Friday, August 31, 2018

Vocal Stuff

I have written enough about my voice insecurities in the past, so I'm not going to go into that here. But I do want to write a little bit about what's going on with voice.

Some days I feel encouraged by my progress, and other days I wonder why the heck I am doing this. Why am I trying to sing? I feel like a fool, attempting an art form that I have no business attempting. I might as well try to take up professional basketball.

Of course, I'm not trying to be a professional singer. I'm just trying to graduate from "bad" to "not bad" for now. Maybe someday I'll aspire to "good."

It's been slow progress. I have to make myself practice voice. Once I start, I love it and can go for an hour or more, and then I'm singing happily for the rest of the day ... but I have a bit of an inertia problem at first. I think it's because I always feel a little silly practicing, wondering if it's all a waste of time.

There I go, writing about my voice insecurities.

Here are the songs I'm working on right now. There are a bunch of them, and it's a little overwhelming to see the list, but I'm trying to focus on just a couple of songs a week.

From the 24 Italian Songs book:

  • Alma del core (Caldara)
  • Sebben crudele (Caldara)
  • Caro mio ben (Giordani)
  • O del mio dolce ardor (Gluck)
  • Tu lo sai (Torelli)

From the Standard Vocal Literature book:

  • Come again, sweet love (Dowland)
  • If music be the food of love (Purcell)
  • Weep you no more (Quilter)

Huh. Somehow I thought I had 10 or 12 songs, but I guess it's really not that many.

I love every single one of these songs, though "Weep you no more" is my absolute favorite and has been for months.

I'm going to have quite a bit of free time over Labor Day weekend, so I'm planning to spend a good bit of it on voice. My big focus will be less on singing and more on memorizing. I've been lazy about memorizing, even though I know how important it is to be free of the crutch of the sheet music.

I hate writing that I've been lazy, but I think it's probably the truth. Another problem is I haven't been able to practice regularly. My voice lesson is on Monday evenings, and then Tuesdays and Wednesdays are just crazy, so I usually don't get to practice until lunchtime Thursday. I can get some time in after work on Friday, but I don't really get to dive into practice until Saturday and Sunday. When I'm not singing these over and over again every day, the familiarity (and memorization) doesn't come.

OK, this blog post doesn't seem to be going anywhere and I have to get to work, so I'll sign off for now.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Carving Out Time


I've never been a big fan of summer, and I'm happy that it's finally coming to an end. Kids are back in school, and all of the fall activities are starting up. Last night at church we had our first WOW (Wesley On Wednesdays) of the season, and we started practicing Christmas music at choir. Last weekend was the kickoff event for both Cub Scouts and Girl Scouts. Anne's taekwondo classes have gotten crowded again after sparse attendance throughout the summer. And hopefully, I'll be meeting with a piano teacher to discuss piano lessons (for me, not my kid!) for the fall.

This morning, I sat down and realized, with great relief, that life is going to start having some semblance of structure again. Summer is hard; there's day camp, and overnight camp, and Bible school, and vacations, and visitors, and so much more. Fall? Wake up, get the kid to school, work, kid comes home, and then most evenings there's something to do, plus homework, then get ready for bed, read, and go to sleep.

In college, I both loved and hated the semesters where I had just a little too much work to do. I didn't have a lot of free time, but I still managed to get more done because I was forced to stick to a strict schedule. So by the end of the crazy semester, I has more knowledge, has knocked out some amazing papers, and had mastered a few new piano pieces for recital.

I think that's what it's going to be like this semester. With things falling into place, I can better plan meals, make time for exercise, work in thirty minutes here or an hour there for music (voice and piano) practice. Most importantly, I can carve out the quiet time for thinking and meditation because so many of the stuff going on is fixed.

Is life going to pass by in the blink of an eye for the next few months? Perhaps. Perhaps not. The days seem to elongate when I'm able to carve out time for slow things. I love that metaphor "carve out time" because that's what it feels like. The day is a flat surface, and I carve it into something with indentations, curves, texture. Something that increases the surface area somehow, and I'm able to make more of the space of the time I have.



I do need to be diligent, though. I need to abide by the schedule, which is harder to do now that I'm not in college and I don't have an institution and faculty telling me where I need to be at what time, what I need to do, and how it needs to be done.

When I first got out of college (OK, for probably the next 5 or 10 years after college), I arranged my life like school, even to the point of giving different elements of my life course name. Seriously -- working out was "PE," making dinner was "Culinary Arts," reading was "Russian Literature" (or whatever I was hooked on at the moment), work was "Technical Writing," and my other writing was "Creative Writing" or "Fiction" or "Poetry." I'd make a schedule and give myself assignments. It was great fun and an effective motivator.

I suppose it's time for "Technical Writing" now. Only 7:30 in the morning, but I have lots to do for this 8- or 9-hour long class!

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Noodling on Cm7

This is the kind of thing I've been doing lately, now that I have Henry. I'll practice other things, but I fall back into "noodling"--just playing with a chord progression and pretending, I guess, that I'm at a piano bar, or maybe stuck in some elevator that has New Age piano music playing in the background.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Playing Musical Chairs (or Musical Clothes?) with Musical Instruments

Most of my life, I have focused on only one instrument: the piano. But then, in 2017, I decided to branch out. I wasn't playing piano that much anyway, and I'd always wanted to learn to sing and play guitar ... so why not?

