Thursday, September 30, 2010

Magical Moment 238, "Jesus is a Feminist"

That title got your attention, didn't it?! I’m writing on a heavy, controversial subject today, something I scarcely do. I didn’t intend on it, but after watching a short video of Gianna Jesson tell her story of surviving a late term abortion (she was the infant, not the mother), I was inspired to put my two cents in.

I’ve always considered myself a feminist, and gotten some crazy reactions from people when they hear that. Once I even got a self-righteous, knee-jerk response, “So I guess you don’t believe in God.” It’s hard for me to control my emotions and not engage in arguing with these kinds of people. If I do, I may end up sounding just as ignorant and foolish as they do. Proverbs 26:4 Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him. I would like to ask them, “How much time have you spent seriously studying feminism? If the answer is zero, how can you possible say that it doesn’t fall in line with what God teaches?”

Some people joke, “You’re for women’s rights, so move that couch all by yourself.” Again, I have to bite my tongue and not engage the “fool.” First of all, I probably can move any piece of furniture alone, but that’s beside the point. Second of all, women’s rights doesn’t mean that all women should be treated like men. That’s absurd. If that were the case, then why don’t we all start treating men like women? We can pay them less money and expect less success in their futures. We wouldn't press them to live up to their full potential in education or in their careers. That would meet that particular definition of gender equality, wouldn’t it? Equal rights simply means that all women should be allotted the same courtesy, respect, and opportunity as anyone else. It is a very, very basic and reasonable principle. And a shame that some radical feminists and misogynists have made the concept seem so crazy and eccentric. 

I’m not saying that God didn’t have a design in His creation of man and woman. But I don’t think it was meant to be the cookie cutter plan that some legalistic Christians believe. If it was, Deborah certainly would have been out of God’s will, as the Old Testament judge and military leader. Jael committed murder and became a war hero (Judges 4:17-24). I’ve also noticed that the model “Proverbs 31 Woman” who is portrayed in church sermons as strictly a wife and mother, uses her “earnings” to plant a vineyard. And she does business with “tradesmen.”

Simply promoting gender equality is so 1970s anyhow. Of course gender bias still exists and is wrong, but the basis of feminism and women’s rights has moved far beyond the plight for only women. It promotes equality and respect for all genders, races, and cultures. It says that everyone should have basic rights like, to vote, to not be subject to genital or body mutilation, to wear what they want, to not suffer racial, gender, age, or any other kind of discrimination, to simply live! And with that at its core, I would venture to say Jesus is a feminist.

Now, on the other side, I’ve had people say, “How can you be a feminist but not support abortion?” For those who will not accept, "it's murder and God says it's wrong," as a legitimate answer, then here. It’s as simple as this. Feminism supports the rights of the oppressed. In a case of abortion, there are 2 sets of rights, right? The mother’s right to her body and the unborn child’s right to live. That cannot be denied. So whose rights are more important? As a woman and a human, for me, it is the child’s rights. Even in the case of rape? Yes. Even in the case of handicap or brain damage of the child? Yep. Everyone has a right to live. 

I think it's important for everyone to define what they believe and why they believe it. To be able to present facts that support their point of view maturely and respectfully. That's what today's blog has allowed me to do a little more clearly. Below are parts 1 and 2 of Gianna Jesson telling her story. I hope it inspires you in some way today.

Part I

Part II

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Magical Moment 237, "The Beginner's Class"

I sat at the piano in the very first ballet class for the youngest beginners, no older than 4 and 5. I watched quietly as the teacher tried to settle the girls who explored the large room with excitement and wonder. They wore their brand new pink leotards and white tights, just taken out of the package today. Their mothers had brushed their hair into a ponytail, then twisted the loose ends into a pink, sparkly hair wrap. Bobby pins held the wispy hairs tight to their heads. The girls wandered inside, taking notice of their elegant appearance in the wall-sized mirrors, as if today was the ultimate of all “dress-up” days. They grasped the wooden bar, and mimicked the movements they’d seen ballerinas do on TV.

The girls jumped up and down like popcorn when they finally took notice of the teacher, tall, sophisticated, and graceful. She wore a chiffon black skirt around her waist that gently swayed with each movement, and satin pointed shoes with pink ribbons that laced up around her ankles. To them, she was the epitome of beauty and all they wanted to be when they grew up.

“Listen up girls!” She said as she gathered them into a circle and motioned for them to sit down. “First thing’s first. Before you can be ballerinas, we have to learn how to prepare and stretch.” She explained how to stretch the legs while sitting on the floor. “Bring your knees to your chest and then use your arms to pull them in as tight as you can.” She walked around the room, gently correcting the girls when needed. “Pull! Tight, tight, tight!” She coaxed.
“Like this, teacher?” asked one small girl, whose leotard still hung loose on her, despite purchasing the smallest size available.
“Yes dear, just like that!” the teacher encouraged.
“I knew that was right,” the girl explained, “This is how I hug Teddy Bear.”

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Magical Moment 236, "All or Nothing"

Before I joined the Army, I couldn’t run a block or do a push up. Actually, before my 3 years in Army ROTC, I spent half a semester in Air Force ROTC. I still remember my very first physical fitness test there. I did 7 - count ‘em 7 - push ups, and ran a mile and a half in about 17 minutes. The only event I passed was the sit-ups and that was only barely.

After my decision to join Army ROTC and commit to 4 years active duty upon college graduation, I began really disciplining myself physically. I woke up early to run before class, I did-push ups and sit-ups every night before bed, and I even recall once going on a 4-mile ruck run by myself on Thanksgiving (running with a huge pack on my back). I would run laps around a track or in a gym and force myself not to cut corners, or quit before my planned distance was achieved. I wouldn’t let myself walk, no matter how exhausted I was. I remember thinking that it was all up to me and by taking it easy on myself, although no one would ever know, I would just end up hurting myself.

