Saturday, November 14, 2015

Yoga Informing the Singing Informing the Yoga...


I love yoga. I've been doing yoga since 2005. I was always curious about it but could never get excited enough about it to take the plunge. I have been a runner, swimmer, step class junkie, weight lifter, dance class doer, and for a brief period I was a little Taekwondo warrioress. I've always had some form of "exercise" or physical activity in my regime. But as it turns out, adopting a yoga practice into my life wasn't just a "fitness fad" for me. It was a life changer.

I initially made the shift when I had gone to a physician to get to the bottom of a constant neck pain and stiffness that I was always living with. He said, "You know, I'm seeing more and more women doing yoga these days and having successful results when it comes to bodily pain and general well-being." Folks had recommended yoga to me for years and I had always blown it off but for some reason, at that moment, something shifted in me and I was very curious and ready to try it. I was excited and intrigued-as I always am when trying something new. But I had no idea just how deeply yoga would affect me. Not just physically, but mentally, emotionally, philosophically, spiritually and musically.

My first few yoga classes were a bit of a bust. You see, there are so many different types of classes, styles, teachers, tones, purposes and flavors of yoga out there that I didn't know where to start. But I knew I would know when I found the right one. So I fumbled through 3 - 5 different studios and teachers very frustrated and annoyed until I found the right studio and teacher for me. I'll never forget the first class that felt like I'd come home. A "vinyasa flow" all levels class.

I walked into the slightly warmed room ( not to be confused with the "hot yoga" classes which bring the temperature up to over a hundred degrees) which I find completely unnecessary and dehydrating and depleting. This room was just a little warm. Like walking into a warm cabin on a snowy blizzardy day. Your whole body just goes "aaagh" in relaxation. It was a big, high ceiling, wood floored room with a huge statue of Ganesh, at the front of the room, sitting on a platform surrounded by candles and flowers. I just knew I was in the right place.

The particular Vinyasa class I took on that dayI now see as based in Ashtanga Yoga. Which is my yoga style of choice. It started with stretching and then moves to the delicious Sun Salutations, then the series of poses continues with standing poses, twists, backbends, arm balances, hip openers, shoulder openers until things cool down with pigeon poses and stretches. Then you're ready for the final resting pose, 'Shavasana", otherwise known as corpse pose because you just lay on the floor on your back like a corpse. You lay there for anywhere from 5- 10 minutes just allowing the effects of all of the rigorous poses you've done to sink into your body, helping to quiet your mind and sink into the center of your body and soul.

From that point on I was hooked and I've been practicing, growing and going deeper into my practice ever since. Like many people, my first intention with yoga was more focused on physical goals. Ease any kinks and pains, build muscle, and keep that long lean yoga look. And yoga has provided all of that for me but now I find that the major effects of my yoga practice are in my mind, reminding me of a more balanced and wise way to approach life. So in almost every class I get little epiphanies of how lessons learned through practicing the poses( asanas) can be taken off the mat and used in my daily life. And just recently I had a wonderful epiphany while in class that applies to my singing.

One thing that I really notice every time I do yoga is how differently my body feels every day. Just because I could fly around doing full twists, heads stands, forearm balances, and arm balances yesterday does NOT mean I can do them as easily today. Every day is a new beginning and you HAVE to remember to listen to your body and honor it in every moment. Those that don't are FAR more inclined to injure themselves. Yoga for me is such an art of LISTENING. Listing to my body, to where it is tight, loose, strong, weak, and timid. I also listen to the tapes and stories running in my brain as I go through every pose. And as we all know, those voices can be brutal. Chastising me for not being able to do a pose as strongly as I could do yesterday, ridiculing me for falling out of balance during a standing pose, badgering me for just feeling "tired". But yoga is a moving meditation. So you watch that voice but don't invite it to play. It doesn't get promoted to the grown ups table. It stays at the kids table. You watch it grumble in it's nonsense and bullying and use the experience to practice detachment from it in every moment.

Since the voice is a muscle inside my body, my instrument is deeply affected by whatever is going on in my body and mind. So the lessons in yoga apply directly to my instrument. When I sit down to practice, I notice where my voice is tight, tired, overworked, strong, or fluid. I approach my singing with the same diligence that I approach yoga. I listen to it and ease it into singing. I don't force it or push it immediately just because I felt so strong at my show last night. So the lesson is: Start where you are that day. Not where you were yesterday. Or where you wish you were. Start where you are now. Lean into how you feel now and ease yourself into your practice. And I feel like that's just a good lesson to take with me every day during life.

