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. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

A Tipping Piano

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

Sweet Stress!

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.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Did a year really go by?

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.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Level Changes

Now and again life seems to simply lift us to a new level. Suddenly we're operating on a new plane, pushing and focusing on ideas and projects that were once out of our reach.

My son and I took a trip down to California to visit with family and share the holidays. One stop had an enormous party, with magic and wonder galore. Another spot - right next door - had peaceful stillness, and a sense of reaching. Our last place to visit was empty, clear, and somehow waiting. All three places were a bit surreal, as I caught a flu bug going down and spent the weeklong trip in a fever.

My sister threw an amazing Christmas party, with actors, dancing, decorations everywhere, carolers, food and more food. Most of my memories are in snapshots and sounds - my son taking the dance floor with his cousin, the carolers' voices pealing out over the heads of the partygoers, the hired "pickpockets" darting through the crowded rooms, the actors playing Mr. & Mrs. Fezziwig turning in unison and gracefully greeting a latecomer, my mother laughing and holding court in a cozy room decorated to the brim with candy canes and sweets. Woven through it all was a bittersweet and tender regard for my family. This odd, wonderful family that drives me crazy and keeps me sane - and that is filled with people the likes of which I'll never meet out there in the wide world. Providing magic is work. I lost my voice working the party and spent a few days curled up on the couch gently riding fever waves and doing my best to keep my personality from capsizing in silent tears of bewildered non-connection.

Next door to my sister's house lives my mother. A force of nature, an artist in every sense of the word, she's been a touchstone for me creatively for most of my life. She's decided to paint again and is finding her way around the concepts of creation once more. Her home is quiet, simple, clear. Watching her work her way around the house as she works her way through ideas left me with the understanding that there is no end to what needs to be done and no reason why anything at all should not be attempted.

My mother plans. She dreams in steps and to-do lists. Her wishes are not distant stars, they're concrete bullet points that outline exactly how to get from where she is standing to where she wants to go. Her issue now is time and energy. It's not talent, or permission, or whether or not she can do something. She knows she can't use the same tools she used 15 years ago. She assumes that new tools will arrive. I left her home weeping with intention so fierce it made me grit my teeth.

Down further south, to South Central LA and my stepmother's house was the final stop. I love my stepmother greatly. The huge loft that once held my father's worktables and art projects as well as their living space was now half empty and nearly shimmering with a sense of whatever is next. My son and I were invited one level up to visit Halfland, a hand crafted puppet/animation universe ( Watching the different puppets and sets I got the same impression as I had a floor below - as if the everything was ready to leap into motion at any moment and all I needed to do was wait and pay attention.

One week, one fever, several bits of information. Magic takes work. Dream in to-do lists and work with the tools that show up. Wait and pay attention. Now that I'm back home and it's the end of the year I feel as if the last 12 months of slogging through each day has been exactly right. All that grinding work and I'm somehow popped up onto a new level, with ideas flowing, plans and projects jostling for my attention and a clear flow of energy.

Happy new year. It's going to be stellar.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Gathering Thunder.

I did a freebie gig last week for the SHARE folks ( and sang "Leaving" solo, a cappella, standing at audience level. My voice felt like a skittish horse - dashing all over the place with me hanging on for dear life. It's amazing to me how varied an experience it is to sing live, picking up the meaning of the song and letting the audience's mood color the way my voice moves.

I came earlier than I needed to to perform, sitting through the event itself and letting the ideas and stories of the people there gather inside me. "Leaving" is about violence - it's not an easy song to step into - and I wanted to be able to give my best. As a result, by the time I sang I felt like I had gathered a storm inside me, fits of lightening and sudden crashes of thunder as meanings and reasons ran riot.

After I sang I felt like the moment just after a downpour stops, when everything is still dripping and full of motion but somehow gentle. As I drove home I remembered how exhausted and joyful it feels to head home after a performance and I wondered yet again why I'm not performing regularly anymore.

One reason that pops up is the lack of fellow singers in my life. I prefer to do live work with 3-6 singers, all of us working together to create an experience larger than our selves. I've tossed a few feelers out now and then to the community here but have not really had much of a response. Offering singers gigs that require 2 rehearsals a week with a small bit of cash a few times a month does not seem to be appealing - which once again shows how very odd I am since that sounds fun to me.

Looking back, the one very successful experience I had with creating a singing group that lasted was the Random Choir, in Santa Barbara in the 90's. Perhaps that is what I should do again. Gather singers and simply have them do what they want, find the gigs and then rehearse and perform what they would like to do. Gather singers, let them sing, gather thunder, and let the downpour start.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Art, Rage & The Inner Child

I'm having a temper tantrum.

I'm upset that I'm struggling still after all these years to get my music out into the world. I'm angry that I'm working at such random things in order to make ends meet - and frustrated as less and less time is used for music and more and more time is used for earning money in non-musical ways.

In years past, music has contributed to my life financially, emotionally, spiritually. I've lived simply, focused on art, studied, taught, wrote, sang. The last year has been simply surviving - teaching a bit, writing little, singing less.

Today I'm finding myself exhausted, and somehow empty. I have this load on my back, this warmly bundled pack of unwritten, unsung work and I'm worn to the bone with carrying it endlessly forward.

For the first time in my life, I want to just leave the pack by the side of the road.

What is it like to just live a regular life? Work at a normal job, finish the day and go home to dinner and a night of TV or time with friends and family? I'm trying to imagine waking up in the morning with my only obligation a day job and responsibilities wrapped around the people I love.

No sense of falling over and over as the music does not meet the idea and I try once again. No feeling of pressure in the back of my heart pushing me to write it down, sing it out, translate thought into reality. What if I did not have to write? What if it's not my job to make sure that music gets created? What if I don't have to teach, to learn?

There is nothing glamorous about being a composer. No one applauds when a note is written down. Few people even notice when the note is sung. So why am I doing this? What is the point of all this struggle if the work I'm doing dies with me, unheard? Why the endless pressure, the relentless obligation, if what I am doing makes no difference?

I'm having a temper tantrum. Kicking my heels, pounding my fists, hollering and wrecking my voice for the next few days. I need something back. I need something to happen back, something to come from all of this worthwhile work I've been pouring out into the world all these years.

God I'm tired. Bone tired, and sitting by the side of the road with a load of music I can't carry and can't leave behind.