Change of Focus

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I had so many interesting things I wanted to write about this week. However, the only thing I can think about at the moment is my little angel sleeping next to me. It’s so strange. I had so many thoughts about interesting blog topics…but then when I sit down to write them, everything fades away. And all I’m left with is the constant thought of her. Maybe it’s because I am slightly anxious that at any moment she may wake, and then I will have to click “Move to Trash” on this blog, as I have with so many other entries this month. I used to save my drafts…but that made my website’s homepage a wreck, so I decided it’s either “Publish” or “Trash” with no in-between.

Baby Zoey is about 4 1/2 months old now. She has grown so much in these past months…it’s unbelievable. The whole process of growing a human being is pretty amazing in itself. I remember very clearly the feelings that overwhelmed me that first week with her. I had seen her on ultrasounds almost every week as she developed – it wasn’t like I didn’t know there was a baby inside me. I could feel her kicking me, responding to my music and the music my students played on the piano. I was fully aware that there was a little person growing inside of me. But it wasn’t until she came out that this feeling of “oh wow” took over. I mean…inside my body, there was only me…and then from one of my eggs and her daddy’s “seed”…another whole human being was formed! That is SO cool!

I have a newfound respect for my body now. Before this experience, I spent more time cursing my body for not being perfect than admiring all of the cool things it does without my conscious mind ever controlling it. My body formed this little human being…this perfect little person. My body knew when she was ready to be born, and began the process of labor to bring her out of the womb. And even when I thought “I don’t think I can do this” in the middle of it all…my body proved me wrong. It was nothing special that my brain did. Usually, my mind is the stronger of the forces…I’m a musician, a songwriter, an artist. Not an athlete.  I like to work with my mind and my hands, and the rest of my body is usually just there to provide a base for clothing and to transport my mind from one place to another. But…this time, my body showed me that it is of use too…and the stuff it can do far outweighs my brain’s ability to make my fingers play diminished 7th chords in 2nd inversions.  The birth of Zoey was like a spiritual awakening and realization of just how amazing and precious life is. I’m not saying that every person on earth’s sole purpose for being here is to bring another person into the world. But at this moment, being Zoey’s mother is the most defining characteristic about me.

And so, it seems funny now that I have written so much music about tragic love, partying, heartbreak and cat fights with girlfriends. I don’t regret those 200+ songs that all seem to fall into one of those categories. They tell a story of where I’ve been, like a photograph in time. And oddly, as soon as that first album was completed, a new chapter of my life had begun – a chapter that included this new little character, Zoey.

It seems that many of my songs now are about and for her. I haven’t been writing as many songs now – probably 1 or 2 a week – but the feeling is so different to write songs about where I am at right now rather than where I have been. I treasure my old songs, and I believe in their quality. I worked hard arranging instrument parts and revising the lyrics over and over again, and I feel excited about presenting them to the world because they are my best songs thus far.  But these new songs, they are something from deeper in my heart. A place where the lyrics need no revision, and I don’t need layers and layers of instruments to show any technical mastery. Most of them I “wrote” in my head while caring for Zoey. They have become our everyday songs that I sing to her while we are playing/eating/bathing etc.

As I said…I have so many interesting things to write…but for now, this little one is the most important of all.

Opinions…Everybody Has One

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You know the riddle: Everybody has one…and some of them stink. (Opinions) During my recent visit back home to Indiana, the preacher’s sermon on sunday was about opinions – and how as faithful people we should look to the Bible for our answers rather than the internet. While I appreciate his opinion…the Bible doesn’t say much about breastfeeding, getting your child to sleep through the night, or what to expect in the first week of life. After having my first baby, I’ve done a lot of searching Google for various reasons – Why is my baby crying? Should I co-sleep? When should baby (insert skill set here; hold a bottle, crawl, roll over, smile, laugh).  What I’ve found is that everyone has a lot of opinions. While one person will passionately advocate for the benefits of co-sleeping, another will say that it’s a risk for SIDS. Breastfeeding is a very heated debate among women. Many doctors and “experts” say that “it’s rare for women to suffer from low milk supply”. But then if you research “increase milk supply”, you find many women who are trying to do just that – and of course, a plethora of opinions about how to achieve it.

I’ve been baby-wearing Zoey nearly every day for the past 2 months. Baby-wearing is the practice of putting your little one in a sling or other carrying device and taking them along with you everywhere you go. This doesn’t work for everyone. Some mothers have back problems because of it, some babies hate it, and there is also a community of moms of the opinion that it neglects the child’s development of independence. I was told by some that it is “great” and that I’m “spoiling the child” by others. Baby-wearing worked for us until the hot weather of summer came along and we both found it uncomfortable to be wrapped up with so much extra fabric.

When an opinion is directed toward a specific person, it is called advice. . . .

The musical crowd of today is more opinionated than ever. I recently went to a music conference in Lancaster, PA where they played songs that were submitted and the panelists discussed whether the song “sucked” or not. In their opinion, most of the songs did suck. Their reasons were sometimes very technically sound, and other times based upon personal preferences. Music is one of those artistic expressions that begets preference and opinion from its audience. You develop into a listener who likes certain sounds and has certain expectations for songs that you listen to in order for them to be accepted into your realm of what you find enjoyable. Even if one person hates what you are creating, another person will find it to be wonderful.

I’ve read so many independent artists’ T shirts, comics and bumper stickers that “bash” on the popular music of today that I’ve finally begun to see how silly it is. Most of what they say about the popular music of today is true – “It’s all autotuned.” ..Well yes, it is. Vocals are edited on every commercial release of every genre of music released after 1990. They have been tuning vocals for years, and the technology has gotten so good that even LIVE autotune is affordable for everyone. If you are reading this, you probably have an opinion about whether this is good or bad use of technology. It’s a heated topic.

They also say of today’s pop music – “It all sounds the same.” ..Right again. That’s the idea of music fitting into a specific genre. It has characteristics that make it similar to other songs of the same genre. You could say that all classical music sounds the same, and all rock music sounds the same, and all techno music sounds the same…because in some way, they do.

I hear this a lot – “The stuff they are playing on the radio is crap.” What an opinion! If all music is just self-expression, can we really call one song “crap” and another song “art”? You could say that the major label artists aren’t choosing songs that focus on self-expression but rather making money…but isn’t that also a reflection of self? (See Madonna’s Material Girl) …

The bottom line…whether the musical opinions are right or not, is that everyone has an opinion. As a musician, it is your own opinion that matters most. Don’t let the opinions of others prevent you from making your own choices.

This goes double for parenthood.

Teaching Children How To Play The Piano

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I have been teaching private piano lessons for the past 8 years or so… I am often asked what my techniques are for teaching children this seemingly difficult instrument. I always reply that our focus is on the areas of repertoire, theory, and technique. This is partly true. But I think parents are REALLY asking me how I plan to motivate their easily-distracted little angel to practice and therefore learn to play the piano. If the question were worded so bluntly as that, I would answer just as bluntly. Bribery.

That’s right…children often operate on a system of trade-offs, commonly called “bribery” in adult dialect.

When I was younger, my teacher had a system in place where if the student couldn’t play the assigned piece perfectly, then you would not “pass” that song…and you would not get a sticker. I loved stickers! I wanted very much to have a sticker…..and even more to have my entire music book FILLED with stickers. I worked very hard for each of those stickers, from “The Merry Farmer” to “Fur Elise” and beyond. I spent agonizing hours at the piano fumbling over the same few notes in songs and growing ever more frustrated.

Now that I’m grown, I still have a fondness for stickers, but I love playing my piano much, much more.

Categories: Music Blogs

This week’s Top 40 Review

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I don’t always do a “review” for the Top 40 chart, although I occasionally check the list for songs that I might like to cover. This keeps my covers list fresh and new and also keeps me aware of what other recording artists are producing. After listening to this week’s “interesting looking” Top 40 songs, I felt the urge to create a blog post on it…

I didn’t do a listen to every song, because not every song looked like one I would want to cover, so it is usually the female artist’s songs that I end up listening to. Besides, who has the time to listen to all 40 songs? :P

I noticed right away that many of the artists’ songs had very sexual lyrics. And the sexual-lyric topic of 2011 is not the romanticized “I’m in Love” type of sex that we were singing about back in the 90’s and the early 2000’s. The new sex topics in songs are kinky sex, orgies, I’m-a-sex-freak type lyrics, and the I’m-a-cheater-but-proud-of-it lyrics. And here I thought that my own vague references to relationships and sex in my song’s lyrics were too revealing. Ha!

I listened to part of Lady Gaga’s Born This Way and immediately caught the strangely demonic/satanic undertones. The first thing I noticed was that in the image they used for the song, Lady Gaga has little points coming out of her back and head…much like Satan’s horns and wing-like points in the back. The music video tells a story about the birth of evil and then seems to reference a part of the Bible in Revelations about a whore giving birth. (Pardon the language, I’m pretty sure the Bible uses this exact word.) If that wasn’t enough strangeness, she then goes on to say, “It doesn’t matter if you love him or capital H-I-M.” OK, that one was obvious. When the word “him” is capitalized, it means God. That we all know. There’s also the huge reference to gay pride, which I think is a good thing. And she obviously is supporting the “born gay” theory with this song. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, google the lyrics. Nothing wrong with the gay pride aim either…but there’s something strange about the way it comes across. It could be art, it could be satanic reference in order to get a reaction – and if so, it worked. Congrats Gaga! You’ve shocked us again with how far you will go for fame…and then pretend to hate the “fame monster”. I’m not a hater…didn’t the Bible say something about love the sinner, hate the sin? :) Love the artist…hate the art. *grin* This could be easily compared to Michael Jackson’s Thriller in which he acted as an undead zombie monster in the video. Just art, nothing to get ruffled over.  Despite her recently evil creation of Born This Way, I still enjoy many of the other songs she has recorded. Either way…I won’t be covering this song.

E.T. featuring Katy Perry…also a strange sex song. This song’s lyrics talk about sex with an alien. OR…it could be using a metaphor to say that the guy is so “out-of-this-world” that he is like an extraterrestrial. That said, the song has a unique melody and a catchy chorus. It also musically references the techno-aliens of the old 60’s movies with it’s strong autotune and skipping robotic sound. Clever.  I’ll just ignore the line “Could you be the devil”instead of going the whole “satanic” route again. . .another un-coverable song about weird sex…with aliens.

Tonight by Enrique Inglesias…The song lyrics mention “You know my motivation given my reputation”. The rest of the song sounds like a sex song, but doesn’t seem to reference anything really strange…until you pull up the video. In the music video, Enrique meets several different women in dirty underground clubs and in fancy upscale spa resorts (because that is the life of a superstar….dirty underground strip clubs and upscale resorts…juxtaposed within the same weekend adventure…(eye roll). He has sex with each one, presumably without even knowing their names. Sort of like the Axe body spray commercials. So far, that’s pretty typical for a music video. Then, the video starts showing Enrique with all of his women hanging out together. In the final scenes of the video, they are all having an orgy in his posh resort hotel room. Uncoverable song. Nice melody, simple chord structure, memorable chorus.

Rolling in the Deep by Adele…Once again, Adele has made a greatly touching song about real life experience- heartbreak. She also has a song called Someone Like You that is at the top of the charts as well. Beautiful. Rolling in the Deep is a song about being stronger after the turmoil ends, where Someone Like You leaves me with a sense of “shattered pride” and a deep sadness that is being revealed to the listener. While the two songs are both about heartbreak, they have opposite perspectives. This is great! This is exactly what my CD is based on – – love from different angles. I’ve found not one, but TWO songs that I can cover! Yay!

Categories: Music Blogs

PASA Winter SongWorks

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Yesterday I went to the PASA (Pennsylvania Area Songwriters’ Alliance) Winter SongWorks in Cherry Hill, NJ. I saw a few familiar faces, met some new musicians, and had a great time with the inspiring workshops! I stayed for 4 workshop activities.  Most of the educational workshops closed with about 15 – 25 minutes of writing a song based on parameters given during the instructor’s portion, followed by a “song sharing” time after that. I was impressed with how several of the writers could create entire songs in the time allowed – and some of the songs were quite clever!

Categories: Music Blogs