I've never really been one to wander around loudly being an artist. I was married to a man for a decade who dyed his hair multiple colors and wore as many different hues and patterns as possible, my father used to wear his hair like a frozen firework, and most of my friends have relentlessly informative clothes and tastes that announce them as art in process. I have always envied their clear voices.
If you met me without knowing a thing about me you'd never know I'm a composer or a vocalist or a poet or a writer or any type of artist at all. I dress simply. My hair is going grey. I don't talk about my art to most people that I interact with and my conversation is usually about the other person and their life as, to be honest, there's little art in the known and I know quite a bit about myself. I'm interested in other.
For most of my life I've considered the outside of my skin to be mostly mirror, but the inside of my skin, that is a whole other story. The inside of my skin, the thin layer that touches fascia and muscle, the part always unseen and lit only with the body electric that so many have written about over the centuries - this inside has always been a riot of color and pattern and shape and image. I'm covered on the inside with symbols and charts pointing out navigational routes and weather warnings. There are instructions in languages that have never been spoken and images of beings that won't ever be seen. There are patterns standing in for ideas, and ideas evoked by placeholder images.
The outside of me moves through the world unnoticed most of the time. The inside of me presses outward, a constantly shifting landscape of color and pattern in an endless visual discussion.
A few months ago I noticed that come September, a new chapter of my life will be starting. I'll be living on my own after a few decades of sharing time and daily space with others. My time will be more flexible and my choices will be based solely on my own wants and needs. So I made a mental note that it might be a good idea to let all the colors and patterns inside me swirl out, drain out, and leave a clean slate behind for the new.
And so my body decided to take my mind literally and I've spent the last 6 weeks hemorrhaging. We've figured it out now and I'm turned around, heading back towards a more physically balanced body.
But now all the images and patterns inside my skin are gone. I am clean and clear inside, and have taken to drawing little pictures on my arms and legs to see if they soak in. I have a blank canvas to work with and am a mix of joyful and hollow. Send light and vibrant color.
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Wednesday, May 24, 2017
Back in the waybackwhen days I tried desperately for about a decade to get a manager. I sent out cassette tapes and endless reams of photocopied promo packs with newspaper articles and carefully typed up reviews. I had this idea that if I could just get one person on my side, just one person to represent the music, I could make a dent.
When the rejection letters came rolling in, they had a common theme. They loved my music, they thought they could sell my looks and personality, I had a fantastic voice - but they needed me to sing something else. Or write different music. Not because what I was doing was poorly done, but because there was no way for them to sell it, or me, as there was no category that I fit in. As one fellow put it, "You're not pop, you're not R&B, you're not classical, you're not soul, you're not rock, and you're all those things. Pick one."
These days there are categories for vocal driven music that I fall into naturally. I don't fit 100% but well enough so I can sneak into and perch in the corner until I'm discovered and tossed out. Back when MP3.com was a thing I was able to stay in their World Music section for years. Nowadays I use the Alternative Music category and get emails from folks yelling at me for putting "weird stuff" in their preferred section.
I don't think my music is that odd, to be honest. Perhaps it's because I'm living with it everyday. Perhaps it's because the structures I'm using are often verse chorus based and that's relentlessly normal (well, tbh the next CD has a lot of not-that-normal-of-a-structure pieces on it). Or maybe it's because most of the time my arrangement may be voice only but they do mirror standard rock/pop frequency spreads.
It's my hope, my prayer, my belief that the work I'm doing has value and merit of its own accord. That no matter what the arrangement, there's a method to the madness and that people don't need or even want to have music so rigidly assigned and defined. That eventually all music will define its own category.
In the meanwhile, I'm checking off the "Alternative" box in the Spotify application. Wish me luck.
Wednesday, May 10, 2017
Like all creators, my process sometimes involves That Which Is Other Than Creation.
This is one of those times when I'm writing a little and connecting a lot. It's time to update the blog, wrap up the online courses, generate social media, and make contact with other musicians. I'm dashing from project to project, finding new ways to present ancient ideas and keeping a sense of balance.
