Friday, February 5, 2016

The Stuff I Value Is Not.....Stuff

It felt downright indulgent, selfish and "North American" to write out my "Day of Delight" last week.

What about all the starving children in the world?

Their day would be simple.

Find food. 

A person without work would only need three words.

Find a job.

But after having a week to ponder the exercise and review my delightful day, I have more to add to those critical thoughts. And they are a little less critical.

Now, I would agree that we are terribly self-consumed in the United States, and the truth is, we are one of THE most fortunate countries on the little globe that spins in my studio. (As a child, I always found those fascinating). 

But what if it simply means that we, who have been given so much, have a high calling to make the best of what we've been given and make a difference in this world?

But what if a day of delight isn't even about making a difference? What if it's simply a day of delight? Oh my, back to feeling self-indulgent! Or is it? As soon as you must make a difference in the world, it puts you back into "oughts and shoulds" which leads to obligation and removes the possibility for a "day of delight".

On to the next assignment: write down your life values.

On the surface, the pictures and text I chose last week would speak of luxury, technology, nature and fine dining. Stuff. However, emerging from this seemingly guilty pleasure of creating a day of delight is an interesting list of things I value and surprisingly, it doesn't seem to be "stuff" at all.

Supposedly, they say that our values cannot be based on our circumstances and those pictures look pretty circumstantial, even tangible to me. Glass buildings, an English butler serving me delicacies and ending the day on a farm in Franklin, Tennessee - they would all appear tangible.

But what if those were all taken away from me?  That could be easy to imagine, since I don't own a glass studio. In fact, my studio is in my "home" and my home is small and simple. I don't have an English butler (though my Dutch husband does serve me treats sometimes) and I certainly don't live on a farm in Franklin.

My songwriting tools, though somewhat contained in a digital format, are not simply pulled up by a vocal command and stored digitally automatically (unless I don't know how to use technology right - which could be true).

I DO have a cat that I adore. I DO ride a motorcycle and so does my husband. I DO get to spend time writing music and lately, I've even been ice skating a little bit. Those are all delightful.

So if what we value can't be based on circumstances, how do we find out what we value below the surface of our day of delight?

I'm not sure yet, but here's what I think I see emerging through my "tangible" list.


atmosphere, climate, mood, feel, character, quality, flavor, look, tone


setting, surroundings, aura, color, cultivation


bring into existence, fashion, design, imagine, compose, give life to, shape, dream up


regular, familiar, seasonal, methodical 


discipline, training, movement, pursuit


wisdom, information, study, education, knowledge


sounds that are pleasant


silence, privacy, peace and quiet, aloneness (not loneliness)


connection, friendship, exchange, rapport, bond, kinship, marriage, nearness

I have always been very sensitive to ambiance and environment (you can insert all the above synonyms here).  I am easily inspired or brought down by surroundings.  All that being said, I am becoming creative about taking any circumstance and surrounding and finding delight in it. That's real creativity!

Basically, I believe that I was wired to create. Specifically, to create ambient musical structures that are intangible.  Music is like the wind, you can hear it and you can see the effects of it, but you can't see it without notes on paper or audio waves on a computer. You can drive down the road, turn on a song and be transported to a place of tranquility, though you never "see" the sound waves.

A by-product of that wiring seems to be a vocation wherein I create songs of honesty, peace and comfort, so I value the "places" from which my creativity originates.

In other words:

I value nurturing of the soul, both mine and others. I believe I can do that best by creating music.

Creating music (at least for me) comes about best through a routine consisting of a healthy blend of the following:

Solitude, spiritual disciplines, exercise, learning, relationship, ambiance and environment. The edifice of my soul is the strongest when these elements are present, no matter where I am.

In a nutshell, here's a perfect example:

I discovered a new kind of "delight" when I tried to take up figure skating a couple of years ago at the recommendation of my counselor. "Do something fun for once", she advised. I went ice skating - something I've loved since I was little.  I was not seeking to write music for a new project, I just simply followed my gut and took up skating. In fact, when it was first suggested to me, I had disengaged from creating music. I was quite depressed.

