Calling All [Music] Composers!

Photo: Head in the Clouds

To all the teachers and grownups who ever complained that I always had my head in the clouds: [insert vigorous *RASPBERRY* here]!

I said I would do it long, long ago, so ready or not, here goes: a passel of potential poetic [and other] lyrics. When I write, rhyming or rhythmic or not, I very often hear music in my imagination. Too bad I don’t have the musical chops to set my own texts, whether for solo or ensemble singing, accompanied or a cappella…or maybe it’s not sad at all: I also love collaborative arts. So join me, if you like!

I will likely publish some of this stuff in my upcoming books. The only published book so far, Miss Kitty’s Fabulous Emporium of Magical Thinking: Drawings & Other Artworks, Tall Tales and Weird Creatures (Volume 1), is up for your perusal as well—just grab a copy through Amazon.

[May I suggest that you use Amazon Smile—smile.amazon.com—where you can get Amazon to make a small charitable donation of your choice from their profits]).

This post is not an endorsement of Amazon, paid or otherwise, though I happily use the behemoth’s services extensively myself. Including as my book publisher, since I am far too “unmarketable”—thank you, gallerists, publishers, and agents of the past who classify anything non-repetitive, unprecedented, or wildly varied as impossible to package and sell. This post is not meant to be a whining snark-fest, either, since I am genuinely grateful that said business persons were honest enough with themselves to recognize their limitations in promoting unusual or unclassifiable works, and honest enough, in turn, with me to help me recognize that my vocation isn’t in making a living out of my arts but in making a life with and through them.

Meanwhile, I still love to join forces with other creatives, no matter what our project or theme, when the muse brings us together. I have collaborated with other artists to create numerous visual, written, and performed artworks over the years and am always delighted with the learning, bonding, challenges, inspiration, and joy that come from such interplay. If you find anything in here that sparks (no pun intended) your imagination, I welcome you to my playground. If you’re just here to read and—hopefully—enjoy, you are most welcome as well. I’m happy for the company.

Photo: Afire with Inspiration

Here’s hoping to fan the flames of your imagination…

To read any of the dozens of sets of poems and texts, grouped loosely by theme or topic or mood, just click here or on the freshly minted Poems & Lyric Texts link at the top of my homepage.

Photo: CHEESE!

I’m not above grinning at you crazily if you’re even remotely a kindred spirit. Cheese!

All Kinds of Music

Drawing/painting illo: Three ComposersIn my head, there is music. Mostly, it’s a rambling, meandering thing without much form or direction, just a little ditty that my subconscious seems to hum to itself along the journey of the day. Once in a while, it’s an earworm, some tune or phrase caught in the soundtrack of my brain and put on long-term Repeat because I heard it or remembered it recently and didn’t have another thing to replace it with soon enough. Often, when I’m drifting off to sleep or marking time while I wait for something to happen, there’s a sort of internal theme song of mine, a mere snippet of a melody that might be a simple part of a Bach invention or might just as well be something of my own invention inspired by Bach or some similar composer, a line that becomes more or less complicated, turns from something slightly Baroque to a more Classical seeming style for a bit and then becomes a very plain little row-your-boat kind of canon before returning to its silent corner to wait for my next moment of internal quiet. On rare occasions, there might be words attached or an obvious external source of whatever song seems to have sneaked and snaked its way into my frontal lobe for a lope or two around my one-track mind.

Yet I have not the gift of composition. When I think about it in a more determined and purposeful way, I have all sorts of ideas about how I would probably set a particular poem or story text of mine if I did have compositional skills, how I might voice the piece or what instrumentation I think would be just right for the words and ideas therein. But it would be helpful, if I really intended to do any such a thing, if I had the slightest notion whatsoever of music theory or how to read a score (let alone write one), of what certain instruments can and cannot do, and whether the human voice is actually capable of making the sounds that might be required of such a project.

I am ever so glad that there are composers in the world capable of carrying a musical idea to magnificent, magical fruition. I sincerely doubt that any of them would set any text, mine or another’s, in just the way that my moseying mind seems to believe it would—for good or ill—and that is the way the universe operates. Each of us has skill sets and desires and training and passions that make us better, or worse, fitted for the tasks and arts that we imagine to be useful or pleasurable, and each has limitations even on our own abilities to recognize where we will excel and when we might fall short. What a wonderful thing it is that, though I’m not a composer myself, there are excellent composers who can and will set my words to their own music, because after all, choral music is one of the most clearly collaborative of activities anyway.

