Monday, December 30, 2013

New Year's Resolutions

What an eventful year this has been! Every late December I like to reflect upon the previous twelve months in an effort to learn from the past and present. Hopefully, those lessons will inform the future! What can I learn from this past year that could make 2014 that much more efficient, successful, fulfilling and rewarding? Hmm...

First, I need to schedule time to nurture family and friend relationships. All things worth doing require a time commitment, and it is easy for those submerged in more work than they can reasonably accomplish to push more important things aside. Second, I would like to allow for distractions in my day when they involve helping someone else. Our schedules and to-do lists should never trump our generosity and kindness which others desperately need! Third, on a more personal level, I plan to package into my schedule time to unplug. We Americans seem to move so fast from one thing to the next that savoring beautiful things is an activity rarely cultivated. Artists require time to savor beauty and create something new from it... Fourth, I wish to carve out more dedicated practice time every day. My calendar is filling with wonderful new performance opportunities and as I plan my next recording, my time will be at a premium, so protecting that ever-crucial "personal time with my piano" from other activities encroaching upon it will be absolutely necessary...

These resolutions (or goals, as I prefer to think of them) may portray me as an idealist, but in truth, I would not be where I am today without a commitment to steady, continual, personal growth. Learning from my mistakes and trusting God to take me the rest of the way have fueled attitudes of contentment and thankfulness which are tremendous blessings. May all of us find ways to allow 2013 (and previous years) to positively influence our decisions and pathways to come... Happy New Year!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Syracuse Symphoria

Next week I will be so pleased to be on tour with the wonderful symphony organization called Symphoria--the former Syracuse Symphony Orchestra. Two and a half years ago I was deeply saddened when the SSO filed for bankruptcy and ended their 50th season early, before the long-awaited Yo-Yo Ma concert. Imagine my glee when the successor organization contacted me this past summer to invite me to perform as their Holiday Pops soloist in their inaugural season as they gathered their troops back together for more music-making! What a privilege to help usher in a new era for my hometown cultural institution, our beloved symphony. This said, I am inviting every friend, family member, fan, former student and music-lover in central New York to join us in celebrating and supporting "Symphoria Pops Open the Holidays"--our Holiday Pops tour through Jamestown, Auburn, Herkimer and Syracuse, NY. We kick off the tour at the RegLenna Civic Center in Jamestown on Wednesday, December 4 at 8pm. We then move to Auburn High School for a concert Thursday, December 5 at 8pm, and then to Herkimer High School Friday, December 6 at 8pm. The talented teenaged tenor, Nick Ziobro, will be the featured vocalist at three more regional concerts (Oswego, Cortland and Rome) on December 15, 16 and 18, after which Nick and I will join forces with conductor Sean O'Loughlin, The Syracuse Pops Chorus and the Empire State Dance Center for a holiday extravaganza on Friday, December 20 at 7:30 at the Crouse-Hinds Concert Hall in Syracuse's OnCenter on Montgomery Street. Ticket information for each concert is available at the Symphoria box office (315-299-5598) and at For more information, please see my website.

The concert program for each of my four shows with Symphoria will include beautiful holiday arrangements of familiar songs arranged by Grammy-winning arrangers Chris Walden and Bill Cunliffe, as well as Jason Goldman. We will also perform a beautifully-orchestrated "Peter Pan Suite," "It's a Wonderful Life Suite," and a traditional singalong medley of carols. These will be unforgettable evenings--please forward this information to anyone you believe would appreciate knowing, and thank you in advance for supporting the arts! I wish you many blessings for a safe, happy, and musical holiday season!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Finding Balance

How does an active performer/teacher find balance among touring, writing, arranging, teaching, traveling, practicing, booking tours and learning music? Furthermore, how does one balance all that with a healthy home life, mental and emotional health, physical health and spirituality? Any busy artist can tell you it is certainly not easy. I have found prayer and meditation to be critically important in helping me keep my busy life in perspective. Firstly, I strive to do everything for God's glory--after all, He is the one responsible for the gifts I possess, and it is my responsibility to share those gifts with the world to the best of my ability. Reminding myself of this helps me also remember that whatever I am currently facing is possible with His help. That means I must take care of myself when I begin to lose my balance. Too much stress can wreak havoc on physical and emotional health, so it is imperative to find ways to manage and release my stress whenever possible. Physical exercise is a great help here, so daily workouts are part of my routine. I also try to keep focused on my family every weekday evening--bringing work-related stress home will not usually improve it anyway!

