Well, hello there!!! It’s been a few years since I’ve written a blog post on here, but I’ve been updating videos and concert dates. Feel free to check out a new video I have posted from a concert with my school’s strings orchestra from October 20th. It was a magical event for me to be featured in, and I am so grateful for that opportunity! I may write more on that later…but now, on woman.life.song!

Now in my third and final year of my bachelor’s at Kungliga Musikhögskolan, I’m finally feeling some more control over my own voice and how I want to sing the pieces I sing. Getting older and learning to be kinder to oneself truly is a gift! Also a huge thanks to my wonderful voice teacher for showing me that singing is also fun and joyous, not only hard work and impossible arias. Among many other things this semester, I’m getting started on my senior recital and thesis. I’ll be performing parts of Judith Weir’s piece from 2000 called woman.life.song. It was commissioned by world-famous soprano Jessye Norman (well, paid for by a rich, conservative New Yorker), who brought together Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison and Clarissa Pinkola Estés to write the text and Judith Weir to write the music. It was premiered at Carnegie Hall by Jessye Norman and the Orchestra of St. Lukes. There are seven movements and it is about 45 minutes long. The piece itself is for soprano soloist and and an extended chamber group of 19 players (3 flutes, 3 clarinets, 3 percussionists, piano, guitar, harp and 7 strings). The piece tells the life cycle of a woman, from childhood to youth to old age. The subjects of the movements range from waiting impatiently for a young girl’s breasts to grow in and her imagining how they will turn out to accepting her mother’s death to loving her own aging body that has taken her so many places.

What I love about this piece is of course the music and the wonderful textures Judith Weir writes in the strings and woodwinds parts, but also the fact that this piece was so collaborative between the commissioner, the authors and the composer. Also that four woman of color were the ones determining the work’s content and story. It was created out of collaboration, strength, empowerment and the joy of being able to tell a story in one’s own words.

Listen to an interview with Jessye Norman here. She mentions loving to sing the piece so much since the women behind it were able to tell their own story themselves, rather than constantly singing music and texts that represent the deepest most inner feelings of women but written by men. Contrast this piece with Schumann’s Frauen-Liebe und Leben, which is a song-cycle about a woman’s intense love for her husband, ranging from her joy of him noticing her to her complete and utter despair when he dies. All of the movements are about her in relation to him and how much she loves him. Now, think back to woman.life.song and revel in the fact that only one of the seven movements is about romantic love! Can you believe it, a woman’s life is so much more than her relationship to a man!?! This is just one of thousands of reasons why the classical musical canon needs to be renewed and why we need to perform and hear more music from people who are not cis-men.

Here is an interview with Toni Morrison, Jessye Norman, Clarissa Pinkola Estés and Judith Weir about the piece. I love this. They laugh and look at each other so lovingly, with so much respect and a desire to lift one another so high. Clarissa says she wanted to write words that would fill every corner of Jessye’s body. She also says later that “Almost anytime women get together and do something like this, it is still considered historic. Still.” I’m not sure she meant it in this way, but I take it as the fact that this is not something completely new, it is just that society forgets all of the amazing work women do ALL THE TIME and think it’s the first time. Without devaluing the importance of this piece, it isn’t the first time and it won’t be the last time. It may be a very long time until a piece like this is featured in Carnegie Hall, true. And yes, it is very rare for this combination of women to collaborate on this level and with the huge budget and space they were given. But, women collaborate artistically and creatively all the time and in very meaningful ways, even if it is not always consumed by the mainstream. But we also need to remember the reasons why it seems so extraordinary and the reasons why the work women and specifically women of color have previously done are so easily forgotten.

There are so many questions that I want to examine about this piece. I’m still wanting to examine and discuss the idea of this being universal for all women, since I’m not sure I believe this can be universal. Even though I can thus far relate to many of the movements very much, especially about waiting in my breasts impatiently, not all women want breasts. Not all women grow breasts, some are born without them and want to get them through plastic surgery. Not all women want romantic relationships with men. Not all women have a loving relationship with their mothers. Other big questions I have center around the fact that this piece was formed by four women of color and one white woman, which makes me want to examine race, whiteness and classical music. What is my role in this as a white woman, as there are some cultural markers in the text that relate to black culture? What does it mean that I sing this piece, that was written for Jessye, who grew up in the south in the 1940s and 50s and was one of the first super famous black opera singers, who experiences all from blatant racism to microaggressions to exotification to misogynoir to tokenism?

That’ll have to be for a later post, when I’ve done more research and written some of my thesis.

Read the texts of the work here: (taken from http://www.musicsalesclassical.com/composer/work/1689/2764)

1a. ON YOUTH [Maya Angelou]

The stride of young legs and the stretch of limber arms were my wealth. My clear and powerful eyesight and my acute hearing were my treasures. I confess that the coins in my purse were scarce or altogether not there, and others may have thought me poor, but when my old grandmother threw a clump of raw peanuts on the floor of the hot oven, and as the air became perfumed with the friendly aroma of roasting nuts and my uncle, sitting happily in the dark corner, began to hum the old songs of the spirit: the aroma of the nuts, the sound – the heavy silk sound of the ancient spirituals, a glass of cold milk in my hand, my young body – obedient to my will – made me rich beyond measure and my heart was filled with gladness.

© Maya Angelou

1b. BREASTS!! SONG OF THE INNOCENT WILD-CHILD [Clarissa Estés]

I have been waiting,
and I have been waiting,
and all over the world,
are millions, just like me…
We are all waiting –
just waiting and waiting,
for the most important thing…
Breasts!!

