Cover Reveal and Award Nomination!

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It’s been a crazy few months for me, both in real life and in my writing life. I’ve been working on a major revision of my newest novel in response to agent feedback. This is the first time I’ve tried to do such a thing on a tight turnaround and now I understand the stress in other women’s voices when they have talked about that process! But I finished yesterday (more or less; waiting on a bit of feedback from an expert on one particular issue) and now I have time to share a couple pieces of news I haven’t had time to put out there!

Show us Your Face - cover smallFirst, my song, “Show Us Your Face,” published by WLP, is a finalist in the Association of Catholic Publishers’ “Excellence in Publishing” awards for 2019! This was the piece I brought to the Liturgical Composers Forum for review the first year I attended. You can hear an excerpt on the “listen” tab here.

Second, I have a book coming out with Our Sunday Visitor in July 2019. Aaaaand….cover reveal!

Cover Art T2348[2]

This is part of OSV’s “Companion in Faith” series. Here’s OSV’s back cover blurb:

Blessed are they …

The Beatitudes are the words of Christ that cut to the very core of the Christian life. But have they become so familiar that we breeze past them, without taking them to heart? The Beatitudes can — and will — transform our lives in a powerful way, if we take the time to connect with them in our daily lives.

In The Beatitudes, you will find guided meditations based on the Beatitudes found in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. For each Beatitude you will:

  • Focus inward: What is Christ saying to you?
  • Focus outward: What is Christ saying about the world?
  • Pray, reflect, and act: What is God asking you to do?

The reflections in The Beatitudes are useful for examining your daily life, preparing for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and deepening your prayer life.

Stay tuned! I’ll share more as we get closer to launch date!

 

A Blast From The Past, viewed through new eyes

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Photo from Wikipedia

This weekend, exhausted, while our kids were well occupied with their screen time, Christian and I were lying across our bed and hanging out when Christian ran across this video on Facebook:

I haven’t thought about “We Are The World” in years, and I don’t think I ever saw this video. It was so interesting to me on so many levels–watching them all dart forward and back with music in hand to record their solos.

One of the first things I thought was, “why does Michael Jackson always sound like there are five of him?” Clearly it’s an audio effect, but why does MJ get it and no one else? So interesting.

Even more interesting to me was realizing that the nicely-blended choir that sings the chorus is in fact, made up of the soloists. As long as I have been hearing this song, I assumed that was a completely separate choir. Because, you know. Cyndi Lauper. Bruce Springsteen. Ray Charles. Kenny Rogers. These are extremely distinctive voices

When this song came out I was a kid, and musical aptitude notwithstanding, I never thought about the difference between “real singing voice” and “performance voice.” Now that I’ve spent almost twenty years as a church choir director, and more particularly since I’ve been doing Jazzercise (frequently gnashing my teeth at the vocal abuse displayed by pop stars in the songs we dance to), it all strikes me much differently. Whenever I hear Rihanna or Megan Trainor or Beyonce sing, I think, “I wonder what they’d sound like if you were sitting next to them in church, singing the Old Hundredth?” Because there’s no way they’d be doing all that catch-breath-ing and groan-singing and vocal gyrations.

Watching the video to “We Are the World” was really an eye-opener about how much difference there has to be between these people’s “solo” voice and their natural singing voice. Because all those solo voices could not possibly blend into a choir that sounds just like every other choir in the universe.

Then, being almost as susceptible to rabbit holes as everyone else is, we ended up clicking through to this video:

I found this one really interesting, first, because of how long it took Cyndi Lauper to finally reach that distinct “woa-woa-woa” that stands out in the song, and second, because of the clear musical competence of the people involved. I know people are people and all that, but still, you tend to put stars into an “other” category, and what struck me as I watched this was how much this sounds like some of the rehearsals I’ve been part of, with really good musicians coming up with harmonies and playing around with pitch variance and trying different solutions to “that doesn’t quite feel right yet.” It made me realize even though these people are platinum stars and I’m a work-at-home-mom and church musician, we’re the same at heart. I could have a competent conversation with these people and not feel like I was out of my league.

And that was kind of cool.

The Couple That Plays Together…

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proofingI’ve heard people say that wallpapering is a test of a marriage. I think they should try critiquing each other’s creative work.