Lately, I’ve been thinking more about that mentality. I’ve been here for nearly a year pursuing a music career. And when I list the things I’ve done, it sounds okay on paper, but I know what I’m really accomplishing because I know if I’ve given it my all or not. I ask myself every day, “Am I doing everything I can today to pursue my goal?” And even when I know the answer is yes, I still try and give a little more.

It’s like every physical fitness test I ever took, if I got less than my desired score, I knew deep in my heart it was because I didn’t work hard enough. I skipped a running day. I didn’t give my all on the last push. I remember what an awful feeling of regret that was for me. When this whole thing is over and I’m either a musician, or I’m not, I could never live with that feeling of knowing that I could have given just a little more. Maybe one extra effort could have been the difference between success or failure. If I’m not giving it my all, I may as well be giving nothing. 

Monday, September 27, 2010

Magical Moment 235, "The Bird in the Rain"

My little friend lives just outside.
She chirps and sings and flies with pride

Today I watch her only through glass.
I’ll stay inside till the rain has passed.

The dark gray clouds have darkened my mood.
The wet showers have dampened me too.

But the rain won’t keep her hidden away.
A puddle is the perfect spot to play.

A few little drops won’t stifle her song.
Soon the others start to sing along.

A dripping wet wing is no nuisance to her,
Instead she basks in a refreshing shower.

Ok my friend, you’ve lured me out.
I’ll save another day to pout.

So clearly you show me, so plainly you say,
“Rain’s no excuse to waste the day.”

*Painting by Dot Small

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Magical Moment 234, "The Impossible Peanut, I Mean Dream"

I listened to a radio interview of author Sonny Brewer on NPR the other day. I’d never heard of him before, but what particularly caught my attention was his new project called Don’t Quit Your Day Job, a compilation of 23 authors sharing their work experience prior to their writing success.

Coincidently, I myself recently googled, “how to write a novel,” thinking that maybe someday soon, I would write my novel idea that's been in my head for about 4 years now. There is wrinkled, used scratch paper in my desk, scribbled on napkins in my purse, and Word documents on my computer with random fragments for a half concocted novel. Every time I seriously consider beginning the writing process, I feel overwhelmed and totally lost as to how to go about it. After all, the publishing world is about as challenging and confusing as the music industry. One impossible thing at a time please.

I did hear a piece of advise in the interview however, that I’ll hang on to and use on days like today, when I haven’t really done much. It’s a lazy day. Not a lot of creativity running through me right now, but I’m staring at a blank, white box on BlogSpot, needing to post something for today’s magical moment. He said that if you’re drawing a blank, take a break. Go outside. Take a walk. Notice the trees, the birds, the weather, then come back inside and write about it because certainly, you’ll be able to portray some kind of truth in your writing since you’ve personally experienced it, even if it’s as small of a detail as describing the clouds.

So, Eddie, Joy, and I went for a short walk. Today the sky is dark and it had begun to sprinkle as we stepped outside. That didn’t keep Joy from frantically wagging her tail and yanking us ever forward towards the tree with the squirrels in it. Every time I go outside, I try to grab a handful of peanuts to throw to the squirrels and pigeons. Some neighbors despise this, others contribute to the critter feedings with their own stash of seeds or bread.

Today I thought I would see how close the squirrels would come to me and strategically threw a trail of peanuts landing only a few feet away from me. Some squirrels hastily grabbed the far ones and scurried back up to the safety of their tree. But one curious squirrel bravely inched his way to the closest peanut. Making him even more courageous, was knowing that Joy stood next to me, breathing hard, staring hungrily at the little creature, and being forced to stifle her urge to chase him. Growing more determined with every tiny, advancing step, the squirrel made one last mad dash for the peanut then followed his friends back up the tree. I wished I could reward his audaciousness with an extra peanut.

I got me thinking that maybe one of these days, I’ll bravely harness my nerve and compile all my illegible, chicken-scratch novel notes. I’ve already quit my day job. I’ve already dealt with my share of writers block. Yes, maybe I can put into practice this invaluable life lesson learned from a bushy-tailed, determined little squirrel. Until then, I’ll just keep writing cute stories about him.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Magical Moment 233, "Teddy Bear Food"

There is a commercial on TV (I think it's for Target) that shows a woman cooking pancakes in the shape of a teddy bear. I saw it the other day and randomly said to Eddie, "I want a teddy bear pana-cake (I still haven't outgrown the habit of pronouncing it pana-cake)."
He replied, "Just to clarify, do you want a teddy bear pana-cake, or a teddy bear piano cake?"
After a moment of contemplation, I jokingly decided, "Both."

To my surprise and delight, the next morning Eddie was in the kitchen creating a masterpiece breakfast of teddy bear pancakes, complete with strawberry eyes and chocolate chip buttons. They were as adorable as they were delicious.

Today, after a long day of work, I came home to heavenly sweet scent. Eddie was baking. When the egg timer dinged, he stayed in the kitchen with his creation until finally he called me in to unveil it. It was a teddy bear cake. I mean, an actual 3-D bear covered in frosting. He apologized that there was no piano to go with the teddy bear piano cake. We haven't tasted him yet, but I have a feeling he'll taste as good as he looks as well.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Magical Moment 232, "I Don't Really Know Any Beethoven"

When Eddie and I lived in North Carolina, we discovered Friday night jazz at Cypress Bend Vineyards, a picturesque vineyard in the green farmlands of Wagram, NC. Every other Friday evening, they set up a quaint tent by the patio, complete with a stage, dance floor, and intimate five-piece band that performed jazz standards while guests enjoyed music, food, and wine.

