Posts Tagged ‘music’

On August 25th I’ll be trying my hand at live performance again.  Playing solo shows has been a mixed bag for me.  My brain slows everything down to a sickeningly slow pace as my inner critic steps up to narrate in excruciating detail every wrong move I’m about to make: “Here comes the chord change . . . quick, what key are you in?  You don’t even know, do you?  Which chord are we playing – B or B minor?  B or B minor?  B or . . . oh it should have been minor!  Did you even practice?”  Sometimes my brain just breaks it down in terms of probability: “76 keys, 10 fingers, average of four to six notes played at once in varying tempos and patterns. What are the odds of you hitting all the correct notes in the correct sequence for half an hour?  Pretty low.”

So I’ve started  to visualize being in front of an audience while practicing.  What amazes me is even in the privacy of my own practice space, just thinking about people watching me makes my playing considerably worse.  So I’ve begun looking at the way I practice to make sure it’s effective and I’ve also started researching techniques to get past this performance anxiety.

A lot of the techniques I’ve read about are for public speaking and focus on keeping the body calm (which is important), but I came across one list specific to performance and I have found it really helpful.  Carmi Levy, a senior writer at voices.com,  offers these 8 tips, originally published here. Even though this list is geared towards acting, I feel it can also be applied to singing/songwriting performance;  compelling musical performance conveys emotion and often tells a story.

1. Remember who the performer is. The audience is there to see or hear you. And only you. It’s your gift, your expertise, your unique ability to make the role yours that got them out of the house on a rainy night. Of all the people in the room at that moment, you’re the one who knows more about this character, this performance, this work, than anyone else. Let your mastery of the moment be your guide.

2. Forget the stakes. You could be in front of 20 people in a repertory theater or thousands in the most prestigious of performing arts facilities. In the end, they’re all the same. Too many performers allow the supposed importance of the performance, of the night, of the people in attendance, to affect their mindset. Don’t. See above: You and you alone are the key performer. Whether they’re wearing tuxes and gowns or overalls and sundresses is irrelevant. The audience doesn’t matter. You do.

3. Performance over audience. In a related vein, what you’re delivering matters far more than who you’re delivering it to. Maintain focus on your performance, to the exclusion of all and everyone else, and you’ll be well-insulated from any audience-related fears. That said, if you find it helpful to make eye contact with a few friendly members of the audience, follow your heart and make that connection early on. Some performers find it helpful to get that little bit of extra visual feedback and support.

4. Be a temporary broadcaster. Television and radio are excellent proving grounds for actors and other stage and performance professionals, because they allow you to practice your craft without the physical distraction of a visible audience. I know it sounds overly simplistic, but getting some studio time with a camera or a microphone can help you develop the mindset that can teach you to naturally ignore whoever’s in the room so you can focus on your performance. Spend enough time staring into an unblinking red light, the theory goes, and you’ll never even know who’s sitting behind the bright lights after you transition to a real stage.

5. Practice like you mean it. The deadliest mistake performers can make involves never feeling the weight of a performance before they have to deliver it for real. If you don’t perform at full volume, at full cadence, and in the venue where you’ll be delivering it, your body and mind will never have the chance to feel what it’s like, or to adapt to the very different reality of a live, in-person performance. Reading your lines at half-volume into your bedroom mirror doesn’t count. Replicate the intended space as closely as possible, and get used to the unique cues associated with practicing as if you’re actually performing.

6. Visualize your mistakes. It may seem ridiculous to pre-plan your errors, but expecting the worst is good practice for managing yourself when the inevitable occurs. Because, let’s face it, you will make mistakes. My recommendation: Don’t even call them mistakes or errors. Accept the fact that they’ll happen, and instead focus on how you’ll instantly respond to ensure you can continue with a smooth and consistent performance. Set up specific speedbumps within your practice sessions to help you learn, innately, how to roll with the punches. By the time you get to a live performance, none of this will seem like much of a big deal at all.

7. Slow down. We tend to speed things up when we’re nervous, which can increase the likelihood of tripping over our own tongues. Or worse. To counter this, use clocks, timers, or even metronomes during rehearsals to control your speed and force your brain to keep to a workable pace.