Every few years I seem to do this. I make an effort to bridge the gap between myself and the rest of the world. I teach more, write about my work more, reach out to listeners more, aim to find more sources of funding. This time I'm using online courses to teach more, this blog and Facebook to write about my work more, Spotify to reach out to my listeners more and Patreon to find more sources of funding.
Something is different this time around though. Usually these types of tasks feel like forcing my way through a hip deep river of sludge, but right now I feel oddly energized. I think that I may have finally found a way to communicate about my music without having to simply play my work and then wait for folks to get it or not. I think for the first time that people are responding to what I do.
I write vocal driven music. Soaring, cutting, floating music. Music that adds, music that resonates, music that relates. Writing is powerful, moving, razor's edge stuff. Singing what I write is like constantly yearning and sometimes getting nearly, almost close to what I have in my head. Somehow I'm getting the hang of communicating that. And why it's important for people to be a part of it.
This are lightening times, the tide coming in and sunlight on the top of your head times. Far landscapes and the feeling of a puppy nosing under your hand times. There's few times that are better.
So please be a part. And reach out if you'd like me to be a part of what you create.
Thursday, April 10, 2014
I've felt for the last few weeks as if I'm floating through my days. There's been a strong, positive shift in focus at work (yes, I work a real job with grown up pressures and required results) and I'm riding a wave of momentum that seems to be self sustaining. Not having to constantly juggle time vs. income vs. expenses has left me with a sensation of near free fall.
I saw a graphic the other day of the working routines of various well known creators and how they spent their time within a 24 hour period. Kant and Mozart had the grey color tagged as "Making ends meet" on their chart, but Hugo, Milton, Dickens, Darwin had no grey. Just the gold of "Social & Meals" and the green of "Primary Work" scattered amongst white sleep and teal exercise. They did not commute to work, slog through meetings, or bring their frozen lunch to forcibly thaw in the suspicious smelling office microwave. They worked, they slept, they interacted with the people in their lives and the pressures of life were more about the creative path than the economic one.
I'm left with a feeling of near awe that any of us engaged in creative work in these modern times spend any time at all in our true callings.
I work 6-8 hours a day earning my keep in a non-musical job - and I'm still writing, training, teaching on top of that. My colleagues in music and art are all pushing boundaries, learning, teaching, and doing worthwhile work. And at the same time we're all earning a living. Some of us through art but most of us through whatever we can find to keep us going while we get on with the worthwhile work of creating. Just having a few weeks now of not stressing over bills has freed up so much energy that I'm existing a few inches off the ground and for the first time I'm thinking that perhaps I'll actually pull this composer thing off.
Perhaps I can keep a roof over my head and still be able to dedicate enough time and energy to music for me to do some decent work in this lifetime. Maybe I don't need a patron (a lifelong dream) or to win the lottery so I can do what I do best - write. Maybe all these decades of pushing myself and keeping my focus have created a set of tools in me that will allow me to get this music out of my head and onto paper while still earning my keep. It might be possible for me to work, really work, on music by simply easing the pressure of earning money back into a small, doable corner while I take the rest of the room for music.
I'm floating through my days right now, with a great deal of energy for creating. Here's to finding ways to create regardless of what we have to do to live, in spite of all the demands on our time, and while keeping those we love safe and sound.
Friday, March 1, 2013
I've never been one to cherish the angst and despair of the stereotypical tragic artist's life. Unlike the standard composer's reputation, I'm fairly kind, love to nest & nuture, and do my best work when I've got lots of time, a roof over my head and food on the table.
That being said, I've spent my life in a precarious balance, teetering between working so hard to earn money to live that I have no time to sleep let alone write and working so hard on my music that I am late to work, late to be with my loved ones, late to life itself. These last few years have been epic.
A year ago I moved into the house I'm renting now and in the process of moving in the back left wheel of the piano was broken off. It's an upright piano that came from my family and my first piece of music (The Dirge - laughing as I type this as the piece was typical teenage angst) was written while curled over this piano's yellowed keys. The wheel was sheared off at the metal base and repairing it seems, for some reason, overwhelming. Perhaps it's the size and weight of the piano or maybe it's the fact that the wheel's remaining bit of base seems to be seamlessly integrated with the inner workings of the piano and welding seems to be a part of the fix.
