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The Seven, Vol. 9: Let It Go

1. Have you heard that song "Let It Go", from the Disney movie Frozen? Of course you have. Note to pop culture: Let it go. Give Idina her big moment at the Oscars, and then let's all go listen to something else. (Am I being too much of a curmudgeon about this song? Perhaps. As a voice teacher, I've heard it a lot this winter. I enjoyed seeing the movie with my daughter. It was fun to hear Broadway voices sing a good score, and I enjoyed the story. I'm over it now.) 2. Me, I'm letting it go on Sunday, March 2 at 7pm, as part of the Composers' Collage Concert at the University of Rhode Island Fine Arts Center. I'm singing two new compositions by Eliane Aberadam, with Alexey Shabalin on violin and Hyunjung Choi on harp. We got together at Hyunjung's house to rehearse:

SopranoCam view of rehearsing with Alexey and Hyunjung

The first song, "Ocean Of Forms," is by Rabindranath Tagore: I dive down into the depth of the ocean of forms, hoping to gain the perfect pearl of the formless/No more sailing from harbor to harbor with this my weather-beaten boat. The days are long passed when my sport was to be tossed on the waves. And now I am eager to die in the deathless. . . .  

And it has a high D!

The second song, "Winter Dusk," is 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 . . . 

Hyunjung's chocolate lab, Randy, had nothing to add but tacit approval.

Randy the musical lab.

3. This Friday, I'm off to the Chorus Of Westerly to enjoy their Charitable Auction And Soiree. For the past two years I've served as a waitress at these swank chorus events . . . this time I'm going to dress up and enjoy having my son will wait on me! I've seen the auction items and they are fantastic, and there are great deals to be had at all price points. I'm available at auction too  -- I've offered two one-hour voice lessons. We can sing anything you want. . .even "Let It Go."

4. This Saturday, I'm spending the day with scores of young singers at SongFest, the annual voice competition sponsored by  the Rhode Island chapter of the National Association Of Teachers Of Singing. Yeah, that's a mouthful -- so that's why we call it RINATS. Three of my students are participating this year -- good luck to Morgan, Jessica, and Sarah! Morgan's roommate Daniella is a film major and will be producing a short "documercial" about the SongFest, following Morgan as she performs and finds out the results.

5. About competitions. Yes, it can be scary to sing in front of strangers. But, SongFest is not an audition, so it has a slightly different vibe. SongFest's judges are all voice teachers who have students competing in other divisions (we never judge their own students). They are invested in your success, and they make deep, educated observations about your performance -- what works, what you can do to make it even better. Another bonus: All of the SongFest first prize winners perform at the awards ceremony, giving all participants a chance to hear a winning performance. This is a great way to evaluate new repertoire, and to see top talent in action. And, there's moolah! SongFest awards prize money not only to the first place winners in each division, but to an overall winner at the conclusion of the winners concert -- a special prize for the "first of the firsts." The whole day is open to the public. Even if you're not competing, come to the URI Fine Arts Center (yes, that's where I'm singing on Sunday night) and take a peek.

6. Until I find that rip in the time-space continuum, I can only be in one place at a time. Here are two events I will be sorry to miss this Sunday. But, you should know about them all the same. The Arts Commission of Christ Church Westerly presents a lecture by writer Dorothy Andries, about famous movie composers from the golden age of Hollywood. 4pm Sunday March 2 at Christ Church, 7 Elm Street, Westerly. Free admission. Delicious reception to follow. Pretty sure Dorothy won't be talking about "Let It Go." You've been warned.

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7. The Anglican Singers present a concert with the adult choir from the famous St. Thomas Church, Fifth Avenue NYC. The concert is at 5pm Sunday at St. Thomas Episcopal in New Haven. The highlight of the program will be the famous and rarely-performed Spem In Alium, a 40-part (yep! 40!) work by Thomas Tallis. I'm guessing Thomas had a lot of sopranos in his choir. For you non-musical folk: Many choral works are considered difficult if they have more than four parts. (Or at least that's when the singers start to complain.) Forty parts is  . .well . . . challenging. I'll be sorry to miss it, but La Voce must be rested for her concert at URI. I have to live like a nun before I sing -- no dairy, plenty of rest, avoiding everyone with the slightest sniffle. But after the show, it's milkshakes and sundaes. I don't let it go . . .I let 'er rip!

