Eden Casteel

Rhode Island Based Voice and Piano Teacher

Eden Casteel Music Studio: Learn more about Eden, her teaching, her students, and how to book lessons.

Filtering by Category: Personally Yours

What I'm Doing Now

As of August 5, I am . . .

1. Slowly preparing for college (as a teacher, and as the mom of a freshman leaving the nest)

2. Rehearsing the sixth and final Quonnie The Musical with my talented young cast

 

3. Celebrating another birthday (along with Loni Anderson and Patrick Ewing)

     

 

 

I hope you're having a great week!

Laura Lee Hickfang, RIP

I recently sang at the memorial service for Laura Lee Hickfang, the wife of my late voice teacher Prof. Paul Hickfang. Laura Lee died in April after a short illness. Teenaged Laura Lee Green, about ten years after her first piano recital

Her obituary and her eulogizers described her as a true Southern Belle. She was all that and more, a tiny little Texan with prodigious musical talent, perfect pitch (a gift we shared and joked about), occasional dark moods, occasional wicked sarcasm, and a heart full of loyalty and love. Even though her husband was a fellow Texan, she always sounded far more Texan to me. She called her husband Paaaaahooul.

(I was also blessed to have an Arkansan as my piano teacher. I think I will always associate great musicians and teachers with Southern accents.)

When I arrived for a lesson at the baby grand in their living room, Laura Lee was almost always in the downstairs den of their split level home, watching a soap or whatever was on WCMH at four o'clock on a weekday. The two of them shared custody of the piano and taught their private lessons at different times. Laura Lee had the much larger private studio, and in retrospect I was probably making noise in her living room on her rare day off. She didn't disturb our lessons and we didn’t disturb her shows.

Prof. Hickfang was a survival-level pianist. He met Laura Lee when they were grad students at University of Texas at Austin. She was his piano teacher -- for a little while. He broke up with his serious girlfriend and started courting Laura Lee. Terrible pedagogy, but smart move. If you can't play piano, get a fantastic pianist to marry you.

Mr. and Mrs. Musician

So, at voice lessons, he would play the opening few notes of whatever song I was working on, and maybe a quick arpeggiated chord. Then he would grab a pencil and start conducting the beat, expecting me to just sing a cappella. For a girl with perfect pitch, this was no problem. It was a good system for us.

Occasionally, though, he wanted me to practice with accompaniment. And so he would stretch his 6-foot-7-inch frame from the piano bench, and pad (shoeless but sock-clad) over to the entrance to the finished basement, and supplicate his wife.

"Laura Lee? Could you come play this aria for Eden?"

(Long pause. The sound of shuffling.)

"Ahool rahgt, ah'll be there in a mihhnute."

And up she would come, all five feet of her. She walked over to her beautiful dark brown Steinway (covered with an elegant brass piano lamp, a Mexican serape, a metronome, a bust of Beethoven, and growing mounds of piano books), and sat down. She adjusted her glasses, and began to play whatever was put in front of her, flawlessly. Prof. Hickfang would try to conduct her, too, and it was fascinating to watch them work together on music. They were a true team. She would play about once a year for me, at most. She never told me what she thought of my singing. I just knew it was a very special occasion when she would play for me.

Every other summer or so, Prof. Hickfang would tell me he couldn't schedule a lesson with me for a few weeks, because it was time to take Laura Lee to Texas. Her very best friends were a group of girls she had known since kindergarten. They would reunite about every other year to catch up, while the husbands played cards together. I wondered what it would be like to be that loyal a friend for so long, and what kind of spouse would follow his wife to a girls’ weekend every two summers. Most husbands would stay home.

Paul and Laura Lee, incognito

When Prof. Hickfang died in 2009, I was one of three singers who sang at his funeral. I sang "I Know That My Redeemer Liveth" from Handel's Messiah. I got through all of it, all those pages, and then I was down to my last few bars: "For now is Christ risen from the dead, the first fruits of them that sleep." Sopranos know there is a lovely G-sharp on the word "risen," and it's usually held an extra beat or so, to make the point. I nailed the G-sharp, held it an extra beat, and then thought, "Oh, he would have loved that." And then I thought it again, "Oh, he would have loved that," and began to feel my lip tremble. I made it through the final phrase and began to weep immediately as I closed my music. I couldn't stand the reception and went home.

The next day there was a voice mail on my parents' machine. "Deeeear Eden, it's Laura Lee," she began. "Ah wanted to thank yeeeuw for singing soooh beayutifully yesterday. You were a little off pitch on a few notes, but overall, it was very good. Ah miss him very much, but ah know that Pahool is in Heaven now. Love to yeeu and your family." That was so her. A combination of love, sweetness, and a little pedagogical advice.

As a widow, she threw herself back into her piano teaching, the cornerstone of her life for over 50 years. We stayed in touch. We had lunch, I sent Christmas cards. She got a cute little dog, and her children Gary, Carrie Lee, and Chase began to spend more time in the house with her. Her eyesight got worse and she had to stop teaching. It was a terrible but necessary step.

Last June, with her health declining, she was moved to a nursing home. I visited her there. She was very unhappy that day and kept asking Chase to take her home, but she knew who I was and she was able to keep up with the conversation. I helped her grab her walker and we shuffled around the facility, and when I left her she was sitting happily with some residents, cuddling with her cute dog, and giving me a kiss goodbye.

Once a pianist, always a pianist.

I drove back to the home she had left. The house was being readied for sale. The Steinway sat in the corner of the empty living room, and the piano lamp was still sitting on top. The serape was folded.  Chase told me to take whatever sheet music I wanted, voice and piano, from the stacks that still remained. I took as much as my car could carry. The lamp now illuminates my own baby grand piano in my own living room. I tried to bring them both with me.

Carrie Lee called me the morning her mother died, and asked me to sing at her memorial. Of course, I said. Then, I promptly contracted a terrible cold (or a slightly less terrible flu, not sure which). I went through boxes of Kleenex as I packed my suitcase. I was feverish. My ears were blocked. I took Dayquil and Nyquil. I ached all over. I chose two songs that I thought I could sing in any circumstance (cold, jet lagged, and/or grieving) and hoped for the best.

Laura Lee's memorial was held at the same church where her husband's was. The organist pointed out the place where they had sat together for services. I said hello to Rickie and Jim, the other former students who had come to sing. We rehearsed quickly with Rose Zuber, the excellent pianist who had played for all of us five years before, and I managed to keep my sniffles and coughing at bay. I decided to just focus on technique, in order to get through the service physically. I also rationalized that since I had cried a river  at Prof. Hickfang's funeral, I'd probably manage to be dry-eyed for Laura Lee.

I got up and sang the Bach/Gounod version of Ave Maria. I've sung it at countless funerals. I kept my composure by refusing to look at anyone in the family row. A few minutes later I got up and sang "Pie Jesu" from the Faure Requiem.

[audio mp3="http://www.edencasteel.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/My-Song.mp3"][/audio]

I don't sing it at enough funerals. It's such a lovely piece. I could see the Latin text going by in my head, and the English translation. Dona eis requiem . . . grant them rest. Them. And I suddenly realized, I'm not singing for her, I'm singing for them. The two of them. The thought filled me with great happiness. I'm singing the two of them to Heaven. The reunion is complete. I finished the song, smiling. Wow!, I thought. I'm not crying! It's like I'm a professional or something! And then I sat down, and began to weep, and did not stop. Didn't even try.

There was one more song. Rose, a friend to the Hickfangs for decades, played Debussy's Clair De Lune. It was a perfect tribute: Brilliant, heartfelt, demanding, emotional, and filled with beauty. And we all cried, knowing that while the music was coming from Rose's capable hands, it was Laura Lee we were hearing, for the last time.

[audio m4a="http://www.edencasteel.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/11-Track-11.m4a"][/audio]

When the service was over, people came over to me and said I sounded wonderful, and they meant it. I was flattered.

In Heaven, I dearly hope the reviews were mixed.

Happily ever after

O Mio Casteel Caro

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 5.06.47 PM About once a month I hold a Studio Class for my student singers. Some are preparing songs for auditions and performance. Some are working to get over stage fright in front of a small, supportive audience. Some just come to enjoy a casual, informal afternoon of music. We sing for an hour and everyone offers comments and suggestions on how to improve. We have a break for tea and cookies (and delicious desserts by moms), and then we sing some more. It's fun and lighthearted, but also productive. We make a lot of music and everyone leaves happy. My parents visited last weekend to cheer on my son in his high school play, so I scheduled a Studio Class just for their visit.

Three Casteels, cheering on  a young thespian son/grandson

I was thrilled to show off several of my talented students. My parents were delighted to see and hear them and, just like they did for me as a young singer, they made constructive comments and did a lot of cheerleading. At the end of the class, my dad (always my favorite accompanist) and I decided to join in the fun.  This aria is about a dad and a daughter, so it's a natural for us, and we've performed it countless times. Click here, or on the photo if you'd like to watch us perform! The video cuts off right after the end of the song, so you can't see the wonderful long hug my dad gave me right after . . just like always. I'm so glad my students got to see that too. We made a lot of music and everyone left happy. Want to come to a Studio Class? 

"If you forget the words, just look over your Dad's shoulder."

Eden's Ins and Outs for 2015

Eden's INs and OUTs for 2015 IN: Reading books OUT: Reading minds

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High quality audio and video recordings of music lessons for my students Relying on hazy memory

Diaries Facebook statuses

Running the 2015 NYC Marathon with my husband (yes, I am) Sleeping in

Charcoal gray as a neutral Brown anything (I only like brown as mulch)

Regular online voice lessons Irregular in-person lessons

Improv classes Half-assing

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Confidence Guilt

Helping my students learn more music theory and history Assuming they're learning it elsewhere

Fearless graying Real Housewives Hair

Trackr Bravo Missing cats

Low sugar cuisine New pants

Guest organ stints Cantoring

Christmas caroling at our annual cookie party!

Small ensemble choral singing Cyber choirs

Dave Ramsey Debt

Making my home studio beautiful and welcoming Schlepping all over the Ocean State

What? Me, drive?

Driver's Ed Texting

Daily prayer Worrying

RINATS No NATS

Kvetching Gratitude

Samaritan's Purse Kate Spade

Age appropriate performances Musical Jail Bait 

Massages for health Toughing it out

Learning how to audition in a challenging environment Giving up

Traveling Netflix

Deadlines To-do lists

Resolved: Cuddle ALL THE CATS

Blogging more Blogging less

HAPPY NEW YEAR, my Eight Blog Readers! XO EC

Boo-Boo Kitty, 2005-

Boo-Boo, where are you? What to do if your cat goes missing, as Boo-Boo Kitty did on June 25.

