Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Month of Music Update 2

Quick update for day 2 of Month of Music – I’m currently at Milkboy Coffee’s weekly open mic night. There have been a few less than stellar acts, but most have been pretty darn good. Two girls called Anna and Amanda were awesome – they did a Belle and Sebastian song and a Garfunkel and Oates (who knew?) song that was hilarious, called “Pregnant Women Are Smug”. They also used a ukulele and kazoos, and if you don’t smile while listening to those, then frankly, you need to rediscover your soul or something. :)  I just chatted with them and they’re here every week during the summer, so if you’re local, come check them (and everyone else) out next week!

As for me, I’ve decided I’m going to try to get my ass up onstage by the end of this month. I just need to find someone to play with me – no way am I going up there a capella. Any guitarists or pianists out there looking for something fun to do…?

Real-time update: I just got introduced to this crazy talented pianist named Steven Singer, who can play pretty much anything the crowd throws at him – tonight, he moved seamlessly from BeyoncĂ© to David Bowie to Neil Diamond to Eminem to so many others that I lost track. Anyway, he offered to play with me any time!! So…I guess I just need to let him know a song and then find the guts to do it.

Meanwhile, I got an email that my daughter’s drum sticks etc. are en route and will arrive in two days!! She is singing and drumming more every day, and I can’t wait to start exploring music with her!

I know I’m only a couple days in, but I’m proud of myself for sticking to my Month of Music commitment – I found myself thinking about a non-musical business idea this morning that I think has amazing potential, and I was really itching to run to my laptop and start doing research, but I held back. I’ve had the idea for a year – there’s no reason it can’t wait another few weeks. I’m committed to following through on this month-long experiment. And no matter how it goes, now I have something specific to look forward to next month.

That’s it for tonight. Dream musically, friends.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Month of Music - First Update

Today was the first full day of my Month of Music and it went pretty well – if I can keep this up, I feel like this experiment will be a HUGE leap forward for me. I got a lot done today!

First, I contacted five upscale hotels nearby, all of which have lobby bars, and asked them whether they ever feature live singers/musicians. Interestingly, NONE of them do! I sense an opportunity here…one that I’m a long way from being able to take advantage of yet, but still, it’s good to know.

(Side note: this isn’t a weird idea, is it? I mean, I’ve stayed in swanky hotels for work, and I’ve seen singers performing in at least three hotel lobby bars. Personally I enjoyed it a lot, it made for a more relaxed and interesting atmosphere. I was kind of surprised at the five no’s in a row, and it made me wonder if maybe that's just not something we do here in Philly?)

Second, I actually practiced today – usually I slack off on Mondays because my lessons are on Sundays, but with this ridiculous audition coming up this weekend, I can’t afford to skip any nights this week!

Third, I did some reading on YouTube singers – such as this article on 15 aspiring musicians who got famous (and got recording contracts!) through YouTube – and advice on how to get followers, post videos people will want to watch, etc. I heard they regularly have contests on YouTube, so I need to check into that. I did investigate our county’s local “Idol” competition, but just like the real thing, I am WAY too old. :)

Last, I emailed a singer-songwriter I really admire and asked her if she’d be willing to meet up so I could bend her ear about her music, her approach to songwriting, etc. (It’s worth noting that I’ve been meaning/wanting to do this for months and just haven’t managed to get up the nerve…)

I also added a few more potential items to my Month of Music to-do list:

-        Record at least one video and upload to YouTube
-        Go sing at karaoke (lame, yes, but it’s public performance, which is something I really need more experience with!)
-        Read (and do all the exercises in) a book I have called Free Your Voice (another interesting side note: I actually found the receipt stuck in this book. I purchased it in 2000. Twelve years ago, people!! SMH)
-        Subscribe to a music-related magazine (suggestions…?)

And actually, my wonderful husband also decided to help me cross off one of my to-do’s for this month – he bought me a mic on eBay today! (Good price, too – truly a man after my own frugal heart.)

So all in all, not a bad first full day. Maybe I’ll get the hang of this stuff yet.


P.S. And I also wrote this post. Yay me.

One Month, One Path, GO!

Most people can think of someone they know who's known since they were a young kid what they wanted to do with their life. They talked about it, learned about it, ate, slept and breathed it, went to school for it, and are now living their dream.

That kind of certainty and laser-like focus is something that I truly envy – as it’s something that I certainly don’t have.

In my quest to find my path in life, I’ve been doing a lot of exploration, reading, learning, and soul-searching. I have a lot of irons, if not in the fire, then at least ready to go in once I decide to fire them up.

My irons of the moment include:

-    Music – singing, songwriting, playing violin, these are all in the mix here
-    Sound engineering – live mixing, recording
-    Helping my sister as she launches her own business
-    Creating and selling iPhone apps
-    Creating a line of unique multi-function accessories that work together in new ways
-    Consulting (on what? who knows)
-    Crafting/creating (what? who knows)

So on any given day, I could be scouring eLance for app developers, researching handbag prototypers, practicing for an audition, helping my sister create a customer survey, reading one of my many books on alternative careers and lifestyles, or something else entirely.

On the one hand, this all feels very scatterbrained, disorganized, chaotic, wishy-washy, non-committal, and frankly simply annoying to me. I hate to have anyone think any of these things about me – I don't want to be seen as flaky or flighty. So this kind of all-over-the-place learning feels a little…embarrassing to me.

