May 10 2021

All Things Avennia: Erica Orr Interview

Watch a recording of the session here.

No fact checks today, but I wanted to give you some links to Erica’s website and Baer Winery so you could get a hold of these delicious wines and learn more about her lab and other wines she produces. Check it out!
(And you should totally check out her blog here.)

In addition…

So, when Erica and I set up this interview, she asked if we were going to talk about musical theater at all, because I love musical theater, and apparently, she does too! But since we ran out of time and didn’t get to it, I reached back out to Erica to get some questions answered. The following back-and-forth took place–

Eli: What was your first musical theater show experience?

Erica: I'm pretty sure my mom played the Sound of Music and West Side Story records when my sister and I were very young, I remember the movie of King and I. My mom took us to see Annie in San Francisco - it must have really resonated because I was Annie that year for Halloween. Later when I was older like high school-age we saw Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera. I have such respect for everybody involved in the production - I can't imagine turning it on like that every day, sometimes twice a day for the full run of a live show. But live music and live performances are magic and I Iook forward to returning to that world as an audience member post-COVID.

Eli: Do you have a favorite musical? Or favorite singer/actor?

Erica: Hamilton is amazing, obviously.  

Outside of the Hamilton cast, I love Alan Cumming. He is cheeky and charming and super talented. And he doesn't seem to take himself too seriously. I saw him as the MC in Cabaret in NYC at Studio 54 - everything about that show was an experience - and then after the show I watched some of the old Liza Minelli clips on YouTube when she was Sally in Cabaret. This is maybe a longer conversation ...but when I was first old enough to know who Bette Midler or Liza Minelli or even Aretha Franklin were, I failed to appreciate their genius. Like, if the only thing you know about Aretha is the pretty terrible song Freeway of Love from 1985, then get ready to have your mind blown when you watch that clip from the Kennedy Center Honors where she sang Natural Woman to Carole King and she made Barack Obama cry from the balcony. So, I had assumed Liza Minelli was cheezy? but she is actually so amazing. Same for Bette Midler. Back to Cabaret - that episode of Schitt's Creek is a favorite.

Eli: If you were able to be transported into the world of any musical and live in that story…what would it be?

Erica: Hmmm I'll defer to you on this one - all the musicals I can think of are pretty grim or so outside my life experience - which one do you want to live in?

Eli: For you, I mean, I guess a musical with some science-y stuff, so… Young Frankenstein?

For me, I’ve always been obsessed with American Revolutionary war, so… Hamilton.

Erica: Do you miss performing?

Eli: Not as much as I just miss making music. While my degree is in Vocal Performance, I never really loved “performing” all that much. It was always easier to have a role or character to play, and I had some fantastic experiences performing in some shows in college and after. But if it’s just me singing, like, an ‘Eli Recital’?... No thank you. I miss choral singing though, everything from classics like Mozart’s Requiem or Bach Cantatas, to Appalachian and Shape Note music, to really cool stuff from the polyphonic singing traditions of Corsica and the Republic of Georgia.

Erica: Do you and your wife constantly sing at home?

Eli: Haha, we go through phases. We recently did an Irving Berlin duets recital together for Tacoma Opera, and so leading up to that we sang a lot together, but since she is still a legit Opera Singer and still performing (minus this whole COVID year thing…☹) she tends to rest her voice when it’s not needed (or when she’s not being paid! Haha) Though, we do have a couple friends from college who live in Seattle, and at times we’ve been known to drink a little too much wine and do living room concerts/belt-your-face-off sessions for each other.

Erica: What are you singing these days?

Eli: I’m not singing much (playing more piano and composing some things more than anything), but when I do, it’s either German Lieder by Schubert or Strauss, or continuing to learn the role of Jean Valjean (which I WILL play someday…). I also like to sing (and play poorly on the piano) anything by Stephen Sondheim.

Erica: I would love to learn more about the language you use to describe sounds and the feeling of sounds - I have another friend who is a musician who talks about the air in the room as being dry or crispy I think in terms of the speaker sound? I had no clue what he was describing but I get it that this means something to people who think about sound and music all day long.

Eli: This is so interesting! I’d love to meet this friend of yours and see what he means. I wonder if it’s more related to recorded music and produced sound? At least in the opera world, we talk a lot about the formants in the human voice, resonance, energy, vibrations, etc. There are so many ways to talk about sound and music because, in many ways like wine, it is equally scientific (vibrations made that travel through the air to our eardrums which translate it into pitch/rhythm/timbre/etc) and artistic.

Erica: Music has been a salvation during this pandemic - Generally I listen to indie rock on KEXP in the car and at work, but I expanded my horizons and branched out -getting back into Bach, learning Spanish through Kali Uchis and oldies like Cheo Feliciano, ambient music that is free on the radio at Then I found out the Sesame Street 123456789101112 song was sung by the Pointer Sisters and everything in the universe made sense.

Eli: Love this. And I think you know about my obsession with the a cappella group Pentatonix, yes?? When they went on Sesame street, they sang a version of 123456789101112. Check it out.