TO DO: 1. Go ahead, panic. WHERE IS HE?? WHAT HAPPENED? Boo-Boo Kitty was a homebody who came and went as he pleased, never traveling more than a quarter mile from the house. Oen afternoon he just took off like shot, like he was heading toward something. He never came back. That's not like him at all.

2. It easily could have been you who let the cat go out, and you've already forgiven him, but be a little angry at the guilty-looking husband who was so busy working that he didn't realize Boo-Boo had been missing for over 24 hours. He just assumed that he came inside at night and went to sleep. You drove 15 hours (it should have taken 12) from Columbus Ohio, walked in the door, and immediately realized the cat was missing. Start searching and calling together in the dark, to no avail. (Husband keeps up the search even when you are thousands of miles away in Europe. He's a keeper.)

3. Scour missing pet websites, including www.missingpetpartnership.org. List your pet as "missing" with RI Lost Pets, Craigslist, and other online groups. Bring posters to the local shelters and veterinarian offices. Try not to notice how many other pets are missing, too.

4. Don't shake your fist at karma too hard when you think of how you spent a vacation's worth of savings on your cat's teeth only two weeks prior to his disappearance. You rationalized, "Hey, he's only nine years old, he's going to be around for another ten years at least, let's make him comfortable." Be glad that even though he has far fewer teeth Out There On His Own, at least you know he has his shots, and he always did like to gum the grass.

IMG_89755. Make eye-catching signs for the neighborhood telephone poles. Cut sheets of neon poster board in half to double your supply. Include basic information only: "LOST CAT, GREY/WHITE TABBY, CALL ME." Use plastic sheet protectors to keep your color photo looking nice for weeks on end, even though you devoutly hope the posters will be coming down in a few days, when you find him. Be sad but glad, weeks later, that the posters are still up and still looking good. Glad but sad.

6. Hang the posters at major intersections in your community, and be amazed and relieved that no one rips them down. Instead, all the walkers and joggers and bikers stop, read, and they start calling. It's high summer and there are many, many people around to help look. Feel hopeful.

7. Hand out little flyers to all neighbors in a half mile radius. ALL of them. Accept their sympathy while trying to get access to their garages, sheds and backyards so you can conduct a thorough search. Keep flyers in a Ziploc bag with a pen, so you can add a personal message like "Spotted near your driveway on 7/14, please keep a look out."

8. Talk to the lady down the street who feeds ferals. Five of her seven ferals went missing about a month ago. She saw the coyote take one of them in his mouth. Also discover there is a chicken coop not too far away from your house and the coyote likes to park there and shop for dinner. Be sobered by this information, but also realize that there are several other cats who walk about the neighborhood completely unmolested. It's luck, it's chance, and it's also geography.

9. Make your sleepless nights productive. When you awaken at 3am worried about your cat, put on your shoes and go out with a flashlight and softly call him. Hope that your neighbors are sleeping soundly. Flash the light into closed garage windows and sheds, hoping but also not hoping to find him or hear him trapped there after three weeks of being missing. Cats can survive that long but you hate to think of the suffering.

Crazy Cat Lady In the Vintage Bathing Suit At The Independence Day Parade

10. Leave your family's holiday early because you are heartbroken and anxious about your missing cat. You got a possible lead the moment you arrived at their home, six hours away from yours. Go home and keep searching after the lead turns out to be false. At the Independence Day Parade in your neighborhood, hand out more Lost Cat flyers while wearing a vintage bathing suit because this year's theme is "Living History." Own the title of Crazy Cat Lady.

11. Begin a desperate search for ways to keep your two remaining cats safe. Invest in an indiegogo scheme that will build GPS pet collars trackable on an iPhone. Get your Invisible Fence fixed but balk at training Cecilia the Huntress Cat to stay inside it. Instead, buy the Loc8or, a kind of LoJack for cats, and put the little radio units on your cats' collars. Be happily amazed at how well they work. Teach everyone in the family how to locate Lou-Lou and Cecilia with the little monitor, that beeps faster and louder when you get closer to the cat or the cat gets closer to you. Play this game of feline Marco Polo every night at dusk. It now takes you five minutes to locate Cecilia in the back yard, or one street beyond. If it took any longer you would be immediately alerted to trouble. And now you know Cecilia gets around so much she should have a passport.

12. Hire Marge the Missing Pet Detective to bring her dogs to your yard, to see if they can pick up a cat scent. Try not to be too elated to have the help and support, and try not to be too discouraged when they don't lead you straight to your pet after three outings. The process itself is very interesting, even if you don't get the result you want.

13. Deploy wildlife trail cameras (on loan from Marge the awesome pet detective) in your yard. Put out a Kitty Buffet of smelly mackerel, cat food, and dry dog food to attract diners to the camera. Do this so many times, you can do it by feel and not even need a flashlight. In the morning, see that the plates are empty. Bring your laptop and check the SD card from the camera. See raccoons, possums, birds eating your food . . .and a few cats you've never seen before. But not Boo-Boo.  MOULTRIE DIGITAL GAME CAMERA MOULTRIE DIGITAL GAME CAMERA

14. After several weeks of not seeing any cats in your own yard, convince neighbors and vacant home caretakers to let you put trail cameras in their backyards. Check them daily. When you get no hits after a few days, find new neighbors to beg.

15. Leave used kitty litter at the lawn's edge; they'll smell their way back.

16. Put a can of tuna in a crock pot with water. Heat it up. Load it into a spray bottle and spray it on trees and shrubs near your home, hoping the smell will lure your cat home. (This even impressed Marge.)

17. When you find cats on camera, prepare humane traps and hope to catch them -- maybe catch your own. Trap two giant ferals within 12 hours . .but release them when you realize it's a Saturday night and you have nowhere to send them to be neutered. Damn, damn, damn.

Pharrell the Big Mean Feral. He looked . .Happy . . when I released him.

18. Follow up every lead. Try not to be too elated when a caller insists they saw your cat. Text them a photo of your cat to confirm. Try not to be too agitated when they don't call back right away, and then you have to call them after waiting an hour to find out that, "no, I guess it wasn't him, so I didn't call you." They weren't even going to bother calling back; that's the part that hurts. Don't they know you are sitting on tenterhooks waiting for their response, while they think they're making it easier on you by just ignoring you? What do they think you are doing, thinking about something else? Learn to send out more than one photo -- send out three photos, like a kitty lineup, and see which one they choose. It makes it a little more likely they'll call back.

19. Start a Facebook page called "Cats Of Quonnie" to keep track of all cat sightings, and to keep people looking. Upload videos from your trail cameras, which are really kind of entertaining. Give the feral cats cool names like Kanye, Pharrell, Greystoke, and Christian Grey (he had many different shades of, well, you know). Upload photos of every cat you can find in your neighborhood, so when people call and swear they found your cat, you can direct them to the Facebook page where they will either exclaim, 1. "I really did see your cat" or 2. "Oh, I guess it was that one who lives down the street, sorry." Two other local cats are now missing. Add them to your page.

20. Practice your calm demeanor when someone casually mentions, "You know, my neighbor found some kind of small animal intestines on her front lawn a month ago, that same place where we thought we saw your cat. But she didn't call you about it because she didn't want to upset you." You're not upset about a dead animal's intestines; you're upset because you're thinking this ordeal could have been over a month ago if someone had bothered to pick up the phone. Your phone number is all over the telephone poles in the neighborhood. Swear to yourself that you will never do that to anyone else, out of fear of upsetting them.

21. Go to that house and check out the property anyway. Find no evidence of fur or anything that would suggest a coyote kill. There are coyotes and fisher cats in the area, but there are also many places to hide, and you've had potential sightings (even though nothing has panned out). Be aware that lack of despair is not the same as hope.

22. Feel tremendous sympathy when your neighbor's cat suddenly goes missing four weeks after yours. Share your advice, your kitty buffet, and your cameras.

23. Let your heart race four days later, when you get a solemn call from a friend two blocks away. She has found part of a cat in her backyard. The landscape crew was mowing her lawn and blowing away the freshly cut grass when they noticed fur in the air. They remembered your signs and they told the homeowner. Shake as you drive to her house. Follow the bits of grey fur -- a sure sign of a coyote kill -- until you come upon the remains of a cat -- a tail and a leg, nothing else. Scrutinize it carefully and realize it's not your cat. Gently take the remains to your neighbor's house, and hug her as she identifies them as her missing cat. Be sad for both of you. Her ordeal is over; yours isn't.

24. Acknowledge that Boo-Boo could have met the same fate. Keep looking for evidence of death, as well as life.

25. As weeks turn into months, and the sightings are further apart and each trail goes cold, begin to face it as much as you dare. You worked so hard, you did everything you could. Your neighbors are amazed and slightly appalled at your tenacity. You attracted every cat in the area, except him. The sightings could have been him, or could have been Greystoke, a feral cat who had some similar markings. Boo-Boo could be eating plates of wet food and purring into the neck of someone only a few miles away, or he could have died the night he went missing. You will probably never know for certain, but more than likely it's the latter. You never had control over any of this. If he returns home, it will be a miracle that will be shared on the missing pet blogs for years. But you don't expect a miracle anymore.

26. Return the traps and the cameras to Marge the pet detective. Start to take down the signs in the neighborhood. It's very hard to do this so you do one at a time, every few days. Keep one trail camera for yourself, just in case, and because it is still kind of interesting to see the wildlife in your own yard.  You hear that some vacationers adopt a cat for the season, then take off in the fall, leaving the cat to fend for itself (horrible). Maybe you can catch these homeless cats on the camera and start a feeding station. Maybe Boo-Boo strayed that far and he'll show up there. Maybe you can still salvage this experience.

I miss our not talking together.

27. Be always grateful you were never conducting a desperate search for your missing child.

28.  Be satisfied that you were able to dispel many misconceptions about missing pets; it might help the next grieving owner. So much of the folk wisdom is dead wrong and it reduces the chances of cats coming home. FACTS: Even confident cats can become scared when they are out of territory, even just a few feet. . . . Even friendly, social cats can appear feral when they're trapped, which can lead to them being euthanized in a shelter instead of being reunited with an owner. . . . Lost cats will not come when called, at all; they shut down into survival mode even if their beloved owner is three feet away with food in hand and calling for hours. It can take a week or longer for these cats to break cover and move. . . Cats who show no signs of ill health or age do not just go off into the woods, "fixin' to die". . . .Cats do not just decide they want to live somewhere else and take off like hobos; they will warn you first by detaching, and by disappearing for a short time. And all of this applies to dogs, too. They are creatures of habit.

Boo-Boo in his usual spot. I miss hearing him.

28. Cats who are one Pounce short of a can, cats who started life rough in the barn and were grateful to live in a warm house, cats who were declawed as kittens and didn't have great hunting skills, cats who sleep all day behind your back, cats who are first in line for the crunches, cats who look for chances to purr into your neck -- they do not just run away. They are missing, they are lost, they are gone. You can do a lot of things to help bring them home. One of them may work. All of them may work. Or not.