But lately I’ve realized that there are benefits as well.

If I’m feeling stuck or unmotivated about learning in one area, I have a ton of others I can choose from. So rather than opting to just veg out on the couch with a movie and forget about that whole learning-and-growing-and-trying-to-find-my-life-path thing, I can redirect my focus and actually get something done that furthers some of my other goals.

Also, I’ve been taking Therese Schwenkler’s ecourse “Not Yer Mom’s Guide to Finding Your Career & Life Path” and love her analogy comparing trying to find a career to shopping for clothes. In her example, she finds a fabulous jacket online, orders it, and then hates how it looks on her when she actually receives it and tries it on. Her theory is that we need a dressing room to try on lots of things to find the perfect one, not just for clothes, and also for careers. Rather than scoping things out online and trying to think our way into the right career, why not try on a few and see how they fit and make us feel?

So that makes me feel like my multi-pronged approach isn’t crazy after all, it’s actually super-savvy (albeit unintentionally so).

HOWEVER (and it’s this kind of continual course-changing and self-refuting that causes my mom to lament that I would have been a great lawyer), I also wonder whether this random, all-over-the-map exploration is the most efficient way to use my time. I think it could easily be allowing me to shy away from having to make an actual decision and “try something on.”

It’s like I’m looking through racks of shirts one minute, then wandering over to look through the pants, then hopping over to accessories, before taking another look at shirts, then – hey, let’s look for shoes! – and now it’s back to pants, and then coats, and so on.

Meanwhile, I’ve got a ton of possibilities weighing my arms down, but I haven’t even made it to the dressing room yet, because I’m too busy exploring and searching – or maybe it’s more like hemming and hawing.

So what I’ve decided to do – hooray for non-wishy-washy, decisive action! – is to actually commit to something…at least for a short while. My plan is to devote ALL of my career-exploration time, energy and resources for one full month to ONE particular area. No bopping around and changing subjects or finding new paths to check out. One month, one path, go go GO!

This month’s explorations will focus on music. This is because I feel like it’s the primary passion in my life right now, and also because I have a lot going on in this area at the moment. I’m working towards my spring recital (yes I know it’s July – it’s a lot of work!), I have an audition next weekend, and in two weeks I’m taking an all-day songwriting workshop (which I’m SO excited about!).

So from July 15 to August 15, my mission will be to explore music and music alone – no app ideas, no handbag business ventures, nothing but music.

In addition to the audition and workshop, here are some ideas and thoughts for what I’ll be doing this month:

-    Attend open mic night at Milkboy Coffee (love this place!!) every Tuesday to hear new artists, get comfortable with the scene, and work up the nerve to do something myself
-    Buy my own mic and amp and start practicing singing with a mic, since that’s a whole different ballgame vs. singing without amplification
-    Reach out to a singer/songwriter that I really admire and interview her on her methods, techniques, experiences, etc.
-    Continue actively practicing my recital pieces every week
-    Contact upscale hotels in the area and find out which ones have live music in their lobby bars, and go visit at least one of them to hear the talent and get a feel for the music
-    Look for ways to find other aspiring musicians to get together and sing/play for fun
-    Take some beginner piano classes online
-    Get my violin fixed up, tuned up, and back in shape, and start playing again
-    Organize all my church music (ok, this one sounds lame, but I have STACKS of it and it’s all a mess. I’ve been meaning to organize it for over a year. I waste way too much time searching for things.)
-    Look into opportunities to volunteer as a chorus performer of some kind (e.g. in large-cast operas or community theater musicals)
-    Learn more about area community choruses and audition if possible
-    Work on learning one song on the ukulele
-    Commit to paper the music for two of my previously-written songs (all I have written down are the lyrics, no music)
-    Work with my daughter on starting to learn the drums (she is so excited to do this – I just ordered her drum sticks, a drum pad, and a teaching DVD last week. Her grand plan is that the whole family will learn different instruments and other skills and we will go out on tour as the Family Band. Her enthusiasm is infectious!)

I think that’s enough to keep my busy for the month! And I hope that some of these activities will lead me to more ideas and opportunities.

I’m certainly going to try to blog about this month’s explorations as regularly and often as possible, to help keep me accountable and on track, as well.

If you’ve read this far, you're amazing and I appreciate you more than I can say!! I promise my exploration updates this month will be briefer than this post. :)  Feel free to leave a comment below with your feedback or any ideas for anything else I should explore this month.


Saturday, July 14, 2012

On Taking Action - Take Two

Recently, I came to the realization that I tend to put off taking action for a number of reasons – fear, laziness, busyness, and so forth.

So lately I’ve been striving to pull out that old Nike chestnut and JUST DO IT. No matter what “it” is, I’ve been pushing myself to just take any kind of action at all – make the phone call, send the email, ask the  question, buy the book. It feels great to finally actually be doing things that will move me closer to my goals and help me become a person of action like I’ve always wanted to be.

But (you knew there had to be “but”, right?) I had a wake-up call the other day. All this soul-searching, career-exploring, self-analysis and whatnot all feels very recent to me - like maybe the past year, maybe a year and a half. And then I cleaned out my inbox the other day and came across an email from a broadcasting school that started like this:

“Dear Jennifer, Thank you for filling out our form and taking to the first steps to an exciting career in the broadcast media industry!” 

It was from August 2009.

