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Saturday, December 22, 2012

Music For The Beginning of the World

December 22nd, 2012

The world didn’t end.

And I am listening to Beethoven’s 9th Symphony- to the Ode To Joy, and I am feeling this moment the taste of eternity and therefore the world is ever ending and ever beginning. To live is to taste the layers of such candy, the sweet followed immediately by the bitter, and to look to the stars, and to laugh, and to look down into the violent heart of creation and to weep.

I actually don’t believe in world endings, per se, but a greater obliteration into the sands and stars of eternity, perhaps the end of the world as “we” know it but then, who are we, anyway?

Among the many things we are, we are makers of music as well as we are committers of violence (even if only in our thoughts and if only against ourselves [sic].)

Four things: (but I’m not actually going to talk about the first two, just putting them in here for context.)
  1. The Newtown Tragedy
  2. NRA and guns in every schools
  3. Music again in Afghanistan after the Taliban, as told by Andrew Solomon on THE MOTH
  4. Marin Alsop, of both the Sao Paolo Symphony Orchestra and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, speaking on NPR about how in the US we are struggling to get any arts education but, in South America, both government and private funding sources are increasing classical music education in schools.

One week ago, I spent the weekend in Minnesota. I was at the Mall of America, comparing little pink dresses for my niece, as I looked up and saw Santa walk by. One moment later, my NY Times App on my phone reported the breaking news about the massacre in Newtown. Just as I snapped the photo of Santa getting on the escalator (I chased him to get a good shot, because I just knew my niece and nephew would love to see it), the notice popped up and I had to reshoot. “Dang!” I had said in the moment, frustrated that I had the “push notices” feature up and running on the App. But I got my pic of Santa, and I waved and shouted out “Thank you!” as he disappeared into the floors below me (it’s a VERY big mall) and he shouted back “You’re Welcome!” And then I read the App, and then I read it to my parents, and then I sat down and I wept.

I came home a few days later to Los Angeles, because I had a lovely opera-tunity (haha, you can tell I was hanging with my Dad because my jokes are corny) to sing an audition (ah, joy! Ah, terror! To sing, to risk the tension of my own laughing and my own crying held in suspense at the stakes of the character, to show you my own pain and my own hope and the feelings of this heart, too great for mere words, which must be SUNG.) And then I heard the proposal from the NRA about armed guards in every school.

Well, I have my own political opinions about it but this blog isn’t really about politics, or even about Jesus Christ (What WOULD he do at this time? Clearly, as the precedent in the Bible shows, it would be to gather up armed volunteers and…. Wait a minute….. wait a MINUTE! Which Book of the Gospel has the part about Jesus’ arsenal of weapons….. okay I’ll get back to you about that…..) No, this blog is not about that. It’s about the gifts of music….

I heard tonight, just now, while baking cookies for Christmas, Andrew Solomon’s wonderful story on the Moth about his time in Afghanistan. Please listen HERE:

You see, so much of it is about the continuance of something divine and immortal that we humans get to touch and to be part of… that is music, and that is life, and that is holy. And these are the holy days, and every day is an opportunity to remember something divine, and to touch it, and to be grateful for that opportunity. … but I know full well I am one of the lucky ones. I am an artist, and I am a poet. Vissi d’arte, and I really mean it!

It moved me to tears, Mr. Solomon’s story, because these artists were not allowed to share music. MUSIC! Under the rule of the Taliban….. and then finally when they had the opportunity, their hearts were so full of joy the played for 13 hours straight….

…and here in the States we allow ourselves to take music and art out of schools to become more pragmatic…. And increasingly, violent…. There are no separations between the warlords and the hegemonists when art and music and poetry are excluded from public discourse and more and more the people are led by means of fear, manipulation and violence. We are the terrorists, too, in another context. Terrorists of the heart, perhaps, but think long term for a moment and you, too shall weep, and then cradle your beloved in your arms, sweetly singing, “Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright…”

But how to reach the heart? How to reach that place where the heart and mind commingle in an ecstasy of systemic comprehension, of thoughtfulness, of beauty, or math and art mixing as one, of the end of isolation (a COMMON THEME among those who commit these massacres!) because in order for this system of fun and beauty to work, we must all work together?

May I humbly propose: music.

Earlier I had listened to an interview with Marin Alsop, a conductor both in Baltimore as well as in Sao Paolo, talking about music programs for children in South America and then here in the US…. It seemed to me that we have let ourselves become so needy to be “right” and so “afraid of being wrong” that we leave little room for places of experimentation and exploration. And yet this isn’t making us smarter or safer or better! We can see quite clearly that it is leading us toward more violence and more death…. Not to mention…. DULL.

Ms. Alsop was talking about a program in Baltimore called ORCHKids, which is giving inner city school kids an opportunity to learn about music, and to see opportunities outside of anything they ever dreamed was possible. … 

And you see, we all mean well, really. I truly believe, like Anne Frank, that deep down, people are still good at heart. I just also pray for us to be led back toward love, and I ask for blessings upon music and love and peace and these values that we all DO hold dear but forget from time to time require practice.

Just like music. Music requires practice. I started at age 5, sitting at the piano every day for 20 minutes. And I’d like to pretend I was a prodigy but it wasn’t until I was 11, really, and actually focused my time every day, that I really began to play. It wasn’t that I couldn’t have earlier but that I just did not practice. But something in me clicked around the time of puberty, and although it is more systemic than what I am about to present, I will simply say that something in me sought an outlet for all these feelings that were just, well, too BIG to be dealt with in a “normal” manner. And that’s why there was John Lennon’s Imagine, and Debussy’s Deux Arabesques (or Portrait of Jenny, as we called it, because it was heavily featured in the film from the 1940s starring Jennifer Jones, which my grandmother loved.) That’s why there was Ani Di Franco ( well, I am a product of the 90s) and R.E.M., and anyone’s list can go on and on. Insert your favorite songs here: Moon River. Fields of Gold. Dance me to the Ends of Love. Songs My Mother Taught Me. Zippity Doo Dah.

Believe it or not, violence and anger and hatred also require practice. Oh sure, in the moment, it seems like a flash. But it is a groove in the nervous system, a highway laid down on a bed of myelin (fat!) and imprinted deeper and faster every time that particular road is taken.

American Poets Frost and Emerson talked about this, and who knew whether they knew a wit about the nervous system… the both wrote very famous poems about taking the road less traveled by…. To go where there is no path and leave a trail….

And what can this mean to us? Little old us? For anyone who is not a great poet nor an infamous murderer? Not a movie star nor a statesman or women nor a leader but merely a school teacher…. A movie theater ticket taker…. A butcher, a baker, a candlestick maker?

And what does music have to do with this again?


When we can see an opportunity outside of something we already know how to know, we can follow that opportunity toward something- and that something is the key to our own heart. Maybe it is changing a pattern so we don’t develop a disease. Maybe it is to learn a language and to therefore be inspired to travel to a place we never thought we could get to. Maybe it is to help us have more joy in our own lives, and maybe it is to inspire us to build an orphanage and donate a dollar. Maybe it is to try something we always wanted to but never dared before…

And music, well, this is what music is like. We set out to learn a new song, one we may or may not have heard before, but which we fumble through the first few times…. Which we soon get into a groove to, having learned, and then discover perhaps we have learned something wrong and get to relearn the piece…. If we are lucky and are playing in a band or an orchestra or in concert with others somehow, we learn to listen to one another with an open mind, and respond in kind. We rely upon one another for rhythm and timing and pitch. We open a doorway through our hearts and minds and bodies and through that doorway, a spirit of something greater than ourselves flows through from one to another.

