Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Double Keyed Announces 2022 Christmas Project

Frances Drost (Piano) and Kirstin Myers (Oboe/English Horn)

Frances & KIRSTIN

It all started when I, (Kirstin Myers / oboe / English horn) was baking Christmas cookies. Somehow, the cookies inspired the idea for a Christmas album and so here we are….announcing our first recording project as Double Keyed—an instrumental piano/oboe/English horn project with classic Christmas songs arranged and produced by Nashville’s own Phillip Keveren.

Since Double Keyed initially connected because of my (Frances Drost / piano) Portraits of White Winter Concert, we felt it would be appropriate to make our first album a collection of favorite Christmas tunes!

About Us:

Frances Drost is a pianist and concert artist who began her own company, “Musical Creations” as a way to encourage people on their journey through life. Take years of life experiences distilled into “three-minute messages” of lyric and melody, interwoven with story-telling in between and you get the unique ministry of singer/songwriter Frances Drost.

Oboist Kirstin Myers holds degrees in Music Education and Oboe Performance from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and in 1999 she graduated summa cum laude as a full scholarship recipient from Michigan State University with a Masters in Oboe Performance. For the past 21 years she has been on the faculty of Millersville University and York College of Pennsylvania and in 2016 was also appointed as oboe professor at Lebanon Valley College.

In addition to her collegiate appointments, she is the oboe instructor at York College’s YCPrep Community School and maintains a private studio at her home in the Lancaster area. Her students have gone on to win positions in LLMEA County, PMEA District, Regional, State and All-Eastern Bands & Orchestras. She currently performs with the York Symphony Orchestra, Berks Sinfonietta, Reading Pops Orchestra, Trio Jolie, The Silverwood Trio and most recently began collaborating with Frances as the duo “Double Keyed” performing a variety of classical and popular selections (and if Frances asks nicely, sometimes songs Frances wrote). She has also been part of the Portraits of White Annual Winter Concert for seven years.

More about Frances…

As both a singer and songwriter, Frances has a unique way of presenting real-life experiences and meaningful messages that are gently woven throughout her music.

  • Frances has served for a total of over 16 years on staff as the Director of Worship at various churches and she brings that experience into her worship leading at conferences and churches. As a worship leader, she has shared many platforms with well-known author and Women of Faith speaker, Carol Kent. She has also shared the stage with Kay Arthur, Dee Brestin, Ruth Graham, Margaret Feinberg, Bonnie Keen, and Ellie Lofaro.
  • Frances has also been featured as a guest on the Chris Fabry Live Radio Show.
  • Frances is also a songwriter for Songs Of Love – a nonprofit organization that connects songwriters with terminally ill children. She has composed and recorded hundreds of songs for the families with their child as the star of the song.
  • Her most recent release (June 2020) is a meditative solo piano project combining music with sounds of nature woven into classic hymns and hints of classical melodies. Perfect for your meditation moments, you’ll love Sunrise Meditations.
  • “Portraits Of White” is a Christmas/Winter release filled with a beautiful wintery mix of familiar carols and new tunes, instrumentals and vocals. “Portraits of White” has turned into more than just a CD project; it is now a beautiful winter concert featuring a mix of songs from her winter album and beloved holiday favorites. The musical extravaganza also features other talented local musicians, including Kirstin Myers and that’s actually how they first met.
  • In December 2016, Frances released a pop album titled “Brand New Me”. It’s an audio-journal of the work God has been doing in her life in the past decade and challenges audiences to believe that God can still change a heart and make you into a new creation.
  • Frances was the winner of the 2009 Momentum Award for “Female Artist Of The Year” and was also nominated for “Inspirational Artist Of The Year” at the 2009 Momentum Awards ceremony in Nashville, TN.
  • Frances and her husband, Tom, love to ride their Yamaha Vstars when the weather is perfect. 🙂
  • Frances has 3 indoor cats and has been known to feed most outdoor strays who come to visit.

