Saturday, August 2, 2014


I know, I know. You're thinking "What the heck does gardening have to do with music?" Well, for me it has everything to do with it. Let me count the ways...well that could take many posts so I'll just keep it simple for now.

Nature inspires me. It inspires me in ways I can't really put into words. And thus, it inspires my music. The times when I feel closest to the divine are not in a church or place of worship. It's not from reading books or going to classes. I feel the presence of the Divine most when I am among the trees, singing to the rhythms of Earth. Harmonizing with the wind. Feeling the passion of a campfire. Letting my emotions flow with the rivers and rain. Letting my spirit rise and fall with the sun and moon.

I am a nature's child through and through. For as long as I can remember I have had a kinship with trees and plants and dirt. You know the bumper sticker "Tree hugging dirt worshiper."? Yeah...that's me. Growing up I would spend hours upon hours outside in my mountain hometown playing with rocks, and talking to the trees (yes literally.) I had deep connections with certain trees and plants and was devastated if one had to be cut down or was diseased etc. I still do. Everywhere you went nature was abundant and permeated everything. I really think I started learning how to sing by listening to birds outside my window and finding the rhythms in the woodpecker's hammering. When still enough and in the right head space away from the craziness of humanity, I can hear Mother Earth's drone. The low hum of foundation that is the basis for all of life's melodies.

The first song I ever wrote was randomly on a hike in woody hills outside of Santa Cruz. I was there for a semi-annual women's retreat I go to and walking back from a labyrinth that sits above the camp. The rhythm of my feet and the wind in the trees suddenly inspired me out of nowhere. I brought the small simple chant back to the circle that evening and taught it to the other women.

She is earth and sky and sea
All we are and wish to be
She is you and you are me
She is all we see!

Before I knew it, they had turned this quiet simple chant into an incredible round, right in front of me! It was one of THE most magical experiences I've ever been a part of. My creation seeded in the hearts of my sisters and flowered into something I never thought possible.

This is the inspiration that nature places with me so it really isn't a wonder why my musical "spark" kind of withered away when I was living in the concrete jungle. Surrounded by noisy cars and smog and loud obnoxiousness I got numb and my muse got buried under the soot. I longed to be in nature but wasn't in a place to be out very often. I hurt my back and could hardly leave my bedroom for several months. Thing after thing just kept me from being in the trees.

Finally, last year we were given the opportunity to finally get out of the abyss of an apartment we were living in. Our dear friend Anne had space in her unit and needed roommate/s. It was small, and a little out of the way, but it was safe and quiet. And the big plus for me? A backyard with an overgrown garden space that was just begging to be cultivated. We were accepted onto the lease and with it given permission to do pretty much whatever we wanted to the yard as long as it was taken care of. We are also right on the edge of the San Pablo Reservoir and many trails and wilderness areas. We can hear coyotes up on the hill at night, and often I walk out to the hoots of owls in the early hours of dawn when I leave for work. Happy doesn't begin to describe my state of mind. It's where my soul needed to be.

Over the last few months I have made a garden. My back prevents me from doing all the work I'd like to do, but I do have helpful minions and the best thing of all is I now have a sacred quiet space that I have cultivated and grown from seed into tomato plants, herbs and beautiful flowers. I've watched it grow and new things pop up every day that just astound me. Beautiful flowers I've never seen before, colors that I didn't know existed and food that nourishes me in ways I never thought. I marvel at the intricacies of each leaf, each flower and each fruit. Eating food that I've grown is one of the most satisfying feelings! I am able to spend time there just about every day either tending or just enjoying the space surrounded by living things that I have fostered and raised!

And guess what? My inspiration has come back! My muse is flowering with marvel I see each and every day in the nature that surrounds my new home. And with the cultivation of my plants, I am in turn cultivating my music as well. I've started writing! Actually fully writing music! The spark that ignited my desire to write music at Clockwork is now being sustained. I don't know where it's headed, and it's a LONG way from being anything solid like an album or anything, but I'm CREATING again!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Songwriting. The start of a long awaited journey.