[Oh, Breasts!!]
Oh when shall I receive my breasts?
Will they be like
the tiny hearts of birds beating?
Or, sonorous,
even ponderous,
like majestic bells
swaying and
ringing across the land?
Oh, Breasts!!
They will be so beautiful…
Do you suppose,
even though mine do not yet show,
that they are all ready,
and just waiting,
deep inside of me?
And if I squeeze my waist, like this,
or if I tense my wrists together,
will they
– just –
– pop –
– out??!! –
visible at last?

Oh, Breasts!!
you are what I dream about – yet, wait…
Does a beloved ocean have breasts…?
Does an ocean even need them?
No, an ocean has its crests, and every current needed for dreaming.
Does a butterfly have breasts?
No, but still everyone thrills
to the sunlight through her wings.

Oh, Breasts!!
If I had breasts I would wear them
ever so smartly,
I would use them to proudly point with,
or flash them in disdain, or lift them up in joy –
but I would never flaunt them,
nor stuff them,
and especially, never fluff them…
except on special ceremonial occasions…
when I would wear ruffles [cut]
“down to here”,
every chance I got!

Oh, Breasts!!
the testers of my patience
Everyone has them, but me…
Chines, Zulus and Haitians
Hawaiians, Aleuts and Transylvanians,
Balinese, Russians and Romanians…
Everyone, but me…

Oh, Breasts!!
In fairytales, they say
giantesses have breasts so long
they can throw them over their shoulders.
Will mine be like that?
Will they be like two young candles glowing
in every dark and gloaming?
or like sweet and tasty [dark] cherries swelling from the branches,
or maybe they’ll be cone-shaped like shy little tulips,
or maybe they’ll be mellow like ripe and dusky melons,
or maybe they’ll be “this big” and take up all the room –
in any room I’m in.
Will having breasts change my voice?
Will breasts make me taller?
When will I receive them?
for with breasts, I am certain that,
– I will rule the world! –

Come! O Lady of my body,
for I am blessed amongst women –
untie the ribbons of my body,
so it can swell in the way it is meant to…
Oh, Mounder of Breasts,
Untier of Ribbons,
Singer to Flowers Unfolding,
please, please, come to me soon?
Breasts!
Tempestuous,
Breasts!!
Holy Mothers of every living creature,
holy with desire,
holy and on fire!
[Holy breasts!]
Breasts-to-be!
Be alive!
Now!!
MMM-mmm-mmm.

© Copyright 1999 Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Ph.D

1c. EDGE [Toni Morrison]

He was a boy – just a boy –
and I was a very young girl.
In blazing light and shadows trimmed in gold
we took the risk of love
the grist of love
the dreamy, steamy mist of love.
For he was a boy – just a boy –
and I was a very young girl
racing to the edge of love
the bed of love
the love-me- til-I’m-dead of love.
He was a boy – just a boy –
and I was a very young girl.

We were new to time
and dreams were real.
We could play out the line
[Get] to the edge of life
the bed of life
the love-me-til-I’m-dead of life.
For he was a boy – just a boy –
and I was a very young girl.

© Toni Morrison

2. EVE REMEMBERING [Toni Morrison]

I tore from a limb fruit that had lost its green.
My hands were warmed by the heat of an apple fire red and humming insight
I devoured sweet power to the core.
How can I say what it was like?
The taste! The taste undid my eyes
And led me from gardens planted for a child
To wildernesses deeper than any master’s call.

Now these cool hands guide what they once caressed;
Lips savor what they have kissed.
My eyes now pool their light
Better the summit to see;
Better the summit to see.

I would do it all over again:
Be the harbor and set the sail,
Loose the breeze and harness the gale,
Cherish the harvest of what I have been,
Better the summit to scale.
Better the summit to be.

© Toni Morrison

3. THE MOTHERSHIP: WHEN A GOOD MOTHER SAILS FROM THIS WORLD [Clarissa Estés]

3a. (Stave I)

Sanctu, Sanctu, Sanctu.

Down at the shores,
the long lines are forming,
the old ones patiently waiting
for the journey over water
back to their “truest home”.

My mother is my heart.
My mantra for years has been,
“Don’t die, don’t die, my Dearie,
my good mother.”
But now I must bow to your angels,
and say to you,
“Lean on me.”

Lean
on
me.

I will row us past the ripping tides,
I am strong and younger than you.
I will take you to that far horizon line,
beyond which,
I cannot go.

Ohhhh… Ohhhh

Lean
on
me.
Lean
on
me –
till the last
moment,
[my love.]
“Don’t cry,
don’t cry”,
says someone,
not myself.
“Do not be afraid.
Am I not here
beside you?
Do not fear;
you are under my protection.”
Whose voice is this?
Whose voice is speaking?
Is it myself? or my mother?
or our dearest Madre Maria,
La Virgin de Guadalupe?
She Who Holds Me, holds my mother,
holds me as I hold you,
my smaller, and smaller mother…
you take on more and more the shades of water,
your soul sparkling against the night sky.

Come, let me hold you
and birth you
through this storm.
[You, who brought me through the door of your body.
Now, I am bringing you through the door of my spirit,]
and I will –
see you –
through…
I will see you through…
to the new morning, I say –
to my beloved Big Momma, [I say – ]
to mi madre pequeña, [I say – ]
to the mother of my bones, [I say – ]
to the mother’s magic touch
making all colors jump, [I say – ]
to the Ma of nightlight rooms, I say –
I will see you through,
I will see you through,
to the new morning, I say –

to the mother of the lightning sky, [I say – ]
to the mother of the serpent strike, [I say – ]
to the mother of remedios,
mi verba buena mother, [I say – ]
to the mother who speaks with the spirits, I say –
I will see you through
to the new morning, [I say – ]

to the omah of the blood red roses, [I say – ]
to mother midnight nurse, [I say – ]
to the mother of the body’s pleasure, [I say – ]
to the most beloved chocolate-grand-ma’am, I say –
I will see you through
[to the new morning, I say – ]

to the frugal mother, turning her socks over
so the mended holes will not show, [I say – ]
to the mother, the lover,
who made thunder under the sheets, [I say – ]
to the Madonna of the grottos
of the ever-full sink and stove, I say –
[I will see you through
to the new morning, I say – ]

to the kitchen-table terrorists, [I say – ]
to the mothers of las velas santas, the candles lit
for the hopes of loved ones, [I say – ]
[to the mother] who loved, in spite of so much, I say –
I will see you through…

