Monthly Archives: February 2013

Listening with Dad: A Mixtape


This post is a mixtape. All links open to delightful little YouTube treats.

I did not grow up in a family of musicians.  Mom is a teacher who specializes in talented and gifted education.  From her I gained a teacher’s instincts and an appreciation of learning styles. We both have the “life is a classroom” mentality (more on that in another story).

And Dad… well… my father was a pop song aficionado who had a talent for listening that no one can match.

My musical journey began with listening.  Dad had every album by The Beatles, The Moody Blues and Simon & Garfunkel, to name a few.  We made mixed tapes of the best songs from each album and drove around for hours, letting the melodies be the soundtrack for the scenery.  He quizzed me on the structure of a pop song, making sure I could identify the verse, pre-chourus, chorus, and bridge (in Dad’s opinion “a great band like The Beatles can get away with going to the bridge twice”).   He told me the “ad lib to fade” was a great way to keep listeners singing the melody long after the song was over. Together we learned harmonies and discovered that you can usually sing the chorus over the guitar solo chords.  And while it was cool to hear that a good song could stand on its own merit when covered by other artists, we also learned that most tunes became unpalatable to us when Willie Nelson sang.

My father instilled in me an appreciation for intelligent and singable songs.  We listened to Rick Dees Weekly Top 40 in the car in the parking lot of Prospect Congregational Church, trying to predict the top three songs in the nation.  Dad usually guessed better than I did, but it was always such a fun game.  Then we’d have long talks about why each one was popular: Was it the hook? The lyrics? The shock value?  Even if we hated a song – and that was easy to do in the 80’s – we wanted to understand and appreciate what made it pleasing to so many ears throughout the country.

I have no idea what other Prospect families did with their kids on the weekends.  

When I got a little older we would go to Cutler’s Records in New Haven to buy 45″ singles.  Dad was interested in new music but wasn’t about to buy any “crap,” even if I assured him it was quality music.  So I would pick out songs I thought Dad would like and the staff would play them on the store’s record player.  The customers must have enjoyed seeing a twelve year old and her Dad evaluating new bands like Crowded House (“Wow. That’s good.”) and Motley Crue (“Melissa. NO.”).

Listening to music together started conversations we otherwise would not have had.  I learned a lot of history when we talked about music from the 1960s.  Some of my absolute favorites from the 80s and 90s led to father/daughter talks about behavior, respect, and censorship.  We had a great debate over whether “I Want Your Sex” should be on the radio.  I was anti-censorship (and thought George Michael was talented).  Dad was anti-smut (and “that guy is a punk”).  I think he got me to agree it wasn’t that good of a song anyway and then we got some pizza. No matter what, we learned a lot about each other.  

These moments are among the most joyous of my life.  Dad and I were 100% connected and 100% in the present moment when we listened together.  We had our share of family heartache and disappointment.  But our relationship with each other remained grounded, open, honest and simple.

The last concert we saw together was in 2009 (one year before he passed away at the age of 67).   I took him to see Kicking Daisies, a band of teens I had started vocal coaching earlier that year.  The members at the time were Cait and Carly (now in Like Violet) and Ben and Duran (joined by Richie and Jeff in KD). They had become like family to me (and still are).  So, I found myself nervous about Dad’s opinion of their music.  At the end of the show he guessed which songs were their hits.  He said he loved the show and believed they would all be very successful musicians because their songwriting and playing was superb.  Joy!  I felt like that twelve year old at Cutler’s Records being given the thumbs up.  When we went backstage he was deeply touched that the band members all knew about our musical adventures together.

Listening with my father turned my love for singing into a more profound understanding of music and a deeper appreciation for the way we connect with our favorite songs.  More importantly, it created a bond with my Dad that enriched both of our lives more than lyrics can say.  I treasure this connection with every song I hear.

Ad lib to fade

My GRAMMY Moments

As a child, I acted out the GRAMMY awards with my stuffed animal collection.  My koala bear never won; I always did (koala was cool about it).  I imagined that winning a GRAMMY would feel like total infatuation with life; like my musical creations, born from my passion for music, were loved by many; like I was seen, heard, valued and understood by fellow creative artists.  In my dreams, then, I was living the life I was meant to lead.  I had purpose.  I had a voice and I was using it to connect with and inspire others.  