What has emerged? A brand new me, and with it, a brand new project of music. Somehow, the delight in skating evoked a new level of creativity and resulted in a stronger soul, expressed in the new music.

Maybe there is something to this "day of delight" thing.

Here's a very short video announcing the new music and the inspiration for it.  What a delightful day!!

Click here to view video.

Why not take some time to do this exercise for yourself? It can be transforming. 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

A Day of Delight

Recently, I was given an assignment to write out my life values.  Part of the assignment includes creating "a day of delight" - at least on paper.  Apparently, out of this planning emerges things that really matter to us and help us understand how we are wired and what it is we value.

It's been a soul-searching process and sometimes rather challenging, but I love doing things like this so it's been interesting.  The images below help to express what I have tried to write in longer form on paper.  Oh - and by the way, it must be a day void of "ought and should".  No obligation or boundaries.  Just pure delight.

It's been so transforming I thought I'd put it in my blog and share it with you.  I would encourage you to do the same.  Start by doing these two things:

1.  Write out what a day of delight would consist of.
2.  Locate images of it and create a book or collage.

Finding photos takes everything to another level because you begin to quickly identify things you like and don't like.

Do you like winter or summer?
Do you like floral or plaid?
Do you want the bed you take a nap in to be covered with soft blankets and pastel colors or do you want a room that is rustic with bold and bright colors?
Would you eat lunch at the beach or in a log cabin?  Alone or with a friend?
Would the car you drive be an old classic or a new sports car?
Maybe you'd rather walk.
Would it be a path in the park or in the Rockies?

I think you get the idea.  The point is to do it.

So here's the synopsis of what my day of delight would be. When you finish gazing at my day, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

If you try this exercise, I'd like to know what you experienced!

Rise with the sun at 5:00 a.m.
Head out into the snow to go ice skating on a lake that meanders through the woods.
Ice skate until 7:30 a.m.
Enjoy skating to music from the sky...a large sound system blaring across the atmosphere.
Work with a coach who would teach me to skate to the music.
Head home.
Hair/makeup artist/image consultant gets me ready for the day.
My English butler serves me breakfast on the the sun.
Spinach and feta cheese omelette with english muffin, bacon fried crispy and fresh squeezed orange juice.
Coffee with cream and sugar.
Prayer, meditation and quiet in one of my favorite spots...outside.
Head over to my studio to begin creating music.
It's all glass so that I can enjoy the outdoors inside.
Enjoy my room where dictionary, thesaurus and all writing tools are right at my fingertips....
...and are activated simply by my voice.
Song ideas are stored for future use automatically.
Next I sit down at the grand piano and create luscious melodies for proposal in marriage to the lyrics.
While I'm writing, I watch the snowfall outside and enjoy the wildlife loitering.
(On this day of delight, the weather changes randomly and at my command.)
Of course, my cat and dog are nestled together right beside me.
Time for coffee break, with chocolate served by my English butler.
No bad calories on this delightful day.
A brisk walk in the snow would invigorate and clear my mind for more creative work.
(Not meant for physical exercise this time, just for clarity and inspiration.)
Personal songwriting coaching session and music lesson...
anything to challenge my brain and creativity following my brisk walk.
Healthy lunch by the ocean, served by my beloved butler.
I don't have to make the lunch or do the dishes.
I just sit and enjoy the view.
Time to nap...
with my cat.
His Royal Highness awaits.
Head to the local cafe to write my blog, perhaps meet a friend.
Nice to get out for a few hours.
Time for some natural soul therapy.
Work in my gardens.
Enjoy the sound of water and birds.
Pulling weeds somehow cleanses my inner soul.
Sweet tea coming right up.
Fresh brew from my garden...
by my butler, of course!
Tom and I prepare to head out on our motorcycles.
A leisurely ride to dinner.
Yes, I'm driving my own.

We arrive just in time for a very special dinner at our favorite place.

After dinner, we dance.
Amazing how easily we changed from our leathers into fine clothes.

We hop on our motorcycles and stop for ice cream at our favorite spot,
joined by our friends.

