If you would like to get regular updates from Bar, please
Click here to join her mailing list.
If you would like to|
read Bar's personal
blog, please click here
On the heels of our summer writing workshop
June 17, 2013
9 days ago, 24 women arrived at our house for a 6-day writing workshop with Dorothy Allison, Abigail Thomas and me. Most of them left on Friday but two are still here. By tomorrow afternoon the house will be empty again. Having that many guests for three meals a day over six days is a whole lot of energy, sound, groceries and life, but more than anything, it’s a lot of stories being told.
Most of the writers are writing memoir, but a few write poetry or fiction. No matter how you write it, though, writing usually has an autobiographical quality to it, and when women are involved, it’s natural that the stories behind the stories are told too. In fact, those back-stories are encouraged. The rest of us become detectives in a way: asking the questions that will bring the whole story out. No stone un-turned. No detail overlooked.
This was our third year of writers. Each year the group has a different feel. In 2011, it was the excitement of firsts. We over-scheduled everybody with workshops, lectures, concerts, speakers, dinners out, readings in the afternoon. Many of the writers who came that year still meet regularly by phone or skype to share their latest writing and get the feedback they need to improve the next draft. Last summer, the group was animated, funny, even silly at times. They were equally committed, equally talented writers, yet there was a slumber party feel to the week. Those women are still in regular contact too – leaning on one another for all kinds of reasons, not just for writing feedback. They’re friends for life.
This year, the feel was serious. Like previous attendees, all were deeply committed to their writing projects and the art of writing, but this time, writing was felt as a matter of life and death; not just the writer’s, but possibly someone else’s. Dorothy set the tone the first day when she told us about the books that had saved her life and why. It reminded me of one of our writers from last year whose uncle had read poetry to her and her cousins while shellfire bombarded their small town in Haiti when she was a child. That poetry saved her life.
Today, the house is quiet. Arianne and Julie are still here. They’re in the living room typing away only to stop every so often to read to one another.
So much has happened here in the last 9 days. I feel full, tired, and grateful. But mostly I’m reminded that when I hear others stories, my life is richer, and I’m better for it.
June 3, 2013
I’m still working on “If There’s a Way,” the song whose lyrics-in-progress I sent a couple of weeks ago. Now I’m trying to record the vocals. But because I haven’t been singing as much as I used to, I’m not in good enough shape to sing the longer lines of the song without taking a breath in the middle. It doesn’t help to be living at 8000 feet. After a few days of trying last week, I knew I needed my friend Trisha. She’s an opera singer and teacher, and always knows what I need to do. We met this morning via skype.
Having another singer listen to me and tell me what I can do to make things better is good for me. On the first line, if there’s a way to end these tears, she listened to the way I sang ‘these’ and said, “it’s flat,” but she didn’t mean pitch. What she heard was that the timbre of my voice had changed on the second half of the word. She could hear the natural harmonics of my voice disappearing and she wanted them back. My breath had not supported the word all the way through. She told me to sing the line again until I could hear the difference.
On another line, I would empty all the pockets I own, she noticed that on the word ‘empty’ I had moved to the ‘m’ so fast that I hadn't taken advantage of the ‘eh’ sound before ‘m’. Try it. If you stay on ‘eh’ for two beats instead of ‘mmm’ it’s a really different performance. The challenge for me is to take the time to sing things in multiple ways until the one that sounds good and right can be repeated every time. ‘Right’ and ‘good’ mean a couple of things: that I like it, first of all, but also that the quality of my voice throughout the song sounds like me rather than two different people singing a duet.
Trisha also talked about the speed of my breathing. I thought she meant the speed with which I take breath in. Whenever there isn’t much time to get from one line to the next, I have to get a lot of air in as efficiently and smoothly as possible. (This is why abdominal strength is so important). But Trisha was talking about how quickly I get the air out. To her, some of my vocals sounded like I was withholding breath, not giving the melody enough support. This translated into a vocal sound that’s small rather than expansive. She could hear all that, and I could too. I just couldn’t figure out how to fix it. The fix is practice, leg lifts, lifting my palette (the roof of my mouth) and getting to know the lyrics inside out so I can play with them and not be afraid to sing out.