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

 

 

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.)

The Seven, Vol. 6: Cats, kids, dresses

1. I have recitals to prepare, students to teach, plays to write, miles to run, family to visit and closets to declutter, but all I want to do on the bitter cold days is enjoy Love Appointments with my cats. That's what I call a purr-filled petting session, where all I do is try to make a cat deliriously happy. Some days that's about all I get done . . .  but that ain't so bad. Even better, some cats reciprocate. This is Boo-Boo Napoleon Kitty and this is his usual spot, right behind my neck, purring like mad. IMG_5234

2.  This is his other favorite spot, behind me on my office chair. His heat will move your soul. 

Boo-Boo's Got My Back

What does Boo-Boo sound like? Click here for The Purr That Heals The Broken World.

3. Lou-Lou Kitty declined to be photographed for this blog post; she worries that the camera will steal her spirit. But Cecilia C. Cat has put on her winter fur layer and spends most days hibernating on our bed, where I snap away:

Cecilia C. Cat aka "Meowiness," mid-yawn

4. Okay. No more cute cat posts. Here's my niece, this cute little behbeh! 

I know how you feel, kid

5. Here's my daughter, the proudest member of The Baby-Sitters Club, Cousin Edition:

IMG_5551

6. My other baby wants to play rock and roll. My son has a new electric guitar and is about to start lessons with the leader of Johnny and the East Coast Rockers.

John Paul B. Goode

7. This is exactly how I felt when I found a lovely new singing dress in late November: 

Dress up diva time

7.5: Here's the new dress. It's not by anyone famous -- JS Boutique, I think. It meets my Singing Dress Criteria (some kind of strap or sleeve so the dress is supported by my shoulders, formfitting but not too tight around the ribcage, slightly swishy, neckline somewhere between Vegas and Amish, easy to pack and hard to wrinkle, age-appropriate sparkle, to-the-floor length with no leg slit in the front, and some kind of front and back interest).  IMG_4553 IMG_4552

Finding The Dress!

 

I found it in November and wore it for a "Messiah" in December. If I learn that #$&@!!! music, maybe I'll get to wear it again! Incentive!!! XO EC

Thank you Macy's for having one to try on, and thank you Bloomingdale's for having one in my size!

 

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. 

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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mixed Media

  My lil' baby Edirol

I record most of my students' lessons and recitals on this beat-up, seven-year-old Edirol R-09 digital recorder. I love this thing so much, I wish they'd let me sell it across the country! I use it to record piano accompaniments and phonetic pronunciations. I record a lot of sirening and wailing and yawning that doesn't sound much like music, but is vitally important to making a relaxed, free sound. I record my own rehearsals and sometimes sneak the Edirol into my own performances, if someone else isn't going to record me (or even if they are). I know, I could get a mic adapter for my iPhone (Christmas is coming!), but I love this little guy. 

I know that some of my students rarely bother to listen to the mp3s I send after each lesson. But, it's important to take a listen, even if it's painful -- especially if it's painful! The way you hear and see yourself is not how others hear and see you. In the studio, I use mirrors and iPhone selfies and "instant replay" recordings to help students recognize and analyze their own sound and how they produce it. If they just stand there and sing, they can miss a lot. If they just listen to me, they will miss a lot.

This is my talented student Morgan:

If I open HERE, I get a really round sound! EUREKA!

Morgan made some wonderfully rounded sounds in her recent lesson. I asked her to describe and demonstrate what she felt she was doing differently as she made the new sounds. "It helps when I point my fingers here near my ear, to remind myself to feel my jaw opening from this point," she said. So we took a photo of her doing just that, to help her remember.

