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

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.” ( 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 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!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Grammy buzz

This week I was pleased to share on local television (Studio 62 TV, Spartanburg) news that my most recent recording, Songs From The Heart, has been submitted for Grammy consideration in five categories: Tracks 1 and 5 (different versions of "Follow Me,") were submitted for Song of the Year, Best Solo Country Performance, Best Duo Country Performance and Best Country Song. Track 2 ("Be Still and Know") was submitted for Best Contemporary Christian Performance/Song. I am so excited that the Grammy selection committee will be listening to these original songs ("Follow Me" was co-written by my husband, George Gábor) and possibly including them on the first-round Grammy ballot later this year. All three of my previous albums were on the first-round ballot in jazz categories, but it honestly feels gratifying to have my compositions outside of jazz also be given serious consideration. John Chiodini's consistently outstanding performances on the acoustic guitar also execute this music as well as it could possibly be played.

Songs From the Heart, released last December, is a five track EP (Extended Play) compilation consisting of two acoustic country tracks and three contemporary Christian songs--all original material. While a departure from my jazz catalog, it represents creative output from a transitional point in my life following a period of deep grieving and adjustment. It is a pivotal point from which I have moved onward and upward, and so, while atypical in style for me, its beauty and honesty were therapeutic at just the right time. I am grateful that that music was with me through the difficult times, and am eager to share it with the world. I encourage you to give the EP a listen, and to purchase it through CD Baby, either via downloads or even buying the actual CD (the art on the back contains a treasured photo of myself with John Chiodini following one of our many live concerts). May it soothe an aching heart, add some hope or peace to a worried mind, or just serve as a backdrop for mellow, peaceful moments amidst our busy, frantic lives.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

South Carolina Music Awards, Summer Travel, and Jane Austen revisited

This month I received an invitation from a fellow vocalist to take part in voting to select winners from among the nominees for the 2016 South Carolina Music Awards, which uses an open voting system (voters may cast as many votes as they choose and may be from anywhere in the world). To my surprise, my name was on the ballot as well, under "Jazz Artist/Group of the Year!" Apparently, the selection committee receives write-in nominations from fans of particular music styles throughout the state of South Carolina during the nomination period (the spring of each year), then selects nominees from that pool based on the number of fans they hear from, and opens up the voting during the early summer. The awards presentation and red carpet event will occur July 23 in our state capital, Columbia, South Carolina. Having never previously experienced these awards, I am excited to participate and attend, and possibly perform there as well. Anyone interested in casting votes is warmly invited to click on the ballot here (you will need to enter a valid email address each time you vote so that the selection committee knows you are not a robot, but you will not be contacted or placed on any email list for doing so). If you would like to hear and see some of my live performances to help you decide, you are welcome to go to my YouTube channel. Thanks!

The summer brings more than a bit of traveling--replete with stops in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Oregon, Washington, New York, Georgia and Florida. While on the road it always seems most challenging to find places to practice the piano and to get enough rest and proper nutrition, not to mention accomplish other necessary work. Visiting family and friends will be a beautiful perk this summer, as dedication to one's profession and geographical distance tend to limit the frequency of visits through the years. I look forward to enjoying mountains, TWO oceans, forests, lakes, state and national parks and long highways amid family visits, rehearsals, concerts, and business-related work, squeezing in vacation time wherever possible.

For those reading this blog regularly, you must know that I will be bringing Jane Austen's Persuasion with me on these trips... I have read through Chapter 5 or 6 and still have a ways to go... Even though my month of "rest and reflection" is over, the book is not. Let's face it--I can't REALLY devote an entire month to only rest and reflection... can anyone?? I did slow down, though, and completed my life audit and career audit, which I discussed in last month's blog. I also worked diligently on the business aspects of being a professional musician, practiced regularly, wrote song lyrics, spent time in the flower garden, and taught some Skype voice lessons, among myriad other responsibilities. Even today the worklist is too long to accomplish it all... so perhaps being away will be the ticket to making faster progress through the book. Let's hope so.

Gotta run... and I hope you enjoy your summertime!

