Tag Archives: Music

Mother-In-Training

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I’ve been a mother-in-training my whole life.

Of course much of what I’ve learned about motherhood comes from my own mother.  (that’s her, pictured above, at my baby shower)  She is the angelic type – self-sacrificing, gentle, humble (almost to a fault) – wise and always seeking wisdom from higher sources. (She is a prayer-warrior and like me, she’s a self-professed “self-help junkie”)  She’s hacked her way through a pretty straight and upright path, which I find my own feet wanting to follow, however more clumsily and meandering.

Over the last 9 months I’ve gotten so much parenting advice from friends, family, in-laws, strangers.  Pets are like “parenting 101” and nieces/nephews are like “dress rehearsal”.  But I believe we are often taught our most important lessons in the most unexpected places – like the Karate Kid learning to wax cars.  I was talking with a friend recently about motherhood and I kept going back to this thought – there are so many things I’ve learned on tour with my band that I believe were actually disguised lessons in motherhood.

Here’s a list of some of them:

-The show must go on.  (The great cliché of a performer’s life.)  This one may be obvious, but I have truly had to power through some ridiculously difficult situations over the years– and not just get through – but put on a show regardless. I’ve had to smile and perform through physical ailments (bronchitis, strep-throat, many sinus infections, a killer hangover or two, PMS, and most recently: pregnancy), practical distractions (major sound problems, bug-swallowing, inclement weather), and the deepest kinds of challenges (emotional train-wrecks, worrisome news, and even the death of a loved-one).  Each experience gave me a glimpse into my own well to see just how deep it goes.  I have no doubt that I will have to draw deeply from this well many times as a mother and trust that I will have the resources I need to get through any trials that will inevitably come.

-Never fight in front of the audience.  Believe it or not, relationships are not always easy to manage when you’re sharing a tiny space with lots of people for long, uncomfortable periods of time, often with less then ideal sleep and nutrition.  (That actually sounds like it might have been practice for the first few weeks with a newborn!)  But whatever comes up, the rule is that arguments have to stay in the green room.  Once you hit the stage, the switches must flip to “show” mode.  I am grateful that my parents did not fight in front of my brothers and I, so I am determined to keep any grown-up disagreements back-stage as well.

Make a set list, but feel out the crowd.  When stepping onto the stage you have to have a plan, but you can’t hold too tightly too it.  A live performance is full of living, shifting energy; the dynamic of the night is unpredictable.  A performer has to be ready to add or cut songs with a swift decision and change gears based on the crowd’s reaction (or lack of reaction). It seems that planning my daily life with a babe in arms will require a similar willingness and ability to turn on a dime.  Learning to read and respond to the mood and needs of my baby will require these same skills: keen observation and quick decisions.

-Be prepared to improvise.  In general, this may be the most important lesson I’ve learned:  how to be flexible.  Growing up I was painfully shy – a Type-A planner; a classically trained, eyes-glued-to-the-music performer.  I liked rules and schedules.  While I’m no free-jazz artist now, my very nature has changed to become more liquid because of the life I have chosen. Improvisation requires you to be caught up completely in the moment, responding to the chord changes and beat, ever shifting, creating, and listening.  In the bridge of the song I wrote for my mother (Tomorrow River) I wrote: “There is a way a mother bends to take any necessary shape” – This is the flexibility that is required for motherhood. The music itself has taught me both how to trust and how to surrender.

-A smile and a dance can distract from many a mistake.  I’m talking about putting on a show – creating memories, having fun.  When you stand at the microphone you have the power to set the tone of the night.  A mother can set the mood of the whole house – good or bad.  A smile is contagious. I always have to remind myself that this is not about perfection – no one is counting the wrong notes, the missed cues, the questionable decisions.  Kids and audiences alike want to be distracted.  They want to believe in the magic of the show, the healing power of a kiss to their “boo boo” – they want to know that they are in good hands and everything will be ok.

-It takes a team.  I’ve learned to truly count on my band mates, manager, booking agency, interns, merch attendants and street teamers – not because they don’t ever let me down, but because I need them.  We need each other.  Putting together a traveling show, running a pop-up marketplace and marketing a small business is a lot of work.  I don’t know why it took me so long to learn to delegate, but I’m glad I’ve finally figured it out.  I’m glad that I am getting better at asking for help and also better at trusting people to do their jobs so I can just focus on my own.  Sometimes that means letting those tasks get accomplished with less of the finer details.  I think of parents letting their kids “help” with chores around the house, mothers letting their husbands do the laundry (at the risk of a few shrunken sweaters)  The key to this whole system working is letting go.

All of this is not to say that I feel prepared to be a mother exactly.  Though my childless days are numbered (likely down to the single-digits), I can’t help but feel that my training isn’t going to end the moment I hear my baby’s cry.   Instead, I’m certain that I have much yet to learn, and I welcome those lessons wherever they come from.

