I MISS DANCE… BACK TO CLASS. TODAY.
The best present I can give myself- time doing what I love.
I hope you’ll join me TONIGHT, February 16- 8pm, SideWalk Cafe, 94 Avenue A at East 6th Street to hear some of my original music. **NEW SONGS performed for the first time. Be a part of the adventure!
As I write- “It’s Today” in the title of this blog entry, my musical theatre self can’t help but be reminded of the lyrics from Mame…
“There’s a ‘thank you’ you can give life, if you live life all the way.”
Thank you Jerry Herman!
Saying goodbye is not something that sits well with me. Sure, when you anticipate seeing someone again soon, it is not such a big deal. But, at times like this, at the end of a year, when one door closes, there is a tiny bit of sadness that colors the occasion. A good friend recently reminded me of one of my rituals, as a kid, at New Years parties- I used to picked up all the streamers at the end of the party, after everyone had thrown them and they were strewn across the floor. I would collect them, take them home, and save them for an occasion to surprise my parents. I would wait for the perfect moment, when things were quiet, and we needed a little color in our lives. Perhaps we still do the same with memories, recall the colorful moments when we need them.
This year has been filled with so many wonderful moments. My heart is full of gratitude for all of the opportunities that I have had this year and for all of the individuals who have supported me and shared in my adventures. As you know, I performed my first 30-minute set of original music this past March. Additionally, I was able to perform my own music all over NYC this year. I also had the chance to sing at Lincoln Center. I have been blessed by so many amazing musical moments this year. 2012, you have been good to me. So, as this year closes, I feel immense gratitude for the journeys I have had and the growth along the way.
And, on to 2013… I look through the window of this upcoming year with new hopes and dreams. This is the time to raise the bar and step toward goals with renewed energy and determination. To this end, I plan on writing more songs, working on my guitar and piano skills, performing more, and RECORDING more music! There, I said it. Now that it is out there, it will happen. I have more surprises in store, but a girl has to keep some secrets, right?
I have several upcoming performances scheduled. One that I may invite people to will be on February 16th. Save the date if you will be in NYC. More info on that to follow…
Thanks for sharing my journey in 2012. I am honored to have had your company. I hope you will continue to support my adventures and musings in 2013. One can create, one can write music, one can sing, but without someone to listen, it is like a tree falling in the woods…
I wish you colorful streamers of memories to cast into 2013.
I am not really a group person. I am a people person. I like being around lots of people, a few people, one person… I love connecting with individuals. But the idea of letting a group represent me is one that has never settled well with me… Any group. Well, wait…okay, in typical Becca fashion, I am already thinking of exceptions to my overly broad claim- I am thankful to be a union member, I am grateful for political parties. I guess there isn’t time to do everything and some representation is helpful to get voices heard in the grand schemes of things. But, I like to think for myself. So, I don’t just agree with a view because it is what a group that I affiliate with supports. I decide and often that happens to fall within the vision of the group I am affiliated with. Oh! And, my family- the first group I was ever a member of- I am blessed to have been born into my family. And, my nation. Thank goodness for the many liberties I enjoy by virtue of living within these boundaries and being protected by many who give their lives (in a group) to defend these ideals. Here I am writing about how I am not a group person and all I keep thinking of are all of the groups I am grateful for…
The thing is-
I value the idea that every individual has a voice that is unique and deserves to be heard.
And, that is the part of groups that is sometimes so disconcerting for me. I fear that in groups, the individual may get overlooked or that the person may become lazy and let others think for him or her…
In the past, I will admit, there have been times when I have ‘rebeled’ against group mentality, in my own unobtrusive way, to the extent of not reciting things aloud with a group, among other innocuous activities. I don’t like to blindly say things just because someone else thinks I should, unless I really believe it, and, even then, saying it as a group does nothing for me. The exception to this would be for the purpose sharing a playwright’s vision (and if you give me enough time, I am sure I will come up with other worthy exceptions). To express someone else’s view in the world of theatre, to elevate or inspire an audience, through the words of a character as dictated by a playwright feels different, because every word written by a good playwright has a purpose. There is nothing thoughtless about the choosing of words in this artform.
Some people are hugely impacted by this idea of groups. They love cheering in a stadium for their favorite sports team, and I, too, like cheering on my home teams. However, it is the point at which people repeat for the sake of repeating, go along just to going along with a group, and, in any way, mindlessly follow a crowd, it is at this point that I feel uncomfortable.