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Creating Space

I have arrived to the spot in my yearly calendar when I spend a month or so recharging and redirecting. Following last season's busy schedule of out-of-state performances, hundreds of different songs arranged and performed, two new albums recorded and produced, contracts negotiated, tours managed and planned, artist residencies given, and many hours of music practiced... a month or so of "Whew! How did all that go? Where do I go from here?" time is not only a relief, it's much needed.

So the month involves recharging my batteries and resting from jam-packed daily activity. As difficult as it may be for me (and how it is!) I force myself to pick up a book of classic literature which, don't get me wrong, I ADORE reading. The forcing comes in because many years ago I gave up reading for pleasure and other non-essential activities in order to spend more time working. There is always more work I could find to do, and there are several projects that I have tabled in favor of more urgent matters, so in the "old days" I rarely permitted myself to take a few minutes to lose myself in a Jane Austen novel... but now it is part of my annual routine. This year's choice is her Persuasion, and I'm loving every paragraph.

Recharging also involves resting my singing voice for a few days following my final tour performance--no practicing or humming or singing in the car (which I rarely do anyway because it is unhealthy for the professional voice user--all that road noise to compete with). Resting the body and mind are important, too, given that I am prone to the post-performance emotional *crash* so prevalent among performing artists. Nutrition, exercise, sleep and vitamin supplementation are crucial during this time to properly restore oneself to peak performance condition, so I take this very seriously. I have found that truly caring for my physical, emotional, mental and spiritual needs is far more challenging than maintaining a full concert schedule! Finding ways to ENJOY this part of the work has been a steep and worthy challenge for me, masochist that I am.

Redirecting after the recharging period is absolutely essential. This is the time during which my inner artist evaluates how the year has gone, what is going well and what could use some tweaking. Once that career audit has taken place, it behooves me to find ways to maximize things headed in a positive direction and redirect those not working as well. How to redirect? Well, as one example, I have hesitated programming one particular concert I have performed many times over the years because of its intense difficulty. Now I am beginning to see interest in it again--it seems to still have magnetism for concert presenters, so to re-orient my practicing to include that difficult material is necessary six months in advance of the first revival of that program. Not redirecting my practice patterns now would not only be unwise for me vocally, but unwise practically as well, since I could likely book several other iterations of that concert for the same month and create a tour. This approach would help me justify all the time, energy and preparation it costs to pull something that challenging out of my past catalogue and perform it again, and it gives me multiple opportunities to enjoy performing it. In this case, redirecting for the music's sake is necessary.

Not only the inner artist is involved in this audit process, however. There is also room for an annual life balance audit which requires looking at my life priorities and goals. This inner work is more important than the career audit work! I assess how contented I am with different aspects of my life which are important to me (for example, family, friend relationships, finances, faith, etc.) and make changes accordingly to support the redirection of my priorities. This is an amazing, peace-giving exercise, and is something I recommend to everyone. In fact, I'd recommend doing it monthly if you have the time! For me, the value of taking precious hours to assess how effectively I am meeting my goals and attending to my priorities cannot be adequately measured. For the effective entrepreneur, this is essential work, and, in my experience, for the happy human it is as well! That said, I wish you all a wonderful and restful summer. Happy auditing! :)

Monday, April 18, 2016

Arranging We Will Go...

Over the past month I have spent many hours churning out arrangements for a new live show and a new studio album... Neither project duplicates any songs, so the volume of new material I am performing while in southern California this month may well be setting a new record! My new tribute show, "Going My Way! The Songs of Jimmy Van Heusen," contains sixteen arrangements of Van Heusen goodies like "Swinging On a Star," "Moonlight Becomes You" and "It Could Happen To You," as well as practically unknown songs from the various films to which Van Heusen and his best-known collaborator, Johnny Burke, contributed scores of ditties and tunes. I highly recommend all the "Road To..." movies that Bing Crosby filmed with Bob Hope for those seeking to enjoy these beautiful and witty songs in their intended comedic medium. "Going My Way," "The Bells Of St. Mary's" and "And The Angels Sing" are other golden oldies with timeless Van Heusen songs embedded within...