Perhaps this, music, this can be the “escape” that becomes a new way of salvation for us. I mean, it has existed for so long for a reason, regardless of man’s own inhumanity. Birds, whales, the wind…. Humans. We all have this in common. We all have this gift to quench our desire for communion and to calm the fires of terror and violence. You may say that I’m a dreamer….. but…. You know how the song goes…. I bet you’re already singing it, right now…….

Friday, September 28, 2012

a broad harvest of palms and gold

a broad harvest of palms and gold

            (…because I’m still in love with you, I want to see you dancing…
-Neil Young.)
(…Jadis, si je me souviens bien, ma vie était un festin où s'ouvraient tous les
cœurs, où tous les vins coulaient…
-Arthur Rimbaud.)

teasing full moon-            my sweetest friend-
you see me here, iconoclastic,
more of myself in trash and couture,
my body betraying such costumes
as we crash a tortured fete.

i, a yogi cowgirl riding off into the sunset

eating every last heart in the sky,


you, the sky.

oh, what happened to the wild ones inside?
did they grow up a while back?
a decision to be regretted and fretted over and-

witnessed by a gypsy in the stars.

your heart calls upon my soul,
as the sirens sang to odysseus aeons ago,
as distraction forever woos the world
of human, mortal, near human, barely human,
immortal, immoral, for-getted?

here now grammar forgotful
hammered forlorn
lost for nothing
as I am none
of these

I chewed up every last mortal morsel,
and spat them out.
they needed salt.

but back to this full moon,
for this is a modern world
lacking romance,
romantics leaping in twos and threes
into the sky
for dearth of meaning
for lies of mirth in feeling
for phony sighs and American thighs

and here, I.

legs out the window,
hands like wings,
I dangle for none to see,
to think such wondrous things!
for nobody.
nobody but me….
…and an imaginary you
portrayed in this evening’s performance

sir firmament,

notes by Bach and Bacharach,
Sawhney, Young and
let me list a thousand loves
upon my fingers
if it distract you long enough to listen to

the wind,
reminds me:

presently i’m hanging upside down
outside the window
right side up
in a mobius world

just waiting for a reason to stay
just waiting for a reason to run


Love Always,
Whatever that means,

Erin Elizabeth

Saturday, September 22, 2012


a dog chases his tail while the slivered moon climbs ladders in the sky.
it was one of those evenings where there was nowhere else to go,
like every evening, full of stars lingering behind thoughtless clouds,
the city's eventual crumble into the firmament of smog and grey.
and freedom? well, who can answer, what is freedom?
it is running along the same dry lake bed for a thousand years
just for a single taste of salt mixed in with your tears, and, after footstep after footstep, lifetime after lifetime, when finally you sense the stream along your cheek, in a moment of forgetful wonder you wipe the wetness from your eyes.... laugh, and let the marathon commence again.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

autoharp angels, blue moons and weddings

When i was in college... rather, a more accurate depiction of the era which I am trying to describe would be, um,  hmmmm.... in between colleges.... something about wandering, and waiting, and watching the water roll over the Mississippi.... ..... anyway, during the time of which I speak, I worked for a home for developmentally disabled people.

There were four gents in my house, aged 17-45, with varying degrees of autism, mental retardation, and other disabilities. I loved them all. there was the youngest fellah, who loved cars and trucks and called my car "The Mighty Topaz!" He did this because he loved cars and when I began working there, he asked me what kind of car I drove, and I said, "Why, The Mighty Topaz!" Only he had a way of raising his pointer finger in the air like Tony The Tiger when he would say it. "The Miiiiiighty Topaz!" A person had to be careful, though. If you didn't hide your keys, this kid might run out and start your car and drive it down the street for you.... or, maybe even through the garage door if you had been silly enough to park in the garage AND leave your keys out in the open.

Then there was the one who was not by first glance developmentally disabled. I remember the first time I walked into the house and saw him. I thought, "Hell, yeah! Hot coworker!" Then he started rocking back and forth, bringing the three middle fingers of his hand in an ASL "W" rapid fire to his mouth, again and again and again in rapid fire progression. Turned out he was one of our guys. He was handsome, though, and sometimes I would say, "Come on. You're just pretending, right?"

The third guy was a sweet one who.... nope, wait. I can't lie. The truth is, I never quite connected with him. But still, I massaged his head and shoulders at night because it helped him sleep. I can still remember how tense his shoulders were and what a fun challenge it was to get them to go from concrete to the feeling of hard earth so he could fall asleep.

But then there was my music lover. One of our guys loved music desperately. Unfortunately, fortunately, he played autoharp and sang. Also, fortunately, unfortunately, he was OCD and only knew two songs: Buffalo Gals, which is the unfortunate part. And fortunately, and even surprisingly, he could play autoharp and sing THIS song:

Un amor... one love....

Always and ever love is on my mind, love of all varieties as fantastic expressions of one grander variety. My sister was married over the weekend in what was simply the best ( ceremony I've ever attended. I know I'm prejudiced, but it was personal, honest, vulnerable, romantic, present, emotional, communal, familial. It was under the blue moon on a yacht called the Fantasea, out in the waters of the Marina del Rey. Everyone in attendance was in joy, in love, in excitement for the union of two beautiful people.

I love the unlikeliness of life and how beautifully that unlikeliness continues to surprise me.  Laura and Kevin, by all accounts from each individual's beginnings, were never supposed to meet, let alone fall in love. My developmentally disabled friend shouldn't have been able to mimic the Gypsy Kings pitch perfectly. Blue moons are rare, like the willingness to grow into a true and deep love with a high stakes partner. And when it happens, it's gorgeous.

Life can really knock you off your feet and sometimes that's the best thing that can happen. Let the waves take you and turn up on the other side, surfing all the way from Malibu to the Marina. And if you float under the water, deep beneath the current, dreaming til human voices wake you, then let that sea salt flaxen your hair and melt your unwillingness until the stars pop up in the sky once again and you are them. It's your life, damn it! Are you really living?

I am.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Moving outside the tangle of fear-thinking

Moving outside the tangle of fear-thinking…..

…so I am having a day, and I want to write about it and blog it so that it forever is writ upon modern day water, i.e., the interwebs. And I want to share this not because anyone is a good person, a bad person, although we are (in this tale) a bit polarized in behavior… perhaps. And yet in my own un-awareness, of which I know only there is a lot of it, I am certain I have yielded the same to my most beloved helpers…. But before I preface more:

Today I spent a few hours in the dentist’s chair. I love my dentist. He is so calming, his voice is as soothing as any massage therapist. (And I should know!) “good… very good….” He murmurs sotto voce with his Russian accent. It wasn’t very fun when he grew suddenly quiet and turned to look me in the eyes. “I am not so happy,” he said. “You have big, giant cavity behind broken tooth. You need crown.”

Why does going to the dentist make us think we have the leisure to be coddled? Okay, maybe only I think that, but I left with a painful tooth and the promise of the final new crown in a lovely pearlized white in two weeks when the Dr. returns from his vacation. In text messages to friends, I whined a bit while running errands. My tooth really hurts. Dang.