More about Kirstin…

Kirstin has been a featured soloist in a multitude of musical groups, including:

  • Johnstown Symphony
  • Berks Sinfonietta
  • Reading Pops Orchestra
  • Millersville University Wind Ensemble
  • IUP Symphony
  • New Holland Band
  • Lyric Band of Hanover.
  • Kirstin was also 1st oboist of the New Holland Band for 16 years.
  • In addition to her work as a freelance musician and teacher, she thoroughly enjoys spending time with her 3 musical children, 3 un-musical cats and her wonderfully supportive and great music aficionado husband, Ken.

Friday, April 29, 2022

I Can Pray

My family is no stranger to tragedies. We know what it's like to hurt.

When my Mother was twenty-five, her husband fell from a silo. She was left with a seven-month-old son, Doug.

Eventually, she married my father. They had four children—Adriel, Brenda, Nathan, and Frances.

Nathan drowned in our pond when he was two. I was six months old. My brother, Doug, died in a tractor accident when I was seven. The last of my grandparents died when I was twenty-two.

Death was a frequent part of our family discussions.

On holidays we visited the graves—memorials to those we lost. I hated standing in the graveyard waiting for my mother to be done visiting each grave. It was uncomfortable.

I watched my mother make it through all of those painful parts of living by praying. She believed in prayer. She prayed about everything.

On less tragedy-stricken days, we’d pray funny prayers (at least I thought they were funny)—such as "Please God, bring the cows back home," when they escaped from the barnyard. Prayer was as much a part of our life as doing the farm chores. Given all of our family experiences, you’d think I could easily write a song about prayer.

When I was asked to sing for a National Day of Prayer event I didn't feel like any of the songs I knew about prayer said what I wanted to say. I wanted my own song to sing.

I could hear a melody (and four simple words) that could be the chorus, but I couldn't seem to write more than these four words...."But I can pray."

I knew that I wanted to show the contrast between life's struggles, the ineptness we feel when someone is hurting, and the power of prayer. I knew the verses would lead me to the chorus...somehow.

I waited for more words to come.

Then we got the news. 

A tragic car accident—a young boy and his mother. She was driving him to school...a head-on collision. The boy didn’t survive the crash.

I knew the family. It shook the community.

I pondered the events in my heart, watching the mother struggle with the loss of her son, a sister with the loss of her brother. I knew it would be hard. We all struggled to know what to say.

Friday, January 14, 2022

Are You OK?

I am sitting in the audience listening to a teenage boy share his story. He just can't cope with life anymore. He finds it too challenging to navigate the rough waters. He wants to end his life. When he gets to the part in the story where someone rescues him from those thoughts, he has my full attention. 

What did they do to talk him down from the ledge?

They asked him one simple question.

"Are you OK?" 

It literally saved his life, according to him.

As he speaks, I sit there, marveling at how simple it can be to extend kindness to another human being. I appreciate the reminder that I don't need a degree in psychology or a business plan to let someone know how much I care. 

In a world where information abounds in the form of self-help books, podcasts, videos and so on, there's still nothing like heart-felt compassion and no phrase offers it quite as powerfully as these three simple words — are you OK?

I've been hearing this same question from some of you, through private messages, texts...etc., and I really appreciate the sincerity behind it. You are letting me know that you care. 

I realize that there are probably others who are wondering the same thing, but are afraid to ask. 

So here's my answer...

Yes, I'm doing OK! Thanks for asking.

You know how many of us crave a "snow day" even if we don't like snow? We love the way a snow day forces rest on us — as long as we don't plow snow for a living. After December's big Portraits of White event, I long for a snowy MONTH. Figuratively and literally. Ha. Ha. 

In the post-concert season, I look for things that will refuel my creative soul. Some years I visit local libraries and just sit by the window. Sometimes I browse through quaint shops. Walk. Write. Listen to birds.

This year, I've been painting the kitchen, making new curtains, cleaning out closets, throwing stuff away, journalling, listening to CDs from my collection, riding my bike, taking naps and not permitting myself to think about anything music related. 

Yep - it's come to that. I have rules for my creative self. It probably sounds harsh, but I've learned that about myself. In a strange way, boundaries set in late December through January (and beyond) seem to lend themselves to creative freedom down the road. It's a new lesson I've had to learn.

