June: Daily Improvisations

Each day in June I’m going to try to do a little morning improv, just something simple to get my creative brain ready for the day. Here’s the first one! Follow my Soundcloud profile for more as I add them.

#MusicAndMentalHealth: Give Yourself Permission

As this post goes up, I’m in all likelihood stretched out on a beach or in a hammock (the rainy season is starting in early this year) in Cahuita, Costa Rica.

I’ve been invited to stay with friend and fellow trombonist Gabe and her mom. We’ll take in Cahuita National Park, the Museo de Cacao, and local culture. I am incredibly excited; I’ve only spent a few hours in Costa Rica itself but I have a soft spot for the Caribbean and the Central American countries from my time on cruise ships.

Giving myself permission to buy a plane ticket and take time off from work and potential gigs was incredibly difficult. I knew the minute Gabe invited me that I would go, but I had to give myself all kinds of pep talks to actually make it happen. It’s so hard, as a freelance musician and a self-employed educator, to walk away from work during the regular season. It’s easier over winter holidays, when students are not in school and wanting a break, or in the summer when things are light anyway, but mid-May? C’mon! On top of that, how will my chops feel when I get back? What will I have lost, musically.

The answer? Nothing. Sure, it’ll take a few days to feel normal again, but in reality, I’ll have gained. My skills will not suffer in the long run for a week off. Years ago, I would panic at the idea of not playing for whatever period of time- a few days, a week, a month (ok, but to be real, I probably couldn’t go a month just yet :/). Eventually, I began to realize that time off is truly musically valuable. It gives your brain a chance to recuperate, incorporate old habits, and simmer on new experiences and ideas.

As for teaching and playing, taking a vacation is not going to mean I lose students or gigs. They will still all be there- because everyone understands the value of time away. I recently saw a claim that Americans work more days that medieval peasants. I laughed aloud- and then I sobbed a bit. I don’t even have a 9-to-5 job, but I do work in the ever-growing gig economy, which might grind even harder that the 40 hours a week crowd. We don’t have health insurance provided for us, after all, and our income depends on how hard we hustle.

So, giving myself permission to leave is hard. I’m getting better at it, though. And I give you permission to take a break, too.

 

New Theme for April: Teaching and Learning

Hi all, and welcome to April! It was a blast to spend the first three months of this year focusing on a particular topic and developing my website content around it, and so I’ve decided to carry on the theme!

In April, you’ll be seeing posts, links, and resources dedicated to teaching, teachers, and learning and educational theory. This could include a link to something new in music education, observations from my own lessons or experience, and spotlights on educators who inspire me.

Instead of doing a weekly Monday blog, I’m going to start a teaching ‘journal’, aka I’ll be posting in pseudo-real time about experiences I’ve had in lessons with my students during the week and my thoughts on what that means or what I have learned. I want to dive into my teaching philosophy and start to craft language around what I believe as an educator.

On Wednesdays look for the #TeacherFeature (a la #WomanCrushWednesday), in which I’ll highlight an educator who’s really making me think about best practices and making a difference.

Fridays will still be Challenges, so look for prompts on things related to your own educational and learning experiences.

And, fingers crossed, you should start seeing my new video series on brass tone & sound production, aimed at beginners but useful to all, popping up on YouTube this month!

I hope you enjoy the theme and its content this month! I’m off to start plotting my very first #TCT. 🙂

#WCW: Indie Rocker Neko Case

Welcome back to #wcw (aka Woman Crush Wednesday) on my blog for Women’s History Month! I’m featuring  a musical artist every Wednesday who has inspired me and driven me to expand and develop my own art in new ways.

Today I want to highlight probably my all-time favorite rocker (of any gender) and songwriter, whose music has given me strength, vulnerability, and beauty, and who drops amazing truths on Twitter when I’m least expecting them. Please welcome to the blog, Ms Neko Case!

seriously look at this boss babe, #goals

Neko is best known for her solo career, and for her part in the indie rock band The New Pornographers. She started off as a drummer, joining the punk scene at the tender age of 14 and playing the scene in the Pacific Northwest. She dived into country early in her solo career with the 1997 album The Virginian,  with her vocals being compared to Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn.

She teamed up with The New Pornographers in 2000 on their debut album, and remains a staple lead & backing vocalist with the band. Personal note: NP is where I first heard her voice, but I had no idea she had a solo career until much later.

I discovered her solo work in 2006, when someone recommended I pick up a copy of Fox Confessor Brings the Flood. I could hardly believe a human could have such a clear, expressive voice.

I remember bus rides in winter, Minneapolis, on my way to work downtown, immersed in this open and mysterious sound unlike anything I’d ever heard. I would often get so tied to hearing a song all the way through I would frequently be late to my destination.

It was easy to delve into the rest of her back catalogue from there, and continue to follow her career. 2009’s Middle Cyclone was an absolutely godsend.