8. Buffer the performance. Try to put as much time and psychological space as possible between the real world and any given performance. Arrive at the venue early—and preferably either alone or accompanied by supporters who understand why you need your space. Settle in slowly and disconnect from those around you. Turn your smartphone and related electronics off. Use the time to review your lines or notes, have your favourite non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated beverage and get into your performance mindset. Over time, build personal rituals that make sense to you and help you achieve comfort and balance before you’re scheduled to perform.

What I really appreciate about this list is the emphasis on performance as a craft and an art.  Remembering that I’m the performer, I’m there to be watched as I deliver my music, that’s my focus for my upcoming show.  In the past I’ve tried to downplay my role in my solo performance as a way to stave off my anxiety and it didn’t work.  I also hope to stay mindful of  number 3, performance over audience.  I’ve often tried to tailor my delivery to the audience based on the number of people there (ex. “oh – there’s only a few people, I will be super casual like I’m your friend playing in your living room”), and again it diminished the performance.

If you have any tips for overcoming stage fright/performance anxiety, I’d love to hear them.

In the meantime, if you happen to be in the bay area on August 25th, please don’t come to this show because it will  make me super nervous! Ha!

67755761_335763457310770_449477926778306560_n

 

I am kicking off my summer with a cover of Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind.”  I’ve always loved this song’s easy listening vibe paired with the bleak imagery and the palpable longing for what is already lost.  I hope I’ve done it some justice, but if you need to check out the real deal you can find it here.

I have plans in the works to record new material, but I must say I’m enjoying working on other covers.  Some of the songs I’ve got on my to-do list include “Indestructible” by Robyn, “Back on the Chain Gang” by the Pretenders and “Crazy Train” from Ozzy.  If you have any suggestions feel free to leave it in the comments.

Having just completed a busy school year of working in all types of educational settings – elementary general ed, high school special day class and non-public school, plus my own coursework in a credentialed master’s program – I am ready to take the summer off! In addition to recording new music, I hope to play some open mic nights in the bay area.   I’m also looking forward to hitting the beach, organizing my closets and perfecting my Instagram feed algorithm to achieve the perfect balance of cute baby animals, Tom Hiddleston and Jeremy Irons.  Because you have to have goals!

Hey you, it’s me! I mean it’s us. That’s right – I’m your future self at age 50. Can you believe it? Just for the record, we can totally pass for 48- so there’s that to look forward to. I just wanted to pop in and give you a little preview of your future life because I know this is a tough year for us and I want to help us get through it. Now I’m sure you have all sorts of questions about what we’ve accomplished and where we’ve ended up – like did we become a rock star? Are we married to Rick Springfield as planned? Well before I answer any of those questions there are a couple of things I want to show you.

eggo waffles

A convenient breakfast and $6.00 off a movie ticket! Who needs flying cars?

First there’s this. That’s right, it’s a box of Eggo Waffles. Check it out; you can get $6.00 off a movie ticket through a special offer on this box of waffles! Crazy, right? What I really want you to know is that where I’m from $6.00 does not even begin to cover the full cost of a movie ticket. And if you want to buy the D-Box seats that shake and move to enhance your viewing experience, you’re looking at $20 a pop. I know that’s a lot to think about all by itself, but trust me, the D-Box experience is absolutely necessary just to get through the latest Star Wars films . . . Oh yeah, they are still making Star Wars films, but I can’t get into that right now. That’s a whole other visit . . . My point here is, we may want to rethink that English degree we end up with after failing out of the recording engineering program. Oh, and don’t feel bad about failing out the recording engineering program. Two words on that one: home studios. Anyway – maybe look into computer science and  programming? Just a suggestion.

dbox

It’s like having someone kick the back of your seat, but only when there’s fighting and stuff.

 

webcam-toy-photo10

No matter how our life has turned out, it’s not too late to waste the rest of it staring at one of these babies!