Home again, home again, jiggety, jig. I am moving out of my place and in with a terrific friend and so still wincing from my Dental Adventure, I pulled into my garage only to remember that my parking spot is temporarily being used by my roommate while she is out of town. We have only one spot per unit…. Doh! This is the kind of building where people are particular about their parking spots, so although I had thirty moving boxes in the backseat of my car, (apparently dogs are illegal and I would never give up my Henry! So when the landlord said, “he goes or you both go,” you can see which way I decided.), I decided to pull out of my building to find a spot on the street… just in time for an accident to happen on my busy street, thereby taking me about ten minutes to park four spots down from my house.

Nooooo problem. I finally got my spot, and in my 3” spiked heels and jeans and tank (I had, early this morning, gone to a successful meeting with a new potential agent and I had not brought more comfortable shoes with me), I unloaded my car and all my boxes. Hm. How was I going to maneuver a purse, a bag full of books, a backpack with my laptop, and thirty moving boxes? A little maneuvering and voila! I felt so tough, yet girlish. Like Lori Petty or something. Or maybe more like Gwen Stefani. I noticed I was so very tan from last week in Colorado and, I will admit it. I was feeling pretty good about myself, despite the tooth.

I got to the front door and dropped the boxes, ‘cause there was no way I was gonna fish my keys out of my purse with my arms laden like that. I opened the front door, ran around the corner to my unit, said hello to Henry, dropped my purse, backpack and bag, and ran out to start bringing the boxes in. I stuffed two flat boxes under the wide front door to keep it open as we have no door stopper to this building. It disappeared years ago! Then I started bringing the boxes in.

It was on the second trip I ran into one of my neighbors. I get along with all my neighbors, some better than others! Some I consider good friends and some I consider “people I pray for.” Please, I know I shouldn’t admit that but I might as well. This gal is one I pray for. She is always confusing me with the girl upstairs, who looks about as much like me as you do, and is always yelling at me for making too much noise above her. I tell her it’s not me and she tells me I need to go tell that girl to shut the f^%$ up. At that point I smile and wish her a good day. She’s an older gal, I’d guess 70s, and fairly blind. She moves very slowly, and I imagine it’s because of her being so hard of seeing. Anyway, she is difficult but I try always to be extra kind to her because I imagine it must be very tiresome to be legally blind. I also have lived next to her for two years and have never seen anyone come visit, come or go at all! She has mentioned to me in the past that she has grandkids in college, but they never come visit her. So I fancy she is lonely, and I have a special place in my heart for loneliness in people.

She was coming out of the door with her garbage and her mail. I knew she would have trouble with the boxes and I know she doesn’t hear very well and doesn’t always know if there is a person around, so I said, “Hello!” very loudly. Then I said, “I have all these boxes here, so watch your step!” She said, “That’s really inconvenient for me!” “I’m sorry,” I said, “they’ll only be here for a few minutes as I bring them inside!”

“I doubt that,” she said, feeling along the side of the building for support as she made her way to the mailboxes.

“Can I help you?” I asked. “Maybe I can take the garbage down for you.”

“No, I just need to take the garbage out and mail these letters,” she said. I took her hand and she let me help her over the boxes keeping the door propped open. Then I brought in a few of the boxes and when I came out, she was really struggling to get her mail in the outgoing mailbox.

“Here, let me help with that,” I said.

“Are you moving in?” she asked.

“No, it’s me, Erin. I live right here,” I said, tapping on the wall of my apartment. “I’m moving out.”

Apparently she does not take part in the gossip of the building, because, really, everyone else has been talking for a month about this illegal dog thing here in our place! We all didn’t think it would be a big deal, but it was and is. I respect that! Had I known, honestly, I probably still would have gotten Henry if I had seen him, because he is my boy! Maybe I wouldn’t have gone looking. Maybe I would have. At any rate, I am moving and that is all there is to that! I think it will be a great thing because I am moving in with one of my best friends. So, yay for me! J

“Oh,” she said. “Is Pinya still alive?” She asked.

Pinya is our former manager, who retired last month. He’s an older gentleman from Russia and I love him. He is so dear. He always smiles and waves at me, and he and his wife love to tell me about opera singers they knew in Russia.

“Yes!” I answered, surprised. “He just retired as manager and now Marla is manager.”

“Oh, yeah. I know that,” my neighbor said.

She began feeling her way along the side of the wall toward the front door so she could take out her garbage.

“Here! Let me help you,” I said, taking her elbow. I started walking slowly with her down the steps. I thought about just insisting on taking the garbage but she seemed so insistent, and I had the thought that maybe she could use the exercise.

 “Oh!” she said. “Are you that opera singer!?”

“Yes,” I said, swelling with pride. Most of my neighbors seem to like the music in the building, and those that don’t have never said anything. Also, just in general, I try to be respectful- singing in the late morning and early evening only so as to not wake anyone prematurely or keep anyone awake, etc.

“You’ve been driving me nuts for months,” she said.


I am sure my mouth dropped for a moment, but since she was blind and looking at the ground to watch her footing, she would never have noticed.

“Well, luckily for you, I am moving out,” I said, praying at the same time that I was not being sarcastic but just responding without reaction.

“You ain’t that good, honey,” she said. “You’re just runnin’ those scales.”

“Thanks for the feedback,” I said. Then I walked back up the steps to take in the last of my boxes.

“Uh huh,” she answered.

Now, I was really upset. Why? Why does it matter if she thinks I’m not that good? Who the hell is she? She doesn’t know me. Then, I admonished myself. Erin, stop it. Oh my god. You’re triggering out on some blind and lonely curmudgeonly old lady that no one in the building likes and you think because you helped her she should not share her opinion with you? Let no good deed go unpunished, as Mike (my ex boyfriend) used to say…. Besides which, maybe you aren’t that good. So what? You’re living YOUR life.

It went on like that for some time as I cleaned up inside my apartment and hooked Henry up to his leash to walk him around the block. I’ll admit, I cried. Maybe I’m PMSing. Maybe I worried she was right. Maybe I was hurt that I thought I was being such a good person and doing such a nice thing to help this old biddy and….

As Henry and I walked out the door to our apartment, I watched my neighbor slowly trudge back up the stairs. I thought for a moment about going out the back way so as to avoid her, but that is not my policy. My policy is to embrace what is in front of me. So Henry and I walked outside, and I said cheerfully, “Stay cool!” I wanted to say, “You have no grace, and you’re an angry old bitch.” But that was my anger and that would not have been an appropriate response, at least not in the moment of trigger. Perhaps, if, in 24 hours, I thought, I felt there was value to ME as a person to assert that my feelings were hurt, than that would be appropriate.

Ah. The ego runs RAMPANT.

As Henry and I rounded the corner past the Chateau Marmont, I caught myself using another tried and true coping mechanism, fantasy. I was imagining that Ryan Gosling would come walking down the street and say, “Hey pretty lady, why do you look so sad?” And then I would say, “Oh, I’m having a rough day- a broken tooth, a crown, and then a mean old lady.” “Tell me about it,” he’d say, taking Henry’s leash, and ….

Wait a minute! That’s not a fair use of coping with mundane fears, sorrows, triggers and situations, either, I thought to myself!

Then I went to my heart.

I always want to be a better person, a kind person, a loving person. I was taking this stupid comment from my neighbor- who is entitled to her opinion- WAY too far. But it was touching me somewhere deep and vulnerable- just like this aria I am preparing for an audition: Rosina, in the Barber of Seville, sings exactly about this: Io sono docile. Sono rispettosa. I am sweet, I am respectful…. Me se mi toccano dov’e il mio debole? Saro une vipera! But if you touch me where I am vulnerable? I turn into a viper!

Well, I thought to myself, no viper. Prayer.

