Thursday, January 26, 2012

Bookstore Show!

I love Half Price Books. Even if I didn't need to spend all my extra money on books because I'm a grad student, I would still spend a good chunk of my income on creating the perfect old book and vinyl collection. Since I love Half Price Books so much, I'm especially excited about our upcoming show in February:

This concert will be an informal, unplugged event at the Half Price Books in Humble, TX. So, if you are in the Houston area, we would love for you to stop by any time between 7 and 9 pm on Friday, Feb. 24th, and allow us to enhance your book-purchasing experience with a little bit of original music. Maybe I can manage to leave the gig without spending all the tips/CD money on more books!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Voice lessons learned

Today I had my first formal voice lesson since college -- make that, since my junior year in college. That was eight years ago -- yikes! Last semester I had the exciting opportunity to perform in the graduate student ensemble of Robert Xavier Rodriguez, singing a series of Scottish and Irish folk songs set by Beethoven. This semester, among other things, I'm singing this:

I get to sing it in English, but language aside, this is still quite difficult, and in a style I haven't performed in consistently for the aforementioned 8 years since college voice lessons.

So, I'm excited to be beginning lessons again, and I'm always happy to see how I will apply what I learn to the kind of singing that I do on a more regular basis. As a teenager, I took a lot of pride in having never had lessons, but now I understand that there are things that I can't see or hear about the way I sing that take another person to point out and help with. I also understand now that a voice teacher can't really change your voice; he/she can only give you the toolbox. Also, you would never expect a professional athlete not to work with a trainer, so why shouldn't singers have trainers, too?

At any rate, with everything going on with school (including learning this music), there's just not as much time to play the normal gigs, but I wanted to let everyone know that I'm still performing music, just in a different way.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Happy Friday -- with cats!

Earlier this week, you saw a picture of Desmond, "helping" me study. Here he is again:

"I'm too sexy for this blog..."

Confession time: for those of you who don't know me that well, I am pretty much a crazy cat mom. I love my cats -- the way other people love their children. When some women see babies, their voices raise a couple of octaves and they turn into cooing, squealing creatures themselves. This happens to me when I see kittens. It also happens frequently when one of my cats does something cute. Molly is especially good at this, since she is the fuzziest, prettiest thing in the world. (Could you hear my voice getting higher and higher just then?)  I am not a visual artist, but the other day, I tried to draw Molly, so taken was I with her peaceful, sleeping face in the sunlight:

Here's what she really looks like, though neither my amateur sketches nor my amateur photography can do her justice:

I am Elizabeth Molly, your Queen. Bow to me as I usher in England's Golden Age. 

Posted by Picasa

Thanks for humoring me as I talk about my cats. It probably won't be the last time.

And Happy Friday.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Writing Prompts: follow up

Between facebook and blog participation, I have three writing prompts to work with after Monday's blog entry. This one is most likely to yield results, simply because I've written songs this way in the past:
I think it would be totally cool (fittingly nerdy) to do a medley or series of songs that serve as odes to your favorite books and/or book characters. Even if the songs come out a little silly.
I agree.  Book characters are fun to write about, because creative interpretation of them also seems to yield different insights to the characters than plain old analysis does. In addition to my song, "Ophelia," I've also written a cycle of four songs (meant for dramatic performance) from the point of view of Nina, from Chekov's The Seagull.  I learned a lot more about her character that way than I think I would have from a traditional paper.  So, perhaps this prompt will inspire some songs.

Another prompt:
...What would you say to your 10-year-old self growing up on Horseshoe Trail? [The name of the street where I grew up].
This one is very difficult for me. It's hard not to make something like this too sentimental or cheesy, like a bad country song -- something like: "remember the laughter and summertime friends/ and hang on to summer, 'cause summer always ends..." On the other hand, I might be prone to a certain level of bitterness in talking to my 10-year-old self: "When it's time to go to college, don't get a music degree; the industry will fail and never recover..." But that's not very helpful, and doesn't make a good song. So, I'm going to have to think hard about that one.

The final prompt is more of a brainstorming exercise:
Recently I was given a prompt to make two lists that characterize me--one of just physical traits, another of personality traits--then make those lists with traits that don't charictarize me, or traits of "not me". It was a telling and helpful exercise.
This I completely intend to carry out, because it involves making lists -- something I love to do.