Christian has always been my earliest set of eyes on a piece of music, and unlike most people, he’s never felt inhibited about telling me exactly what’s wrong with it. In the early years of our marriage, I didn’t handle this well. For those who have never had a creative work critiqued, imagine setting your child out on a pedestal for people to say, “He’s got decent teeth, but the fact that he chews with his mouth open is clearly a reflection on your parenting skills.”

In some ways having a book or a song critiqued is even worse, because a child at least is an independent human being, responsible for his or her own choices. Any flaws in a creative baby are no one’s fault but yours.

It took me several years to learn to accept his feedback with enough emotional distance to be capable of objective receptivity. It also took Christian that long to learn to identify the actual element in a measure or melody or text that doesn’t work. For one thing, he’s taught me not to get all airy-fairy-flowery about religious concepts, but to stay grounded in reality.

But his biggest help to me is with piano parts. I’m an ear-and-chords player (a bad one), so although I can write an interesting enough piano part, I can’t play it, so I never know if what I hear in my head actually works in reality. I tend to assume that if my husband can’t sight-read it, it’s too hard. He has no patience with this particular assumption. “Just give me a minute to play it through first, will you?” he’ll say. “I’ve never seen this before!”

But the photo at the top of today’s post shows a very different sort of shared musical moment. For the past two and a half years, I’ve been going through draft after draft after editorial revision of a collection of Easter hymns arranged for flute and piano, a complement to my Christmas collection, “Come To The Manger.” Some of them wrote themselves; others, well, let’s just say I never knew I could suffer so much angst over a song I’ve been singing since I was old enough to carry a tune.

So it was very satisfying to spend an hour last weekend playing through 25 pages stamped with these words:

easter-proof

Proofs, for those who aren’t deep in the publishing world, are “this is what the inside of the finished product will actually look like,” and as an author you have to go through and make sure there aren’t any mistakes.

This Joyful Eastertide will be available sometime this spring, and I’m quite proud of how it came out. I’m grateful to my editor, Keith Kalemba, for pushing me to dig deeper and not go with the obvious. And I’m grateful to my husband for the countless evenings we put the kids to bed and wanted nothing more than to sit down and veg in front of the TV, and yet instead we went down to the piano to play through yet another attempt at VREUCHTEN or O FILII ET FILIAE.

I guess the couple that plays together, stays together.

Rest and InSpiration

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michael-lashesI came downstairs after my shower yesterday—midmorning, post-workout—to find Michael lying on the couch, half-covered up by a throw and staring out at nothing. I had intended to take him to the basement and let him play with the multitude of toys there while I worked at the piano on edits for the last piece for my Easter collection for flute & piano. But it’s been a rough transition for him, going from morning preschool and afternoon nap to afternoon preschool and no nap at all. So instead, I laid down on the couch beside him and wrapped him up in my arms. “You tired, sweetie?”

“Yeah,” he said in his “forlorn” voice.

“You want to take a nap?”

An extended nod, there against my chest. Then an extended shake of the head. I laughed, and so did he.

I knew I should just cover him up with the throw, kiss his cheek, and go do my work. An unplanned nap? In the morning? This is a gift from God, wrapped in pretty paper and tied with a bow.

But I was sleepy, too, and he felt so good in my arms. And maybe, after all, the gift was a different one: the gift of stillness, one I could embrace—literally—or toss away in favor of an extra half hour of work time.

I closed my eyes, and we snuggled down in the quiet house. My brain treated me to a tour of all the things I could and should be doing, but I pretended it wasn’t talking, and the shrieking faded to a dull roar.

I love being snuggled up with a child in the moment when they go to sleep. The breathing changes. The body relaxes. I couldn’t sleep myself, but I laid there with his head on my arm, eyes closed, opening them every so often to look at those impossibly long lashes, then closing them again to rest in stillness.

And then, after a handful of minutes, inSpiration trickled through the synapses and sang me the solution to my editing quandary. Regretfully, I maneuvered his head off my arm and onto the couch pillow and went downstairs, knowing I’d probably solved the problem more quickly by NOT doing than I would have if I’d gone straight to the basement as planned.

And filled my heart in the process.