So I prayed, as best as I could staying out of ego and staying in heart- and hurt- for my neighbor. Then I prayed for all lonely people, including myself. And for anytime I have thoughtlessly dropped words of acid upon another’s heart out of my own intolerance or ignorance. Then I imagined that it was fine, that maybe I was or wasn’t that good, but it was all an opinion and I sing for the love of music, not for the approval of others.

(well, mostly.)

And then,

A four leaf clover.

Henry and I walked back inside. I put all my four leaf clovers in my book of Rumi poetry, which is now encased in a plastic bag as it houses literally hundreds of four and five leaf clovers, as well as other artifacts of magic that I have discovered in the last 11 years of owning it. The book fell open to this poem:


There is a community of the spirit.
Join it, and feel the delight
of walking in the noisy street,
and being the noise.

Drink all your passion,
and be a disgrace.

Close both eyes
to see with the other eye.

Open your hands,
if you want to be held.

Sit down in this circle.

Quit acting like a wolf, and feel
the sheperd’s love filling you.

At night, your beloved wanders.
Don’t accept consolation.

Close your mouth against food.
Taste the lover’s mouth in yours.

You moan, “She left me.” “He left me.”
Twenty more will come.

Be empty of worrying.
Think of who created thought!

Why do you stay in prison
when the door is so wide open?

Move outside the tangle of fear-thinking.
Live in silence.

Flow down and down in always
widening rings of being.

And now, it’s time to warm up. I like singing. And I sing for joy. So I will be the disgrace, but with the intention of blessing all who hear me.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

after the miller, but before the mother: always love, a sometime rhyme

after the miller, but before the mother: always love, a sometime rhyme

by eem

new? no, nothing’s new, nothing under the all
seeing sky, eye, why then, why do you cry?
for what was never but- was once- and is- in you in my
mind a real thing, real, spinning wheels, whimsy, wings with which to… fall

oh, my heart again, the nothing ness residing within each
cell, the dna a lock of hair, locket locked in deathless
sighs and pretense I feel nothing, yet flying west
toward you, my sun, one star, one sky, father, child, I reach

out my arms in imperfect rhyme, rhythm less jazz, a hymn to him
to eye to her you are we are falsely killing this time! ‘tis true
joy! of all! clichés of! non sense no music all meter here’s the cue
for my voice to come in, missed it again. this loving, dreamy sim-

plicity, growth of seeds to trees becomes our family, strangers joined by stars
as descends so far in supple earth where we, sometime lovers,
are born again seedlings, sister and brother, under land’s deep covers
explode again in an instant of glory, longing for you in me, our life denies all wars

(are you wondering? silly. you know then it is you!)

these are not poems for us to figure out why we love
these are equations to remind us that we do.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

How sweetly nature embraces

Running along the Hudson River this morning, for a moment I forgot my feet were hitting the pavement as a rush of wind rustle the leaves of the cherry trees and me- and when once again I was toe to concrete, I wrote these lines in the notes section of my iPhone:

How sweetly nature embraces
The dreamer in breezes
From upon the frothy tides

And not if the dreamer- softly wakening,  remains in bliss less denial

But as mother, god, is kind, sees past illusion

And beyond the trash, scattered, the hollers of a city at night, the wailing of its children at the mess they themselves spark in a delight of self misleading the self in fright.


Blind are we, are you are he are I as her as you as we. Ourselves.

But the dreamer, opening slowly ones eyelids to bathe in streams of song? embraces the extrapolation of "trying our best" and, discarding all the rest

Sees the heart

Of one tiny blue speck in a sea of lights.

Sent from my iPhone

Sunday, June 10, 2012


Erin buys a watch for the first time in her adult life.


Part Three of
Erin’s Journey

Manhattan School of Music Summer Voice Festival,
New York, Harlem, 2012

I used to always freak out about time. … and I mean, on a grand scale as well as a small scale. With regards to the grand scale, a perfect example is when I graduated from high school. I wished I were already graduating from college. I was so desperate to perform (and more than that, in a second) that I was worried I would be losing precious TIME going to college. I was also dismayed (at that time) that I was not following my true dream to go to NYU, because of fear and, um, well, for a MAN. Of course, looking back, I see how there were so many highways and byways to my life and they all bring-brought me HERE… but tell that to a 17 year old hell bent on being famous and married with three children to the love of her life by the time she’s 24 (because after that… well, I had to win a Tony, Oscar, Emmy, Grammy, and Pulitzer before age 30. So I could become the head of Unicef and win a Nobel Peace Prize before I was 35.)

I am sorry to say I am woefully behind on, um, well, ALL of those goals. In fact, I don't even hold them as goals any longer! I deny nothing, but I allow MY life to shine as brightly as IT should... not my idea of what it is "sposta" looke like.... I am, therefore, in my opinion, joyfully ahead on my perception of success as an opinion and not to be taken TOO seriously; the idea of “getting somewhere” as an attachment to a future outcome and therefore a distraction from the here now; and loving life- come what may- as a determined and daily practice. Yay me! I win! Another round in the Game of Life, please!

I used to always freak out about time on a small scale, too, though. I was overbooked (sound familiar? I mean, now, I practice slowing down and, sometimes, downright LAZINESS, as an antidote to a premature heart attack, as a respite from addictive behavior, and as a way to live life, damnit) all my life, running from rehearsal to lessons to teaching to class to workout to……


Eventually, about the time I went to massage school and was teaching voice and piano lessons to overwhelmed 9 year olds (why were they overwhelmed? Because they had Violin on Mondays, Piano on Tuesdays, Catechism on Wednesdays, Dance on Thursdays, weekend Tee-Ball and chores. Plus school and homework. Could they take the helmet off their heads while at piano lesson, puhleeease, Miss Erin?) (That’s why.) I began to see how very frightful this way of life was. Of course, ever the rebel, I left that way of life instantly. I decided to rebel and drop out. Now, I’m not saying EVERYTHING I did at that time was healthy, in fact, most of it was decidedly POOR decision making.... but 10 and 11 year old kids were having to watch their cholesterol and I couldn't deal. I wanted them to feel loved, supported… happy. Something I, at that time, desperately was NOT. So I threw away all my wrist watches. I stopped checking the time at every turn. I stopped overbooking myself and started dating a boy who loved watching TV for hours on end. His affliction became my respite.

Last week, I decided I was ready for a watch again. I thought to myself, it would be better than checking my iPhone obsessively for the time, (patterns and cycles sometimes come ‘round again), which invariably led/ leads to me checking Facebook and Twitter and Email and Family Feud and wait, now I’m REALLY gonna be late. Argh! So I went on to QVC (not a commercial, really!) and bought the prettiest, girliest watch I could find… Gold with a pearlized face. I like it.

What has this to do with the Summer Voice Festival?

Anything. Everything.

But I will get to that at the end of this blog. I promise!

SOOOOO many things have been going on in these last three weeks of the Festival. I can barely believe I am halfway through! I won’t talk about everything, but will try to touch upon the highlights…

And speaking of time and highlights, I am thrilled to announce that I held a 360-year old violin a week ago. ;) A friend of a friend is an orchestra conductor and rare and antique instrument dealer. As I have been learning and seeking guidance for my career, and just, desiring to meet some wonderful new people, a dear friend referred me to this man, Richard. He’s a Conductor out of Chicago and a kindred spirit, if I do say so myself. Anyway, he was flying into NYC to deal with a violin and when I met him, he said, “Wanna hold it?” Well, a 4 million dollar violin. Hm. Sure! It’s slightly more dangerous than when Frank the German asked if I wanted to drive his Porsche and I almost did before revealing I didn’t really know how to drive a manual transmission automobile. Ah. Yes. Two seconds later, the violin was back in Richard’s hands. Ha! I don’t blame him a wit, especially as he doesn’t know how clutzy I have been in my history… less clutzy now than ever, but still.