I didn't use technology enough in my own early singing, but granted, technology wasn't as easy to use as it is now. I have a few of my teenage and college lessons and recitals, recorded in the Pre-Cambrian Cassette Era. I remember recording them, but not listening to them to actually improve my singing. I listened to them a couple of years back as I transferred a bunch of cassettes to digital, and that was painful enough. The hazy memory is a thousand times better than my senior recital actually was (make that ten thousand times better). My Master's recital, given while I was five months pregnant, was punctuated by pitch sharpness in several songs. My teacher had mentioned it to me more than once, but I was sure -- certain -- I was on pitch. (I have perfect pitch! I'm infallible!) The recording revealed otherwise. I should have known better and recorded myself earlier. And no, I ain't gonna share. Listening to that CD led me to retool my vocal technique, and to invest in a tuner. Now I have this tuner app on my phone and I urge all my students to get it, too.

My son loves to laugh at train wreck tryouts on American Idol and The X-Factor, but I can't watch them. It's just too painful to observe people with no clue about how they actually sound and look in performance, and I hate the trolls that inevitably comment. That being said, I do keep a file of good, bad and ugly videos that I use to show specific vocal problems and their consequences, kind of a vocal Struwwelpeter (and if you know what that is without looking it up, congratulations!).

I know you want to see one. Okay.

[video width="540" height="360" mp4="http://www.edencasteel.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/I-Dont-Want-To-Walk-Without-You-Marcie-OBrien-Musical-Performance.mp4"][/video]This is not an audition, but a performance in a benefit recital given several months ago. I don't know any of these folks personally. The singer is obviously focused and engaged and has taken time to prepare, even delivering a (totally unnecessary) monologue to set up the song. The costuming and choreography distract from the song and the singer. The main vocal issue here is a too-heavy chest range and too-muffled head range, with no connection between the two. In fact, it's a textbook example of a lack of register balance. Before we troll all over her in our black little hearts, consider: What was the voice teacher telling her in the lesson? More importantly, what did the student hear and heed? It's frustrating, as much of this is fixable and addressable. But for all we know, a lot was fixed already.

Other videos from this particular recital are getting thousands of hits, especially a sluggish, much-too-literal rendition of "Stars And The Moon" from Jason Robert Brown's The Last Five Years, complete with an unnecessary monologue. I'm not a rabid JRB fan, so delaying the conclusion of one of his songs would not be my choice. A simple YouTube surfing session would have given clues for appropriate tempo, style and staging.

Some people are beyond help. Here's a video of a loser trying outsing Elton John . . in the presence of Elton John. I can't believe she put that on YouTube.

 

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. 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. 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. 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

 

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.

My Happy Apps

I am selective about my smartphone apps: No to Angry Birds or Tetris, yes to Couch to 5K. No to Minecraft, yes to Vine. I only keep apps that I really like and use frequently. These apps make me happy! My music apps. . . some of them

Pandora reminds me of the summer I sold actual physical CDs and cassettes at Camelot Music. We sat around the break room digging through the large cardboard box filled with free promotional cassettes and CDs (okay, only I did that). I scored Madonna's Immaculate Collection, which was a big deal at the time.

I'm always justifying looking for apps for music education. My hardworking ClearTune app helps singers (including moi) figure out how to make the small changes that lead to more accurate pitch, and it's a godsend for nervous new sight singers and pianists ("Was that an E flat? It wasn't? I could have sworn it was. Are you sure?").

Being from the Dark Ages, I learned music theory the traditional way, with workbooks and flashcards. Writing out the scales is always a good idea, but apps are great for drills on note names, intervals, and chords. I like Musicopoulos for straight theory and straightforward practice. If you don't have a smartphone, Theta Music Trainer is a good place to practice.

My perfect pitch made ear training very easy for me, but I have begun to recommend these two solid apps for musical mortals: PlayByEar asks you to sing or play back chords and melodies accurately. EarTrainer shows intervals being played on a piano keyboard.

Blob Chorus by Lumply

For sheer fun, the best ear training app is The Blob Chorus. Groups of blobs sing individual pitches, then a purple King Blob repeats one of the previous pitches. Match the blobs, and King Blob gets a crown. Get it wrong, your blob explodes! This is great for singers who are learning to hear their part inside a choir.