I have found that time management is a vital, but often elusive factor in whether balance is achieved or not. Remembering to spend time on important, but non-urgent things is key to maintaining my balance. Priorities like exercise, prayer, family time and adequate rest are such important attributes of the balanced lifestyle. "Urgent" demands (like emails and phone calls that you are expected to answer in a timely fashion, work with deadlines attached, and piles of undone projects that others expect you to finish) can easily push more important tasks to the fringes of the day. I am learning that "urgent" items are often not as urgent as they seem. Consistently chipping away at the "urgent" tasks and big projects on a nearly daily basis can help them seem less ominous and more attainable, and will likely reduce stress as you approach a project deadline.

The name of the game for me is to avoid becoming overwhelmed. This week, for instance, I have several extensive projects to complete and submit at work. I also have the largest number of student appointments to keep because it is advising week at our university, so my free time to work on those projects is non-existent. Further, I am traveling at the end of the week to record thirty to fifty pieces over three days (I sing three tracks per piece) with Alfred Music Publishing in Pennsylvania. This will be a very demanding weekend for my vocal and physical stamina, so I must take care to prepare myself physically, mentally and vocally for that trip, regardless of all the other demands I face.

I am thankful for my life, my family and friends, my music, my opportunities, my job, my students and for so many other things. Keeping THIS mindset is by far the best way for me to remember how to maintain balance. There's nothing like an attitude of gratitude to do my heart good! When I pare it all down and realize what matters most, I can accomplish what I am meant to each day, and leave the rest. Learning this has been, for me, an avenue toward peace.

Monday, September 30, 2013

On Holiday Tour with Syracuse Symphoria

I am very happy to announce that I will be collaborating with my hometown orchestra, Symphoria (formerly the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra) in their Holiday Pops tour throughout Central New York in December. Conductor Sean O'Loughlin graciously invited me to debut my new holiday pops symphony show at three venues (December 4, 5, and 6) in addition to a culminating performance December 20 at the premier concert space in the greater Syracuse area, the Crouse Hinds Concert Hall in downtown Syracuse. The tour includes performances in Jamestown, Auburn, Herkimer and Syracuse (see my website for details) or call 315-299-5598 for ticket information.

This is a particularly special tour for me, as it represents an opportunity to rejoin my friends, family and former colleagues in Syracuse for a celebration most joyous. I last sang with the Syracuse Symphony when I was twelve as a member of the Syracuse Children's Chorus--we sang Mahler's Eighth Symphony (The Symphony of A Thousand) with Christopher Keene conducting (who famously went on to conduct the NYC Opera). While those memories were enchanting at the time, I dreamed then of someday performing in the Crouse Hinds Concert Hall as a symphony soloist with this wonderful ensemble and here I am! I am most thankful for this opportunity to debut my touring holiday pops show with my dear hometown symphony, Symphoria. I sincerely hope that if you reside in the central New York area, or are close enough to drive, you will share this unique and beautiful performance with us. Also on the program December 20 will be the very talented young tenor, Nick Ziobro, who won the 2012 Great American Songbook Competition! I look forward to collaborating with Maestro Sean O'Loughlin and Nick for an evening of very fine music. Won't you please join us?

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Symphony Show update

Plans are underway to select the songs that will comprise my holiday pops show. Grammy-winning arranger Chris Walden and I are working together to come up with a program that will ideally suit my voice and be attractive to symphony orchestra conductors, performing arts center executive directors and concert series presenters. While it may still be a month or so before the final lineup of songs is complete, progress is being made toward the finalizing of these decisions and interest in this show is increasing by the day! I am so thankful for the opportunity to share great music by contemporary arrangers and composers and am greatly looking forward to presenting this symphony show throughout the country. If you are interested in programming this concert in your city's cultural arts series, please do be in touch! We rely on and appreciate the support and interest of listeners and fans of great jazz, cabaret and classical music. As always, thank you for your support of live music! For information about the shows I offer please see my website ( or send us an email at

Thursday, May 30, 2013

"...I Hear a Symphony..."

Several years ago I began to be asked on a regular basis by esteemed executive directors of performing arts centers the following question: "Do you have a symphony show?" Now I can affirmatively answer "I have TWO!"

Many folks may not know that in addition to my combined career as a performing artist, composer/arranger and recording artist, I am also Director of Vocal Studies at University of South Carolina Upstate (I have just completed my first year in this position). This wonderful university has graciously awarded me a grant to develop a touring symphony show which will enable me to meet the needs of concert presenters looking for new, excellent and affordable pops programs while sharing my music with even larger audiences. These concerts will be available for touring as early as December 2013, and are available now for booking 2014-15 and 2015-16 concert seasons.

