that I was.

HB: Who would you say is the love of your life?

DVF: My children. And Barry. But my children first, I will say for sure.

HB: Did you think that Barry would be such a major force in your life when you first met him?

DVF: Yes, I fell madly in love when I first met him. Really in love — we were very in love for five years. And then I left him. And he somehow was always that presence who drove the other men crazy, because they were jealous of him. And now we've known each other for 35 years, and he's loved me so much.

HB: So what do you think the secret to a successful marriage is?

DVF: Respect. And space.

HB: What would you say is your favorite thing about being married?

DVF: I don't know. No one's ever asked me that. I mean, I don't particularly like to be married. I don't know. It feels very natural. I don't feel like I'm a prisoner. So the things I like the best about being married are probably the things that aren't very typical about being married. I can't believe I married twice. I so don't care about being married.

HB: Is Barry a lot different now than he was when you first met?

DVF: I was 28. He was 33. He's more patient, but with me he was always patient. With me he's the same. He just loves me unconditionally.

HB: What do you attribute that to, chemistry?

DVF: Oh, yes. It's, you know, there's no way that you can explain a relationship. Everyone is so different and so unique, and it's chemistry, whatever. You can't explain it. But there's a true commitment. I mean, it was more on his side. Not originally; originally we fell madly in love, and then I left. And then he was kind of always present. But now I really ... now it's very even. It's very nice, our relationship. But he is special. And he loves me so much. I can do no wrong.

HB: Did your mother meet him?

DVF: Oh yes, of course. My mother knew him very well. My mother died only nine years ago, at 80.

HB: Do you believe not in secrets, per se, but in mystery? In the need to keep some things to yourself?

DVF: You know, it's very funny. I'm very open. I'm so myself. And yet, actually, I'm very private. My mother used to say I was. I hold my feelings. You just have to be natural; to try to provoke mystery is ridiculous. But yes, of course, what is always very attractive is what you don't know about a person.

HB: Are you ever lonely?

DVF: No, but I love to be alone. I am often alone but never lonely.

HB: Have you always been that way?

DVF: Yes, but as you get older you like it more.

HB: How do you feel about the aging process?

DVF: I'm so attracted to women with wrinkles. I think the pendulum is going to go the other way. For men, it was always more beautiful. And I'm not saying you want to look like Louise Bourgeois or Georgia O'Keeffe, but still, it's ... it's better to be you. To try to keep a young body — that's getting very difficult.

HB: Do you watch what you eat?

DVF: Yes. No. I do, because I like to eat healthy. But I like chocolate. I like black chocolate, but that's just part of being Belgian.

HB: What were those years like when you first left the clothing business in the '80s?

DVF: Well, I lived in Paris, and I was living with a writer. And I really didn't do very much, except I read a lot, and I had this fantasy of having a literary salon. When you live with writers — when you live with an artist — you don't do much except live their lives.

HB: After that, in 1989, you moved back to New York. Did you lose yourself for a while?

DVF: A bit. But I didn't realize it until I came back. So it's when I came back to New York that I saw I had kind of lost that identity that I had from the minute I first arrived in New York and I was this success.

And all of a sudden I came back to New York. It's the '80s, Ivana Trump and all these people are everywhere, and greed has become a virtue. I just felt completely irrelevant. And people looked at me like I was a has-been. I tried to get my business back, it was in the hands of people who didn't care, it had lost its spirit, it was horrible. It was the worst time. And it was really hard and really bad. And as a result I got cancer in my tongue — and I think it was because I was unable to express myself.

HB: How did you find the cancer?

DVF: It's the most ridiculous thing. I had lunch with Ralph Lauren, because Barry had bought QVC and we were trying to get Ralph Lauren to come to QVC. So I didn't really know Ralph very well. And we ordered one course because neither of us really wanted to do this lunch. But then we started to speak, and we spoke, and he became very open toward me. He had had a brain tumor, not malignant, and he was telling me about it. And I said, "How did you find out about it?" And he said, "It's funny. I had a noise in my ear, and I went to the doctor, and there was nothing in my ear, but that's when they found it."