[to the dragon-keeper of the family photographs, I say – ]
to the mother of harsh lessons, [I say – ]
to the sacred heart ringed with thorns, [I say – ]
to my mother’s heart broken open forever, [I say – ]

I will see you through
[to the new morning, I say – ]

to the little mouse mother
whose ears hear every secret thing, [I say – ]
to the
most infinitely
tender
little old face,
with the eyes of a child, I say –

I will see you through…
and I will see you
in the new morning, [I say – ]
…just…
…one…
…tiny…
…bedazzle…
…from now…

3b. (Stave II)

When I say, “My mother has died”,
I mean my “most beloved”.
Leave me to myself now,
for I am a ship who’s
lost her riggings;
suddenly
come unmoored.

Oh, my mother has died;

My mother has died;

She has earned her resting now,
waiting only, and proudly so,
for her sails
to be taken down.

I, the daughter,
mend my mother’s sails now;
I seek her
worn and broken
threads of light,
reweaving her dazzling linen…

The sails of the mother
are [to be] fitted to the daughtership;
raised up on the mainsail,
and the final touch –
the red ragged flag – hers –
will be flying at the topmast of my ship.
I’ll be let down into the waters,
I, the daughter, will glide again,
but this time, under the sails
inherited from my mother,
and all the mothers
before her.

Ay, Mother, let me tell you
my treasured dearie-dear,
one [last] thing I have learned
from your spirit passing through me,
as sparkling shadow passes darkening shadow,
on this open night-sea journey:
I am learning to navigate
by the mysterious farthest stars –
the ones that the great wake of your passing
has revealed to me…
…for the very first time…

I will see you in the morning, I say
my sweet little mother, my most excellent omah,
“I will see you in the new morning”, I say,
to someone who is weeping…
Muchisimas gracias, mi mamá;
Be with The Aeternal Mothers now,
I will see you in the morning, I say,
…just…
…one…
…tiny…
…bedazzle…
…from…
…now…

Sanctu, Sanctu, Sanctu.

© Copyright 1999, Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Ph.D

4. ON MATURITY [Maya Angelou]

The years are broken across my body like thin crystal. Their shards reach my knees in pretty, shiny piles and I know each one with a dainty intimacy. Some were friends, and I pick them up and hold them to my ear like seashells, and they whisper to me of great love, of promises, of debts paid. Some were hateful and they speak without the intent to conceal, of the blows of death, the loss of love, friendship betrayed and golden youth ravaged by the weight of time. There appears an image of wisdom. Surely I have learned [how] to live with some grace, some compassion, some mercy and some style. Will these lessons serve me as I face the next adventure?

© Maya Angelou

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It seems that I only write on here when I have some heavy thoughts to share. Hmm…not intentional but interesting that it is this way! Thanks for reading and supporting and loving in your way!

Often I have felt like studying classical voice is a soul-digging, empowering, self-truth-seeking, chakra-vibrating, bone-shaking, kick-ass endeavor. Beyond time and money for education, it takes self-examination, passion, digging deep, dedication, patience, self-care, love and lots of time making really weird noises and doing strange movements, often on the ground, bent over, on a chair or up against a wall. Sometimes I feel like through classical voice, I am getting closer to understanding and accepting my own voice (in all meanings) and my own existential truth. Sometimes I feel like the vibrations coming from my body are finally become more and more of my ‘truth,’ that they are what I would describe as my soul bubbling up from my core. (Yeah yeah, sorry for the new age-y descriptions here but I can’t describe it in any other way! It really does feel that way when it’s right!)

Last semester kind of wore me down, to be honest. By the end of the semester, I felt the opposite of what I described above. I ended up feeling stifled by technique and expectations, traditions and the white supremacist, classicist patriarchy that upholds these ideals. I have felt bitter about the pickiness of rights and wrongs, requirements for what I need to have on my repertoire list, which (almost always white male) composers I should be familiar with, which notes I should be singing, which roles in operas I should be singing, typical oppressive language, ideas and words in old texts. I have missed the joyful energy that I know I contain and the jitters of inspiration that I get when I am really excited or moved by something meaningful, someone or a connection I’ve made. I know that there is more to classical singing than this. I just can’t seem to find it right now.

I know that many people can identify in feeling divided – like having complex and fulfilling, yet very different, relationships with two separate ‘things.’ By ‘things’ I mean anything from nationalities to genres to people to artistic expressions to language to cities to causes. Throughout my experiences in higher education, I have formed strong yet very separate relationships to two different passions. One is caring about and wanting to transform the systems we act within (aka our society) and the other is classical voice. As I deepen my relationships with these two ‘things,’ I have struggled with a desire to connect them. Yes, I am a product of a liberal arts education. I can’t really let it go, that I believe that in the end everything is connected, mostly through history and what has come before, even if they seem to be completely independent of each other on the surface.

Maybe I don’t need to understand how to/give what I can to fix the world’s inequalities with classical voice. Maybe they don’t need to be connected, or worse, can’t be connected? But I can’t help feel that my art and my creative process must be strongly bound to my ideals, to what I believe in, to transformation. I just can’t see my artistic process without bringing in the rest of the world and how history affects us all, seeing it all in a larger context. And I find it hard to see how I can pay off my school loans and make a living off of creating what is true to me. I am unsure if I am able to live off of art right now since I simply cannot bring myself to create something I do not believe full-heartedly in. Maybe in 15 years I will be able to find a way to live off of my art, but it is not a possibility right now. I am looking for thoughts and ideas on how classical music and working against inequality, especially racism, sexism, and nationalism so if you have any ideas, holler at me!!! Really!!!