It was a gorgeous violin. I had the great pleasure of admiring its delicacy and beauty as it was played. Then, the family whose home we were in, belonging to a trio of gifted siblings, invited me to a performance of the Salome Orchestra the next evening. A Conductor-less orchestra, they would be playing music of the Jewish Diaspora, featuring selections from various Jewish Composers, including Arthur Foote, Philip Glass, the Gershwins, and one of my favorites, Saint-Saens.

The next evening I donned my pastel splashed Catherine Malandrino wrap dress and faced the drizzle to go to the Shearith Isreal Temple. Glorious marble and gold, this was one of the most beautiful temples I had ever been in. In the section where I was seated, the entire row in front of me kept looking at me. After the concert, the apparent matriarch of the family said, “Now I know how we know you! From Jerusalem.” “Oh,” I said wistfully, “No, that wasn’t me.” “Oh, yes, don’t you remember us?” She asked. “Well, I’m from Los Angeles,” I said. “And…” I was about to say, and I’m not Jewish, nor have I ever been to Jerusalem, but she interrupted me. “No, no, before, when you were in Jerusalem.” “I don’t think it was me,” I said, “But maybe later I’ll remember how we may have met.”

That evening the music was beyond amazing. Each musician was incredible in his or her own right and the taste and beauty with which they played was a great foundation for when the soloists performed like rock stars of the Violin and Viola. They played Summertime… (I smiled inwardly just now as I wrote that because last night I saw the revival of Porgy and Bess on Broadway. I will give a review of the worthy production ina  future blog….) And they played… The Swan.

My mother used to play this song on piano when I was just a wee little girl… from the Carnival of the Animals by Saint-Saens, among my favorite composers. I remember asking her to play it again and again as I would twirl, imagining myself a ballerina but while wearing my Mary Lou Retton leotard over bright blue tights, with coke-bottle-lensed glasses and funky hair.

This is a song, among a few others, including Moon River and Fields of Gold and Dance me to the Ends of Love and Lujon and the first of the Deux Arabesques by Debussy and Songs my Mother Taught Me, which, upon hearing, renders me instantly in the throes of timelessness…. I could be in a Temple in New York City as easily as I could be in Jerusalem as easily as I could be once again a little girl in Sauk Rapids, Minnesota, with autumn leaves turning golden and orange and the long arms of the Maple Trees in our front yard tapping upon the window bringing a hint of silver, too… I hear this song, and I must stop, for it is always upon hearing that sweet melody that I think of my mother, and her tenderness, and taste eternity.

One of the amazing lessons I have been receiving time and time again during this 6 week period of opportunity is that all the ways I thought my past was a hindrance is, from many other perspectives, a gift. And my past has been coming up again and again, for me to see how lucky and loving life really can be. Of course I’ve had my share of heartache and disappointment and trauma and difficulty, but even much of that- nay, ALL of it- is a gift. Oddly, while I have been here in NYC, I have reconnected with a childhood friend, I have reconnected with my high school boyfriend, and my best friend from childhood’s mother passed away.

And so I reach out for now, because this is it. This is it. People. We can say this and think this and “get it” intellectually all day long, but really? This is it.

Needless to say, it was a sorrow to hear of my friend’s mother passing. She was always very kind to me, this woman who chain-smoked and loved Moonlighting and went back to college while we were kids (just like my mom!) and always included me on family boating trips in Minnesota, Land of Lakes.

And so as I am here, singing my heart out, and loving music, I wish even more deeply to be in honor of all these people in my life, all these wonderful folks I have had the pleasure to meet and spend time with, share sunshine or rain, love and be loved.

Just call me Nature Girl. Haha!

Truly though, the performance of that orchestra was life affirming, as life affirming as the death of a mother figure, as life affirming as a baby’s cry, as life affirming as the four leaf clovers I find everywhere I go.

Why is death life affirming?

There, you answered my opinion for yourself. Thank you. And I love you.

Almost as much as I love singing. I love singers. I love listening to singers- Shirley Bassey covering “I Wanna Know What Love Is” by Foreigner with a brass section, Audra McDonald singing Bess on Broadway, my friends at Manhattan School moving me to tears with lieder and Strauss and Mozart.

Speaking of singing, I am singing in the most wonderful of scenes. I am singing one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever composed: The Flower Duet from the opera Lakme. I am also singing Jane Eyre from the Musical Theatre version of Jane Eyre, composed by my very own friend Paul Gordon! Life truly is magical and mysterious… that my former roommate Linda would have done PR for that musical, that her sister would have appeared in the Broadway version of it, that I would know Paul, that I would be such a tremendous fan of the Bronte’s and especially that Charlotte, that I would just have been listening to a podcast called “Stuff You May Have Missed in History Class” all about the Brontes…. Well. Allow me to laugh in pure joy and then sing. For life couldn’t be sweeter!

One evening last week, after reconnecting with my childhood friend, Noah… he grew up kitty corner from my back door (I may have mentioned him in previous blogs)…. I went out with a group of his friends (now my friends, or at least acquaintances!) and had a marvelous time. All singers or musicians, it was a talk-shop kinda night. Later, getting off the train at my stop in Harlem, I overheard the most WONDERFUL half of a phone call…

"I mean, if I was to see you, I'd be nervous.... real nervous!.... not like throwing up nervous, but like, you know... love do that to a person... you know.... love overwhelm a person, make a person not his usual self....... you know that's how you know it's love... you know...... love make me real nervous, you see what I mean?...... 'cause if I saw you now, I'd be real nervous." ...... I know precisely what he means. “He” was a very very large man, probably in his 20s, a total Urban Fellah, pants around his knees, baseball cap on sideways, lumbering laboriously down the rain speckled Broadway.

I love what he said. And I am seeing that Harlem is full of love.

So, for a while, I have been getting my nails done every few weeks as part of my “Be Nice to Erin” campaign. I found a place across the street from my house here in Harlem where I can get a mani and pedi for 20 bucks and a smile. No one really speaks English there but I know enough Spanish to kind of catch on and they patiently listen to my halted speech. Anyway, the other day I was in there, getting my nails painted a bright salmon pink, listening to the women chatter gaily away, when suddenly Foreigner came on the radio…. “I’m gonna take a little time… a little time to think things over….” I love love love this song, and not in a sort of tongue in cheek way but outright, the way my hipster friends tease me for loving Celine Dion and the way my classical friends tease me for loving Sarah Brightman. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who loved this song! For as soon as that exalted chorus started, a handful of the women working in the shop all burst out in unison, “I wanna know what love is!!! I want you to show me!” Oh! The concert of birds and Harlem Dominican accents and Foreigner and the sirens and the traffic outside and the fans blowing was almost too much for my heart, I thought I might burst with a strange emotion I couldn’t identify for it was neither happy-ness nor sorrow and yet it was somehow both and yet somehow bigger than all of that combined. It was the joy of being alive, it was the very aliveness of every single person in the nail salon and all of us together as a musical system of love, arranged perfectly by our makers and our hearts, the unlikeliest amalgamation of Vietnamese and Minnesotan and Dominican and African American all contrived on this day at 1:40 pm Eastern Standard Time to sing the even less likely selection of late 70s’ / early 80s rock.

