Wednesday, March 31, 2010


We weren't selected for the Tucson Folk Festival this year. Alas.

We hadn't thought it would be difficult to get in, given that they let us play last year. However, a lot more people applied this time around—a "staggering 43% increase," according to the selection committee.

There are several reasons why we may not have made the cut:
  1. They think we suck.
  2. They realized we're not actually a folk band.
  3. They think we suck because we're not actually a folk band.
We're disappointed, but that's the way it goes. In the meantime, we've got something else in the works that we're pretty excited about. I'll talk about that when I'm less afraid of jinxing it.


Monday, March 29, 2010


"There were times where I sort of looked at my life thinking, well I can't do this and I can't do that. And you keep on concentrating on the things that you wish you had or the things that you wish you didn't have. And you sort of forget what you do have."
—Nick Vujicic

"For it is my contention that the valorization of musical composition so typically associated with a figure like Beethoven has a way of drawing attention away from the processes that produce music—not the creative processes of the individual composer ... but the deeper, less obvious contributions of more ambiguous and complex actors like society and technology."

There's a video that's been making its way around Facebook. It features Nick Vujicic, a man with no arms, no legs, and the sunniest disposition you've ever seen. Interspersed with his motivational speeches about a "life without limits" we see shots of him doing things you wouldn't have imagined he could do.

There he is diving into a swimming pool.

... moving a soccer ball across the field.

... fishing.

... steering a motorboat.

... holding a golf club between his neck and shoulder, swinging the club, and sinking the ball.

Called No Arms, No Legs, No Worries, the four-minute video is meant to sell his DVD of the same name, but various viewers have found it inspirational in its own right. So do I. Sort of.

The truth is that, for me, the clips stir up decidedly mixed emotions. Part of this is my churlish tendency to become resentful when anyone attempts to cram a positive attitude down my throat. So, because this guy has no arms and no legs and he's found happiness, I am never allowed to feel sad again?

Better yet, should I fail to feel compassion for those who occasionally get frustrated with their disabilities or chronic illnesses? Vujicic has managed to overcome his, after all. Why should I be burdened with the sadness of people who face much greater obstacles than I do? They should just get over it!

Another thing I found offputting had to do with the editing of the short film. After marveling at Vujicic's ability to do things like dive into the swimming pool (which is really quite impressive), I'd think, Hey, wait a minute. How'd he get up there in the first place?

Because that's what we never see. The person lifting him onto the diving board. The person handing him the fishing pole or the golf club. The person driving him to all the locales where he can show off his amazing abilities.

They are amazing, mind you. The fact that he needs others to assist him doesn't take away from that at all. And I'm sure that in real life, Vujicic is intensely grateful for those helpers. But their total absence in the video implied that they didn't matter.

For all intents and purposes, they didn't exist.

* * *

I'm singling out this video because it's garnered a lot of attention, but it's just one example of a larger phenomenon. We applaud individual achievements. We ignore all those people in the background who helped make the achievements possible.

Being a musician, I especially notice this in music. Most of us profess admiration for our favorite artists, lauding their genius. We don't spare a lot of thought for the people and things that elevate them. Accompanying performers, sound engineers, producers, technology ... all conspire to make the artists in the spotlight sound more brilliant they ever would have on their own.

Sometimes we take those helpers for granted even when we're the ones they're helping.

So, I'm taking this opportunity to encourage all of us to think about them. I'm not going to use the word gratitude. It's a wonderful thing to possess, but like a positive outlook, not so much fun when anyone tries to shame you into feeling it. Instead I speak simply of acknowledgment—giving a nod to everyone who makes us better than we are.

I'll start. In no particular order, and with deep apologies to everyone I've inevitably missed, here's a list of people who have positioned me on my own personal diving board.


My parents, for subsidizing all those piano lessons. My mother, in particular, sat with me and kept me on track for the first few years as I practiced. I never gave it a moment's thought at the time, but in retrospect that had to have been incredibly boring for her.

My grandmother, for donating her Kimball upright piano to the piano-lessons cause and footing the bill for moving it from her house (in Ohio) to ours (in Illinois).

My first piano teacher, Allan Stahl. He had the patience of a saint, and his lessons went beyond how to play the instrument. He taught me how to write musical notation when I was ten. He also taught ear training from almost day one. I had no idea how unusual the latter was until I went to music camp as a teenager and discovered that no one else could tell a fourth from a fifth.