I’m not even going to get started on feeling the burden of making a living and paying off college loans. Feeling tired of being broke and unstable in a different country than the one I grew up in. That has also taken a toll on my inspiration. I’ve fought it off for a long time, but things do shift. And yes, now they have shifted! It makes me wonder what the next shift will be!

So, what this has come to is that I have decided to take a year off of my studies from the Royal College of Music here in Stockholm. Now, for the first time since I was four going on five I will not be a student!!! Ahhh!!! I am making a commitment to myself to take it easy, let my mind, body and soul digest all the stuff that has happened in the last few years. Damn, moving across the world is a little hard sometimes. Ok, maybe sometimes really really hard. But nothing can deny that what I have experienced, learned, uncovered, seen and the people I have met continue to fill me. But now, for real. Time to slow down and digest. Like a snake slowly digesting it’s catch. Long past due.

I have always had five billion things to keep track of in my head and in my agenda, so this is very new to not have a lot of “balls in the air,” as we say in Swedish. Knowing me, I won’t have any issue filling my schedule. But now I am vowing to myself to commit to moving my body (aka exercise…my old track and cross-country runner-self misses having time for hard physical activity on the regs), feeling strong, writing my own music, reading, talking, visiting friends and home.

I will also continue working as a voice teacher two days a week and co-leading a ladies vocal ensemble through my favorite organization ever, Popkollo. I will also probably pick up some extra shifts as a nursing assistant at the nursing home for folks with dementia that I’ve been working at for the past two summers. A tough job that requires a lot of heart, but I am actually finding myself ultimately enjoying the connections that are made with co-workers and the people living there. Jeez, I could write a whole post about the characters that live in the home. It is mind-blowing to imagine what these people have experienced in their full lives yet cannot always tell.

Ok, time to wrap it up. In short summary, I need to unite my ideals and my artistic expression. I am not sure if classical voice is my medium, but I am still determined to examine it. I am not ready to deem it unsuitable for me, but I am desperately seeking ways in which it is right.

I think the reason why I write so infrequently here is because when I write, I feel like I want to write all of the thoughts in my head and how the world is actually just a fascinating and difficult place. Full of shit. Full of inequality and sadness. But also sometimes full of joy and love and inspiration and connection.

Much love!

"All the women who made me" 5/12/2015

“All the women who made me” 5/12/2015

I was home for the holidays and saw family, friends and strangers. I hiked in the California sunshine, ate burritos, mended some pants, went through boxes of school work and things from my all parts of my life and talked and listened and talked and listened. I sang an improvised four-part harmony of Amazing Grace at a jazz club in New York, went to the Brooklyn Museum, ate ramen, saw Hansel and Gretel at the Metropolitan, hiked the tallest mountain in Massachusetts, knitted, sang karaoke and ate all-you-can-eat sushi. All of this I did with amazing and inspirational people who mean a lot to me. That’s a pretty cool thing, I’d say. I dig them.

Although it doesn’t nearly match the depth of my appreciation, I want to dedicate a paragraph to the people I shared time with during my visit in the states. Damn, you people are cool. Sister, mom, dad, brother-in-law, old friends. I wish there was a way to shoot up permanent messages in the sky that can be seen all across the world so you all could know forever how much you mean to me, how much you inspire me, and as a constant encouragement that I believe so completely in what you do. I am so grateful that you are you and that you are fiery. Isn’t it marvelous that there are billions of people out there in the world and they each carry with them their own little world? Then those worlds collide and impact one another but still continue as their own world? And isn’t it cool that my world gets to be shared with your worlds, and that we choose to have our worlds collide?

2015.
Jeez. Wow. Time. Gah. Cool! This year I’m going to lead a choir through a fantastic organization. I’m also going to study part time so I have time to breathe and be a human for a bit. I’d like to give myself time to believe in what I do, make music for fun, sing out of joy for expression and not for the sake of performing. I’ve applied for a new job (!). There are many uncertainties but many budding plans and ideas. For example, cooling and focusing my jets a bit. How about that! Can I do it?!

2014 was another rich year of learning, exploring, piecing together the depth of history and experiences, stretching and retracting and meeting people, putting my active mind into perspective. I was accepted to the Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm. I visited Armenia, Italy (x2!) and Denmark through music/art. I fell in love and moved in with a loving partner. My grandfather passed away. I learned family history that drastically shifted my perspective and understanding. I sang a lot. I also laughed, cried, menstruated, created, talked, felt inspired, felt disappointed, listened and worked a lot. Pretty good!

Sorry for the list, but just like writing job applications and resumes it can be an important practice to go through what has actually happened, remember who has been a part of it, where I have taken myself and where I want to go. This year I am going to focus on practice. Practices of music, love, appreciation, intention, pleasure, centering myself, focus, creativity, opening and grounding. I have felt so muddled by expectations and ‘shoulds’ and I am ready to shed them. I feel like I’ve said that before, but with each year I put on and each layer I peel off I find the strength to do take it even further.

So, that is what I have to say after my last post in March! Hopefully it won’t be too long before I write again… Until next time!

We are always dreaming. Always dreaming of something bigger and better, easier and simpler, more effective and deeper. At least I am, and I feel that I can say with confidence that many people can relate. What makes things better, easier? Why do we have this drive? Is it enough? Can we find satisfaction in what we have going on right now? Today? Our foreseeable plans? The life we’ve built up and are moving forward with? Maybe this is enough.