If I get a good demo, I’ll send it later this week. I’ll send the current one too so you can hear the difference.
Songs in the Making
May 20, 2013
Over the weekend I thought of a bunch of things I wanted to write here today. Now it’s Monday and I haven’t exactly drawn a blank but my thoughts aren’t as lively as they were on Saturday when I was walking the dogs. Why is that? My friend Abby says she gets her best writing done during a good, long nap. For me, it’s during a morning walk when I’m not distracted by whatever distracts me at my desk. I wish I could transcribe my thoughts as I'm thinking them. Something's lost as soon as I pull out my pen, though. I think it has to do with deciding to write them down. It takes me out of my reverie. By the time I get home, the sparkle has oftened disappeared, and the sparkle's what I'm after.
Last week while I was at Starbucks waiting for new tires to be put on my car, I found a file on my laptop with the songs that Peter Tomlinson and I have been working on for almost a year. One of the working titles (“Fast Hill”) was completely unfamiliar to me even though I wrote the song. That’s never happened before, which is an indicator of my advancing years and the time it’s been since I worked on it. Anyway, I listened to it on my ear buds and started singing along (I only know this because a guy named Bob who was sitting next to me thanked me when I got up to leave). It was fun. Peter plays a snare part that makes me want to move my feet in a joyful, un-embarrassed sort of way. His teaching schedule is nearly done, so it’s time for us to get back to work on this recording. This morning I booked a week of studio time in August so we can do the final mixes. Having a deadline is good for me. It'll get done now. That I know for sure.
And we’re nearly finished my new website too. It’s taken too many years, but I like it. When we're finished, I’ll be able to do a lot of the behind-the-scenes work, which will save time and money.
Thanks, as always, for being there. You’d be surprised how often I think of you all. Your interest in my work keeps me alive in so many ways. Can’t thank you enough for that.
What I'm Not Doing
May 13, 2013
Our neighbors across the street are having the exterior of their house painted today. The lone painter is a woman in her mid 70s. Brent told me she painted the outside of our house several years before I got here. I just peeked out the window to see what she looks like. She’s wearing baggy light blue pants and an over-sized white t-shirt, neither of which have a spot on them. Her silver-white hair is pulled back in a thick ponytail that falls down her back. She’s pulling a metal scraper down the side of the house to get the old paint off. It’s not a sound I love, but I’m impressed she can still do it.
Last night, Brent told me about a blind woman who turned 100 yesterday and celebrated by skiing Arapahoe Basin just north of here.
If I live to be 100, that means I have 45 years left. That’s a lot of time. I have a mental list of things I’d still like to do, like: write more books, record more songs, take piano lessons, take guitar lessons, learn to play the drums, learn to sing again, build an energy-efficient home, go back to New Zealand, be a hospice volunteer, make mobiles out of sticks, paper and my grandmother’s fake pearls, plant lots of flowers. The list is endless. The challenge is to decide what to do first. These days, I spend a lot of time learning how not to do things: how not to be moving so fast that I miss the good stuff, how not to be motivated by what I think other people need me to do, how not to spend too much time doing things that aren’t on my list of things I still want to do.
This morning, I was practicing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” for the community band concert next week. There were moments when my voice sounded like it always has; other moments when I didn’t have what I used to have, but I did have something new. What I want more than anything is to sing the way I sing now, not try to sing the way I used to.
45 years. Lots of time, or maybe not. Today, I’ll get my studio set up in the new space and with any luck I’ll be recording new songs later this week.
I've got a gig!