Another lesson that came to me recently was that yoga is really an art in finding the ease with which you can be in a challenging pose. Yoga poses are challenging. That's the point. Life is challenging. And in yoga practice you have the opportunity to find the "ease" in each challenging pose. And as I can go through life-fighting the moment or wishing things were different in a moment. This lesson helps me find the ease into that moment. And it is particularly helpful while singing. Find the ease in delivering the song. Step back into the truth of the song, notice how my voice feels in that moment and find the ease. Don't oversing, try not to over reach, push, struggle, or over work it. Find the ease. I just love that reminder.

And, of course, LISTENING. To me, listening is the key to making great music. Remembering to listen to my body during yoga keeps me in the habit of listening to my body and the information in each moment in daily life. The key is to stay grounded in yourself while listening to and being open to that which is going on around you and inside you. That grounded listening is essential when making music with others. Staying in that moment is what allows the magic to creep in and then what elevates all of you together. You listen and feed off of each other and create something completely unique together.

So little did I know how deep and wide the influence of yoga would go for me. And how intertwined the lessons would be in my singing and my life. So with each day I listen to my body and instrument, practice detachment from the little gremlin voices, and strive to find the ease in each moment so that ultimately I can share my voice and my spirit in the most truthful authentic and grounded way. It's a life-long daily process. Every day is a new beginning... maybe that is what the Buddhist's mean by "reincarnation"? I like to think so....

Sunday, May 10, 2015

I miss you so much

On Mother's Day...

I miss you soooo much. And I'm haunted by all the things we planned that we never got to do...Go to New Orleans together, go to Italy together so you could finally use the passport that you were so excited to get, have our mother/daughter farmer's market/vegan cooking day, do that show that would combine my music and your beautiful art, have drinks in that high-rise that overlooks the beautiful city lights, spend the night at Safari West, take a long road trip and let the wind blow us where it may...and I'm aching to take you to lunch today at our favorite restaurant by the sea and have champagne and laugh.

You are my soul, my heart, my rock, my anchor, and my truth. I miss you everyday.


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Obstacles, hardships, and growth...

With the beginning of 2015, I find myself reflecting on the events of my life up to now. I've had some wonderful moments but I've also gone through a great deal of difficult situations in my life. And in processing the difficulties, I've come to some realizations. To be clear, here's a readers' digest rundown of some of the challenges I've faced.

My parents divorced when I was 11. I was an only child, very close to my parents, and we moved around a lot so it was like my world exploded. My safe bubble was gone. I've struggled in relationships my whole life having some devastating breakups. In the last several years I've endured a "manager" who turned out to be a charlatan con man who reeked havoc with my career and finances and then terrorized me and my career. I was caught up in the middle of a legal battle, on behalf of a deceased relative, that terrorized me, dominated my life and peace of mind for 5 years.  I've struggled to find my right place, right voice, in my career and career choices. For so many years I've been exhaustingly buried in "busy" with other people's demands of my time and directions of me musically, which helped to pay the bills, but none of which yielded results to get me closer to my dreams or my goals for my life. Four years ago,  I suffered the sudden and devastating unexpected death of my mother when we had many unfinished things to resolve. I've worked in a band, that for me was somewhat toxic, that inch by inch hijacked much of my free time and psychic space which in turn delayed my ability to accomplish my own goals. And I've seen my partner through a 2 year plus long health crisis.

Many of these dramatic and traumatic things overlapped so I was juggling several at a time. When I sit and look back on it now, it feels like I've been "surviving" trauma and drama for years. Perpetually distracted from my goals and life missions by what felt like violent life blows,  paralyzing difficulties and overwhelming circumstances. It's been my normal. Waking up every day trying to get through this "current trauma" in my life. Feeling that my life had been hijacked constantly by outside forces. And, therefore, constantly swirling in a mix of anger, victimization, complaining and crushing depression. And, of course, escape. Which, for me, lives in a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc.