Moving on – look at this. It’s a phone!! Seriously it’s my own personal phone. You know how right now our house has a phone number? Well in the future every single person has a phone number! And you just, like, carry it in your pocket wherever you go. Also . . . get this . . . you don’t actually use it to call anyone. And if it rings you ignore it – really that’s the best thing to do. Because no one you actually know wants to talk to you on the phone. Nope, it’s so much better than that – you just type little notes to each other. They’re called texts, but the word text is also a verb now – text, texting, texted. Don’t think too hard about it. But check it out – this phone is also a camera and a video recorder and a tape recorder! Now how much would you pay?  Heh.  That’s totally rhetorical; you can’t even imagine how much I paid for this. But, but . . . I can watch movies on it too! Seriously, real movies. Not here of course because cell service hasn’t even been invented yet.  What do you think of that, huh? You’ll have one of these in the future. Cool, right? Oh yeah, the screen is cracked. It’s fine. Really, it’s fine. I can’t afford to get it fixed at the moment. . .

So um – that whole rock star / Rick Springfield thing . . . I can tell you that you do move to California. We live near the ocean. It’s really cool and downright cold, occasionally. We’re in Northern California. It’s like 64 degrees and windy every day of the year. I think I’ve worn a bathing suit to the beach twice in the 20 years I’ve been here.

img_1630

Within driving distance and better than Wildwood, NJ!

So Rick Springfield? Yeah, we meet him a couple of times, and his mom and his wife, too. Guess I just gave that answer away.

But we never, ever give up on music despite our best judgment. And we play lots of live shows – so many. You will be so sick of lugging all that equipment everywhere, I mean I am most of the time,  but we keep going . . . In fact you’ll be on stage at midnight the night you turn 50. It will just be a small club in San Francisco, but . . . the important thing is we never, ever give up on music.

There’s a lot more – more than you can imagine, but I’ll let that stay a mystery. Can’t ruin everything, can I? But really, take some computer classes . . . and you’re totally gonna love this phone.

My last post was nearly 3 years ago. . . 2016: the year David Bowie died;  the year DJT was elected president; the year I decided it was time to do something different with my life.  The first two items from my very-cherry-picked list of 2016 events were terrible occurrences, but the third, deciding to doing something different with my life, was a good thing.  I had been banging my head against a wall for at least a year trying to make something happen for my band, Shot in the Dark, and the universe just wasn’t buying it.  It was a moment of reckoning between reality and every piece of advice you pick up as a child when they talk about following your dreams:  if you really try, if you love it, if you really want it, it you work hard, it will happen for you.  I want to say something snarky about how I must have been sick the day they added, “also, you should probably be young, attractive and have talent,”  but I’m going to let it go. Yep, letting that go.

So in 2016 I enrolled at the local community college in classes for early childhood education with an emphasis on special education.  I  enjoyed the classes and when the semester was over I applied for a job at a non-public school for students with moderate-to-severe disabilities.  This was a huge step for me as I hadn’t been officially employed for almost 16 years.  I got an interview and was offered the job on the spot.  And what a job!  This was a population of students I’d never worked with before despite all my years volunteering at my sons’ schools.  Everything about the job was new and exciting and occasionally unpredictable.  I felt I had found a place I belonged and could make a small difference in the world. And that was what has brought me here to January 2019, where I am now in a credentialed master’s program for special education while working part time at a school district. 

And I’m feeling less certain about having found my place.

As if on cue, Music, like a long absent ex, shows back up on my doorstep asking to just hang out for a bit, you know just to catch up.  And so here I am with more music, hoping 2019 can be a year of balance and happiness for me personally.  I can’t comment on what’s going down with the rest of the world.

Before my break I was all about synthesizers and drum machines and production. Now I’m concentrating more on an acoustic sound and live performance. Check out the video and let me know what you think!

 

body

(a memorial of sorts)

Bring the body down
Bring the body down
Science demands a last exam
The eyes, the hair, the face
This alien DNA never seen before
And never seen again
Bring the body

Bring the body down
Bring the body down
The subjects request a final performance
Look to the stars above
This vessel once filled with light and love
now cracked and spilled and pouring out
in a beautiful flood

The time at hand, the preparations
The coffin built to specification
Periodically blooms in transformation
Light the fires, begin the devotions
This thing once boldly set in to motion
It will not end, it will not end

Bring the body down
I can see through this disguise
Your facets and graces still intact
Here beneath the death mask
Shimmering layers peeling back
Reveal
Who are you now?