This material admittedly bestowed upon me many moments of delight as I discovered new songs that uplift the downhearted spirit by their wit and kindhearted humor... This innocence and universally kind intent is sorely needed in today's music, I think, and so my hopes are high that the pendulum will swing back soon--that modern art and music will once again improve the mood of the consumer, add beauty and grace to the world (as opposed to vile alternatives), and inspire those who partake toward greater levels of thinking, feeling and being. At one point in time, artists (painters, musicians, writers, poets and the like) assumed the responsibility of being the caretakers of humanity-- essentially life coaches, cheerleaders and wise sages for the masses. Few are the artists today, I fear, that view their responsibilities toward society with such serious and noble vocational vision. It is with this reality in mind that I came up with my list of contemporary jazz pieces to record next week on my fifth album...

The new project features songs by living jazz composers (all friends of mine) having something worthwhile or witty to say, or simply having penned a wonderful song. I am thrilled to pursue the recording of this worthwhile project which highlights some incredible songwriters (we are still in need of financial backing--please get in touch with me through my website if you share my vision!). My mission for each performance and recording I endeavor to complete is to impart something positive and beautiful to my audience. Life is too short for art to not add beauty, optimism and truth to one's existence! Holding fast to this belief I continue to strive bring something good to those who wish to hear it.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

More Jazz On the Horizon

Having experienced the joy of singing with the Spartanburg Philharmonic Orchestra over Valentine's weekend, and looking ahead to March 22 when I will perform in Virginia with the Williamsburg Symphonia, I am ever so grateful for the career path I have found. This morning during my prayer time I was faced with a decision--to record a new jazz album while on tour in April or to put it off for another several months, a year, or more? The frequent traveling and touring with constantly different musical repertoire places a limitation on the amount of preparation one can devote to arranging and producing a new album (I do all the arranging myself), but the financial question is usually the primary deterrent to spinning out a new recording every year or so. I am an active enough writer and arranger to have plenty of material that I wish to record, but alas--I am not independently wealthy! I gave up that possibility years ago when I gave up microbiology as my chosen profession... or medicine... after all, have you ever known a poor microbiologist? But I digress...

I came to the conclusion this morning that the recording dates will indeed happen as scheduled. Many times in my life God has led me to a point that seems like a precipice. My dilemma is whether to turn around and go back (which sometimes is the wise thing to do!) or trust that this is what He is leading me to do and take that step into the unknown... He will never push me over! I have to take the step of faith myself because He respects my free will. As long as I am sure that what I mean to do is within His plan for me, taking the step will assuredly result in more life growth and worthy challenges, even though the path may be fraught with difficulty along the way. However, dreams never risked will never be even partially realized... How I wax philosophical in these blogs! :)

All that said, I am thrilled about the new project, the details of which I am keeping under my hat for the moment... but I can say that it will include wonderful songs by contemporary jazz composers as well as yet unrecorded music by Grammy-winning jazz legends. These fantastic songs have either never seen the light of day (never been recorded) or have not had their due attention by contemporary singers. I am honored to have the opportunity to assemble the first hearing of music of such high quality for another historically important and relevant album that will broaden our contemporary Great American Songbook and shine light on deserving jazz composers--many who happen to be personal friends of mine. Furthermore, the band lineup for this project is so stellar that I can hardly believe my good fortune... word is getting around Los Angeles about this recording and I am receiving offers from "A-list" musicians who are asking me to be part of the project... I never thought I'd see the day!

If you would like to join our project and contribute as a financial backer, please be in touch with me at We will need several backers to make this happen, but since I detest crowdfunding, I have decided not to pursue that avenue. I will leave it to you, dear readers and friends, that if you feel so inclined to assist with the production of a recording that will preserve high-quality music of some of the most outstanding composers of our time (and of the 20th century), and you would like to help defray costs for musicians who cannot possibly recoup the costs of recording music anymore (given the ubiquity of internet piracy and the devaluation of recorded music via free downloads and streaming services), we would GLADLY and THANKFULLY accept financial backing of any amount to preserve these pieces of American culture. The many musicians in L.A. that are excited about our project believe in the value of preserving and releasing this music, as I am sure do many of you. Thank you so much for your support and for helping us keep the music playing!