That’s right – THREE years ago. And you know it took me months to get to the point where I was able to even take the small action to fill out the form for the school in the first place.

So that means that it’s been over three years since I started trying to truly figure out what I’m supposed to be doing with my life. During that time, I’ve actually done quite a lot:

-        Found a career coach and went through three coaching sessions, complete with homework assignments
-        Taken numerous self-assessments, personality tests, etc. and had my friends and family complete some about me as well
-        Read through countless listings in the Occupational Outlook Handbook
-        Reached out to perfect strangers asking for information and guidance about various careers and jobs – a friend-of-a-friend sound engineer, a friend-of-a-friend events planner, a colleague in another group at work who works in the video department, and more
-        Read approximately 15-20 books on careers, job changes, and alternative lifestyles, including The $100 Startup, Career Renegade, Escape from Cubicle Nation, The Element, The Four-Hour Work Week, and The Art of Non-Conformity.

And while all that taking action feels great, what struck me was the idea that yes, I’ve DONE a lot – but have I ACCOMPLISHED anything?

Am I any closer to finding out who I am and what I’m meant to be doing?

Or am I just running on a treadmill under the guise of actually running TO somewhere, deluding myself that all this “action” actually means something, when in reality all I’m doing is running in place?

It’s a sobering thought, and I’m still wrestling with it. On the one hand, I do truly believe that every experience I’ve had has helped shape who I am and the path that I’m on, and has put me right here at this place in this time. So even if it seems like I’m not accomplishing much, I still feel that all my learning, exploring and growing will ultimately make a difference in my life.

On the other hand, I know myself so well, and I think that I can find ways to trick myself into justifying my actions as “doing something,” when in fact I’m really just putting off the REAL actions. Yes, I’ve read a lot of books, asked a lot of questions, and even written a few blog posts – but have I gone out there and looked for a job in music? Sung in front of strangers? Written a song? Quit my job?

Well…actually, I HAVE done some of that. I’ve written a few songs, and while they’re incomplete, I like them and I’m looking forward to learning more about songwriting. In fact, in a few weeks, I’ll be going to an all-day workshop in NYC on songwriting – my first real taste to see whether this is something I should be pursuing. I did a search one day, found this place, saw the one-day course, and signed up and paid for it all in one sitting – now THAT was a good “action” day!

And while I haven’t done an open mic night yet, I have expanded my service at my church to include formal cantoring without a group, just on my own up there with only the organ accompanying me. It’s been difficult and scary but I’m holding my own. That was something I had only thought about doing last summer – and this year, I took the plunge and actually DID it.

Plus, I actually have an audition coming up, which I’m certain will go NOWHERE, but the experience will be so valuable. I’m already looking forward to a long drive home afterwards to think through what I gained from it.

And actually, I’m also planning with my voice teacher to perform in a solo recital in the spring. Yep, an entire recital of just ME. We’ve already chosen about 80% of the program, and the songs range from opera to indie pop to “opera pop” (who knew?) to rock. It’s been an amazing motivation in keeping me focused and practicing during the week – I definitely need something to work towards when it comes to singing or else I just get lazy and slack off.

So while this post started out as a kind of calling myself out on my lack of any real action, I feel like just working through these thoughts has helped me turn it around into a nice pat on the back. Ok, so I haven’t quit my job and started singing in nightclubs and hawking a demo CD yet. (Ok, so I don’t even HAVE a demo CD yet!) I may not be on the fast track, but maybe that other old chestnut – slow and steady wins the race – can provide me some healthy perspective when I start feeling down.

And one more good action to point out – I finally WROTE this post after ignoring my blog for two months!! Yay, me. :)

Friday, May 11, 2012

Own Your Dream

As a singer, it’s easy to find yourself dreaming of winning a reality singing competition and becoming an instant celebrity, or getting discovered singing karaoke and getting a shot at being the next big thing in music. In fact, it seems almost everyone harbors a dream to be a rock star, whether they’re a singer or not.

But, to be more specific, it seems to be like the dream is always to be THE STAR, the one out in front, the individual at the center of the attention. I have these dreams too, of course, but lately I’ve begun questioning whether that’s where I really want to be. Looking back at my career to date, I realized that I’m always striving to make others look good, working behind the scenes in support of that star out in front.

When I was doing theatre, I loved stage management and working on a backstage crew – ensuring the actors’ props were clean, unbroken, and in their proper place, or getting a light or sound cue just right to achieve the mood or feeling the designer had intended. It wasn’t about me being in the spotlight – it was about making sure that the people who were, looked good.

Even in my corporate career, I have the same tendencies. I find myself striving to always give credit to others for their ideas and contributions, framing my boss in the best possible light, bringing things to people’s attention to help them avert a possible sticky situation, and being willing to take the blame when things go wrong if I had any part in the cause, to make sure someone else doesn’t take the hit. I tend to avoid highlighting my own accomplishments, and instead focus on teamwork and others’ achievements.

So I got to thinking, if this is how I prefer to work – being out of the spotlight, making others look good – maybe this is how I should approach music. Maybe what I want to do is be a background vocalist. The idea of it is really appealing – it feels less vulnerable than being the main singer in the spotlight, but still requires a lot of talent and dedication and hard work. Singing backup also involves a lot of harmonization, which I love doing – I remember back in high school, my best friend Christine and I used to always sing along with the radio while driving, and I would always take the harmony line while she sang melody. Even back then, I was drawn to the supporting role. ;)

When I found myself contemplating this idea, though, I somehow felt like it was less worthy of being my dream than the idea of wanting to be a lead singer. Who dreams of being a backup singer rather than the star? I felt like it was a cop-out dream, like I was too scared of reaching for the “real thing” and instead taking my dreams down a notch to make them less audacious or bold, or like I figured it took less talent to be a backup, so it was a better fit for unqualified little me.

