Filtering by Tag: music

Back to School

Graphic by Denise Medve Penguinmoon Studio

Graphic by Denise Medve Penguinmoon Studio

I am a fall girl. I’m not so much on the whole profusion of pumpkin products, but beyond that there’s something about fall that perks me right up (well, perk is a relative term for one who is so far down on the perkiness scale but...). It could be a throwback to the days of fresh notebooks and new pens and pencils that always came with a new school year. I still have an obsession with notebooks. I have a whole basket full of pretty blank books waiting to be defiled with my illegible scrawl. But I digress (as usual)...

This fall I actually get to participate in the whole back to school hoopla as I’m teaching a brand new workshop for Pioneer’s Stagecraft education program. Solo is a class built especially to inspire, encourage and educate performers about creating their own shows. One of my favorite Lin-Manuel Miranda quotes is, Don’t wait on anyone to make your favorite thing- make your own favorite thing. If there is one thing that can make me wax evangelical it is the art of solo performance. The freedom is immense and the creative rewards are incredible. In mastering the art of solo performance you learn how to bring your own unique strengths as a performer to the stage while discovering all new skills. Every performer should have this tool in their kit!

This class is meant as a one day intensive, “get your feet wet” kind of thing. I’m covering a lot of ground including song performance, choosing material, working with a musical director, arrangements, structuring your show, visual image, and booking and promoting your show. We’ll wind up the day with an informal performance for an invited audience of friends and family (your friends and family that you get to invite, that is).  

I am lucky to have as my willing accomplice for the day Bruce De La Cruz as musical director. Bruce works all over the place as a musical director, accompanist and an arranger. He’s also a Staff musical director at Paper Mill Playhouse. 

If youre a performer I hope you’ll consider joining us. You can sign up HERE . If you sign up by the end of the day on September 16th you can get $25 off the price of the workshop by using the code early. If you are the friend of a performer please feel free to pass this info along to them. We are limiting the class size so that there is lots of personal instruction time and attention. If you’ve got questions feel free to drop me a line.

 

What’s In A Song

 


 

Photo by Cindy Banescu  

Photo by Cindy Banescu 

I am a song geek. I love songs, I love discovering them, singing them, tearing them apart and devouring the subtext and meaning. I get all goofy when I talk about songs I love. My hands flail and my voice reaches a speed and pitch that can best be described as Minnie Mouse on helium.

What excites me about a song? Some of it is certainly chemistry, that beyond explanation something that reaches out and pulls me in, that little voice that tells me “this is your song”.  But the other part of the equation is logical. If I were to dismantle and analyse all the songs I adore I would find elements they all have in common.

 Good Bones - Michele Brourman talks a lot about Seduction by Production, which is a song that so captures your attention with its instrumentation and enthusiasm that it takes a listen or two to figure out there’s really no there there. A great song will stand on its own without the embelishments. It holds up whether it’s sung accapella or with a full orchestra. An ornate frame won’t make a mediocre painting better it merely distracts you for a while. 

Heart - It’s not enough to make me think if it doesn’t also make me feel

Balance - I’m looking for the perfect marriage of lyric and melody.

Transporting - I want a song to be transporting. I want to be taken to a place outside myself, somewhere that gives me a new perspective and elevates me. If I can see the world from a different vantage point that’s when I know I’m on to something.

Illuminating - It is a gift  to unearth a tune that shows me something new about myself. 

Transforming - A song can open a window of understanding into something that is entirely outside my experience. A song that can change your view of the world (or any tiny corner of it) is a song that has power.

Tells a great story (arc) - Some songs tell linear stories, some don’t. It doesn’t matter how the story is told only that there is one, that you come to the end of it in a different place from where you started. It has to be a great ride. 

Attention to craft - I have seen Miss Carol Hall take a singer to task over a tiny lyric mistake like changing an and, an or, or a but. Not because she was being difficult but because every word matters. She labors over finding just the right words to express her point. This is craft and must be respected.  

Makes me want to sing - I have experienced no greater joy in life than wrapping my vocal cords, brain and heart around a wonderful song. There ain’t nothing like it in the world!

Whew! Trying to distill all this into a few bullet points was a challenge. If I let myself I could keep going on this for days, but I would love to know what you think. What makes you fall in love with a song?

 

 

Essentially Me

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I went to Facebook last week and posed what I thought was a simple question - who are your top three essential female songwriters? Turns out it wasn’t quite so simple. At last count I had over one hundred comments and even now several days later people continue are still opining. There were names going back to the very beginning of musical time, names from musical theatre, jazz, pop, country, rock and even punk. It also sparked a vigorous debate or two. Most of the names were familiar to me, but one or two sent me scuttling off to learn more. It was exhilarating!

One name seemed to be the common denominator on the list- Joni Mitchell. She was mentioned far more than any other writer. There’s no mystery there. Her voice as a writer is distinct- no one sounds like her- in her use of language, her vocabulary she is sui generis. Her emotional reach is astounding, every word transmits itself straight from her soul to the listener’s heart. 

 A few years ago my friend Laurel, suggested Ms Mitchell’s Night Ride Home to me. It is the type of song I’m not known for doing, an unabashashedly joyful moment in romantic time. I loved it. Michele Brourman and I put it with Anne Caldwell and Jerome Kern’s Once in a Blue Moon. Going in to the studio to record it with Michele and Stephan Oberhoff was one of the most wonderful experiences I’ve ever had. It is a piece I will happily sing every chance I get.

Mother & Spawn Playlist: Guilty Pleasures

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Spawn and I have both wildly divergent and yet eerily similiar tastes in music. Over the years it’s been interesting how our positions have reversed. It used to be me introducing new artists and genres to him, and now, more often than not he’s the one bringing new stuff to me. We’re always tossing songs back and forth (sometimes multiple versions of the same song) so we thought it’d be fun to start an occasional feature here on the blog where we pick a subject and build a playlist around it. 

SInce it’s January, the weather is dire and all is pretty icktastic we’re kicking off with something short, sweet, and silly. We have each chosen two of our favorite Guilty Pleasure songs. Nowhere is our divergent taste more evident than here. My choices are late seventies and early eighties pop complete with cringe inducing fashion, while his tend to a have a harder edge. It makes for a very interesting play list.

My First Pick: I have had a particular affinity for the hustle ever since my cousin Pam taught it to me in the living room at age nine. This is one of my favorite hustle songs. Plus, I got to meet Paul Shaffer the co-writer of this song last year, and he called me gorgeous so there’s that.... 

Spawn’s Take: The theme song of every cougar who ever lived.

Spawn’s First Pick:  Weezer’s tough for me to stomach between their poppy sound and the fact that their frontman is, according to things I’ve heard, a bit of a jerk. I will say they’ve got a couple of nice tunes, and I’m a sucker for a good bluesy guitar riff.

Mother’s Take: I feel no guilt in saying I take no pleasure in this song.

My Second Pick: The stuff of my seven year old singing diva fantasies. I used to imagine myself in a yellow dress wowing a packed house with this. Unfortunately,  Donny & Marie beat me to it, and on ice skates no less.

Spawn’s Take: Makes me think of guilded, feathery, Vegas trashiness...

Spawn’s Second Pick: Andrew W. K. is not really like most of the people I tend to listen to. He’s just fun. No Depth, not rhyme or reason. He’s just fun. What’s so damned wrong with that?

Mother’s Take: Uh, son, do we need to talk?