religion, music biz, self-acceptance, music, excellence

Silk & Scientology

I’d never played a gig like this before; my friend Mara Purl had invited me to join Teji Ito’s band to provide music for a fashion show. I was to add keyboards to the group which featured Mara on koto, Dan Erkkila on flutes, Genji Ito, Cherel Winett Ito and Guillermo on percussion and shakuhachi. Say WHA???

There was no sheet music; we were all just supposed to listen to each other and extemporize, adding whatever might fit with what everyone else was playing. I was sure the resulting cacophony would be terrible – but somehow it began to gel during the rehearsal (otherwise known as my audition!?) – and then… the gig!

The venue was an art gallery and the models were all dancers from the NYC Ballet. Their gorgeous silk attire was breathtakingly beautiful, and they seemed to float on air as they danced to our spontaneous music – it was a “happening” in the best sense of the word!

We played for about an hour and then it was over. Mara and I returned the Fender Rhodes I’d borrowed back to the friend who’d lent it to us, then brought her koto back to her Park Avenue apartment. As it was a lovely spring afternoon, I decided to walk home to my place in Chelsea.

As I passed a storefront on West 34th Street, an attractive young man popped out and invited me to “take a free personality test ”  I was so surprised and in such a good mood, I (uncharacteristically for me!) agreed.  It took a lot longer than I’d thought but I was sure that I was “ace-ing” it!  Turns out – like everyone else who gets suckered into taking this test – not-so-much! The results were graded and it turned out that I was an amazingly defective excuse for a human being – desperately in need of the help that only Scientology could afford me.

All I could do was laugh! I’d just come from the headiest musical experience I’d ever had to that point, making music with Teiji and his group just a couple hours earlier! I’d been paid handsomely and felt on top of the world! Buoyed by that experience, I continued home in the twilight, still high from the gig.  While I might have been susceptible on some other day when my self-esteem may have been shaky… “not today, L. Ron Hubbard! Not today!”

WhatIfNothingWrongWYou

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music biz, music, Jingles, excellence

Leadership

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We’d done hundreds of recording sessions together and we’d been married for over 4 years before I discovered what a wonderful conductor Mark Wolfram is. Somehow I’d missed seeing him wave a baton in front of an ensemble before that.

Initially, Mark was introduced to me as another arranger at the Chicago jingle company where we both worked. His charts were always professional, sometimes brilliant – and he seemed to know his way around the recording studio. He picked up his trombone and played my charts beautifully.  A consummate producer, he was detail-oriented, but always got the big picture, especially when it came to the mix. His ears were impeccable; he could always tell when a singer or musician was sharp or flat, ahead or behind the beat.  He was also a skillful, safe driver behind the wheel – I trusted him and felt confident that he knew where he was going, what steps to take and how to get there – on the road and in his career.  I should have known.

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But I honestly had no idea how well he could conduct before I saw him in action and noticed how attentively the musicians were following him – performing for him in a way I could never get them to play for me.

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Having been a “solo act” for much of my professional life, and having not played or sung in very many ensembles, my knowledge of conducting was rudimentary and my confidence as a leader was sorely lacking. Sure, I’d taken the requisite conducting course in college, but I’d always felt uneasy and embarrassed in front of a group – like a fraud – and the results I got were disappointing. I just didn’t have the “it” factor to gain and keep the attention of the ensemble, whereas Mark has a natural ease on the podium, allowing the musicians to relax, knowing that they’re in good hands with him at the helm!

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Experts say there are basic qualities that the best leaders possess: communication skills, awareness, integrity, courage, vision… that great leaders guide and encourage other people to reach their goals, with the same attributes shared by great teachers – and the best music conductors. Ultimately – and ironically – strong effective leadership comes from being of service to those being led, to the project at hand, to the greater good.

I really wish more modern politicians were a fraction as imbued with these leadership qualities as my Maestro Mark.

Qualities

 

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learning, self-acceptance

The Guts to Tell My Story

The willingness to share our “mistakes” can be the liberation the whole world needs – I know I certainly need it!

BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog

debonisBy Karen DeBonis

I met my future freelance book editor in 2001 at a memoir-writing class. Robyn’s writing was beautiful, her smile magnetic, and I trusted her to hear my story. One of the biggest fears memoirists have is that readers will dislike or even hate us for our faulty decisions and bad behaviors. With Robyn, I felt safe.

