Sunday, April 23, 2017

Singing Through Discouragement

This blog post represents a new leaf I am turning over as a blogger. From now on, rather than use the blog to talk primarily about forthcoming concert events, I have decided to devote my blogging energies to discussing topics that are relevant to performing artists, recording artists, and other creative artists in modern times. Or I may wax on a historical or theoretical topic related to music... or the teaching of music... So if the reader has any specific requests for topics you would like me to take on, please feel free to send an email and make a suggestion! This blog is for you...

So many days of our lives, depending on who we are, and on our psychological makeup, are dotted with moments of discouragement. How do we move through them as artists, and how do we give our audiences the quality shows they expect, even during these trying times? I am helped when I concentrate my mental focus on "the zone..." that beautiful milieu of freedom, creativity, awareness of the music around me, and complete divorce from distraction. Negative self-talk is particularly destructive during a performance, so part of this strategy is to grasp my mental energies onto something positive--the present moment of music-making--so that I cannot devote any energy whatsoever toward criticizing my performance, or thinking about discouraging circumstances. The time and place for self-analysis is always in the practice room before and after a performance--NEVER DURING!

Another strategy for managing the challenging circumstances of our up-and-down lives is to work in time for meditation every day. I confess that I do not always manage this well, but when I do, my ability to concentrate, to stay positive, and to feel productive in my life and work are always enhanced. Meditation is accomplished in many different ways by different people. One must not feel threatened by the spiritual energy of the process--meditation is healthy for people of all faiths. It has been said by Christian, Jewish, and other philosophers that, through meditation, God speaks to us... Prayer, of course, represents us speaking to God. It seems that if an individual seeks healthy two-way communication in any relationship, one must be as willing to listen as to speak! And so we meditate our way back to emotional health and wellness...

Physical exercise has helped to get me through so many rough patches in life. When truly upset about something, there's nothing like a good, long run to spend that energy in a healthy way. Exercise also clears one's head and dispels the high emotional response of stress and overwhelm. Getting into shape also helps us feel better about ourselves, which is a key way to combat discouragement when circumstances of life are less than ideal.

Finally, remembering that we are in very good company can be most comforting. All of our heroes battle discouragement at one time or another, and rising above one's difficulty is itself a heroic act. While situations change, our attitudes can reflect gratitude, kindness and love for those around us. Forgetting our troubles and helping someone with theirs is a sure way to improve our moods. Put another way, carrying our crosses, and acknowledging the crosses that others carry, remind us that we are all human and we are on this journey together. Happy to journey with you...

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Musical Ensembles

Performing with a wide variety of ensembles is one of the distinctly enjoyable aspects of this performer's career. One week I may be fronting a jazz orchestra, while the next I may be playing the piano myself in my own cabaret show in an intimate room. My need for variety and fresh challenges has historically been responsible for my booking certain themed shows before they exist, and then writing the musical arrangements for them out of the necessity of delivering a performance date. Any musician's thirst for new experiences would show this to be the way many of us operate. Along with the theme of the show, I often invite a concert presenter to choose the size of the ensemble they wish to book, which proffers me a great deal of booking flexibility, while giving the presenter some options.

Next month I have the distinct privilege of serving the U.S. Army Band, "Pershing's Own," as their Artist-In-Residence for a few days. During our time together, I will teach a master class and lead an improvisation workshop, and offer two coaching sessions for the Army Voices, a highly select group of professional singers who perform a variety of genres well, including vocal jazz. The highlight of this journey will be sharing a joint concert (date to be rescheduled due to winter storm Stella) with Army Voices and Army Blues (a most outstanding jazz "big band") as their guest artist. The concert will open at Brucker Hall, Arlington National Cemetery, and include a number of various ensemble configurations. There will be a set of my original pieces which I will sing with a small jazz combo (and I'll play the piano with the trio on one tune). There will also be a set of pieces during which I will perform with the big band, and another set with the vocal jazz ensemble. This concert mash-up lends itself to the variety I cherish, and is a great honor, because this band and vocal jazz ensemble are among the best in the world!

Another ensemble configuration I absolutely love is the symphony orchestra. I am fortunate to have two symphony shows (holiday pops and jazz pops) which I perform with various symphonies here and there. Conductors and executive directors of American symphonies (or those abroad) are welcome to contact me to discuss dates and programs available. Regardless of the ensemble size or instrumentation, live music itself is paramount and its culturally vital message of beauty and inherent value should never be underestimated. I hope that those of you in the Washington, D.C. area will join us for a fabulous show of the immense talent possessed by our young men and women serving in the U.S. Army Bands!