Since I am on a roll with contradicting myself (see paragraph one), I will add that there have been a few times in my life, when I have felt unexpectedly blessed by the support of a community or group. Coming from a huge city, there are many small communities within it that one may relate to or be a part of. Moving from one big city to another big city can give one a sense of anonymity, some may feel isolated or alone. In moving to NYC, several years ago, I joined many classes (I know- more groups) and have worked so much that I never have had much time to feel alone. Even as I walk as a stranger among individuals in NYC, I never feel alone. There is always someone nearby to comment about the cab driver who was not off-duty, but refused to pick me up, or someone to ask for directions when I come out of the subway and have been momentarily turned around. Individuals are always around me. I have no problem talking to someone sitting next to me on public transportation or in the park. New York is like that. And, I love that.
In writing music and performing my songs- just me and my guitar, it has been a wonderful journey in feeling comfortable enough to share my own voice- to sing my thoughts to the rafters of a room, to the back walls of a theatre filled with people I’ve yet to meet… This has been a gift. On this singer/songwriter journey, I have been performing on my own.
Recently, I have been also rehearsing with a group of women, and brilliant composer and musical director, Phil Hall, who make up The PhilHallmonics, formerly known as The PhilHallmonic Society. So, on nights when I am not performing with my guitar and singing solo, I have had the wonderful opportunity to sing with this extraordinarily talented group of women. At first, this began like other rehearsal experiences- learning music, staging, costume fittings, etc… But then, I noticed something that caught me by surprise- I felt good being a part of this group. This doesn’t feel like the- let’s rehearse for a few weeks or 10 days and put on a show and then on to the next one- kind of group. This feels like people who truly care about others in the group. It was a weird feeling for me because I do so much happily on my own. I am not used to feeling like a part of a group (despite all of the wonderful groups I am a part of…Maybe it is the Gemini in me that leads to such dichotomous points of view…). Though I have only been rehearsing with them for a few weeks, this group feels like an extended family. With my own family so far from where I am, this has been a really touching experience.
So, though I am not into group ideologies or having my individualism squashed by gaggles of people, I feel lucky to be a part of this group. What a gift to feel like without your voice, the harmony would incomplete, and to know that, as a whole, your voices soar together.
I am grateful for so much this past year- playing my first set of my own music, performing all over NYC, having wonderful family and friends who support me, (all those groups I mentioned that I am glad I am a part of even though I am not a group person), and this new group of amazing individuals who are sharing their talent and friendship with me.
The PhilHallmonics are performing at Lincoln Center on December 1st at 2pm. For more information, please send me an email- firstname.lastname@example.org
And, please feel free, as always, to share your own experiences and feedback in the comment section
So, for the past several months I have been studying…a lot. Not only am I a singer/songwriter/actress/dancer, I work with children with special needs. I was studying because there is a law changing November 1st and when this happens, many of my clients will be able to get insurance reimbursement for my services. However, my clients would only be eligible for these benefits, if I had different qualifications. This entailed my getting a masters degree and passing a board exam. After finishing this masters in May and taking and passing the board exam this September, I am now finally free to again wholeheartedly pursue music.
And it feels like I am starting again. I haven’t been able to focus on writing music, or even listen to music, for the past few months. The entire capacity of my iPod was filled with chapters and chapters of textbooks and articles that I painstakingly read into garageband to help me study. Earlier this week, when I found out that I passed the board exam, one of the first things I did (after joyfully screaming, calling people, and going out to celebrate), was reload music onto my iPod. To be able to listen to music for pleasure again, what a dream! For these past few months, I have felt stifled, every creative thought shoved away, scrawled on a notepad and saved for later. And, after all of this suppression, I find that I don’t know exactly where I am with my thoughts. I have been pushing impulses aside so often that it is hard to feel them at all right now. Also, I keep getting sick- three weeks ago I had strep, last week I had a chest cold and was considering if there would be a career for me as a contralto… Then, there’s the kid I work with who tried to rip the fingers off my left hand four weeks ago, making it still painful to shape chords on the guitar. All of these things getting in the way, excuses holding me back from what I want- to play music. I wasn’t imagining these excuses, but why did it seem that everything was getting in the way, rendering it impossible to do the one thing I dreamt of doing every moment that I was stuck studying for months?
Then, the moment comes, when I am again free to voice what I feel, create new music, and play, play, play, and I am silent. Perhaps my body has not yet caught up with my thoughts- I know I am done with the exam, done with the classes, done. But, my body is still frozen by the stress, the impending doom of failing and having to possibly study and re-take that exam again. (Thank goodness I passed.) So, I just sit, empty. And, since I haven’t been listening to how I feel for so long, I don’t even know how to listen. I don’t hear music, I don’t know what to write, I don’t know where to start, I don’t know how to start.
So, I just play. I pick up the guitar and play one of my songs. And, I’m almost in tears. Oh, I missed you! I play another song and another. And, I’m not creating new music, but at least I am re-visiting these friends of the past, the people who have inspired these songs.