My other piano teachers, Eric Olsen and Lira Makarova . Eric got me to take technique more seriously. Lira explained it to me in a way that finally clicked.

My friend MJ, for songwriting advice, encouragement, and collaboration. If not for him, I might have stopped writing after my first song.

My friend Scot, aka DeppityBob, the first person to suggest that I should take voice lessons. He said my singing wasn't as bad as I thought I was ... that it had potential. I didn't quite believe him at the time, but he planted the seed.

My vocal coaches, Wendy Adams, Eric Hansen, and Joy Willow. Wendy gave me power. Eric gave me subtlety. Joy gave me control.

Ron the Drummer. The first time we got together to jam—back when I was still working out major kinks in the whole singing thing—he heard what my voice could sound like instead of what it did sound like. Lucky for me. Not only is he an amazing drummer, but he understands what serves the songs he's helping arrange. His drumming makes the stuff I write sound like it's supposed to sound, and he does it with very little direction from me.

Mick O'Brien, who dropped a bunch of money on us so we could make our first album.

My aunt Jane, whose donation subsidized the making of the little plastic discs. People say CDs are dead, but it's hard to sell downloads at a live gig.

Our producer, Drew Raison of Big Sky Audio, for going above and beyond the call of duty. Our album was so much better than it would have been if we'd been left to our own devices. Many of the songs I write today are better because of the feedback he gave me then.

Studio musicians Mike Witmer and Matt Hepler. They also made our album better through their talent and creative input.

The boyfriend, for talking me off the ledge when I've felt like no one else would care about our music.

Everyone who's listened to us and liked what they heard.

* * *

Your turn! Which people have helped you get to where you are now? Who makes it possible for you to be your best self? Post answers in the comments, or put them on your own blog and link to them here.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Paws in the Plaza pictorials

More gig pics! These are from March 6, when we did the Humane Society benefit.

Setting up before the performance. On the right, Ron the Drummer is meticulously checking, er, something or another that I didn't have to worry about because Ron handles everything related to equipment. Have I mentioned lately that Ron is awesome?

The performance itself. I usually don't sing with my hat on as it bumps against the mic if I'm not careful. I made an exception because the sun in my face would have driven me crazy otherwise. Shockingly, the hat did not protect my face from getting burnt to a crisp.

Ron the Drummer!

"Hey," I wrote to Ron after cropping this last pic, "at least one of us managed to look photogenic!"

"It looks like I am going to bite someone," replied Ron.

I hadn't noticed. But yeah, he kind of does.

Anyway. See you next time we play. Grab a seat right in front. Ron won't bite. Probably.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

On repeat

I thought up a hook for a song while grocery shopping. Yay!

It sounds uncomfortably similar to another song I wrote a few years ago. Boo!

I like the melody and cadences too much the way they are to want to change them a whole lot. Hmm.

The more I do this, the harder it is to be original.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Airplane encounter

Airplane etiquette intrigues me.

You'd think sitting next to someone for hours and saying nothing but hello (if that) might be rude. But it's not, and as a socially awkward introvert, that works for me. The idea of sustaining a conversation with a stranger for hours makes me nervous. The alternative is figuring out how to politely end a conversation with someone I'm (still) sitting next to, and I don't know how to do that either.

Still, when my seatmate talks to me, as my seatmate did on the first leg of my trip on Friday, I try to oblige. Anyone that friendly should be encouraged.

I was going to South Carolina. He was from South Carolina. That's a good starting off point, right? And he was nice, easy to talk to.

Finally I asked him the reason for his trip. He said he was going to DC for a gig. He'd be singing in front of around 700 people.


I'd liked him already. Now I was jazzed. We were so not going to run out of things to talk about in the next five minutes. I briefly pulled my CD out of my purse like a calling card, and we chatted about what kind of music we play, how we got into singing and songwriting, etc.

At the end of the flight, we exchanged CDs. I won't get to listen to his until I'm back in Tucson. Something (besides joyous reunion with the boyfriend) to look forward to when my vacation is over.

Funny. When I got back into music after a prolonged absence, I did it because I missed music. Meeting other members of the tribe is a fringe benefit I still haven't gotten used to.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Gone fishin'

I will be traveling to visit family today, returning late Tuesday night. While I have people tending to the house while I'm gone, they won't be updating the blog, and I'll likely not access the Internet during the trip.