And you were never more than this to me
(bring the body)
And you were never more than this to me
(bring the body)
And you were ever more than this to me
(bring the body)
And you were ever more than this to me

Summer is now almost over, at least as far as my children are concerned.  My oldest begins 10th grade on Monday, August 17th, while my youngest will be stuck hanging around the house with  me until August, 26th.   I am loath to use the word “epic”, but epic is the only way to describe my summer.    From a really fabulous show at Winter’s Tavern with Debora Iyall and Girls with Guns, to a month-long vacation in Europe, it’s really been a once in a life time kind of summer and I feel so amazingly grateful and blessed to have experience it.

While I will not bore you with my vacation photos, I will give you a quick excerpt from my journal.  Now I must warn you that while traveling through Europe I read Keith Richard’s autobiography Life, and as I tend to take on the voice of the book I am reading, this excerpt is written in the style of – well, Keith Richards.  So here is a bit of my summer vacation retold to you as filtered through the literary work of Keith Richards:

VACATION

In which my family and I take a trip through Europe,  Hunter Something requests a great deal of sweets, and Fat Daddy seeks out only the best.

There were the four of us then: Zed, Fat Daddy, myself and Hunter Something, Hunter S. for short.  Hunter S. was a complete snack-head at the time, couldn’t go more than a few hours without a hit, even though we kept trying to get him to take to regular meals.  It was the sugar.  He’d go completely bonkers for it.  We tried to keep the whole thing under wraps.  No meat, dairy, or any opened foods when crossing borders, but the tour bus rides were long and we learned to put the choco granola bars at the bottom of our bags just to get past customs.

Fat Daddy was useful for keeping him in check too; he was good at playing the heavy, so to speak.  Fat Daddy had his own taste in sweets, much more refined than any of ours at the time.  He was used to the creme de la creme of dessert and wasn’t settling for the likes of what you get off of your typical food trolley.  Of course we made it through London just fine with the sticky toffee and Amsterdam with its stroopwafel  worked out quite well.  But we got a bad batch of marzipan in Estonia and that took a couple of days to shake off . . .

IMG_4610

Estonian marzipan – purely decorative.

Enjoy the rest of your summer.  I leave you with a couple of videos of my band at Winter’s Tavern.

 

Despite my best efforts to maintain this blog on a regular basis it seems I’ve gotten caught up in a lot of other things that demand my attention and have taken away my time and motivation to write.  These other things include my youngest son’s Little League participation, my older son’s play rehearsal schedule, my ever increasing commitments to play keyboards for various musical projects including my own, and finally, my current need to watch every television show or film that features Benedict Cumberbatch. (IMDB says he was in War Horse, but I don’t remember his part.  Perhaps I will watch it again . . .)

Upcoming on my musical horizon is Shot in the Dark‘s show at Hotel Utah on May 9th, and then a one-off performance with NYC singer/songwriter Marianne Pillsbury at Doc’s Lab in San Francisco on May 23rd.

Here’s a clip from Shot in the Dark’s last show at 50 Mason Social House, featuring Sunni Mcgarity on vocals.  She will also be performing with us at Hotel Utah and hopefully beyond.

I met Sunni while working with Emily Palen and KnightressM1.  Emily is currently working on her first studio album, so KnightressM1 is on hiatus from live performances.  This clip is from a show we played last October and gives you some idea of the amazing energy and talent driving this project.

Also, I’m pleased to announce that the track I played on with the Debora Iyall Group, “Watching the Detectives” is now available on the Elvis Costello tribute CD, Beyond Belief .  The wonderful thing about this compilation is that the proceeds benefit the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation, an organization that donates musical instruments to schools that otherwise would not be able to offer music programs to their students.   The range of artists who have contributed is also amazing, so definitely check it out.  Here is a taste of the Debora Iyall Group’s rendition of  “Watching the Detectives”.

Finally,  if you are still in need of more music, here is a recording of my most recent Second Life performance.  My Second Life stage name is Demolicious Wonder, and while I’ve mostly sworn off performing in the virtual world, I will do a show now and then.  I think this one turned out fairly well, and also features many of my original songs that will never be performed live otherwise, so take a listen if you have a moment.

 

Thanks for reading and listening!