Then a funny thing happened. Not long after all these thoughts were rolling around my brain, during one of my voice lessons, my teacher and I got on the subject of current popular singers, and out of nowhere, she said, “Wow, I would LOVE to be a backup singer for someone like that.” I couldn’t believe it – this is someone who has sung opera all over the globe, whose voice is out-of-this-world amazing, and she was wishing to be a backup singer.

I asked her, didn’t she think it was somehow less of an aspiration? And she asked me, “Are you crazy?” She pointed out that backup singers don’t work any less hard than leads, and there are a lot of advantages to being a backup – having the opportunity to sing for a living and go on tour while not carrying the burden of a show the way a lead singer does, getting the chance to sing harmonies versus melodies, and not being subjected to same level of scrutiny in terms of appearance (i.e. not having to be the Hollywood standard of blonde, buxom and size 0).

While I know that I shouldn’t have to look to others to validate my own thoughts or dreams, I was really grateful to hear my super-talented and accomplished voice teacher share her point of view on this. It helped me realize two things: first, that aspiring to be a background singer is absolutely a worthy and worthwhile dream.

But second, and maybe more important, was my understanding that I shouldn’t doubt my own thoughts or aspirations. If I want to pursue a certain type of career or role or interest, I shouldn’t let myself doubt it or bring it down, just because it may not be the usual thing or what everyone else dreams about or even what I think I “should” be working towards.

This comes back to an idea that keeps presenting itself to me lately in books, blogs and conversations – each of us can only be ourselves and no one else – and no one else can be us. As Dr. Seuss wrote, “Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”

I think what it all comes down to is, I need to learn how to be myself, accept myself for who I am, and be the best me, the Me-est Me, I can be. And whether that means being a lead singer or a backup singer or a different kind of musician altogether, I have to remember that my dreams are mine and no one else’s – mine alone to dream up, validate, and make come true.

If this post rings true for you, leave a comment and tell me why, or share your own uniquely-you dream.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Big Changes Come in the Littlest Moments

Many people consider life to be a journey, and while I think that word is a little overused today (thank you, reality TV and Oprah), I do love to think about the unexpected twists and turns you encounter on this path called life. I especially enjoy looking back and realizing how one small act or comment may have changed the course of my life.

One recent and relevant example in my life is Pandora. I LOVE this music service, and if you haven’t used it yet, check it out now – you’re in for a big treat that will change how you listen to music forever.

Pandora is the outcome of the Music Genome Project, in which a group of musicians analyzed a ton of music, identifying each song’s “genetic” makeup based on nearly 400 music “genes” they had identified – things like the type of harmony used, kinds of instruments and instrumentation, the beat, the rhythm, the key signature, and so on. After you enter a particular song or artist you like, Pandora builds a custom radio station for you by pulling in other songs with similar attributes.

The result is the perfect radio station, featuring music that you already love along with new songs and artists that you’ll instantly fall in love with too.

Pandora (and the story behind its genesis) is fascinating, but to me, the really interesting thing is how I first discovered it. I learned about it from a colleague at work – and not even someone I know very well, just a guy with a cube somewhat near mine. One day we somehow got to chatting about what we listened to while working, since we’re both among the few of us who have headphones on all day, and he told me he listened to Pandora.

I had no idea what it was, so I checked it out when I got back to my desk, and I was immediately hooked.

Through Pandora, I started listening to songs by artists I’d never heard of, hearing new sounds and getting exposed to different musical flavors. I didn’t even know what traditional radio stations (if any) played these kinds of music, but I knew that I was discovering whole new genres and artists that I would never had heard of if it weren’t for Pandora.

One of my favorite aspects of Pandora – aside from the actual service and the music – is that they typically include a lengthy background of the artist. I absolutely love to read stories about people’s journeys (there’s that word again!) and how they got to where they are today, and nowhere is this truer than in the world of music.

Whether they were born into a musical family or didn’t discover music until their 40s, whether they started as a background singer or a winner on that American-Idol precursor Star Search, I love to read about the path someone’s life took and their own little twists and turns.

Discovering new artists and genres and their stories through Pandora truly rekindled my love of music and made me want to get back into it…which lead me to search for a violin teacher so that I could dust off my violin (which I hadn’t really played in about a decade) and start playing again.

While looking for a violin teacher, I had the crazy thought, hey, why not look for a voice teacher too? And lo and behold, this led me to my current wonderful teacher, my newfound love of singing, and a whole new world of possibilities laid out in front of me.

So to my colleague, it was nothing more than a little throw-away comment during a quick water-cooler chat – but for me, that one brief sentence honestly changed my life forever.

I’ve had other moments like this in my life, but this is the most recent, so it sticks in my mind most clearly.

What little thing affected YOUR life in a big way? I’d love to hear about others’ little/big life-changing moments in the comments – share yours!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Nothing Like a Deadline

The company through which I take voice lessons, Musika, has announced that their end-of-the-year recital will be held on June 3. This gives me just six weeks to prepare for what will be my second public singing performance (if you don’t include all my cantoring at Mass).

