Eden Casteel Music Studio

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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.

 

The Seven, Vol. 4: Dansko Mystery Solved

1. You recall my Missing Danskos. Well, I accepted that they were gone, even though I wondered where they'd gone to. I bought a new pair of Kates on eBay, for $29! After I won the auction, my daughter looked at the screen and said, "Those look just like the shoes I saw outside." WHAT?!?!?

And so she led me outside, to a grassy area about 50 paces from our back door, and sure enough, there was a shred of what used to be my Danskos. My son joined us. "Oh, I wondered what those tan pieces were," he said as he found several more hiding in the lawn. Those pieces were the remains of my missing Danksos. At first we thought some fetishist coyotes snatched them from the back porch. But, we quickly realized that a powerful lawn mower probably unknowingly sucked them up, ground them up, and spit them out. . . .the kind of lawn mower that comes to our house every week or so.

Rest in Peace, Dead Danskos.

2. So . . .new Danskos!  Okay, they're not flashy. O.J. Simpson would call them "ugly-ass shoes." So, there was only one other bidder. Yippee for me. They're SO comfortable, and they're not tennis shoes! The style is called the Kate, size 38, and the color is a muddy green -- or, as Dansko calls it, "Moss." I'm wearing Kate, Moss.

Kate Moss would not wear Moss Kates, but I will

 

3. In a supreme expression of spousal love, I have agreed to run the Ocean's Run Half Marathon with my husband, next March. Yes, I am aware this is 13.1 miles. I am terrified. . . and also a little intrigued. Can I do it? I just ran-walked the "Get To The Point" 5-miler in Narragansett last Saturday, and the first few miles felt surprisingly easy. Then, as soon as I saw the Mile 3 marker, my legs turned to stone and I sluggishly walked most of the rest of the course. Fail. I also grabbed water out of another runner's hands by accident and she gave me the stare of death as she stumbled off. I let her beat me.

4. I use the Jeff Galloway method of running with walk breaks, so I average a tortoise-like 13 minutes per mile. No, I haven't figured out my actual walking pace vs. running pace. Yes, I will do that. But, to cover 13. 1 miles at all I will have to practice running faster and for longer. Incredibly inspirational runner-blogger Sheryl Yvette (aka BitchCakes), who is running her first New York Marathon this year, started doing some speed training with a local running club and reported improvements in pace and stamina. So, I have started incorporating a little speed training into my (short) runs. I'm slowly extending the time I run before I take a walk break (right now it's only about a mile, but previously I've been able to go for two miles and twice in my running "career" I actually ran for three straight miles). I'm occasionally doing the "Magic Mile" test where I see how fast I can just run a mile -- last Sunday I did it in exactly 12 minutes, which is GREAT for me, and I was even able to pour on some speed for the last minute or so. Progress! I have never really discussed my turtle-riffic running life with the world at large, because everyone else seems so much faster. They ARE faster! But, I believe I'll get at least a little faster than I am now, and that will make my half a least a little more enjoyable. I'm definitely one of the gals who loves the feeling when the running is OVER. That Gatorade tasted really, really good.

I don't deserve this Gatorade . . .OH YES I DO!

5. My husband (AKA The Best Photographer In The World) is running his second New York Marathon on Nov. 3. He's excited but also really ready to run it. I'm very proud of him for putting consistent effort into his training, and prouder still that he has raised over $10,000 for Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, through the Fred's Team running club. My job on Nov. 3 will be to track him on my phone, and maybe show up with a snack, somewhere around Mile 16.

6. A student of mine played a lead role in a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical last weekend, at a local community theater. I'm not at all objective and this is not a review, but he did do a great job! Solid performances by the entire cast, lovely voices, excellent costumes, and the audience was enthusiastic. I give an automatic standing ovation to any production that lets me drink wine and eat Snickers while I am seated. I'll offer only one criticism. Apparently, there is no room for an actual piano in the theater or in the wings. That's a tough situation, and you do the best you can with the space you have. However, the keyboard reduction and synthesized strings were a distraction for me. I'm probably more sensitive to this, than a "lay" person who has not music directed a bunch of shows. I am no fan of karaoke musicals, but I wonder if prerecorded tracks might have actually worked better here.

