Goodbye My Friend

Terri Allen

Terri Allen

 

 

 

This is tough…This is not the post I planned to write today, in fact, it’s not a post I ever imagined having to write. How do you write a post to say goodbye to someone you never expected to go? Someone whose last conversation with you was full of ideas for new projects and plans to get together in just a few weeks? Suddenly the fragility and unfairness of life have come crashing in and I am stunned.

 

 

Spouse and I consider the Washington, DC area to be our hometown. This was the place he, Spawn, and I began our life together. In the ten years we lived there we made many friends who became family. It was also where I found my first artistic family, in which Terri Allen played a major part. She was part of a group of musicians, artists, and actors who took me under their wing, and became my first friends and mentors.

 

 

To be honest, I don’t really recall my first meeting with Terri. Suddenly she was just there, a part of it all, helping, advising, and being my friend. Terri with her great laugh, exuberant hair and huge heart could always be counted on to listen, support, and to offer wisdom when needed.

Terri understood commitment whether it was to a lyric, a project or a friend.  And once she committed she worked! She was not one to come up with an idea and let others do the heavy lifting; If she proposed a project she could be counted on to put her entire being into its success.

 

 

I never knew Terri to hold a grudge, spread gossip or say an unkind word about another performer. We shared a goal of creating a community of singers bonded by a mutual love of music. We wanted a place where people felt welcome and supported each other.  To this day, the DC community is the warmest most open group of people I have ever had the privilege to know. Much of this is due entirely to Terri.

 

 

I can’t find the words to say goodbye to this force of nature, my beautiful friend who sang with her whole heart and soul.  All I can say is Thank you. Thank you, Terri, for being welcoming and loving, for being part of my crazy ideas and coming up with more than a few of your own. Your graciousness, your humor and your total commitment will forever inspire me. You have taken a piece of my heart with you, and I will never be the same.

 

 

 

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Sing! With Us

 

 

Mayes, A H Callaway, L Callaway, Bailey

 

 

Having made my quinquennial pilgrimage to the pool I have packed away my swimsuit, ankle length sarong, long sleeved tee, giant hat and the vat of industrial strength sunscreen  and returned to work. Next up is a project that I’m ridiculously excited about.

 

I love to sing, and write and tell stories, but almost as much as I like to do all those things I like to help other performers do those things. In August I will be doing just that alongside three performers whose work has inspired me for throughout my career. Ann Hampton Callaway, Liz Callaway, Sally Mayes and I will be teaching a workshop called SING! August 18th through the 20th at Shetler Studios in New York City.

The purpose of SING! goes beyond helping you sound pretty. Our goal is to help every student get to the heart of the song in a way that expresses who you are as a performer and a human being. We give you the chance to work on three different types of song over the course of the class and then guide you in putting them together to make a mini set of songs that combine music and spoken word. We also talk about finding a visual style that’s unique to you and what you do as a performer. The best part is that you get to show off what you’ve learned in a final performance before an invited audience of special guests.

 

I can hardly wait to get started. Our schedules are so crazy it’s a rare occasion that we are able to combine our talents in this way, and I’m looking forward to seeing some magic. I hope you’ll join us, it will be a class like no other! You can get all the details HERE.

 

 

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Meanwhile…

 

 

 

 

 

Busy! Busy! Busy! That has been the theme for the last month. I finally have a moment or two to breathe, and contemplate what’s next. While I’m doing that you can pop over to Little Yellow Couch and check out my latest  guest post. This one is all about finding, and enjoying Summer Music Festivals. I’ll be back soon with news and other assorted goodies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Icons & Influences: Dixie on My Mind

 

 

I & I Dixie Carter

 

 

Everything I know about being a woman I learned from Julia Sugarbaker. Well, first my mother, but after her, Julia Sugarbaker, as embodied by Dixie Carter, was my most formative influence. In fact, as I look at pictures of Dixie I’m reminded of Mom. They both possessed blade sharp cheekbones, finely arched eyebrows, and a mischievous glint in their eyes that spelled trouble. They were both strong, opinionated southern women, and they are both, sadly, gone.

 

Dixie’s Julia was among the last of a vanishing breed of smart, articulate, and funny female TV characters.  She got the joke, but kept her dignity. This was what I wanted to be when I grew up , a woman of style and substance who knew her way around a quip. The women I’ve aspired to emulate have never been the Marilynesque bombshells, but the funny smart ones who got things done.