At first, six weeks sort of sounds like enough – after all, American Idol contestants learn a couple new songs every week, right? But in addition to working full-time, singing at church, and being a mommy to two young kids, I’m also going on three trips that will have me out of town for a total of two full weeks over the next month, not to mention celebrating both my daughter’s and my husband’s birthdays, getting ready for my mom’s and my sister’s birthdays, hosting five family members staying at our house, and having our entire family participate in my sister-in-law’s wedding. All fun stuff, to be sure, but a little stressful and time-consuming too.

Plus, in looking at my calendar this week, I realized that due to all of this busy-ness and travel, I’m currently scheduled for exactly ONE lesson between now and the recital. (Eek.)

Did I mention that I haven’t even chosen a song yet? (Double eek!)  

And that, in addition to singing a solo piece (whatever that ends up being), I’m also going to be singing an a cappella group piece with the rest of my teacher’s students? TRIPLE EEK!!

So I guess it’s a good thing the universe has been pounding a lesson into my head lately about being diligent, organized, responsible, and proactive, because I think I’m gonna need it over the next six weeks!

Then again, I tend to do my best work when coming up on a deadline...and I have found myself a little lacking in the motivation department in regards to practicing lately. So I think this looming potential public humiliation upcoming recital will really help me buckle down, prioritize my practicing, and perfect a couple of pieces, which will give me a boost of confidence, which will be a huge help in working toward my next goal, which is: to sing at an open mic night.


Friday, April 20, 2012

Lesson Learned – Again...

I believe that we’re all here on this earth to learn, progress, and grow. And I also believe that you will keep being given the lessons you’re meant to learn, until you learn them. Sometimes, you’ll find yourself making the same mistakes, or going through the same trials and tribulations, over and over, and wonder, “Why me?”.

But rather than thinking of these things as happening to you by chance, or worse yet, because the universe is out to get you, I think it’s better to take a closer look and see what lesson is being taught to you. What can you learn from this situation and how can your own actions help you avoid it again?

I’ve recently found myself in a number of discouraging situations that can all be traced back to my own lack of action. Whether due to being overwhelmed and disorganized or just plain old procrastination, it was always a matter of me not being responsible or diligent or following through on something.

I think for a while, I was so on top of things that I let myself get complacent. I took on the attitude of “Yeah, I got this” and stopped working so hard at keeping up with everything I needed to get done. I had been working so hard for so long, I felt I deserved a break…and somehow I never got back to working hard again.

It’s been really humbling to see all the results of my mistakes – we lost out on a big chunk of money we were due to receive; my credit score dipped; my professional reputation at work may have taken a little hit – but rather than wallow in self-pity, I’ve resolved to be grateful.

I’m grateful that I got these wake-up calls to stay responsible and organized and proactive, and I’m thankful that we’re able to weather these setbacks without any long-term or serious consequences.

But most of all, I’m grateful that I was able to recognize them for what they were: a lesson that I’m being taught, and that I need to start applying every day. It’s an ongoing effort, but when the universe puts a lesson in front of you time and again, the best thing you can do is learn the lesson and move on.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Write Your Own Story

All my life, I’ve loved to read, ever since my big sister taught me my letters when I was just three. I read serious fiction, humor, memoirs, how-to books, chick lit, you name it…but lately I’ve been thinking of a special book I used to love when I was a kid: Harold and the Purple Crayon.

If you’ve never read it, it features a young boy (Harold, naturally) who wants to go for a walk in the moonlight. But since the moon isn’t out, he decides to draw one with his purple crayon. He draws a path and begins to walk, and as he continues on his journey, he’s creating his entire landscape, his whole world, with his purple crayon as he goes – a forest, an ocean, a monster, and more. He experiences all kinds of adventures on his journey, and eventually draws himself right to where he wants to be.

I keep thinking of this story because, about a week ago, I was contemplating my life, and where it’s going, i.e. the Great Unknown, and fretting a little about those pesky questions like “What am I doing with my life?” and “What am I meant to do, what am I here for?”…and then a little voice said so clearly in my head:

Write your own story.”

And suddenly it all seemed so simple. For a brief moment, everything was crystal clear: I am the author of my life. No one is writing a story in which I’m a puppet acting out what’s written for me – I am the author, the playwright, the storyteller. I control where the story goes.

So like Harold with his purple crayon, I realize that I need to write myself to where I want to be.

If I don’t like how this story is going, it’s up to me to take it in a new direction.

I may not always know where that direction is going to lead me or where I’ll end up, but along the way I’m sure to have experiences and adventures that are uniquely mine. I just need to keep writing, both literally and figuratively, to tell a story I’ll be proud to say is mine.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Taking Action (or Not...)

Today, I found a great blog that really resonated with me. It’s called The Unlost, and the writer, Therese Schwenkler, is out there asking questions like, “What should I do with my life?” and “When will I ever be happy?” and my favorite, “Who the heck am I?!” It feels like it’s written just for me.* (Except that I think I’m a little older than her target audience – does a 34-year-old count as a “young person”?)

Therese’s quest for knowledge, purpose, passion and living true to who she is really speak to me and reassure me that I’m not alone in my searching for those same things.

But blogs like hers also make me wonder…what am I waiting for?!