Yeterday my grandpa passed away after a long string of health issues. Over a year of sores on his foot, amputation, infection and congestive heart failure, not to mention his 86 years of an active and busy life that take its natural course on the human body. Oh the fragility of life! But also the vigor, the strength, the resilience!

His stubborn personality wasn’t only in the way he met the world and what it had to offer, it was in how his heart pumped and his lungs took in and pushed out air. Even unconscious from excessive carbon dioxide in his blood, his body pushed for 16 hours when the nurses said it would just be a couple. In Swedish there are two words for the English word “stubborn.” Sitting by his bed, waiting, we discussed the small but important difference between “envis” and “enveten.” My grandpa was both. Envis is stubborn, as in stubborn as a mule. As in sometimes irrationally stubborn for the sake of holding one’s ground. Enveten is when you don’t give up, it is a kinder more compassionate but flexible stability. Maybe there is another English word for enveten than stubborn?

….

I am sitting on the train back to Stockholm from an audition at the conservatory in Malmö (it has been a dramatic couple of days to say the least), and thinking about all sorts of things. Life’s cycle, carrying on my grandpa’s energy and past experiences, challenges, etc. into the continuation of my life. How I can carry my grandpa with me, through all the possibilities he created, the things he said and did, the pain he caused, and the way that he sincerely supported and cared for the people around him. His completeness.

I’m thinking about the fact that I am finally settling into a home for myself. I have lead an life of adaptation and fluttering forward movement: moving temporarily to Sweden first as a 17-year-old, then back to Los Angeles for studies for four years and not wanting to connect with the place for many reasons, a semester in Buenos Aires, then an academic year in a small town in Sweden, and finally the last move to Stockholm. It’s no wonder I have felt lost and slightly confused about who I am, where I’m from, what I need, where I am going to end up. I have a profound understanding of two cultures deep in my soul and damn, it is both an incomparable blessing and a heavy curse. I am finally connecting to a place in a way I never have before and finding perspective on being lost in this world and in this new age where movement and adaptation is the norm. We’re so extremely connected through social media, Skype, etc yet so far from one another. There are things to hold on to, and it isn’t just an iPhone and Facebook. I am slowly learning to be here, now and not in a future career, a future state of living. Is it a coincidence that I am finally landing in my vocal technique and understanding of my voice?

I think about the fact that I always want to make things right. My sister and I share this characteristic. We see the possibility for connection, change and the ability that we have as humans to enter a space where change can be made and where communication, understanding, empathy, and positivity can be a propeller into more connectedness and a fuller life. It reaches into personal connections (i.e. family, friends, lovers, ex-lovers) and into systemic social/societal issues (i.e. systemic/societal oppression) but is dominated by the understanding of how human we all are and a desire to connect. How flawed we all are but in a way that doesn’t need to define. The fact that we are what we are but it is all temporary. We change, we shift, we move, we learn, we relearn and we grow.

Sometimes the hardest part of being a human is being a human with other humans. But it is also the most beautiful driving force. Why else are we here?

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“The Distance” August, 2013

(edited by Lisa Nowlain)

I have recently found inspiration in a series of interviews with Patti Smith that the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Copenhagen has released. She sure is a wise lady. I knew nothing of Patti, really, before I saw some of these videos, and there is a lot more for me to dig up about her. But I immediately appreciated her encouraging words and how human she is. I got the sense that she isn’t performing a role; instead she is comfortable with herself and the world because of her accepting of the range of deep and real emotions, experiences, pain and injustices that come with being human. She has found peace with the swaying of hardship and joy. She spoke to something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately: that the space created for the acceptance of pain and sadness creates the same amount of space for the acceptance of joy and wonder. I think that in order to experience the highs, we have to experience the lows. I think, too, that if we don’t accept that life is full of suffering and sadness, life is less full. Or at least that is my experience….it sounds like Patti has some similar ideas! “We’re going to be really happy, and things are going to be really fucked up too,” she says.

For much of 2013, I have been deeply concerned with how I will make money through my music-making. I have found that this fixation sucks out a lot of my joy of making music and wipes out potential for creativity and playfulness. I don’t want my relationship to music and creativity to be dominated by thoughts of making a career. Although I do need to be realistic and consider how tough this branch is, be aware of the financial instability of this path and that I always need to challenge myself, grow and be innovate and flexible, being so concerned with making money does not help me become a better musician. I must trust my ambition and desire to learn in order to understand that each of my actions will lead to something fruitful, even when it didn’t necessarily feel that way in the moment.

Something has shifted just in this last week, though (in part due to this interview, seeing a great documentary about Swedish musician/singer-songwriter Jenny Wilson [of First Floor Power] and other random experiences, thoughts and conversations) and I have understood how this attitude towards music has been inhibiting my ability to move forward and grow. I have been caught up in indecisiveness about if I want this to be my career; well really my difficulty to commit was spooking my ability to focus. A few nights ago, I was reflecting upon Patti Smith and Jenny Wilson and suddenly thought to myself, “What am I holding back for? I WANT TO BE AN ARTIST! Why do I pretend otherwise?” So, there we go. Now it is time to let go of my inability to commit, and commit to being a more self-truthful, honest and open artist (in whatever form that crazy and loaded words takes) who is seeking to shed my fears of inadequacy and instability. At the end of the day, not being good enough is not the point. It is not up to me to decide who or how I send out ripples into my surroundings.

Enter Martha Graham quote!!!! “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action. And because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, or how valuable, nor how it compares to other expressions. It is your business to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself, or your work. You have to keep open and aware to the urges that activate you. Keep the channel open.”

So, things Patti has reminded me of:

-It doesn’t matter what we want. We just have to know what it is and honestly, genuinely, bravely go adventuring for it even if it is hard and scary.

