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!