What a wonderful thing it is that, though I will most likely never master bringing what rings inside my skull out of it in an intelligible way, let alone anything like the one I imagine in its internal incubator, somebody out there is busy penning loveliness and longing, drama and dreams, that will carry their music forth into the hearts, minds, and ears of a waiting world’s humming silence.

All Together Now

One of my favorite vocal coaches is fond of characterizing people who focus on their own singing to the point of losing track of and/or sticking out from the rest of a performance at inappropriate times as expressing their “individual enthusiasms.” I’m doubtful I would be as tactfully euphemistic. We’ve all seen and, more importantly, heard concerts where one unplanned solo ended up hijacking the whole event, and it’s hard to forget what was so frustrating and embarrassing about it for the other performers and the audience and even harder to remember all of the probably fine or even excellent things that were supposed to be the stars of the day.

The same is true, naturellement, outside of musical performances as well. Our individual enthusiasms lead us to speak out of turn, act squirrelly in the middle of serious events, blurt out exceedingly inconveniently unfiltered thoughts, and generally act like little kids at the best of times. At worst, they make us deeply uncivil, unwilling or unable to negotiate, and self-centered to the point of implosion. Or, more often, explosion. This world does not need my opinion, unless I’m willing to get the rest of the passionate populace to engage in the conversation and collaboration that will make it needful. And in that case, they’ll quite generally be on board with my enthusiasm already and there will be little to negotiate.

None of this means that everyone should think and act in lockstep. What a horrific idea! Most of the great performances of our time are not solos, even those that feature soloists, but rather collaborations with the entire cast, crew, production staff, and audience, at a minimum. The deliberate and thoughtful give-and-take of everyone performing his and her part to the very best level possible is what creates the ideal of harmony, even in times when fruitful dissonance is desirable to throw that harmony into beautifully sharp contrast. Music is obviously full of grand examples of this stuff, but so is life in general. The sorrows and hardships, if they are carefully shared burdens, throw the joys and pleasures into higher relief, and the larger song of human experience continues to grow in beauty.

Photo montage: In the Works

Instead of throwing a spanner in the works, why not find ways to make them run more smoothly together for a more harmonious performance?

DIY Weddings are Easy When . . .

. . . you have a world of friendly resources at your beck and call. So, technically, it’s not DIY at all of course but rather Così fan tutte. [Ed: roughly translated, ‘Everybody’s doing it’.] It’s not, even then, for the faint of heart, because let’s face it, unless you’re having the always admirable super short, informal adventure of standing in front of a Justice of the Peace or of surprising your immediate family in the middle of dessert one weekend with a five-minute ceremony, there are a host of details that might need to be given eventual consideration. Beyond simply making sure that the two people who are getting married actually show up at the same time in the same place, there are a handful of legal elements that generally should be taken care of before the event, if it’s to have any official standing. And from there, the possibilities expand exponentially. I suppose it’s not wholly shocking that the process might lead to the development of a few dysfunctional bumps and bruises among family, friends and support staff along the way.photoBut I hate confrontation and stress, and the very idea of becoming such a parody-inspiring Marriage Monster appalls me. And when we decided to marry, I don’t doubt it occurred to me that my intended, Richard, might equally abhor the idea of a painful process and wedding day. So we were both very happy to treat the whole thing something like an elaborate concert performance, perhaps a cheery semi-staged operetta, and to act as artistic directors and performers, yes, but also to let a great slew of friends, relatives and acquaintances carry out as much of the heavy lifting as possible along the way. After all, though we intended to have a good time and hoped everyone else would too, the real point of the occasion was that at the end of the day we would be more married than we were at the beginning of it.

Being a visual artist, I had no shortage of ideas about how I wanted various things to look, from invitations and service bulletins and guest books to the floral arrangements, wedding party dress and church decor, to the tables and food at the reception. And I had pretty extravagant ideas, at that. But I didn’t have a huge quantity of money to invest in it (nor did my parents) and I deeply dislike the idea of spending ghastly sums on a single event that, while important and hopefully happily memorable, is still only one actual day of life. What, I should spend my life savings on a single party?