Therese has just quit her job – her safe, comfortable, “normal” corporate job (does any of this sound familiar??) – to travel across the country and spread her message, meet new people, and pursue what is now her passion. From major life decisions like this to her everyday writing, everything she does seems infused with energy and action.

So I'm forced to contemplate why I find it so hard to get off my ass and actually DO the things I know I want/need to do. What is keeping me from taking action? I have all these great ideas, but seem no closer to any of them than I was 6 months ago! I’ve narrowed the reasons for my inaction down to a few things:

1.      Fear of being wrong.
I don’t want to take a step unless I know it’s the “right” one – God forbid I should look foolish or make a (gasp!) mistake – so I end up taking no steps at all. Typical perfectionistic tendency.

2.      An insatiable need for information.
Going hand-in-hand with not wanting to be wrong is the idea that doing copious amounts of reading, pondering, research and self-reflection will somehow lead me to the “right” next step. So I wile my time away doing all the prep work – prep work for action that I never take.

3.      Lack of self-confidence.
It’s so easy to admire people for being “fearless,” who embrace life and jump into new adventures – I’m always in awe of their self-assuredness. But something I’m coming to realize is, a lot of them AREN’T self-assured – they’re just as scared, nervous, and confused as I am. The difference is, they don’t let that stop them from taking action.  

4.      Laziness.
Ok, this one is harsh, but true. Making major life changes, discovering who you are, pursuing goals – this stuff may be fun and exhilarating, but it’s also hard work! And sometimes, I admit, I just want to sit on the couch and relax for the few minutes I have left at the end of the day, rather than try to dredge up the energy to jump into the whole life-changing thing.

So, ultimately, what’s the point of this post? Well, frankly, I think I needed to call myself out on this stuff. Because, let’s be honest, it’s all RIDICULOUS.

Inaction is a surefire way to remain, at best, no happier than I am now, and at worst, a hell of a lot unhappier.

And taking action isn’t actually as hard as I always think it will be – in fact, the times I’ve been most successful in taking action have been when I’ve done it without a lot of forethought, moving quickly enough that I can’t stop myself and spend time worrying about taking a misstep, and basically ignoring what I’m doing until – oops, too late! I’ve actually already taken action while my head was turned the other way.

So this is a stern but loving reminder to myself: You’re being ridiculous! Nothing good comes from inaction. Taking action is NOT as hard as you make it seem. And p.s. you’re not alone.

~ Jenn

* Note: I was already done with this blog, but hadn’t posted it yet, when I read Therese’s article called Save Your Soul From Shoulditis in Twenty-Twelve (which is fantastic, by the way - go read it!), and I nearly fell off my chair at this paragraph:

I was restless. I just knew that there had to be more to life than this— more than coming into work every day, staring at an Excel spreadsheet, and then returning home every night to reruns of Friends. I felt like Belle from Beauty & The Beast, spinning around in the middle of a field and singing at the top of my lungs. “There’s got to be more than this provincial life!”

Remember how I said earlier that if felt like this blog was written just for me? Ok, so it’s not such a coincidence that I, too, constantly think about how there has to be MORE than what I’m doing…or that I go to work every day and stare at Excel spreadsheets. But every night before bed, I unwind by watching Friends re-runs…and most eerie of all, I literally just thought of that song from Beauty and the Beast two days ago – I'm talking that exact phrase from that song. (I remember because I had a whole argument with myself about how the sentiment was exactly what I was feeling, but my life isn’t really “provincial” per se. I’m weird like that.)

So…yeah. I’m a big believer in “signs” and that there are no coincidences in life, so I think this was a call-out to me that I was meant to find this blog today. (Thanks for the confirmation, universe! You rock!)

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Song Studies of the Moment

One of the main reasons I started this blog was to keep a record of my thoughts and actions and feelings, since I frankly have a terrible memory. I want a clear snapshot of these moments in time, so I can look back with perspective and understand who I was at this time… maybe also use this blog to look at myself right now and get to understand who I am today.

But I realized that it’s not just the touchy-feely stuff I need to remember, it’s also what I’m working on, what I’m having trouble with, and what I’m learning. So this is an overview of the things I’m currently working on in my voice lessons.

La Villanelle by Eva Dell'Acqua – This is a classical piece published in 1893, and I love that it was written by a female composer during a time when men probably held that title 99% of the time. It’s all in French, and when you look at the translation, you realize that this beautiful, delicate, romantic song is all about…a sparrow. Like, swooping around and stuff. I’m not big into birds, but I try to pretend I am when I sing this.

The song is crazy hard! First, it’s in French, which isn’t always the easiest language to speak. Second, it turns out that sung French is different than spoken French – for example, an “e” at the end of a word that would normally be silent when spoken may actually be pronounced when singing. Plus, there are some very tricky cadenzas (not CRE-denzas, which are furniture).

Side note: A cadenza is an improvised, ornamental series of notes – basically a show-off passage where the background music becomes very minimal or stops altogether, and the singer just shows 'em what she’s got. Except that the “improvised” part is kind of bogus, as they are often written into the music.

Anyway, there are some crazy runs and trills and overall the range on this piece is pretty high, so I literally laughed when my voice teacher told me she wanted me to start learning it. The first time I sat down with the sheet music, I had NO clue how to start. I began by speaking the words and getting the pronunciation down first, then listened to some recordings of the song over and over to get the tune in my head, and then finally started trying to sing it.