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Holiday Musical Traditions

We all have holiday traditions ranging from waking up Santa (who's sleeping under one's Christmas tree) and chasing him up the chimney before the children come racing down the stairs (we always heard his jingle bells, but never did catch a glimpse of him rushing up the flue, even though Dad insisted he had to chase him out of the house every year) to drinking egg nog on New Year's Eve... But what about musical traditions associated with the holidays?

Many families and individuals make a concerted (pun intended) effort to attend a Messiah sing-in, during which members of the audience bring or are given copies of Handel's famous score with which to sing along. I personally love this tradition, and lament the fact that in some areas of our country this tradition seems to be waning. Others participate in caroling expeditions through their neighborhoods and to nursing homes to spread good will and Christmas cheer. This year I coordinated a neighborhood caroling night and it served to introduce us to other music-loving families in our community, as well as bring both the singers and the recipients of an unexpected serenade a keen sense of love, local good will and purity in the midst of all else happening in the world. It was a sweet departure from reality into heaven for a few hours, albeit cold! This is a tradition that anyone can plan, and it brings a large return of friendship and joy on your relatively small investment of energy and time. Another tradition that I have established in my household is playing and singing carols at the piano at various times of the season. Now that I am a professional pianist as well as a professional vocalist, I find great pleasure in singing the songs of Christmas (and New Year's) for my family to enjoy. I think it is important that those who identify themselves as musicians find ways to share their music with others as often as possible--the world needs us! Still other musical traditions include putting Christmas albums on to listen to during gift exchanges, cooking and baking marathons, and breakfasts throughout the twelve (yes, TWELVE!) days of Christmas.

Since Christmas is a season in the Christian calendar and not just a single day, it is important to remember to honor the Christmas spirit, story, scriptures, songs, traditions and cheer throughout the period from Advent (when we await the coming of Christ and celebrate the anticipation of His blessed birth) through to Epiphany (January 6, the traditional day we acknowledge the visitation of the three wise men/kings/magi to the infant Messiah, and the revelation of God to mankind). Being a season of forty days (Advent) plus twelve days of Christmas, the possibilities for enjoying a long season of holiday music are many. I love the song "The Twelve Days of Christmas" because it reminds me to celebrate each day of the Christmas season.

Some members of my family get together and play music in what we call "the family band" featuring several brass players (french horns, trumpet, tuba, trombone, saxes, clarinet, flute and drum set). This is a wonderful tradition that I highly recommend for any musical families to start--it programs great memories of making music with your own family right into your holiday calendar each year (our family band also meets to play together on Independence Day!) A new tradition that I aim to start next year is to enjoy some kind of musical activity which celebrates the season every day of Advent and Christmas--whether being a different seasonal song I sing or play each day, or attending a Christmas concert by my local symphony or community choir, or writing a holiday song, or coordinating another caroling expedition, or playing a new album of Christmas big band arrangements... Again, the possibilities are endless. I look forward to the holidays each year and intend to continue enjoying this Christmas season (we are currently at the seventh day) with an emphasis on the music and how it contributes to our joy, peace and worship. I wish you all a happy, holy and safe remainder of the Christmas season and a 2017 that exceeds your wildest dreams! Thank you always for your support of live music and of those who create it. Blessings to all!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

An Open Letter to Gladys Knight

Dear Ms. Knight,

My husband and I spent a wonderful evening with you a few weeks ago when you performed in Greenville, South Carolina at the Peace Center. What a tremendous show you gave your audience! I marveled at the vibrancy, fullness of tone, and outstanding control that you still have after singing professionally for over fifty years. Forgive my surprise, but there was no trace of the wobble that plagues so many older singers, and you commanded the entire stage with élan and great energy. Your pitch, rhythm, and phrasing were, as always, flawless. I particularly appreciated the rapport you built with your audience and the graciousness that flowed out of you toward us. Young performers should take heed of this--enduring performers APPRECIATE and VALUE their audience members--you thanked us several times when we wanted to be thanking you for enriching our lives with your music, grace and love.

My favorite moments included when you sang a tribute to Ella Fitzgerald--you chose the Gershwin standard,"The Man I Love." I found that to be extremely interesting and ironic, because when I performed on the PBS-broadcast show, "We Love Ella! A Tribute to the First Lady of Song," also featuring Natalie Cole, Patti Austin, Take 6, Quincy Jones, Wynonna, Nancy Wilson and so many other masterful artists, that is the song I was given to sing as a soloist with the Thornton orchestra and big band. Great choice!