Behind every creative endeavor there is a little soul who gives herself wholly to the dream — seeing it through to the end. It's one long season of exhaling. It must be followed by a long season of inhaling.

After six (and more) months of continual content creation leading up to December, I feel speechless. I can't even open my Facebook app. I know that some people get nervous that I must be down and depressed after the show, but the truth is, I don't feel any of those things when it comes to the post-show season.

I'm just depleted.

Deeply satisfied, but equally depleted. 

After the concert, there is almost as much work to be done as before the concert as I close out the books, pay all of the invoices, prepare for tax appointments, re-do the website, organize photos, videos, file music, etc. So it's usually not until the second or third week of January until my brain can truly unplug from the previous year. I can't rest until then. By the time I feel I can truly unplug, everyone else has moved on.

So I shut down the electronics, the phone and sometimes even the studio itself. I can't think of one thing to say, write or put into a fun video. Even writing emails and texts wears me out at this stage of my recovery. I don't want to even touch my phone. That makes me appear quiet. 

I think I should have been a bear. Hibernating in the winter appeals to me. I draw strength from solitude.

It feels completely unsocial and that makes me squirm, but I know that as an artist, I must have some time to recharge my batteries and do some normal kind of living. Since I write about life, I have to do some regular living in between the creative work. That's where I get my creative juices for the next "thing." 

I've heard people asking for a new Christmas album. One of the many challenges is that it took me 40+ years of living life to write Portraits of White. It's not just a pile of songs. It's a pile of life, not to mention a pile of money to produce a project like that.

I guess I need another 40 years of living to write another one. I'm laughing again.

My simple goal for 2022 was to NOT make anything happen —choosing to "sit and wait" to see what might present itself to me. It's a new approach for me because ordinarily, I love to set goals and work hard to accomplish them. 

I also need to acknowledge that the lingering affects from the pandemic have made me feel like a circus clown jumping through hoops for two years straight as I keep trying to find a little spot close to my sweetest spot. I know other musicians feel this too. 

Speaking of spots, I didn't realize how many little spots could make up one big sweet spot. I've been thinking that perhaps it's like the pre-dawn of the morning when you see shafts of light, but the source of the light is hidden from your view. Sometimes my husband and I like to sit and just watch the light BEFORE the light. 

We are usually glad when the full light of day arrives, but it's possible to enjoy the day-peep moments. There are things that can be accomplished. Like gathering inspiration.

Though I feel like COVID has been hiding the full light of day from us, I'm learning to thrive in the pre-dawn moments. I'm gathering inspiration.

I feel like I've had to go from living under a big ball of light to living in the softer hues.

Am I even making any sense? 

See. This is why I think it's better if I just stay silent for a season. LOL!

So in answer to your question....yes - I'm doing very well. I know I've been quiet. Believe me, there are moments when I want to pop up on Facebook and play a tune for you or see what you're up to. But I resist because I know that I'm in a season of refueling right now and the only way to fill up is to breathe deeply in solitude.

Thanks for your understanding and ever-loving expressions of concern. It means the world to me.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Back to the Heart of Christmas

I hear myself singing a familiar song, in the middle of the night, in my dreams. I'm singing the lyrics to the popular song, "Have a holly jolly Christmas..." but you wouldn't recognize it because the melody is different than the one you're used to. In my dream, I've turned the happy melody into something more melancholy.

I feel as if that's kind of become my brand in my "awake" life—my unwanted brand. I take happy things and make them sad. Or at least point out the sad. I guess it makes sense to do it in my dreams too.

I suddenly wake up, the melody and lyrics fresh on my mind. Was I really dreaming? I get up to write down my ideas. It's rather unusual for me to be singing in my dreams. Maybe this is something special so I better pay attention.

I usually go to the piano when I hear a melody and lyric, but since my piano is next door in my studio and it's the middle of the night, I dig through the drawer looking for a piece of paper. 

I scribble my ideas on a piece of paper, drawing little lines that go up and down across the page representing the melody so that I'll remember it in the morning. As it turns out, when I revisit the idea, it's the harmony I have actually noted. 