That’s where one’s personal fortune in community has so much more than monetary value, though I’ll readily grant you that ours, in sharing their talents and efforts with us for the occasion, saved us a ton of money. We married in the church across the street from the university where we both worked, since not only were we members there but it was so handily located for so many of our friends, students and colleagues who were also part of the university community. I had a fairly easy time imagining how to use and decorate the church, since a few years previously, I’d served on the committee that oversaw a massive renovation of the space, taking part in all elements of the design from seating arrangement to finishes, and designing the new altar, font, pulpit, rail, crosses and incidental furnishings that were built for it.photoSo I opted to fill the space with a different kind of design, making a couple dozen banners to hang on walls, fly from the light boxes in the ceilings, display on stands in the narthex and chancel, and be carried in procession by fine young friends strolling in en route (to light candles) and out (to the reception hall) along with the wedding party. Already a banner maker for church and event commissions, I had lots of material and experience, so I sewed, painted and otherwise assembled the banners myself (from the flying ones at about 36 inches in length to the main chancel banner that was about 26 feet), and I got good help with putting together the stands and hanging mechanisms and installing them all at the last minute when we could get into the nave to do the work.photo montageThat’s a constant with weddings and parties in all sorts of venues other than Home: no access for prep and installation and other setup work until the last minute. So because I am a control freak, a design nut and also someone who really wanted to just have fun and enjoy my actual wedding day, I plotted and planned and prepped everything I could, along with my Intended and a slew of family, friends and other helpful conspirators. First, of course, it was essential to get all the actors on board and ‘synchronize our watches’, since it’s a busy crew and driven by a multitude of crazy calendar iterations. Once that was established, the work of service and reception planning commenced.

The earliest necessity, since I didn’t want predictable or expensive floral arrangements but love flowers, was to plant and tend flowers in Mom’s garden and that of our good friend Claudia, next door to her. By the time our July wedding rolled around, I had gathered the ribbon and wire and other essentials and been offered by the lovely Linda, a friend who was chief florist for the university’s official events, that if I handed over the materials she would provide us with her gorgeous bouquets and boutonnieres and corsages for all and sundry, so all I needed to do at the last minute was go a-gathering in their yards with my two beloved garden-gnome ladies and then give buckets full of fresh beauty to Linda on the day.

Meanwhile, much brainstorming and list-making was underway with the able assistance of others, so that everything essential would be pre-arranged too and not worrisome. All of the print materials derived from a combination of my photos of iris leaves, text typeset by one of my sisters in fonts I’d chosen, getting printing done by the local quick printers (with whom I’d done many work projects) on their green ink printing day of the week and then doing all of the black ink stuff on copiers and folding/collating things myself while I was calligraphing the invitation envelopes, closing them with an inexpensive gold seal and a swash of purply interference paint and a rubber stamp message noting that the music would begin a full half hour before the service. We did, after all, know that there would be lots of my fiance’s fellow musicians both participating and attending.

Clergy? That was about the easiest part to decide, since as a cleric’s daughter I could just tap Dad. So the church’s lead pastor presided, Dad officiated, and a sweet retired pastor friend served as lector. Since Dad was robing up for the pastoral gig, I decided to have one of my uncles sashay down the aisle with me, and he kindly acquiesced to my request for an escort. Our organist, our great friend Jim, was also standing up for us, so he did a bit of trotting up and down the aisle, but in great Jim style. As one of four sisters, I had the easiest time choosing three attendants, but it was simple for my groom to line up the perfect support team, too, between his one brother and Jim and another of our close friends who happened to be Richard’s choral conducting partner at the university as well. Friends from various places rounded out the team, serving as greeters, acolytes, and our wonderfully hospitable reception hosts. One of our brothers in law was chief photographer, taking a batch of group wedding party photos just before the church began to fill, and all of the rest of the pictures came from a combination of photos friends sent us and the box full of disposable cameras we’d distributed on the reception tables and collected for development at the end of the day. This proved a serendipity because it both gave us some fun candids from the kids’ point of view and kept some of the younger partiers entertained during the reception as well.

photo

I designed and made stoles for Dad and the presiding minister, too.