Ragbirds Halloween Tour Video

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In celebration of Halloween this year, The Ragbirds played three shows in costumes that I made out of mostly recycled materials.  Drawing from childhood nostalgia, the band chose Fraggle Rock as the costume theme.  I started with a thrift store spree, buying fuzzy pillows, scarves, bathrobes, blankets and 6 baseball helmets.  Then I visited my favorite Ann Arbor craft store The Scrap Box, for fabric remnants and various details (like eyeballs, felt and yarn).  Piecing the heads together by eye, the Fraggles took shape.

I put together this video to highlight the first two weeks of our 2012 Fall Tour “The Halloween Leg”.  Enjoy!

“Believe It” Family Singalong (Video Blog #3)

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This is Part 3 of my Video Blog Series, featuring the song “Believe It” from The Ragbirds debut album “Yes Nearby”. After an amazing show at Larkin Square in Buffalo, NY we were hanging around my parents’ living room and I decided this would be the perfect place to have a sing-along for my video blog. So, here it is. With my band mates, my mom and dad, my cousin Chelsea and her friend Gork singing along.

Best quote from my dad: “Are we going to be Youtubians now?”

“Little Things” Solo in My Backyard (Video Blog #1)

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This is the first of what will be a series of video blogs where I break down some of The Ragbirds songs and perform them solo, with stories.  Inspired by “The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin I’ve been sharing my own process of the pursuit of happiness in my recent posts.  But for me happiness is intrinsically and inextricably tied to my music.   So to expand on the word pictures I will be painting in my written entries, I will also be overcoming my fear of video cameras to share some songs with you.  Enjoy!

Music Festival Breakfast Burritos

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Music Festival Breakfast Burritos

This is a very basic recipe for spreading joy.  The ingredients are cheap, the steps are simple and the rewards are many.  I spelled it out exactly the way that I do it, just to give you a glimpse into my head (and my van pantry).  Get fancy with Tofutti’s “Better Than Sour Cream” and avocado or guacamole if you want to, fancy-pants!  Make ‘em however you like – the important thing is to share!

TIP:  For best results, it’s best to start cooking at exactly 11am and not any sooner or any later.

 

Equipment needed:

Two-burner propane stove,

Cheap-ass small random saucepan with mismatched lid

$14 crepe pan

Good cast iron frying pan (bought at thrift store)

Cooler with ice (and air-tight, waterproof containers for all the ingredients inside)

Oven-mitts, can-opener, spatula, serving spoon, long-handled lighter (need I state the obvious?  When camping – YES!)

(optional: A Bloody Mary to make the work a little lighter doesn’t hurt!)

TIP: have your husband or best friend run to get you a coffee while you cook.  Then give them the fattest burrito!

Ingredients:

2 packages Simply Potatoes – Southwest Style

1 15-oz carton Egg Whites (at home I use tofu to make it vegan, but on the road eggs are easier to cook!)

A few tablespoons of butter (I label mine “Butter” because it’s actually dairy-free Earth Balance)

1 large can of refried beans

2 Tbs Nutritional Yeast

1 Tbs + 1 tsp chili powder

1 Tbs cumin

1 tsp garlic powder

salt and pepper

Shredded Cheese (optional – I leave it off of mine)

1 jar of Salsa

20 whole-grain tortillas (the kind with 8g of fiber – trust me, you will all need extra fiber at a music festival!)

Light the stove, add a few Tbs of “butter” to the cast iron pot and when melted, add as many of the potatoes as will fit.  (If they won’t all fit, cook the remainder in the crepe pan on the other burner and wait till they cook down enough to pile them together before proceeding to the next step)

Keep the flame on medium and let the potatoes cook, stirring regularly, as you open the beans and light the other burner.  Add a little salsa to the bottom of the small cheap-ass saucepan and set it over medium low heat.  Then spoon in half the beans and stir, add more salsa (about ¼ c), add the cumin and about 1 Tbs of the chili powder (not that you will be measuring, but just to give you an eyeball idea), and then add the rest of the beans, stirring constantly (because the pan sucks and it WILL burn them!)  Keep stirring the potatoes.  As soon as the beans are revealing their heat (steamy and bubbling) put the lid on and set them aside.

Now, raw eggs are not easy to travel with so recently I’ve been opting for the carton of egg whites because it’s healthier and also easier.  Place the cheap, “non-stick” (yeah, right!) crepe pan on the burner and add 1 Tbs of butter, letting it melt in the pan over medium-low heat.  When hot, open the carton and pour in the eggs.  If you’ve never used these before you will be amazed how easy it is!  Of course right about this moment you will find out if your stove is on completely level ground or not.  Add the nutritional yeast, garlic powder, and 1 tsp chili powder, plus salt & pepper to taste. (Isn’t everything “to taste”?)  Stir the eggs with the spatula and swirl the pan a bit to get the mixture to lay evenly.  Reduce the flame to low (as low as the touchy propane stove allows!) Keep stirring the potatoes!