We went the first time at the referral of my former Army supervisor, the same one who encouraged me to audition for the Army Soldier Show. It turned out that he and the owner of the vineyard were old friends. I was happy to see that upon our first visit to jazz night, my former supervisor was there as well, and I secretly hoped that he would talk the owner into letting me play a few songs at some point during the night.

My wish came true when the owner and lead singer had a short, private conversation, then approached me and asked if I’d like to play during their 10-minute break between sets. I happily agreed, as I usually jump at any chance to play anywhere. Though I was unprepared, I knew just what I would play and I sat at our table, anxiously waiting for the current set to end.

Finally, when the band announced they would be back in a few minutes, I made my way up the plywood steps to the piano. I suppose I must look and dress about as conservatively as possible because as I walked by one of the band members I heard him tease, “You gonna play us some Beethoven, honey?” Rather than confronting or acknowledging him in anyway, I went on as if I hadn’t even heard him.

Still battling stage fright, I never looked out at the audience, but I felt the energy rise as I began to play the St Louis Blues boogie-woogie with my left hand. Soon people rose from their seats, pulling their partners to the dance floor. Some even approached the stage to watch my hands as I played. My spirits soared as I finished and received generous applause. I went on to play for the rest of the break and left the stage exhilarated as the regular band took their place. 

After that night, I went back several times and the band recognized me and asked if I would play during their breaks again. I did, and often the drummer and bass both stayed to play with me. I also got several independent gigs from the exposure. At that time, Eddie and I were contemplating our move to NY, and that first Friday night at Cypress Bend is when I really believed that I needed to just go for it. I’m glad I did.  

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Magical Moment 231, "The Drums!"

Whew! Today was the first official day of recording for my EP with Modern Vintage Recordings. After much blood, sweat, and tears, we chose 8 of my songs to track, although 3 of them may still be eliminated. Previously, we recorded very simple guides with only my voice and piano. The musicians use this as a base to record with so they have the feel for the tempo, style, and length of the song.

The first instrument we recorded was drums. Doug Yowell, who has played with Suzane Vega and Duncan Shiek to name a few, was the drummer and he was AMAZING. He recorded 8 tracks in about 4 hours and contributed greatly to the project with his spontaneity and creativity. It's mind boggling to think that he was able to construct such a driving, detailed, and passionate drum arrangement with only an obnoxious click track and rough melody of my scratchy, out of tune voice. It's clear that drums are the backbone and framework for any piece of music and I'm proud to have him play on my EP.

This is a short video of snippets I took from the day. You'll see Doug Yowell at the drums, and one of my producers, Eshy at the controls. You'll hear my clunky piano and icky voice (the final vocal recording is WAY down the line!). I'm thrilled that the first step in my next step went so well. Now that the drums are set, we can continue to weave the rest of the pieces into place!

Here are my blogs in order, as I chronicle my process to record an EP with Modern Vintage Recordings:

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Magical Moment 230, "Over the Rainbow"

This is one of the four pianos outside Lincoln Center that was set up by Sing For Hope in their Play Me, I'm Yours project. This was the first time I had ever been to Lincoln center, and look at that, it was to play a piano! I've been back one time since, and that was for an actual performance in a theatre for a World Mission Foundation fundraiser. Enjoy the video!

To see more photos from the Play Me, I'm Yours project, click here.
To see videos, click here.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Magical Moment 229, "Syke"

On my second day at my new job as a pianist for a ballet school and company, I found myself struggling through the combinations. I thought that certainly after some practice, the job would become easier, but I suddenly found myself over thinking the counts, struggling with intros, and having trouble “squaring off the piece.” I was worried the instructor was getting frustrated at the disruptions. Even worse, the owner of the company, made visits in and out of the class room and I was certain she noticed my fumbles. The mirrored room reflected my image like a string of paper dolls. Every missed count echoed against the walls. Every mistake was magnified by a hundred.

When the night was over, the owner very seriously pulled me aside and asked, “Can you stay a bit after?” I nervously replied that I could and she motioned for me to walk back to her office. As I sat there waiting for her to enter, I actually texted Eddie, “I think I’m about to get fired.” I silently prepared my plea for a second chance, promises to do better, observe more classes, buy more sheet music.

When she came in the room in her very poised and professional demeanor, she said, “Can you work every Tuesday night?” Sheesh! With relief and a smile, I eagerly said yes. She went on to say that the instructor from last Saturday said I did very well for my first time and she was amazed that I could sit there and play all those hours. Now I began to relax. She then handed me a book of sheet music and told me I was free to make copies if I wanted.

I called Eddie afterwards and listened to the reprimand about how I always think the worst of myself. I’m a glass half empty kinda gal. I need to give myself more credit. Believe in myself more. I’m trying. I’m working on it. Looking at myself in a mirror is a good thing. Magnifying each flaw by a hundred is not.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Magical Moment 228, "When Grandpa Got Saved"

I grew up in a Baptist church, attending at minimum 3 times a week - Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evening. On top of that, I went to a Christian school, where we had regular Bible classes and weekly Chapel. Thankfully, I knew from a very young age what “salvation” meant, the importance of prayer, and God’s love and promises.

At the age 4, I asked Jesus to save me, forgive me for my sins, and help me live a life pleasing to Him. After that, I recall very diligently saying my prayers every single night in bed after my dad tucked me in. I did it without being told or reminded. It just became a part of my life. As a child, there were only a few things in my world that made the list of important requests to pray for. I prayed for my dad to quit smoking (which he has since), and for all my family members to get saved if they’re not already, then I listed them by name. Even at that age from grade school and up, the thought of someone I loved passing away without knowing Jesus, terrified me to my very core and completely broke my heart. So if I prayed for nothing else that day, I would at least pray for that.

