Eden Casteel Music Studio

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What I'm doing now

As of June 17, 2016, I am: 

Celebrating my son's high school graduation . . .  (I got all verklempt) . . .

John Paul Simmons, Class of 2016

 . . jamming with my family band . . . (that's my dad Ron and my brother in law Robert) . . 

 . . .and rehearsing with Jason Shealy for our June 25 concert! Broadway, Disney, and gospel! . . . . click here for info! 

What I'm doing now

As of June 10, 2016 I am . . .

Writing down songs I might use in the sixth production of Quonnie The Musical

Typing out lyrics to memorize for my June 25 concert (info right here)

Scraping a badly painted deck so it can be repainted

Preparing to cry at my son's high school graduation

Inspired by Cait Flanders.

 

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 On The Air: "Conducting Conversations" With Mike Maino of WCRI

Don't touch that dial! Eden with Mike Maino of "Conducting Conversations", WCRI

Conducting Conversations has been a beloved radio show for years. Host Mike Maino has talked to Broadway stars, genius conductors, world-class instrumentalists and  . . . me. I'm the first voice teacher to be on Conducting Conversations! The program airs on WCRI 95.9 FM in the Rhode Island area on Sunday, October 12 from 7 to 8pm. It's available on podcast afterwards at www.classical959.com.

UPDATE: CLICK TO LISTEN!

Mike was a genial, generous host. I brought a mixed bag of music to share and he enjoyed the variety -- he asked if he could keep the CD I burned for the show, so he could listen to all the tracks again! I started with my own performance from last April, to prove my bona fides. We talked about how I accidentally discovered that I was a coloratura, and then we played some Beverly Sills and Natalie Dessay, who are far more bona fide than I.

When Mike and I talked about teaching voice lessons to children, I presented two contrasting versions of O Mio Babbino Caro, one by Maria Callas and one by Jackie Evancho. Many of my younger students imitate Jackie, who is imitating Charlotte Church, who was imitating Kiri Te Kanawa. No one imitates Callas. (Is such a thing possible?)

Mike and I talked about opera stars singing pop, and pop style in opera. As a voice teacher, I have to help singers figure out what is appropriate and healthy for them vocally and stylistically, and what's better left unsung. I brought two examples for fun: Placido Domingo singing the Beatles and "Catch Our Act At The Met," a great show tune by Comden and Green. Note that Comden and Green do not actually try to sing opera, and that's why the song works. I almost brought Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballe . . .oh well, next time!

Thanks Mike, for a great hour of conversation and shop talk! I love helping singers find their real voices. Singers can stretch themselves to stylistic limits and imitate other singers as they try to find their own sound, but every singer sounds wonderful when they are true to themselves.

(Sign up for all my emails, over there on the right hand side of this blog. Want a voice lesson? Click on the "Book Now" button at the top of the blog and choose a time!)

The "Babbino" Bunch

The small and lovely Salt Marsh Opera will present Puccini's comic one-act opera Gianni Schicchi on May 16 at the Pequot Museum in Mashantucket, CT. You should go see it! The gorgeous aria "O Mio Babbino Caro" was written for this work, which premiered in 1918. You can buy the aria at G. Schirmer. You don't even have to show ID.

You've heard that song, right? Such a beautiful, simple yet elegant melody. Lush, emotional strings support the singer throughout. It's easy to dress it up with a few tasteful portamenti, and a fermata here and there. It's been used in commercials and in the opening credits of the movie of E.M. Forster's A Room With A View. My favorite version is by Kiri Te Kanawa. Her voice is rich and round, just perfect for this aria. Feel free to disagree, my eight blog readers. But I'm right. Anna Netrebko's pretty great, too. Kathleen Battle's voice is smaller (like mine) and her mouth does weird stuff (a source of much discussion among voice teachers), but it's a heartfelt, artistic statement.

