Friday, December 2, 2022

In The Bleak Midwinter

 

I'll never forget the day my producer, Eric Copeland pointed out my frequent mention of death in my songwriting. "You write a lot of songs about death," he said. This was news to me. He jokingly suggested that my name could be "The Grateful Dead". Of course, I didn't know who they were.


I laughed as if I did.


Fast forward to November 2022. Double Keyed (Kirstin and Frances) landed a spot on the Billboard charts. You can probably imagine how excited we were (and still are). I feel like I'm the big sister of the two of us and believe me, I'm very proud of my little sister!



However, we've been bumped off the charts by—of all things—a dead man. I find this hilarious . . . given my history. Sorry Kirstin.


Oh well. Since we don't know what we did to get on the charts in the first place, we figure maybe we'll appear again! Either way, we are still recovering from the shock of placing ANYWHERE and we're very much alive.


We DO know that your streaming and purchases through online sources helps us dance around the charts. :-)


Thank you!

Our first tour date!


Yesterday started our official concert schedule as recording artists.


Today, we will be recording an interview at WITF in Harrisburg, PA. We'll let you know when it's released.

How we came up with the title, Midwinter's Gift.


Midwinter was a title that presented itself early on when we were incubating the album. Based on the lovely song, In The Bleak Midwinter, written in the 1800's, we knew we wanted this song on the project.


From the very beginning, we both felt as if this album creation was a gift to each other as musicians. Putting the words midwinter and gift together seemed like a natural progression.


You'll appreciate the unfolding of the journey from bleakness to beauty in this new video featuring the title track.


"In the bleak midwinter,

Frosty wind made moan,

Earth stood hard as iron,

Water like a stone;

Snow had fallen, snow on snow,

Snow on snow,

In the bleak midwinter,

Long ago."


— Christina Georgiana Rossetti (1830-1894)




Saturday, November 19, 2022

Peanut Butter Blossom Cookies Inspire Midwinter's Gift Album

The new Christmas album, Midwinter's Gift was inspired by the waft of peanut butter blossom cookies. Really!!

It all started when my friend, Kirstin Myers (oboist) was baking Christmas cookies for her family last December. Being a busy oboist, performing in various symphonies in the South Central Pennsylvania region, she didn't have time to bake cookies until AFTER the holidays. She had been too busy making music for everyone else's Christmas celebrations. We had originally met—because of Christmas—when Kirstin was hired to play oboe in my annual Portraits of White Winter Concert orchestra.

So there she was, the day after Christmas, making cookies. She confesses that she may have been devouring the Hershey kisses before they even made it to the blossoms. She was also listening to her favorite music playlists—for three solid days in a row. 

In the midst of this baking, nibbling and listening frenzy, while waiting for a batch of cookies to finish baking, she was struck with some nagging yet intriguing observations . . . that she says went something like this:

"There were no oboe tunes popping up on my Spotify."

Perhaps oboists need more quality Christmas music. 

Scrolling through Spotify for ‘oboe’ and ‘Christmas’ and not finding much . . .

"Wouldn’t it be cool to create more?"

"What if I could record an album?"

No, you can’t do that. Take the burning cookies out of the oven.

"But what if I could? It would be something I could give the kids."

Eat more cookie dough.

"Who knows how to record an album? Who could I do it with?"

My friend, the piano player, Frances.

(Kirstin and I [Frances] had already formed a duo called Double Keyed and were enjoying performing together until COVID brought our in-person performances to a jarring halt.)


After running through many more doubts in her head, Kirstin texted me. 

Fortunately, I took screen shots of our conversation. I had a feeling I'd want to keep a record—pun intended.



This text was followed by some banter about money, potential arrangers . . .etc., etc., and I knew it would get to be a long conversation by text, so I suggested we meet for coffee to talk details . . .


After we met for coffee, I began thinking about places we could stay in Nashville, if we ended up doing a project there. I texted Kirstin with more ideas . . .