When I was 16, I sat with my family in the wooden pew of our church for the Sunday evening service. The paper thin walls of the old building suddenly echoed with a loud telephone ring from the front office in the next room. It was a common enough disruption and one I thought nothing of. The pastor’s daughter slipped out to answer the call, and when she came back into the sanctuary, she didn’t sit back in her regular pew. Instead, she walked all the way around to where my family was and tapped my dad on the shoulder, “Rick, your father’s had a heart attack.” My entire body jolted with fear and disbelief. Nothing like this has ever happened to anyone in my family. We’ve all been in excellent health, not so much as a sprained ankle to report for years. We immediately gathered our things and quietly slipped out the back door.

We knew absolutely no other details about my grandpa’s circumstances. This was before the days of cell phones. We drove in silence to the hospital, tense and worried. I think it must have been from the moment I heard the word, “heart attack,” that I began frantically praying. “Dear God, please let grandpa get saved. Dear God, please let grandpa get saved. Dear God, please let grandpa get saved.” I prayed it over and over in my mind until the words ran together and no longer sounded English. But I didn’t stop and that’s all I said. I knew that God knew how much I meant it, how sincere I was, how desperate I was, and He had heard this prayer many times before. This time though, there was a deadline.

The next few days are a blur in my memory. My grandpa went in and out of the hospital and encountered other health problems, more or less spiraling down hill. But every spare second I had, I prayed that prayer for the man who nicknamed me Squeak, lived upstairs from me for 4 years, babysat my sister and I almost daily, and sat quietly and patiently in his rocking chair enjoying the company of his family who he worked and sacrificed for his entire life.

One day, we went to the hospital. My grandma met us at the elevator, her arms were open and her face was lit with utter happiness. What could be happening? Has he recovered? Can he come home? She hugged us all in a frenzy and announced with joyful tears on her face, “You’ll never believe it.” She paused to catch her breath from the excitement, “Your grandpa’s been saved!” I must have choked with relief and gratefulness, beaming from ear to ear. To my unceasing amazement of God’s grace, she continued, “And so have I!”

After that day, I swore that I would never doubt God and that I would always remember what I felt in that moment. A burden of worry had been lifted from my heart. My worst fears had been calmed. God answers prayer, He cares about me, about my family, He loves us, and He wants us to be with Him. My grandpa, Charles Daugherty, passed away not long after that day. I still think of him often and am thankful for the 16 years I knew him. I’m even more thankful that some day I will see him again and he will be reunited with his loving wife. Until then, I know he is enjoying Heaven with his Savior.

John 3:16
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not parish, but have everlasting life.

Romans 10:13
For whosoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Magical Moment 227, "The Ruler of Scrabble"

Scrabble is kind of a special game to my husband and I. We first played it years ago in the Army out of pure boredom. I was the Executive Officer of our Battery and he was the training room NCO, which meant I was his supervisor. Our offices were right next to each other, and as a brand new, na├»ve Second Lieutenant, I depended on his expertise quite a bit in the early days. He was not only a good soldier, but extremely intelligent. Really, he has a genius IQ of 154. Sometimes I like to play a game I call Rain Man, where I throw random, complex math problems at him and watch as he solves them in his head. He doesn’t really care for that game. But I digress.

One day, I came to work to find that several computers had been stolen. As a result of sensitive information being lost, the entire battery was forced to live in the building until someone broke down and confessed. There we were, about 50 us, trapped in a smelly, old, military building for 4 days. We marched to and from the gym to shower in the morning and slept on the floor wherever we could find a vacant space. Of course no one ever did confess and the computers were never found, but in the mean time, Eddie and I had a chance to fall in love. So thanks for that, Army.

We found an old scrabble game and played pretty much the entire 4 days. I never won one single time. I made it my mission in life to beat him and took 20 minutes for each turn, playing out every single possibility, savoring every point I earned. But it was no use. He was too smart.

A short 8 months later, we were married and free to play Scrabble as much as we wanted. We had a Scrabble board permanently set up on our kitchen table for months. And though I tried, I simply could not win. Until one magical day in November of 2007, something amazing happened. I don’t know why, I don’t know how, but I won. I stared in disbelief at the board, frozen for a few minutes. And when reality set in, I started my victory dance.

That was the beginning of my winning streak. A few wins later, I told him that if I won the next game, he would have to sign something that dubbed me the Ruler of Scrabble. Sure enough, I won again and he signed his name at the bottom of my homemade document. (If anyone doubts the validity of it, my first name is actually Mary). Since then, we’ve discovered online Scrabble and generally have about 7 games going at any given time. I beat him in all those too. Not that I’m bragging. He may win the Rain Man game, but I win the game of Scrabble!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Magical Moment 226, "Trial by Fire"

My first day as a pianist for the New Jersey School of Ballet was not a disaster, so I guess that would make it a success? I never thought that sitting at a piano for 7 hours could be so exhausting. And I do mean 7 hours, not so much as a 5 minute break between classes. Each class demanded continuous music from the first exercise to the final minute, to include warm ups, cool downs, and stretching. Midway through the day, the company owner noticed me stretch my aching back and brought a seat cushion for the unforgiving, wooden piano bench. The instructor periodically reminded the dancers, "Tummies in! Head up!" And every time he did, I found that my own posture miraculously improved.

As I expected, the learning curve was steep. I quickly found that many of the pieces I practiced did not fit the atmosphere or style of the classes, so I was forced to play certain songs over and over. Once, I was caught like a deer in the headlights when the instructor raised his hand, cueing me to begin. "...Uh, is this a 4/4 or waltz or...?" I asked my in most professional voice, doing my best to suppress my freak-out mode breeze over the disruption.

I suppose there's no better way to learn than trial by fire. Now there is only room for improvement, which thankfully I will have the opportunity to do. I was grateful and relieved that my few mis-steps, didn't cause the dancers to miss a single one of theirs.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Magical Moment 225, "The Seed Planters"

My grandma is a gardener. There is a square of dirt in her front yard that blossoms into colorful beauty every year. She has personally cultivated every plant from bulb to flower, putting in hours of nurturing care to see that they're brought to their full life and potential.

To me as a child, her yard was a sanctuary of fantasy-like charm, with ancient looking bird baths, decorative stepping stones, hypnotizing gazing balls, butterflies, birds, squirrels, and solemn stone statues to watch vigilantly over everything. Red and pink roses climbed the white siding of her house, using their green, ivy arms to pull them ever upward. My grandpa's bountiful tomato plants became home to a small family of bunnies. Lilac bushes lined the manicured, green lawn, filling the atmosphere with a heavenly aroma.

My grandma has never been one to shy away from work, knowing full well that effort today is required for a result tomorrow. I've seen that in many aspects of her life, from her garden, to raising her children, to learning how to play the piano as a grandma. Now that I'm a little older, I see and know others who also possess a love of gardening. What is it about this hobby that also makes them share this special, mysterious quality? My husband grows spices and tomatoes. My sisters plants flowers, and one time, a single ear of corn. I see it now, and I can agree with certainty. I heard someone say this once, and I thought, That must be it. Gardeners are people who believe in the future.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Magical Moment 224, "Move On"

I’m officially finished with pre-production on my EP with Modern Vintage Recordings. That means…studio time! The first day of recording is set for next week. Today my producer Eshy and I went over the eight song guides with a fine tooth comb, ensuring that everything was in good order for the musicians as they learn and get a feel for each song.

I was very conscious of the fact that this was the last meeting where things were up in the air, optional, still open for discussion. I lingered at the studio today, listening and re-listening to many of our guides, questioning and second guessing some of our previous work. We tweaked, re-did, re-wrote, cut, and copied until all eight were saved on the computer and put into a folder.

I realized that if I had it my way, we might be in pre-production forever. I would never be a hundred percent happy, and if I couldn’t be that, I could never move on. I guess that’s why producers are necessary. Eshy had to snap me out of it. “I’m happy with this, let’s move on” he would say. And after pained contemplation, I would nod, “Yes, let’s move on.” The longer I drag out pre-production with my neurotic perfectionism, the more I procrastinate what matters, and why I’m actually doing this.

I’ve been working so hard to get to this point. Not just in pre-production, but with everything I’ve put Eddie and myself through for the last year, hoping that someday this might happen. I’m worried that I’m not ready, that I won’t do it right, that it won’t be received well, that this might be an utter waste. The longer I drag out pre-production, the longer I don’t have to face those possibilities. But the procrastination is over. And whether I’m ready or not, it’s time to move on.

Here are my blogs in order, as I chronicle my process to record an EP with Modern Vintage Recordings:

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Magical Moment 223, "The Long Route"

I took about a month hiatus from running, not because I was injured, or too busy, or out of town. Just cuz I didn’t wanna. A few days ago, I realized this has probably been the longest break I’ve taken from running in the last 5 years. So, I’ve been getting back into form lately and this morning was my first attempt at the “long route” in quite a while.

I took Joy with me because if she sees me put on my running shoes, she completely flips out and begins howling if I don’t put her leash on her within the next minute or so. She’s usually a pretty good running partner at only 10 months old, though often she tires drastically after the third mile and I feel guilty of animal cruelty for yanking her leash and prodding, “Come on Joy! Keep going!” She also gets distracted by things like squirrels and Burger King wrappers blowing in the street. But today, she was a different dog. She ran me into the ground.

It made me think of my old dog, Duchess, who at 12 years old would run 6 miles with me and still be pulling my arm out of its socket as I stumbled to keep up with her. And there is nothing like a good, long run to make you feel healthy, productive, and strong. As I spent the day putting my energy to good use, poor Joy’s energy was totally depleted. She spent the day sacked out on the living room floor. What a good dog, because I know she’ll do it all again with me on Friday. 

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Magical Moment 222, "Fake the Funk"

In the Army, we used the expression, “fake the funk,” a phrase I always thought sounded gross for some reason. But it basically means, if you don’t know what the heck you’re doing, act like you do and people generally won’t notice the difference. This is something I fear I will be doing in my new position as a ballet class accompanist for a few weeks until I get the hang of things.

I observed a class today and was exhausted by the end of the 1 ½ hour session just watching the pianist. The mental focus of reading the instructors mind, and silently counting with the accuracy of a metronome totally drained me. And on my first day, I’ll be playing for about 8 hours straight. I’m praying there’s a lot of children’s classes scheduled for Saturday. (Can you ballet to the Itsy Bitsy Spider?)

When I got home, I tore apart my horribly overstuffed and disorganized music shelf for anything that sounded a little more ballet-ish. I would imagine there might be some funny looks when the instructor says, “and plie 5, 6, 7, 8,” and I start hammering out St Louis Blues. But today I found the holy grail of all my ballet music needs…a fake book of the great composers! Three hundred pages of everything from Beethoven’s “Fur Elise,” to Ballets and Operas by Mozart, dumbed down to a 3rd grade level with the chords marked. Now, I stink at sight-reading, but I think even I can read a 3rd grade level. Throw a few chords on top of the melody and ta da! Adagios, cut time, duple meters, you name it, I got it. I’m hoping this little handy dandy fake book will be just the tool I need to confidently fake the funk. I mean, fake the Virtuosa.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Magical Moment 221, "Lightning in a Bottle"

Somehow, someway, I got a job as a pianist at a very prestigious ballet school and company as an on-staff accompanist. I responded to the add, like so many others, one of a dozen expecting never to hear from them. But one day they called me in for an audition.