Another favorite moment was when you paused from singing so many songs associated with your recording career and sang two well-known praise songs lifting up your heart to God with the other singers on stage. Your faithfulness in sharing with your audience about the heavenly source of joy in your life was so inspiring. Finally, your unbelievable rendition of "Midnight Train to Georgia," which we had all been waiting for, of course, was worth the wait and very moving for me. That song has special meaning for me and has helped to bring me through some painful, sacrificial times in my life, so thank you for sharing it with us in such a poignant way.

Since I was a young child you have been and always will remain one of my favorite singers, and I am better at what I do because of people like you who have remained so true to their art form, true to themselves, true to the public and true to the Lord. God bless you, Ms. Knight--I look forward to our next visit together.

Sincerely Your Fan,

Tish

Thursday, October 27, 2016

59th Grammy Awards Consideration--and Finding Your Own Path

I was duly surprised earlier this month to discover that the 59th Grammy Awards has decided to honor my 2015 Songs From the Heart EP with consideration in three categories! The first track, "Follow Me," was co-written by my husband, George Gábor, and has been listed for Grammy consideration in "Song of the Year" and "Best Pop Solo Performance" categories. Track two, "Be Still and Know," is being considered in the Best Contemporary Christian Music Performance/Song" category. I am super-excited about this attention my original songs have received--and fully realize that I am so blessed to be able to do what I absolutely love as my profession. Both songs come from an EP of guitar/vocal duets and were recorded with my favorite collaborative artist, the amazing guitar master John Chiodini, who performs with incredible emotion, originality, style and artistry in everything he does. Our 2016 recording, a jazz album yet to be released or titled, is still in production and will be out next year. That project has its own set of enormously exciting tales to tell, but its time will come... NARAS members, thank you so much for your consideration of my songs on this ballot round!

As a youth, I often wondered how artists became noticed and included in these awards deliberations... Why are some talented artists seemingly overlooked while others, perhaps not nearly as gifted or skilled, get so much attention? Naturally, life has taught me the answers to those questions, and very hard work, diligence, discipline and sheer perseverance cannot be minimized when looking back on my career. The school of hard knocks may be the more difficult way to go, but it does produce its own unparalleled brand of achievement and satisfaction eventually. At many junctures in life, I think I took the less-traveled road... I have never entered a singing or jazz competition, so I never had a career or recording contract handed to me, as some have. I never was "discovered" at a young age (well, actually I was, but I felt my Ivy-League education was too important to give up for a possible Miss America title... true story.) In another instance, when an ABC network producer called me on the phone to invite me to star in their reality music show pilot, I turned them down--with the caviat that I would be glad to accept employment from them to coach their contestants instead. The producer was speechless and stated that he had never experienced a turn-down from an artist before. I was too concerned about preserving the integrity of my music career (in which I always have called the shots) to hand it over to a possibly irresponsible producer who would be willing to sacrifice my career to improve the network's ratings. As tempting as worldwide fame and attention may have been in previous moments, I am grateful that I had the presence of mind and self-respect in that moment to do what was best for me, which was to turn down ABC's offer.

My advice to young artists today (should you choose to accept it) is this: ALWAYS be true to yourself and to your art. Do not be tempted by agents, managers, opportunities or offers that feel out of step with where you would like your career (and life!) to go. If you cannot be in control of your career, or if the offer does not align with your value system, it could be unwise to follow someone else's concept of who you could become. I have since been approached by managers and Broadway producers who may yet contact me for collaborative work... who knows? I will entertain each offer individually as it comes, and if it happens to align with my goals, GREAT! But often, if it comes with a "catch" or a cost, that's a danger sign. I am content to go where my Lord leads me. And even if my life includes not another single awesome gig, opportunity, job, or award, I can honestly say that I have lived my dreams... even now I am living them... and for that I am eternally thankful.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Music for Wellness, Part II: Physical Benefits

Here is Part II of an article I initially wrote as a guest blogger for my friend's fitness blog. For the full article, see www.LoriKing.us.

Music’s healing properties have been applied in recent decades to the field of medicine under the umbrella of Music Therapy. According to the American Music Therapy Association, “Music therapy interventions can be designed to promote wellness, manage stress, alleviate pain, express feelings, enhance memory, improve communication and promote physical rehabilitation.” (www.musictherapy.org). If music can have such a powerful healing effect upon those in need of medical attention, imagine the ways we all could benefit from its healing properties and positive health benefits each and every day!