Jostle the eggs after a few sips of your Bloody Mary and when they seem to be firming up enough to flip, cut the eggs in half with your spatula, then flip each half carefully.  The confined space of a propane camp stove is a challenge for making anything pretty – don’t try to impress friends with a good omelet-flip.  It may ruin breakfast.

How are those potatoes?  Should be done.  Now scoot them over to ¾ of the pan and turn off the heat.  Scoop up the eggs and place them on the bare ¼ of the potato pan, just to stay warm. Use the now-suddenly-available crepe pan to fry up the tortillas, one at a time (It’s really a juggling act – I’ve done it so many times now I’ve got it down!)

Here’s the trick for making the burritos come together: serve them two at a time.  Fry up both sides of one tortilla (medium heat – use non-stick spray for ease) then put another one in its place on the pan immediately.  Take the cooked tortilla and ration out a small spoonful of beans, a thin strip of eggs, a hearty helping of potatoes, salsa and cheese (if you so desire it).  Flip the tortilla on the stove.  Now wrap the newly-filled burrito slowly, tucking in the ends with respect for the fillings and roll it tightly.  Set this burrito on the pan in place of the tortilla that’s there and assemble the new burrito in the same way.  When it’s ready, add it to the pan beside the other one and announce that breakfast is served.  People will suddenly appear.  Repeat the two-by-two technique until your guests disappear, or seem to no longer be hungry.  You are now a human assembly line of joy!   I recently fed 17 people with this recipe (3 people ate small-portioned “seconds”)

PS.

1. Don’t forget to eat one yourself!

2. Make someone else clean up!!

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A Study Of Songs – Part III

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What I haven’t said or now have a different way of saying:

I’m pulling back the curtain for some of these songs which offer a behind-the-scenes perspective on the touring life.  “Six Wheels” offers a light-hearted commentary on “riding with the boys in a travelin’ machine”.  “Tomorrow River” is a song I wrote for my mother with a tinge of homesickness in the lyrics and some really emotional solos from both the violin and the electric guitar.  “Hard Times” (title still in progress) is about perseverance and recognizing adversity and obstacles as beneficial. “The Race” is about trying to keep up in a high-speed, image-focused society.

For this album, there are a few new styles that I haven’t tried before including a song in the style of a Celtic Sea Shanty.  This is a predominantly masculine style.  It was sung aboard the ships as men were rowing and working to the rhythm and women were not even allowed aboard.  These are the songs of poor hard-working men, sung through sweat and blood.  Here in my song “Mercy of the Sea” I am using this imagery as an analogy for the unruly mind in a distracting and treacherous world.  It’s about being the captain of one’s own soul – taking ownership of your choices.  While I do add a little more grit and force to my voice, it is still a contrast to the traditional shanties, having the story sung by a female.

I have also written a Cajun-Zydeco style tune called “The Bully”, which came to me after watching the series ‘Treme’, a documentary about the Balfa Brothers and spending some time in the South getting to know musicians who play this style of music.  Paul Simon really introduced Cajun music to me first and it seemed the perfect setting for this upbeat lyric I had written about beating depression (who is “the bully” in the story) and recognizing the small accomplishments of life that keep me encouraged.

Lastly, as far as new genres, there is a Circus-Inspired Waltz called “Acrobats” which deals playfully with the pitfalls of long-lasting relationships, comparing married people with acrobats performing dangerous feats of extraordinary skill.

Those first seven songs have taken shape and all but “Acrobats” have been preformed live now.  The rest are still coming together.  We’ve talked about recording “Moribayassa” (the African rhythm that we sing “I’ll Fly Away” over) There are six or seven more that are conceptually or partially written which we will choose from and whittle into shape.  I’d really like to express our environmental passion which we’ve been living out, but have yet to sing about.  I’m also working on lyrics about global consciousness, diversity and how seeing the beauty in all people helps us see God.

I’m still brainstorming for a title that summarizes or at least works in harmony with all these ideas.  There has been some imagery which seems to keep coming up – a stage with sails, riding out a storm on the open sea.  I’m working on sketches to get this idea across, also working with imagery using many different types of wheels.

I’m calling this Part III of a 3-part series because it ends here, but clearly it is far from finished.  The end goal is the album of course.  But I’m documenting the process and the concepts behind it better this time than ever before.  So really this is an excerpt from what will soon become “The Insider’s Liner Notes”.  I haven’t decided fully how to make this available to people who are interested in what goes on behind the songwriting, but for now I am offering it as a Kickstarter reward (at the “Ebird” Level – All the levels are named for birds)  To find out more about that and other incentives to be a part of the process of our new album recording, check out www.Kickstarter.com.