My sisters readily agreed to help pick out simple black dresses they’d actually have a hope of wanting to wear again later, and we managed to find a great deal on them and choose a design that, happily, was made of a very stretchy fabric, since it turned out that one sister was curvaceously pregnant by the time our wedding day rolled around (no pun intended). I sewed a violet voile shawl edged in emerald green for each of them, and a scarf of the same to tie back my hair rather than having a veil, something that would anyway have looked a bit odd since I didn’t want to wear a white gown. Besides that I tend to look a little too much like a corpse when wearing white, I too wanted to have a dress with reuse potential, especially if I was investing a couple hundred dollars in all of the fabrics, so I made my shawl from iridescent emerald voile, the same fabric that I lined with dark emerald taffeta for the body of my skirt and bodice. The bodice, made in a sort of weskit shape, I stitched with self-colored silk soutache. While I cut and serged all of the pieces of my layered fabric for the dress and made my underskirt, my mother generously did all of the finish sewing on the top and skirt. Designing and sewing just the soutache provided enough adventure for this semi-skilled seamstress. I did, however, go dress shopping with both of our moms, and we found one a perfect-condition consignment dress for a great price and the other, a clearance two piece dress/jacket combination for $10. The guys wore rented tuxes, mainly because the groom owned a white tie and tails conducting getup and nothing like a plain black suit, and I figured if I was going to have a wedding more formal than a zippy elopement, I still did want to get all spiffed up. Not averse to having fun, and all that jazz.

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[Ed: No, we weren’t all pretending to be The Dread Pirate Roberts–I’m just providing a dash of privacy for family and friends.]

The fabrics and ribbons left over from manufacturing banners and dresses and shawls got trimmed and saved up for dressing the reception tables, along with a multitude of candlesticks from home that I loaded up and lit. To keep reception food fuss to a relative minimum, we opted to have the party in the fellowship hall at the church. That way, also, there was no monkeying around with additional travel, hall-finding and parking issues, party setup in a separate venue, or the time required for all of those add-ons. And we figured the social aspect was the primary reason for having a reception at all, not fussy edibles meant mostly to impress people, so we went to our favorite farmers’ market and bought a bunch of lovely fresh fruits to complement the array of nuts, chocolates and home-baked cookies that were the main bites. Friends and relatives gifted us with many of the cookies, and the baked centerpiece was a traditional Norwegian kransekake (more a stack of crisp-chewy almond meringue biscuit rings than cake) made by our Norwegian brother-in-law and my mother. As it turned out, yet another set of friends surprised us with a second lovely kransekake, so we were all in cookie heaven. A very fine place, indeed, and not only on a wedding day.photo

The Power of Being Well Behaved

When I was teaching, I thought it useful to devote a bit of the informational materials I handed out at the beginning of every term to basic issues of classroom decorum. The idea that so-called common courtesy has to be taught, not just to children but to all ages, is no less ridiculous than understanding constant the need for training and refreshing what is called common knowledge or common sense. Generations have passed since people saw a need to comment on or complain about the uncommonness of all of these virtues.

More significantly, as a teacher I knew that if I didn’t encourage, if not demand, attention to such virtues in my classroom there was little hope of any other sort of learning happening in there. I’m old-fashioned that way. The silly thing is probably that it was only after leaving teaching that I thought very clearly about how much these attitudes mattered in any and every kind of cooperative venture, not only in the classroom but in the boardroom, the living room, and certainly in the places where politics, religion, health care, social activities and civic progress are in progress. At least, if we want actual progress to occur.

And that’s how my two cents came out as a personalized set of ten ‘commandments’. Ah, well. I’m kind of a megalomaniac, and I did feel the need to keep my eyes on what was happening.pen & ink

THE BIG OL’ HOW-TO LIST

for getting along with Kathryn

I   Come to class unless you are dead.

II   Show up on time. Lectures don’t always begin on the dot of the class-starting time, but if a deadline is stated as “beginning of class, 18 March” and you  arrive one minute late, technically I can tell you that you missed the deadline and so your project is rejected. Flunked. That’s harsh. But trust me, it’s fair. Besides, it’s a safe bet that if the lecture does start on time and you miss part of it, I’m not going to be terribly enthusiastic about repeating myself and your classmates who have just heard the stuff will definitely not be amused to have it reiterated. Be in place, cell phone and watch alarms and headsets off and fully participating in class, and we’ll all get along famously. Hurray for good manners!

III   Bring all assigned materials and have them in ready-to-use position when class starts. Written tests, especially pop quizzes, are uncommon in my classes (they do exist), but notes and written critiques can be required at any time. Be ready. Write down everything, and date it. Even if I don’t say you have to. Then you have documentation of what I told you (and when) if I should change plans inexplicably or you have a question. Also, it makes you look attentive and enthusiastic whether you are or not.

