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I’ve been meaning to share some thoughts on the topic of ear training as well as an update of the lullaby album, but it’s been an, often wonderfully so, but nonetheless, full-court-press crazy busy kind of time.

Also, I’ve been a bit stymied because, while listening to the roughs from the studio, which I brought home with me a couple weeks ago, certain I loved them all, was done with all the recordings, and that the next step was mixing and mastering, I discovered that a few songs probably should be re-sung after all…one due to a diction thing I inadvertently did which I think will make it less nice to listen to if I don’t re-record it, and other technical things I came across including that I am just not as melodically strong, as dead on center-certain as I should be in a couple of the songs, which puzzled and frustrated me.

As I mentioned in my last post, recording this album and getting to work with the fantastic musicians accompanying and recording me has been so educational (and inspirational) -- like years of music lessons compressed into a few weeks. When I asked the studio owner/musician Craig Dreyer for advice on the songs that were not as melodically strong, he quickly broke some big topics down into what are essentially principles and exercises of ear training that I’ve never actually considered before. As he aptly (but kindly) put it when I was struggling with a song I’d thought would be the easiest and fastest to record of the whole collection but which I got tripped up over: All you’ve got to do is sing in tune and in rhythm. The rest will take care of itself.

From having this experience and listening to the roughs over and over, realizing how often I practice without accompaniment or practice while doing other things, I decided to do as much ear training as I can, bone up on these foundational exercises before approaching the mic again, surround myself more in just the sounds of these particular songs.

So, during this busy time, when I haven’t been pretty much running around having a great time getting to be a part of whatever activity my daughter is up to, or running around busy with less fun but necessary tasks, I’ve been getting back to the music fundamentals. Hitting the practice rooms and setting up an old keyboard in my living room to practice with. And while this is proving useful, I cannot say that my smile in the picture here, just after one of these ear training sessions, is not one tinged with relief. However, I think that ear training, even just a bit and in small increments, is the single best exercise I can recommend to anyone who didn’t study music or needs to practice on the fly like I do.

Yesterday evening though, I didn’t practice intervals or play melodies while singing at a piano. Instead, I sat with my guitar in the kitchen playing and singing the soon to be re-sung lullabies.

It was the last thing I’d done of the day and I was pretty tired, not at my musical best. In fact, for a moment I wondered if any of my ear training had been progress yet. But then my daughter came in, sat next to me, and did something she’d never done before. She began to sing along with me, to sing her lullabies instead of listening to them. As we made our way through the songs, I realized that her energy and her voice was leading me through the melody this time, not the other way around. She also made some great suggestions, all of which I am using and will bring along with me next week when I am back at the microphone.

I can’t help but smile about my daughter helping me get ready during the home stretch of recording the lullabies I wrote for her...and that when I was getting a bit stuck, she led me through the songs I wrote for her.

But how could this not be the case? She inspired them all...every word and every note and all the spaces in between...

Late during the winter before this past one, I spent the afternoon with my grandmother after learning that she would need to have hospice care soon. Her 92 year old body was irreversibly shutting down, and I knew she would not remain lucid for long. I was so very grateful to be able to be with her and we sat in the sunshine near a big window and talked for the entire afternoon. She told stories, my favorite stories, about the important people of her past -- my grandfather, her best friend, her mother. In between stories, she asked me for reassurance that everyone in the family would be okay after she was gone, that I would be fine. I reassured her we would. In response to her worries about how hard I work, I told her how happy I am as a mom, that I am beginning to make music again, that my daughter and I have a bright future. She held my hand and smiled again and again as we spoke, and I looked at her as hard as I could, trying to carve every line of her lovely face, her lovely smile into my memory forever.

 

I went to a yoga class very early yesterday morning where the teacher told us that the theme for that class would be hope. She encouraged us to picture someone or something that makes us feel hopeful and reach toward this image throughout the class. She encouraged us to think of our hope when the class got challenging, of course to take breaks when needed, but to continue to reach, reach toward hope and see where this would take us.

When I went to college, studying music was the furthest thing from my mind. Although I’d always sung in choirs, musicals, and a cappella groups in high school, I had no formal music training or education. One of my roommates, however, had an extensive background in both and she encouraged me to audition with her for studio voice lessons at Barnard. When I arrived at the audition, it seemed as though hundreds of other students were there, all singing opera and other complicated pieces I’d never even heard, let alone dreamed of singing. Certain I didn’t belong there, I turned to leave the building, but ran into my roommate on the way out. She dragged me back in, my shaking hands holding the sheet music for the sweet, simple song the piano accompanist would play at my audition. When the accompanist began playing, I realized that the sheet music was written much lower than the key in which I, with my high soprano voice, had practiced the song. Panicked, I closed my eyes, put my hand on the piano, took a deep breath, and sang anyway. After what seemed to me an endless performance, the judges asked me why I wanted to take voice lessons. I had no answer for them other than that I loved to sing. Looking back, I wonder if that simple expression of joy is what won them over.

 

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