As a songwriter, Case intentionally writes poetic lyrics open for the listener’s interpretation:

“My intention is often to get people engaged in the story, and maybe be able to put themselves in the story, because that’s what I really love in other people’s songwriting,” she says. “A lot of classic pop songs are written about things that are as popular as love or whatever, but they don’t give you a time or place, and they remain kind of magical somehow. Unfortunately, I’m a little wordier than somebody like Cole Porter, so mine are definitely little black holes of stories, little rabbit holes of stories.” source

Neko Case is also an outspoken feminist and champion of women’s voices, but she also fights to be seen as a musician first. Famously, when Playboy reviewed her 2014 album The Worse Things Get the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight the More I Love You with the lede “Artist Neko Case is breaking the mold of what a woman in music should be”, Neko fired off a tweet reading, “Am I? IM NOT A F*ING “WOMAN IN MUSIC”, IM A F*ING MUSICIAN IN MUSIC!” and took off on a tear from there. Her point? First off, look at the artist first. Understand the value of the music for its humanity and depth. Secondly, ‘should be’ is such a prescriptive, horrible, backhanded compliment. There is no one way to be a woman working in the music industry. It’s part of a larger problem in society that tries to mold female expression into particular boxes that can be segmented off from one another, can be seen as ‘other’ and therefore either an exception or somehow less valuable than the default male musical voice.

Neko is about to release her first new solo album in nearly 5 years in June, and I couldn’t be more excited. A clip of the first single and title track, “Hell-On” has been released and features Case (and some slithery friends) singing lyrics about God in her trademark mysterious and erudite style.

You should tap into her catalogue, and follow her on Twitter (@nekocase), right this minute! It’s music for any time of day or mood, but it’s perfect for right now. Enjoy!

#WCW: Sitar Star Anoushka Shankar

Welcome to the first edition of #wcw (aka Woman Crush Wednesday) on my blog for Women’s History Month! I’m featuring  a musical artist every Wednesday who has inspired me and driven me to expand and develop my own art in new ways.

Those of you who know me personally will not be surprised by the first honoree. For the past month or so since discovering her music I have been absolutely immersed in it, listening to little else in favor of catching up on her back catalogue and live performances. So without further ado, please meet Anoushka Shankar!

Sitarist Anoushka Shankar performs at blueFROG Amphitheatre, in Pune on Friday. PTI Photo

You may recognize the family name, and the instrument: she is indeed the daughter of famous sitarist Ravi Shankar, who came to fame in the Western music scene through the influence of the Beatles in the 60s. Anoushka was born in London in 1981 and grew up between London, Delhi, and California. Her half-sister, Norah Jones, is also a musician.

[When I say “Woman Crush Wednesday” I really mean it here: Anoushka and I are the same age, and we both went to high school in San Diego, which means WE TOTALLY COULD HAVE BEEN FRIENDS AHHHH]

She began studying sitar with her father as teacher at age 7, and grew up performing with him on stage. By 17 she had released her first album, Anoushka, and others quickly followed. She became the first woman and the youngest-ever nominee for a Grammy in World Music in 2003.

In her recent career, Anoushka has blazed a trail through modern music, combining jazz, Western classical, flamenco, electronica, and pop with her Indian classical training. She frequently performs her father’s works as well as her own.

Right this minute, you should make some time to listen to her 2013 album, Traveller. 

Combining Indian classical traditions with Spanish flamenco, Traveller is built around the idea that flamenco may have had origins in India.

“In Indian music, we call it ‘spirituality,’ and in Spanish music, it’s ‘passion,'” Shankar says. “It’s really the same thing in both forms, that reaching at the deepest part of the human soul.” -Interview for the LA Times, April 21, 2012

I’ve been most captivated by her newest work, Land of Gold, dedicated to the victims and survivors of the humanitarian crisis in Syria and refugees from other embattled nations. Central to the compositions are women’s voices:

Separate from my desire to have an established core sound at the musical heart of this album, thematically, I wanted to integrate the authority of the female voice, and the drive for women to establish personal autonomy and dignity in situations where the female perspective is often, sometimes forcibly, subdued.  –Land of Gold album notes

Guest artists on the album include hip-hop artist M.I.A and actress & activist Vanessa Redgrave reading the poetry of Pavana Reddy.

Favorite tracks: Crossing the Rubicon, Remain the Sea]

More than anything what has drawn me to Anoushka Shankar in recent weeks is the pure passion and creativity with which she approaches her work. She sits comfortably on stage, brings her in collaborators with smiles and moments of shared groove, and invites the audience to feel the music with her- it is art and love and joy.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

[Shankar is touring the US this month & next: find her at the Big Ears Festival in Tennessee, playing Philip Glass with the Pacific Symphony in California and at Carnegie Hall in NY]