29. You have used your hard-won knowledge to help others. It just couldn't help Boo-Boo. Be sad about that for as long as you need to be.

30. Admit that the girl cats are not exactly crying into their Meow Mix about Boo-Boo's absence. They get more food when they want it, the litter box is a lot cleaner, and both of them have become more social with the rest of the family. Boo-Boo hogged the spotlight, like Rebel before him. But you miss that wonderful, quirky male feline adulation. You are already cruising the PetFinder website, looking to save a cat from a shelter. You just want to save something. 

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31. Oh, how you wanted to end this post with a little update saying Boo-Boo had been found and was purring contentedly behind your back as you were writing. Maybe that's why you didn't blog for three months. You were hoping to write a happy ending. Good night dear Boo-Boo, and sleep well, wherever you are . . .

 

 

 

My Sunken Chest

All of my voice students spend part of each lesson warming up the head voice register and the chest voice register. I learned this as part of my Somatic VoiceWork training. It's not optional, it's mandatory. A strong, flexible voice includes a healthy head voice (think of angelic high "ooh" sounds) and a healthy chest voice (think of Santa saying a deep "Ho Ho Ho."). Relying on one register while disregarding the other is a recipe for frustration. I know, because for the first decades of my life, that's exactly what I did. I took traditional classical voice lessons from the age of 13, and I developed a great stratospheric head voice -- my natural range and easy for me to use. But, whenever the melody descended towards middle C, it got difficult for me. I noticed it when I sang solos and when I sang in my school choir. I just couldn’t figure out how to move from head voice to chest, let alone how to get back up. I carried my head voice down too far, and ended up with a tiny breathy low sound at the bottom of the staff. No one talked about it with me when they heard it, and I didn't know enough to ask.

I was taking voice lessons with Professor Hickfang, who was a great classical teacher. But I didn’t have a clue about registers, what they were for, or how anyone actually sang anything. If any teacher gave me advice about it, I forgot it instantly. I just knew I was great at high notes and lousy at singing in chest voice and I could never unite the two. When it was a matter of musical life or death and I had to be heard, I would shout and squeeze out the lowest notes in my chest voice. It didn't feel good, and it was more difficult for me to reclaim my head voice afterwards. Like anyone else with one overdeveloped range and one underdeveloped range, I had a noticeable break. I knew my chest voice and head voice were as different as Jekyll and Hyde, and it embarrassed me. So, I gravitated to songs that showcased my high range. I embraced opera and 1940s and 1950s girl singer repertoire. George Gershwin's "Summertime" -- in the original key -- was my jam! I loved Eydie Gorme and Peggy Lee, crooners who exhaled into the microphone, did not push or strain in chest register, and rarely ascended to head voice. The chanteuse Sade had a breathy dominant chest register, a big break, and an even weaker head voice. Ironically, that made it easier for me to imitate her so I became a big Sade fan.

UnknownIn the absence of any instruction to the contrary, I convinced myself that I couldn't sing notes below a certain pitch. I might as well have admitted that I couldn’t turn left. 

I spent a frustrating year in Shillelagh, my high school's show choir. I had auditioned as a singer, but my break and breathy low range was obvious. Then I made the mistake of showing our teacher Mr. Reardon that I could play keyboards, so naturally I became the keyboard player. I watched the backs of all the beautiful girls as they sashayed through each show, doing jazz squares in sparkly red leotards and black wrap skirts. Meanwhile, I was hidden behind the Yamaha DX-7, playing the accompaniment to “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” and "We Got The Power," keeping my mouth shut. I loved trying out new sounds on the keyboard and jamming with the rest of my bandmates, and I loved getting out of class to play for the Christmas parties of local businesses. But I wished I could sing with them, and sing like them.

Mr. Reardon was a fan of vocal jazz, so Shillelagh performed a lot of songs originally recorded by The Manhattan Transfer. All the performing girls were invited to audition for a short alto solo in "Birdland". I begged to be allowed to try out, too, and after a lot of pleading, Mr. Reardon relented. I memorized Janis Siegel’s rendition, all expertly mixed head and chest. I thought I had done an okay job of blending the break between my registers, and making some chest sounds when required. I sang the solo, hands shaking with nerves, and I looked and sounded just like a 15 year old opera singer with an undeveloped chest voice. And so I played the keyboards for "Birdland".

Finally, I got to perform a solo on one of Shillelagh's final concerts of the year. I loved a torch song by Julie London (another breathy chesty singer), called Cry Me A River. But there was no way I could sing those low notes, even with a lot of breathiness and a microphone. So I rearranged the song to make it easy for another pianist to play, and transposed it six keys higher. (SIX keys higher??? *Smacks forehead*)

I took music theory the following year, sang Soprano 1 in choir, and someone else played the DX-7. I played Milly in Seven Brides For Seven Brothers (an alto role!) who never really sang high notes and didn't have to sing beautifully in her lower range, either. I just emitted some chest voice sounds and left it at that. It could have been a golden opportunity for me to start learning how to balance my registers. Instead, I learned how to square dance.

It took me another twenty years to finally learn how to strengthen my chest voice so I could blend my registers and make all kinds of mixes, including a belt sound. Right after I learned to belt, I got an unexpected promotion from keyboard player to solo performer . . . more later.

Organic

Manual(s) . . . not automatic. I'm feeling the need to stretch myself, musically. Rapping is out, so I'm learning how to play the organ. I already play and can credibly "fake" my way through a service, but I want to be better than that. I'm serving as an itinerant sub in a few churches and want to serve more, so I've decided it's time to make organ study a priority. Five months in, I guess this is one of my resolutions for the year!

This is my first textbook: Flor Peeters' Little Organ Book. In addition to being a great resource, it contained a wonderful surprise. For years I heard a certain Bach piece played by different organists. I would hear it and think, "That sounds like something I could actually play." But I was never able to locate the sheet music. I finally found it in Flor Peeters -- the final piece in the book!  Makes sense.

Eine Kleine Orgelbuch

If you want to donate a minute of your life you can never get back, here is me stumbling through part of that Bach prelude at the back of the Peeters book, for the very fourth time. I was wearing my seldom-used dance shoes (leather soles are better for pedals than rubber soles) but I know I'm going to need actual organ shoes to improve my pedal technique. I'm attracted to the silver ones but worry that silver might be a little too Diane Bish.

I wanted to start organ study with a mountaintop experience, so I had my very first organ lesson - ever -- with George Kent, the living legend who happens to be the organist at Christ Church in Westerly. He escorted me up to the choir loft and gave me a tour of the church's legendary C.B. Fisk organ, completed in 1965. I didn't get a picture in the loft because I wasn't there as a tourist and a selfie might have broken the spell. In the easy way that masters impart knowledge, Mr. Kent explained the stops and their functions ("This is the sasparilla stop . . .just kidding, it's sesquialtera. . "), and gave me permission to find it all a little overwhelming ("Even Biggsy had trouble pronouncing gemshorn correctly!"). The lesson confirmed that in a few small ways, I know more than I think I do. The rest is learnable.

Ronald Casteel worked his way through college playing organ at Seafood Bay and Maple Grove United Methodist Church.

My dad played organ in church at age 11, and he played organ in bars only a couple of years after that (ah, the '50s).  I'm clinging to the hope that in my DNA, I'm more prone to be a good organist than a lousy one. I've got many organist friends in low (and high) places, and with their willingness to talk shop and my willingness to beg for help, I'm bound to improve.

Playing beautiful organ music on a grand instrument is worth any mortification. Will I mess up the postlude? Not just possibly; I will mess up the postlude! What's exciting to think about how I mess up the prelude -- in the pedals, in the stops, or in the manuals? Probably all three! I can't wait!

 

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Diva, ready

I perform with the Ariosti Ensemble at 4pm, but I start preparations long before then. First, the all-important Morning Of Relaxation, accomplished by lying in bed with cats, coffee and laptop. Boo-Boo Kitty, can't you see I'm preparing? I can't think of anything remotely important on a performance day.

I can't (won't) do anything particularly taxing on a performance day. No major chores or work unless it's unavoidable. I take it very easy. I hum some scales in the shower and glance at my music. Then, after dropping off my son at his own high school musical performance (I already saw it), I return home to get "Diva Ready." At 1pm, I eat some leftover steak and vegetables from last night's meal, prepared by The Best Photographer In the World. Beverly Sills always ate a steak, salad, and baked potato before her performances, so from age 16 that's what I've done, too. This balance of protein and carbs works for me. What's great is that under this system I can justify a burger and fries . . and oh, I have.

Time to work on the hair. My hair naturally falls forward onto my face and creates a shadow, so I have to counter it when I perform, or no one would be able to see my face. For performances, my mom would always pull back the hair from the sides of my head. She'd push the crown forward into a little pouf and leave the back long, and then pin it all into place. Sometimes, Mom poufed me so much I looked like the Fourth Beloved Wife of a polygamous Mormon. Now I know what to do. After I tease some height to the crown, I add a couple of bobby pins to hold it in place. Did you know that the wavy edge of the bobby pin is the part that's supposed to go closer to your head, and the straight part is supposed to face out? How did I miss this important life lesson? A couple of shiny clips complete the look, and I spray it into submission.

This is blogger Eden, looking a little like The Bloggess (but with less swearing)

The earrings are a lovely Christmas gift from my mother-in-law, who knew I was always searching for shiny, lightweight "performance" earrings. I also have a pair beautiful Austrian crystal drops that my mom used to wear. I wore them for my headshots and they go with everything. Now I can alternate! I can only wear nickel-free earrings. When I don't, my ears suffer immediately and people give me horrified looks ("Albert! Does that singer know her ears are bright red and bleeding?").

The Arsenal

Cosmetics. Every time I get ready for a performance, I kick myself for not getting someone to teach me how to put on stage makeup. I have never really learned; maybe that should go on my New Year's Resolutions for 2015. I use Cerave moisturizer and Pore Perfect face primer (my skin "eats" makeup, but primer makes me break out so I only put in on for a few hours). I follow that with under eye concealer and foundation, and high-definition blush (with a little darker blush underneath for some contour). I just bought a bunch of elf brand products and I really like them. They are lightweight and so cheap I can try out different colors, and give the rejects to my daughter for her play-makeup box. I use a Revlon eye shadow compact with some matte and slightly sparkly colors. I line my eyes with liquid black pencil that came in my monthly BirchBox, and add waterproof mascara, then I curl my lashes and add some more mascara. I brush powder over my nose. I line my lips with red pencil and fill in with whatever I have lying around. I have yet to find the perfect lipstick shade. It's always too pink or red, but for performance that's exactly what I want -- classic and obvious.