7. If you want to experience the best live musical sound ever, here's what you do: Sing in a choir or ensemble, and stand behind a full orchestra, in a packed house. Sonically and spiritually, there is just nothing better. Nothing. You're coming to hear The Chorus Of Westerly sing Morton Lauridsen and John Rutter on November 17, aren't you?

The Seven, Vol. 2

1. I wore high heels more than one day in a row and my feet are in agony. I have short legs compared to the rest of me, and I love to wear heels (even medium ones) to balance my frame. I'm worried; is this the end of high heels for me? Now what do I do?

2. Adding to my shoe anxiety: I've lost or misplaced a favorite pair of Danskos.

WHERE ARE YOU?

I know they're clunky and weird-looking, but my feet never hurt at the end of a Dansko day. So, I scarf them up wherever I can find them on sale, and I now own several pairs. I wore my tan pair of "Kate"s while gardening a week ago, and they got a little wet and muddy, so I took them off before I entered the house. I saw them the day after but didn't bring them in, and now they have disappeared. To my knowledge there are no Dansko-nappers in my neighborhood. I have checked all the outdoor spots, I have sternly interviewed the dog, I have begged my kids to help me figure out where they are, as I am the one who finds all of their missing shoes. No sign of them.

3. Adding insult to injury and fulfilling the Murphy's Law of Footwear, these missing Danskos are the ones that I didn't wear for several seasons, while trying to find a shoe repair store to fix their shot elastic. These missing Danskos are the ones that were finally repaired in New York City a few weeks ago, resulting in their rotation back into my wardrobe. If only I had kept them useless, I'd still have them.

4. Thanks to my iPhone OS upgrade, I got to hear the new Miley Cyrus album on the new iTunes radio station. My husband said, “You’re going to get on the Miley Cyrus bandwagon and jump all over her, aren’t you?” I promised I wouldn’t jump all over her. But I will say: * A fast vibrato (also called tremolo) can be a sign of excessive throat and tongue tension. * The lee-da-dee-da-dee interval Miley sings in “We Can’t Stop” is a sixth interval. Wide interval leaps are made more difficult by excessive throat and tongue tension. * Drug use can irritate the vocal folds and vocal tract, exacerbating throat and tongue tension. * Bad posture can reduce breath support and increase throat and tongue tension. * A singer’s vocal range can be reduced by throat and tongue tension. * The inability to sing high, clear pitches at a soft dynamic is often the result of. . . . you know.

However: Sticking your tongue out -- while singing -- can reduce tongue tension.

Miley Cyrus, possibly doing something vocally right

5. Rihanna, Ke$ha and Nicki Minaj have already marked the corners of the room Miley has just started sniffing. Oh well, she’ll be the crazy judge on “American Idol” soon enough.

6. There has always been a Miley. Let us now praise Samantha Fox, a topless model from Britain who had a hit with “Touch Me” in 1986.

Samantha Fox, like a virgin. (Courtesy Photobucket)

Like Miley, Sam Fox had a strained vocal production, limited range, provocative lyrics, exhibitionist tendencies, and the ability to eroticize vomiting. You want to see more? Here are three minutes of your life you will never get back.

7. Three years ago this month, I married The Best Photographer In The World. He is an ideal husband, devoted father, steadfast friend, insane uncle, and the person you’d most want to sit next to in jail. And in church. I am such a lucky girl! This sums up our relationship pretty well.  [video width="640" height="306" mp4="http://www.edencasteel.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Young-Frankenstein-Sweet-Mystery-of-Life.mp4"][/video]

How's your week? EC

 

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

Eden Casteel Music Studio, 81 Post Road, Wakefield RI 02879. Phone: 401-932-5589.