I feel, listening to the birds singing and the children playing outside, that I must get out into that Harlem for a bit before I go see a movie tonight… And, Oh, I have barely begun to scratch the surface of this time here. I have pages and pages of notes to write something brilliant, and instead these 5 word doc pages have meandered like a stream in glacial central Minnesota. I don’t mind though, because as I close, I am listening to a recording of Maria Callas singing an aria I sing, from Saint-Saens’ opera Samson et Dalila… Mon Coeur S’ouvre a ta Voix…. And as she sings about the way the breeze causes the fields of gold to undulate in sensuality, I realize I know now the things I could never have dreamed as a young girl in Minnesota…. I am heartened by the seduction, and by the purity, by the life, by the sorrow. I know things about Dalila, lifetimes and legends away from “Me,” the young woman who writes this, the way she might know a thing or two about Erin…. through heart and inspiration and that eternal timelessness that we can touch through music, through poetry, through making love, through giving birth, through death.

I wanna know what love is. I want you to show me.

We’re all leaning out for love. We will lean that way forever…

Blessings to you and yours. Deep gratitude and whimsy.

Yours truly,


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Summer Voice Festival Part DEUX

Summer Voice Festival Part DEUX:

A musical blog, in which Erin has a hard day for no reason, and then remembers why she is here now and hear now, and then luxuriates in some of the most beautiful music on earth.


This blog may or may not take some turns for the happy, the silly, the giddy, the dark, the depressed, the whiny, the pity party, the come-uppance, and the reverent. Fasten your seatbelts…

(suggested soundtrack:
Air, Alone in Kyoto)

            One of my most infamous ex-boyfriends recently wrote me a note. It read: “Dear Erin. Manhattan School of Music. Really? How’d you get in? I mean, that’s where Marsi went to school.” (his ex-girlfriend previous to me.) Hm. Subtext… subtext… subtext… the answer is… I applied, I sent in an audition, and they accepted me. But that’s not the real answer because that’s not the real question… All this shows me, of course, really, is that after all this time, he still has no idea who I am. Why do I, a truly, sincerely, practicing, life-affirming person, open my blog with this note of notoriety? I don’t know. I don’t plan this stuff. But it seems important. I hope you’re listening to the soundtrack as you read this, because I am listening as I write this. I’d love for us to have a communion here, if you’d like. Any you, even notorious you, beloved you, sweet you, motherf$%er you, every you, me you, you me you, Ali Baba and John Paul Jones.

            I’m being cheeky, but also a little sad, a little goofy, and a little angry, and a little wonderful. Just a little.

            So Saturday were the big auditions for placement into scenes and productions. Auditions have long been difficult for me. I am really good live in performance, and really good on tape….. auditions, well, that’s a different story. I am learning to own myself as much in an audition as I do in a full performance. I did not plan well for this audition, however. Or rather, predictably unpredictable, I changed my mind at the last moment about what to sing. Since I am here to learn, rather than do the sensible thing and sing the song most likely to get me cast in a production, I decided to sing my most exciting piece that would show the folks what I can do and where I am going. So I sang a coloratura mezzo piece, “Una Voce Poco Fa.” I so love this song, and I am currently experiencing (somewhat, but without the identity swapping bits of the opera) the same sort of life as the heroine I was playing…

(Insert soundtrack #2: From THE JERK: )

            Well, I tried some of the new things I had learned from my lovely teacher and didn’t feel grounded. Oh. Alas. Sigh. They asked for some musical theater, so I sang eight bars of “A Sleepin’ Bee.” Then they asked about cabaret. I told them I had recently performed a one-woman show about my love life and could sing “Making Love Alone” for them. They laughed. And then laughed some more. I have such a way of making people laugh when I never mean to. ! ;) So I sang it and they laughed. I wished I had offered only opera, but I did what I did and I couldn’t take it back.

            I always give myself 20 lashings after any audition. I am working on reducing the number to 18, and then 15, and then 12, and then, well, you get the picture, with the optimal number being 0. Or maybe even being like, “Go Erin! Yeah! You did it! You sang an audition and I think you are wonderful just for putting yourself out there.” But of course, some things, perhaps all things, are “progress, not perfection.” So, feeling a bit needy, I called my mama. She talked me off the ledge. As she has sooooo many times.

            Meanwhile, at the school, everyone was convinced they knew me already. People kept asking me if I was a grad student here, or if I had gone to such and such school, or if I knew such and such person, and how did they know me, where did I live, etc. I admit, I was having a Groundhog Day experience myself, in which I felt as if I had lived this life but not exactly like this, but sort of similar, 50, 500, 5000 times before, every time a little different, some better, some worse, but…. It wasn’t déjà vu, but as if it were a recurring theme in a dream…

            “I’m afraid if I kiss you, I’ll fall in love with you.” “You will?” “Then I don’t want to.” “You don’t?” “My mother sacrificed everything to send me through cosmetology school.” “She did?” “She has this dream for me to be someone.” “She does?” “To marry someone with power, money, vision. Someone with a special purpose.” “I’ve got one!!!! I’ve got a special purpose!!!!” “You do?”

            The above scene did not happen on Saturday, but in that moment from THE JERK… I don’t happen to have the Special Purpose that Steve Martin is talking about… if you don’t know what I am talking about then please, please, please do yourself, and humanity, a favor and RENT THIS MOVIE! But I DO have those same fears, and those same hesitations, and those same dreams, and my own version of a special purpose… more on that in a moment.

(Insert Soundtrack #3: Believe.

            Saturday evening I visited a friend from childhood and we revisited a few old times, and new ones. I loved that I could connect with this sweet man in another incarnation. When I was a little girl, living in my mom and dad’s house next to the woods, at our house on 13th St in Sauk Rapids, I could look out the back patio door, through the oak trees, and see his front door across the street and a bit kitty corner. He and his sister would come over and play for hours, and of course the infamous story is the year he was a vacuum cleaner for Halloween. He was the cutest thing.

Odd feelings.

            Nothing ever goes the way I expect it to go, so as much as I can, I try not to expect it to go anyway at all. That evening was the Barbecue for all the singers and staff. About half the singers got up to sing and it was for me such a joy, such a luxury. I sat and listened, thinking to myself, what a wonderful gift each person her has, and is, to this world… what a sweet gift I am giving myself, to be amongst so many wonderfully talented people. I suppose the gift of being a few years older than most (not all, but most) of the others is that I can appreciate being here differently. I can’t say better or worse because I can only speak for myself… but the gift of spending all day with other singers who love music as deeply as I do… and don’t get me wrong. It isn’t that I am not grateful for my day job, or the experience my life has brought me touring in pop and cabaret and rock bands, and living in Hollywood, and having loss and grief and joy and life and having enough life experience to know that there is always another day, another chance, another thing to wake up for, and it can all start right now… but still. I know the toil of not fulfilling one’s dreams… I know a little bit about flirting with “deferring the dream,” and then losing sight of it…. And so I know the deep presence of love available through “musik!” and I was so grateful for the gift of getting to learn so much.

            I sang Carmen- the Habanera…. Of course I didn’t just sing it. I had to be me. So I climbed up on chairs and got everyone else to sing the chorus. Look. I could say I was a good little girl and I sang a real pretty song. But damn if I’m not Erin. I just follow the spirit in the moment, and am thankful now upon writing this with some reflection, for time and age and wisdom, to be able to have some appropriateness these days. I had a blast, though. And people sang along, so it was fun for all of us! I used to sing it back in the days of Le Cirque Rouge in a bustier and top hat, so this was actually quite tame in comparison.