I signed up for voice lessons first. It was December 2016, and a friend was taking voice lessons and encouraged me to do it. I signed up with a teacher at Asheville Music School, but I quickly learned that I needed a more experienced teacher. As a beginner, I didn't need to go to a conservatory, but I guess I've had so much experience with music teachers that I can tell a rookie when I see one.

At about that time, I also started taking guitar lessons, and my guitar teacher recommended a friend of his who was a classical voice teacher. So I called his friend, whose name was Andrew, and made an appointment.

loved Andrew. If we hadn't moved, I'd still be taking voice lessons from him. He helped me to be less "breathy" and to not be afraid to make some noise. I looked forward to our lessons every single week.

But then we moved. I found a non-classical voice teacher in our new town. She was very nice and I enjoyed working with her, but work took over my life and I couldn't justify spending $40 a week on voice when I wasn't able to practice. She was a good teacher, though, and she had a wonderful system for helping ensure I practiced what I needed to practice. I was sad to leave her, but money and time were tight, and it wasn't the right time for me to be taking voice.

I also looked for another classical guitar teacher in our new town. They were few and far-between, and no one's schedule could accommodate mine.

After we joined our church in January, I joined the choir. I'd always wanted to sing in a choir and thought this might help me to improve my voice. But really, I just felt worse and worse because I knew I couldn't sing well, and I felt like I was making the choir worse. (Truthfully, I probably had no effect on it whatsoever because I didn't sing loud enough for most people to hear.) And when you're feeling stressed (as I was), it's even harder to sing because your jaw and neck are tight from the stress (or at least mine are).

That's when I decided to get another voice teacher.

Right here in my neighborhood is a choir director who teaches voice. His prices are reasonable, and he's good. So I've been studying with him for, oh, about four or five months now.

Am I any better at voice? I think so. But there's a problem. (Why does there always have to be a problem?)

See, I have this new piano named Henry. And when I sit down to play Henry, all my stress washes away. I feel like I could curl up into the music and rest for as long as I need to. I lose sense of time from the very beginning. All I care about is the sound. I play Hanon to strengthen my fingers, then some Chopin, then some Bach, then jazz or hymns or Carole King or Billy Joel or Elton John, or stuff I wrote, or ragtime, and then back to my beloved classical, working on old pieces or sight-reading intermediate pieces from something like Music for Millions. I know my way around the piano, and I feel like I could stay there forever. The piano is home.

I would love for singing to feel like home. You'd think that would be an easier feat; after all, your voice comes from inside you, from your body, and what is more "home" than your own body? No giant contraption of wood and strings and ivory is needed to produce the sound; it's just you.

But for me, playing the instrument of voice is like wearing someone else's ill-fitting clothes. They're my own clothes, for sure, but they are scratchy, stiff, and uncomfortable. They need to be broken in, washed a few dozen times, cared for properly. That's all it is, right? I need to learn to wear them, and wear them a lot, and one day they'll feel like they fit.

The piano, in contrast, is the velvety-soft bathrobe that I've had forever.

I don't want to stop taking voice. That's not the question. The question is, Do I start taking piano? There are two barriers here: money and time. If it's $50 a week for piano, I can probably pull it off, though it wouldn't be easy. But time? I barely have time to practice voice. How will I make time to practice both? And if I sign up for lessons and don't have time to practice, what good is that? And what if I practice lots of piano but neglect voice-practice even more than I already do?

Many of my friends would say that I don't need piano lessons. And maybe I don't ... but I think I do, if I'm going to get better and play some of the pieces I've dreamed of playing.

So that's the question I'm struggling with. It's a lovely, first-world kind of problem to have: Do I take piano lessons? Do I make even more room in my already-overstuffed life for music? If I look at it practically, the obvious answer is "No." But if I look at it any other way--like from the perspective of myself as a 90-year-old wracked by arthritis, or from the perspective of someone who doesn't have an easy, first-world life--I think I'm crazy not to do it.

It's time to go wake up my daughter. Thanks for listening, blog!

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Why Things Don't Happen

Some of the fun from the past week: Playing in the water sprinkler

I have three blogs now: this one, my professional blog, and my piano-practice blog. None of them are updated on any semblance of a regular basis, though I was doing a pretty good job with the professional blog for a few weeks. I was blogging every Saturday morning, but ... my professional life got in the way. I've spent the past few Saturday mornings working instead of blogging. And so the professional blog appears to be in the middle of a long summer's nap.

I posted a couple of things to the piano-practice blog last week, after getting Henry (my new old piano) tuned. I was hoping to practice every day, even if it was just 5 or 10 minutes of Hanon or scales or arpeggios. I was hoping to post my progress. But ...

Sigh.

Things just don't happen the way I want them to. To blogging and piano practice, you can add exercise, voice practice, and quiet time in general. And cooking and housework--not things I want to do, but things that need to get done.