I start to finish the song a few days after the dream...(at least I thought I finished it) Here's one of the early drafts:

Have a holly jolly Christmas
you can hear the music play
but as time goes on, on and on 
Christmas doesn't look the same each year
I go wandering 'round in a circular world 
that doesn't know where to end
in the midst of the lights
twinkling bright
where do you belong, Jesus?

Show me the way back to the heart of Christmas
help me to see all that you meant it to be
I want to see you
I want to know you better
show me the way, show me the way to You

All the family now is gathered
they have come from far and near
but the pain inside cannot hide
Christmas has its disappointing times
in the back of our minds
mem'ries there to remind
things are not as you wish
and in the midst of the tears
shed through the years, you wonder
where do I belong, Jesus? (Chorus)


Christmas is meant to be joyful
Christmas is meant to bring peace
but just like the story of so long ago
where things don't turn out just right
Children lose their lives
royal men still lie
and families run for their life (A husband baby and wife)
still this prayer I offer you tonight

Show me the way....

I take this song to my manager (as well as many other Christmas songs I am writing) and his critique is consistent with what I've heard before. "Even your funny songs have an intensity to them," he says, in reference to a non-holiday song I wrote called "Personalities." Sigh. 

I've asked for constructive critique because I want to improve as a songwriter. So now I have to receive it, right? 

I thought you might enjoy seeing my notes I wrote after he listened to that early draft of Back to the Heart of Christmas.

I love the part where he asks, "Who's the kids getting killed?"

Or the part where he says the bridge is too l long and introduces a whole new line of thought. I see what he means once he points it out. A bridge should simply carry us from one thought to another without building a whole new road. It should take us over the water, not muddy it. 

In the broader story of the Nativity, other babies died, a King lied and the parents of Jesus had to run for their lives. So in this case, I felt the bridge in the song could help remind us all that life isn't perfect, especially at Christmas. Sad is mixed in with happy. Just like parts of the broader Christmas story. But in my desire to "set the world straight" I tend to try to say too much. 

I've had to learn to stay focused on the one thing the song is about and not try to solve all the problems of life in just three minutes. 

It took me decades to understand my own yearning for perfect holidays. To discover that much of it was tied to the fact that we didn't have perfect holidays as a family. We were not a complete unit. We had lost people along the way and it was extra hard at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Just as my disheartened soul went through some healing and mindset shifts about the holidays, coupled with a better self-awareness of why I struggled with the holidays, the song also evolved. I changed the verses and I wrote a much simpler bridge...

Help me to be like a child at heart
open my life to your love
setting aside the distractions of life
that keep me from the greatest gift of all

Of course, in my case, the distractions were grief and loneliness. They come in all shapes and sizes.

I started sharing the song (the re-written version) with audiences at Christmas events. Many times people would ask if I had a recording of that song. I knew that was a good sign. 

All of these years later, after putting it on the album and keeping it in the annual show and doing it over and over, I still feel the magic every time I sing it. The chorus lyrics were never changed from the original lyrics probably because they said all that I really wanted to say from the beginning.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Lions, Tigers and Uh Ohs...

I knew that I'd face some extra challenges this year when I sat down to plan Portraits of White because of COVID 19.  I was hoping that by December the pandemic would be a thing of the past. As we all know, it's not. 

So in addition to the regular lions, tigers and bears I usually encounter as we get close to the show, I've had to face a new monster this year. 

I decided to approach it with a little bit of humor...

This week's video:

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Cues and Shoes

 "Are you ready for Thanksgiving yet?" the young cashier asks the shopper a few cash registers over from me. 

"Yes," the customer replies confidently.

I try to mind my own business as I pay for my groceries. It's not my conversation but I somehow feel like it could be. 

It's only November 5, I think to myself.

The determined cashier continues. "Well then, are you ready for Christmas?" It feels to me as if she's now trying to one-up the shopper.

"I don't do Christmas—too many expectations," the customer says, loud enough that everyone can hear her. I try to keep my head down and resist making eye contact.