Kurt Weill, as sung by Anne-Sofie von Otter

            I have long loved Anne Sofie von Otter. I’ll never forget once, I had this guy I was sorta halfway seeing, and really liked, who lived in San Francisco. I went to visit him there, and we spent a day browsing music and bookstores, and I found a CD of Anne Sofie von Otter and Elvis Costello…. then we went back to his place, where he lit a fire (I know! Right in downtown San Fran.) and poured some champagne. We turned on the music, and he put his arm around me, and he looked down at me, and I looked up at him, and he leaned in…. and suddenly I was freezing cold and yet sweating and he said… “Um, Erin, you’re kinda burning up.” I nodded. “No,” he said, “like, you’re giving off a lot of heat.” It hit me. Boom. “I think I need to lay down,” I said. Three days later I woke up. I had been in various versions of fever delusions during which time, apparently, I accused the poor guy of trying to poison me. I believed he was in league with the ex boyfriend (mentioned in the beginning of this blog) and that he was slowly killing me. The opposite was true; he had taken several days off work to nurse me to health, calling his Uncle the medical doctor to get advice on whether or not to bring me to the emergency room, and constantly changing my sheets because I was soaking them through in fever sweats.

            I never heard from him after that, except for a few pleasantries on Facebook. I do NOT blame him. He was wonderful enough to take care of me while I was very sick and all I did was accuse him of trying to kill me. Sigh. Anyway.

            My lack of polish doesn’t extend only to my love life. No. It also extends to my singing life. And I was, and am, very excited to be learning more about where I lack professionalism, skills, diction abilities, and, where, in general, I try too hard….

(SOUNDTRACK: Anne Sofie again, another Weill tune):
(from The Seven Deadly Sins)

            Most of the day was spent meeting my fellow singers, meeting the directors of the opera scenes I will be in and learning from my wonderful teacher. And the technique she is teaching me is so much simpler than how I sing, and so much more relaxed. And again and again, the message is: Too much. Too hard. Trying too hard.

            Oh! To be an overachiever. It has a special frustration all its own, and then you try hard not to try too hard and then you eventually just call your sister or try not to call your mother for the thirtieth time all needy-like, and you just go to the Crepe place near your new apartment and say, give me your most delicious crepe, and they make you a crepe with nutella and strawberries and bananas and raspberry sauce, and you sit and eat it and gossip with the girls about men and love and Lauryn Hill, and you forget you ever tried too hard in the first place and calm yourself thinking about…


Ah, beautiful moments, sad and happy all at once. Some Groundhog Days happen only once, I guess.


            Rain, and rain, and more rain. I have always loved the rain. To me it is profound, and poetic, and lush, and cleansing. Tuesday was a special day…


Nitin Sawhney

            I decided to go for a jog in the rain. I needed a good cleansing of my emotional palate. I was trying way too hard, I was too hard on myself, I was having all these inner dramas. I mean, don’t get me wrong. I was having a ton of fun listening to wonderful singers, and learning, and eating, and sleeping. (yes! Finally getting good rest.) But I also… well, in setting up having no expectations of how anything would go during this time, I discovered a strange re-experiencing of my fretful and difficult youth: I was watching myself expect to know things I didn’t already know…. Do things I couldn’t already do… I wasn’t letting myself have the freedom to be a true student. So I went for a nice run along Riverside Park in the rain, praying for freedom, and availability, and-

            ….there, what was that? I stopped in my tracks. I turned around and looked down. There at my feet was the biggest four-leaf clover I had ever seen! I bent down to pluck it when… what was that? There was a five leaf clover! And there! Another four leaf clover! And there! And there! And everywhere I looked. I was in a field of four and five leaf clovers. I selected as many one hand could hold, a bouquet of magic, and walked, giddy, back to my apartment. I texted a few people the picture, and then decided the world of facebook might like to see these sweet little wonders…


                        I have had the benefit of hearing some wonderful singers. I have been running the gamut of emotion. I don’t want to bore you with the run from needy to angry (with self) to joyful to bliss. I want to leave this tome only with bliss. Who knows what tomorrow may bring, who knows what the next moment may bring. But in Masterclasses with Neil Rosensheim, and then Ashley Putnam, I have been able to watch people transform. I have learned so much. I have heard Menotti, Sondheim, Rossini, Mozart, Verdi, and…. I will leave you with this. I heard an incredible singer perform this (and was excited that I have her teacher as my teacher for this program, and in the room that used to belong to Leontyne Price….)
(And you all know how I feel about Strauss.)

Breit' über mein Haupt dein schwarzes Haar, 
Neig' zu mir dein Angesicht, 
Da strömt in die Seele so hell und klar 
Mir deiner Augen Licht.  
Ich will nicht droben der Sonne Pracht, 
Noch der Sterne leuchtenden Kranz, 
Ich will nur deiner Locken Nacht 
Und deiner Blicke Glanz. 

Spread over my head your black hair,  
and incline to me your face,  
so that into my soul, so brightly and clearly,  
will stream your eye's light.   
I do not want the splendor of the sun above,  
nor the glittering crown of stars;  
I want only the night of your locks  
and the radiance of your gaze.
and, another woman who tread these same halls…
Now it is time for me to go to sleep and awake refreshed. I will try hard not to try too hard. I will try not to punish myself for the subtleties of frustration in my heart that probably only I have noticed, and I will avail myself to the best of my awareness to the freedom of having room for life to occur. Good, bad, ugly, beautiful. Life. Life life life… self. Room for self. And love. And music, and fun. And joy. And laughing at all my foibles. What a piece of work is (wo)man.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Manhattan School of Music Summer Voice Festival Part One: Journey to Surrender

Erin Elizabeth Muir: the Summer Voice Festival

Part One:

A Journey to Surrender

Well, this has certainly been quite the journey already and today is only the first day of the program itself! My program started, of course, back on Easter, when I learned I was accepted to the program and decided to do a kickstarter to fund the tuition for the program. In the last month since then, I have been so honored by all the people- some that didn’t know me at all, and others who were long lost friends, and yet other friends near and far and close and closer and even REAL CLOSE, and family… by al these people pitching in to help me get here, to help me pay the tuition, housing transportation costs…. By the wonderful folks just sending words of encouragement…. By the four amazing men who are baby-sitting my dog (each separately. He doesn’t require THAT much attention. I may. ;-) but he can do one on one.)

Anyway, thanks again, everyone, for that support…

And now here I sit in my little sublet apartment in Harlem, writing this blog just to try and cover the first few days of my experience! I live near the Cotton Club, which is fun for me, being a jazz buff. I’m one subway stop north of the school itself, and I believe this neighborhood is in that estuary of gentrification meeting artists meeting old school Harlem inhabitants. Everywhere there are people hanging out on their front stoops, there’s Afro-Cuban drumming and pigeons cooing, children laughing and food… everywhere food. Last night I broke my no dairy rule (I try to not eat it too much if I’m singing because it makes me all phlegmy) and ate a Cuban from Flor de Broadway, with lots of garlic and pickles. YUM YUM…. And topped it off with coconut juice and some sweet plaintains.