After a few years of shared critique groups, lunches, and coffee, we lost touch. I stopped working on my memoir because it got too painful. In fact, I stopped writing completely. Then a medical leave from work in 2016 presented me the opportunity to pick up where I’d left off. I looked Robyn up and saw that she had earned an MFA, taught creative writing, and started an editorial business. We met at a coffee shop and I told her I needed an editor. A month or two later, I handed…

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politics

Getting Past the First Chakra

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When I was younger, I was too involved in pursuing my music career (and love life!) to pay much attention to politics; I avoided it, actually – since I didn’t have a TV, chose to listen only to music on the radio, didn’t read newspapers regularly and didn’t care much for current events. I’d been broken-hearted by the 1968 election results and my time as a protester was very short…

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I marched against the war on Washington, DC, along with a million other students in November 1969 – but the Vietnam War didn’t end until “they” were ready to end it in 1973. 

and I didn’t vote until strongly encouraged by my husband in 1980.  Like many millions of Americans, even just a few years ago I could never have imagined that THIS clown would ever be even nominally the Leader of the Free World:

You'reFired!

Every day I see that more people are turning off the news due to overload on our current political climate. Hallmark Channel viewership surge  While we want and need to know what’s going on in the world, #45 and his colleagues continue to demand our attention with a daily assault on our country. Nonstop crisis is overwhelming and we need to reclaim our consciousness from these bullies.

What I’ve been feeling this year is a lack of safety. I know I can’t return to the 1970s, just tuning out the news entirely, but I want to cut WAY back on my consumption of the sensationalism that pervades our culture right now.

With the shenanigans going on in our government, no one can afford to be completely uninformed, but I know I’ve got to feel safer to explore the higher chakras, so I’m going to resist the clickbait and start tuning out more often.

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learning

Blogwatch 2/19/16

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Since the desert only looks like this at certain times of the day, sometimes I spend time reading other people’s blogs!

a few online posts that interested me this week:

Because of Toni Morrison, I will never be a writer – too late!  You’re already a writer!  🙂

Guess I’m right (write?) and it’s a good idea to turn on the Idea Lamp: Why Rituals Make You Productive, Creative

A couple decades ago Mark and I signed up for the Flash Forward Institute, a month-long industry networking program that promised a year’s worth of career progress within 30 days time – and while it was not quite as miraculous as advertised, it DID make a difference, along the lines of what’s suggested HERE and HERE

I remember being fairly young (early teens) when I first experienced that “mental math” of figuring out whether my life was in danger merely for being born female. That was 50+ years ago and I honestly thought we as a society would have gotten past this sexism nonsense by now. This piece in Medium perfectly captures why my terror persists – To Men I Love, About Men Who Scare Me

and this post really hit a nerve with “finger-sized bruises” under long sleeves — that was the first clue I had 45+ years ago that the boyfriend I’d thought was okay was actually an abusing sociopath who stalks me to this day. The Story I’d Hope For You

 

 

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learning

The Idea Lamp is lit

bubbleLites

Bubble lights for bubbling-up ideas!

The Muse needs to be cultivated and cherished. Creative urges can’t be taken for granted without repercussions and the chance that we’ll forget our original ideas/ideals. I think it’s important we feed our souls with stuff we find personally enlightening – we ignore our creative impulses at our own peril.

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Himalayan lamp adds salty energy

A few years ago I purchased a Himalayan salt lamp, plugged it in at a corner of my office and then never turned it on.

Recently I relocated it to the top of my desk and every time I turn it on, it’s like smiling at myself — a tip of the hat to whatever creative ideas may be percolating — an acknowledgement that I DO actually believe in myself and may even have something to say.

Apparently I’m not alone: http://goingreno.com/2016/01/08/diy-travel-candle/

IMO, whatever symbol or talisman fires our imagination, we’re wise to turn it on – because you never know where you’ll find your next bright idea!

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learning, music biz, self-acceptance

Starting Over

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The past week I’ve been working on some lyrics for a dear friend who wants to perform an Ivan Lins song but doesn’t like the English “translation” provided by the Bergmans.  It’s been a wonderful project for me, since I’m stretching and working muscles I haven’t worked seriously for almost 4 years – finding JUST the right words to convey the mixed emotions of beginning anew without resorting to clichéd old images. It’s a challenge and extremely gratifying to find the most elegant turn of phrase that also fits well with the music.

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Reworking material has never been my strong suit; I watched my dad endlessly reworking his plays and was made to read this version and then that version – as if my opinion actually mattered. I don’t have a lot of patience with the process of rewrites, even if I can perceive the improvements. (It is a bit more gratifying when you’re in the driver’s seat and making those changes on your own work, however!)

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Rewriting your own life is another matter. I came across this blog post today:

Learning From Failure In the Classroom

and was struck with the author’s willingness to really look at what wasn’t working and how he might remedy that.

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Being open to revision is a skill set I’m still working on, and it takes a great deal of patience and humility to fully grok where I’m falling down on the job and take steps to amend my path. It’s worth it, though. The best stories are those of eventual triumph over unimaginable odds:

My Big Fat Finished Marathon

to which I can only say, “Yeah!!!”  🙂

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learning, music biz

What I Learned At Summer Camp!

