Internal Progress

I video recorded myself playing piano and singing two songs the other night and then watched it. And I was able to not be too overly critical of myself. Which is huge progress. My perfectionist streak which I’ve battled for years to channel into productive paths has gotten in my way a lot, as has stage fright that rose up sometime between undergrad and grad school, so the fact that I didn’t cringe or shy away from myself is a very big deal.

The songs were two I worked on with my voice teacher last year – a Joan Baez song and one from the musical The Scarlet Pimpernel, so I knew I had certain nuances down before I even started playing. The next step will be to record myself playing my own music, and at that point, I can let the perfectionist out a little for tweaking purposes.

Music is so important for healing. I’ve said it often that it is the one area I’ve felt a lack in my life since leaving undergrad. So I’m glad I can introduce it into my life again.

The Healing Power of Music

Friday night, I found myself alone at home, which is a very rare occurrence. So I tried something while meditating. A handful of times over the past couple of months, I’ve felt moved to sing during meditation sessions. No words, just an open vowel sound, the melody usually sliding and chromatic. But I’ve had to be quiet because my son is usually sleeping in the room next to me. This past Friday, though, I was able to really open up and be loud. And I got really loud.

It was incredible. I’ve never felt harmonics like I experienced Friday night before. They kept building on each other as I opened up my sinuses and airways more, until it felt like there was a chorus of voices coming out of me instead of just one. And I ran through the full gamut of emotions, where at times it felt almost like keening or a banshee wail, and a moment later it went to joy and almost laughter. And at the end, I felt something that had been off internally start to shift back into proper alignment. I have no words.

So… I’m excited with where this will take me creatively and musically. I’m excited about my shifting gears again and unlocking more inner potential. I don’t know where the road I’m on is going to lead me, but it’s been a really interesting journey thus far and I’m glad to be on it.

Unlocking My Voice

I had my second voice lesson this past Friday, and it wound up being a really profound experience. I won’t go into the specifics of what my vocal teacher (coach? trainer?) had me do in case they are his secret methods, but after trying several things, he had me start aiming for my third eye, and that was the key to getting out of my own way.

My current project I’m working on has me super tense, with nervous energy pouring out of me, so I came into the lesson scattered and unfocused. It could’ve made the session a disaster, but instead I think I’m so worried about other things that I didn’t have time to worry about singing, making it easier to just follow directions. And when I found where I needed to go vocally, it was like doing a really good meditation. I was flying but absolutely grounded simultaneously. My head and sinuses were literally buzzing afterwards, and I joked about it being a natural high. I felt relaxed and energized, soothed by the music and the place I was in. It was just pure bliss, and the music had come so easily. My instructor was pleased because he thought it was going to take at least another two months to get to where I got on my second lesson, so having gotten there, we can fine tune other areas now.

I haven’t been able to quite duplicate the thrill of that moment in practicing the past couple of days, but I am feeling relaxed and focused each time I do practice, so I think I’m on the right track. Inevitably I’ll take a step backwards (‘two steps forward, one step back’ is the general rule for creative growth), but I’m happy. Providing I don’t make myself sick finishing my work project, which is a very real possibility, then I’ll have my next lesson in two and 1/2 weeks. We’re going to start recording the sessions, so hopefully once I’m brave enough, I’ll post a bit on here and you can hear me.

Music is My First Love

I made a promise to myself nearly a decade ago that when I finally settled in an area post-grad school, I would do something more with music than merely using it as a stress release. It took many more years than I anticipated to finally say “yes, here is where we will (most likely) build our home base!”, but it seems like finally a decision has been made. And so earlier this week, I had my first private voice lesson since I graduated high school in 2000. I was nervous, but it went well. A big first step, since I’ve only sung in front of people on two occasions since undergrad – one song during a night of karaoke when I was working a summer far away from home, and once for the wedding of two dear friends of mine who wouldn’t otherwise have had any music (basically, I was like “I don’t want you to feel obligated to use me, but if you want me to do this for you, I will overcome my massive stagefright and do it because music is so important to me and to you and the thought of you not having any music on this day pains me enough to go outside my comfort zone”).

I’m not really sure where my performance angst came from. It slipped insidiously into me during my year off between undergrad and grad school. The harshness of real life and trying to adjust, or maybe just not having an opportunity to do it anymore? Suddenly losing my beautiful practice room from college and feeling shy about playing my keyboard or flute in the apartment complex we were living at the time? I don’t know. But by the time I moved out to CA for grad school, music had become my secret release. And I know that people could hear me if I went to a classroom and played the piano and sang for twenty minutes, which even that knowledge was enough to make me falter sometimes, but as long as the door was closed, I could pretend I didn’t know that the room wasn’t soundproofed.

Anyway, the lesson was good. I didn’t entirely lose my nervousness, but it wasn’t enough to make me shake horribly or sing in mouse tones. My new vocal coach didn’t throw anything at me and tell me to never sing again. In fact, he told me that my breathing is quite good (my flute playing helps my breathe support) and that I’ve got a good instrument already, so really what he wants to help me do is break me of some bad habits I’ve developed in regards to the shape of my vowels and my phrasing, and we’re going to work on breaking down songs to stress the emotional content of the lyrics more. Which is great, and really what I needed. I need someone to give me homework and get me thinking about more than just escaping into the music. I need to dampen the performance angst down to just nervous jitters.