Secretly, I admire her and I smile to myself. She isn't rude or obnoxious, but she clearly lets us know (because we're all listening aren't we?) where she lands when it comes to Christmas. And now it feels as if it's a public conversation.

I decide in that moment to turn around and look at the person who is being interrogated, as if to let her know that I acknowledge her and can appreciate the position she's just been put in. Someone needs to acknowledge her least with a nod or a smile. 

We all get it. Whether it's expectations, loneliness, grief, lack of money or time, weariness in coming up with what to get someone, dread of dragging out all of the decorations, we all have buttons that get pushed during the holidays or in this case, the weeks leading up to the holidays.

I stand there feeling conflicted. While I feel sorry for the customer, I also appreciate that the cashier is just trying to be engaging. Sometimes we ask questions just to be friendly. They aren't good questions, or timed well, but we ask anyway. Perhaps that's what's happening here.

When I turn to see if I can catch the eye of the disgruntled lady, to acknowledge her strong feelings, I'm a little surprised. Her hair is done perfectly, make up looks great. She's quite beautiful for Friday afternoon grocery shopping. I don't know what I am expecting to see but she looks very put together (talk about expectations.) I expect her to look...disheveled...old...something...I don't know...  

She is giving me a gift. She is giving me courage...hope. A small dose of encouragement reminding me of why I do Portraits of White. I need some of this kind of medicine at this point in the marathon.

In fact, as I get ready to post this week's video, I can't tell you how many times I've been tempted to change it, throw it out,  re-do it because I am letting you see me when I'm not feeling very organized. And this was before the grocery store drama. Her honesty gives me the courage to keep the video "as-is."

I've called this week's post Cues and Shoes because one of the stressful parts of doing the show is figuring out the lighting cues. I know, you're probably thinking to yourself...REALLY? Our world has been turned upside down and you're stressing over lights?

Then there are the shoes. Somehow I was born without a hint of an arch in both feet and I have giant-sized bunions—much like my mother had. It's always been hard to find pretty yet comfortable shoes for the stage, and it only seems to get worse with age. 

One year after the show, my feet hurt so bad I couldn't walk out to greet everyone. I finally figured out it was just easier if I went without shoes, so I walked out in the lobby, shoeless and it felt wonderful.

In the scheme of things, the shoes are a small part of the stress, but every little bit adds up, as you know.  And though I don't actually run the lights during the show, I have to make sure that those who do are well prepared for every little detail. Spot on Doug, spot on Wayne, Frances at the piano, Frances in the center, George on timpani, Tim on a stool, trumpet feature.....Frances tripping over her dress. Oh I hope not! LOL! 

Similar to all of these show details, the expectations that come with the holidays can start with tiny things but when combined, they can add up to stress. Where to spend the holidays...when to have the dinner...what to serve for dinner...what gift to buy....And some people, like the shopper lady have decided they just don't "do" the holidays anymore.  

Then there's the lingering pandemic. We're all weary of what this has done to our lives. I see the strain on your faces as I'm out doing concerts. I read your notes that tell me of the crises you are facing personally. My heart breaks for you. 

 I don't know who that lady at the grocery store is, but thanks to her outburst, I found the courage to keep running this last leg of the race of Portraits of White. I know it will be worth it. I've been preparing, practicing, pondering, stressing...all of it. But I'm ready for December 10 and 12.  

I can't wait to see you and finish this Christmas show marathon with you by my side. (Even if I end it in my bare feet.) 

This week's video.

Friday, November 5, 2021

Cattywampus Portraits of White

I've answered all kinds of Portraits of White fan questions this summer. This one made me feel furry, fuzzy and a bit...well...cattywampus.

"Do you ever consider using dogs or cats in Portraits of White?"

Just to be sure, I looked up the word cattywampus. I believe it fits this week's video purrrrrfectly.

Definition - askew, awry, kitty-corner. Cattywampus is a variant of catawampus, another example of grand 19th century American slang. In addition to “askew” catawampus may refer to “an imaginary fierce wild animal,” or may mean “savage, destructive.”

My cats would like you to paws for a moment of fun and watch THEIR video.

This week's video.

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