The minute he tells me that, I have a noise in my ear. And I think to myself, "I'm crazy. He tells me about that and I have a noise in my ear?" So I pay no attention. The next day, I still have a noise in my ear, so I immediately went to the doctor, who found nothing wrong with my ear. But he said, "You know you have a swollen gland here." They took the biopsy. "It was nothing bad," he said. "Well, it's only a cyst, so there's really no rush to take it out." And I said, "No, no, I want it out." And when they took it out, they cut it, they found little bad cells in it. I did eight weeks of radiation. But I was lucky; that was 15 years ago.

HB: Did you ever feel like you had failed at anything?

DVF: You know, I probably have, but I have a very funny way of processing obstacles and bad things. I somehow make them work for me. And I have very little memory for pain or things like that. I process things that are not good and I make them work for me.

HB: That said, have you ever been heartbroken?

DVF: Yes, once. But he loves me still, so it's okay. It's alright. I did once. Once, a man left me.

HB: But they say that once you've had your heart broken, after that you never really have your heart broken again.

DVF: Yeah, but that was really — that was not so long ago. It was a late part of my life. It's okay, I love him. We're still very close.

HB: How do you find your peace?

DVF: I need silence, I need solitude. I love to be in the country. I found my peace in my house in the country, Cloudwalk. I love to hike, I love to swim, I love to read. I find my peace within silence. I don't know how people do it. But if on weekends I had to have a social life, I couldn't do that.

HB: How would you describe your own style?

DVF: I like to think that my style and the clothes I design are effortlessly elegant and sexy. I think the word effortless is very important. I think that that creates an ease and a confidence, because I think there's nothing more beautiful than a woman who's confident.

My wrap dress was almost accidental. It's the most traditional shape, like the kimono shape, no buttons or zipper, and it wraps. But what was different about it is that it was made in jersey, and it was tied to the body, and therefore it kind of sculpted the body. And then because it was in a snake and a leopard print, it made you look feline. I've touched so many generations with just that one dress, which is unique. I mean, no one has ever had such a thing.

But then from there, I think I have become a pro. And I understand fabric very well. And I understand color very well, and print and shapes. And I work with young designers and Nathan [Jenden, her creative director] and my team from Central Saint Martins. And it's wonderful because it's really so nourishing for me, for them. I'm surrounded with young people. I never see people my age. It keeps me very young and relevant. But at the same time, I have so much to give them.

HB: Did you always think of yourself as a designer?

DVF: I was shy about considering myself a designer because I didn't study design. And it was circumstances that took me there. But now, after all these years, I know I am a designer. And I know what I'm doing.

HB: And do men respond to women in your clothing?

DVF: Yes, but not always. Men recognize my clothes; men love my clothes.

HB: What do you see women doing style-wise that bothers you?

DVF: I don't like when women try to be something that they're not. I don't like anything that's forced.

HB: You have a very bohemian vibe.

DVF: To a certain degree, but I mean, I am a voyager. I come, I go, I pack. I am a little bit of a gypsy.

HB: What do you feel is the greatest lesson that you've learned?

DVF: In life? It's funny, but I think that I have learned that to be kind, to give, is the best gift. I think that's the big lesson. I'm lucky, because early on I realized that I should be my best friend. That's the lesson that I would like to give everybody.

HB: In what sense?

DVF: Well, I think that you have to be your best friend in life, because the relationship that matters most is the one you have with yourself.

HB: Do you feel like you get a lot of media attention? Does it bother you?

DVF: No, that's what has helped me. I really haven't had any people being really mean to me. Or if I have, I don't remember.

HB: But you've been open about you and Barry being very close but sort of allowing yourself different space. [The couple have separate Manhattan residences.]

DVF: But that's during the week. I mean, that's because I like that. We need that. You know, but that's fine. Who cares? So?