We take the long way home, through the fall foliage,
watching for deer.

When we arrive home, we sit by the fire and enjoy sharing tales of our day.

The end of this perfect day of delight finds us surrounded by those that we love.

Yes - I meant the animals who inhabit our lovely country farm...
in Franklin, Tennessee.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Pre-Prayed Prayers

Feeling like you need a boost these days?   

What do you do when you feel like you have nothing left?

Here's what I did yesterday.

I pulled out my marked up scriptures and found the pre-prayed prayers I love and began to pray them again. 

See, I go through seasons in my prayer life.  I've just come out of one where I was spending longer amounts of time in prayer than usual and it left me feeling strong and capable of handling anything thrown my way.  Until I was hit from behind without any warning.  

It started the weekend before Thanksgiving with a weekend in the hospital revealing diverticulitis. I'm still recovering from that and trying to figure out what I can eat without pain.  To avoid debilitating pain for my big Christmas concert, I stopped eating what I normally eat.  I had been choosing a better life-style of eating very healthy - fruits, veggies, protein, good carbs, etc., and then this happened and I had to live on soft, bland foods, like yogurt, cottage cheese, mashed potatoes and bananas. I began to get weak and it was hard to exercise, which started affecting my creativity and energy level.

Then my husband had to have a serious surgery on his hand, from which he is still recovering, followed by a procedure where they dilated my esophagus to break up a ring that has been growing at the base and has made it difficult to swallow food with any kind of substance (without chewing into next week).  

More weakness = less exercise = less creativity and motivation.

Throw in the normal busy Christmas stuff and in the past couple of weeks, I have found myself feeling completely out of sorts. My prayer life has suffered and because of that, I can tell that ALL of me is suffering.

I sit down to pray but feel like I have nothing to say. So I thought I'd be honest and share that with you here, because I know we all have these times.

So here's what I did yesterday and I found it so refreshing that I'm passing it on to you in case you could use a boost too.  Sometimes all we need is a gentle reminder.

The scriptures have beautiful prayers that are already pre-prayed and all you have to do is read them aloud and make them your own. They breathe life into any tired soul. 

Here it goes: (and this is only one of several)

Ephesians 3:14-21 The Message (MSG)

14-19 My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.
20-21 God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.

Glory to God in the church!
Glory to God in the Messiah, in Jesus!
Glory down all the generations!
Glory through all millennia! Oh, yes!

In my own words, I might pray this way:

Father, here I am today, down on my knees (and yes, I get down on my knees) before you.  You are a magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth.  I need a little bit of that parcel today. 

I ask you to come and strengthen me by your Spirit.  I have nothing left these days. I'm tired. I'm not even sure why, but I feel like I desperately need strength - on the inside of me. Not a physical...go to the gym and lift weights kind of strength...but the kind that makes me able to face life today - the inside kind.  

Jesus, live in me today.

I open the door to you - again, as I do so many days. Please, come in. Help both of my feet to be planted firmly on love - help me to be able to take in your love and all the extravagant dimensions of it.  I don't think I really know your love like I could.  Please, reveal your love to me in greater ways....

...and do that for all my friends too.

I reach out to you, today.  Help me experience all the angles of your love - how deep, how wide, how full it can be.  I'm so shallow when it comes to love. I need to go deep.  I can only go deep by knowing your love, so bring it on! Wash me in it. Cover me with it.  Let it bubble up from the inside and flow outward.

Thank you, Father, that you can do anything - far more than anything I could ever imagine or conjure up (and sometimes I think I can be pretty imaginative) - but you don't seem to do it by my own might or power - you do it by a gentle work of your Spirit - slowly working in me every day....deeply.  I can't do the work, that's for sure. I just give you permission. Please, You take it from here.

It doesn't take long and you can feel that inner strength oozing into your soul. I'll need to do this pretty regularly for a while until I get back on my feet and into my usual prayer life. But for now, it feels great to just sit and read prayers that someone else has prayed.  