I have enlisted the help of some wonderful arrangers (and friends of mine) who have earned Grammy awards for their excellence in large ensemble arranging and composition. The first show will highlight a Holiday Pops program, ideal for any international, national or regional symphony organization inclined to indulge in the warmth of Christmas cheer as part of their regular November/December programming. The second show will be comprised of beautiful, energetic arrangements of jazz/Broadway standards in the tradition of Pops programs featuring a female vocalist. My several years spent as a jazz and cabaret performing artist as well as a featured big band vocalist and symphony soloist will allow this transition from an intimate jazz combo setting in 400-600 seat theaters (typical of what I now present regularly throughout the country) to a symphonic setting in 900-2000+ seat halls to be smooth and comfortable.

I am truly blessed to share this opportunity with you and hope that if you are interested in hearing one or both of these concerts in your city, you will contact your local symphony director or performing arts center executive director and make your request known by sharing this information. Thank you so much for reading and for your consistent support of live music! More information about this and other shows is always available on my website.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

What's in a Name?

I recently had the wonderful opportunity to be a musical guest on a local TV show (click to watch). I was there in anticipation of a performance later that same week, so the station was interested in having me there to perform and talk about the upcoming concert. Halfway through the live interview I noticed that my name on the enormous projection screen inside the studio was misspelled. I immediately pointed it out to the host (we happened to be on a commercial break) and it was soon remedied, but the tape had already rolled and the beginning of my interview was to always remain stamped with my incorrectly spelled name. For a former national spelling bee state finalist, mistakes like these can be rather frustrating and difficult to swallow... This experience caused me to empathize with all my favorite singers and artists over the years who likely experienced a similar blunder by the press. But even if Bing Krosby, Frank Sinnatra, Judie Garland and Mel Tormay had been misrepresented by faulty nomenclature, their faithful fans still know who they are! We still love and cherish their wonderful work! Nobody is exempt from innocent mistakes, no matter how egregious they seem to those who are the unsuspecting recipients of those mistakes... So sing on, Diana Kral and Jane Monhite! Keep on crooning, Tony Benet and Michael Bublie! We love you-- and I, for one, promise to respect and dignify you (after this silly blog is finished) by at least getting your NAME right.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Divas and Masters of Jazz

This photograph was taken on the evening I opened my newest show in my collection of touring shows: "Divas and Masters of Jazz!" Spring Island, SC was an ideal spot for this show opening, as my friends and fans there deeply appreciated this tribute performance honoring jazz voices of days gone by... Ella, Sarah, Billie, Bing, Frank, Peggy, Margaret, Dinah, Chet, Mel and Judy were all represented and warmly remembered. What an honor to be able to share their great music with new audiences! So often I am touched to hear "I never knew (s)/he sang that song... but I love it!" from folks of all ages, backgrounds and musical preferences. It seems that the Great American Songbook, once again, proves to be universally accessible to those willing to open their ears and listen. I am greatly looking forward to sharing this new piano/vocal solo show throughout the country, so please keep those concert requests coming! Once again, thank you for your support of live jazz, cabaret and the Great American Songbook, and I hope to see you at a concert very soon! :)

Thursday, January 31, 2013

The songwriter's process of discovery

In my experience, songs are born, not made. I once wrote a song whose identity I did not discover until after I found myself in the recording studio making the music with my collaborative partner. We learned together that the song had a natural "country" feel, style, groove and affect. Being an experienced jazz singer (with a good deal of both classical and pop singing experience) I was a bit concerned about how my recording of this country song would sound! With a little help from my friends (my guitarist, John Chiodini, and recording engineer, Paul Tavenner) I found the right "voice" to pull it off, and my country single was born. This song has not yet been released, but I expect that it will be commercially available within a few months.

As I teach my songwriting class at USC Upstate, I encourage the students to understand that they cannot always superimpose a style upon a set of lyrics with the intention of forcing a song to become something it is not. A case in point, one of my students, aiming to compose a twelve-bar blues tune, wound up with a country-rock song instead. There was no way to push that song into the blues format he and I had intended, but that was ok! He had a new song from the experience, and learned that songs are sometimes just what they seem, regardless of the initial intention of the composer or lyricist. When we allow songs to unfold gently upon our pianos, guitars and pens, we can learn to accept the outcomes as gifts from the muse rather than beating them to a pulp to match our original plans. We might just love the results of simply letting it flow...