HB: Well, only because it's not conventional.

DVF: Oh, I'm not conventional. I've never been conventional. Who wants to be conventional?

HB: So you don't really care what people think about you?

DVF: Yeah, I do very much care what people think. All I want is people to know, to see me as I am. And that's all that matters. I stand for who I am. I am as transparent as can be. I have no skeleton in any closet. There is nothing that anyone can blackmail me with. Because I'm very open, and there is nothing that I have done in my life that I would be really embarrassed for anyone to know.

HB: Who in your life would you say knows you best?

DVF: Barry knows me very well. My children know me very well. But no one knows me better than I know myself.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

When I grow up, I want to..........

I've been thinking about this for a while now. We all know how fascinating it is to hear someone talk about their dreams. Even better when you can look into their eyes and see the passion behind these dreams. So, new as my blog may be, I want to start a weekly post about dreams.My dreams and other people's dreams.

I should have used my own dreams, hopes and aspirations to start this post, but I have found a much better way to do this.

Allow me to share..........

A couple of weeks ago, I reconnected with my favourite cousin of all time on Facebook. (Thank God for Facebook). You know how you just click with certain people the very first time you meet and the connection is there forever? That's how it's always been with Eric. I'm so happy to be back in touch.

But this isn't about Eric (Sorry Eric, your time will come!)

Eric is in love. And of course he's told me all about the special lady. And now I'm in love too!

I don't intend to divulge any personal information here, but I need to share some of what I know about this special lady.

She had dreams, and she followed her dreams, BIG TIME. And I am so inspired. I'm not going to go on and on about her as if I've known her all my life, we haven't even met yet, nevertheless, I can say this.

Kokui's dream is to be an opera singer.

And to make this even better,today is Kokui's birthday!

So, Happy Birthday Kokui!

I am so inspired by you and I beleive in my heart that many many more will be inspired too.

Dreams are possibilities. That's what I've learned from you!

I tried to summarise the story, but it would have taken away from the message I want to share, and the experience, so.....

And did I say she was BEAUTIFUL too!

Here's her story, from Ghanaweb.


I was born in Accra, Ghana on November 4, 1978. Shortly thereafter, my mother took my older brother and me to England to join our father, who was earning his Master’s degree from the London School of Economics. I grew up in England and it was there that I got my first taste of being on stage. I was about 8 years old when I was chosen to play a small role in the Christmas play at my primary school. I basically had one line to say in the whole show, but I took my role very seriously. One day, our director pulled me aside to tell me that one of the lead characters; the innkeeper, [who was female in this play], would not be able to do the role anymore, so she asked if I could take over! I was absolutely thrilled.

I already knew the part as if I had played it a thousand times. I always felt comfortable on stage, more so than in my everyday life [I was a shy child…in fact I will admit that I am still a little shy]. Acting felt so natural to me and I blossomed with each performance. One night after the play, several parents stopped me as my mother led me out of the theater. They congratulated me and showered me with praise and admiration, saying how amazed they were that I could act so well at such a young age. To my surprise and disdain, my mother quickly dismissed their comments and told me not to believe that I was that good. At the time, I did not understand that although she was proud of me, she knew how hard it could be to pursue a career in entertainment, so she was trying to protect me by convincing me to focus my talents elsewhere. The Christmas play ended a successful run and I took my last bow as the obstinate innkeeper, but my desire to be a performer still burned deep within me.

About a year later, my family moved back to Ghana and I had my first taste of culture shock. To me, Ghana was foreign, even though my parents instilled Ghanaian values in us. I was enrolled at Ridge Church School in Accra and I quickly adapted to life as a Ghanaian girl. I was always a good student and I made friends quickly but I had to work extra hard to prove that the shy Ghanaian girl with the British accent could hold her own. Many tro-tro rides and ampe games later, I completed Junior Secondary School at Ridge Church and began my Senior Secondary studies at Holy Child School in Cape Coast as a third generation HolyCo Lady.