A Study of Songs – Part II

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What I have already said (in 43 songs)

Looking back, I’ve told stories about overcoming limitations (The Limits Of Me) and fear (Brave New Beat), making slow and difficult life changes (Finally Almost Ready), tending one’s own dirty mind (The Innkeeper), and dealing with death (The Bridge Where Our Worlds Meet), dying, and disease (Medicine). There is a call to action (Wake the Birds) and a reminder that every action is the message you’re really speaking no matter how small (Little Things).

I’ve also talked about depression (Low-Flying), apathy (Door in the Wall), discouragement (The Show Is Over), addiction (Stuck Inside of Who You Are), self-destructive behavior (Book of Matches), clumsy self-expression (Tipi Baya), music pouring out of emptiness (Space), the jaded heart that’s given up (Getting Dark), leaving a destructive situation (Roar, Claw & Bite) making peace with an enemy (Ypsilanti Song), and parting ways peacefully with well-wishing (Anywhere)

On love, I’ve written  about the Springtime of new love (Around The Time), the harvest of long-lasting love (Harvest), forgiveness (Stretch My Love), dysfunctional love (The Frame), the intimacy of shared experience (The Inside Story), trust (Love’s Great Joke), inexpressible love (How Can I Say), love that rescues (Get In), love that is blessed by God (Holy Kiss), and love as a safe place (Hiding Place). On family, there are two songs about the bond of blood despite and through times of grief, one set at Christmastime (This Kind Miracle) the other after a funeral (The Family Tree). [click for a FREE download of this song, as a sample track from my upcoming solo album]

There are songs about hope – directly (Believe It) and indirectly – and many songs with spiritual themes like awareness of God (Picture), the Devil (Enemy), self-awareness (Narcissick), separating deep truth from temporal realities (Religion) and redemption (Totem Pole). There are also a few songs about the strong striving desire for purification (Tarantella), righteousness (I Will Make My Nest High Up), contentment (Good), rest (Workaholics Lullaby) and a widening of the heart towards all of humanity (Panoramic Camera) Of all my songs, only one is directly a worship song (Adoration), although our 2009 album includes an African worship song (Onyame Kokroko). Still, almost all of my songs mention God or Love, which are synonymous and I consider them all spiritual.

To find out more about the upcoming album, stay tuned for Part III of this blog.  Also be sure to check out The Ragbirds’ Kickstarter page for more information about the recording project and how you can help make it possible.

A Study Of Songs – Part 1

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And so this new album project begins with a handful of songs that have been pushed out of the nest already to fly and a nest full of eggs waiting to be hatched. I’m looking down at the expanse of the road we’ve walked so far – measuring the journey.  What message have we carried?  What mood have we inspired?  How have we grown and changed along the way?

This will be the fourth collection of songs that we share with the world.  There are 35 original songs already recorded and released on The Ragbirds first 3 albums.  Then there are 8 more original songs on my new solo album (to be released soon!)  So, after 43 songs have been sung, what more do I have to say?

As touring has taken up the bulk of our time and made up the majority of our experiences in the last two years, this batch of songs seems more honed for the stage.  I’m trying to write songs to create the live show experience that I want to present – songs that fill in the holes where something seems missing in our live presentation.  And the themes are naturally inspired by our experiences traveling across this diverse country.

So the songs, in a way are catered to the party.  They are a natural expression of our daily life, which is setting up the circus tent in a different city each night and living the songs out on stage.  They are fun, lively, danceable, and diverse.  I think that since I was able to get some of my sadder and more personal songs out in my solo album, I am able to naturally express this communal, joyful side of life without feeling deprived of self-expression.

There are a few songs that explore new genres, which is always a musical adventure for us.  When I attempt to adopt a new musical style I spend a lot of time sitting with the old players of that style singing into my ears.  I learn the history and I study the form, but more importantly, I listen deeply and for a long time until it has found its way into my soul.  Only then can I truly write an original song in that style and let myself shine through.

On this new album my goal is for the band to step up the quality of every little part so that we can present a more polished sound, with tight rhythms, more harmony than ever before (and more fiddle!) We’ve had lots of studio experience now and this album should bear the evidence of all our lessons learned.

I also want to say things we haven’t said yet – to lift people’s hopes up – to make them believe in joy.  The overall vision is for listeners to experience the fun, uplifting encouraging live show that we put on nearly every night in every city we travel to.  I want to bring that happiness that I see on the audience’s faces into their cars and kitchens and living rooms.

Click here to check out the video and see how you can help make this project happen!