Here are some references for other prayers that are helpful too:

Ephesians 1:15-23
Philippians 1:9-11
Colossians 1:9-14
Colossians 4:2--4
I Thessalonians 5:23-24
II Thessalonians 3:5

So go ahead, look these up and make them your own. It doesn't hurt to use pre-prayed prayers at times like this.

Monday, January 4, 2016

The Showstoppers

The conductor (Ed Kee) predicted it would be THE showstopper of the evening. I took his word for it, but since I have never experienced being part of a showstopper, I had no idea what that really meant.
Portraits of White Winter Concert, December 12, 2015.
The problem is, there was more than one showstopper on December 12, 2015. The other showstoppers that night were unplanned and least at first.

In Steven Pressfield's book "The War of Art", he believes that any time we step out to do something daring, we will encounter resistance. Based on my experience, I tend to agree.

The "other" showstoppers started when three of my team members from Nashville, TN were delayed in arriving for the rehearsal due to mechanical issues on their planes. Though they came on different planes, they all experienced mechanical issues.  That seems odd.

* The guitar player's main piece of gear was damaged beyond use by the airlines.
* The live music producer somehow got food poisoning and he never did make it to the rehearsal.

That was only the beginning of the potential showstoppers.

* The night of the concert, one of the orchestra players was delayed due to traffic jams caused by accidents on the roadways.  We waited to begin until he rushed on to the stage and found his seat in the orchestra.

Finally, the venue was full, the lights faded into concert mode and we were off.  Twelve months of planning was about to pay off and I had my hands open, ready to receive the fulfillment of dreaming and working hard. In two hours it would all be over.

The next un-welcomed "showstopper" came right in the middle of the very first song of the concert when I suddenly noticed that my mic went dead and the music seemed harder to hear.  I kept going, thinking that whatever was wrong would be fixed. But next thing I knew, the whole orchestra began a descent into silence - not a beautiful decrescendo - more like a stuttering, choking car going over a cliff.

We paused for a moment until my sarcastic wit kicked into gear. "Goodnight, thank you for coming - it's been great having you here," I said.
What's a girl to do when the players quit playing?
Honestly, so much of it is a blur now that I can't remember exactly what I said.  I do know that the crowd laughed in response to my wit and I knew no matter what happened the rest of the evening, we would have a great show! They were with me. No showstopper could stop that. 

Suddenly, we were up and running and the rest of the first half went off without any trouble.

Fun Moments
Jeffrey Wohlbach teaches me how to do a horse whinny.
Well...maybe not!
Holy Moments
Tim Spirk joins me on "He Was Holy".

Musical Moments......
The second half of the evening started off with the wintery thematic title song, "Portraits of White". 
Heidi Ryan, Amy Harlacher and Holly Holbrook join Frances on "Portraits of White".
A beautiful jazz arrangement of "Angels We Have Heard on High" featured Doug Cook and Jeffrey Wohlbach and we weren't disappointed.

Doug Cook (alto sax), Jeffrey Wohlbach (trumpet).

"What If" was a perfect set up for the "planned" showstopper of the evening.  With a haunting synth sound, minor chords on the piano and thought-provoking lyric, this song always seems to create a holy hush in the room.
Wayne Fox (Buzz Jones Big Band) accompanies me on "What If".
For nine months, I knew what we were planning to do next and I could hardly wait for the audience to experience the moment.  The West Shore Drum Line was eagerly waiting to come in from the back of Parmer Hall, down the aisles and make their way up on to the stage, joining me for the final verses of "Little Drummer Boy".  

The tones and keys of "What If" and "Little Drummer Boy" match perfectly, creating a perfect segue and that's exactly what we planned.  No pause between songs, just one continuous ominous atmosphere. We finished "What If" and I waited patiently in anticipation for what was to come next.  

It had gone off without a hitch in rehearsal and I knew the audience would love what we had planned. It got so quiet in the room that I think you could have heard a pin drop.  

We waited.....and waited......

Apparently, when the sound system "quit" in the first song of the night, a breaker had blown. Once the problem was identified, we were off and running and I never thought another thing about the snafu. But one technical problem seems to lead to another and we lost the equipment we needed (without knowing it) to pull off "Little Drummer Boy".  