 

This is what I’ve learned from watching Dixie Carter over the years:

 

  • Smart is sexy: I remember sitting in a class at some point in my teenage years where important knowledge about dealing with boys was being imparted. To wit, boys don’t like girls who are “too smart”, beat them at games, or display an appetite. Therefore, I was supposed to be quiet, let them win, eat before a dinner date, and always descend the stairs at an angle so that my hips appeared smaller. Dixie said one of the things she was proudest of was being her high school’s valedictorian, and winning the math award. Thank you, Ms Carter, for never playing dumb!

 

 

You can wear lipstick and high heels and still be a feminist:   Wanting to look good is not shallow, it’s just good manners.

 

Speaking of manners…having them and using them does not make you less powerful. I got to meet Dixie very briefly many years ago in Washington, DC.  I had sent her a letter about her singing and she called and left a lovely message inviting me to come see a play that she was doing in town. She was as lovely, kind and polite in person as I had hoped she would be. We only talked for a few moments but I remember her graciousness to this day.

 

You can make your point without being ugly: Julia Sugarbaker was known for her rants when something offended her sense of justice. What I notice now more than ever before about those epic speeches was just how rarely she raised her voice. Sure she got passionate, but she never screamed. Instead she used razor sharp articulation to get her point across.  Dixie brought her musician’s sense of timing to them using pace, and rhythm to turn what, in the hands of a lesser actress, could be strident tirades into brilliant comic soliloquies that had us all wishing we could be that eloquent when faced with idiocy in its many forms.

 

To sing is to live: She said that at age seven she knew her destiny was to sing at the Metropolitan opera, but due to a botched tonsillectomy that never happened. That didn’t mean she stopped singing though. Though she never sang at the Met she sang on stages, in nightclubs and on television for her entire life. She never stopped.

 

It’s never too late: From the age of twenty six to thirty five she dropped out of performing to raise her children. She didn’t move to LA until she was forty and her great success with Designing Women didn’t come until she was in her late forties.

 

So, thank you, Dixie, for being an inspiration. For the laughter and the music and for teaching me that smart, articulate women with good manners can go anywhere they want in this world if they work hard enough. Finally, for introducing me to the work of Michele Brourman, without her my life would be all the poorer, as I’m sure you well know. You are our guardian angel of good taste and sass.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Once Twice

 

Arthur Darvill & Joanna Christie

 

 

I’ve been on a theatre tear of late. In the past few weeks I’ve seen six shows, attempting to make up for some time spent in hibernation mode. This happens sometimes.  I got mired in whatever I happen to be working on at the moment and have to be gently nudged back to civilization by my friends.  The joy of sitting in the dark of a theatre with my favorite people experiencing a transcendent moment of performance is a small miracle that brings an all too rare feeling of perfect contentment that I can squirrel away for a rainy day.

 

 

Once is definitely one of those small miracles. It had been on my list of things to see ever since it opened, and I finally got the chance to see it. Actually I’ve seen it twice in the last couple of weeks. I saw it and was completely charmed by it the first time, so much so, that I immediately wanted to see it again just to determine whether it was a crush or true love. Luckily, Michele B. breezed through town last week, and we decided to go to the theatre together. A treat in itself because usually we’re working so hard when we’re together we hardly have time for anything else. Even though I had just seen Once, when it came up on her list of possibles I leapt at the chance to go back. And yes, I discovered that it is indeed true love.

 

 

There’s so much to love here. It’s a one set show that bucks the trend of bigger, louder, faster, with an unconventional love story at its heart.  The innovative use of movement and the pop score with shades of Celtic and Eastern European musical forms make it feel both brand new and traditional all at the same time (my personal aspiration as a musician). The songs are used not so much to move the plot forward as in a traditional musical, but act as subtext and back-story.

 

 

What I think made me fall head over heels though, was what the show has to say about soul mates. This isn’t the idea of the romantic soul mate that charges into your life and sweeps you away to live happily ever after (sorry for the spoiler, but the show doesn’t end with the time-honored happy ending), but the promise of an Artistic Soul Mate. That person that enters your world for a brief time be it a few years, months, days or even hours, and in that time inspires you to see yourself in a new way. Sometimes they’re romantic partners, there must needs be chemistry in all things after all, but more often the love affair they inspire is with your art. The Artistic Soul Mate can appear right at the point of abject creative despair and instinctively they are able to kindle the spark that brings you back from the brink. An Artistic Soul Mate just gets you, no explanation necessary.