The English translation is "Oh, My Beloved Daddy." Gianni Schicchi's daughter Lauretta is begging her father to let her marry Mr. Right. "O Mio Babbino Caro" was the second aria my voice teacher Prof. Hickfang ever gave me, and I loved it instantly. What soprano wouldn't? All those octave leaps from A flat to A flat, all those delicious long notes practically sighing off the page, all those threats of suicide if Daddy won't let her get married! I think my teacher assigned me the aria so I could work on my Italian diction, and get an introduction to grand opera style. The A flats were easy for me to sing. Of course my baby diva voice didn't have the fullness or richness of an actual Lauretta onstage. I sighed with despair when I heard Te Kanawa's version, figuring I'd never sound even half as good or half as loud. I never actually performed it or used it for an audition in high school or college; I was no Lauretta and it was just a study aria for me. (The first aria Prof. Hickfang assigned me was "The Black Swan" from Gian Carlo Menotti's The Medium, an aria I never really liked from an opera I never really understood. Feel free to agree.)

Through the glories of YouTube I found a "Babbino" by Maria Callas, using an amazing amount of chest voice, as she was wont to do. La Divina can get away with it. If the desperate maiden is pushing 50, chest voice is appropriate and adds a certain note of verismo.

Jackie Evancho: Your curfew is 8pm, 7pm Central.

It's trickier if the maiden is 9. "O Mio Babbino Caro" is now a staple for the Infant Diva who wants to audition for talent shows, but can't belt. (Dear Lord, it's like all talent shows are down to two acts: "Let It Go" and "O Mio Babbino Caro"!) The attractions of the aria remain the same: High notes, easy Italian, quick song. But most of the baby divas I've heard sing it on YouTube try to imitate Te Kanawa and other adult women in all the wrong ways -- they add chest voice to be able to hit the low notes, bunch up their tongues in the backs of their mouths, move their bent arms stiffly like mannequins, and add wobbly vibrato to try to sound more grown up. Some hear "The Voice Of An Angel" who is blooming early like an azalea; I hear a singer whose career will be over before she can drive.

Vocalists who have learned to sing without constriction and distortion will eclipse them. The only exception to this rule is Sarah Brightman, who commits all these vocal crimes and still seems to be able to put food on the table. I can't explain Sarah. I can't explain why the dinosaurs died, either, but as with Sarah's approach to Puccini, it was tragic.

I believe this is the fate that awaits Jackie Evancho, who sang the song she called 'O Mio Poppino Caro' on TV as a fourth grader. It might come even more swiftly for Amira Willinghagen, Holland's strangle-throated answer to Jackie, who was America's answer to Charlotte Church, who was England's answer to Deanna Durbin, who was singing the heroic tenor aria "Nessun Dorma" in English at age 22, on film. At least Deanna sang the hell out of it, and was wearing something larger than a training bra. She also had the good sense to retire in her mid-20s and live on as a legend until her death last year.

Good idea, Charlotte. (Alex Mills)

I've actually coached a nine year old who chose "O Mio Babbino Caro" for -- of course -- a talent show. Like Jackie, she had no idea where the song came from, who was actually singing it in the opera, or how old that character was. She had heard lots of versions of the aria on YouTube and was imitating Jackie's bad traits, and internalizing them. So, I did some reprogramming. I insisted on natural vibrato only, and only very light chest voice on the lowest notes. I kept encouraging a light, age-appropriate head voice and an unaffected presentation. She won second place.

I'm looking forward to Salt Marsh Opera's production, and enjoying the aria in context. I admit, there's something about Puccini that brings out the opera singer in everyone, and sometimes they just can't be stopped. Here, the maiden looks a lot like Chris Tucker and sings a perfectly fine amateur countertenor.

Oh gosh, that was funny. I loved the predictably fatuous pronouncements by the judges. I loved the ending. I loved that it was over.