(It's not supposed to take this long to start???  Why aren't we hearing anything? What's wrong?) These were all the things going on in my head as I stood there in perfect peace - on the outside and frankly, thanks to a great team, on the inside too.

It finally occurred to me that though the sound company and venue are in charge of making sure the technical side of everything is working well, it is still my job, in the end, to make sure all my guests are comfortable and at home during the concert.  As soon as I came to my senses and realized there was a problem, I went into hostess mode.  

First, I went to find out what was going on so I could address the crowd appropriately and prepare for plan B if necessary. The breaker that blew in the beginning had indeed wrecked our equipment for this special feature and was creating a new showstopper of its own.

Within those long, what could have been uncomfortable moments, emerged a beautiful moment of its own.  We began to sing "Silent Night" together.  I just picked a note and started singing.  The pianist found the note to match me and began to play, followed by Tom Hemby on guitar.  

Between each verse I would stop to check in with the sound team and when no progress was made, we'd sing another verse.  It was a dance between holy awe and light-hearted laughter as we waited for what would come next and I was in charge of the dance whether I liked it or not. 

By the third verse, I asked the musicians to stop playing and allow the south central PA audience to sing a cappella and it was beautiful.  I began to realize that we had gone from a moment of "what shall we do now?" to a beautiful time of peace and I embraced it.  

Then the guitar player began to play the most unusual arrangement of "Silent Night" I've ever heard.  He said he didn't really feel like he was the one playing. In fact, this is what he told me later, "Honestly, I'm just going to give all that credit to the Holy Spirit... as I started playing it was as if it were someone else and not me."

Tom Hemby (Nashville, TN) on guitar.
We could all feel the power of what was happening. We were all experiencing a much desired silent night in the midst of a very busy season.  

That is at the heart of why I wanted to do a Christmas concert like this in the first place - create a night to come together and laugh, cry, enjoy good music and prepare our hearts for what can be a seasonal roller coaster ride for many people.  I realized it was happening right before my very eyes and I was completely at ease.

When the intended song finally started....and finished, there was such electricity in the room that I will never forget it as long as I have a brain. The only thing more amazing than doing the song after that long unanticipated wait was the response from the audience after the song.  

Normally, you can tell when the applause is slowly fading and it's time to move on to the next thing, but it just didn't quit.  I began to wonder if the applause wasn't just about the song, but also about the victory of overcoming the resistance. It was way more than a showstopper by this point in the evening. It had become a battle cry and we won.  We ALL won.  The audience was eagerly waiting and hoping and it seemed that they felt like they too had overcome. Their patience paid off.

We face so many showstoppers every day and don't even realize it.  Oh sure, there are the obvious ones: terminal illness, unexpected job termination, a sudden accident that rearranges your body and your "normal" life.  But there are little ones too: rejection, doubt, fear, anger.  They might seem small and harmless, but they can blow a breaker and before we know it, we experience bigger problems as a result.  They can be just as serious.

Based on the comments from people after the concert, I may have earned a new title: "Queen of Glitches".  Everyone seems to remember those glitches and how "well I handled them".  I wondered if people remembered anything else about the evening? 

But in hind-sight, I see that I only acted out on stage what I have already learned in life.  You see, life is a series of glitches strung together with some beautiful moments in between. How we handle the glitches, determines the power of the showstoppers intended to shut us down. 

If we respond with anxiety and fear, it will feed the showstopper - but if we handle them with prayer, peace, music and yes, even laughter - we will be able to stand to our feet in victory and raise our voices in a shout, and the show will go on.

Hear from the Drum Line Director and some of the students here.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Second Half of the Story

"You know the material, you've just mis-applied it". 

I traveled all the way from Pennsylvania to Tennessee just to hear that??? 

Working with Live Music Producer, Tom Jackson.
I couldn't believe what he was saying to me. I had studied his material for over ten years and was sure I had a handle on it.

I guess I must have been visibly shaken (I know I was on the inside) because he began to spend the next hour encouraging me, but it didn't seem to penetrate my disappointed soul. 