I joined the Holy Child choir, scola cantorum during my first year. Aside from the fact that it was a performance opportunity, I was attracted by the chance for choir members to take trips to other schools, [mainly St. Augustine’s College] for concerts. I always had a good ear for music and I picked up our songs very quickly. In my second year, our director awarded me the coveted prize for best scola cantorum member. By this time, I had also forged a close friendship with two of my Holy Child sisters, Natasha Gwira and Nana Ajua Mensah- Brown. The three of us formed our own performance group, which we fashioned after the popular American group; Sisters With Voices [SWV]. We rehearsed and choreographed several routines to perform at funfairs and other social events at our neighboring institutions. We soon built quite a reputation among our Cape Coast peers but I didn’t let my love for performing interfere with my studies. After finishing at the top of my class in the Senior Secondary Certificate Examination [SSCE], I moved to the United States to continue my education.

I did some additional studies at the Allen Academy in Texas prior to applying to university. While at Allen, I joined the school choir to fulfill my extracurricular activities requirement. My choir director noticed that my voice seemed to possess a special quality and natural beauty and she encouraged me to audition for a slot in the Texas All- State Choir, which comprised of young singers from all over the state. I had never taken voice lessons and I feared that I may be too inexperienced to compete on such a high level, but nonetheless, I submitted an audiotape recording of my voice and, based on that, was selected as one of the Alto singers for the Texas All- State Choir. I later learned that I was the only singer chosen from the county where I resided.

After my All-State Choir experience, I worked up the nerve to compete in the Texas Private and Parochial Schools vocal competition in our region. I ended up winning the second place medal while a girl who had studied voice for some years won the gold. I began to believe that I did have a special gift, as my choir director said, and I confidently auditioned for a musical in a local theater. The musical was The Wiz, the Quincy Jones remake of the popular musical The Wizard of Oz. I played the role of the Good Witch of the North and impressed the theater director so much that he kept me in mind for a role in a musical he was writing about the city in which we lived. He ended up casting me in his musical in the role of Annie Dale, a downtrodden slave. I had the challenge of creating a role that had never been performed. Annie sang a heartbreaking song about the life she led as a slave and, as a 17-year-old, that was probably my first emotionally challenging role. After the show audience members would approach me and tell me that I brought them to tears with my performance. I felt that I was really growing as a performer.

With more performance experience under my belt, I entered yet another singing competition. This time, my natural talent was not enough to carry me through. I fell ill on the day of the competition and my voice cracked throughout my performance. I was crushed. I knew that I lacked the technique that I needed to overcome situations like that and my mother’s concerns echoed in my mind. I focused my efforts on applying to universities.

I was accepted to the prestigious Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia. My intention was to pursue a course of study that would prepare me for law school, so I selected Political Science as my major. I then began to think about the type of law I wanted to practice and decided that I would be happiest as an entertainment lawyer. At least in that field, I would still be involved in the artistic world I loved so much. After examining my options, I chose to pursue a double-major in Political Science and Music. At that time, music majors were required to have an instrument and I had the only one that God gave me: my voice, untrained but willing to be taught.

Upon my arrival at Spelman, I realized that my music major alone would occupy most of my time. I was required to be in the Glee Club, Spelman’s world-renowned choir and premier performance ensemble, for the full four years of my study. The Glee Club rehearsed every day and had several performances throughout the year, in addition to a two-week tour every spring semester. I not only had my core requirements and extra classes to take as an honors student, but I was also learning how to sing. Voice lessons were part of my curriculum and my confidence as a singer quickly faded when I realized that I was in the company of several young ladies who had extensive musical backgrounds from some of the best performing arts high schools in the country. They made me look like one of the rejects on American Idol! I started from the very basics, learning the fundamentals of music theory and composition and taking weekly lessons to improve my breathing technique, range and voice placement. As hard as I worked, I felt that my efforts were in vain. I was not as good as my more experienced colleagues and I frequently sat by as they were chosen to enter competitions or partake in important solo performances. Even though I was mainly studying music to enhance my goals for a legal career, I could not stand the fact that I was failing at something that once seemed so natural to me. Again, I started to wonder if I was cut out for the entertainment business.