Usually the issue is work: I have more work to do each week, than I can fit in a week of 8- to 9-hour days. So I work a few hours on Saturday, and then another hour or two on Sunday. And I'm still not caught up.

But we've had a lot of visitors lately, too. My parents and my sister and her girls were here for several days, and then this past weekend we had some friends from the neighborhood over for dinner. And then yesterday, my brother and his family visited and stayed last night. Don't get me wrong; these were all wonderful visits. I loved seeing my family, I loved spending time with my neighbors, and I particularly loved seeing my brother, my sister-in-law, and their sweet little ones, whom I hadn't seen in over a year. But now I need some quiet time: a few aimless hours at a coffee shop where I can sit alone, write, and think. Or a few aimless hours at the piano, where I can do those scales, practice some Chopin, improvise some stuff.

Normally, my "quiet times" come on Saturday mornings. And/or Sunday afternoons. But I have something scheduled for most nights for the next couple of weeks, as well as for the weekends. I see no quiet time in sight.

And that stresses me out. And the stress makes me feel exhausted because my mind can't rest. When my mind can't rest, I can't sleep. And when I can't sleep, I can't wake up early to exercise or write. And when I can't exercise or write, I feel yucky. And I just wake up and go to work. And work all day. And then play my mom/wife role after work. And next thing I know, it's 11:00 at night, and it's been another day without a single quiet moment. And this is how life flies past.

I guess I'm having quiet moments now, though, taking time to write something.

I need to find some quiet moments where I can figure out a way to better plan my quiet moments. I have to plan them, because they won't happen on their own. They rarely do.

All righty. It looks like I might have a half-hour of quiet time right now. So I'll write a quick letter to my niece (who is at summer camp) and maybe practice a bit of piano.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Henry the Grand


This is Henry.

I am in love with Henry. He makes my heart feel like it's going to burst. He's a rickety old Everett grand piano, but even a rickety old grand can work miracles. His ivory keys are yellowed and chipped, and he has some water stains in the wood that I may never get rid of completely. But he's my Henry, and I love him.

George has been a good piano. He's the piano my parents bought in 1974, and he's the piano I've played and loved for more than 40 years now. He's been my solace so many times. And he's been moved from apartment to apartment, state to state, ever since my parents gave him to me to keep back in the early 1990s. I still have him, but he's going to go to a very good home soon.

And now I have Henry. I have so little experience playing on ivory keys, and I just can't explain how they feel under the fingers. Warm. Responsive. Like they're communicating with my deepest self. It's weird. Perhaps it's just my imagination. (Ya think?) And I write all this, knowing that I may eventually replace them all with plastic.

And the power of the sound ... it's nothing like ol' George.

Still, I will cry real tears when George goes to his new home. He is a part of my most profound identity. He helped shape it; he is part of my soul. When I give away George, I'll give away a part of myself.

But Henry is already part of me, too. He came to me free, from a church that didn't want or need him. Moving, cleaning, and tuning ended up costing almost $1,000, so he wasn't totally free. But now I have a gorgeous antique piano with a surprisingly good sound, and a magical feel under the fingers that just makes my heart overflow with love.

I know all of these descriptions sound a overly sensual, but that's what piano has always been for me.

Sadly, I am so out of practice. I'm tempted to start taking lessons again because I know I need them. Not that I have the time ...

I love Henry. Henry loves me. I've loved my sweet George for 44 years, and now he's going to go to someone who doesn't have a piano but is going to love him as much as I have for so many years. (Well, maybe not as much. But almost?)

Life is good. It really is. So why can't I stop crying?

Friday, May 11, 2018

Dark Place Today

I managed to make it through the day yesterday without having a panic attack. Not sure how I'll do today--my body is so tense, and my throat so tight, that I have to focus on breathing. By 2:00 yesterday, I was wiped out.

I keep thinking people are pissed at me. This is a common symptom of depression with me, assuming the worst about people's intentions toward me. But I made a mistake last year--when I thought a co-worker, one of my Girl Scout friends, and two of my neighbors were mad at me. I blew it off, sure that I hadn't done anything to provoke anger. And then it turned out they were all mad, and they all waited months to tell me. It turns out there were misunderstandings all around. But still, I don't know if I should trust my instincts, or not. I've lost faith in my ability to do that.

Of those four people, I'm still friends with my co-worker, and the other three are history.

I was super-sensitive as a teenager, but I kinda got over a lot of that as I grew up. But for some reason, the events of last year with those four friends (well, one friend and three ex-friends), really threw me for a loop. I have trouble trusting people now. Living in this new town, I've found that people are very nice, but I can't help but wonder what darkness is behind the friendly smiles.

So yes, I'm in a dark place, when instead of focusing on the good things in life (and there are plenty), I'm sitting here thinking about how friends betrayed me, and how painful the whole experience was, and how angry I am that my ability to trust myself and others were stolen. My husband would be able to just forget about it and move on, but I'm not so strong--or so forgiving, I guess.

Let's try to make it through the day without any craziness ...

Vocal Stuff

I have written enough about my voice insecurities in the past, so I'm not going to go into that here. But I do want to write a little b...