As promised, if any of these writing prompts yield a song or songs, I'll post it here.

And if you come up with any creative results based on these writing prompts, I'd love to hear about it!

Monday, January 9, 2012

On Creativity and Boundaries

Do you remember back in  elementary school when your teacher would write writing prompts on the board for a class exercise? They would usually say something like, "Describe a time your family went on vacation," or "What would your house be like if you lived on the moon?" I always enjoyed these prompts, but back then, when I was bubbling over with the creative ramblings of an imaginative pre-pubescent, I also felt like writing prompts stifled my creativity. I wanted to write about kittens who could talk (heck, I still want to write about that), or about girls like me having wild adventures. (Two real stories that I uncovered from my young writing days include one about a squirrel named Dolly who leads a quiet life in her tree, going to the squirrel market and having tea with her squirrel friends, and one about a middle school girl who finds out that the guy she likes is an alien -- of course, most middle school boys are kind of like aliens at that stage.)

Anyway, the point should be clear: writing prompts were unwelcome constraints on my imaginative output.

Alas, that is no longer the case -- especially when it comes to writing songs. Over the last couple of years, I've had severe writer's block when it comes to subject matter.

Desmond, my cat, tries to help, but he doesn't understand that nothing rhymes with "orange."

In fact, some of my best writing in recent years has been from concrete inspiration -- mostly assignments -- kind of like writing prompts. For example, the song "Ophelia" from Girl on a String is about the play, Hamlet, and was written as part of a class requirement to respond in creative ways to the readings. In another class, on Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, I came up with a list of "rules" about Dylan's writing style from his folk period, and wrote a few songs trying to adhere strictly to those rules. Another time, I attended a Beth Moore Bible study on the Psalms of Ascent and was inspired to write songs based on those psalms. I only got as far as two of them, but it was still a useful exercise. The point is, in recent years, my creativity has come unlocked whenever I have been forced to fit into some kind of pre-determined mode.

So this is where you come in, reader. I need some writing prompts for songs. The well is mostly dry these days (probably because it's being sucked dry by my dissertation writing). So, I'd like you to provide those storm clouds of inspiration. Give me a writing prompt (or several) and if I end up using it, I'll post the song in a video here. Try to be somewhat specific. ("write a love song" won't help; "write a love song about the travails of a cat person and a dog person trying to make a relationship work" is more helpful -- though it might make a silly song.)

I can't wait to see what you all come up with, and thanks for the help!


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Why it's a good time to be a musician in Dallas

I've always been a natural optimist. But when it comes to the music industry, especially over the last decade, I've been far too pessimistic. On any given day you could hear me complaining about the proliferation of mediocre artists online who muddy the waters for the "good" artists; about the lack of gatekeepers and culture-makers; about the impossibility of making any money; about the attitudinal shift of our generation that no longer values music as something worth paying for -- the list could go on. So today, I'm going to focus on the full half of the glass and write about some positive things -- a few reasons why right now is a good time to be a musician, particularly a musician in the Dallas area.
Here goes:

1. This was the year of Adele.

File:Adele 2009.jpg
Adele is awesome. That is all.
(photo attribution here)
True, this was also a big year for Katy Perry and other traditional pop stars, but the huge popularity of Adele's music is restoring my faith in the tastes of the music-buying public, and could pave the way for more record labels to sign artists like Adele now that the popularity of her music has been proven. Adele combines excellent, raw vocals, great songwriting, a warm, vintage tone, beats you want to dance to, and melodies that make you cry. And she's the real deal; her live performances are every bit as good as the recordings. True, other artists that combine sincerity, great musicianship, and fantastic writing have found success this year, including The Civil Wars, Robert Plant and the Band of Joy, Mumford and Sons and other acoustic acts that favor musicianship over auto-tuned vocals. However, I tend to single Adele out because she seems to be so universally liked. There's no one I've asked who doesn't like her music -- and that applies to people who are fans of artists from Katy Perry to Taylor Swift to Led Zeppelin. This is why she's powerful -- she's exposing fans of all sorts of music to something truly good, which may lead them to try more good stuff. It's kind of like converting a Bud Light drinker to fine wine -- Adele is the sweet, yet full Cabernet Sauvignon that eases the transition into other wines.  Now I'm probably sounding snobby, so I'll give it a rest. Adele is awesome. That's pretty much all there is to it.