-Don’t make compromises. Do what you want to the fullest extent you can. Easier said than done with financial, structural and emotional realities, but it’s a good thought to have to propel us forward and to give us strength.

-It’s not worth it to NOT seek your personal truth and not do what you want to the best of your ability. What else are we here for? There are so many reasons why we are inhibited to doing exactly what we want based on many structural inequalities (i.e. a racist, classist, sexist, ageist, beauty-centered society), and I recognize that my access to focus on the arts from an early age is also an issue of class and privilege. But we all have a truth and all have a desire to seek it out. I am really understanding how important it is to dream despite these boundaries and imagine what we want in order to break them. Again, easier said than done.

Remedios Varo-Celestial Pablum, 1958

Remedios Varo: “Celestial Pablum”
1958

Also, this band called Cure-a-Phobia that a friend introduced me to is worth a listen (or a few!). They were music students at Malmös Musikhögskola and formed a band outside of their studies to help each other overcome their biggest fears about music. The point was to create a space that was void of prestige, to be vulnerable with one another and to make mistakes and learn from them. Not only is the idea fantastic, but I love their music as well. It is playful, honest, human and rich. Besides, the singer (who also wrote most of the songs) is really good!!!

Here is the interview with Patti:

Check out more of the weekly Louisiana videos on art, music and design on their Vimeo channel!

So, onward and outward and forward and inward and upward and downward and sideward and aroundward! We can’t help it make some sort of -ward movement! Things to think about: the fallacy of joy? What is joy and how is it constructed by society, ourselves, capitalism? What is satisfaction? When are we satisfied and how do we know to be satisfied or not?

In about a week I’m moving from Gothenburg to this marvelous city’s arch nemesis: Stockholm. One of the elderly men that I help as part of my summer job in hospice care used to live in Stockholm. When I told him that I am moving to Stockholm, he said: “You know what the best thing was about Stockholm? Moving to Gothenburg!” Well, I won’t know until I test it out! I’m going to attend Birkagårdens Folkhögskola and study with a super inspirational voice teacher and figure out my own musical path in the big city. Thanks to my degree from a liberal arts institution, I am incapable of nerding out on just one very specific thing for an extended period of time, so my new-found craving to write singer-songwriter-type songs is exactly what I need to balance out classical voice studies. I am in a place where I can have an idea, make it concrete, mess around with it and not need to take it so seriously! I have no idea what will come from this, but it is exciting! I’m itching to work with others and collaborate on the material I’ve written…

I have fallen in love with Debussy this past year. I could listen to his songs all day every day. And sing them all day every day. I watched this interview with Natalie Dessay and Philippe Cassard, and was fascinated by how Natalie moves her hands and arms during their recording sessions. It was great to see such a successful singer have the same need to move as I do! One of my biggest struggles is learning to shift the energy in my body (primarily my extremities) to the parts of my body that need it the most for song. Watch this video and let Natalie Dessay’s singing plus Debussy’s rhythms, melodies and dynamics steal your heart and send a tear down your cheek! Oh the joys of feeling things and being moved by music and people’s dedication to it!

The first song in this video is one of my current favorites, “Beau Soir”:

Text to "Beau Soir" by Paul Bourget
Lorsque au soleil couchant les rivières sont roses,
Et qu'un tiède frisson court sur les champs de blé,
Un conseil d'être heureux semble sortir des choses
Et monter vers le cœur troublé;

Un conseil de goûter le charme d'être au monde,
Cependant qu'on est jeune et que le soir est beau,
Car nous nous en allons comme s'en va cette onde :
Elle à la mer, -- nous au tombeau!

When streams turn pink in the setting sun,
And a slight shudder rushes through the wheat fields,
A plea for happiness seems to rise out of all things
And it climbs up towards the troubled heart.

A plea to relish the charm of life
While there is youth and the evening is fair,
For we pass away, as the wave passes:
The wave to the sea, we to the grave.
(from www.recmusic.org)
A postcard I found in Morocco. Caption contest!!!

A postcard I found in Morocco. Caption contest!!!

It is time to play!! I have come to understand how engrained it is in me to approach the things I do with a furrowed brow and a tone of seriousness. I can trace it to early in high school, when a variety of roles were placed on me by my education before I could understand them in myself. It suddenly became a fight to continue showing them what I thought they saw in me to have some sort of identity to cling to. Even through college, I approached my activities with a furrowed brow of seriousness that weighed heavily on the process and surely affected the result. Everything I did had so much significance that I did not know how to get anything done unless it meant huge things. Now I see how that approach weighs me down and prevents me from creating, from finding my natural flow and from letting myself be me. How cheesy it sounds, but it is so true! Now I want a wrinkle-free forehead and I am determined to have awesome outcomes! The TED talk I’ve posted below is part of my process of inspiration to approach life more playfully. I fully believe that play can still produce concrete, quality, innovative and creative products/outcomes. In fact, I think the outcomes will be even better with aspects of play and lightness! It’s a process, I know, so compassion will be key. Here we go!

It has been way too long since I wrote here, and I take it as a period in which my writing/creative inspiration molded into the darkening tempo of Sweden’s slowly chilling winter. All of November a friend said, “There is a reason why we can’t get anything done: it is November. Just accept it.” I guess it is because the darkness is on its way and the nordic people know that November is when the depression starts taking hold….But, the holiday season has brought about more light and time away from school has given me a chance to remind myself of many important things. Recalibration was necessary.