I have loved the public radio show Music From The Hearts Of Space since I was a teenage waitress at Elby's. The program aired on WCBE every Sunday night at 10pm as I drove home from the night shift, and I would keep listening as I changed out of my 100% polyester uniform and speed-read some Faulkner for the school week ahead. I use the show's app frequently and also listen to their online archive at www.hos.com

My senior high prom date turned me on to the SomaFM website years ago, as we exchanged one or two perfunctory emails to catch up and therefore avoid meeting up at reunions. He remembered my teenage love of Hearts of Space and recommended this. It was the last I heard of him but thanks, Dean, and I bet you have the app now too! SomaFM is a collection of 15 quirky, well-curated online stations (and that's the last time I will use "curate" in a post) ranging from NASA beeps and blips to bachelor pad jazz. I always wrap presents from Santa while listening to "Xmas in Frisko," their not-safe-for-children radio station.

I just downloaded the Inception app and . . woah. Wierd and wonderful to have music played according to your own movements! When I miss Michigan or DC, I listen to the local traffic report through my iHeart Radio app and then I'm glad I don't live there anymore. I also use a couple of lolofit apps, including the 7-minute workout and Jeff Galloway's Easy 10K. They always make me feel like an Olympian, no matter how infrequently l use them. I wish the 10K app had more variations in run-walk ratios. I don't see why I can't run for one minute and walk for ten, and still have Jeff tell me "great job!" in his Southern twang.

Running is slightly easier with this app

Even on the worst day, my Random Gratitude app asks me to think of something good and type it in. The best feature of this app is that it randomly scrolls through my previous posts, reminding me of so many wonderful little things that I might have otherwise forgotten.

So, what apps should I add to my collection?

 

The Last Five Years

My website design is almost five years old. That's got to be 10,000 in cyber years. Back in the fall of 2008, I had a dormant website (a gift from my dad) and a bubbling career. I wanted to highlight my singing and libretto writing, hoping to do more of both. Alex Linebrink gave me some gorgeous custom features that we now take for granted. ("Grunge Garden" design! A blog! Widgets! Media players!) I wanted a personalized "Eden's Garden Of Ideas" theme full of flowers and music and glamour shots of me. I hired an old college buddy to photograph me cavorting in a few private Toledo gardens. He was in town for his high school reunion and squeezed me in, no charge.

Alex is now CEO of his own company in Detroit, the career is still bubbling, and I married the photographer in 2010.

"Is it normal for the photographer to chase the client? Oh, it is? Never mind then, keep going."

After five years, it's time for the website to get a little facelift. I've started the revamping process by looking at hundreds of templates. When I needed to quickly build  a site for the musical I do every summer, I chose WordPress' Bueno and it was quick and painless. I'd like my own site to be that easy to build and manage. Technology says it can be.

My decision-making style is . . . deliberate. Ask my "go ahead, pull the trigger" husband and you may get a different answer. I gather information, I ponder, I investigate. Then I go back and do it again. And again. Finally, when a deadline approaches, I make a decision. I knew four years ago that I wanted a tree in my front porch area. I was not studying the light or waiting to find the perfect specimen - I was investigating at garden stores, walking several local garden tours, and observing. I tore out other plants in the spot to make room for my tree, then left the ground bare for two years while I pondered some more and spent my tree money on things like house inspections. Then one day in April, I walked into the local garden store and made my choice. I'm very happy with it.

In the meantime, it will be a wonderfully active summer for Eden Enterprises. I'm gigging and playing organist du jour at a local church, I'm researching new scenes for the musical, I'm learning Sibelius 7 and preparing my children's cantata Francis Makes A Scene for a second performance. I'm developing a children's theater workshop, I'm writing songs for two Very Special Clients, I'm making new garden beds for the plants that seem to triple in size each summer, and I'm getting to see more of my family. As my dad says, "I'm too blessed to be stressed." I wish the same for you.

New Cleveland Pear tree on the left. It was worth the wait.

Until then. . . under construction.

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

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