WHAT I LEARNED AT SUMMER CAMP

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In a weak moment about 3 weeks ago, I accepted a gruesome gig – 2 weeks playing piano for a new drama school’s Musical Theater Camp.  The woman who called me is one of my former nemeses from the Gaslight Theater, where I had toiled and felt abused for 2 years.  She’s a VERY talented performer, but she’d been a royal pain and made an otherwise difficult job a lot more so – so I really should have known better.

I DID know better, but I felt flattered and accepted anyway.  Her pianist had wigged out with no notice and she “needed” me.  And I needed the money – I just bought a new car – and these days, money is money, no matter how meager!  And playing piano IS one of the things I do!

Heck – It was only supposed to be 2 hours/day for 10 afternoons. But it turned out to be MANY more hours than that, with no additional pay (which had been truly putrid to start with), so I felt more than a bit like a chump.

I began to immediately regret having said “yes” to this gig and I wound up “compensating” by buying food treats on the way home every day – something I’d done to survive my Gaslight gig.  I’ve done this before – MANY times!  I’ll do something bone-headed, beat myself up for it and then TREAT myself with goodies to compensate.  You might call it “Beat and Treat”.  Frankly, I wanted to forget I’d ever agreed to DO this gig and couldn’t WAIT until it would be over – I was kicking myself and counting the minutes!!  WHY did I accept?  WHAT was I thinking?  HOW could I have been so stupid??

But then I kept getting ideas on how the school could improve – starting with proofreading their website, which was LOADED with typos (a real no-no if you’re selling “education” to parents!) – and other ideas on how they might interface better with the community and find more new students.  I bought a used task chair at the Goodwill since they didn’t have a piano stool.  I brought in poster suggestions for their newly painted walls, and lists of local theater folks who they might contact for referrals or guest lectureships.  Every day I’d come across something that might help them succeed.

Now, one of the drawbacks to working on a show is that the songs get seared into your brain – even while the rehearsal is over, you’re still hearing the music in your head.  So I had 2 weeks of YOU’RE A GOOD MAN CHARLIE BROWN – which is not one of my favorites!   And these kids were having real trouble learning the few songs they had to do – so we went OVER and OVER and OVER each song!  Every one of them had visions of giving their Oscar acceptance speech – and yet they seemed to have ZERO retention of what we’d reviewed 10 minutes ago, let alone from yesterday!

Turns out I just don’t like kids that very much – which I already knew.  I just didn’t know how MUCH I don’t like them – at least theatrical wannabes with A.D.D., which was pretty much the lot!

Even so, there WERE a couple of moments when I felt that I might have made a difference:  one 11-year old kid was disruptive pretty much constantly and just wouldn’t follow directions.  Partly because he’s extremely overweight and doesn’t move well but mostly because he’s easily bored and has NO self-control.  Several times the director wound up calling his mother to come take him away mid-rehearsal because he was so unruly and uncooperative.  At one point in the second week, I became as frustrated with the director as I was with him when he refused to jump up and down in place with all the other kids;  he’d shuffle his feet, turn around, lean on the wall – ANYTHING but jump as instructed!   So I got up from the piano and started bunny-hopping towards him, with all of my flab vibrating all over, saying, “I’m 60 years old, I weigh 250 pounds – 2 years ago I weighed 350 pounds – I have heel spurs, neuromas and hammer toes on both feet! – if I can do this, YOU sure can do it!”  And it got him going!   He didn’t disrupt any more rehearsals, either.

The other incident was when the kid playing Charlie Brown stomped off the rehearsal after his goofing around almost blinded another kid and he’d been called to task by the director and everyone else in the room.  He became defensive and then mortified, refusing to come back for over 1/2 hour.  This brought the rehearsal to a dead stop, one day before the big “show”!  Even when threatened with the call to his mother, he wouldn’t budge but kept pouting in a corner.

After the director had left the room, I went over to him and whispered that “the reason they always say ‘the show must go on’ is that… the show MUST go on!  With you or without you, the show keeps going on!!  And I’ll let you in on a little secret…  you’re gonna get your feelings hurt for the rest of your life – that’s just what happens – people point out your mistakes and wind up hurting your feelings!  The faster you get over it, the more fun you get to have!”  He perked up after that, came back to the rehearsal and…. the show went on the next day!  Funny thing was that while I was telling him this, I realized that I was telling MYSELF this, too – and that I could apply it directly to the situation I found myself in with this acting school.  Sure, they’d used and abused me, adding on to my hours and duties and not compensating me fairly – I figured out that between the extra hours and the daily commute, I was barely making minimum wage!   They had dissed me and devalued me – but what else is new?  The sooner I let go of it, the happier I get to be.

Not a bad thing to learn at summer camp!

July 2012
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