 

 

I’ve been lucky to have a few of these in my life, people who could see me clearly even when I couldn’t. Whose words and deeds pointed me in the direction I needed to travel. I will forever adore Once for the reminder that such people are out there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Flowers in Life’s Garden

 

 

Karen June Grant & Zandra Zuraw of Little Yellow Couch

Karen June Grant & Zandra Zuraw of Little Yellow Couch

 

 

Today is a wonderful day! This is the day I officially join forces with the engaging and oh, so creative Karen June Grant and Zandra Zuraw on their design blog Little Yellow Couch. LYC is chock full of terrific ideas for decor, food, and entertaining all centered around a monthly theme. I will be chiming in as their Musical Correspondent. This month’s theme, Flora & Fauna, was a doozy for a known plant killer such as I. In fact, my landscape designer pal nearly walked into midtown traffic when I shared the subject of my first post with him. It turned out that the opportunity to write about the connection between music and gardening inspired me in ways I never thought possible. I’m enormously thankful to Karen June and Zandra both for the opportunity to add my two cents to their wonderful site, and for helping me discover something I never knew about myself in the process. Click HERE to check out my May post, meanwhile, I’m off to the garden center!

 

 

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Rainy Day Diversion

 

 

 

There are Legos up and down my stairs, and string cheese in my refrigerator, that can only mean one thing…the Niece and Nephews are in residence. They’ve come to be spoiled for a few days by their Auntie Wendy Mame while their parents enjoy a child-free weekend. The best part about this arrangement (in addition, to feeding them much candy, and allowing them to stay up inappropriately late) is that I get to revisit all my favorite kid type things, starting with The Muppet Show . On this rainy day what could be better than curling up under a cozy blankie with some gummy bears and giggling over the antics of Animal & Rita Moreno? I suggest you grab your nearest warm snugglie and favorite  treat and do the same.

 

 

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Things Can Only Get Better

 

 

 

 

Photo by Cindy Banescu - Creative Focus

Photo by Cindy Banescu – Creative Focus

 

 

 

This month’s 60 Minutes / Vanity Fair  poll asked the question, Which decade had the worst music?  The number one answer, by 42%, was this decade. No other decade listed (from the 1970s to the 2000s) came anywhere close. This got me to thinking, are we really in the midst of the greatest musical drought ever known?

 

When I asked Spawn, he opined that his generation, with the exception of himself and a few of his friends, had the worst musical taste of anyone anywhere. Ironically, Spawn listens to a lot of the same music I listened to when I was his age. The age from whence springs a vivid memory of my grandmother yelling ,Good Lord, somebody give that girl an aspirin, after I played some insipid pop anthem for the four hundredth straight time. So, really can this decade’s musical offerings be all that much worse?

 

 

Certainly, as the music industry has become ever more corporatized, emphasis has shifted to manufacturing trends rather that the good hard work of discovering what’s new and innovative. Record companies are no longer run by people who truly love music (I’m not saying that these same people always treated their artists with the respect and royalties they deserved but that’s something we can discuss another time), but by multi-national parent corporations whose interest is the bottom line and creating a “product” that can be leveraged across numerous other industries that have little or nothing to do with creating memorable music. Do you really believe your favorite pop star has the time to personally design a line of clothes and write a novel and start a charity and host a cooking show all the while updating the myriad of social media needed to maintain “relevance” AND create great music?

 

 

Technology has been a double-edged sword for the music business, bringing the cost of recording down and providing new outlets for the distribution of material. For talented independent artists this has been a great blessing. At the same time, it’s opened the way for lots and lots and lots of mediocre to bad stuff to flood the market, making it difficult for a noteworthy artist to cut through the dissonance. You can be a huge hit on Social Media not by being a master of your art but by creating something so cringe-inducingly terrible that it goes viral.

 

 

 

So having said all this you’d think I’d come down on the side of those who feel that this is the worst time since history began for music. I don’t. Though optimism is not my natural state I’m exercising it here. I am retaining my hope in the power of good music to triumph over so-so.

 

 

First of all, there has always been bad music. It’s just that what happens over the course of time is that the bad stuff falls away leaving only the good stuff behind. Go into any used bookstore and pick up a pile of sheet music and you’ll see what I mean. For every well crafted tune that you remember fondly, no matter what your era, you’ll find at least five times as many that should never have seen the light of day let alone been  published. Yes, every now and then you’ll find an undiscovered gem in one of those piles, but the work required to find it is immense. I speak from personal experience here. A friend once told me that sometimes songs get “lost” for a reason. Let’s call it musical Darwinism.

 

 

Secondly, the musical choices are available to us are incredible. The old ideas of a few narrowly defined genres are slowly giving way to the understanding that there is an infinite musical variety out there.  As those barriers are broken down we’ll see more and collaborations across musical borders. For this alone, it’s a very exciting time to be a musician.