Caught completely off guard, I asked what sheet music they would like me to play. The director explained that it's not so much what you play, but how you play it. The accompanist must watch the ballet instructor as she demonstrates an 8 count dance combination for the class. Based on her vocabulary (adagio, degage, etc) and physical movements, the pianist chooses an appropriate 8, 16, or 32 bars to play.

When I drove in for the interview/audition, I observed an experienced accompanist and scribbled notes on a scratch piece of paper for future reference as he skillfully played without question or hesitation for each combination. The class moved so quickly, I was sure I would never get the hang of it. The director asked me to play so I chose the only 8 bars of Chopin I know. I also improvised a few other rhythms that she spontaneously tapped out out. A week later, to my surprise, I was offered the job.

Now the panic really begins. I'll be playing for seven hours straight. I've spent the last few days dissecting all the music I think might be appropriate for a ballet class into measures of 8, so I don't get confused in the middle of a song. Youtube and Google have been my best friends as I figure just what goes on in the illusive, disciplined world of ballet. I'm wishing I had paid more attention in freshmen music theory class when we discussed all those Latin and Italian words that were written at the top of a piece of music.

Whatever happens on my first day (Saturday, eek!), I'm thankful for the position. I know this will be great experience as a musician and certainly sharpen my skills and broaden my horizons. Here is a video from my practice session today. Like lightning in a bottle, here I am playing a classical song, "Prelude in E Minor" by Chopin. I loved the soundtrack to the Pianist so much, I bought the music and learned the easiest piece in the book, which happened to be this one. Still very beautiful. Enjoy.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Magical Moment 220, "As Time Goes By"

Here is a video from the Play Me I'm Yours project shot at the Staten Island Ferry Terminal. Time certainly does go by. I can't believe I've already been here for nearly a year and I feel like I've barely begun. Enjoy the video, special appearance by Joy S. Grimes.

For more videos from the Play Me I'm Yours project, click here.
For photos, click here.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Magical Moment 219, "The 1,463rd Name"

She pulled her jacket tight around her shoulders and shifted uncomfortably in the metal folding chair that sat in the morning shadow of the building lined street. The chill of the early day made her shiver. The stage and podium were set up only a few rows in front of her, giving her an unblocked view. She waited in nervous silence, her trembling hands clutched the tissue that she held to her face to catch her uncontrolled tears. The eerie feeling of both sorrow and dread was now a familiar, annual event.

The bell rang at 8:46, sending a jolting chill up her spine as she released a suppressed sob into her tissue. She closed her eyes, and again, let her mind torment her with what he may have experienced at that exact moment nine years ago. Maybe he felt the ground underneath him give way. Maybe he tried to call her. Maybe he prayed, cried, ran. She shuddered again, and felt the comforting hand of a stranger on her shoulder.

She listened as the names were read out loud with similar inflection and rhythm. First name, middle initial, last name. Some readers stumbled over the names, some choked up with emotion, some remained solemn and steady. Name after name, she waited, feeling alone but strangely connected to the crowd around her who watched and waited in alike demeanor.

A surge of apprehension, panic, and longing suddenly ran through her as she realized they were in the “R’s” now. She braced herself, tensed her muscles, held her breath. She wondered if they would pronounce it correctly. She wondered if they would skip over it, and then maybe it never happened. She wondered what she would feel, if it would be different than the past 8 times she sat here. She stopped her racing mind in time to hear. It was read. Later, she couldn’t say if it was a man or women who read the name, or how they said it, just like that day when everything was an indiscernible, surreal blur. Only that in those few seconds, she felt her body release the tension and pain that had been building up inside her for weeks as this event loomed. Hearing it read, loud and amplified for thousands, millions to hear made her proud, though her heart still broke daily for her loss.

She listened to the “S’s” through “Z’s,” feeling that a cloud had lifted slightly. She still sobbed, but now she sobbed for the strangers who waited for their own loved one's name to be read. She saw the man in front of her violently shake his shoulders as his head sank with sorrow. She reached up with her gloved hand and placed it gently on the man’s back for a moment.

The hours went by in somber languidness, and finally at the end, she walked to the reflecting pool. She pulled the single rose from her coat and kissed it. She looked down into the water as a tear fell from her face and made a small ripple in the mirror image. Her reflection appeared distorted and only partially visible because of the thousands of other roses that already filled the small fountain. And with a final breath and prayer, she let go of her rose.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Magical Moment 218, "One World Trade Center"

I don’t think the anniversary of 9/11 should feel like a storm brewing. Unfortunately, on this eve of the 9th anniversary, that’s exactly what it feels like. I suppose it has something to do with this being my first 9/11 in this area, about 25 minutes from where the World Trade Centers fell. The drama of the proposed Islamic Center and Koran burning has taken over not only the national news, but every local TV and radio station as well. The wind has picked up outside. The trees are swaying uneasily in the gray, cloudy sky as we brace ourselves for the chaos, protests, and rallies that will surely ensue tomorrow on the sacred ground where so many people lost their lives.

It has become the “where were you” question of my generation. I was asleep. A freshman at UNL, my classes that day didn’t start until 11 so I slept late when my dad abruptly woke me and told me to watch the news. Against my parent’s wishes, I went to class that morning on the city bus. Of course, no one could concentrate on anything. One of my professors even broke down in tears mid-lecture. It was surreal, unbelievable, unthinkable, yet it happened. And here, the memories of that day are all too fresh and painful. My neighbor still has respiratory problems after going into the city days after the attack. I’ve heard stories of how the dust, rubble, and smell made its way across the Hudson and settled dozens of miles out.