My sophomore year came around and it just so happened that I had to fulfill a Performing Arts core requirement for my studies. Since none of my music classes would count towards this, I decided to take an introductory theater class. My initial intention was merely to take the class for core credit, but, as fate would have it, the class I took opened up another opportunity for me. Rumor had it that the theater department only selected certain “favorite” theater majors, to appear in the productions, but in that year, a new professor joined the department and he was selected to direct the first major production of the year. He also happened to be teaching my class. In theater class, I was like an animal in its natural habitat: completely at home. Unlike in the music department, I didn’t feel insecure about my abilities and my professor noticed that I had an innate skill when it came to acting. He held auditions for his production of the musical West Side Story and cast me as Anita, one of the lead roles. I was in love with performing again.

My voice teacher saw me in West Side Story and in my next lesson, she congratulated me on my portrayal of the character, saying that she was amazed by how well I performed. I then spoke with her about a choice I was struggling with: I was contemplating switching my major to Theater and dropping Music to a minor. If I overloaded my class schedule, I could still make the switch and graduate on time. We talked it over and she gave me her support and encouragement. I happily made the change and officially became a member of the Spelman College Theater Department.

But it appeared that music was not finished with me. The same professor who cast me in West Side Story was co-writing another musical entitled Sing Lady, Sing. The show would pay tribute to African American women who had made notable contributions to the musical and theatrical business. Some of the women heralded in the musical included Marian Anderson, Eartha Kitt, Ella Fitzgerald and, the woman who would eventually inspire me, the operatic Diva, Leontyne Price. At the time, I knew nothing about the woman whose voice was like spun silk, but I was eventually selected to play Ms. Price in Sing Lady, Sing. Ironically, the part required me to sing in an operatic style, the style I had been struggling to learn as a music major. Since I still took lessons as a music minor, I worked with my voice teacher on the piece I had to sing in the play: Franz Schubert’s Ave Maria.

I also began to do some research on Leontyne Price. In my process, I went to the music library to find some of her recordings. I came across an album from her Prima Donna collection on which she had recorded the Ave Maria from the opera Otello by Giuseppe Verdi. I sat down and played the record…

That was the moment when I realized that I had to be an opera singer.

I had never heard anything so beautiful. I probably sat there for at least an hour playing the aria over and over again, wondering how a human being could produce such a heavenly sound. It was as if God himself had touched her throat and said “sing.” I told myself I had to learn how to do this. Divine providence had led me to this recording. Music was pursuing me.

I rushed back to my voice teacher and asked her if I could switch back to being a music major, then I realized that I didn’t want to drop the thing that had rekindled my love for singing: theater. I figured that if I was diligent enough, I could double-major in music and theater. This would mean meeting all of my rehearsal and performance commitments and requirements for both departments [which often conflicted] as well as completing all core and major coursework if I was still going to graduate in a year. It was the second semester of my junior year and not only would I have to seek the approval of the entire music department faculty to be re-admitted as a music major, but I would also have to put together a junior recital by the end of the year and prepare for my senior recital for the next year. Somehow, I knew I could do it.

The music faculty agreed to re-instate me and I began to juggle an insane schedule as a music and theater double-major. To this day, I don’t know how I managed it. Sing Lady, Sing proved to be a monumental show for me because it taught me that I could learn how to sing; it was almost as if Leontyne Price had spoken to me through her singing, reassuring me that if she, an African American woman whose career began in the 1950s amid extreme segregation and racial discrimination, then I, a young woman from Ghana whose main “struggle” was within myself, could do it too. I had discovered opera and I was hooked.