One key area of physical benefit from musical performance is the cultivation of a deep breath. Deep breathing is a necessary element of correct technique for singers, woodwind players, brass players, conductors and pianists. Many string players and percussionists also benefit from the study of deep breathing techniques that coordinate with the rhythms of the music they play. The study, practice and performance of music for these breath-conscious musicians often results in greater lung capacity, relief from (or better management of) breathing maladies including asthma, decreased stress and anxiety, slower heart rate, stronger intercostal and abdominal muscles, and better oxygenation of blood cells. Deep, full breathing can slow a rapid heartbeat, calm a panic attack and provide a nearly instant supply of fresh oxygen to a stressed brain. By means of improving breath management, musical study comes out on top as a wellness-promoting activity!

Improved posture is another physical benefit of musical study. Trained musicians are taught to align their bodies properly in order to promote maximum efficiency of the muscles, breathing mechanism and resonance chambers necessary for optimal performance results. Our postures change as we age, so continued attention to posture through an ongoing pursuit of musical engagement results in potentially huge health benefits. Choral singing, band or orchestra performance, solo practicing/performing or private lessons can provide these benefits. The coordination of deep breathing techniques within the framework of excellent posture during active engagement of the body for a musical performance delivers a surprisingly empowering, positive result upon one’s health. The aerobic activity of coordinating a performance with good breath management and proper spinal and physical alignment explains why so many professional musicians are in outstanding physical condition.

For those who are not inclined to pursue musical study or performance in their adult years, enjoying recorded or live music can also create a positive atmosphere for wellness. Dancing is an excellent form of exercise and stress relief. Soft, soothing music can aid meditation or help a person wind down and relax after a long workday. Listening to jazz or classical music may help organize brain pathways. Music can improve a mood, facilitate mindfulness (staying in the present moment) and provide a lovely background to otherwise mundane activities. Being creative about implementing a musical accompaniment to parts of one’s day can be fun and joy-giving.

Music and the arts contribute immeasurably to the core of our culture, and to the beauty and creativity within our daily lives. The mental, emotional and physical benefits of incorporating music for wellness are significant and measurable. How can you immerse yourself in a health-giving musical activity today?

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Music for Wellness, Part I: Mental and Emotional Benefits

I initially wrote this article by invitation from a friend. She asked me to contribute a "guest writer" article for her awesome fitness blog. She then published it at www.LoriKing.us. It will be reprinted here in two parts...

It is gratifying to see that the arts may finally be reclaiming their prior stake among core classes in the American educational system, and that more children may be offered the opportunity to explore and practice visual and performing arts as part of their regular school day once again. Countless studies have shown that engagement in musical study enhances a child’s cognitive development, which enhances his/her performance in math and science. Music represents not only a necessary part of a child’s education, but also an important source of mental, emotional and physical wellness throughout one’s life.

The arts in general provide so much to our core being as humans on this planet. Visual arts, music, theater, dance. . . each discipline exercises our right brain, stretching our global and spatial learning capacities, and igniting our creativity. Using one’s whole brain (rather than simply the analytical/logical aspects of cognition, understood to be located on the left side of the brain) contributes balance to life and “opens the mind.” Using both right and left sides of the brain at a high level of proficiency enables children to learn in multiple ways and promotes different types of concentration.

Sustained concentration during musical performance accompanied by freedom from stress or distraction (often referred to as being “in the zone” or finding “flow state”) allows for an elevated level of performance excellence so often elusive in day-to-day work. The ability to find that “flow state” can enhance one’s work life, home life and personal goal attainment. “Flow” can be applied to other disciplines such as meditation, exercise, sports, cooking, writing, public speaking or a host of other normal activities, resulting in a highly efficient, productive period of accomplishment. Cultivating “flow state” through the study and performance of music simply adds to one’s quality of life, and is good for the brain, body and soul!

In addition to increasing mental acuity, the emotional benefits of habitual engagement with music cannot be overstated. Choral music in particular holds important emotional benefits in that the act of group singing builds a sense of belonging, cooperation, team-work, camaraderie, and overall well-being for the group as well as for each individual. Instrumentalists receive similar benefits when they actively engage with a band or orchestra. The achievement of a positive performance result in a group or solo situation creates confidence, trust, and feelings of accomplishment. Musical performance also provides a needed outlet for reducing stress, thereby recharging one’s joy reserves. The interpersonal and emotional benefits provided by musical engagement are vitally important facets of a healthy life, a healthy family and a healthy workplace!

Music for Wellness, Part II: Physical Benefits, will be posted in September. Thanks for staying tuned!