As a teen I became very goal-oriented and achievement-driven, looking for accolades, fame and recognition.  While I won athletic, music and theater awards often enough, I felt restless soon after.  I created a habit of living a future focused life, only happy when working toward some other goal, discarding it in my mind once completed.

In my twenties I quit a successful corporate career to pursue music.  I was, I thought, “living the dream.”  Imagine how embarrassing and devastating it was to learn that I couldn’t earn a living, and more importantly, I. Did. Not. Like. It.  Not at all.   Even when the gigs were good and the press was kind I felt the opposite of what I expected to feel.  I felt hassled, tired and lonely, like a traveling saleswoman.  I was peddling cover tunes I hated and sneaking in originals when the crowd was too busy playing pool to object.  I stopped writing.  I stopped connecting with people at shows.  I had chased the outside vision of my childhood dream and had come up empty inside (again).

I took a break from gigging, felt horribly lost and depressed, and grieved what I perceived to be my inability to be happy.  Clearly, I had it all in front of me: a guitar, a songbook,  CDs with my face on the jacket, a monthly radio show, venues to play and people to play to, even some singer/songwriter awards and recognition, and I still wasn’t satisfied.  I couldn’t fathom why I was here on Earth if I wasn’t meant to be a singer/songwriter.  

Not knowing what else to do, I picked up a few more students at my part-time job as a vocal coach in town.  Slowly, eventually, I realized that teaching allowed me to be very present.  Other things began to occur to me: I am a morning person.  Driving home at 2AM from grimy bars had kept me away from my beloved mornings for years.  I like to eat well and exercise (not always options for the full-time gigster), and I love, love, love being involved with musicians who are optimistic, open minded, and full of life.  Teaching singing and songwriting to young artists provided me with all of that and then some.  

One day a pre-teen student confided in me that her school mates were making fun of her and calling her fat.  I told her my story, that in 8th grade all of my friends broke up with me, one by one, because they wanted to be popular and they thought I was fat and ugly.

“Yeah, but you’re not fat or ugly,” she said.
I felt like I was hit by a bolt of lightning when I replied “And neither are you.”

We looked at each other through tears and smiled.  I felt her see herself through my eyes and receive this truth.   Then she sang.  And it was beautiful.

That was my first GRAMMY moment.

I began to design my life around these feelings, taking on more students, studying the art of vocal coaching in greater depth, writing and performing only when the mood struck me.   Years later I opened my own vocal coaching studio and now I’m training some of my original students to be coaches in their own right.

I am infatuated with my life; I feel valued and loved; I know that I am using my voice to connect with and inspire others.

When I look into the eyes of a 17 year old student who is accepting his value as an artist for the first time in his life, that is a GRAMMY moment.

When an eight year old student, who takes voice lessons with Nicole (a vocal coach I have trained for nine years), rocks our showcase to wild applause, that is a GRAMMY moment.

When a longtime student leaves for college and I am brave enough to cry huge, heartfelt tears with her, that is GRAMMY moment.

When I sing to a room of 20 or 50 or 300 people and the energy touches all of our hearts together, that is a GRAMMY moment.

How many times have you achieved a goal, only to find you couldn’t enjoy it?  And the next morning (or the next minute) you found yourself feeling restless?  Empty?  Purposeless?  

It’s not achieving that rocks our worlds, it’s being present with the feelings we most desire.  

Find the feelings inside your secret dreams.  

Let those feelings find you wherever you are.  You do not need to earn them.  You only need to identify them and then get ready to receive them.

Live your GRAMMY moments in your heart and shout “thank you” out loud.

PS: This GRAMMY belongs to a great friend and mentor who provides awesome advice and encouragement.  I know that when I hold my own GRAMMY (or one of the ones my students will win) I will be ready to receive the feelings inside the original dream.


Dream Realized

I’ve heard our adult lives involve building what we wished for as children. For me that is so true at our showcases. My biggest childhood dream was to be surrounded by bright, zany, talented musicians and writers; to be a part of a creative collective. And here we are.