And sadly, the memory of those lost is being overshadowed by drama, controversy, and division. Tomorrow, perhaps I would have taken the bus to Ground Zero to pensively remember that day. But I only feel disgust because I know that 2 groups have scheduled protests, and a “Christian” preacher has threatened to, in terrorist like fashion, portray hypocrisy, disrespect, and hate that would surely break Jesus’s heart. The NYPD will be there, on full alert, not because of the threat of outside terrorist, but because of the predicted local dispute that may escalate to danger or violence.

Since I won’t visit in person tomorrow, I decided to do a little research on the progress of the memorial’s construction site. I’ve walked by the gaping hole in lower Manhattan often enough, but haven’t really learned the details of the future building. It will actually be one large building, rather than two towers, and when finished, will be the tallest building in America. A park will be adjacent to the One World Trade Center, where the largest man-made waterfall will be constructed along with a 9/11 museum. And below, will be one enormous transportation hub, connecting subways, trains, and ferries. As for the progress of construction, workers say they complete one floor of the One World Trade Center every 7 to 8 days, and right now they have roughly 30 floors complete. 

This information encourages me and makes me optimistic in light of the gathering storm I fear will blow tomorrow. Although the process takes time and encounters many obstacles, it’s getting there. And when complete, it will be stronger and more beautiful than ever. Symbolic in so many ways. I encourage everyone to think about that tomorrow.

Take a moment to watch this video about the details of the One World Trade Center and memorial construction project. 

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Magical Moment 217, "Ducks, Leaves, and Boots"

There’s a chill in there air now. It’s strange to think that just last week we ran our window air conditioner full blast and now I have to bundle up with a sweatshirt to walk Joy in the morning. Fall is by far my favorite of the seasons. I love the colors, the crisp air, and bringing all my jackets and sweaters to the front of my closet. And boots. Let’s not forget it’s boot season.

I think what makes fall so very special, is that it seems shorter and less appreciated than the other seasons. There is a solid 3 months of summer, and yes it goes by quickly, but we certainly know for a fact it’s there and take advantage of every minute. Spring blurs together with summer, making it feel longer than it is. But fall is overshadowed by the long, never ending winters and anticipation of the holiday season. No one rejoices on the first official day of fall, but rather they mourn over the end of summer. No one mourns over the last day of fall, but rather rejoices over the first snowfall.  And like so many other things, I have to root for the under dog.

So, in officially declaring fall my favorite season, I’m going to dig out one of my favorite childhood stuffed animals, a duck named Autumn, and dub her the mascot of the next 3 months. I’ll brush the lint from my favorite belted trench coat, and soak up the beauty and color of the season in my ever classic brown leather boots. Fall is making a come back.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Magical Moment 216, "A Good Problem"

Another week, another production meeting with Modern Vintage Recordings. I was still feeling the momentum from last week’s stroke of creative genius when I arrived at the Lower East Side studio this morning. It turns out, so was my producer and again, we found ourselves overflowing with new ideas and struggling to eliminate the surplus. I thought that by developing a very specific concept and style for my EP, it would finally allow us to decide on a firm 5 songs so we can begin the much anticipated recording process. Oh how I was wrong.

I played what I believed were my strongest songs that told “my story” the best. My producer nodded in agreement and then highlighted the song titles on the “definite list.” The trouble is, by the end of the session we had 8 titles instead of our goal of only 5. And there we were again, needing to cross off a song, but not being able to hit the delete button. And finally my producer (his name is Eshy by the way) threw up his hands and said in his thick, barely discernable, Israeli accent, “We’re just gonna track all 8 for now and see what happens later.” He went on to explain that the pickle we’ve found ourselves in, is actually a good one. Too many strong songs is far better than having too few.

So our final decision on the final 5 songs, is heck with 5. We have 8. The musicians will play 8. We’ll record 8. And sometime in the future, we’ll make a cut, or 2, or 3. So in my opinion, our “good” little problem has an even better solution.

Here are my blogs in order, as I chronicle my process to record an EP with Modern Vintage Recordings:

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Magical Moment 215, "Whale Watching"

Yesterday was a truly amazing and magical day. Eddie and I spent the day in Gloucester, MA and bought last minute tickets for a whale watching tour. It was about a 7 hour trip all together. We left the port and traveled over 2 hours in the Atlantic to our destination where a large group of hump back whales were feeding off the coast of Boston.

As we approached, our guide (who knew all the whales by name) announced over the loud speakers that she spotted whales ahead on the horizon. At once, all the passengers crowded to the bow of the boat, straining our eyes to see. She described the sight as a puff of smoke coming off the water. I had trouble spotting it at first, but soon understood what she meant. I was thankful to see that from afar and had no idea what was in store as we inched closer to them.

Suddenly I realized that they were all around us. We were in the center of about 30 hump back whales. We stayed in the area for about an hour and a half and gazed with dropped jaws at the majestic creatures. They moved slow and graceful. It was absolutely surreal to see them in the ocean, naturally feeding and living in their environment as opposed to a Plexiglas swimming pool in the middle of Texas. I was both humbled and amazed. I put together some footage that Eddie and I took of the whales. The last few seconds, you'll see as we're driving away, dozens of "puffs" all around us. Enjoy.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Magical Moment 214, "An Ocean Haiku"

One ray on one wave.
Countless ripples ocean wide.
The ray turns to stars.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Magical Moment 213, "New York New York"

This is a video Eddie took at Gantry Plaza State Park in Queens when I toured 60 pianos throughout the city's 5 boroughs for the Play Me, I'm Yours project. This park was right on the water with an amazing view of Manhattan. I felt inspired to play New York New York. The song says, "If I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere," but I often find myself thinking, "If I can make it anywhere, I'll be happy." I'm laughing, but it's so true. Enjoy the video. Forgot to mention it's a duet with random heavy machinery and vehicles driving around and making beeping sounds. Makes it sound very New York New York.

