Saturday, August 10, 2013

"The Elephant Diet" Day 128 Think About Your Audience

"Getting there I think.  Maybe you dial back in a bit more emotion in parts, but Phil will take care of that."  - Eric Copeland

That was the response I got yesterday from Eric about the new vocal approach I've been working on for the song "You With Me."  Well, hopefully Phil will help me nail it this week.  When I asked Eric about the last minute lyric changes, he just said "less is always more".  Now I just wait for word from Phil, but I might just have to wait until I get there Wednesday morning.  That's ok.  I like the changes and feel good about it.

As I write this, we are on our way home from North Carolina where we spent time this morning remembering my sister-in-law, Sue Drost, who passed away recently.  The family asked me to sing at the funeral and I squirmed at their request.  Have you ever attended something that sets off all kinds of land mines in your soul?  You avoid those events if at all possible?  No need to stir things up - just keep them buried.  Funerals do that for me and though I wanted to honor the family, I was so afraid I would be a muddled mess of emotions and I really prefer not to sing in those circumstances.

However, I put those preferences aside and said yes, for them.  As we got closer to the moment when I was to sing the beautiful song "You Raise Me Up" my fingers began to shake and my heart began to pound.  I haven't been that nervous in a very long time.  I began to analyze what was making me nervous while also paying attention to the tributes being given.  

I was afraid.  Afraid of my emotions getting out of control, afraid that I would cry and not be able to sing, or worse yet, try to sing in spite of tears and sing way off pitch and totally butcher the song.  Then I began analyzing why I hate funerals in the first place.  I've already been down that road so many times that I just decided to not even get on that bus.  

I tried to think of funny things like cats barfing, or dead dry grass that crunches under my feet when I go to get the mail at our mailbox.  I closed my eyes and pictured no one in the room and just me at the piano bearing my soul through the music. I prayed for peace and ability to press through.  I asked what's the worst that could happen.  Meanwhile, my husband leaned over and said "are you nervous"?  Dah.  Was it the earthquake in my hands or the bulging of my dress around my heart area that gave it away?  Maybe he could hear the pounding?

Finally, in desperation, I tried to recall what coach Tom Jackson would tell me.  Most of our fears come because we are so consumed with what others will think of us, which means we are self-focused.  


"Think about your audience" Tom Jackson always says. 

Sue Drost and son, Derek
Ok.  So I began to think about the family and what they must be feeling.  I thought about all the friends that were present who could use some encouragement.  Sue Drost had touched many people's lives in her 4 1/2 year battle with cancer.  Apparently they had given her 6 months to live, but she decided to live life to the fullest in the time she had left and in the process, it was obvious she had touched many people very deeply.  I began to think of those people.  What about her son who is to be married in September?  What must it be like to lose your mom right before your wedding day?  The doctor who treated Sue came to the funeral.  It was the first cancer patient's funeral he had attended in 8 years of practice he said afterward.  With tears in his eyes, he said "Sue taught me how much cancer can break someone's heart and how cancer can make someone's heart stronger."  He was obviously touched by her life.

I began to breathe deep and exhale slowly.  I walked to the piano not knowing if Tom's advice would help.  I remembered singing at another funeral years ago where my tactics didn't help.  I had placed a comic strip on the piano beside my music to help me focus.  That didn't help.  I caught one glance of the mother who lost her 13 year old son and that was it.  I couldn't finish the song.  His name was Nathan, the name of my brother who drowned in our farm pond.

I sat down at the piano, began to touch the keys and when it came time to open my mouth, it worked.  No more shaking.  No more heart pounding.  Not one tear.   

Plenty of tears came later when we sang:

my chains are gone
I've been set free
my God, my Savior has ransomed me
and like a flood
His mercy reigns
unending love
amazing grace

.....and I let the tears flow freely.

Maybe there is a lesson there beyond musical performances.....perhaps many of our fears and nerves are rooted in being too self-focused.

Many people commented to me how much they had been touched by the song and how amazed they were that I was able to make it all the way through.  They have no idea the battle I had.  I told a few people it was a miracle.  And, it was.

Friday, August 9, 2013

"The Elephant Diet" Day # 127 Last minute changes can be good!

Yesterday morning I had a baseball bat size zucchini to use up.  Today I have zucchini bread....or 'bat bread' as I should affectionately call it.  Tomorrow I should buy a baseball team.  After all, I could supply them with lifelong bats with the zucchini I grow!  (see day # 126 blog).

At the last minute, I tried substituting applesauce for the oil in the recipe as I've heard others suggest for a healthier bread. I just sampled the bread and it's very good. That was a good last minute change.  Would you like a piece? (hee hee).

Yesterday I sent another 'take' of the song "you with me" to my producers.  I tried to shift from 'broadway' to 'pop' as my executive producer had suggested, even though I wasn't sure what that meant.  The response was interesting and brought forth some last minute changes.  And they are good ones I believe.  Here are their responses.

Eric Copeland:  (Executive producer) "Yes, better. But this is one of those situations where you can tend to get jazzy/expressive with it, and it should be simple and honest.  I'll let Phil take it from here."

Phil Naish:  (Vocal producer) "Beautiful song and I like all the bgv ideas.  My only comment is the one line in the chorus "within my reach when you touch me" feels just a little rushed with too many words.  See if it bothers you but I wonder if one syllable could go.  I don't know which or where or if at all but it might feel better.  It just feels like you have to hurry to get to "I know He cares".