 

 

 

 

 

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. 7: Lung me tender

1. So I'm recovering from the flu. No one else in the house got it but me. I'm sure its nastiness was blunted by the flu shot I got last October, but it still got me good: Muscle aches, fatigue, fever, and this damned cough. I have been coughing for over a week now and am having difficulty stopping. You know that awful feeling, when you are trying to stifle a cough but can't? Yeah, that's me all day long. 2. I have tried honey, Prednisone, red wine, hot baths, Mucinex, Maximum Strength Tussin. I'm also hurling prayers to St. Blaise, the patron of throat ailments (he did some miraculous things for a kid with a fish bone caught in his gullet). St. Blaise said he's busy with all the other coughing singers and he'll get back to me. Blaise's feast day is next Sunday, Feb. 2 and I can think of no better way for him to celebrate than to heal my throat.

St. Blaise, you know what to do

3. The rest of me is fine, it's just the coughing, and it's keeping me awake at night and tired during the day. I watched the entire miniseries Cranford (it was like watching a long movie treatment of an Austen novel, but with many more deaths). I caught up on New Girl and The Mindy Project (aren't they the same show?), I saw the movie musical Nine (really liked Fergie's performance but not Nicole Kidman's) and Frances Ha (lame). I can't seem to focus much on reading at the moment but I'm trying to get back into my Truman biography and also The Sellout, about the history of the 2008 financial meltdown. I was hoping these heavy tomes would help me sleep. Didn't. The Best Photographer In The World said, "When I can't sleep, I start saying 'God Bless' and start naming everyone I can think of, and it helps." Yeah, he's just a saint, ain't he? I did it, it helped somewhat.

4. My coughs are (ahem) not very productive, but my bronchial passages are so irritated, they just freak out at the first sign of air moving through them. I can feel that squirmy "I gotta cough" feeling as I breathe. I don't even want to THINK about how red my little larynx is right now. I am the singer who should be told to just shut up and rest. But somehow I managed to teach two whole days and cantor two Masses this weekend. I didn't say it was pretty, just said I did it.

5. I thought it was just a bad cold, because it wasn't nearly as debilitating as the last time I had full-fledged flu nine years ago, so I downplayed it. It took me over a week to see a doctor who told me, no, it was flu. If I had realized it in time, I might not have attended the three-day Somatic VoiceWork conference with all my voice teacher peeps. (Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I was careful to quarantine myself as much as possible, and I limited my socializing!) Though I was a bit lonely in my self-imposed isolation and couldn't sing a note, I managed to have fun and as always, I learned a great deal and continued to solidify my own pedagogy. We hear from speech therapists and pathologists, we share techniques and advice, and we practice teaching each other so we can benefit our students back home. Analzying the vocal function of a great singer in front of Jeanie -- whose veteran ears are sensitive to even the smallest vocal changes -- sometimes feels like doing differential diagnosis with Dr. Gregory House. Which is why it's so fun!

Jeannette LoVetri listens carefully as Level III Grad Justin Petersen explains his pedagogical thinking during Teacher-Teaching-Teacher time. Justin tells me that the accurate caption of this photo is: "Does the fear on my face inspire your confidence, Jeanie?" ;)

 

My ears get such a great tune-up and when I see my students again, I can make finer and finer adjustments to their singing. That is, when I am not trying to protect them from my coughing.

6. I'm going to try this throat-calming recipe from Dr. Peak Woo. Besides having an awesome name, Dr. Woo is one of New York's most prominent otolaryngologists and a friend to Jeannette LoVetri, our SVW founder and guiding light. He has treated a lot of famous throats and this is his The Gargle Of The Stars: Mix together some saline (6 oz water with 1 oz non-iodized salt); some large sugar molecules (1 T honey, or white corn syrup or glycerin), some baking soda to coat the throat (1/2 t), and a wedge of lemon (to promote saliva). This gargle is safe to drink, but you go ahead without me.