The beginning of winter was filled with anxiety for preparing for auditions in the spring. I’ve recorded a video audition for San Francisco Conservatory and am doing live auditions in Copenhagen, Oslo, Malmö and Göteborg. This means scales and arpeggios on the piano and deciding the vocal repertoire that represents who I am the most and is also manageable to learn and improve on. Thanks to some good talks with special people, strengthening old relationships and beginning other new exciting relationships, some good runs in the snowy, peaceful forest and some good thinking, the pressure of auditioning has lightened and I am more excited to audition. I am reminding myself that whatever I have right now is what I have to give. I must be honest with myself and know that I can’t do anything more than what I am doing now. It shows in my audition if I have a foundation of joy and love for singing or a foundation of fear and anxiety. I create myself as an artist, and I can choose to nurture whichever foundation I want to, so here we go!

A lot has happened since September, of course. I may write more about that later, but right now I would like to write about some reminders I’ve had over this short holiday break I’ve spent with my grandparents. It has been full of good reminders and a much needed rejuvenation of joy: just joy. My grandparents are both quite old and frail; they need of a lot of help. Being here and helping them has been a bit heavy, but also very enriching. I’m seeing in action how attitude is everything and life can be good even in not-so-happy circumstances. I’m learning the value of taking care of the people you love and a mutual love and appreciation for one another. Being in Sweden and staying with them now has helped me realize that they have been my biggest connection to Sweden and have been my foundation here. Although my mom did plenty of work to keep me connected, it was them who did a lot of the work to keep me fed and joyous in the Swedish summer sunshine (and also the rain). They have always loved and cared for me, appreciating what I do and supporting my dedication to singing, even if my grandpa does not see a connection between a career and studying music. He asks me, “So how does one make money with a degree in music?” He asks very sincerely, but I see how it just does not make sense in his head. He was an engineer in his prime years and is very much a career man. But, all the same, they both are so happy that I am studying music and ask plenty of questions about what I’m singing and how my life at school is. My grandma says that if there was one thing that she had wished for in life, it was a singing voice. So she is so happy that her granddaughter is making use of hers! It is interesting getting to know more of one’s family, because sometimes I see bits of myself in them. I’m now understanding what family means for the first time, beyond my most immediate family. It is one of those things that you don’t know exists until you experience it, but now experiencing more of where I came from makes so much sense. Hanging out with the older crowd is important. Love, respect, and care your for elders, y’all! When you are ready for it, they can teach you a lot!

I’ve also been reminded of how important it is to take time to recharge the batteries and do “nothing.” It has been a long time since I’ve done “nothing,” and this time is as effective as any to process and recalibrate my direction and attitude and connections with myself and others. It is funny how when we’re busy we disconnect. Or at least I do… Although what I have been doing here is not “nothing” with practicing, running, care-taking and catching up tasks we have to do as members of this society, it feels like it is a break just because it is different. Oh how important variation is!

I’ve also been reminded of just how much we need people. This relates to how much my grandparents need people right now to help with everyday tasks, but also to how different people have helped me out of a long funk. If it weren’t for other people (strangers, mothers, fathers, sisters, old friends, new friends, grandmothers, grandfathers, uncles, aunts, cousins, acquaintances), I would have been stuck in a sad brain place of fear for the future instead of celebrating the richness that exists. My point is really simple, but it has really struck home right now! All I mean is that my life would be really sad if I didn’t have other people to be inspired by and to inspire! What is life about more than relationships and exchanges of energy between others?

Now for a little story! The universe is open. That sounds so new-agey but it is so true! A big concern of mine about spending my break with my grandparents was that there is no piano here for me to practice on. I had to practice since my first audition is on January 5th in Copenhagen. Earlier in the semester my voice teacher had mentioned that when she travels, she stops in at churches and asks if she can practice there. So, I went first to the church that is closest to my grandparents’ house, but they were not super helpful. So I went to Domkyrkan, which is one of Götegorgs biggest churches and is in the city center, and asked if they had a piano I would be able to practice on. I explained that I was studying music, staying with my grandparents, and auditioning soon. The groundskeeper said, “Well, you can’t really use the piano here since we like to keep the church open for the public, but there is a meeting house on the other side of town that you can use. It is completely empty for the next couple of weeks and I can just give you a key so you can use it whenever you need to!” And just like that he lent me, a complete stranger and non-church member, the key to this meeting house. As my mother has said for a long time, ask and you shall receive! I am so thankful for how some people trust and want to see others succeed. I really lucked out on this one! The story just gets better, though. When I got off the bus, I looked up at the street sign of the side street that this meeting house is on. It is called Elfrida Andrées Gata. My jaw dropped and I let out a squeal of delight! Elfrida Andrée was Sweden’s first female organist and became the principal organist in Domkyrkan (the same church!) in 1867. I sang two of her songs in my Senior Recital at Oxy in April. This world is so full of coincidences I sometimes don’t know what to think.

So, what I really want to say is that everything will work out. It always does, somehow.

Here’s a good song to listen to, from her last self-produced/financed/recorded/written album! (((I’m not quite sure why it is called “Cherokee,” but I hope it is not just an indie-appropriation of native culture because it sounds cool….)))

And some brain/eye candy that is so true!

Teagan White

Teagan White

It took me a while to write about last week’s workshop because there were a lot of ideas that I wanted to let simmer…Here at Ingesund, we were lucky enough to work with nine talented musicians that are based in Sweden and have a huge range of musical experiences and backgrounds. This project we did is called Borderless Musical Encounter, in which we worked with musicians from Sweden with Swedish/Scandinavian folk, Western European classical, Greek and Haitian musical backgrounds, as well as musicians from Senegal, Canada, and Mexico. The whole idea behind the project was to break down the parallel lives we lead as musicians from various genres to explore what we can create when we put our creativity and various backgrounds together. An acronym often referred to by the project leader, Ale Möller, is PLM: Prestigelöst Lustfyllt Nyfikenhet:  Prestige-less, Pleasurable/Enthusiastic Curiosity. Essentially, have fun and make mistakes! Throughout this project we played/sang a lot of interesting music in a few languages (Swedish, Greek, Creole and Wolof) with awesome melodies, scales and rhythms. We had workshops in percussion, choir, improvisation, Swedish folk music and Greek dance, all leading up to a final big performance.