In this emotional and psychological mess, where is the room for art, for my voice, for my psychic space to have the wide open space to really create and thrive? Did I attract the drama and trauma to keep me from doing the hard work on my art? ...maybe... I've always been jealous of the people who could turn these life pains and struggles into art. I've tried. My new album has some of it but I've never been able consistently use songwriting or writing as healing. Songwriting just felt like I was wallowing in more pain or bathing in an angry rant so I avoided it.

But what I feel right now, in this moment, is that I'm turning a corner. As 2015 begins, I'm clear. Clearer than I've ever been that my life is my OWN. It's mine to govern. And I've never been so comfortable saying "No" to requests and demands on my time. And I won't join a situation unless it is aligned with my truth and I can honestly put my full AGENCY behind it. And I now work to not let challenging external circumstances and situations YANK me to and fro. To not let them have the power to hijack my life, my psychic space and my peace of mind. And I try to stay mindful to not give more energy to and be more aware of the psychic vampires and controllers who seem to want to claim ownership of, stake out real-estate of,  or claim rights to my essence. No more. And I won't let the bullies terrorize me anymore. Oh how I've quivered under the bullies, the controllers, the manipulators, and the emotional blackmailers. I will speak my truth, stand up for myself, and stay clear about boundaries. I'm clear. And as I get clear, as I take my power back in my life, the anger, depression and feeling of victimization falls away.

But the biggest realization, that I feel very clearly now, is that life handed me all of these things to help me become the woman I've always wanted to be. Powerful, courageous, self -expressed, self-directed, authentic, truthful, and excited and enthused about my life. They pushed me to find those things in myself. This is my spiritual journey. With each obstacle, I have the opportunity to lean into the edges and earn another warrior-ess stripe. Each difficultly and challenge is another step on the ladder to evolving. You can't have one without the other. The challenges are the KEY to the growth.

And to my mother:
I miss you terribly, every day. So many things I wish I could say to you and so many things I want to share with you. But wherever you are, I hope you're proud of me because, today, I am grateful for each struggle, difficulty, and challenge. Even grateful for the bullies and vampires because my experiences with them and all of it have brought me here. And I am going to keep pushing, growing and striving and never give up...to be the woman you always knew I was. Thank you.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Live performance, Studio focus and everything in between...


I've been performing live since I was about 4 or 5 years old. In one form or another. It was the music that called to me first. But suddenly the music goes through you and you're sharing it with others, performing.

Either I was jumping around the living room dancing and singing for my parents, or I was the featured performer in the 6th grade musical, or I was performing little dances at school functions with my friends, or I was playing trumpet or saxophone in the school band, or I was playing piano and singing for my parents' friends at a party, or I was on the microphone crashing my dad's jazz band rehearsal singing a cool jazz version of "Hush Little Baby." I got into performing at a very young age.

It morphed into straight acting for a while and I found myself doing lots of Shakespeare, Checkhov, and other classics as well as modern plays. So I've kept at it through the years. Performing in choirs, plays, bands, musicals, gigs, and shows of all kinds, so I'm continually working the craft of it. I have experience in it. I know how the shoes feel if you will. But I also get bored very easily and always seem to want to push the edge to learn something else, challenge myself, forge new ground. And that's what this journey was about. And boy did I get it.

So, yes, I'm fairly experienced at being a performer, but being a recording artist and producer in the studio? Holy smokes, I feel like a little babe in the woods. I recorded my first record while in college. I was the singer in an original jazz band, and we recorded 3 albums together in our reign. But I was mainly the singer. And although I contributed my input where I saw fit, I had very little to do on the deep production side of the albums. I've recorded a few more albums and demos since then on my own, but this one is definitely the biggest project I've taken on. My original songs, my hand picked band, my choice of studio, and my ideas and so on. I'm swimming in all of those elements cumulatively right now with my coproducer and partner. We're in the studio every free day we have building and creating the album. On days I don't have shows, I'm working on the album with my partner in his studio. And we're deep in.

We just keep digging deeper and deeper into this musical wonderland jungle and there are so many little paths to walk on. Vocals, background vocals, guitar, sax percussion, and then there's mixing! How it sounds, different sonic choices and volume levels for everything. And you're not always sure how far down to go on each path so you just trust your gut, your ears, your heart and your soul to lead the way. It's very challenging to not get overwhelmed. To keep that long bird's eye view of where you're headed to, so as to not get lost on your way. To remember how great it will feel to get the songs to their happy place and to finally share the songs with others.