Aha.  I had trouble understanding the difference between broadway and pop, but all Eric had to do was use the words 'simple' and 'honest' and I got it.

This song is a very tender song.  As I said yesterday, I think it's my favorite on this album.   I originally wrote it to go with a christmas drama about a homeless man and the loneliness he felt.  I wanted to capture that deep loneliness that many people feel, including me sometimes.  It was a cry for us to realize that Emmanuel means "God with us", but God with us is best seen by how we treat each other and being present with each other in times of need.  Because it is a tender song (with beautiful acoustic guitar that expresses it so well) I guess my 'belting' out some of the notes put it over the top.  The only time we 'belt' to each other is if we are upset, usually.  That's not what needs to be communicated in this song.  I have to say though that the orchestra and piano behind it are so beautiful when they swell, that I was partly responding to them and just letting it all go!

But though I didn't quite get the musical difference, I do understand the emotional difference and that's all I needed.  We'll see what their response is to the new interpretation.

As for the lyric changes that Phil suggested?  Oh my!  I'm so glad I asked for his input.  I took one whole line OUT and it makes such a difference.  (the line in italics is the line I removed). It gives room to breathe.  I'll be curious to see if the changes are what he had in mind.

So here's the before:

God with us
is you with me
His hands, His feet are in my reach when you touch me
I know He cares, when you are there
God with us
is you with me.

Here's the after:

God with us
is you with me
His hands and feet are in my reach
I know He cares, when you are there
God with us
is you with me.

Both accomplish the same goal and tell you that I can feel God's touch in my life when a human being touches me with their love by their presence.  It's not as easy to tell the difference when you read it, but when you sing it, it flows so much better.  I also changed "his" to "and".

They always encourage us as songwriters to get critiques of our songs, but to beware because those are always subjective and every person has a different opinion.  One person might think your song is great and the next person thinks you should get rid of it.  I've had that experience with song critiques and it is very frustrating.  But one piece of advice I heard that has changed things for me is this:  If you start hearing the same advice over and over from different people, you need to stop and pay attention.

One criticism I have heard over and over about my writing is that I try to say too much in a song.  Now that I'm aware of it, I've tried to get better at simplifying what I want to say.  This song is a perfect example of a line that was easily cut out without losing the meaning of the song and it opens up the song so much more.

I haven't heard back from the guys yet, but I'm going to guess that they will like the last minute changes.  Morgan Cryar once told me that no song is permanent until the moment it is recorded.  Anything can change until then.  I have learned that even after it's recorded, I can adapt it to my live concerts and still change it, but in general, once it's recorded, that's pretty much it.

I remember years ago when I was first contemplating doing a christmas project, I sent this song to Eric for consideration.  His feedback was something like this: "leave it to Frances to write another sad, suicidal type christmas song."  That might seem harsh to you, but Eric knows my writing very well and when he first listened to all my songs for the project "Inside Things", he quickly pointed out that I was writing a lot of songs about death.  That opened up a whole new path to me because I didn't even notice that I was doing it.  Years later in counseling, it became quite evident that after losing 9 significant people in my life by the time I was 35, (the last one being my father) the only way I seemed to be able to process death was to write songs about it.  It was my way of dealing with the sadness.  So it became a joke between us that I can write dark and sad songs pretty easily and lots of them.  (and yes, I've been to counseling, probably could use more).

I took Eric's comment about this song to heart years ago and began to re-write the tune.  Years later, I feel it says what I want to say without being such a 'downer'.  And just for a point of's the only closest song to a 'downer' on this project you'll hear and it's far from being a there.....mission accomplished!

Now I just have to learn not to be so wordy in my songs.  That's not a last minute change I can make, but I sure am trying!

Morgan Cryar
Eric Copeland
Phil Naish

Thursday, August 8, 2013

"The Elephant Diet" Day 126 Sneaky Zucchini

Anyone who grows zucchini knows that it can very quickly sneak up on you and grow to elephant size proportions!  Yes, I have grown a zuc that could feed an elephant.  I try to check my plants every few days to avoid an infestation, but obviously I am losing the battle.  I now have a 'baseball bat' factory in my back yard.  (I saw a recipe that called for zucchini and encouraged us to NOT let them get to be the size of a baseball bat.)  Too late for me.  I sense yet another batch of zucchini somethings-or-other coming up.  Zucchini milkshakes???

I have very little time left to focus on my vocals for my Christmas CD.  Next week I head to TN to finish them and I don't feel ready.  Somehow it has snuck up on me.  Not that I haven't been watchful and trying to fit in rehearsals, but after 15 gigs in July, Dr. appointments with my mother, a recent death in my husband's family and yes - raising and consuming giant zucchini, I think it has snuck up on me.

Today I am focusing on the final song we need to record called "you with me" (my favorite on this album).

I have marked on my lyrics sheet where we need to put background vocals.  After texting my vocal producer, Phil, I found out that he would like me to have a sense of what I will be adding to all the other songs when I come.  He will then give ideas as we work.  So, I need to go back to the other songs and decide where I want background voices.

Tomorrow we head to North Carolina to mourn with my husband's brother who lost his wife last week to cancer.  I will be singing "You Raise Me Up" at the funeral.  I hope I can make it through the song,  otherwise, it will be a piano solo.  I have never handled funerals real well and have considered telling people that I just don't sing at funerals.  It's so hard to sing with big lumps in your throat and pain in your heart.  But I will try to focus on the words and the strength that it will hopefully provide to the family.

For now, I must get back to finishing these Christmas tunes.

This has crept up on me.