Growing Up Musical

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When kids grow up with musical parents…especially ones who lead a choir (“conduct” might be a wee bit too glamorous a word for either of us)…you get this…

…and you get this…

…which leads, most adorably to all, to a 4-year-old who says seriously, “Mom, look at my invisible trombone!” Which, when he is interrupted in playing to clean up random toys, he carefully places in its invisible case, closes its invisible clasps, and stands on its invisible end before doing as he’s told.

 

Being part of something bigger than me (reflections on music)

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Photo by Jesse Kruger, via Flickr

Occasionally, someone asks me when I’m going to record an album. I always hesitate to answer, because even though I know I’m not a good enough singer to record an album, it seems kind of…ungracious…to contradict people who obviously think otherwise. But there’s another reaction that I never quite know how to explain—a deep, visceral recoil. I am a leader of community song and a facilitator of beautiful music. I am not a rock star—either in the literal or the metaphorical sense.

I haven’t always felt that way. When I was in school, it was a matter of extreme angst to me how much time I spent on piccolo or second flute instead of principal. I really craved those solos.

But gradually I realized I like playing second. There’s a different kind of intellectual and musical challenge involved in immersing yourself so deeply in someone else’s pitch and tone that you simply disappear. There’s magic in those moments, a thrill that I find much more satisfying than the stressful adrenaline rush of the spotlight.

Getting deeply involved in pastoral music really crystallized that. As a liturgical flute player, the goal is not to draw attention to myself, but to add color and beauty, to touch the heart and draw it closer to God. In that context, music serves the words—an idea that once made me grind my teeth. But now it seems inevitable and utterly right. Music makes it possible for words to imprint permanently on the soul without effort.

The last few weeks, I’ve been playing second flute on Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky (pronounced Nyevsky, in case you’re wondering) and fourth flute on Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms. The last time I played the Symphony of Psalms, I was playing principal. After twenty-two years, my fingers can still trace the finger patterns of the solos. And yet it’s been at least as fulfilling this time around. Perhaps more so, because I can really feel that I am a part of the tapestry, a part of something much bigger than me.

See, the world of a novelist/feature writer is very isolated. Yes, you do interviews, you have critique partners and editors, and eventually you invite people into your world. But no one ever immerses themselves in your world as fully as you do. Not even other writers want to delve that deep with you.

Music is totally different. You may practice in isolation, but you can’t play the Symphony of Psalms by yourself. You need five flutes, five oboes, 3 bassoons and a contrabassoon, two pianos, harp, a huge array of brass, and low strings—and that’s before we mention the singers (and the conductor!). Music is defined by its communality. We all delve into the experience together, dependent upon each other. People who have never met can rehearse for a few hours and suddenly discover that they can match pitch and note lengths, sometimes without exchanging a single word to make it happen. Music communicates at a level so much more visceral, so much closer to the soul, than words alone.

I used to resent accompaniment parts. But these days I love them—even those ridiculous sustained notes, the ones where whole notes are tied together, followed by a whole note tied to a half note, and two halves tied over a bar line, and why are you even re-articulating the same note anyway?

You can see those dark "page turn" spots in the corner

You can see those dark “page turn” spots in the corner

I can see now the dimension and shape in those notes, and even if nobody in the audience notices the difference, they’ll feel it. I no longer mind playing in the mid-register where I know it’ll never carry over the orchestra, because I recognize I’m part of something so much bigger. I love that sense of being one puzzle piece in a beautiful picture. You could still see the picture if one piece is missing, but only when every piece is in place is the full beauty revealed.

And it’s bigger than our one performance, too. The Symphony of Psalms is a rental piece, so my part came into my hands bearing notes from the person who played it last—and dark spots at the bottom of each well-worn page, where countless fingers not so different from mine left their mark while turning pages on stages not so different from the one I’m using, surrounded by the same glorious sound.

Date night with NicholasBest of all was the fact that last night, when I arrived for the concert, I did not arrive alone. I had Nicholas with me, and we’d had a bona fide “date night” dinner at Taco Bell, just the two of us. He got to sit in the audience, with a real live, paid ticket. He got to come up afterward and go backstage with me. See the tight spiral staircase that accesses the catwalks. Go down the steep, narrow stairway to the dressing rooms beneath the stage. Meet and talk to Jane Bunnell, who sang the gorgeous “Field of the Dead” solo in Nevsky. (And his compliments to her were both effusive and unprompted, which was the coolest thing of all.)