I don’t know where or when I will actually start performing again, or even what genre it’ll wind up being. I just know I miss playing and singing with other musicians, and that it is a talent I have that is way underutilized. But I made a first step this week. And it feels great.

There was a moment in the lesson that made me reflect a little on my personality. When I couldn’t get certain vowel shapes right immediately, when I could tell I was thinking too hard about everything else so I was losing all of the musicality, I got really frustrated and evidently it showed because I was told “You have to stop beating yourself up!” and I quipped “But beating myself up is one of my favorite pastimes!” The reply to that was “I can tell, and it’s frightening me a little.” I almost laughed, because I am so much kinder to myself than I used to be. It’s just… that’s what I do. Hold myself to extremely high standards and push myself to stay there. The trick to not losing my mind is to forgive myself when I fall short, because I do inevitably fall short. But I aim impossibly high, knowing that I’ll never make it in the timeframe I set out for myself, so that even knowing I’ll fall short, I can look back and still be proud of what I’ve managed to do. Because if I didn’t push myself, I wouldn’t have accomplished much of anything at all. Yes, it’s rather frustrating to never feel like I can just stand at the top of an achieved goal and feel satisfied, and I have to really watch that my energy doesn’t tip into the super nervous hair-standing-on-end kind (or, if it does, make sure I take the time for a break as soon as possible after reaching that point), but it’s how I work.

I have a lot to work on for my next lesson, which we’re doing sporadically, as I have the time and money to fit one in. I’m looking forward to it

When the Music Muse Strikes…

Almost two weeks ago, I woke up at 3AM with a song fully formed in my head – melody line, half the lyrics, chord progression playing out. It has been nearly a decade since this last happened, which is exciting. It means I’m tapping into my musically-inclined side of my creativity more. I repeated the melody and lyrics to myself, sleepily, and after tossing and turning for a while, went back to sleep. I’m of the firm belief that an idea worth keeping will remain in the morning.

I spent the next day wrestling with the lyrics a bit, adding the middle verse that was lacking. Later that week, I used my flute to figure out the notes for the melody line and wrote it down on staff paper. Today, finally, when I was able to get my piano, I laid out most of the chords. Now I just need to tweak and have time to sit with my music software to relearn it (at least a couple of months from now), but in the meantime, I have a new song!

It’s a very simple song, but bluesy and sexy and unlike anything I’ve written before. The simplicity of the melody line and chord structure very much will depend on the instrumentation in the solo sections, either done in a traditional jazz style or in a dreamlike electronica style, or I could do a version of each someday. The title of it is Come to Me.

As far as all my other writing and art projects go, I’m chipping away. Last week was an awful one as far as my freelance work goes, which I may blog about later this week if I have time, but I am trying to carve out what little time I can to keep myself happily creating.

Checking In with All Things Creative

I have two blog posts queued in my brain: I’ve been nominated/tagged to answer some questions and one that’s a list of helpful tips I’ve learned in readying “Penumbra” for release.  But my brain doesn’t want to play ball right now on the whole thinking front, so I figure I would just check in with myself and all of you on my various projects and plans.

Writing“Penumbra” is finally released.  It felt like pulling teeth at times to get this out, but it is done.  It really does seem like my work has just begun, though, as I now have to try to get word of it out and about.  I’ve decided to NOT release a print version, given how short the story ended up being (less than 13,000 words), but instead I’ll save it for an eventual collection.

I’ve begun the early research/inspiration stage on several short stories.  I have a series of twelve short stories that I’d like to write and release for free over a twelve-month period, but I want to have at least four of them completed before even committing to a release date.  At the end of the year (whenever that starts), I will release the collection as both an ebook and a print copy, including an extra short story that ties them all together.  But there might be a couple of short stories that need to be written before I dive into that long-term project.

While I’m making notes on short stories and deciding what needs to be written first, I am also diving into my graphic novel project next week.  Again, I don’t want to talk to much about specifics, because this is a project that is still a couple of years from release.  I’d estimate myself at about 1/4 way through the first draft, and I just really need to power through.

Art – I have finished the inking on two of my eight illustrations for my poetry collection.  This is taking FAR longer than anticipated because of how detailed I am getting, and since I am starting a two evening per week long-term freelance project, I’m not really sure how long it will take me to complete these darn things.  But progress is being made!  Next week, I’ll post pictures of my almost finished (except for white highlights) “Sword of Truth” illustration.

I’m very excited about my next couple of long-term art projects that I’ll be making and releasing under the Kat Micari name.  Not looking forward to setting up an Etsy and DeviantArt account, just because it’s one more thing to worry about maintaining, but that is the price for being an independent business-minded creator.

I have been woefully remiss in my daily sketching, however.  I need to make this a habit.  Something to work towards still.

Music – I have played music all but one day in the past week, for at least twenty minutes each time!  I am already calling it my “Sacred Time”.  I am, quite frankly, impressed by the tone I am able to draw out of my flute after all this time has passed.  My son occasionally sings along while I play, which is adorable.  My fingers are a little stiff this week because of the constantly shifting temperatures and weather, but my piano playing and singing is progressing along as well.  I’m looking forward to really focusing in on my own music starting next week.