And, I feel that I am surrounded by my journey and I know where I am suddenly- in the middle of it, all my music.
I’m in the beginning, in the middle, and in the end of journeys every moment of every day. I find an unfinished song lyric and, from memory, try to figure out the chords to accompany the melody floating through my mind, and slowly new comes from the old. What was unfinished becomes completed with where I am in my journey today.
And I have begun, again.
So, when I have learned music in the past, there are a few stages to my process. First, I am glued to the sheet music, learning the melody, rhythm, lyrics… Then, the song somehow gets stuck in my head and I can step away from the notation. At this point, when there is no physical guide, I can really listen and begin to interpret the music as it connects with me.
The thing is, with my own music, I have really enjoyed NOT memorizing.
I’m constantly making changes. All of a sudden, a completely different way to play something strikes me and I am in exploration mode as I uncover nuances and different ways to express MY story. In a way, I don’t want this journey to end. I don’t want the discoveries to stop. Yet, I also don’t want to be bound to the sheet music in performance.
And then, there is the undeniable desire to just cling to the music… Without this roadmap, the fear of forgetting comes up.
And, I have forgotten lyrics before….
One night I was performing in a really important, well-attended show and I forgot the words. It wasn’t pleasant for me. In fact, it was quite humiliating and surprising, because you never know when your mind might suddenly go blank… And then, when it does, it is about the recovery. How quickly can you salvage the storyline and have everything make sense again? Usually I can get back on track in a flash. The thing is, you feel this cloud of shame hanging over your head and just wish you were anywhere except where you are- in front of an huge crowd of people who have just witnessed your lyric-flubbery.
Sometimes, I have come out victorious from these blunders. All of a sudden, new lyrics are pouring out of my mouth and the words even rhyme! How convenient! How relieving! Sometimes, this has worked out…and, other times, not so much…
Once, the night before an audition, the perfect song for that show popped into my head at around 10pm. I decided to write my own arrangement. So, I entered the notes and lyrics into my computer and printed it out. Though I had never sung it before, it was a well-known 50s song and I figured I would be fine… The next morning, I sat in the waiting room, listening to the recording repeatedly. Then, an announcement was made that instead of a full song, they now only wanted to hear 16 bars, which was less than a quarter of the song. I went back to my freshly printed sheet music and literally began to cut it with my Swiss Army knife scissors and reconstruct it with a glue stick. I want this to be the beginning now… this part of this verse is good…the last part of the chorus maybe…and this will be the ending… When I finished the surgery, I incessantly reviewed the quick-paced lyrics…. And then I was called in. From the moment the announcement was made to the time I walked in the room, perhaps 3 minutes had passed. Everything started off just fine. The audition panel was smiling, possibly enjoying the song or planning their spring break… Then, all of a sudden it happened. Something weird came out of my mouth when I was coming up on the last line and the song no longer made sense… and it was the well-known punchline of the song and I quickly started spitting out lyrics- my own- to make the joke work, somehow. And, then it was done. Because 16 bars is REALLY short. And they laughed. They said my lyrics were quite ‘clever.’ That was a good word for it. And, I got through it, but- lesson learned: Don’t re-write something immediately before you audition for a professional production. Got it.
Anyway, with my own music…
I’ve taken such care to choose every word, every note, every inflection. And, if I could just stare at the paper, maybe it would be perfect. But, what I know about performing is that sometimes there is magic in mistakes. Sometimes the unknown leads to an uncharted musical moment or an emotional experience that moves the audience because it is so raw and powerful. And, I want that too. So, how can I perfectly present what I envision and leave room for unexpected beauty? I don’t think I can. I am trying to let go of this need to be perfect, and to accept that whatever my best is, will be enough. But, please, (here’s the prayer-) just let me remember my own songs…
Like many performers, I have fantasized about what I would say if I had the honor of accepting an award- a Tony, a Grammy, an Oscar, you name it. That moment when the stars seem to align and other people value you the way you wish.
I remember, when I was in elementary school, I asked my mom what my special thing was. I explained to her that one friend was great at soccer, another friend was a beautiful dancer, but I didn’t know what I was good at. And, I wanted to know. I wanted to feel special about something. My mom didn’t list a million wonderful qualities or force my interest in a specific direction. She said something to the extent of, “One day, you will know.”
And one day, that moment did come. I randomly decided to perform in a musical, the lead quit, and the directors had us sing in front of each other to replace her. Everyone sang. So, when it came to me, even though I was rather shy, I sang. And, all of a sudden, I heard something that I’d never noticed before…. When I sang, my voice sounded like a SINGER. And, from that moment forward, I worked toward embodying the dream that had awakened in me.