Last night was one of those nights when I was reminded how big and beautiful and interconnected and, especially, how rich music has made my life. And getting to share it with one of my children—and this child, in particular? That made it a perfect night.

Music Memory

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MO Theater 1994The spring of 1994 was a rough semester for me. It was my sophomore year in college, and in the fall semester, due to the convergence of a roommate who studied late into the night with the light on (causing me to sleep with my arms over my eyes, which made my neck & shoulder seize up) and clueless, focused practicing for a competition (which I won), I developed tendinitis and carpal tunnel. The spring semester was proving ground for figuring out how—and more fundamentally, if—I was going to be able to continue playing flute.

I spent most of that semester on piccolo, which I loathed, but got pretty good at, and truthfully it was less muscle stress so it was probably just as well. That semester also turned out to be the peak of my musical experiences in college & grad school, at least as far as repertoire. That was the semester we played both Scheherazade and Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms. (I got to play principal flute on that one. Wow, what a privilege.)

David Maslanka 1994

That’s me right behind his music stand, in the big skirt.

That was also the semester that David Maslanka came to campus. I played picc on his Third Symphony. (You can listen here, although that’s not us playing.)

This memory seems very close today, as Maslanka was in town again this week. I went to the university bands concert last night. Sitting again in that theater where I played opened up floodgates of memory. Looking down from the balcony and watching the drama that I used to be in the midst of, I got all emotional over ordinary things I haven’t forgotten, exactly, but that I almost never think about anymore. Things like tuning pitches (I’d forgotten it isn’t the oboe who gives that in the band). And the way the horn players turn their instruments over and over to clear out the spit when they have a long rest. I also saw things I never got to see before, because I was sitting in front. Maslanka’s music uses a staggering array of percussion, and watching the percussion players scurry from vibes to xylophone to glockenspiel in the space of six beats made me realize just how fabulous the percussion section in that wind ensemble must have been.

I remembered retreating to practice rooms to work pitch with another player on a section scored for two piccolos in perfect 5ths in the upper register. We wore earplugs. And on concert night, we nailed it. That part, anyway. I remembered the inspiration of having Maslanka there during rehearsals and wanting the concert to be absolutely amazing, and thinking it hadn’t been. I went up to him afterward and said, “I’m sorry, I don’t think that went very well.” He put a hand on my shoulder and regarded me with an amazed look as he said, “What concert were you just at?”

I started remembering things that went farther back, too. What it was like to to be dropped into this world, new and inexperienced. There are a lot of things they don’t tell you in advance, like when you’re in a band and the conductor comes on stage you stomp your feet as your welcome of applause, but in the orchestra you shuffle them instead. Why is that? I never knew, it was just something I learned on the fly. Other memories were painful, like the cringe of embarrassment I still feel when I remember how the conducting assistant asked us to check our name spelling on the personnel list on the wall, and since I was playing first I didn’t bother to look down the list, I only saw it wasn’t at the top, so I wrote it in, only to be told later that, duh, it’s in alphabetical order.

But most of all, I remembered what it is like to be in an ensemble like that, playing music of that caliber and emotional power. The way you are wholly in the moment and wholly aware of things happening in other parts of the stage, the way something magical can happen that lifts the entire experience to a transcendental level. I remembered another concert, when I wasn’t enjoying the music, so I told my parents not to bother coming. But that night something happened on the stage, something I hadn’t experienced in rehearsal. And as the last lingering note faded into silence, time seemed suspended. And into that silent eternity, my classmate, a bassoonist, whispered, “Wow.”

My life is crazy busy and I don’t often get a chance to dip back into the world I used to inhabit. This morning on the way to teach flute, I put on the cassette tape of that 1994 concert in the van, and Michael said, “Is that the band you used to live in?” Yes, sweetheart, I did live in that band.

Maslanka’s music reminds me that music can and should be a holy experience. Last night, the young man who plays trumpet in our church choir was on that stage, as well as a young lady with whom I played the hardest of my duets last spring. I was so grateful for the experience I knew they must have had this week, and I envied them the glorious beauty of what they were doing on that stage.

I started crying.

It was being moved by power of the music, but it was also the pang, the longing for what is gone. And oh, how I miss it. Oh, how I miss it.