During this project, we had two large chunks of time in which each guest musician was able to speak about their experiences and how they ended up where they are today. They each had about 20-30 minutes to tell their stories. I loved this! It reminded me of how within each person is a depth we never could have imagined, and also that within each person is a whole, complex world. I learned an important lesson from each of them. Mamadou spoke about having the courage to show yourself…i.e. vulnerability! Such a hard thing to do, but also the essence of being a performing musician, in some ways. Maria, who is born to Greek parents but raised in Sweden, quoted another Swedish-Greek journalist in saying that she is 100% Greek and 100% Swedish–no need to choose! I love this, because I feel that my Swedish identity and US identity are not separate from each other, but instead together make me. I am not more one than the other, but rather both. Rafael reminded me that when making music, each and every note is very important and must have energy and feeling in it. Jonas spoke about the focus on process rather than result, self-value and being enthusiastic for one’s own ideas. Ale spoke about how we all live parallel lives with such interesting people and that we need to reach out more to people! He also spoke about having courage. Just courage. Magnus spoke about the journey to discovering and realizing self truth; trial and error. Sebastien assured us that by seeking what we most enjoy, everything will fall into place. Sten spoke about his love for choral singing. Listening to each of these musicians made me think of the concept of storytelling and how important it is for us to understand one another and to learn the complexities that each of us carry inside. It is important for relationships and connections, and also for role models and to see the creativity in our every day lives and where it can take us. It reminded me, too, that we have just as much to learn as we have to teach, and even these professionals who are so successful are also only human.

The biggest question that this left me with, though, is where are all of the female professional musicians? Out of the nine guest teachers visiting, eight were men and one was a woman. Why was there just one woman in this group to act as my professional role model? When I presented the question to the guests (explaining also how inspired I felt by each of their stories), pointing out all of the female students in the room and then the lack of female professionals in the group, I received an answer that left me disappointed. I heard from them that I was wrong and that there ARE indeed many female professionals in the classical world, but also that women need to catch up, and that there are fewer since women drop out of music on a professional level because they have babies instead. I would like to ask, can men who blame women for not becoming professional musicians make room for women to be their colleagues and stop valuing and defining their worlds by patriarchal masculine standards? Can they then also take on half of taking care of kids so women can too establish themselves professionally?

I am thankful for the discussions I have had with some of the students after the workshop about gender inequalities in the professional music world. A friend mentioned the concept of blind auditions in philharmonic/symphony auditions (and Sebastien did too when he answered my question asking where the women were). I found an (outdated) article from 1997, but it still has some good statistics on the introduction of blind auditions: “Using blind auditions increases by 50 percent the chances that a woman will advance from the preliminary round and nearly triples her chances of being selected from among the finalists, Goldin and Rouse find. The move to ‘blind’ auditions, they figure, explains anywhere from a quarter to nearly a half of the growing share of women in America’s top orchestras from 1970 to 1990.” Click here to read all of it. Here’s a less formal blog that addresses the fact that blind auditions also affect racial discrimination in hiring, another huge factor since gender and race oppression cannot be separated so cleanly. So if large orchestras and philharmonics have adopted this method that is causing positive shifts, how do freelance musicians who work primarily based on networking and connections work to end the discrimination that is so apparent in the bands we see? If our natural tendency is to gravitate towards networking with male musicians, I think we all (men and women alike) must make conscious efforts to network with women and reevaluate the value we give to female musicians on an everyday basis.

For me, examining gender and music continues here at Ingesund with questions of who becomes professional and who is encouraged to continue professionally. This is, of course, gendered and racialized. At Oxy I was focused on which composers are performed and most well-known, and now that I am on a clearer path of performing music as a profession, the gender divide is staring me in the face even more intensely. This workshop inspired me to go for what makes me happiest and to seek joy and pleasure, but also gave me a fresh kick of frustration with this system and a need to continue active resistance. So here we go!

Sweden has become my home once again, and I find myself in a lovely town where the mosquitos are plenty and the sun shines until 10pm. Well, actually I’m about 5 km outside of this little town, where there is no commerce, not even a kiosk. The school I am attending is surrounded by water, as it is situated on a little channel that is between a lake and a small bay, if you will. I am waiting for the winter to come, when we can walk across the ice into town which cuts the time it takes to walk in half. As it turns out, I could actually sail anywhere in the world from this lake because it is the northernmost lake that is connected all the way to the Göta Canal and out through Göteborg and into the North Sea.

Today I took a long walk and found myself in the surrounding fairytale-like forest with lingonberries and cow grates and paused for a swim in the lake and splayed out on a rock for a while. Part of me loves how slowly the courses are getting started so I can have more time to settle in and appreciate a life that is not filled with the stress I was used to at Occidental. Another part of me is still ingrained with a need for concrete accomplishments and stress, so I am soothing my need for constant engagement with structure. It is a good lesson for me to learn. I need it, especially after this hectic summer!

Since I got to Sweden, I have been making new friends and reconnecting with old friends in magical ways. When I first got to Sweden, we had a reunion with some classmates when we studied together on Öland in ’07/’08. I am so thankful for knowing and being in contact with these marvelous people and every time we reunite I feel so comfortable, content, loving, and proud. It is funny how we can all live in different parts of the world/Sweden, yet when we get back together there is an immediate trust and comfort that is so unique.

And now that I am here and situated at school, I am once again surrounded by people who are here to meet others, collaborate, improve on their instrument, and grow. It is inspirational to be around so many who are here for a new beginning, of sorts. I look forward to what this year will bring…..!

And here is a wonderful cover of a song for you to enjoy!