Fast forward to August and we were on our way to Wildwood Recording in Franklin, Tennessee to record our project. At the recommendation of our arranger and producer, Nashville's own Phillip Keveren, we chose this studio because Phillip said it's the best Yamaha piano in Nashville! Being a piano player, I was concerned about finding a great piano for our project. 

Phillip was right—the piano was incredible. At one point, I said, "This piano is like a race car that doesn't want to stick with the speed limit." The guys liked that analogy.

Frances warms up on the Yamaha, August 3, 2022.

Long story short, the little somewhat obscure oboe is now making a splash! Even the English horn got to be a part of the production on three songs; O Holy Night, What Child is This? and O Come, O Come, Emmanuel—which ended up being the first song we recorded on our two-day recording spree. I remember Phillip's comment after we played his hauntingly beautiful arrangement of this 15th Century song. "This project is going to be world-class," he said confidently. My heart tried to absorb the words. It was uncanny that he used this particular phrase.

I've always wanted to be a world-class performer. I only tell you this because I'm learning that setting goals is such a key to getting where you want to go and becoming the person you want to be. I had decided years ago that one of my goals as a singer-songwriter and pianist, was to become world-class. It was a goal that I knew would always keep me motivated to improve—even if it took me a lifetime to achieve. So you can see how hearing this comment was monumental for me. 

But we had nine more songs to go! In the moment, I had to keep focused. 

You see, I was facing the challenge of playing the piano in front of the arranger of the music (and the producer of the album) with him sitting in the control room, listening to me. I also knew that he himself is a very gifted pianist. His Sojourner project with The London Symphony Orchestra is one of the most beautiful albums of all times, in my opinion! 

Knowing I would be recording in the presence of a master craftsman, I had been strategically conditioning my mind to focus for the seven months leading up to this moment. Not only had I been practicing the technicalities and musicality of the arrangements we commissioned Phillip to create, but I had been practicing overcoming the trepidation and downright terrification (a word I made up during this season) of playing in front of him. I had moments of sheer terror while practicing. I had to learn to ignore those monsters so I could support Kirstin without falling apart when recording day came and the engineer would push the record button.

Hearing Phillip's genuine comment after our first song was a beautiful gift and a perfect way to start off the two days of recording. He was fabulous to work with!

Kirstin Myers (oboe, English horn), Kent Hooper (Recording engineer), Phillip Keveren (Arranger, producer), Frances Drost (pianist)
August 5, 2022

By November 4, 2022, we had our new Christmas album, Midwinter's Gift ready for release on Bandcamp and many streaming sites, including—of ALL places—Spotify. People responded. In fact, by November 15 (just 11 days after release day) we discovered we had charted at No. 13 on Billboard's Classical Crossover Album chart. 

After waking up on a Monday morning to an email notification from Alex at Billboard, I texted Kirstin and told her to check her email. I had forwarded the big news to her.

Now, Kirstin and I are very busy getting ready to tour, responding to sweet comments, filling orders and enjoying building a listener base on Spotify! We have filled that void and now Kirstin won't need to scroll through Spotify this Christmas looking for soothing, inspiring, elegant and classy oboe music. Way to go my friend! You've done it . . . and in world-class fashion.

Midwinter's Gift is our gift, first to ourselves as musicians, secondly to our families and the most fun surprise gift of all—a placement on the Billboard charts!

We think there might be something special about peanut butter blossom cookies . . . or maybe it's as simple as having an idea, setting a goal, following it through, giving it wings and watching it soar. Is that simple?!

Double Keyed is having fun watching our album help the world fall in love with double reeds. 

P.S. The instrument Kirstin is holding on the album cover is her English horn. The oboe is working through a bit of envy since it didn't make the front cover—but wants us to know that it is truly happy for the success of the English horn and is thrilled to be on Spotify.

You can order Midwinter's Gift CD here.
You can also find us pretty much everywhere on streaming services.

Cover photo and album artwork by Erick Anderson Photography, Nashville, TN

I wonder what kind of cookies Kirstin will be baking this December? ;-)

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Double Keyed Announces 2022 Christmas Project

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


ABOUT 
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)

Bridge:

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: