Just Getting Started - Tony Bennett/"Cheek to Cheek" - Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga

JustGettingStarted"It is hard for us to appreciate the courage of our families when they came over to America (and every American family, save for Native Americans, has 'come over' at some point).  To be from a small town where everyone knows everyone, then leave everything you know and cross an ocean, and then to arrive and try to make new lives in a place where you don't even speak the language, with people from all over the world brushing up against one another - that's truly courage.  That's why my heart is with immigrants we see all over the world today" - Just Getting Started - Tony Bennett

I started reading this book on vacation, three weeks ago, and I'm still reading it.  I've read numerous chapters out loud to my family, but I only read a chapter a day.  I'm trying to stretch out reading it since it's so good!

Each chapter is about a person in his life and what he learned from them - from his parents, to earlier 20th century performers such as Fred Astaire, artists such as Picasso, musicians such as Count Basie, and more recent performers such as Lady Gaga, with whom he recorded a whole album, Cheek to Cheek, in 2014.  He occasionally mentions negative traits, but doesn't dwell on them.  This is the opposite of a "kiss and tell" memoir - it's a celebration of talented people in his life.  

Here are Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga performing Irving Berlin's "Cheek to Cheek" at the 57th Grammy Awards where they won the award for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album.




"Windows are Rolled Down" - Amos Lee

I finish 2014_07_25_6549aspediting the last photo today.  I've spent lots of my free time the last month selecting the best 200+ photos (out of the almost 4,000 dear husband took) of our community theater's production of Seussical.  Tomorrow, I'll send them out to the cast & crew (dh refers to this as my "love letter to everyone involved," which I guess it is)(they're a wonderful group of people!).  

Today, I've been feeling emotionally flat after finishing.  I spent a lot of time this afternoon playing computer games.  It was too hot & humid (or rainy) to do much outside.  This evening, I finally checked in with some of the blogs I read regularly - most of which I haven't read since rehearsals got busy back in early July.  

Don't Eat Alone had a music post, summersong, in early August, which included some favorites of mine (Nanci Griffith and the Indigo Girls) and some wonderful songs I haven't heard before.  My favorite of those is Windows are Rolled Down by Amos Lee:


New music woke up the rest of my mind again!

[I'm not posting any of the other 200+ photos, but here's my current Facebook photo.  I was a bird girl - such a fun costume, and I had fun acting with the other bird girls!]

"Wages of Sin" - Cleo Laine's and Chita Rivera's versions

At heart, I'm not a soloist.  Of course, I performed a number of flute/piano pieces when I majored in music in college, but it's actually not what I enjoyed the most.  I love playing in ensembles - chamber ensembles, orchestras, etc.  I enjoy figuring out how and when to blend and when to pull away a bit - all the back and forth of playing with others.  With the singing I've done the last five years, both in musical theater and choir, I enjoy the same thing.  My favorite thing to sing is second soprano.  It has enough melody to be interesting and enough harmony to be fun.

This has always made auditions strange for me.  I have to sing a solo in order to sing with an ensemble.

I've been quite happy to sing in the chorus in musical theater.  Tomorrow, I'll be auditioning for Les Misérables.  I love the chorus parts in there, and I'd be so happy singing them.   I prefer singing them to any of the songs the leads sing.

There are only two musicals that I can think of that I would try out for an (approximately age-appropriate) main role in (I don't have the acting experience to actually get the roles, but they would be fun to do).  Interestingly Chita Rivera has played both parts.

One role is Princess Puffer in The Mystery of Edwin Drood.*  I've listened to the original soundtrack so much that, as I realized when listening to it today on the way to Broadway Dance, I not only know all the notes, harmonies, etc. - I also know where they take each breath.  

Cleo Laine has been one of my favorite singers since high school when I heard her version of Julie in the soundtrack to the British stage version of Showboat.  I love her version of Princess Puffer in Drood.

The other part of this post is that our weather has been like a roller coaster the last few weeks.  Really - if you look at the weather graph on WRAL (Raleigh TV), it's gone constantly, and dramatically, up and down.  We'll have a day in the 70's, like today, and a day around 50 (tomorrow).  The weather's effect on my sinuses, plus really bad allergies the last month, have done a lot of harm to my singing.  I started going hoarse this weekend, which knocks out both of the songs I've worked on for the audition.  When I go hoarse, I lose the top part of my singing range first so they're both too high now.  

I was very depressed about this yesterday.  I looked up "alto audition songs" because I can still sing in that part of my range (though I don't usually sing alto).  I considered All That Jazz, but I've danced that one so much that I can't sing it without dancing it too.

I'm even more nervous about auditioning than usual because this isn't the same community theater group I've been in before.  It's a totally new group for me (though I did see their Fiddler on the Roof in September).  They're going to have lots of people auditioning so I think my getting in the chorus is really a long shot.**  

Back when I decided to audition, though, part of the reason I decided was that I need a new challenge.  I haven't had this kind of a challenge, or one that made me this nervous, in years - possibly since my first musical theater audition four years ago; although I have had lots of challenges in the musicals.

No, actually, I taught the adult chorus the music the second summer I did musical theater.  That was as much of a challenge.

I decided last summer that it was time for another good challenge - whether I get in or not.

This morning, I was nervous and without a good audition song.  I needed something in the alto range that I knew really well and that I could act.  

I had joked a few weeks ago that Wages of Sin would be a good song to act, but I wasn't going to use it because it didn't use all of my range.  Well, I don't have all of my range now so it's a good choice.  

Here's Cleo Laine's version, which is the one where I know every note and phrasing ...

The Wages Of Sin (Princess Puffer) from Cleo Laine on Myspace.

... which is a little bit unfortunate because she changes some of the notes - like THE FIRST TWO!...

...which is why I've listened to Chita Rivera's version from the recent revival over and over again today:


*  I'm leaving the other for another post.  

** I think older son will get in because they'll need a lot of guys for this musical!

The Test CD

My Christmas present from Dear Husband last year was that we were going to redo the stereo in my van.  The original one stopped working about four years ago, and the used replacement one we got isn't working well anymore either.  We've arranged to have the new one put in tomorrow morning. 

The place that's putting it in said to bring the type of music that I usually listen to so that they can make adjustments based on that.  Here's the cd that I put together; it's a mix of swing, folk, classical, opera, bluegrass, Bollywood, Broadway, jazz, Latin, and rock:  

Test CD

Since it will also play music from thumb drives, I put some more rock (Van Halen, Journey, and something else I don't remember but I'm not getting it back out again) on a thumb drive to try out.


The Power of Guilt

I was at one of my favorite Zumba classes last January, and I was looking at my watch every five minutes.  I wasn't enjoying it at all.  I had noticed this feeling creeping into Zumba classes over the previous few weeks.  Somehow, I had managed to make Zumba into a chore.  

This was not only sad because I love Zumba, but also because it was one of the few non-family things I still enjoyed.  I wasn't enjoying reading.  The only thing I was reading much of anymore were Regency romances - and those only because I need to wind down before going to sleep.  I had stopped listening to classical, jazz, and folk music.  All those CDs and tapes were dormant.  I listened to pop music on the radio just to have something to do while driving.  I didn't listen to any music in the house anymore.  If someone else wanted to watch a movie, I would, but there wasn't much that I was interested in.  

I enjoyed doing things with my family (I'd have to be really severely depressed not to do that), but I had almost no outside interests left.  Photography, blogging, etc. - I had no interest in anything creative.  

I was really upset during that Zumba class because I was losing one of the few things I still enjoyed!  Fortunately, I was able to realize why I was feeling that way, decide that it was stupid, and go ahead and enjoy the rest of the class.

In the middle of that class, I realized that I was feeling guilty about having moderately high blood pressure, and I was, subconsciously (I hope I wouldn't do anything this stupid consciously), punishing myself for my blood pressure.  

I said it was stupid.

Back when my blood pressure was higher, I got guilt trips - not from my doctor because she knew everything that I was doing to try to lower it - and not from the hypertension specialist because, when my blood pressure was measured correctly, it wasn't all that high - but from other doctors and nurses who were incorrectly measuring my blood pressure in bad situations.  You're supposed to measure your blood pressure when you're at rest; not when you're panicking because your throat is closing up as a reaction to an allergy shot, your husband is in another state, and you're wondering what will happen to your younger son if they take you to the emergency room; not when you're really light-headed as a reaction to a flu shot and you're wondering how you and younger son are going to get home; and not at an appointment which you've rushed to immediately after a Zumba class (not even having any time to stretch) and your heart rate is still up.  

Surprisingly, I'm not at rest in those situations.  The hypertension specialist doesn't even pay attention to readings from other doctors' offices because she can't be sure that the other doctors take blood pressure readings correctly.  The only readings that matter are the ones in her office.  

These other readings didn't do me any good, and the doctors and nurses only did harm. Unfortunately for me, other peoples' emotions affect me a lot.  If you know me in person you might say to yourself, "But she seems so calm."  


I try my hardest not to impose my emotions on others.  I know how much harm comes to me when others spray their emotions all over me.  

[Note: If you have any good practical advice as to how not to be affected by others' emotions, I'd love to hear it.  "Just toughen up" is not good advice.  If I knew how to do that, I wouldn't have this problem.] 

The other doctors and nurses didn't do me any good at all, but they did a great job at making me feel guilty for having moderately high blood pressure.  All the "serious talks" that they gave me just kicked the guilt into high gear.  None of them ever asked what I was actually trying to do to get my blood pressure down:

  • Two knee surgeries plus half a year of intense physical therapy so that I could exercise regularly again.  I did 2 - 3 hours of physical therapy every single day.  I watched most of Battlestar Galactiac sideways because I was doing PT on the floor.
  • Four crash diets (I spent last Thanksgiving saying, "No, thank you.")
  • Lots and lots of exercising.  That's one of the few things that actually helped.  
  • Stopping using salt in cooking.  After a few weeks, the guys weren't eating much for dinner, but they were having snacks later in the evening.  I eventually got the hypertension specialist's book out of the library, and the amount of salt she used in her heart-healthy recipes was  the amount I usually used before I stopped using it.  I'm still making smaller reductions now, but keeping the food edible.
  • Drugs.  One of them knocked me out for a month and raised my blood pressure to a consistent 175/100.  Nobody's been able to explain that one, which makes me wonder about how much they know.  All three of the drugs made my throat close up.  All of them gave me bizarre side-effects.
  • Visiting a throat specialist to see why my throat closed up - no results.  He sent me to a specialist in chemical allergies.
  • The chemical allergy specialist (regular allergists don't deal with drug allergies) was really enthusiastic about my strange case.  I actually took the last drug in his office, and he was amazed at the bizarre side effects.  Fifteen minutes after a 1/10 dose, I seemed drunk and couldn't sit up.  He told me that no doctor would  be able to accept that I have such bizarre reactions to drugs without actually seeing it.
  • That's when my regular doctor sent me to the hypertension specialist who said that she'd never seen a case like mine (allergic to 3 bp drugs)  
  • The hypertension specialist sent me to an integrative medicine specialist.  Unfortunately, the IM doctor was a crackpot so I never went back.  There's a long post about that that I never wrote.
  • The IM office does have a great yoga class (for people with previous injuries)* that a friend recommended.  That's another thing that gave an observable reduction in my bp.
  • The sleep study.  It turned out that I had severe sleep apnea when sleeping on my back.  I've been using a CPAP for the last five months, and it's brought my blood pressure down.  However, as I've complained in previous posts, it also made me exhausted for most of the first four months.  For the first two months, I couldn't drive in the afternoons or evenings because I was too tired to drive safely.  I didn't do any dance or Zumba in the evenings, and I was so tired that even walks were almost impossible.  I got so out of shape.  However, getting rid of the sleep apnea did bring my blood pressure down.  

It didn't matter that fighting my blood pressure had become not only my major focus over the last five years, it also dominated our family life.  The doctors and nurses still gave me guilt trips, which I didn't need on top of everything else.  It gave me the feeling that my not being successful gave them the right to emotionally beat me up.  It also made me feel constantly tense, which, SURPRISE, makes blood pressure go up. 

That's one way in which my discipline in not showing my emotions is bad for me.**  If I discussed blood pressure calmly with a medical professional, they thought that I wasn't taking it seriously, and they gave me a big guilt lecture.  Maybe I should have made myself panic so that they would have had to calm me down instead.

I can't even picture doing that.  

Anyway, I had stopped myself from enjoying more than just Zumba.  Because of the guilt, I wasn't enjoying music, reading, movies, blogging, photography - pretty much anything creative.  I'd made my life pretty flat and grey in response to the guilt.  

The wonderful thing is that, once I realized that I had turned these things off, I was able to start turning them on again.  I was too tired to enjoy things while I was getting used to the CPAP this spring and early summer, but, beside that, I've started enjoying all these things again!  It's been wonderful.  There are so many intersting things to photograph, so many wonderful books (recent post), great movies (just added a bunch to the Netflix queue), so many interesting places to go, a wide variety of food to try at Sunday's Food Truck Rodeo in Durham...

...and so much beautiful music!

Which, of course, is where I'm ending - with a song.  

I've loved folk music for years, and losing that the last year or two has been really difficult for me. I've been listening to lots of it lately.  Here's a current favorite song, Brighter from Here, by the folk duo, Martha's Trouble:


*  I can do just about everything else after my second knee surgery - hiking, Zumba, dance, etc. - (Duke Sports Medicine is fantastic!), but I still can't sit cross-legged for more than a minute or two which knocks out most yoga classes.  

** I've also read that women who don't display their own emotions and try to take care of everyone else's are more likely to have high blood pressure.

The Disappointed Choiritarian

Choiritarian:  One who worships through enthusiastic choral music.

Choir rehearsal was wonderful tonight, and older son and I really enjoyed it, but there were two disappointments there - neither of them having anything to do with what's going on in the choir itself.  

First:  I usually don't want to hear any Christmas music before Thanksgiving, except in choir.  Since October, we've been working on carols for the Christmas Eve Service of Lessons and Carols, which comes right before the later Christmas Eve service.  I've really enjoyed the Service of Lessons and Carols since I joined choir because there's so much beautiful music.  Between the music and the readings, I've found it a very focused, thoughtful, and prayerful time, and I get totally caught up in it.  It's been a wonderful way to start the Christmas celebration.  

No longer.  We just found out today that it was cancelled.  I'll really miss it.  All the music we've been working on for it has been put away.  

Second:  In the hallway outside the choir room, they recently put up the plan for the church renovation.  I wish they hadn't put it right there because it's just like rubbing our noses in it.

They're getting rid of the choir room.

Now, the choir room isn't all that old.  Ten years ago, a few months after we joined the church, they finished adding on to the church.  When we first started going there, the choir rehearsed in the Nave (the Sanctuary for those of you from other denominations).  Part of the new addition was an actual choir room.  It's named after someone in particular, and, though I may be wrong, I remember that there was money donated specifically to have a choir room.  Older son and dear husband had been in choir since the week after we joined, and they found that it was really nice for the choir to have its own place to rehearse in.  

In the new renovation, the choir room will now be the choir room/chapel.  

I guess, if you don't know anything about rehearsal spaces, that might seem to work, but it doesn't.  

Rehearsal spaces - drama rooms, orchestra rooms, and choir/chorus rooms, are generally not neat places (the neatness of the Glee show choir room always looked bizarre).  Rehearsal rooms are filled with piles of music, filing cabinets, music stands, instruments, props, costumes, and whatever the musicians/actors need for their practicing.  They're working spaces - not nice, neat worship spaces (although lots of worshiping goes on while we're singing).  Although the name suggests that it's a combination choir rehearsal room/chapel, I doubt that the whole wall of choir music shelves and filing cabinets will stay in there (and there's no place on the plan to put all that), much less any extra instruments, music stands, etc.  The choir will have to bring their stuff in and out for every rehearsal.  We'll be back to the way things were before the choir room was added.  


From what I heard in the discussion tonight, nobody in the choir was asked about the change or about what the choir would need from a renovation - not even the choir director.**  Tonight, it feels like the choir is being pushed to the periphery.  

Strangely, that feeling is pushing me the other way.  Older son graduates next June, and, if he moves away, I'll be the only one in the family going to church on Sunday.*  I've always found, in any church, that I turn off half of my personality in order to not be offensive.  This is a church thing and has nothing to do with choir, except that it's part of a church.  

In the summers, my personality goes all on again when I'm doing community theater.  Last summer, daughter mentioned my "coming out of my shell" during the musical.  

That really struck me, because I hadn't looked at it that way.  I was determined that I wasn't going back into my shell after the musical was over. 

So far, I've done pretty well.  I've gotten to know lots of people at the Zumba classes.  I'm more outspoken in other venues.  Church, of course, was my biggest challenge.  

I'm also trying to not be tense all the time, which aggravates my blood pressure.  Keeping half my personality turned off involves a lot of tension.  I decided at the beginning of the fall that, if I couldn't be myself at choir, I'd have to seriously rethink being part of it after older son graduates.  

The last few weeks, I've been much more myself at choir.  I've found that I have even more fun that way.  I hope that I can keep it up.  

I've always been the sort to root for the underdog.  As the choir has become much smaller since I joined it, and as it seems to be losing its rehearsal space, it makes me want to work harder for it - increasing the chances I'll stay...

...because, after all, I'm a choiritarian.

* Younger son doesn't like crowds so he and I go to Daily Services.

** I don't understand this at all.  How do you renovate spaces without asking any of the people who regularly use that space?!


Musical additions

On the way back from the NC Transportation Museum, we stopped in Greensboro to have dinner at Elizabeth's Italian Restarant, which is less than a mile from Edward McKay's used books, CDs, and other things.  We couldn't resist.

However, we had a 20 minute time limit, which younger son strictly enforced, even though one of us spent all her time in the CD section and never got to the book section at all...

Here's what I found (all $8 and less):

Best of Broadway

Diana Reeves sings jazz

Four part harmony jazz




My Amazon order also came today, including:

DeletedScenesI'm happily listening while waiting for the guys to get home for dinner.  The taco parts are ready, the chairs and tables are set up outside, and the sun is still up at 6:30!

Madonna on the Half-time*

Immaculate CollectionWe often spend Super Bowl Sunday out hiking because the woods are so peaceful and deserted.  This year, we spent it at my mother's house having a wonderful time celebrating older son's birthday.  I totally forgot that the Super Bowl was going on.

However, when people started debating Madonna's performance in long conversations yesterday on Facebook, I knew I had to go check it out.

I've been a longtime Madonna fan and also a longtime not Madonna fan.  I enjoy her catchy pop tunes, and we have her Immaculate Collection CD.  However, as a performer, she seems very cold, even in her sexy performances, so I'm never really drawn into them.  I wasn't predisposed to either like or dislike her Super Bowl performance.

After reading all the comments yesterday, I went to look up the YouTube video today. 

Verdict:  It was a very enjoyable spectacle.  She had a good selection of songs,** good guest artists, fantastic dancers, and she still holds the stage as commandingly as ever.  As usual, I found her very distancing, but she's performing in front of millions of people, in person and offline, so I certainly wouldn't expect her to be more personal!

Really, the first time I got emotionally connected to the performance was when the LMFAO*** guys appeared.  I've found their videos very funny and over the top (possible future Friday Fun Songs) so I giggled when they came on. Okay, and when the gospel choir started singing, I got chills up and down my spine because I love gospel singers - so, for me, it was a better Madonna performance than usual.  She really seemed to be enjoying herself singing Like a Prayer - more than in the rest of the performance.

Responses to specific criticisms I've read:

  • She's too old to keep doing this.  I actually watched the video with this in mind.  She's three years older than I am, and I certainly wouldn't do that kind of a show (of course, I wouldn't have in my 20's either).  If you didn't know she was 53, and you just watched her performance, how old would you say she is?  You can use this photo for reference.   Was she too saggy?  Certainly didn't show in that outfit - and it would have.  Her face doesn't show many lines.  The only criticism that makes any sense is that her dancing isn't as sharp as it used to be.  Her dancing isn't the main point of the spectacle, though, so that's not so important.  There were plenty of good dancers in the spectacle. Which leads to...
  • She couldn't do everything the younger dancers could.  No, she can't.  That's why they're there, and they were wonderful.  They can't be Madonna either, which is why they aren't headlining a Super Bowl performance. 
  • She lip synced.  So does everyone in the Macy's Day parade.  Maybe Sir Paul McCartney didn't lip synch his Super Bowl performance, but did he do cartwheels (assisted or not?).  Madonna's act is not one designed around singing, it's designed around motion and spectacle.  As fit as she is, very few singers can move that much and sing their best at the same time. 
  • [By the way, spectacle and distancing don't have to be mutually exclusive.  Bette Midler can put on quite the spectacle, but she still seems personal.]
  • She should have ended with a dance floor classic for an upbeat finale rather than Like a Prayer.  I As much as I enjoyed that section, I thought it was surprising to finish with that.  The more I watch it, though, the more that turns out to be my favorite part. 
  • Predictable, boring and narcissistic.  Predictable?  You expected the Roman theme?  Boring.  No, there was too much going on.  Narcissistic?  She's a pop star.  Isn't narcissism part of the job description?
  • She was wobbly in the four inch heels.  She had a hamstring injury from a recent rehearsal.  Short of redoing the choreography and costume in the last few days before the Super Bowl, they just had to deal with it. 
  • I don't want to see someone my mother's age flashing their panties!  Sigh.  I didn't notice the panty flash until the third time I watched it.  I guess I was too busy watching other things.  People disapproved of Madonna's conical bras and sexuality in the 80's.  They disapproved of her book, Sex, in the 90's.  Why would she stop being controversial now?  She paved the way, pop music-wise, for the display of sexuality from current singers.  When Lady Gaga flashes her panties in a performance in 2039, it will be because Madonna did it first. 

[More, possibly, tomorrow]

*  Title is a play on Madonna-on-the-half-shell, a kind of yard ornament.

** Though I wish her current single didn't have the cheerleader part.  It's a good song otherwise. 

***  Which I prefer to think of as "Lilies may flower all over" Original story for the name here - it comes from a grandmother. :)