Time to get out of my sweats and into the dress. I tried on most of my black dresses (I own six. Yes, six) earlier in the week to see what would work, and I also checked a few stores to see if there were any last-minute finds. I rejected the funereal wrap dress with white piping at the sleeve and waist, and the slinky one with spaghetti straps. I said no to the beautiful Ann Taylor with beaded bodice and handkerchief hem because it was meant to be worn without a shrug or jacket, and I knew I'd be covering my shoulders. Why on Earth does this deserve such scrutiny? Because I am singing chamber music with an ensemble at 4pm in a church, on a Sunday during Lent. The dress can't be floor length because the other musicians won't be in formal wear. It can't be sleeveless or strapless because everyone else will be in 3/4 or long sleeves, and I prefer to cover my shoulders when I sing in a church. But I do want to look a little snazzy, since I don't have a shiny flute or burnished wood violin in front of me. I have three dressy shrugs/bolero jackets, one which I just got yesterday at a consignment shop. It was size large, but shrugs and bolero jackets for formal wear are hard to find (especially on sale) so I snapped it up. Will it work? Only if I hold it together like this:

Keira Knightley selfie! Mi dispiace, but this is too big unless I yank it together like so. Can't mess with it today.

It's too big; I'll deal with it later. And so I settle on a new combination: A basic black jersey dress (bought last year at Savers in Warwick for $9.99) with a shirred waist, paired with short sleeved black lace bolero with silver sequins scattered all over the front. I've had the bolero for years (it was from some teen store!) but I have never had luck pairing it with a dress until now. It will sparkle in the lights without blinding anyone. The dress is exactly knee length, perfect for an afternoon event. Now, for shoes. I have two pairs of black satin pumps, one slightly higher than the other, which leads to this little dance:

Which one? 1 1/2 inch or 2 inch? (I choose the 2 inch.)

After donning my black earlier in the week, I realized I looked like Death In A Dress so I started applying some self-tanner to my legs and arms, and now I have a nice bit of color. I decided my teeth looked too tan, so I chomped down on some whitening strips as well. I polished my toes earlier in the week. I am a terrible, lazy nail polisher. I lay it on thick, and then let the friction of my shoes rub off the excess over a few days. Since I'm not wearing nylons, I apply a little shimmer lotion to my legs.

Nivea, the shimmer lotion for sopranos of pallor

One more detail: I don my silver "star" bracelet from Sister Renee. She was the principal at my first ever teaching job at St. Michael School in Annandale VA. She always reminded me that God gives us a variety of gifts and talents; she called me her "star" and gave me the bracelet, and I found that very sweet. So I usually wear it when I perform. And, it goes with everything.

The silver "star" bracelet from Sister Renee.

Does this seem like a lot of effort? Well, I put a lot of effort into my singing, so why not make the frame as good as the painting? I rehearse different ways of singing phrases and make sure my score is marked. I try out new ornamentations until I find the ones that work for me and for the song. I listen to my rehearsal recordings and make improvements. I read up on the history of my composers and my repertoire. I write in the translations. Being prepared makes me a more confident performer. So when it comes to getting "Diva Ready" I pay attention to the details, because it's not just about the music, it's about delivering a confident performance. Music hath charms, yes, but seeing is believing.

I appreciate beautifully groomed singers who wear outfits that complement the performance space. I am frustrated by singers who -- no matter how wonderful the voice -- come to the stage with messy hair and distracting clothing that doesn't respect the location or the music. Show me a singer who ignores the visuals and I'll show you Ray Charles. For the rest of us, there's really no excuse.

It's now 2:35 pm and it's time to head to the church. I have already packed my digital recorder with power cord plus three extension cords and duct tape, headphones so I can hear the sound quality before I press "record" at 3:59pm, a fruit and nut bar for quick energy, an empty water bottle to fill at the church, a makeup bag, my music in a black folder, translations of the music to announce to the audience in my best Meryl Streep impression, Static Guard spray in case the skirt begins to cling, and a pair of flat shoes to wear before and after the concert. I also pack a magazine in case I need to clear my brain for a few minutes, but I know I'm not likely to read it. I'm running the music in my head all the time. Just before departing, I open my music and sing through it one time, just to make sure it's all "there." It is. This diva is ready.

Tanned, rested, and ready.

 

Loving the viola

Why do so many people take an instant dislike to the viola? Because it saves time. I kid, I kid! I'm part of a lovely chamber music concert being held Sunday, April 6 at 4pm at Christ Church Episcopal, 7 Elm Street, in Westerly RI. We are the Ariosti Ensemble, named for Attilio Ariosti, a well-regarded Italian composer whose sonatas for viola d'amore (translation: viol of love) are part of the standard Baroque chamber repertoire. Okay, my eight blog readers: What is a viola d'amore, and why should you care? Dr. Joe Ceo with his viola d'amore

If violins are the sopranos of the orchestra, then the violas are altos -- and the viola d'amores are the Red Hat Ladies of the section, proud of their maturity and celebrating their unique experience. Violins play the highest pitches, while violas have a deeper, mellower sound. In addition to its six strings, the viola d'amore has extra "sympathetic" strings that vibrate as the top strings are played by the bow. These extra vibrations give the viola d'amore a distinctively warm, sweet sound.  The "d'amore" indicates the era in which the instrument was developed -- there is also an oboe d'amore. Both instruments date back to the 17th century, and are still used in Baroque ensembles. Violas, and viola d'amores, are notoriously difficult to keep in tune. Hence, the plethora of viola jokes.

Did you hear about the violist who played in tune? Neither did I.

Joe and Eden, rehearsing for the Ariosti Ensemble Concert

Dr. Joe Ceo knows me from our work together at Salve Regina University (where he directed the orchestra for 17 years and I'm a voice teacher), and at the Chorus Of Westerly (where he plays plain old viola and I sing plain old Soprano 1). When Joe invited me to sing with the Ariosti Ensemble, we originally chose arias by Ariosti and by J.S. Bach. We've ditched the Ariosti and have kept the Bach. (It's "Stein, der uber alle Schatze" BWV 152, composed in 1714.) We've also added a piece by Leonardo Vinci. No, it's not the "da" guy who had a special code. This Leonardo came along about 250 years later, and I don't think he painted a thing. He wrote about 50 operas in his short life. He died at 43, poisoned by his girlfriend's husband; one of those dramatic endings that is also apparently true. I'm thrilled to perform Vinci's coloratura-centric "Mesta O Dio fra queste selve," written in 1728.

What's the difference between a viola and a trampoline? You take your shoes off to jump on the trampoline.

I invite you to ignore the viola haters, choose love, and specifically choose to attend this wonderful concert featuring the much-maligned viola d'amore. This is the final event of the Arts Commission's season. The concert will last about an hour and 15 minutes total. In addition to my arias, the Ariosti Ensemble will perform J.S. Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 6, and a world premiere chamber piece by Derek Ferris. Admission is always free, and  always includes a fabulous reception right after the concert. Since we have Derek's world premiere to celebrate, there will be champagne. So, I hope to see you at Christ Church on Sunday at 4 -- to listen, be merry, and drink. In that order!

We're ready!

 

 

 

 

The Seven, Vol. 10: Lenten Presence

1. It's Lent, Lent, time to repent! This is a lyric from one of my favorite Lenten songs, written and performed by The Dogma Dogs, a Catholic music group that started in Steubenville, OH. A sample lyric: "Inspect your life! Do you see some sin?/Let the alms and penance begin!" Oh, come on. It's better than Ashes. 2. What's your Lenten sacrifice, my eight blog readers? The Best Photographer In The World always gives up sugar for Lent. He's disciplined about it and usually loses weight. He can even make chocolate chip cookies for others during Lent, and not take a bite. I am a pretty terrible Lenten observer. I've given up Coke before, but have failed at consistently giving other things up. Recently I've tried to "add things in" instead of "giving up," hoping that would increase my compliance. A couple of years ago I resolved to sacrifice the time to pray the Rosary each day, and that was mostly successful -- I think I did it 25 out of the 40 days. But I always feel a little embarrassed about not being consistent. How hard can it be? Really hard, apparently. I am a Lent Fail. And not in a funny way.

But THIS is funny. 40 days of lint

3. This article by Kelly Wahlquist made me think of Lent in a different way. She talked about Lent as a time of service to God through quiet meditation and Eucharistic Adoration, service to her church through prayer, and most of all service to her family by doing all the little things with them that she doesn't really want to do. That last one made an unexpected impact on me, inspiring a very different feeling than the thought of sacrificing coffee or ice cream. What a challenge, to try every day to love my family the way God loves me. So that's my Lenten sacrifice -- dedicating myself to loving more, by sacrificing whatever makes me love less.

4. I just have to figure out what is getting in the way of all this love waiting to come out. Sugar? No, but I'm giving it up to be in solidarity with TBPITW. Alcohol? No, but I'm giving it up for the same reason. Facebook and Twitter and blogging? Uh . . . I need access to them for Bertandnone, the online business I run with Mr. Sugar-Free. But, I did make a small start. I have stopped taking my laptop into our bedroom at the end of the day, so I don't look at it at night and first thing in the morning. Instead, I talk with my family as they get ready for bed. I read books I've been meaning to get to. And in the mornings I focus on helping my kids get ready for school and being present for Sugarless Husband. Does it feel like a sacrifice? Sometimes no (when I get a ton of little things done, the kids aren't groggy, and we're out the door on time). Sometimes yes (I am so used to waking up and logging on immediately, it feels weird to just lie there and think). I know that God will give me lots of chances to practice Being Present.

5. I've also decided that being "present" means reconnecting with your past. Have you ever wanted to talk to someone you haven't talked to in a long while? This Lent, just do it! After a week of playing my newly installed family piano and seeing her notes all over the margins of my music, I reconnected with Dr. Christine Miller, my childhood piano teacher. I had Googled her before, and we had had an email correspondence a year ago, but I finally picked up the phone and called her. I had started lessons with Dr. Miller at age 8 in Jerome, OH. She had two Steinway grands side by side in a little alcove of her living room, with a prefab greenhouse right next to them. It was a beautiful place to take lessons, drilling scales while she sometimes stepped out to the greenhouse for a moment to pull a dead leaf off of a plant. Dr. Miller was an early adapter of technology. She had a small video camera pointed at the student piano, with a TV monitor resting on top of the closed lid. I would play my recital piece and we would review my performance in slo-mo. "You are playing that by the seat of your payants, Miss Eden," she would say, sternly. She would pause the tape to show me where I had used the wrong finger on the right note. I did that a lot. Still do. I mentioned that to her when we spoke on the phone, and she said in her soft, matter-of-fact Arkansas drawl, "Well, I tried my best with you."