IV   Flattery will get you places. Forget that baloney about it getting you nowhere. You lose nothing by Making Nice with people and attempting to impress them with your admirable and outstanding qualities; they might even enjoy buying into the whole idea. It’s an excellent tool for impressing others, this making them think you find them worthwhile and fabulous. Conversely, the quickest way to turn a potential ally into a pain in the neck is to belittle, ignore, challenge the primacy of, argue with or antagonize her. Diplomacy and tact mean that you can frankly say, “I disagree,” or “what do you think of _____,” and get a respectful hearing. We are only human (if we’re lucky).

V   By the way, if your death prevents your attending class, call and let me know in advance.

VI   If you have big plans, talk to me. It’s possible that your previous experience with and knowledge of this topic mean you can quickly “test out” of the class requirements and go forward into a more challenging and personally fulfilling independent project. If so, let’s work together to get maximum use out of your time and energies.

VII   If you feel out of your depth, it’s okay to swim over to the shallow end and meet with me privately by appointment. Probably all you need is a bit of individual coaching beyond what’s available or comfortable in class time. Of course, if you’ll kindly risk asking the question in class, there are always others who benefit by having their identical question answered, and probably your learning it together will make it simpler.

VIII   Ignorance shouldn’t embarrass you. Holding on to ignorance should. You’re in class, presumably,because you don’t know Everything yet, same as the rest of us.  So ask your “stupid question,” please. Real stupidity is avoiding or refusing to try or doing something wrong because fear of lowering yourself prevented your asking the question that would’ve resolved the problem.

IX   Be patient. Spend the time. Attempt the highest levels of craftsmanship and professionalism. Pay attention to the tiniest detail.

X   Be bold and adventurous. Climb out of ruts. Seek a new perspective on the familiar and become familiar with the alien. Look for connections. Expect the infinite.

The Large and the Small of It

The depths of Space carry miraculous sparks of inspiration at a seeming infinity of levels.digital collage

A couple of years ago my husband was conducting a concert of choral works all, in one way or another, exploring the idea of Space, and he asked me to provide projected images that would act as a visual companion to the music. Since the centerpiece of the concert was to be a selection of movements from Estonian composer/astronomer Urmas Sisask’s ‘Gloria Patri‘–wonderfully meditative, somewhat minimalistic yet still quite melodic music which was to be accompanied by photographs taken through the Hubble telescope, I was given a clear starting point for the collection of visual images. The good people of NASA willingly agreed to let us use any Hubble images we liked, without any constraints and at no charge, so my task was to find the images I thought best suited the music at all points, edit them (some extensively, some less so) in order to fit the format of the projections, and collate all of it into a pre-arranged program that I could manually ‘play’ as the concert was performed. Looking for, and then through, hundreds of Hubble images was a bit of a project in itself; reformatting and resizing, digitally ‘cleaning’ and grouping and ordering them proved to be a little more weighty. But it was a pleasurable and energizing project all the same, staring at the stars and constellations in all of their miraculously varied glory. ‘Gloria Patri’ indeed!digital collageGoing forward to work out images for the rest of the pieces on the docket for this program, I was moved by both the enormity of the Hubble’s scope and our own galaxy’s tininess within the vastness of space to think that it would be wonderful to explore those strange dissonances and harmonies that occur in the known world, microscopic to massive, blurred by our limited vision and knowledge and delicately detailed by our constant finding of new facts and ideas in all of it. So for the other pieces in the concert’s repertoire, I sought out images that would complement each other yet emphasize the astounding range of contrasts in our spatial existence, from the granular to the grand. Pollen and planets might in fact have more in common than we can imagine, if we stretch our thinking just a little. Snowflakes and stars might be merely opposite ends of a spectrum that transcends dimensions, scale and vision.digital collageI was reminded throughout this process not only of my minuteness in the great spectacle of existence, but also of how fantastically treasure-filled that existence is, from the level of the subatomic to things and thoughts so massive that the Hubble telescope and all of its exponentially larger generations of offspring may never quite be able to encompass the enormity of it all. If I ever think I’m running out of ideas, I only need to remember this one exercise in humility and happiness, and I should be able to break out of my stasis as a flood of newly sparked inspirations stream like comets out of me.