30 Days of Thanks Day 4: Proctors

Eight years ago, my friends Stacey, Eric, and I bought subscriptions to Proctors Theater for their Broadway Series. Proctors is located in Schenectady, just fifteen miles from my town. Going to see touring Broadway shows is easier and (usually) less expensive than going to New York City. A few years ago my friend Ronda joined us.

The four of us have seen some amazing shows and performances. That tradition continued today when we went to see Fun Home, the play based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel. If you get the chance to see this show when it comes to your town, you should go. The cast is talented and you’ll find yourself singing the “Fun Home” commercial all the way home. At least, that’s what happened to me.

Today I am grateful again for the opportunity to celebrate musical theater with good friends. I appreciate the opportunity to attend live performances in a beautiful, historic building close to home. I’m already looking forward to the next show!

Photo of a Playbill cover with the logo for the play "Fun Home."

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My Go-To Tunes: Old School Country

I have always been a person who associates memories with music. I can’t always remember what I was wearing for a specific event, but I can tell you what memories are attached to songs.

Growing up, our house was always full of music. The stereo was playing, or one of my sisters was practicing her musical instruments. I learned to sing songs which may or may not have been appropriate at a young age.

One of the first songs I remember singing is “Rhinestone Cowboy” by Glen Campbell. I used to have an orange plastic rocking horse with a blue mane. I named him Filbert. I would ride Filbert in my parents’ living room, wearing my cowboy hat, and sing “Rhinestone Cowboy” at the top of my lungs. I still know all the words. I don’t know whether to be proud of that.

Today I heard the news that Glen Campbell passed away. In honor of his life and legacy, I give you my Old School Country memory. Thank you for the music Glen.

 

My Go-To Tunes: Musical Memories

Sometimes, I’m going through life doing something completely mundane when all of a sudden my brain becomes aware of a song and I’m instantly transported to a different place and time. This happened yesterday as I was completing an overdue monthly expense report for my employer. I heard the high hat and the keyboards and started bopping in my chair. In came the bass, and I turned up the volume on my headphones without even realizing what I was doing. I started singing the first chorus before I became aware of the sound coming out of my mouth.

Sidebar – this happens all the time, much to the annoyance of my former cubicle neighbors when I used to work in the cube farm. “I’m sure you think you have a lovely voice, but it’s very distracting when you sing at your desk.” Um, well, I actually do have a good voice, but most of the time when I’m singing at my desk at work, I really don’t notice that I’m doing it. I’ll try not to listen to music but you screaming into  your phone is a distraction too! Is it any wonder I didn’t last there?

Back to the story…

When this happened yesterday, I was transported from my home office in Waterford, New York, USA, to the house on Mirramar Park in Blackmans Bay, Tasmania, Australia. I was sixteen years old in September 1990 when my host brother, Mike, blared the song at 6:45 AM and yelled at me to get out of bed. I remember the moment because it was one of the few mornings I did not get up before Mike to get ready for school.

This memory sparked another memory – February 15 is Mike’s birthday! A glance at the clock and some quick calculations and I realized it was already February 15 in Australia. I left a quick note on Mike’s Facebook page, sharing my musical memories and birthday wishes. He replied this morning (well, morning for me but I’m guessing he’s heading to bed).

Denise – You are AWESOME! I still absolutely love that song!!! i will play it tomorrow to my 3 daughters in your honour! I love how the bass line kicks in half way through the bar on the off beat…gold!

I love that music can be a universal language, connecting me to friends and family who happen to be on the other side of the world. Some people associate memories with food or scents. I know someone whose memories are triggered by clothes. But my memories have always been sparked by music.

The song that served as my memory spark this time was Modern Times by Daryl Braithwaite. Included on his album Rise, it is a staple on my “Aussie Tunes” playlist. I’ve listened to it hundreds of times, but yesterday I was struck by the second verse. Though the song was released twenty-seven years ago, the lyrics are still relevant.

Somebody pulls the trigger, while somebody waits to get hit

Somebody freezes in the winter, and I’m complaining about the heat

Nobody listens these days, though they’ve all got something to say

I’m singing songs about waiting, and you’ll come back some day

Now I need to go listen to the song again. You can listen to it too, in honor of Mike’s birthday.

Something Not Rotten At All!

If you are a regular reader, you know I love Broadway musicals. For me, there is nothing like escaping from reality for three hours while a talented group of musicians and actors transports you to another world where people burst into spontaneous song and dance.

Some friends and I have been season ticket holders for the Broadway Series at a local theater for several years. We have seen great performances without needing to take the three hour train ride to New York City. Each year, we speculate about what shows might be featured in the coming season. As soon as we heard about Something Rotten! we put it on our list of “must sees” and hoped the tour would stop here. So we were all excited last year when it was announced that Something Rotten! would be part of this year’s offerings. I had hoped to see the show in New York City, but knew that wasn’t going to be possible once I broke my leg last year and travel became more difficult.

Because things have been very busy these past two months, and since I spent most of December withdrawn from the world due to my father’s death, I missed much of the publicity about the show. I also did not take any time to research the cast or read reviews, something I normally do. I knew the show would be funny, based on this sneak peek from the 2015 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. That was all I really needed to know.

Since I did not pay attention to any of the pre-show press, I was surprised when I entered the theater and saw Adam Pascal’s name on the cast list. To say I have had a mild infatuation with Adam for more than twenty years is like saying some cats like catnip. Not sure who Adam Pascal is? Maybe you’ve heard of a little musical from the mid-1990’s called Rent? You know, the one with the the song upon which I based Thursday’s blog post? Yeah – that show! Adam was the original Roger. He’s since gone on to star in other shows, such as Aida, Memphis and Disaster!

Let me put aside my obsession feelings toward Adam and offer my opinion on the show. It was FUNNY! You don’t have to be a Broadway musical geek to enjoy the show. But if you are? You’ll love it! I tried to count the many musical and lyrical references to other musicals and gave up after thirteen. Cats, Evita, The Fantasticks, Phantom of the Opera, Chicago, Sweeny Todd, Rent, South Pacific, Annie – the list goes on and on. I know I missed things because I was laughing, which only makes me want to see it again. If the show is coming to your city, I recommend you go. Three hours of fun and laughter, song and dance, plus a hot man who can sing who struts around with his shirt open for part of the show! Who can’t use that right now?!

While I loved the show, the highlight of my day happened after the final curtain. Knowing we had time to wait before the bus home, I told my friends I was going to try to get to the stage door for an autograph. Believe it or not I have only waited at the stage door after a show once before – when my friend Lauren’s brother Matt Meigs was in town with the tour of Mary Poppins. (Matt is currently performing in Holiday Inn and you should absolutely go and see the show if you are in New York!)

I held back as the crowds cleared the lobby outside the stage door, scoping my best course of action. After a few minutes, it became clear who was still trying to get out of the theater and who was waiting for autographs. I stealthily rolled around the crowd, doing my best to avoid running over toes while gradually inching my way between people until I was at the front, to the right of the stage door. I was just in time because once I got into prime position, the door opened and the first cast member walked out.

I waited patiently, preserving my space by occasionally moving my feet from side to side so nobody stepped in front of me. Then Adam came out and was greeted with loud acclaim. I was the first person he saw before people started shoving Playbills in his face. He autographed Playbills for everyone, graciously accepting their compliments and posing for photos as he turned towards me. When it was my turn, I simply smiled and handed over my Playbill as he leaned over and said, “Let me take care of this young lady.” Swoon!

He continued to stand next to me, signing Playbills and taking photos, thanking everyone for coming. I told him there was no way I could move out of his way because of the crowd.  “Oh, no, don’t move. You’re helping to give me space!”

Who said a wheelchair wasn’t useful?! I totally played the disabled card to get to the door, and it worked! When he was done, I moved out of the center of the crowd, which gave him a path so he could get to other people. Free from the crush, I finally brought out my phone and asked for a photo – which is how this came to be.

Selfie of a white man with blond hair and goatee next to a white woman with glasses and brown hair. The pair are smiling and are back-lit by hallway fluorescent lights.

Sure, the lighting is not perfect. But I got a photo! This theater geek is a happy girl indeed.

Sometimes, when we meet the people we admire, we are disappointed because they don’t behave the way we think they will. Or, perhaps they are rushed for time or having a bad day and the encounter is not what we wished for. Yesterday, I had the best celebrity encounter I could have imagined. Adam was kind, generous, gracious and appeared genuinely appreciative of the fans who waited to meet him.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m about to go listen to the Something Rotten! soundtrack yet again to see if I can catch more of those musical references. Feel free to stay and drool over that smile for as long as you like!

30 Days of Thanks Day 7 – Guest Post by Carryl Robinson

Today’s post is written by Carryl Robinson. Carryl and I “met” in an online writing group where we connected over a shared love of music and hockey. Besides writing, what else do you need? Carryl’s writing fills me with hope and makes me consider how I can make my own writing more lyrical. I was thrilled when she agreed to be one of my guests during this year’s 30 Days of Thanks. You can read more of Carryl’s work by visiting her blog, Echoes From The Cave, or by following her on Twitter @CarrylRobinson

For Lynn
(With Gratitude)

It began with sorrow, a gift from a dear friend who was moving half a continent away.  A business card emblazoned with a treble clef staff, and, peering through the “spaces” of the staff, a pair of eyes.  I felt them pierce through me, as if the person connected to that drawing already knew everything there was to know about me. Vocal Eyes Music, the card read. Lynn Skinner.

“I think you’ll like working with Lynn,” my friend told me. I didn’t even question her; I had learned to trust Susan’s instincts over the years of our friendship.  I called Lynn the very next day, my first voice lesson scheduled within the fortnight.

Lynn’s studio is calming and restful, with few distractions.  It feels like my favourite hoodie, a warm sunny spot on a winter afternoon, and a hot cup of tea all rolled into one.  On one wall, however, there is a photograph of a man.  He is obviously seated and he is studying an object in the foreground. It is the neck of a guitar.  The photograph had been taken from behind the guitarist, the man’s gaze was fixed, laser-like, on the guitarist’s hand and the neck of the guitar.  I was transfixed.

“It’s Pablo Picasso with the uncles of the Gypsy Kings,” she told me.

What manner of voice teacher has a photograph of a painter and a guitarist on her wall?  And why did I have such a hard time tearing my eyes away from that image?

I don’t know what Lynn recalls about our first meeting, but I remember feeling I had absolutely no business being in her studio at all.  I knew my breath control was abysmal.  I knew my voice was good enough for choral singing, and perhaps the occasional musical offering at church, but it was nothing special.  This pixie of a woman, this dynamo, this miracle worker who had given Susan her voice back was going to have her work cut out for her working with me.  I was a hopeless case.

And so we began.

It all begins with the breath.  Don’t let anything impede the flow of the breath.

When my beloved father died, very unexpectedly, I spent the entire hour in Lynn’s studio, sitting on the carpet, tears sheeting down my face. Breathe.  Just breathe.  She played the piano while I struggled to take the next breath, and the one after that.  And when I started holding my breath, in a futile effort to control pain and loss: Keep breathing.

Other lessons followed.

Singing seems to lead your writing, and sometimes your writing leads your singing.  Let’s work with that.

So she has me to write things.  What does it mean to live life in an open key?  Tell me about artistic alchemy.  She has me to experiment with colour and form as I listen to a much-loved guitar piece.  She invites me to play with sound, with melody.  I begin to learn to fly, even if my wings are under-used and weak, even if I think I cannot.  She invites me to show up, to put more of myself into song.

The Wailin’ Jennys, Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss, The Secret Sisters, The Indigo Girls, K.D. Lang, Sarah McLachlan, what do they have in common?  Why do you like to sing their music?

They’re all storytellers, I tell her.  I love songs that tell a story.  Start there.  Tell me a story.

And so I write a backstory for the narrator of “Angel from Montgomery” and I improvise a narration that fits “Bye Bye Blackbird,” and in the creation of both, I find the music shimmers every so subtly and takes on a different vibrancy.

I cringe and shake my head when I mess up a warm up exercise, when my fledgling efforts to improvise end up in a convulsing heap on her studio floor.  There are no mistakes in music.  Only time.

As an adult, how do I learn how to play?  I think it’s more accurate to say we have to remember how to play.

And I begin to learn to be patient with melody.  I begin to learn to be patient with story.  And miracle of miracles, I begin to learn to be patient with myself.

Slowly, sometimes painfully so, I am learning the lesson of the painter and the guitarist and the photographer and the voice coach who harbours them in her studio.  Because art, like life itself, is a gift, and gratitude seems the only response my heart is capable of offering.