I remember a similar feeling when I was in high school and thought I did really well on my math test only to find out I failed it. But this was much more important to me than a math test!

For over ten years I studied Tom Jackson's methods for live performance.  I bought his tapes, DVDs, signed up for his seminars and studied with his assistants. When he started writing a blog, I read that. I'd drive to my concerts while listening to his teaching just to keep his wisdom fresh in my mind and soul. I began to see pre-concert nervousness and anxiety disappear as I applied his techniques.

Many performers usually have multiple layers of fears. At the bottom of all our anxiety lies a fear that no one will like us. The next layer comes from fear that if we don't perform perfectly, we are a failure.  We think about the perfect notes, trills, pitches and how we are perceived and rarely ever think about the audience and what they might be feeling and thinking.  As I've begun to focus more on my audience and less on me everywhere I go, I have gone from being nervous to having complete peace before each event, thanks to Tom.

So when I finally got to work with Live Music Producer, Tom Jackson, over a year ago, I was pretty sure that we could skip the basics, cut right to the intricate details and really cover some deep territory because I already had a handle on his basic methods. Boy, was I ever wrong. But that's the first half of the story.

I learned a lot more as I spent the rest of the afternoon working with Tom, but I never fully recovered from feeling like I was a failure. I probably mis-applied his encouragement too. He told me that I knew more than about 90% of the artists out there because of my diligent study, but by then, I couldn't seem to hear that part.

Last week, in my blog post, I shared a very big answer to prayer. The answer was having Tom come to my Portraits of White concert last weekend to see me apply his methods....or at least try. 

Enjoying ice cream with Ed Kee (Conductor) and Tom Jackson after the concert.
Hearing the initial words from Tom was a wake up call for me because it called attention to an underlying feeling I've struggled with for years, but could never put my finger on, until he said "you've mis-applied the information." I realize now that it is a thread of fear stitched into the core of who I am, but thankfully, that thread is starting to come unraveled.

You see, I have a crippling fear when it comes to God. I am afraid I'll spend my whole life trying to please Him and then one day, He'll tell me "sorry, you mis-applied everything".  FAILURE.

I'm the kind of person who tries hard to do everything right. Just tell me how to be perfect and I'll give it my best shot.  I even apply this to my spiritual life. Just tell me how to act right so God will love me and I'll do it.

But there always seemed to be a low-grade fear inside. That fear was brought to the surface by an innocent conversation with Tom J. I never fully recovered from my first session with Tom. It hung over me like a faint wisp of smoke, clouding my vision AND my faith.

The morning of my Portraits of White concert, I was walking the grounds of Messiah College and pondering all that was unfolding. The fact that Tom was willing to come all the way to Pennsylvania and invest his time and wisdom in my life was a sort of redemption that I greatly needed.  He hadn't given up on me, in fact, he was coming to help me grow and improve. His words spoken almost two years ago were never meant to hurt or discourage. He was trying to help me. I knew that in my head, but my heart needed to feel it. His presence at my concert moved it 12 inches from my head to my heart.

The more I press in to understand God and allow Him to love me, the more He seems to stir up my bad streams of thought that affect every area of my life. He brings them to light and I'm learning that He does so, not to condemn me, but to lead me into greater freedom.

After the Portraits of White concert, I heard that Tom gave me a 10 out of 10 on my performance. Many people have asked me what he thought. My big sister apparently asked him (thanks big sister!) I know that he'll have some tips for me that will only make me better and I look forward to hearing them after the post-concert dust settles! I'm not afraid to hear what he has to say - even if I'm still mis-applying knowledge, because I know that he has my best interest at heart and over time, I will not only learn his techniques but learn how to apply them.

Having him come to my concert was a picture of God coming to my rescue to help me learn to apply His ways and thoughts to my life. He, after all, is the greatest producer there is.  He loves creativity and He loves a great show!

Just watch the lightening.

The sunsets.

The male cardinal.

I'm learning that even if I mis-apply knowledge, the Great Producer will come and sit with me and help me learn not only how to know Him better, but to apply His wisdom and become a better artist.

That's the second half of the story.