It's very different from performing. In performing, you're looking out and connecting with your audience. You are taking your journey with them. Communicating. Noticing their reactions. Playing together, co-creating the moment together. But in the studio, it's just you and the musical notes, gadgets, gear, sounds and feelings. No one to look out to to share energy with. You're just swirling in a petri dish with the energy and sounds of your music. It's wonderful but it can seem very big, confusing and daunting sometimes.

And that's where I'm at. It's challenging, frightening, exhilarating, frustrating, educational, uplifting, and just basically life changing. As Kurt Vonnegut said "To practice any art no matter how well or badly is a way to make your soul grow. So do it!" Well, Kurt, you were certainly correct. And I'm doin it! And my soul is spreading it's wings for sure.
in appreciation...

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Mystery Magic in the Mix

First day of opening the songs at the home studio to start overdubs and mixing. There is an old school saying that 25% of recording is basic tracks, 25% is overdubs, and 50% is mixing. So we're only 25% across the river. But it's lookin' and sounding good so far. In the next weeks and months we'll be recording vocals and overdubs and mixing.

Mixing, the other art. Tweaking everything, mixing the stew until all of the ingredients are balanced perfectly. It's such an important part of any record and can make the difference of your tracks sounding alive or flat. I used to kind of despise it because it's such a specific, detailed and somewhat frustrating process. You can create what you think is the perfect mix one day, and then come in the next day and realize that the bass is too loud, percussion is too quite and the kick drum is sticking out. It's a constant act of tweaking over several days and several listenings. And listening on several different sound systems at several different volumes. Iphone, to car stereo to home studio to computer and so on. But I'm beginning to really make friends with the mixing process. Like an artist with a ball of clay, you just keep at it and find the joy in the process.

It feels so exciting to be diving in so deeply. I'm so looking forward to this February journey inside the tracks. Bringing out their individualities and personalities, textures and colors. Giving each track an identity of it's own. My little children :-)

More to come...
every moment grateful,
ak

Monday, February 3, 2014

Making Music, Dinner Parties, and Ginger Baker

A big misconception about my profession, is that because I'm "doing what I love" or "following my dreams" that I must just be in bliss every second I'm singing. Well, just like anything in life, that's just not the case. For me, singing isn't a "solo" exercise. My experience singing is very intertwined with and affected by who else I'm playing with. Who the musicians are, what the music is, what songs I'm singing, how the sound system sounds, if the band is locked in etc. I meld into the swirl of sound and find where my voice will sit within it. There are so many factors that have to come together for the ease and joy to flow in the singing. It's somewhat of a team sport.

I recently watched a great movie called "Beware of Mr Baker." It's a documentary about Ginger Baker. An incredible jazz and rock drummer most known for his work in the 60's and 70's. He was the drummer for Cream and later Blind Faith. He is an incredible drummer with natural time and a natural "swing' in everything he plays. That is partially what gave Cream that undeniable sound and infectious and original grooves. In the documentary he is asked "So do you just love playing the drums?" and he snapped back quite aggressively in his sharp british accent,  "Well, it depends on who you're playing with!!" I had never heard anyone just say it as blatantly as that, but it's the way I've always felt as a singer. I don't love every moment of singing on stage or off. It depends on who I'm playing with. And it's especially challenging if I don't love the ensemble I happen to be playing with at that moment. I never have my best performances in those situations. And I can walk away feeling deflated and frustrated.

Because I make a living as a singer, I sing all kinds of material from jazz to pop to rock. I sing in many different environments with many different people. Not like on my album where I wrote the songs, I hand picked the band, and created the vibe with them from the ground up. That is the dream. That is the best place to be. It feeds my soul and brings my singing to new inspired places. Don't get me wrong, I'm VERY grateful for all of my singing jobs. I'm grateful for the work, I am constantly working my craft, and I always learn something in those environments. But sometimes those shows and gigs don't feed my soul. Or don't feel like my real authentic place.

It occurred to me that some gigs are kind of like going to dinner parties. You can have great food, a beautiful house, great wine, a beautifully set table, but all of it can be a bit spoiled if you don't get along well with the other guests. If you can feel a tangible friction with the other people there. Or if someone is just annoying. But you're there, eating dinner and drinking the wine for the duration of the evening and you just have to be patient and find the best out of the situation. You're a bit trapped with them for an evening just like being on stage with the other musicians. You can't just walk off stage if the music isn't grooving. Or the drummer's time is inconsistent or, or the piano player's chords are hard to sink into. In those situations I look for the common ground amongst us and lean on the areas that make us shine. Like finding common ground topics at a dinner party to keep the evening light and pleasant.