May 6, 2013
It’s true! Last week I heard on the radio that the newly formed Westcliffe Community Band was auditioning for an alto to sing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” They have their first-ever concert next week. At first I thought to myself no way. Then Brent came home and said, "I just heard they’re looking for someone to sing with the community band. Why don’t you go for it?” I told him I’d already ruled it out, so he asked me why. I couldn’t answer. Part of me wanted to do it because why wouldn’t I – I love to sing and it’s been a while; but part of me was terrified that I wouldn’t get the gig if I auditioned. I wasn’t sure I could handle that rejection right now, so I decided to err on the side of self-protection. Brent said, “Just call ‘em, Bar” so I emailed them instead and got an immediate response. That led to an audition an hour later. Long story short: I got the gig. (Inside scoop: I’m not sure anyone else auditioned).
I was nervous going over there. Melinda, the choir director for the county school district, met me at the door. She's one of those magical music teachers who all the kids adore. 60 kids are in her choir with only 400 students in the whole county (k-12). She was there to accompany me on piano. Brittan, the community band director, is a new arrival to the area. She’s from Chicago; maybe 28-years old, optimistic, energized, and excited to have a job in rural Colorado. She’s been a professional musician since graduating from college and is also a teacher the kids and community love. They’ve done wonders for this town. When they heard me sing, they were thrilled, but relieved more than anything, I think. They’d found a singer and the show could go on. I left feeling like my lights had been turned back on. I’m a musician again! I’m rehearsing, practicing, getting nervous, feeling inadequate, the whole bit. It’s wonderful! Last night I even had nightmares about coughing through the whole song – so much so that people were laughing at me. Oy gevalt!
So, I get to sing a song that everyone but me has sung a million times. Until last week I’d never sung the song all the way through. Now I’m on the lookout for some fabulous red sparkly shoes but may end up wearing the plain old, everyday red-leather heals I bought at Pegasus five years ago. Found a pair of blue satin shoes at DSW that were actually comfortable, was tempted, but that’s sort of another song.
I’ll let you know how it goes. Can’t wait.
Finally had a chance to listen to the tracks we recorded in Woodstock a couple of weeks ago. They sound really, really good (sans vocal) so I’m hopeful about that too. My voice is still less than it should be for recording so it’ll be another couple of weeks before I can sing them for real.
Life is fine.
Enjoy your week,
April 29, 2013
The tile men and electricians are here this morning. By the end of today, we’ll have light and an almost-done bathroom in the space we’re renovating. If we’re really lucky, we’ll have running water in there by the end of the week.
It’s exciting to see an idea that started in late January morph into a physical space. I love planning and organizing this sort of thing. Brent does too so we’re surviving, unlike many couples who take on a project like this. We both have strong opinions. Generally we’ve agreed on things like paint colors, faucet styles, or bath sizes. When we don’t, we’ve managed to defer or negotiate.
I read a really good essay this morning called “Good Marriages” written by Adam Fisher from a best-of anthology The Sun magazine put out. I found myself reading and re-reading the third paragraph: “Two things seem to me indispensable in a good and lasting relationship. One is laughter and the other is a deep sense of wishing a partner well on his or her own terms.” It’s the second sentence that I dwelt on. He agrees that wishing a partner well on his or her own terms is the hard part.
The electricians just asked me to confirm where the dimmer switches are intended to go. I had to stop writing here to answer them. When they asked about the dimmer for my studio, I told them I’d like it where I enter the room. Brent said, “don’t you want it on the other side where you can get to it more easily when you’re working?” I said, “no, I want it here.” A moment later, the electrician’s assistant who’d just joined the conversation, said, “why don’t you put that dimmer on this side of the room. That way when you’re working and you wanna dim the lights, you won’t have to go so far.” It took me about one breath to say, “Ok, it's a good idea.” As soon as I did, we all started to laugh. When Brent had said it, I didn’t listen. When someone I didn’t know suggested the same exact thing, I deferred right away. This having just read Fisher’s essay.
I’m off to paint. It’s my last day of painting. All that’s left are closet shelves. They’re tedious to paint, but so satisfying when they’re done.