Here's an article about dancing babies to tide you over.

Have a good weekend. And remember, if babies can move to the music without worrying about how they look doing it, so can you.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Glass Onion pics

Some pictures from our Glass Onion gig, February 28, courtesy of photographer Jim Nelson.

Ron the Drummer smiles winningly for the camera while I bliss out or something. I think it's unfair that while I've never experienced the joys of recreational drugs, I often look stoned out of my mind in these photos.

I appear amused here. Not sure by what. Ron looks as though he'd like to know too.

Squeegee poet

I spotted him as I walked out of Walgreens. Neither very old or very young, short hair, black, and perched on a bicycle, he had that appraising, watchful look you see in people who are about to ask you for spare change. Would he? The guy didn't seem raggedy enough to need it.

He approached and gave me his pitch. Turns out he was selling poetry. He'd run off copies of some verses he'd written, and he was taking donations for them.

OK, that was kind of cool. A novel approach to panhandling or marketing or possibly both.

He pulled out one of the poems, entitled "Joy," and began reciting.

I can't remember any of it verbatim. Something along the lines of, "Joy is the opposite of pain / (something something something) rain." Basically a greeting card, only longer and more simplistic.

So I had two choices. Give the guy a dollar to make him feel good about his bad rhyming poetry, or be an asshole and say no.

I'm an asshole. I made declining noises. He ignored them and pulled out another poem. I had to cut in before he started reciting again. After more polite declining noises from me, he asked if I'd like to make a contribution. I shook my head.

He kind of pulled into himself, looked downward, and didn't say anything else.

Part of me felt guilty. The compassionate and human thing would have been to ignore the quality of his work. Maybe he really needed that money. Even if not, it hurts when someone rejects your heartfelt creative efforts. I know how it is.

The other part of me was irritated. I hawk Cinder Bridge music at every gig we play. Most people pass. I don't give them guilt trips when they do.

Wonder what would have happened if I'd offered to exchange our CD for his poems.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Hi-fidelity first class traveling set

When Pink Floyd signed with EMI Group, EMI agreed that it wouldn't sell their tracks as singles without permission from the band. A British court has ruled that this applies not only to physical albums, but Internet sales as well.

From The Daily Caller:
Experts said the ruling offers another brick in the wall supporting artists’ control of their own work — and a boost for music fans dismayed by the power of online music retailers to slice and dice albums into individual tracks ...

The band’s lawyer, Robert Howe, said the band was known for producing “seamless” pieces of music on albums like “The Dark Side of the Moon” and “The Wall,” and wanted to retain artistic control.
Legally, the ruling makes sense. Pink Floyd entered into their agreement with the understanding that EMI wouldn't slice and dice their music. New technology or no, the spirit of the law is clearly on their side.

Furthermore, as the lawyer suggested, Pink Floyd songs don't lend themselves well to unbundling. Every song connects to every other song on the album. Except for the first track, there's no clear beginning. Except for the last track, there's no clear end. I generally believe that listeners should be able to choose how they experience music, but the decision makes a certain amount of artistic sense.

With that settled, only one question remains. Exactly how many Pink Floyd fans are going to want Pink Floyd's music in MP3 format?

Lossy compression, anyone?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Artists will be compensated!

Every day, the company hosting our electronic press kit sends a couple of messages containing gig opportunities. Here's a sampling from today's inbox:
Don't miss your LAST CHANCE to submit to Bumbershoot, North America’s largest urban music and arts festival. Bumbershoot takes place at Seattle Center over Labor Day weekend. More than 250 scheduled events provide 150,000 attendees with an engaging mix of entertainment and spectacle. Selected artists will be compensated for their performances.
The emphasis is not mine, folks. The people taking submissions for a very well-known, very hip concertpalooza really wanted us to know they would pay us. Not that they'd pay us a whole lot, mind you ... just that they'd pay us.

This is why I keep my day job.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Another virus in the news

A recent study reveals that in certain individuals, human herpesvirus 6 (HHV-6) can insert itself into human chromosomes.

Full story at RedOrbit.