All of these thoughts lead me back to marveling at what an organic and mysterious process making music is. It's human. It breathes. It hiccups. It's sensitive. It listens. It transforms in process and then transforms us who are playing and those who are listening. I love making music. And I love the complexities of it. It makes it all the more special when everything aligns and we are elevated, transfixed and lifted in it's presence.


Friday, January 31, 2014

Musician, Artist, and Snakes

I really think of myself as a "musician", not just a singer or singer/songwriter. It took me a while to get clear about that. I play piano, harmonica, percussion, I write write songs, I can write charts and read charts, I can lead a band and I like to get immersed inside the music when I sing. This is why I've never been comfortable with the word "diva" or "chick singer." "Diva" indicates self absorption, insensitiveness to others, and a disregard of the musicians you're playing with. The phrase "chick singer" is often used by male musicians in the local wedding band and corporate party band circuit when they refer to the female singer in the band. The phrase indicates the the woman isn't very intelligent about music, keys of songs, and other technicalities about the music. But the sensitive artist and "musician" in me has never been able to resonate to those phrases. I've always felt different than just a singer. I am a musician. My voice is just one of my instruments.

This experience in the studio producing my solo album is amazing and is certainly letting the "musician" in me flourish and shine. Writing the charts, working with the musicians in the studio, rehearsing the band, and discussing the intricacies inside the music are all at play. I feel at home. It is my home, where I belong.

Laying down basic tracks in this last week( drums, bass and keyboards), we all put our heads, hearts and souls into every song to find where the song would live. The bass player, an incredibly gifted musician, has one of the most uncannily accurate instincts about music that I've ever worked with. When a song wasn't grooving or not locked in, he always had a suggestion that helped solve the problem and opened the song up or let it settle into where it's home lives. He said "every song has it's heartbeat and you have to find it." I love that! That phrase will stay with me.

This is just one of the lovely lessons that this marvelous process has taught me. I'm sure I'll be writing about many of the lessons in days and weeks to come. There's nothing like leaning into the edges of something that really challenges you to help you grow. It's glorious. A book that has a great impact on me is "The Untethered Soul" by Michael Singer. In it he talks about "leaning into your edges." He says "Life creates situations that push you to your edges, all with the effect of removing what is blocked inside of you." That "when you approach the edges, you feel insecurity, jealousy, fear, or self-consciousness." 

I had to pull out all of my courage and warrior stances to take on the edges I pushed up against. To face the demons that wanted to creep up and sabotage me, that wanted me to believe "I wasn't good enough" "my songs aren't good enough" or "the album will be awful." I woke up every day at 3am with paralyzingly electric snakes swirling in my stomach. These weren't just butterflies, these were snakes. And my head was buzzing with anxieties, fears and worries about tempos, grooves, choices, and time. I was "catastrophizing." Which to me means, certain that the worst case scenario will happen. My irrational fears about the future become absolute undeniable, inevitable truth in my mind. This experience was bringing up all of these old thought patterns and insecurities, and it felt like they were being exorcized out of me. But they didn't go quietly, they had to put up a fight. I was being thrust up against hard edges

Singer says, "This is how great beings live. When you are trained, like a great athlete, to immediately relax through your edges when they get hit, then it's all over. You realize that you will always be fine. Nothing can every bother you except your edges, and now you know what to do with them. You end up loving your edges because they point your way to freedom. All you have to do is constantly relax and lean into them."

So rather than cowering and giving in to the fear and demons that the edges were bring up, I looked them in the eye, refused to give them the power, and just kept moving forward. We learn what we need to learn by going where we need to go.

We got basic tracks to 8 songs in 3 days. We used every moment in the studio to it's fullest. I am filled with appreciation for the ability to do such a project, and create art with such wonderful people. And we were all in the control room with big smiles on our faces grooving to the sounds that were playing back from our sessions. What an exhilarating experience. And a big nod to the loving and luminous spirit that was a silent but very powerful presence that was always by our side.

Now in the weeks to come, we'll be building the record. The adventure continues...

every moment grateful,
ak