6. Dr. Miller gave me my first professional music job, acting as her assistant a couple of afternoons each week. With the help of my interior designer mother, she had turned her basement into a spacious music complex. There was a large main studio with Oriental carpets, a comfortable waiting room with a wood stove, and a practice room for students pre- and post-lesson. I would keep hot water going in the teakettle and help the little kids with their theory and drills. I also turned pages for Dr. Miller when she gave lecture concerts on the American pianist/composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk (she had been a finalist in the first Gottschalk Competition). She would always play a snippet of Gottschalk's "The Banjo" to try to convince me of the value of correct fingering.

Eighth Grade piano recital, around the time I was still practicing faithfully. (OMG look at the piano dolly casters!!)

7. By the time I was 15 years old, my attention had been diverted from classical repertoire to the high school show choir, where I was faking pop piano with chord symbols. I was also clearly putting more effort into voice lessons. But I was loyal and didn't want to leave Dr. Miller; I was stuck.

Freshman year (at home in our living room, with my sister Liana behind me), getting ready to accompany the Freshman Choir concert. Attention to solo piano playing already fading.

Driving me home after one of her Gottschalk concerts (I remember the windshield was frosty), she told me that after eight years together, she wanted me to take a break from piano lessons to focus on voice. There was no way I would have been able to stop lessons unless she had told me to stop. It was a kind and generous thing to do. A year later, she brought her latest technology to a small performing hall in Columbus, to professionally record my very first voice recital. It was a gesture of support and approval that I deeply appreciated. Dr. Miller is like that. I hope I've been half as good to my students as she was to me. And . . .like every single former piano student on earth . . how I wish I'd stuck with lessons.

 

Dreams, dollies, and pianos

Me, playing our new Baldwin Howard grand piano in 1979: Eden Casteel at the ivories, 1979

I loved that piano. I even held slumber parties under it (I can't believe my mom allowed it!). Our dog Honey came into our lives about a year after the piano. Honey decided that the piano underside was a great place to pee when he was desperate . . even when he wasn't so desperate. We did a lot of carpet cleaning. My piano-based slumber parties ended.

We were one of those families who had music nights. My dad would play from his fake books and would lead sing-alongs for the family, and also at every single party. We had a collection of at least ten hymnals from different churches where my dad used to play, and we'd sing out of those, too. I would play my assigned pieces from my teacher Mrs. Norris, and I would figure out how to play popular hits like "Summer Nights" by ear. My sister and I would dance and spin around the living room while my dad played something that sounded Spanish. The galley kitchen was right next to the living room so when I made mistakes while practicing piano, my mom would yell, "I think that's wrong!" Our house was an open style, and the piano could be heard throughout the house. I learned "Fur Elise" without ever reading the music, just listening to my sister practice it over and over again.

I always knew the piano would come to live with me, I just didn't know when or how. A few years ago my parents moved from their big house to a smaller one. I was ready to take the piano then, but somehow they made room. Last month my parents found a great, light-filled condominium that's perfect for my mom and her accessibility needs. But this time they knew the piano wasn't going to fit.

I did some google searching and asked friends for piano moving recommendations. I got two quotes and went with A-1 Piano Movers from Dayton, OH. Steve Hicks was kind and courteous. I happened to be at my parents' the day they came to pick up the piano. My dad played a few notes of "Dream," by the Everly Brothers, and then he closed the keyboard cover.

Packing up carefully, carefully

Yes, it is weird to see such a big hulking piece of wood and metal resting on its side. And yes, my heart rate did speed up as I imagined all the terrible things that could happen. None of which happened in the previous 36 years, mind you, and didn't happen now, either. The movers were in and out in less than 30 minutes, loading my childhood onto a truck.

It would take ten days for the piano to arrive in Rhode Island. I busied myself with a mad search for a piano dolly. I had read plenty of sensational blog posts about the danger of moving a piano more than a few inches on its own casters -- cracked legs, heavy thuds to the floor, thousands of dollars in repairs. I decided I was willing to pay for the safety and flexibility of moving the piano several feet to make room for a Christmas tree, some recital performers, or some really fun summer party sock hoppers. Maybe even some giggling little girls dancing to Spanish melodies.

And now I've done the homework, so you don't have to.

1. A grand piano transporter works just like a hydraulic tire jack. It costs thousands of dollars, but you can use it all by yourself. It's really only good for professional movers and rich universities. And where do you store it when your piano is not moving? Under the piano? Eeew. Ugly.

You can get this one on eBay for $2200. Go ahead and bid, I won't be buying.

 

2. A spider dolly is basically a rolling trivet that holds the legs in place. Most colleges, music schools, churches and universities use these. They cost about $700. Once the dolly is installed, one person can move the piano with a little muscle. One person can also accidentally shove the piano off the side of a stage if they aren't careful. Drawback: A spider dolly can raise the piano a few inches off the floor, making it uncomfortable to play. And it's ugly.

3. Piano leg dollies look like little roller skates for your piano, available for round and square leg shapes. The cost is about $200 or less, and you can get them for far less than that on eBay. Piano leg dollies are more aesthetically pleasing than spider dollies, but they still look a little weird. I got an up-close-and-personal look at a set in the choir room of Calvary Church in Stonington CT (because aesthetics) and thought they were passable, at least, and probably my best of limited options. I was ready to order, but then I discovered that all brands were too big for my piano's legs. The dollies are all three inches wide on each side and my piano legs are two inches wide per side. An online piano tech suggested that I could add shims to the dollies to make them sturdier, but the whole purpose of getting dollies was to make the setup look more aesthetically pleasing, not less. Also, you have to remove your piano's nice brass casters to put on the roller skates. I thought it was going to work, but ultimately I dismissed this option.

Check out the piano's "roller skates"! From www.homeguide.org

3. Finally, I found the solution: Shop-To-Showroom Dollies! They're double the cost of the roller skates, but I think they will work. You slip them under your piano's existing casters, move your instrument, and then slip them off again. Less like roller skates, more like house slippers. And you can hide them in a closet when they're not in use! I talked to a different tech and he said, yes, he sells them to obsessives just like me and they work fine. After I found this solution, I realized I didn't have to have dollies immediately ready for my piano movers to install, so I opted not to buy anything at the moment. When I'm ready to move the piano a little, I'll probably order a set of these. You can rent them from me if you need to, just pay me in Merlot.

The piano arrived on a sunny Friday afternoon. IMG_6205 IMG_6228Again, my heart skipped a few beats as I watched Steve and Sean reattach the legs and carefully turn the piano on those slender legs. Steve looked at the piano and at the space where it was going. "What a great place for this piano!" he said. Steve and I had exchanged several emails about my dolly-caster obsession but once he saw our house, he understood. "And you have a Baldwin Howard, made by Kawai," he said. "It's kind of like a Honda," I explained to my husband. "More like an Acura," Steve corrected. "Great instrument in a great space." They shuffled the piano along some moving blankets until it was centered on my rug. I watched Steve shift the piano a few inches here and there, just lifting a leg off the floor. He said that was all right to do, occasionally. I did reuse my parents' plastic casters to keep the brass wheels from denting the rug.

My own children circled this weird new house fixture that I had been talking about for years, and then they did exactly what I had dreamed they would do.

"Will you teach me to play?"

So, how do I play Coldplay, Mom?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then, I did exactly what I had dreamed I would do. I played some Everly Brothers.

IMG_6259

Sunday in the studio with Eden and Eliane

Eliane Aberadam is a professor of composition at the University Of Rhode Island, and my fellow soprano at the Chorus of Westerly. On Sunday March 2 at 7pm, In URI's Fine Arts Center Concert Hall, I'm going to sing two "Oceanic Poems" she set to music: Ocean Of Forms and Winter Dusk, with Alexey Shabalin on violin and Hyunjong Choi on harp(Yes, you can come! The pieces are part of a Composers' Collage Concert. It's FREE!!! But . . donations are accepted.) I've been running the pieces for months now, but just on my own. I'll rehearse with Alexey and Hyunjong next week. They have played the pieces before with other sopranos but it's new to me, so Eliane recently came over to my house and we worked on the details. It's not often that a composer comes and sits at my piano to coach me, so The Best Photographer In The World commemorated the occasion (there was a break in the ice dancing competition).

This is Eliane, faking the harp and violin parts that will accompany the vocal.EdenRehearse-19 This is me trying to count in multiple meters while singing some high notes.EdenRehearse-15"

The harpist is very good, much better at harp than I am at piano," Eliane said apologetically, and she gave me a harp anatomy lesson right then and there. I didn't know, and it is really cool. Harpists, you're awesome. EdenRehearse-12 This is me being granted permission to change a word stress from sob-bed to soooooooobbed. EdenRehearse-6 Since Eliane gave me a harp history lesson, I gave her the history of my Story & Clark piano and music stand. Both were gifts from Margaret Vogel, a family friend and neighbor. She would "hire" my sister and me to serve as very short waiters at her frequent parties. We would take coats from guests and lay them on the bed, we would pass hors d'oeuvres and clear plates. At some point Margaret would usually ask me to sit down and play her piano. There was a cigarette stain on one of the G keys, made by her chain-smoker husband Jack, whose favorite song was "Born To Lose." The wooden stand was in her formal living room and it always held the family Bible. When Jack died, I sang "Ave Maria" at his funeral. Margaret downsized from their big home to a smaller residence, and she called my mother to say that she wanted me to have the piano and the wooden stand in gratitude. She knew I didn't have a piano in my apartment and she thought I'd love to have hers, and oh she was right. It was the most unexpected funeral "compensation" I've ever received, and I am still grateful for it every day. EdenRehearse-1As Eliane and I were finishing up, two movers came to take away the other piano in my home -- my Baldwin Acrosonic. I listed it for sale here on this blog last week. It came from the home of a neighbor who was moving; her daughter had practiced piano on it and all I had to do was pay for the moving. It has been my "backup" piano for two years, a very nice instrument that allowed me teach or play in two different locations in my house. And it looked good in an empty spot in my living room.

A friend of mine called almost as soon as the post went up. She knew of a family that had two kids who loved to play, and were doing well in lessons, but had only a small keyboard for practice at home. I knew it was meant to be their piano. And so Eliane and I watched as the Baldwin rolled out of my house.

Godspeed, Acrosonic!

They didn't have to sing for it, but I hope they enjoy it as much I have enjoyed Margaret's gift to me. Maybe someday a composer will play on their piano, too.

And now we wait.

The Seven, Vol. 8: What I'm . . . .

1. For shameless escapist pleasure I like to read blogs about WHAT I'M WEARING! WHAT I'M BAKING! WHAT I'M DECORATING! But, I'm not doing any of those things at the moment. Instead . . . 2. WHAT I'M SELLING!: Just look at this lovely Baldwin Acrosonic piano, with beautiful needlepoint bench in excellent condition. I've kept it in tune and have enjoyed having it in my home for lessons and recitals, and great parties for the past couple of years, but I need to make room for a bigger piano, coming soon. Do you want it? Make me an offer! photo 1 photo 2

Harry Truman played piano   , , just not this one.