Now, as I continue to make this dream a reality, I think of the little girl who sang in front of the mirror, holding a pretend microphone, imagining herself wearing California Barbie’s green palm tree earrings… embarrassing, but true. The girl who was so painfully aware that she didn’t know what she was good at and felt that everyone ELSE was something special. And, I am grateful that I found the music in me.
Still the question comes to mind, what if I don’t make it? And, to that I ask- What is making it? Is it getting that Grammy? Is it having millions of fans applaud you or buy your music? Because, what if those things do happen, and you are still unhappy? To me, “making it” is waking up each day and giving myself the opportunity to sing and create. Making it is about how I spend my time. While external acknowledgement is exciting, rewarding, and helps pay the bills, at the end of the day, it is not about that. When I can look at myself in the mirror and say, “I am doing what I love with my life,” I have made it.
I don’t think we should wait for other people to nominate us to be what we want to be. I think, if we don’t nominate ourselves, no one else will. It is like hoping to get a role in a show, but not showing up at the audition… We can give our acceptance speeches to ourselves when we look in the mirror and accept ourselves for our strengths and weaknesses that make us who we are. And, we certainly can thank deserving people in our lives whenever we have the chance.
So, here is my acceptance speech, as of today:
(I’m wearing an amazing dress and don’t trip up the stairs on the way to the microphone… Some person hands me an object that will be placed on my piano when I get home. I step up to the microphone and take in the cheering fans. Tears well up in my eyes. And I begin…)
“Thank you so much for this moment. I am grateful that you recognize my hard work, passion, and commitment to myself and to my music. Thank you to my teachers, singers who have inspired me, (agent, manager, people who made this possible, fans), and to my friends and family who have always listened and who have been a part of my journey. Thanks to my parents and grandparents for reminding me that I am something special, even before I knew it.”
(the play-out music begins and I am escorted offstage…)
Please feel free to comment below and post your own acceptance speech here if you like
I played the guitar in a performance standing up for the first time. Have I performed for years standing up as a singer? Sure. But, with a guitar, this is a whole new adventure.
I thought that standing would be too hard- how can I see my hand to make the chord changes, how can I hold the guitar and play it….. Too many things to think about. Then, a few months ago, I went to my first open mic. The room was freezing. I started to shiver. My teeth began chattering. But, I wanted to sing, so I did….
Before I knew it, the guitar starts bouncing on my knees- my legs are shaking so much that there is literally a rhythmically-timed airspace between my lap and the guitar. And I wonder, am I cold or am I nervous? And from that place I sang the song. Well, I got through it- I sang, but I didn’t SING. So, I decided, I had to stand. Then, if my legs tremble, whether due to weather or the jitters, my guitar will not bounce on my lap and maybe I will be able to SING.
So, there I stood recently, my first performance of 2012, mouth to the mic, strumming away, song memorized, and I realized wow- I can see people- because when I sit with a music stand in front of me, there is this lovely bubble of insulation that seems to guard from anything outside me, my sheet music, and my guitar. And now, I am looking out and I can see people watching me. And strangely, for me, never once did I wonder- Do they like me? Do they like my song? …and all of the other pervasive thoughts that lead down the path to quaking knees and flitting butterflies….Never once. Instead, I thought, wow- I didn’t look at my hand on the neck- I found that chord by feel- and wow- I am singing my own song. And, wow- I am standing.
About a year ago, I decided to challenge myself to play an original song in public. And I did. It has been quite a journey for me to sing my thoughts aloud, as I rarely share my views with people I don’t know. This is not the case when singing in front of strangers…. But it came down to this- I need to sing. So, I did.
SING. That is what the little voice has always said when I shut off the interfering chatter and the disruptive judgment, guessing about things that I have no control of- like what you think. And I discovered that it doesn’t matter. Because, if I want to sing, I will. And, if you want to listen, you will. And with that, I invite you to read my journeys if you like.
The thing about standing is that once you stand, it is hard to think about going back to sitting. I mean, I can, but by choice and not out of necessity. And, when standing, your whole body is engaged in the music and it feels like dancing. The thing about standing is that- well, I have felt honored to watch a few babies take their first steps. All of a sudden, the crawling no longer gets them to the heights that they’d like to reach. So they hold out their arms for help. They reach to you and you reach down to them. But then, there is a moment when they realize they can stand on their own and they take a step. And soon, they are reaching what they want and on their own. And that is the thing about standing- there’s always more growing to do, and running and jumping and skipping and dancing- but the first step has been taken.
The moment now embedded in memory- when I stood up and sang… And everything in me smiled.
And I breathe that in….
before looking around from this new place and reaching my foot forward to feel out the new ground ahead.