Regardless, the piano is propped up by a carefully knapped stone. It doesn't seem to move and yet when I sit down to play it seems to tremble on some unseen level. I feel like the piano is tipping, slowly obeying some force of nature that will result in the piano perpendicular to the floor, with me crouched, still trying to pull some sense out of the sounds the piano has left to make.
This is my life right now. Born up by makeshift supports yet still generating sounds. Tipping so quietly, so softly that the movement can't be identified and yet I'll know the imbalance for certain when I find myself on the ground.
Monday, January 16, 2012
What a month! Alright, alright I can hear you all now hollering in the background, "This is far beyond once a week postings!". Please forgive me - I've been quite remiss in all of my various ways and means of social networking but my excuse is impeccable.
I've been cataloguing my work.
All the bits and pieces of partially done work, all the motets, chants, poems, tone poems, big pieces, small pieces, songs, operas, musicals, ideas - everything. Envelopes with lyrics on them, scraps of napkins with notes dotting like crumbs, notebooks of ideas, computer files full of work that I did not even remember I had. Tapes... endless cassette tapes... and CD's marked with sharpy cryptic notes "2nd attempt" and "underneath yet again".
It's all in one place now and scanned, backedup, copied and safe. I had no idea there was so much flotsam and jetsam accumulated through the years. I'm adrift in a sea of words and music, rowing frantically and scooping up my work bit by bit as more rains slowly from the sky. I've always had a vague idea that some ideas were laying fallow but it turns out that entire landscapes have been slowly greying under the weight of my disregard.
And though you'd think the process of gathering everything from my first poem to my most recent melody would inspire me to dig in and start moving some of the pieces towards the "record this next" pile, a rather odd thing is occuring. I'm buffeted by new ideas, new concepts, new sound combinations and am yet again looking around for voices and people to start projects with.
There is one piece that has unfolded itself finally after years of effort to finish it. I started a prayer about 18 years ago by writing a confessional - solo female mezzo- and over the years have added an invitational (8 voice) and an absolution (trio). I saw one of the pieces that I had written during my father's long illness and realized it was what I needed to start the entire prayer going. The essence of the prayer, the shape of the whole piece is clear now after so long staring at it. So my gathering and organizing has had a creative result after all.
I've discovered the shape of a prayer.
Sunday, December 11, 2011
It's the holidays again! Seems like yesterday I was down in Cali - here it is a year later.
Holiday music everywhere - got out my Palestrina and Obrecht and am enjoying the soaring exchanges. Finding that my voice is able to keep up now on the lower parts much better - here's to diligence in vocal exercises!
My mind however is quite another matter. This next year will be dedicated to mental flexibility and gracefullness. I've found that the last few years of stress and strain have taken their toll not on my voice but on my mind. Familiar trains of thought, automatic reactions, limited and limiting judgements - all have crept in with slow creeper vines and bound my brain with hesitation disguised as forethought. Hesitation is deadly in singing.
And so this blog and other social media will be my challengers and aides de camp in my quest to exercise my mind. My goal is to blog weekly and I hope you all tap me gently on the forehead if I let things slide. I've signed up for twitter - found my facebook login - all in an effort to force myself to clarify my thoughts and ideas. There's no way to blog or tweet or ... ummm... facebook (is that a verb?) if I'm not able to articulate myself clearly. And once my thoughts are out there in the world it's quite easy to see where I'm askew, on course, running aground or storming ahead.
I find it interesting that my throat and jaw have become so very flexible while my mind and atitudes have become so rigid. As I listen to Palestrini and savor the wave after wave of pure sound I am realizing that there is structure there, there is a framework but there is also simple and sweet freedom. Opening my mouth and letting notes pour out is worthless without soul behind the sounds.
So here's to keeping the voice mobile and creating freedom and flexibility in the mind to match. I hope you have a glorious holiday and that the simple sweet joy of voices raised in song fills your heart and ear.