3. WHAT I'M PRACTICING!: I've made headway in learning "Two Oceanic Poems" by Eliane Aberadam for my March 2 concert at University of Rhode Island! Here is the text of the second song, kind of appropriate for our snowy weather:

Winter Dusk by R. K. Munkittrick The prospect is bare and white, And the air is crisp and chill; While the ebon wings of night Are spread on the distant hill. The roar of the stormy sea Seem the dirges shrill and sharp That winter plays on the tree - His wild Æolian harp. In the pool that darkly creeps in ripples before the gale, A star like a lily sleeps And wiggles its silver tail. 

4. WHAT I'M PRACTICING, PART 2!: I'm performing with the Ariosti Ensemble on April 6. I'm singing an aria by Bach, an aria by Ariosti, and an aria by Leonardo Da Vinci, not to be confused with this artist:

This woman IS smiling . . because she found a cool aria.

Vinci's aria is called Mesta O Dio and it's going to be great! My smile will be obvious. 

5. WHAT I'M NOT DRIVING!: I said goodbye to my 2006 Saturn Vue last week. I owned it for 5 1/2 years. I'm proud of that car because I paid for it entirely myself, from the trade-in to the down payment to the monthly installments for four long years. It was a great car for my Michigan life (heated seats! All-wheel drive!). But when I picked up the keys, I had no idea I'd be moving to Rhode Island and driving hundreds of miles per week to ferry kids to school and to teach all over the Ocean State. Out here, the Saturn has been more of a pain than a pleasure.

6. WHAT I AM DRIVING!: So now I'm the proud owner of a brand new Volkswagen Jetta TDI Sportwagen, the first brand new car I've ever owned. I've never named a car before, but this one seemed to want a moniker. I asked my dad and sister for some good German girl names. My sister suggested Brunnhilde. My dad suggested Gretel, and after thinking about it, I decided it was perfect -- because with my unsteady sense of direction, I'm sure to get her lost! But we're now enjoying mpg in the 50-60+ range (no kidding!), so if I do get lost, I'll have plenty of fuel to find my way home. 

Gretel, not lost yet

When I turned on her stereo for the first time, I played Beethoven's Ninth Symphony . . . it seemed appropriate.

7. WHAT I'M READING: My brand-new car CD player is spinning Steve Jobs biography on 20 CDs. He was a jerk, wasn't he? A very talented, very smart, very charismatic jerk. Jerks can and do change the world for the better, but I haven't yet gotten to the part where Jobs found his own humanity. On a recent sleepless night, I finally finished the thousand-page Harry S. Truman biography by David McCullough. President Truman was fallible and human (and a decent pianist), but a person of great character, wasn't he? My favorite Truman story was his angry response to a music critic who panned his daughter Margaret's voice recital debut: "When I meet you . . .you'll need a new nose . . . a beefsteak above and a supporter below." So I guess he could be a jerk, too. (Truman and the music critic made up, eventually.)

Have fun doing whatever you're doing! EC

 

 

Simple Dreams

The great American singer, Linda Ronstadt: The Lovely Linda

Dorky Linda Ronstadt wanna-be No. 1: 

Dorky/adorkable Zooey Deschanel, often compared with Linda Ronstadt. (www.cheezburger.com)

 

 Dorky Linda Ronstadt wanna-be No. 2: 

The dorky sophomore Eden, about to sing from the Great American Songbook at the high school talent show, 1985

While I was learning how to ride a bike, Linda was enjoying a multiplatinum rock career and dating Gov. Moonbeam. She had even sung operetta on Broadway to good reviews, around the time I convinced my mom to let me get my ears pierced. I memorized "Blue Bayou" because my dad played it over and over on the 8-track in his Lincoln Continental. Occasionally I'd try to sing like her. I got kind of good at "Silver Threads And Golden Needles."

The Lovely Linda, singing a standard from the Great American Songbook, 1985

And one night, while I was asleep with Clearasil on my face, Linda appeared on Johnny Carson's "Tonight Show" in a vintage dress, singing "I've Got A Crush On You" supported by the Nelson Riddle Orchestra. Some viewers thought it was an elaborate joke -- a rock singer, crooning a Gershwin ballad from 1928? But it wasn't a joke, it was a revelation. No other rock singer had so successfully crossed such a wide musical divide. (If this music is all new to you, watch this wonderful concert from beginning to end, just like I did for most of 1984! Thanks early HBO!) Ronstadt's three albums with the legendary Riddle -- "What's New?," "Lush Life", and "For Sentimental Reasons" were all surprise hits, and resulted in the following life-changing occurrences for a teenager living in Dublin, Ohio:

1. I was introduced to Frank Sinatra. Before Linda, I thought he was just the guy who sang "New York, New York." I rooted through my parents' old LPs to find more versions of the songs I first heard on Linda's albums, and discovered the genius of Sinatra (who had worked with Riddle), Julie London, Keely Smith, and Peggy Lee.  Sinatra's Where Are You? is the finest suicidally lovesick album you will ever hear. 

2. I discovered fake books. They're everywhere now, but in the mid 20th century fake books were illegal due to copyright restrictions. I had never seen one until my dad, intrigued by my interest in the "oldies" in the age of Madonna, dug into a box in his closet and produced several thick notebooks of yellowing lead sheets. He described buying them 'under the counter' at a music store in the 1950s. He played piano and organ in bars and restaurants to make money during his college years, and used the books to take requests and lead sing-alongs. I tore through them, learning novelty songs, ballads, and tunes from the Great American Songbook. I also learned that having music in a singable key is really important and most fake books totally fail in this regard, legal or illegal.

3. I learned to read lead sheets. Thanks to the sketchy, incomplete music in the fake books, I learned how to read chord symbols for the first time. My musical reading began to pick up speed, and I found a reason to stick with piano lessons. 

4. I learned I am not very good at arranging a tune. Riddle's masterful arrangements (he died before the last album was completed) were published as piano/vocal songbooks; I still have them and still use them. That dorky photo from the talent show?  Ronstadt had sung My Funny Valentine supported by a string quartet arranged by Riddle. I re-arranged it for three clarinets. Because my fellow sophomores Terri, Missy and Shelly were all good clarinet players and agreed to serve as my musical guinea pigs, that's why. They endured one Saturday afternoon rehearsal as I wrote and re-wrote. This was before Sibelius and Finale! It went so well I sang "I Only Have Eyes For You" instead, because the music was already in print and I had a pianist to play it. (And, now that I think of it, I sang it in the dorky key of C. Should have lowered it, but that was the key on the printed page. See No. 2.)

I just finished reading Simple Dreams, Linda's new musical memoir, and I eagerly read and re-read the few pages she devoted to her vocal technique! I hoped she would talk about how she did what she did, so I could pass on that wisdom to you, my eight blog readers. Well, she did, kind of. Linda was raised in a very musical home in Tucson but had no training for her pure rock singing. She always identified herself a soprano who sang rock and roll. But when she took on the role of ingenue soprano Mabel in a rock-tinged, mash-up version of The Pirates Of Penzance (a production and movie that spawned many other pop-style reboots of classical music), she knew she wasn't vocally prepared.

Linda as Mabel in "The Pirates Of Penzance," singing "Poor Wandering One" in the keys of her choice.

Linda: "Until I went to work in Pirates, I had never had any formal voice training. The show's vocal demands were considerable  . . ."The girls' chorus {was} belting high notes that had originally been written to be sung in the upper extension of the voice -- where an operatic soprano sings. It sounded funnier that way, and more like the contemporary pop style that Wilford Leach had envisioned for the show. Eight performances a week of belting high notes could have created serious vocal problems for the chorus. . ." 

Yes, Linda. Yes it could. I think your chirpy, high-pitched, head-dominant speaking voice actually helped to balance your chest-dominant singing voice for all those years and probably saved you from sounding like Yoko Ono. The music director of "Pirates" also lowered a lot of the keys for you (which you readily admit helped) so you could belt with gusto in the range you knew best.

"From all those years of screaming over a rock band, I had an overdeveloped belt range and an underdeveloped upper extension. [I hear it all the time, Linda! It ain't just you!]  . . . my high voice sounded more like a choirboy's than that of a grown-up lady opera singer. Rex [Smith, who played Frederic] and I, coming from rock backgrounds, had developed the unfortunate habit of muscling our way through difficult vocal territory and, for lack of a better word, yelling."

"Vocal coach to the stars" Marge Rivingston came to help Linda and the rest of the cast bring some balance to their belting, so they could survive eight shows a week, and they survived well enough to make a movie of the production. But the existence of the movie -- and its role in adding pop elements to opera -- means that almost everyone who sees (or produces) a live production of "Pirates" now expects to hear at least a little chest voice somewhere in the 2 1/2 hours. They don't realize the popera version has lower keys, shortened scenes, and rock instruments. They think that's the way it was originally written. It can make things . . .difficult.

Me as Mabel, trying to think of how to belt in original Gilbert and Sullivan keys

When I played Mabel a few years back, I knew I was expected to try to add a little Ronstadt somewhere, but soon I realized it was vocally impossible for me in the original keys, and we weren't going to be rewriting. It's only possible to belt "Go ye heroes, go and die!" if you're in a lower key, like she was. So, when I got to that scene, I did my best to act tough and belty, since my voice was going to have to stay right where it was, in head and mix range. Sorry. But, in honor of Linda, I transcribed her exact cadenza for the end of "Poor Wandering One", gave it to our flutist, and we performed it together for every show.

Linda's singing career ended several years ago due to the advancement of recently diagnosed Parkinson's Disease. This year she'll be inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, but she may not be able to travel to the ceremony. I'm glad I saw her perform live in the late 1990s, when her voice was as strong as ever. Oh, that voice! 

(Depending on how you look at it, you can also thank her or blame her for The Eagles.)

2013, Resolved

Goals for 2013  What I resolved, and how I did: I want to learn how to prepare a few more healthy foods. I didn't learn how to make the Thai rolls, but I did make a lot of smoothies. That counts, right? I learned the hard way that kale doesn't blend so well in my blender. Bleech.

It's time to say goodbye to brown clothing -- forever. Khaki, you're next. I ditched all the brown, AND the khaki pants! I could never find anything to wear with them! Gray and black are my neutrals. What's more, I've said goodbye to about half of my closet. I just kept giving away stuff that didn't make me feel good, didn't fit well, or didn't fit my life anymore. It felt wonderful. I'm no minimalist, but I am really tired of managing crap I don't care about. Really tired. Let it bless someone else's home and life.

I love teaching, and I love breaks from teaching just as much. Keep doing this. I did this! I welcomed many new students into my studio, and I also started using Genbook to schedule lessons, which allowed me to schedule downtime, too. Genbook rocks! 