 

 

Thirdly, and finally I think that music lovers must realize that any music worth hearing is worth searching for. The best music is out there waiting for you to discover it, but it takes some effort on your part to find. Going to the website or blog of an artist you admire and finding out who they like is a good start. Ask your friends what they like to listen to and why. See a live performance at a local venue. It can be a bar, or a theatre or concert hall, a well known performer, or one who’s up and coming, it doesn’t matter. Just look for something that sparks your interest.  Want an evening in? Take a look at sites like Stage It or Concert Window. These sites allow you to experience a wide variety of performances from the comfort of your own computer. See what’s available at your local public library. Most have a great variety of music available and you can experiment to your heart’s content for free. See if your library has a section devoted to local performers, and check out some of their work. I am just throwing these ideas out there to get you started thinking about new ways to experience music beyond simply turning on the radio or I-Pod, there are lots more where this came from.

 

 

Despite, grumbling and gloom and doom predictions about the death of music I think there is a lot out there that is worth our time. As long as there are people who really care about what they listen to there will be great music to be had.

 

 

 

 

 

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Goodbye Old Paint

 

 

cabinet

 

 

 

 

I like painting furniture.  I find the process of cleaning, sanding, and painting soothing.  I have a hard time turning off what I call Hamster Brain, when your mind spins and spins caught in a loop of worries like a rodent on an exercise wheel complete with annoying squeaking sound.  Something about the physical motion required to transform a piece quiets that squeaking right down. Maybe it’s the repetitive movement, maybe it’s the fumes, whatever it is seems to set my overtaxed mind free to roam in more creative directions. I have had some of my best ideas this way.

 

 

I love the history of old pieces. My latest project is a Hoosier Cabinet from the 30’s or 40’s. The woman I got it from remembered watching her grandmother roll out pie crusts and knead bread dough on its counter.  On the back is the original label from the cabinet maker in Pennsylvania along with the tag from the furniture store in Newark from which is was purchased.  She’s the perfect addition to our little house which was built in 1928.

 

 

She (it just feels like a she to me) has been patiently waiting for me in my garage since the fall. A little like Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree she is in dire need of some TLC, but she’s got great bones. There are some structural things that need repairing and then she’ll be painted. I went to Home Depot yesterday and filled a bag with paint samples and I’m beginning the arduous process of deciding on the perfect color. My kitchen is a butter cream with pops of red in the chairs and accessories. If you have any ideas you’re welcome to post them in the comments. In the meantime, I’ll be repairing and sanding away.

 

 

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Playing with Blocks

 

 

Creative Block

 

 

 

 

LA was lovely, it was warm and sunny, I walked on the beach, ate tons of fresh veggies and concentrated completely on work. Absolute Heaven! Returning to an, as yet, delayed spring, a thousand undone domestic tasks and a space in the calendar before my next projects kick into gear brought on a serious case of post-gig ennui.  I allowed myself a day or two to wallow in my own crapulence, and then decided it was time to force my tuchus back into gear. Not so easy when you’re feeling creatively depleted and buried under a mountain of mundane tasks.

 

 

Into the void comes Danielle Krysa’s (AKA the Jealous Curator) new book Creative Block. She interviews fifty visual artists about their work, facing their inner critics and how they deal with creative droughts. At the end of each interview there is an exercise from the artist to get your creative mojo going again. It’s a gorgeous book, the art alone is enough to inspire. Add the interviews and exercises and it’s a feast for any artist no matter your medium.

 

 

I am champing at the bit to try some of the exercises, but as I was going through the book I thought how wonderful it would be to gather a group of people together to work through the exercises.Then meet to show our work and discuss the results. Then I thought about coordinating schedules, deciding on meeting times and places, and who will provide the snacks and I had to put my head down on my desk for a while.

 

 

Then I realized that living in a technologically advanced age meant that I didn’t have to do any of those things. I could start a virtual Creative Support Group that wouldn’t be bound by distance or time restrictions. So I’m issuing an invitation to all my artistic friends out there be you performers, visual artists, or artistically curious, to join my happy band.

 

 

Here’s how it will work. We’ll put together a private Facebook group and once a month I’ll chose one of the exercises from the book. You’ll work on it in your own space and time and then share your pics and thoughts on the experience with the group. The group is a “secret” Facebook group meaning that anything that is posted is only visible to those in the group, although, I’d like to do a summary post every month on this blog sharing some of our work and thoughts about the exercise. Don’t worry though, I’ll only publish those ideas and snaps that you give me permission to share with a wider audience. While the exercises in book are geared towards the visual arts most can be easily adapted to singers, musicians and actors. The only prerequisites for the group is that you be interested in exploring your creativity and are willing to share your thoughts with like minded people in a kind and supportive way.

 

 

If you’d like to participate send me a note through the Contact page of this site, or message me through Facebook.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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