It's funny how a small thing can change things so dramatically. A simple conversation. A validation from a highly respected source. A single word of encouragement timed just right. Somehow, these small things are the ones that change our lives, and change the world! That is what happened to me the weekend we went to a  panel with the musical guests at the Clockwork Alchemy Steampunk convention in San Jose. I just thought it would be fun to attend but didn't think much of it beyond that. As the panel continued I got up the nerve to ask a question that in all honesty was afraid I'd be looked down on for. I felt kind of fan-girl like and felt like I was probably going to be treated as such. But I did it anyway and because of that one move, incredible things transpired. It's amazing what happens when you bite the bullet and "Just do it!"

My question was basically asking how to get started in and breaking into other genre's being trained as an Opera singer. Where should I start? The resulting responses were incredibly supportive. The whole panel had so much to say and constructive ideas that just kept coming. A couple even took the time AFTER the panel to talk to me personally and give me some amazing information and ideas and "homework." I wasn't just a "fan girl" (well ok, I was kinda fan-girl-squeeing inside during this whole process :P ) but was looked at as another musician and treated with that respect. Not that it hasn't happened before, but this was a different environment with musicians that I've listened to on records but never met. People who when it came down to it, even though I had looked on them as "idols" before, were just like me!

The next day I attended a Song Craft workshop with most of the same musicians that were at the panel plus a couple. A series of exercises led us to compose a song, lyrics and music, in groups that we performed at the end of the workshop. It was amazing! I ended up collaborating on lyrics with three other people and writing a good chunk of the music to a waltz that I even now kinda fiddling with. Each group took turns performing our song and it led into an open Jam session that I got to be a part of and got to sing in. It lit a fire inside that is still burning. I've actually started to write music regularly. Most of it is notes and pieces and small recordings here and there, but I'm actually doing it!

Music has always been such a huge part of my life. People that know me at all really, know that. I was in every school music club I could get into, I majored in Vocal music in college, and I've been involved in varied classical groups over the years. I've found my way into some amazing circles that I cherish greatly. But I've always felt like I was meant for something bigger but I didn't know how or what that looked like and I have spent most of the time paralyzed by fear. Fear of disappointing people. Fear of not being good enough to hang with the big guns. Fear of letting go and being myself. Fear of not being
'exactly' what a certain group needs. Fear of...well everything really. Fear has paralyzed me from so much that I didn't even try. Don't get me wrong, I love Opera and Early music and will always love performing in Operas and groups like Revels and In Bocca al Lupo, but my heart longs for something different as well. Something unique. Something that isn't just imitating other's styles and expectations. Something different and boundary smashing.

My own personal taste in music is probably one of the most eclectic of anyone I know. If you look at my music collection you will find everything from Cecilia Bartoli to Nightwish to Lady Gaga (yes...I have some guilty pop music pleasures I admit) and everything in between. My favorite genre's of late are indy crossover conglomerations that take anything and everything and hit frappe in a blender! Rock opera, gypsy electronica, classical dub step, boom swing etc etc. What I listen to is not held back by limits. So why should what music I produce be limited either? Why do I have to be confined to what I was "trained" in? I seem to get this vibe from some of the classical music community that it's classical or nothing! That no other kind of music is good enough or "real" music. That if you are trained in Opera, Opera is what you stick with, forever. That classical music is to be done a certain way or it isn't worth the time or respect. Well you know what? I call BULLSHIT! It's time to broaden my performance to see what I can do. Who knows what will show up?

I've always longed to be a songwriter but have been afraid that I didn't have what it took. So I write a few lines of poetry here and there, never to be seen by another pair of eyes besides my own. I hum some things in the woods when by myself, never to be heard by another set of ears. I've written a couple little chants and were well received but overall I just didn't think I had what it took. But deep down, more than just about anything, this is where I feel I need to go with my music. How am I to get any better if I don't try? If I don't "JUST DO IT!" Yes I know there isn't much money in it, and it'll be hard and frustrating and I will scrunch up a lot of pages of notes and have fights with other musicians. But ultimately if I were to look back on my life on my death bed, this is the one BIG thing I would regret if I didn't at least give it a decent go. I go!