I’ve been working on it off and on for about 6-8 months, and at this point, I can do a pretty darn passable job on it, which is sort of amazing to me. As it turns out, it’s a little surprising to my teacher too. She told me a month ago that she hadn’t actually thought I would be able to sing it, she had just given it to me to challenge me and as a learning exercise. But I ended up managing to sing it, so go me!

Of course, I’m still a far cry from the professionals’ take on this song – check out Natalie Dessay’s recording or Sumi Jo’s performance at Theatre Musical de Paris – they are phenomenal.

The Phantom of the Opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber –This one is a little embarrassing to admit. As a former theatre professional, I feel like there are certain shows that are inherently uncool due to their overwhelming commercial success and popularity with high school drama clubs, and this is one of them. And I will say that this was my teacher’s choice, not mine!

But those snobby disclaimers aside, I have to admit that the music is lovely and fun to sing. And now for another embarrassing admission – I actually don’t even know the show! I’ve never seen it or read the novel, and only recognize about a third of the songs. (insert embarrassed smiley here)  So while I’m enjoying learning the songs – Think of Me is a favorite so far, along with the title piece – I know I really need to see the damn show to really understand the meanings of all the songs. The movie version will have to do – Netflix, here I come!

Kaleidoscope Heart by Sara Bareilles – This album is currently a favorite of mine, and my sister gave me the full songbook of it for Christmas a few months ago. The book is artist-approved, so it’s incredibly true to how she actually sings her songs, which I love. What I’m discovering is that, as easy as it is to sing along with a song playing in your car, when you’re on your own, it is so much harder!!

Maybe it’s my own lack of self-confidence, but the difference is striking to me. When I sing along with the CD, I can really let go and go for it and belt things out, but when I’m on my own, it’s like my safety net is gone, and I’m suddenly uncertain of every word and note. Frustrating, but a good experience to work through.

This is also a good series of songs for me to work on because my voice, for whatever reason, seems to be much more suited to classical singing. While I can recognize that it’s beautiful, most classical music just doesn’t really get me too excited – I love indie-pop and singer-songwriter type music. This is an ongoing issue that I’ve been struggling with and will need to blog about at some point – can I coerce my voice to sing pop music or am I going to have to learn to love classical? This all falls under the big “finding my voice” topic, which I will blog about soon.

In the meantime, I have a sparrow to go sing about.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Me of the Future

Obligatory apology and disclaimer: I realize it’s been over a month since my last post. In my defense, I was working 60 hours a week leading up to a crazy-huge two-week event for work, so the past month has been insane. I really hope I can stick to posting…well, more often and more regularly than I have been. (Let’s keep specific schedules out of the equation in the interest of not setting ourselves up for failure, shall we?)

Something I love thinking about is the time in my life several years back when my husband and I were both working in the non-profit theatre world. These were, financially, The Tough Years. Together, in our best year, we brought home a combined $55,000 – before taxes. This was in Philadelphia, where you get taxed both for working there and for living there, and where rent for a small place in a non-scary area just at the edge of the getting-scary neighborhood was an easy grand a month.

I remember the time when our truck broke down on the highway as we drove to my sister’s place in upstate NY for Christmas. We had our dog with us, because we couldn’t afford to kennel her. We had to get towed all the way back home, the two of us crammed in the cab of the tow truck with the dog between our feet on the floor. Then we had to call a friend of ours to help us rent a car, because neither of us had a credit card due to our poor credit. When I found out a few days later that the repairs would cost $1,200, I cried like a baby.

I remember of the time we scraped enough together for a monthly SEPTA pass for my husband, since it was cheaper than using weekly passes – and then he accidentally left it on the train after just a few days. I cried at that one too – we literally didn’t have the couple hundred bucks to replace the pass.

Our big treat back in those days, when we could afford it, was to get a Chinese take-out dinner (which we would walk to pick up, rather than pay a delivery charge) which amounted to $8. It was such a good feeling to treat ourselves in this small way when we could – and we couldn’t always.

I remember the times my sister came to visit us and brought us Pampers because all we could afford were crappy, cardboard-like generic diapers…the time our electricity got shut off and I had to change my daughter’s diaper by candlelight…the countless times we had “trouble with our phone company,” which is what we told our family when they couldn’t get a hold of us because our service had been shut off due to non-payment.

In short, we had unsteady jobs, no more than a couple hundred dollars in the bank, terrible credit, and an uncertain future – basically the exact opposite of our lives today.

Things just seemed so hopeless during those years that I often imagine what would have happened if the me-of-2012 went back in time and visited the me-of-2005. If I could have told myself how different our lives would be in just a few short years, what would have been my response? How would I have reacted to being told that, instead of renting a small row home, we would own a five-bedroom, three-floor house filled with furniture that we actually bought new? That we would both be working for large, successful companies and be making, well, significantly more than we were back then? That we would be blessed with a son in addition to our daughter and not have to rely on gifts and hand-me-downs to care for him, that we’d be able to give to multiple charities and our church and own two reliable vehicles, and that we’d have excellent credit scores, a solid savings account and retirement plans?

I know I never would have believed all of this was possible back then – such a complete financial turnaround and the achievement of so many of our goals would have seemed like a pie-in-the-sky dream and nothing more. I’m sure I would have laughed to be told such a ludicrous story.