The study could have interesting implications for ME/CFS, as many people with this disease have high titers of HHV-6. Too early to tell, but something to keep an eye on.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

There's no stopping us this time

When my parents came out to see us play yesterday, we got to show off a few new songs they'd never heard before. Their reactions were almost uniformly positive. "That's a very powerful song," they'd say. Or, "You have to put that on your next album!"

But at the end of the first chorus for "Now You See Us," my father started laughing. And I couldn't figure out why. Did I do something wrong?

I asked him about it after our set, reciting the chorus to jog his memory:
Someone's got to keep the faith
Someone's got to hold the line
I can build a mighty fortress
With the power of my mind
I'll do anything it takes
Gonna take back what is mine
And there's no stopping us this time
"There's no stopping us this time," my dad echoed. "Every protest song is like that. They all think they can change the world."

He's right, of course, but what's the alternative? "Someone's got to keep the faith / Someone's got to hold the line / I'll keep singing at you people / Though it's just a waste of time"

The point is to convey a common purpose, and to give ourselves just enough optimism to carry us through to the next little action we take.

You can't rally the troops by being realistic, dammit!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Every single time ...

Paws in the Plaza has come and gone. Like last year, people seemed to enjoy the music. Like last year, the Humane Society made some money and adopted out some animals. Like last year, the weather was absolutely gorgeous.

And like last year, I forgot the sunblock. Ow.

This happens EVERY TIME. Somehow, after the last outdoor gig of a season, I forget that the sun will scorch me if I'm exposed to it for over five hours—the fact that it's only 74 degrees won't protect me.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Paws in the Plaza

Gig tomorrow.

Date & time: Saturday, March 6, 11 to 1 p.m.
Place: Casas Adobes Plaza (southwest corner of Oracle & Ina)
Directions: Go here
Cover: Free, but the Humane Society will take donations if you are so inclined

Basically the same as last year's event, except I think it's "Paws IN the Plaza" instead of "Paws AT the Plaza." As somebody who spends some of her professional life as a copyeditor, it bugs me that I may have gotten the wording wrong the first time.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Biggest fans

I played the oboe in middle school. I wasn't particularly good at it. Maybe I didn't do much worse than most kids learning to play an instrument in band, but that's not saying much.

Nevertheless, driving me home after one of our school concerts, my mother showered me with effusive praise about how well I'd done.

"Are you sure you could hear me playing?" I asked.

Oh yes, she said. She could definitely hear me above all those other instruments. She felt very confident about it.

That's when I told her I hadn't played at all. A friend had accidentally wrecked my reed while we were waiting to go on. More accurately, I had been holding my oboe in such a way that anyone brushing past my seat would destroy said reed. Oops. Annoying, but not a major tragedy. I didn't have any solos. I could easily fake my way through the concert. No one would notice.

And no one did. I hadn't counted on fooling my mom quite so thoroughly, though.

She was horribly embarrassed when she learned the truth. I thought it was kind of amusing. And of course, I never let her live it down.

The funny thing is, she wasn't lying. With every fiber of her being, she believed she could pick my notes out of the crowd. And they sounded beautiful. Beautiful, dammit!

Fast forward almost three decades later. My parents are flying into town tonight and staying for a week, which means they'll catch one of our gigs. We're playing a Humane Society benefit at Casas Adobes Plaza on Saturday, March 6, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

I hope to treat my parents to a better performance than the one from seventh or eighth grade. Luckily, both my voice and keyboard have been working just fine. With just Ron the Drummer and me playing, sitting out the set would be a lot more conspicuous.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Get yourself some cheap sunglasses

Hanging out with some friends who came to see our Glass Onion gig, I got some spontaneous advice:

Look people in the eye more often. That engages them. It makes it seem more like you're singing to them and not at them.

A good insight, but kind of funny in light of Ron the Drummer's recent suggestion that I shouldn't do that so much. I had taken his words to heart and didn't attempt eye contact as often this time around.

Then another friend who'd seen us jumped in with a different suggestion. If I don't like eye contact, I should get a pair of sunglasses and wear them while we play. Then I can look at people, stare into space, close my eyes, do anything I want, and people won't care. He said that's what he did when he was performing.

It's a good idea, but it wouldn't work for me.

Sunglasses convey a sense of detachment and cool. Our songs are not detached, and they are not cool. Unless you're Stevie Wonder, donning shades whilst spilling your guts all over the stage doesn't really work.

Also, I hate wearing sunglasses.

Oh well. Back to the drawing board.