Breathing 101 with members of a church choir in Hartford, CT (April 2013)

 

Pray more and more and more . . . because prayer works. Yes. Yes it does. Prayer saved my brother in law's life in November. While my mother deals with the effects of Multiple System Atrophy, prayer keeps me from despair and overwhelming anxiety. Prayer is the most powerful way I can express gratitude and thankfulness. I pray in the shower, when I'm driving, when I'm running, and yes at church. Pray to whomever or whatever you want. Just pray.

Look who's kicking? The woman who never intentionally exercises, that's who! Way to go Mom.

Run a half marathon. Run a 10K. Run a 5K. Run. Or just tone up. Or just look like I've lost 10 pounds. My emergency trips to Ohio this fall did result in a 7-pound loss, so I ate 7 pounds of Christmas cookies to compensate. I ran a 5K on New Year's Day in Phoenix, and I ran a 5 mile race in Narragansett in October, but didn't run anywhere else. I promised my husband I would run a half marathon with him in 2014 so I'm beginning to train again. Happily, my 13 minute miles are quickly decreasing to 11 minute miles. How on earth did this happen? I blame the extra conditioning I have been doing with Fitness Blender and the LoloFit 7-minute HIIT Workout app.

Restrict Facebook and other cyber time wasters. The best thing I did: I removed the Facebook and Twitter apps from my phone. It is very hard to care about tweets when you can't see them on your phone. Glorious.

Say a long goodbye to my 20 year old cat Rebel, and have him make a peaceful trip over the Rainbow Bridge. After the big blizzard last winter, we both got terrible colds. I got better, but Rebel got worse. On Friday, Feb. 22 at 2pm we took him to the vet and said goodbye.

Goodbye my friend.

Five hours later I was onstage singing a recital. I had water, cough drops, and tissues on the piano, not sure what was going to come out of me besides music. When I walked in, I asked the (dear) organist Joey if he knew a certain piece. He did, and so I ended my Valentine's Day themed recital with "For I Will Consider My Cat," a love song by Benjamin Britten that was perfect for him and for us. 

I'm writing a short children's musical about Saint Francis. I wrote it, I directed it, and it was performed in May. My son stepped in to play Francis, only two weeks after playing Oliver in his high school musical. You can perform Francis Makes A Scene at your church if you like! I dedicated it to Rebel the Cat.

The Wolf, eater of birds, aka St. Francis' future pet. (May 2013)

St. Francis and his homeboys (May 2013)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I also wrote a third edition of "Quonnie The Musical," and created a website for the show, and the theater camp that preceded it. It was our biggest cast, and our best show yet!

QTM's Madame Director with two talented cast members! (July 2013)

Paint some landscapes. I aspire to be Winston Churchill. Paint some walls, too. And the garage doors. I painted nothing, not even my wagon. 

Travel more. Last year I enjoyed short trips to New Orleans and Montreal. This year: Colorado? Key West? Graceland? India? Nah. I made a lot of trips to Ohio to be with my family. Each trip was worth it. 

Figure out that contact lens prescription once and for all, and write it down so I can find the right contact for the right eye. I think I keep mixing them up. Fail.

Plant a smaller vegetable garden, to make room for more flowers and trees. This happened and it made me happy. Eden can only handle so much garden! We demolished most of the vegetable garden and decided to support local farmers' markets instead. I planted more bushes and trees this year; it will be fun to watch them grow. And I think we're getting asparagus this year!

Blooms, blooms everywhere (August 2013)

Continue to celebrate the end of orthodontia payments, car payments, and house payments (ALMOST!). My Michigan house finally sold at the end of January 2013, almost three years after it hit the market. On the night of the closing, we went to eat at a restaurant I had been saving for just this celebration. The restaurant turned out to not be worth the wait gastronomically, but emotionally it was the feast I had been waiting for.

Be at peace. That's my resolution for 2014, and my wish for all 8 of you who read this blog. Well, that and . . .

 

While You Were Sleeping

Dear Pete, You started coughing in mid-November. You were hospitalized with pneumonia on a Sunday, and we all figured you would get out after a few days of antibiotics. Five days later, my sister Liana (aka your wife of 11 years) texted me: "Google ARDS. Then pray hard." I Googled ARDS, prayed hard, and was on a plane to Columbus a few hours later. 

On the day you marked your first week in the hospital, we celebrated Liana's birthday. We had you on speakerphone so you could participate from your ICU bed. We got her a cake and a few little things. As she blew out her candles, we knew what she was wishing for.

Birthday girl Liana with eldest son Malcolm

Your wife grinds her teeth at 5am. I know this because I moved into your house and slept next to her for twelve nights. A few times I could barely hear her breathing, so I reached out to make sure she was there. Sometimes she wasn't; she would arise in the middle of the night and go to the ICU to sit with you. She didn't want you to be alone.

Your boys were very worried about you and did some acting out. The boys pummeled each other and made huge messes all over the house. Psycho Sally the dog ripped apart a lot of stuffed animals. Then again, that might not be a stress reaction, that might just be boys being boys and dogs being dogs. There was not much we could do except try to exhaust them all. Each day I would grip Trevor's hand and Sally's leash, and run as fast as possible across the green in front of your house. It seemed stupid until it actually started to work. It seemed really stupid when Sally broke free and took off for the neighbors' backyard at top speed. I don't know what spirit animal Sally is . . . Evel Knievel? 

Sally Christmas and Trevor, partners in crime.

The house was struggling too. The dryer only worked for ten minutes at a time before stopping, rendering the clothes inside smelly and damp. No one had time to call the repairman. The kitchen sink was backing up. The tub where the boys took their baths drained at a glacial pace. The coat hooks were falling out of the walls. Sally was crazy from being cooped up in a cage but no one had time to walk her. The turtle tank was bright green with algae . . . then again, when we could see him, Frisky seemed fine with it.

You grew steadily worse. You needed more oxygen. Your organs were stressed. Each morning the overnight ICU nurse would call with an update, rousing Liana out of her too-short slumber. Liana would hear the report and reply, "Oh, okay," hang up the phone, and go back to bed to fortify herself for another overnight. I paced the house and looked for something, anything to clean or organize, to keep from being terrified. We were expecting eighteen relatives for Thanksgiving. They were coming to be with my mom, who is battling a rare neurological disease. They offered to stay home, but we needed and wanted them more than ever. I decided we would tackle a bunch of home improvement projects, to make it easier on you when you came home. If you came home.

Kiki helps with the mountain of laundry.

Let's finish constructing this wall.

Paul and Kiki, sweeping the floor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The day before Thanksgiving, my husband was sitting in the tub fixing the drain. My mother was sitting in her wheelchair folding your clean laundry. I was hanging up clothes in your closet. My father returned from visiting you and Liana in the hospital. "There's not much else they can do," he said with tears in his eyes and pain in his voice. The pneumonia was gone but they didn't know why your lungs were still filling with fluid. No diagnosis, no treatments. "Pete will be on a ventilator soon." I couldn't leave the bedroom until my eyes were dry.

Liana came home from the hospital at 4am on Thanksgiving morning. We talked, then she took a sleeping pill and we went back to bed. You called two hours later, your voice soft but clear through the hiss of the oxygen mask. It was time for the ventilator. I awakened the boys, threw them in the car for the short ride to the grandparents', then drove your groggy wife to the hospital to see you before the procedure. You looked thin, tired and resigned. I took this photo because I didn't know what else to do. 

IMG_4648

Not being an ER nurse like your wife, I only knew one other person who was placed on a ventilator, and she only lived a short while afterwards. I said the same thing my father had said to you -- that I'd take care of your family too, if necessary. I've never had to say that before. And then I asked you for your email password, because your modem had broken too and I had gotten you a new one, and there would be no way to install it without your password. You gave me an incredulous look and told me the password.

I walked Liana to the waiting room. We stared at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade on TV, with our arms around each other, while they were working on you. We came back in an hour later. Your body was controlled by machines. I held your hand and prayed the Rosary.

Liana began to shout at you through your deep sedation. "Pete! Don't fight the vent! Breathe with the vent." To my astonishment, your eyes flew open. You began to try to shape words around the tube in your mouth, but we couldn't understand. You frantically pointed to your chest. "Heart?" We played a surreal game of charades, trying to figure out what you were trying to communicate. "Heat? Hot? Hurt?" You gestured again and we got you a pen and paper. "I LOVE YOU," you wrote to Liana. Then you wrote, "THIS SUCKS . . . SCRAMBLED EGGS (that's what you wanted to eat) . . NOT SO BAD . . ." and finally, "ANXIETY." Liana had the nurse give you more sedative, and then you were out. You missed the Green Bay Packers game but we made sure everyone knew you were a fan.

Green Bay Packers fans are fighters.

We drove home in early afternoon to find the whole family busy, working on projects around the house. My mom was delighted to have all her family around, and we managed to have a warm family holiday. We laughed and even talked about something other than hospitals.

Chef Ron made sure 18 people had hot food.

It's finally okay to laugh

Liana went to bed and I stayed wired and awake, wondering when the phone would ring. It didn't. Day passed into evening and we slowly realized that the situation was very serious, but . .stable. We played our traditional family card game, called Pit. Each of us traced our handprints for Harry's "Family Holiday Traditions" banner project, which was due the following Monday. We wanted him to get an A plus. We wondered how we would trace your hand.

Making "Hands" for Harry's "Family Holiday Traditions" banner.

When the furnace died at 8pm that night, Liana and I just shook our heads and piled on a couple of blankets. One crisis per day.

The next morning, I called the furnace repair company. I called every half hour until someone showed up at 10:30. After an initial visit and a second visit to estimate, we discovered it was going to be a very expensive job, and unlikely to be fixed that day. I talked to the estimator as she stood next to the dead furnace. I told her the truth. Then she looked at me and said, "I'm not leaving this basement until your repairman is here." And she stayed and starting dialing like mad. I heard her say, "I need someone at this house NOW. The homeowner is coming home from the hospital tonight and he needs heat." When she got off the cell phone I said, "You know, he is not coming home tonight, he's far too sick. I don't know if he is ever coming home." She said, "I understand, but I have to say it that way to get the repairman to come today." The repairman was there in an hour, and we had heat an hour after that.

You had a lung biopsy on Friday. The surgeon said he didn't know if he would be able to find the cause of fluid in your lungs. He was maddeningly clinical. "Sixty percent of the time we never find out," he said. I heard that, and started cleaning anything I could find. On Sunday morning at 1am, Liana texted that you looked "icky" and her nurse-sense was sending off warning alarms in her head. You turned waxen and unresponsive; you had been given too much sedation. Liana paged the intern, had it reversed, and you began to revive. If she hadn't been there . . . .