My only regret about being here, of course, is that my dog isn’t here with me, but there will be days that I will be gone for 12 hours and I just couldn’t bear the thought of poor little Henry being stuck in a strange new city without getting out to take care of his needs! So last Tuesday I brought him over to my friend Woodruff’s, his first baby-sitter. Woodruff was very patient with me as I cried but pretended I wasn’t. As I was choking up showing him Henry’s food and toys, he said, wanna hang out for a minute and settle Henry in? Whew. I got a last little time with my little Muppet and then said good bye for 6 weeks. I was sad, but Henry looked at me like, “Yeah, Mom, I get it. You’re gonna be gone til July. Geez. Let me go play with the boys now.” At least, that was my anthropomorphized version of his underbite-grin. Later, W sent me a pic of Henry napping on his lap. I knew then, it would be alright with my little bundle of puppy love.

An on to New York City! I arrived Thursday morning. I took the red-eye flight from the city I love, my city of Angels, and got in to LaGuardia around 9 am. The flights (I somehow gave myself a stop in Chicago) were uneventful and fitful for sleep. I had booked a car to take me into the city because, according to the website, it was only $9 more than the shuttle. I was a bit surprised when the total was $38 more than the shuttle but since the driver was 30 minutes late picking me up, drove like a mad man to my place, sort of hit on me and then offered to show me around, I figured, I would just pay and skedaddle! Oh, hey, Mom, if you’re reading this, don’t read that last part. ;-p

I’m staying in a sweet 2B sublet very near the river (just half a block away!) with another lovely opera singer, a soprano, singing in a production of Don Pasquale. Once I got into the place, and unpacked, I was off to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see one of my best girlfriends from LA! Wait, what!? Yes! It seems that a number of my friends were all converging upon this big Apple all at once. Alison and I had lunch with her friend that works for the museum and took in the Prada special exhibit. Amazing and, well, quirky! I mean, I know a lot of people tell me IIIIii’m quirky, but, um, I’ll take a slight backseat to a few of Ms. Prada’s creations. From there I ran to a voice coaching with my LA Coach Bill. Wait. What!? YES! Another Angeleno descending upon the streets of New Amsterdam. To be fair, he actually works bicoastally. Still, there we were. Breathless, I made it through the Card aria for an audition coming up, and am better the woman for the coaching.

And then, my energy went WHooooooot. Crash. I needed a break. Luckily, my darling friend Debbie, whom I met in Los Angeles (wait, what?) but who lives here now these past many years took me to the Ayurvedic Café for dinner. This is a lovely café which, every day, prepares dishes to incorporate all 7 flavors required in Ayurvedic cooking. At the end, we visited the shrine devoted to Quan Yin, goddess of compassion, and each took a “fortune.”

Mine read:

“Trust that everything you strive for will be taken care of in the absence of your fighting and your worrying.”




That is something this gal definitely needed to hear.

I breathed in deeply, and thought about that night, several years ago, beneath the stars in Rishikesh, the lilting mother Ganga river singing to me, and me to it. I dropped into that joy, and love of singing, and feeling of freedom that comes from the surrender of just letting go.

I’m here, I thought to myself, As I always have been. Everything else after “here” is just joy.

Friday morning I awoke to pigeons cooing. I smiled and thought of Bert, of Bert and Ernie fame. I went for a long jog along the river… here’s how perfect the weather was for a run: I actually extended it by 20 minutes. Trust me. That ain’t how this chickee usually rolls. … but it was lovely, lovely, lovely. I ran a bunch of errands, met the fellow who is subletting MY place in LA in June and gave him the keys, and then went to meet with my vocal teacher from Manhattan School of Music for the first time.

Now, originally, when she and I had been emailing about setting up a first meeting, she said that the lesson Friday evening would be at her home studio, just 4 stops from where I live. No problem! Friday evening, around 6:40, I got off the train and wandered up toward her home. Suddenly, I wondered if I had it correct, because her personal assistant had e-mailed all of us assigned to her studio about times for Friday and Sunday… I rechecked the email and to my dismay, my confirmation email (from Wednesday) said “up at the school.” Uh, oh! I called my teacher, Joan, on her mobile phone. No answer… of course, as she was busy teaching! So I left a message: “Hello, Joan! This is Erin Elizabeth Muir, your mezzo 7 pm student. I’m near your home but I’m just rereading this email and I see that it says the lessons are up at the school! I am so sorry to call and leave this message but in case I am late, I am just erring on the side of the school. I’ll be right there!” I ran to the train (with my purse and my backpack, in my flipflops and short/long skirt fluttering away, hoping not to sweat… er, um…. Glisten…. Too much for my sheer aquamarine chiffon blouse over my nude tank top!), hopped on, hopped off two stops later, and then rechecked my email… wait… wait… a more recent email… Friday night’s lessons are at Joan’s home studio and Sunday’s lessons are at the school…. Argh! I ran back to the train, got on, got off two stops later, ran around the corner and into the building and took the elevator up and arrived at?



I walked in and waited for her to finish with the student before me.

Then I met Joan, and her pianist, Coco. I explained a bit about myself, and we got right to work. Immediately she identified my biggest obstacles with singing at this time: a misappropriation of breathing and my tongue having a mind of its own. (Don’t even get me staaaaarted on that one.) And ultimately, honestly, truly… after she asked me about my philosophy of breathing and I launched into a long poetic treatise on the stars and the heavens and the earth and the … “wait!” She said. “That’s your problem. You’re making it too complicated. It’s not complicated. It’s easy. And it’s going to be difficult for you to retrain yourself to let it be easy.” And then we got to the real work:

Undoing Erin’s hyper-analytical, obsessively pseudo-pscientific practice when it comes to life. I mean. Singing.


She showed me a few things within that lesson that were already so much easier than what I have been doing… things that were building upon the wonderful work I’ve been doing with Calvin…. Things that explained things that he has probably TRIED to get through my thick skull!... and she’s right, it may be hard for me to surrender into it, and yet, then again… it was such a relief and… joy. It was a joy to be singing so easily, so freely. I left her lesson so excited about what I will learn these next 6 weeks… not just for singing but for life…. And I thought again about my fortune from the Ayurvedic Café:

“Trust that everything you strive for will be taken care of in the absence of your fighting and your worrying.”

Maybe I am here to learn better singing, and meet a great manager or even a cute guy. And maybe I’m here because, maybe, just maybe, I need more faith in the moment itself. Less fighting. More trusting. Less worrying. More fun.

So last night, I returned home with my Flor de Broadway sandwich and my roomie was about to watch a favorite movie I haven’t seen since, probably, 2000:

Les Parapluies de Cherbourg…

(The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.)

A wonderful film in which difficult and beautiful life occurs and no one is demonized or made innocent nor evil, but simply each person is alive, striving for joy (and all sung in Michel LeGrand’s amazing, beautiful composing!)

To be honest, my workaholic habit would always have been to go into my room and “work on something.” But I’m here (on earth) to grow, to be alive, to be in joy. So I let myself simply soak in this beautiful film, no umbrellas. Let the rain fall on me! I shall drink it in.

I’m off to warm up now, for my audition for the productions occurring during this Voice Festival are in only a few short hours. I am so honored and happy to be alive. I pray for joy for every living being, for I believe, that is our birthright.

Until next time-

So much love…


“To die for love? What could be more glorious!”
-       Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen

“The French were made to die for love! They delight in fighting duels!”
            -Marilyn Monroe, Gentleman Prefer Blondes

“Toujours, la mort.”
            -Carmen, Card Aria.

“People only die of love in films!”
            -Madame Emery, the Umbrellas of Cherbourg.