7. We watched some really funny videos on the first evening of the SVW conference, including a hilarious one of some famous Italian opera singers insisting they never, never ever used chest voice. At all. Nada. Then they started singing and proved themselves wrong with every single note. Even better, they were being interviewed by a countertenor who used nothing but head voice! Enjoy, especially if you're a voice teacher. We were laughing so hard, I bet no one even heard me coughing. XO 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 . . .

 

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. 

 

page_ChristmasChild

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

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

 

 

The Seven, Vol. 1

NB: I can't always add up "7 Quick Takes" and I can't always blog on a Friday, but here is my first attempt at Jennifer Fulwiler-style mini-posting. EC 1. I am trying to figure out why “Not A Day Goes By,” from Stephen Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along, is printed in the key of F in my music theater anthology, but always sung in lower keys in actual performance (at least on YouTube). Here is Her Curliness Bernadette Peters doing it in D major. [video width="480" height="360" mp4="http://www.edencasteel.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Not-A-Day-Goes-By-by-Bernadette-Peters.mp4"][/video]

And here it is in the printed key, F major, which makes it sound . . .different: [video width="640" height="360" mp4="http://www.edencasteel.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Not-A-Day-Goes-By-from-Merrily-We-Roll-Along.mp4"][/video]These kinds of mismatches happen all the time in the printing/performing world but this one is a headscratcher. I have consulted my colleagues at SomaticVoiceWork and they are also a little puzzled. One suggested that the song was switched at some point from a male to female character, and that would explain it.

2. I like it when women keep their fertility plans private. “2014 is the year of the baby,” announced Chelsea Clinton. Wow, I hope her ovaries wrote that down. It’s good to (quietly) prepare for pregnancy with vitamins and leafy greens, but what if the stick doesn’t turn blue when she has decided she wants it to? Conception is not an item on a to-do list, it’s the Major Life Event (and a blessing from God). I am happy when I hear someone is “hoping” for a baby, which is usually more accurate, anyway.

3. I’m reading David McCullough’s biography of President Truman, all 992 pages, and I am up to his second term in the Senate. I didn’t realize he was such a late bloomer -- he married Bess when they were both 35! He was just too poor to marry her sooner, and she waited for him.

4. My little girl loves to plan parties -- from decorations to food to activities. Her 9th birthday is in November, and one option is hosting a slumber party. Do you remember slumber parties? I remember many of them as slumber-optional and lots of fun. Both of my kids have not attended or hosted them, it’s just worked out that way with their friends. What do I need to do to prepare myself?

5. There is a lot of wonderful music in little Westerly RI these days! Salt Marsh Opera just performed Donizetti's Don Pasquale. It was a sweet, funny production with excellent performances all around.The surtitles failed in the middle of Act 3, just before the beautiful love duet, but in a way, it was such a treat -- we knew they were singing about love, and nothing else mattered. Go see it at The Kate if you can.

Whoops! Gosh, I sure hope this opera buffa ends the way all the other ones do, otherwise we are in trouble!

6. I'm really looking forward to seeing the awesome Kevin Short perform this Friday! Usually I only see him from my perch on the Chorus of Westerly risers (and that view ain't bad either, sister). This will be such a treat. And Chanticleer arrives later this month, too!

7. Yesterday, I played a funeral for a nice lady named Helen, married 52 years, who prayed the Rosary daily. The music was the usual mix [shoulder shrug]: Ave Maria, On Eagle’s Wings, One Bread One Body, How Great Thou Art, Amazing Grace. Helen, I’m honored that I got to play for your funeral, but I’m ecstatic that I didn’t mess up the pedals on your hymns and songs, and I fired all of the stops in the correct order (okay, they were presets, but that's a big leap for me!). I'm playing my first Catholic wedding next weekend, and playing your funeral helped boost my confidence. Your Communion hymn sounded soft and melodious, and your concluding hymn sounded triumphant. Helen, I hope I helped play you to Heaven.

Voice Lessons, Vocal Coaching, Piano Lessons, Performance Coaching, and Musical Production.

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