After that night, the reports from the hospital began to contain some hope. You needed less oxygen. You could breathe a little more on your own. You were flirting with your wife. The ventilator was buying you time to heal. Meanwhile, a friend of Liana's had read about you on Facebook (I finally decided that respecting your privacy was not as important as marshaling support. TMI be damned!!) and showed up on Saturday morning. She proceeded to clean and organize the house for the next fourteen hours. She made a chore chart, taught the boys to put away their laundry, and gave Sally some obedience training. She MacGyvered the dryer so it worked, and we demolished the large pile of laundry at last. We were nourished by homemade meals brought by your coworkers, and the boys even had a slumber party with Grandma and Grandpa.

Harry eats the enchiladas made by your coworkers, who brought food every day.

Nanny Meg (aka Mary Poppins) helps the boys make get-well cards for you.

A little calisthenics before bed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At Mass for the first Sunday of Advent, Trevor sang at the top of his lungs. He didn't know the words to "O Come O Come Emmanuel" but he recognized the verse numbers, so he sang them instead. "Three FIVE, four TWO, Eeeemaaaaannneeelll. . .." Whenever the music stopped he would say loudly to the choir, "Good job!"

Incredibly, less than 24 hours later you were removed from the ventilator. A day after that you moved out of the ICU. The miracle we hoped and prayed for actually happened. We brought the boys to see you. When they walked into the room, your heart rate jumped and there was a lot of happy beeping from your monitors. Your sons forgot about you and checked out the monitors, and then they found the stash of chocolate . . .

We are family

After two weeks in Columbus, I returned to Rhode Island. You are getting better and better. I don't jump every time the phone rings, and I don't worry constantly about your wife and sons; they have lots of help and support for the weeks and months ahead. You'll be home in a few days to continue your recovery. You're drinking milkshakes and eating delicious food made by your coworkers. Liana brings her laptop to the hospital, and the two of you pay bills and balance the checkbook. You wondered about the large HVAC charge on your credit card that you didn't authorize. Just wait 'til you get home! You won't be able to find a thing! It will be a litany of, "Where are my socks?" (I mixed them up with Liana's.) "Who moved all the plates?" (Nanny Meg moved them closer to the dishwasher.) "What happened to that half-wall?" (It's now a full wall, finished by a group of beer-fueled cousins just prior to a big turkey dinner.) "What's the password for the modem?" (Same as before, bro.)

All you really need to know is that you are loved so much, by so many. We're glad you are here, and . . good morning. XO Eden IMG_4836

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Seven, Vol. 5: Stopping time

Is it just me, or does the year speed up suddenly in November? This is problematic, for there is so much I want to savor and remember. . . . 1.  I'm looking forward to hearing phenomenal organist David Hill at Christ Church in Westerly on Sunday Nov. 10 at 4pm. It's a free concert and there is great food at the reception! The first organ concert I ever heard was while I was studying in Graz, Austria in 2005. Every Sunday night the local Dom hosted European and Russian performers, and I got hooked. Organ concerts are like no other kind of performance, allowing a very pure form of listening. You can't see what the organist is doing, so you can only marvel at the endlessly fascinating sounds that spill out of the pipes. It's the same instrument, but it's completely different as it's manipulated by different sets of hands and feet. If you haven't been to an organ concert yet, I suggest you enjoy a mountaintop experience with one of the very best artists, on a very fine instrument. See you on Sunday.

2. I just finished teaching a five-week voice class with singers from The Chorus of Westerly. We talked about breath support, bright and dark sounds, vowel shapes, and how to sing notes that are really far apart, all in preparation for our first concert of the season. That's Sunday, Nov. 17 at the George Kent Performance Hall. We're doing John Rutter's Mass Of The Children and Morton Lauridsen's Lux Aeterna. Both works are quite recent and the composers are still living (Lauridsen recently emailed our choir!), but the music is steeped in the traditions of chant and English melody. Best of all, it's intensely hopeful. If you mashed up the two works, you'd have one giant spiritual statement of great beauty, deep emotion, and really wide intervals. No disrespect, Eric Whitacre, but I prefer these guys. Here's the most famous section of the Lux Aeterna. We all have a lot going on in November, but to me that is even more reason to stop for an hour, and just bask in beauty. You need it. We all need it.

photo 2

3. My family's Operation Christmas Child boxes are packed and ready to travel! Here's what I included in the boys' boxes (ages 10-14): A deflated soccer ball, ball pump, two pairs of socks, toothbrush, toothpaste, flashlight, batteries, notepad, "instant" Christmas tree, tape measure, Sour Patch candy, Pop Rocks candy, Mentos candy, Patriots water bottle, kazoo, yo-yo, kaleidoscope, deodorant, combs, mini-race car, and mini-Legos. This year I think I really "got" the right mix of stuff. It's not too late for you to visit the website and build a box online!

4. I visited my folks in Ohio. My mom has to do leg exercises each morning, so I joined her in support and solidarity. Bridget helped by adding some furry resistance. We laughed a lot.

photo 4

5. The Best Photographer In The World just finished his second New York City Marathon. Let's forget that two years ago, covered in ice packs at mile 20 of his first New York Marathon, he declared I could divorce him and take all his money if he ever tried to run a marathon again. This was a much better experience for both of us! He wanted to have a really good run with no injury, and that's what he had. I intercepted him a few times and made sure he wasn't hurting, or in need of a snack. Each time I saw him he was happy and relieved that his knees were holding up. He lost all energy as soon as he crossed the finish line, and I steered him back to our hotel. He made very strange sounds in the shower, and then we celebrated his accomplishment with room service:

A cup of soup, some burgers, a soft bed, several glasses of ice water, and thou

6. Actually, the best part of Marathon Weekend was meeting our lovely newborn niece . . . .

Aunt Eden and Baby O

. . . . whose schedule would humble the most indefatigable runner . . .

7. Let alone her dear dad.

Mile 20 or Mid Morning, who really knows

 

 

The Seven, Vol. 3. "Watch this!"

MERRY OCTOBER to you! 1. I've already assigned "Jingle Bells" to a piano student, I've heard the flute choir at Salve Regina University playing "Let It Snow," and I've started buying frosting and colored sugars for our Annual Cookie Bake-A-Thon With Caroling. (You're invited! It's an open house!) I buy every kind of color sugar and decor I can find, including food-safe pens and custom-color frosting. The Best Photographer In The World bakes a lot of cookies beforehand, but we keep rolling and cutting and baking while everyone arrives. We have a few savory snacks available, but the star of this show is sugar. Sugar, sugar, sugar. We sing carols around the piano (and sometimes venture out to serenade the neighbors -- does anyone still do that? I always loved that as a kid), and decorate like mad:

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2. And then we send the kids home, fully aware they will not sleep or stop moving for the next four days. Shortly thereafter, I bemoan the fact that I was too busy playing Christmas carols and singing to eat more than 10 or 20 cookies.

IMG_12173. Speaking of Christmas, I'll be singing the Christmas portion of Handel's Messiah at Calvary Church in Stonington CT, on Saturday December 21 at 7pm. It's their annual sing-a-long event and I'm so thrilled to be a part of it again. I love those solos and those choruses! I have no idea what I am going to wear.

4. Messiah Part The First is a great time for soprano soloists to catch up on their correspondence, as we don't start singing until about 40 minutes in. But, since we are usually seated facing the audience in a really nice dress (which I have yet to buy), we just sit there and smile, and hum along on the choruses to stay warmed up. We sit through choruses and solos, we sit through an instrumental section, then we finally get up and rock the house with a recitative and the coloratura-riffic "Rejoice Greatly O Daughter Of Zion." Then we get our legato on with soprano/mezzo duet "He Shall Feed His Flock/Come Unto Him," and then we sit some more until the "Hallelujah Chorus." I'm thinking Handel either really loved or really hated the very first Messiah soprano soloist.

5. I have two or three favorite Messiah moments. I love hearing the tenor sing the very beginning of "Comfort Ye, My People." For me, Advent begins when I hear that aria. I love hearing a fantastic mezzo wind up the end of "O Thou That Tellest Good Tidings To Zion" and then feel the place shake as a huge chorus of singers bursts out the melody, as if they just can't wait to join in any longer.

6. And I love standing up at the very end of the "Glory To God" chorus, slowly moving to whatever place I will be singing "Rejoice Greatly." I've only been sitting down for about 45 seconds, having just finished my recitatives, and my adrenaline is flowing because I have some coloratura work to do and it's going to be fun. The trumpets fade out and the violins get smaller and softer as the chorus ends, finally concluding on a sweet little dominant-tonic cadence. I time my movements so my folder opens with the music ready, right at the moment they play that final chord, and I smile broadly at my conductor and at the audience. One year I sent out a Christmas card that showed a cartoon of an angel looking down over sleeping Bethlehem, with a trumpet near his lips, talking to his angel buddy. The inside of the card had only two words, "Watch this!" That's the excitement I feel when I am about to sing "Rejoice Greatly."

7. The other reason October always feels like Christmas? October is the month for Operation Christmas Child. You don't do this? You should do this! You do this? Good for you! Get a box from a local participating church, or visit the website, or just grab an empty shoebox. Designate an age and gender, and fill the box with small toys, hard candy, personal toiletries, even flashlights and batteries. (Here is a good list.) I buy lots of small, lightweight items at the dollar store and Target and save them all year, just for these boxes. (And yes, for a split second I do think, “Is it crazy that I’m sending something plastic made in China, shipped to the US, over to Africa or to Central America?” And then I think, “Eden, this kid may have lost everything while fleeing some war or famine, and a small toy and a washcloth from a total stranger may be all the gift he gets this year. So stop worrying, and be generous.” Then I get out of my head and shop.)

My friend Sue, who volunteers every year to help pack and ship the boxes that stream in from around the country, said there is a special need for boxes for 10-14 year old boys. They get forgotten because there are so many neat things for younger kids and for girls. So, I’m going to make two boxes for tween boys this year, PLUS two boxes for girls my daughter’s age. For the boys, Sue recommended personal care items, small toys, and deflated soccer balls plus a small pump. My kids help choose the items and pack the boxes. I'd like to say that this experience always leads to Thoughtful And Motivating Epiphanies About Expressing Gratitude For Our First World Lives . . .  but no. Not yet, anyway.

Fill your boxes and return them around Halloween or early November to your local church or charity, along with a small donation to cover shipping. The boxes are sent to a processing facility in North Carolina, and then they travel to the corners of the world. You can include a photo and address if you hope for a reply, but you don’t have to. I send a note without a return address, and just add prayers for health and happiness. 

 

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Comfort ye my people . . . feed His flock . . . rejoice greatly  . . . . watch this! XO Eden

(thanks, CONVERSiON DIARY, for the link-up. . if it actually happened? . . . )

 

 

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