I successfully completed my junior recital that year and started preparing for my senior one. Concurrently, I started applying to graduate programs. As you recall, my intention was to go to Law School, but I obviously never set foot in the Political Science Department, so my focus was on graduate schools for music. I toyed with the idea of applying to the Julliard School in New York, but upon hearing that the institution had what some considered a cutthroat environment, I explored other options. One of my closest friends, Sumayya Ali, who was a year ahead of me in school, had already begun her first year as a Master’s degree student at the New England Conservatory of Music [NEC] in Boston, Massachusetts, one of the oldest and most prominent music institutions in the United States. Sumayya returned to Spelman for a visit and encouraged me to apply to NEC, noting that she was currently studying with the teacher of world-renowned opera singer Denyce Graves.

At first, I doubted my qualifications, especially since Sumayya was one of those ladies who came into Spelman with a great voice and lots of experience, but my teacher persuaded me and helped me compile an audition CD to send with my application. The application deadline had already passed, but I sent in my materials anyway and Sumayya promised to follow up on it when she returned to NEC. She kept her word. She made sure the voice department chairman saw my application and I was invited to come to NEC for an in-person audition that same week! I found an affordable plane ticket and prayed that my nerves would not get the better of me.

I arrived at NEC an hour before my audition. Sumayya met me at the school’s main entrance and helped me find my way to my warm up room. I was literally shaking. She helped me calm down and warm up, then, a few minutes before I was scheduled to sing, she walked me to the door of the audition hall, reassuring me as we went along. Soon it was my turn. I entered the room and met the NEC voice faculty. The chairman introduced me as a potential candidate for the Master’s Degree in Music [MM] with a Vocal Performance concentration. I stepped onto the stage, handed the accompanist my music folder, announced my first selection, said a silent prayer, took a deep breath and sang.

About ten minutes later, it was all over. I breathed a sigh of relief and exited the room. They had asked me to sing three more selections from my repertoire, but I couldn’t really tell what they thought. Were they impressed? Disappointed? Did I remember all of the words??? I would have to wait to find out. Decisions would be mailed out in a few days.

That evening, I accompanied Sumayya to a recital being given by one of the students in her teacher’s studio. Just being at an institution that was dedicated solely to music inspired me. It was another level and I wanted to reach it. My friend introduced me to her teacher, who was in the audience and I was surprised that she remembered me from my audition earlier. We talked briefly and then she complimented me on my singing and nonchalantly proceeded to tell me that the faculty has accepted me into the department right after my audition!!!!!!!

I could not believe my ears. I was going to Boston!

I graduated from Spelman and in the fall of 2001, I enrolled at NEC and began my next course of study. I quickly realized that NEC was very different from the wonderful walls of my Liberal Arts undergraduate school. Here, it was all about music and I knew I had a lot of catching up to do. My new teacher was a no-nonsense woman who had a very “old school” teaching style and a reputation for bringing people to tears if they did not produce the sound she wanted, but she cared about her students and she believed in my talent. I worked hard to learn from her and she opened my voice up to a new range and to colors I did not know it possessed. I could probably write a book about my experiences at NEC, but suffice it to say that I learned a lot there, not just about my voice, but about the world in which I would soon make the leap from student to professional. I graduated in May, 2003 with a Master’s Degree in Music and that was when I truly began to understand that this was going to be my career and that it would be a tough road, but I accept the challenge as a labor of love.

My journey continues now and I’m grateful for the opportunities and training I’ve had in this field. I’m mostly grateful to God for His gift to me and to my parents for their love and for always supporting me even when they had their doubts about me pursuing music as a career. They have never stopped believing in me. I appreciate my siblings for the close bond we share and for their unwavering support and love and I thank all of the friends who have been with me and supported me along the way. My next goal is to work on some fusion music with my classical training and African highlife, hiplife, pop and hip hop music. I’ve also learned that with my classical technique, I can sing other styles of music but I think there is something rather special about being a GHANAIAN OPERA SINGER.

I hope anyone who reads this will be as inspired as I am.

More to come.

Thanks for reading.


Allure, Part Deux

Here's the rest of Allure