2. KXT

For Dallas musicians and fans of great music alike, KXT is what we've been praying for. The listener-supported public music station (like KERA but with music), airing on 91.7, celebrated two years on the air in 2011, and this is a great sign, because it shows that, even in the midst of difficult economic times, listeners have kept the station going. KXT plays all sorts of music. Sometimes its eclecticism is too much for me (I'm not a big fan of 80s pop or reggae) but I'm happy to take those few songs I don't particularly care for if it means I can hear a mix of all the artists I just cited above, plus the Beatles, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Bob Dylan, Counting Crows, and a mix of local artists like Seryn, who I wouldn't have heard of had it not been for KXT.  The local artist bit may be the best feature for people like me, who happen to be local artists. KXT accepts music submissions -- not something many stations can do -- and proudly supports local music. Maybe 2012 will be the year you will tune in and hear Girl on a String over the airwaves.

3. Art House Dallas

2011 marked the 1-year anniversary for the arrival of Art House Dallas on the arts/music scene here in DFW and the 20th anniversary for its parent organization, Art House America, based in Nashville. The goal of Art House America is "cultivating creative community for the common good." They do this through concerts, monthly pub gatherings, songwriting workshops and workshops for all sorts of creative types, quarterly book discussions, and social networking. I attended a discussion of Francis Schaeffer's Art and the Bible, and I immediately felt like I had come home to people who were like-minded. If you are a Christian and an artist and feel that you're not sure how your calling fits in to the world when it's hard to make money and the church at large isn't always as supportive of the arts as it could be, Art House Dallas is the place for you to find encouragement, friends, and opportunities. Check out their website, because they express it better than I could.

4. Learning opportunities for young musicians: DBU

Yes, I'm biased because DBU is my alma mater, but in the 10-years since I entered their brand new music business program, DBU has grown in ways that would have been hard to imagine when I was completing my college recording projects in a tiny studio in the basement of the library with 1 computer, a microphone and pro-tools. The university as a whole continues to deepen its academic rigor and add to the beauty of the architecture on campus and the quality of the resources available to students, but the biggest change for music business majors is the state-of-the-art recording studio they finished this year. (Read all about this amazing studio here.) Now, if you are a young, Dallas musician looking for a great education in the music industry, you truly don't need to go to Nashville or LA -- everything you need is in this small Dallas liberal-arts school. And the liberal-arts part is important, because you don't merely learn technical skills -- you learn how to use your mind -- and that helps with any job you end up with (just in case you don't make money as a musician -- not that I'd know anything about that... :))

So there you have it: a few reasons for Dallas musicians to be optimistic about what the future holds. I can't wait to add to this list -- is there anything you would add?

Monday, January 2, 2012

Resolutions kept, Resolutions made

Happy New Year! Last year, about this time, I wrote on our facebook music page:

Happy New Year! Our New Year's Resolution? To finish and release our EP! Like all goals, we may need our friends' (and fans') encouragement to stay motivated...

And that's exactly what happened. Thanks to the support -- through giving donations, coming to shows, and asking us to play paying concerts -- from  people who love us and our music, we were able to make our EP a reality! How many success stories of new year's resolutions kept do you hear this time of year?

So, we wanted to say thank you, and to make public our (well really, my) 2012 resolution: to write regularly on this website's blog. If you take a look at the blog history for this site for the past year, it would appear that we merely played one house concert in January and spent the rest of the year recording and promoting our new record. But so much more than that happened -- seen, in part, on our facebook page, yet worthy of full blog entries. A few of the highlights include composing music for the Stolen Shakespeare Guild's production of "Love's Labour's Lost;" discovering a new coffeehouse to perform in -- Roots in North Richland Hills -- which quickly became a new favorite for the excellent fair trade coffee, lovely atmosphere, and dedicated clientele; arranging duet guitar versions of "The Wedding March," and "Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring" for a wedding we played for this summer; and having a very fun and successful CD release party, which certainly deserved documentation here.

In addition to musical goings-on, I would like a space to record other musings on the creative life, especially as playing live shows and recording becomes more and more minimized in the coming year as my day-job (as a teacher and phd student in literature at the University of Texas at Dallas) becomes increasingly time consuming as I prepare for doctoral qualifying exams.

 So, even if our performance times are limited this year, I will be keeping in touch through this blog. I hope you will stop by and join the conversation.

Happy 2012