To see photos from the project, click here.
To see more videos, click here.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Magical Moment 212, "Fifteen Down"

Eddie and I set a goal 3½ years ago on our very first date. We had an unusual romance and by the time we went on our first date, we knew we would be spending the rest of our lives together. It was a typical evening – dinner, movie, dancing – but we had to travel to another state to do it. See, we were in hiding because of our forbidden love. Okay, insert looong story here if you’re interested.

We kept the ticket stubs from our first date, as is the sentimental thing to do. We saw Night at the Museum with Ben Stiller at a South Carolina movie theatre. Then Eddie had a brilliant idea. We should see a movie in every state, and keep the ticket stubs as a memento. And without hardly trying, we soon had 15 ticket stubs under our belt, thanks to the Army Soldier Show. I toured across the country with the show and Eddie would travel to visit me every chance possible. We would steal away when time allowed and go see a movie.

Visiting family made it easy too, with me from Nebraska and Eddie from Texas. And since our move to New Jersey, we easily knocked out NJ, NY, PA, and CT. We keep the stubs in a small zip loc bag in a wooden drawer and continue to add to it whenever we can.

Thanks to this 3 day Labor Day weekend, we hope to knock out at least Massachusetts. If we’re feelin crazy, maybe we’ll get Rhode Island in there too. And after we get the 50 states knocked out, maybe, just maybe, we’ll start on countries next. 

Friday, September 3, 2010

Magical Moment 211, "The Subway Preacher"

I’ve become pretty familiar with the subway system in New York City. I no longer need my laminated, color-coded map to live permanently in my purse like a security blanket when I venture to places in the city. I’ve seen, heard, and experienced a smorgasbord of cultures, music, and customs in those underground, cement tunnels. Chilly in the winter and stagnantly suffocating in the summer, the subway system is truly a unique city below the city.

Once I saw an old man who had dragged his enormous heavy wooden harp two stories below ground to play on the platform for spare change. His talent astounded me and I thought, I would pay to hear this man on a stage. Other times, the sights are heart breaking. The homeless trying to keep warm in the winter or just looking for a dry spot to sit, hoping a passerby will feel compassion and drop in some change. There are the “regulars” – like the man when I switch from the 7 to the 6, who plays hymns on his Native American flute. And there are some with zero talent, just hoping to attract enough attention to make a few bucks. It usually works.

Yesterday I walked the long, tiled tunnel in a hurry. Walking for blocks underground in a space with zero air ventilation causes general crabbiness for the thousands that bustle through the stairs and walkways everyday, and I am no exception. I find myself annoyed as I get unwanted flyers shoved in my face. Someone once even told me when the world was going to end…July 2012 I think, so keep that in mind.

I saw ahead in my foresight, a man trying to hand out pamphlets but being rejected with every effort. His spirits stayed strong, and even heightened. I gradually guided myself away from him, looking down so as not to make eye contact. I learned very quickly that any hint of politeness is taken advantage of, but I still find myself struggling with the idea of passing without some form of acknowledgement. Don’t look, don’t look, I told myself. Ah! Too late. He got me. I grasped the paper that he offered to me and made eye contact with him. As I did, I saw a very sincere look of gratefulness and friendliness in his eyes, and in return I offered him a warm smile in spite of myself.
“Ah look at that,” He said in his thick, possibly Jamaican accent. “She accepts it with a smile! God bless you my sister. Thank you for your kindness!”
My smile lingered as I continued to walk without slowing down, but I looked back over my shoulder and saw his authentic, kind energy overflowing still as he thanked me again over the crowd, and then turned his attention to a new group of passengers.

I looked down at the pamphlet in my hand. Oh yes, I’ve seen this before. It was the very simple laid out plan of salvation. I shoved it in my purse making a mental note to pass it on to another stranger in the near future. Then I said a quick prayer for the subway preacher, that his message reaches someone today. He certainly reached me.

“...The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
 –Romans 6:23

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Magical Moment 210, "My Story"

Today was a great production meeting. First thing, my producer asked me if I had any concerns so far. I told him that I was very concerned that maybe we hadn’t chosen the right 5 songs for my EP with Modern Vintage Recordings. As much as I love the ones on the list right now, they are going to be my only 5 until I can afford to finish the album and I want them to be just right. He completely understood and together, we went back through and re-listened to all of my songs.

For the first time, I showed him my blog. I told him stories of where and how I grew up, about my nephews, about my husband. I showed him online pictures from my Army days. I showed him the 82nd Airborne Memorial with Kevin’s name on it. After a time of honest and easy flowing conversation, he told me with conviction that I have a unique story to tell, and the songs I choose for this EP should express that story. I don’t want an EP that says, “Here are 5 really nice songs.” I want it to say, “Here is who I am as an artist and this is how I got to be that way.”

Almost immediately, our creative juices began to flow and we both spouted out a cluster of new ideas and suggestions. We both grew more and more excited as we saw the story shape itself. He sent me home with a big assignment. He told me the direction we go with this is completely up to me. I am to spend the next several days seriously contemplating my “story” and how to portray it best through my songs. I’m SO excited and want to share all of my thoughts with you all right now, but I also want you to be in suspense so that you buy the EP! All I’ll say right now is that "Sick and Tired" is back on the table and “Mary’s Lullaby” is going to be AMAZING!

The songs I choose for this EP will be more than a song, more than a story, they’ll be an actual part of myself. And my prayer is that when people listen, they will hear the depth and message in each song and that even though it is my story, they too can identify with it as they live out their own story. 

Here are my blogs in order, as I chronicle my process to record an EP with Modern Vintage Recordings: