Give it Light

What is calling you?

What are you waiting for?

How many years will pass you by?

…Fifteen years ago, I was working in musical theatre, auditioning, performing, singing, dancing, and teaching.

And then I stopped.

I buckled down to pay the bills with an office job; I went back to school.

The years flew by, and one day I realized that my musical life was stored in a large heavy box, lodged behind stacks of other heavy boxes in the darkest corner of our basement.

And those Minimalists would tell me that, if I hadn’t opened the box in the last fifteen years, it was time to chuck that box into a dumpster.

Then, a few weeks ago, just beneath the duct tape stretched across the cardboard flaps labeled “my musical heart,” the box cracked open, beaming one small pinpoint of light.

A choir festival…

The invitation reminded me of my choir festivals from high school. There would be three days of intense rehearsal and then a concert on the fourth day.

A summer choir festival! It sounded like the perfect opportunity to see how I liked singing with a choir again—a short commitment, and, here was the key: no audition required.

I signed up.

And then I agonized over my decision.

My brain protested and thought of every reason why it was a bad idea: It was a full-weekend commitment, I wasn’t sure I remembered how to read music or harmonize, I wasn’t sure I even liked choir music, and, oh yeah—it had been fifteen long years since I had sung in public.

I had to talk myself through dread and anxiety right through the drive to the first rehearsal, walking into the building, and putting on my name tag.

I was barely coordinated enough to pry open the metal tab on my mustard-yellow packet of music—but whether or not I was ready, here I was.

The conductor got right down to business. We warmed up and quickly transitioned to learning our first piece of music.

…When I am nervous, my voice gets stuck in my throat and comes out as a muted squeak. I had to breathe deep and stay focused on the conductor and blending in with the people around me.

Luckily, my fellow altos were friendly and kind. Most of them had sung with the group before.

After the first rehearsal, I still wasn’t convinced that singing with a choir was the solution to my vocal nerves and distress. It was only my determination to meet my commitments that made me return for the second rehearsal.

And then…on the third day, my heart opened. I knew I had made the right decision.

It was the sound of rehearsal (my favorite sound!)—the sound of people singing, blending, and supporting each other—

It was the sound of the language of music—like traveling back to my homeland and reconnecting with family…familiar and heartwarming—

Pianissimo

Decrescendo

Eighth notes, quarter notes, and a sixteenth—

Breath

Phrasing

Rest

It took me three days to acknowledge that music is not only good for my soul, it is critical for my soul’s survival.

…The fourth day wasn’t any easier, though. It was Concert Day, and my hands were so sweaty, I spent most of my energy trying not to drop my binder…but I sang. I had learned the music better than I had expected. I harmonized, and I blended. For the first time in years, I felt part of something beautiful and transcendent.

***

…If there is something in your life that you want to try for the first time or try again, I encourage you to take the small step.

Push past the fear and dread—

Listen to the voice in your heart and give it light.

It is never too late.

Finding an Answer

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a resolution is defined as follows:

“the act of finding an answer or solution to a conflict, problem, etc.”

and

“the act or process of resolving: as

  • the act of analyzing a complex notion into simpler ones
  • the act of answering : solving
  • the act of determining…”

I bolded the words I just love in this definition: finding an answer, simpler, and solving.

This definition seems so much friendlier to me than the self-torture goals most of us set in the New Year. Nowhere in the definition does it mention deprivation, starvation, or rigorous workouts.

Yes, this is a good time of year to review what is important to us. It is the time of year to reset and take better care of ourselves. It is the time for long walks, journaling, and meditation.

I hope you will give yourself a resolution for more joy the answer of creativity.

If you need scientists to tell you how good creativity is for your brain and your health, read Study Says Making Art Reduces Stress, Even If You Kind Of Suck At It.

If you’re waiting for permission and validation to create your art, listen to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Magic Lessons podcast #204. (And let’s just revel for a moment in her conversation about immersion with Mark Nepo. I think immersion is my favorite word for the year ahead. What will you immerse yourself in this year?)

If you feel that you’re too old to start, read/watch Hollywood Reporter’s Creative Until You Die. (language warning on these clips!).

Instead of “no pain, no gain,” give yourself a resolution that will bring you joy. If one hour a day is too much of a commitment, start small. Try one hour a week or one hour a month. …One hour just for you, to let your brain wander, dream, and solve problems.

Sign up for a class or workshop, write in your journal, set up a creative space just for you.

It’s time to play and create.

Happy New Year.

My Favorite Sound

My Favorite Sound…is the sound of people singing together spontaneously.

A friend recently told me that when people sing together, they breathe together…and when they breathe together, their hearts beat together too.

It is the sound of my husband and I on a road trip, singing our favorite Beatles songs.

It is the sound from my teenage years. My friend T— and I went to an a cappella festival at Boston Common. We had started the day early so we could set our picnic blanket in a good spot. One of the a cappella groups led the audience in a 4-part harmony. Our voices filled the open air, blending and harmonizing- Amazing!

It is the sound of a van filled with women in the small tour I did many years ago. We were driving from one theatre to the next. We didn’t have GPS back then, and we were never lost. The radio wasn’t on. We were just singing…because life really was a musical back then.

It is the sound at a rock concert, when we’re all pounding our feet with the beat and singing Every. Single. Lyric. We feel connected to the band on stage, as if they wrote their songs just for us.

Arms stretch to the sky.

Hearts open.

Then, the band turns the microphone to the audience, and we rise up together. The entire stadium vibrates with THOUSANDS of voices singing the same words and the same melody.

Our hearts beat together in one melody.

 


Afterthoughts: I spent a lot of time on YouTube searching for the perfect clip that captured the joy I was trying to express. I suppose it depends on the music that moves me, which may be different than the music that moves you.

Also, there are flash mobs that have provided some of this beauty over the last few years. -For me, spontaneous singing brings the magic to an even higher level. I feel it in my heart- pure magic, pure joy, and hope for humanity.

My favorite sound is this.

This…

…and so much more. We need more singing in this world.

Wishing you peace, my friends.

 

 

Ann Patchett

patchett_getaway_car-lg

My friend K— is always a reliable source for book recommendations, and about seven years ago, she suggested that I read Bel Canto. I checked the paperback out of the library. It was my first Ann Patchett book. Not only was I instantly captured by her writing, but I remember the setting and the plot were different from anything I had ever read.

Whenever I find a new author (new to me anyways), I research their list of publications and start to work my way through each book. After Bel Canto, I read The Patron Saint of Liars and then State of Wonder. State of Wonder haunts me and stays with me still.

Patchett writes about the human experience and connections in traditional and non-traditional settings. I think I find her books so powerful because she creates such vivid characters with real struggles, mistakes, and pain.

I continued to read my way through her work, and then I tried to figure out how she does it— how she creates those stories that hold my heart and sit in my chest as I turn to the last page. Continue reading

Five Tips to Maximize One Hour of Writing

When I took a short story fiction writing workshop earlier this year, I wasn’t sure I’d have any energy left to write after a long day at the office- but I had a deadline, and when you have a deadline, you become inventive with your time.

In addition to writing at night, I decided to try writing during my lunch hour—and I was surprised at how much I got done in that limited amount of time.

Whether if it’s first thing in the morning, after you drop off the kids at school, or right before bed, you can still make progress writing in just one hour a day.

Here are five tips to maximize one hour of writing:

  • Book it: Reserve your calendar like you would any other important commitment.
  • Make it a habit: If you can plan to write at the same time every day, it will become a habit. If you have to be flexible with the time of day, that’s okay too, which adds to my next point…
  • Find any space: You might need to be flexible with your writing space. This is counterintuitive to the idea of finding a sacred writing space and shutting out the world. If you have only one hour between other commitments, you might need to get used to writing on the go- in a potentially noisy space like a coffee shop or restaurant.
  • Plan for your next session: When you’re finished with your hour, make notes for your next writing session. Jot down where you left off and where you want to go next. Your “notes to your future self” (as I call them) will give you momentum for your next session.
  • Take notes: Your hour of writing will inspire more ideas at other times of the day. Be prepared to take notes in a notebook, digital notebook, or audio app.

Figure out what works for you, and you will discover time in your schedule you didn’t know you had. Even a few pages at a time will add up with consistent effort.

 

 

Have you marked your calendar?

Like most people, I still haven’t made it to New York to see the musical Hamilton. I’m just burning through the soundtrack until I can see it in person.

Lucky for us, PBS is airing their documentary, Hamilton’s America, on October 21st.

Just two weeks from today! I know I’m not the only one counting down the days!

I watched Lin-Manuel Miranda’s interview with Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show, and he said they have footage from the early days of Hamilton, when he was writing frantically, and before they knew what the musical was going to be.

Why do you write like you’re running out of time? –Hamilton, An American Musical

I can’t wait to see how it all came together. In the meantime, check out highlights from his talk at the Broadway Teachers Workshop as written by Howard Sherman.

Lin-Manuel is a great example of a creative soul who has followed his inspiration wholeheartedly. It is interesting to read how he got started. He even talks about creativity and mixed tapes. YES!

Starting Again

I was a theatre major in college, and my main love was musical theatre. I had some success early in my career: summer stock, regional theatre, and a small East Coast tour. The full time jobs were a dream for me, and summer stock was the best training. We’d start rehearsal at 9 a.m. for one show, and we’d perform another show at night. With the children’s theatre or a matinee, we’d perform over eight shows a week. Performing on stage became second nature to me.

I got married in my late twenties, and as I settled down with a full time corporate job, my theatre career fizzled out. The years blurred by, and one day I realized that, not only had I not performed on stage in several years, but the idea filled my chest with dread.

My family used to ask me to sing for them at the holidays, but with my new stage fright, I couldn’t breathe. My knees would shake, and my voice would stick in my throat.

By my late thirties, I found I was mourning a career and a love I hadn’t planned to leave behind.

When I was a young, struggling actress, I had read The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. The quote that stuck with me was as follows:

“But do you know how old I will be by the time I learn to really play the piano/act/paint/write a decent play?”

Yes…the same age you will be if you don’t.

So let’s start.

Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way

 

This quote stayed with me fifteen years later. I needed to start again. I didn’t know what it meant, but even though it had been several years, I couldn’t give up that part of my life permanently. Continue reading