But the flip side of this kind of reflection on the past – why I really like thinking about all this – actually has to do with the future. I can only wonder: if the me-of-2019 showed up today to tell me all about my life seven years in the future, what would she say? Given all the fantastic changes that have taken place in our lives over the past seven years, what more might life hold in store? What ludicrous story might I hear from the me of the future?

I truly could never have imagined back then what our lives would be like today, so I just love contemplating what unimaginable blessings and surprises await us over the next several years. If our lives today reflect what would have been crazy, pie-in-the-sky dreams back in 2005, maybe I should start conjuring up some crazy, pie-in-the-sky dreams today. Who knows? They might just come true down the road…

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Great Escape

I mentioned in my last post that I have a plan in the works, which I refer to as The Great Escape. I’ve also been known to refer to it as My Big, Fat, Crazy Dream. Either way, they’re both accurate descriptions of the plan.

Over the course of the past year, I’ve repeatedly come to the conclusion that I want to make my living in music. I’ve definitely had moments where I thought I knew exactly what form this would take – whether working as a recording engineer or making it big on The Voice and going on to sell millions of records. But what I’ve come to realize is that: (a) I still have TONS to learn, and (b) I’m still not sure what exactly I want to do in music, and also (c) “what I want to do” may actually include a combination of things.

Making a living by doing “a combination of things” has been a tough idea for me to accept. It takes me back to my days as a freelance theatre tech, trying to cobble together a living by doing a little of this, a little of that (and not being all too successful at it). While some people have no problem with that, it always felt too insecure to me, not having a steady, definable job to tell me where my next paycheck was coming from. It also made me feel like I was a failure somehow: what does it say about me if I can’t make a living without having three separate jobs to make ends meet?

Side note: I am in NO way disparaging anyone who makes their living doing multiple jobs. I honestly admire them for doing what they love no matter what it takes, managing to juggle multiple priorities, being able to go with the flow, and having the talent to do more than one job successfully. I’ve just personally found it difficult to let go of the idea of job security, and to ignore prevailing attitudes from more traditionally-minded friends and family members about making a jack-of-all-trades kind of living.

But I’m getting past my own mental roadblocks by realizing a few things:

  • If I can make a living in any way, shape or form by doing what I love, it’s probably worth it.
  • Having multiple sources of income means that, if one of them goes away, at least I’ll have a security net with the other(s).
  • Maybe I’m someone who needs variety in order to feel fulfilled and engaged and have fun.
  • I have multiple strengths and talents – why should I limit myself to making a living using only one?

Looking closely at those four realizations, I’ve come to a simple conclusion:

I still have a lot of work to do to figure this thing out.

I recently read an intriguing book called Write It Down, Make It Happen, which has gotten me into the habit of putting my self-reflections and desires on paper. This practice ultimately led me to distill down all my previously vague, general thoughts and wishes to a single, very specific statement:

I want to take a full year off from working a traditional job and immerse myself completely in music, dedicating every hour possible to discovering and honing my talents, learning more about my options, and studying new areas in order to ultimately figure out what I want to do with my life.

As soon as I had the thought and wrote it down, I realized yes, this is it – not just some vague thought or passing daydream, but an actual Dream that I can work towards. Yes, it’s crazy – but that’s how I know it’s right. If it were safe and boring and predictable and easy, it wouldn’t be a Dream.

I’m still working out the particulars of what this year off would look like, and I’m definitely going to be putting together a business plan of sorts for what it would entail. But at this point, I envision it as including some or all of the following:

  • Interning at a recording studio – to observe, learn, and soak up everything about it
  • Taking voice lessons – not just once but several times a week, and getting to practice every single day
  • Taking violin lessons – I played for 15 years when I was younger, and really want to get back into it
  • Conducting informational interviews – I want to talk with anyone and everyone in music to hear their stories, find out why they love what they do, and hear about the path they took
  • Going back to school – whether in person or online, whether for performance or audio engineering (or both!)
  • Writing – continuing this blog, and also potentially publishing a book of my informational interviews to share with others who are on a similar path as me
  • Attending as local concerts as possible
  • Performing in open mic nights
  • Jamming informally with other singers and musicians
  • Singing for weddings and funerals at my church
  • And whatever else strikes my fancy

I just want a year where I concentrate on nothing else (job-wise) except music. I truly feel this is what I need to figure out exactly where my strengths lie and what I really enjoy, and ultimately how I can make my living in music – whether in just one type of job or several.

So that’s it – My Big, Fat, Crazy Dream. The reason I call it The Great Escape is because it will mean escaping from the golden handcuffs of the corporate world. Now that I’m enjoying my job much more than I used to, my need to break free feels less urgent, which helps a lot, since this corporate job is what is going to fund my Dream.

Because the thing is, I can’t take a year off to do all this musical immersion without money.

So I’ve started what I call my Escape Fund, and this is where I’m socking away as much as possible in order to take my year off. My annual bonus? Escape Fund. Any raise I get? Escape Fund. Birthday or Christmas money? Escape Fund.

So far, it’s been slow going, and my monetary goal for the Escape Fund is very ambitious, but rather than feeling daunting, it’s more of a challenge to me – to work hard and get a big bonus at work, to find other options for making side income that I can put in the Fund, and to save money wherever possible. And from that perspective, it’s been going really well. Now, I just need to stick with it, maintain my motivation, and keep my eye on the prize – my Great Escape…