Musical Milliner offers her kind regards to all of you who have hung in there with her the past five years as she has been circling the Inferno that was her life. She’s/I’m (changing tenses here) glad to be alive, and pleased to tell you that despite dedicated and focused attempts to dismantle my psyche and resources, I am well.

On this lovely atumnal equinox, I feel…balanced. images

My sons are thriving. I am rebuilding my business, and I am experiencing one of the most productive phases of my life in music.

Socializing is still a bit of a challenge. Ever the introvert when not performing, but I am taking steps to improve.

Here’s the thing: I recently heard a song which reminds us that after so many years on this journey we all share, comes a time to lose some of the load. Keep what you need or want, and continue in a leisurely stroll toward the sign marked “exit.” It takes so much effort to keep track of all the emotional hording, and is so unnecessary.

Who knows, I may even write an upbeat lyric or two. God bless the lot of you.

The Singer’s Mind


This is an informative article from a teacher’s blog. Lots to think about. The art of singing involves so many inter-connected systems. One’s psychological and spiritual state is a huge part of the equation, and technology is giving us answers as to how the musical brain functions.

Mostly, singers are bat shit crazy.

Read on.

Pausa: Two Stories. Part I.

I was reading another singer’s blog this morning wherein she describes a common audition hazard. What does one do when the accompanist does not or will not take the standard range tempo for an aria?  Too slow, your phrasing is ruined. Too fast, and you hyperventilate or vocally trip over all those even faster runs.

In her account, she tells of an inexperienced accompanist in a German Operhaus who just couldn’t move it. Granted, it was Strauss, and any piano reduction of anything by Strauss requires more than normal human powers to play. It’s enough to bring up a little religion, you know?

In Part II we will chat further about Strauss.

So…I know the feeling. I have had the opposite happen. One time the accompanist seemed to want to kill me via Violetta prematurely.

It was at Chicago Lyric. I was asked to take it from the cabaletta, the place where the girls are separated from the women. This guy played it so fast that I was momentarily stunned. In those first few measures, you have to assess, “Will I manage, or must I stop him?” I mean, this was the Lyric!  The Lyric.

They had flown me in for this audition, paid for my hotel. So I did stop him with all the graciousness I could, just as my coach had drilled into me.

He was nice, and seemed to understand my request. And then he took off again just as he had the first time.  Actually, I remember it being faster.

I did it.  Nailed it. I was being tested. “Can she handle the pressure? Can she think on her feet and make it work?” Well, yeah. I can. I do. Take that, you sick bastard.

It wasn’t until I left the room that I let myself feel pissed. This guy had intentionally fucked with me, and he had lost the duel.

How we deal with these situations is part of the package, and it has to be  practiced, just like everything else we do.

(c)GoshGusMusic (ascap) 2010

Fugue: Exposition. Alone in the Tonic

images It begins with one voice stating the subject. Another voice enters, and the initial voice is bumped into the dominant key where it is now referred to as the answer.

“At frequent intervals throughout a fugue, then, the subject will appear in one voice or another: at the top of the texture, at the bottom (the bass), or else tucked away in the middle surrounded by other polyphonic lines. The subject appears in different tonalities, too…without modulations a fugue would get badly bogged down. “(Joseph Kerman, Listen, p.96,Worth Publishers, Inc., 1972.)

Each subject is separated from it’s succeeding neighbor by bits of melodic fragments and other fun stuff, which are called episodes. Episodes serve to unify this little madness of subject variants and keep the whole business from cascading into polyphonic hell.

After awhile, the ears need a break from the aural carousel, and that’s where we take leave of this “…one-sided devotion to a single idea.”(ibid) and are utterly relieved to be given the countersubject.

The above description is primarily Baroque, but fugues are found all across the repertoire. The finale of Verdi’s Falstaff is a famous example of Romantic fugue. Unlike the predictable, albeit glorious mathematical fugues of Bach, sorting out the through-composed fugue of Verdi is an exercise in futility. At least for me.

Having performed two productions of Falstaff as the female principal, Alice Ford, I must make a public confession: I never have learned that damn fugue correctly. I know all the entrances, but not the episodes. Sing straight out when your turn comes round, then mouth gibberish to your neighbor and appear to be having a fabulous time. I am not proud of this.

Why the chat about fugues? Lately I’ve been feeling the circular turmoil of a fixed number of subjects built on a theme. As with all things on this journey, I can’t alter the form. I can only do my best to keep my place in the music. Sometimes the only way I can work this is by slipping inside my self. Things get too intense, and demands are greater than I can meet, so I find an emotional yurt and keep warm until the anxiety has passed. This periodic withdrawal is hard on one’s friends and family, but it is a core personality trait which is hard-wired within me.

When I withdraw, I fret about the effect on those around me. I withdraw so I can work it all out.

Respecting the Composer: Coda

imagesI’ve written an imaginary letter. There is a storage room somewhere full of these!

Please note the gentleman to our right (or stage left, if you will)  is our composer.

I’m feeling a bit put out that I have to accommodate a harpist and string quartet when a sweet little composition I am offering was written specifically for piano and voice  It’s just a social event, but there will be a million musicians there due to the couple’s affiliation.  The couple being feted put the entertainment in the hands of a capable person of good repute.  The person plays harp.

I cannot say for certain if this song was turned into an arrangement by consent of  the host, or if the music director took it up as a cause.  It is a Lied by Richard Strauss, sung in German, to a sexy text by a wonderful poet.  I learned today that it has grown into an orchestra piece, key changed for harp’s benefit, and the soprano, the Musical Milliner, was not consulted.

I am more than put out.  My thong’s in a twist.

I worship Richard Strauss. I know his music.  I know that he favored the soprano voice over all others.  He fell in love with and married a soprano, who was his muse.   And I know his intentions because he left clear instructions. My integrity is challenged by the idea that a person thinks the music cannot stand on its own as the composer, who was also a greatly esteemed conductor, thoughtfully formed it. It offends me that  “an occasion”  would, in someone’s eyes,  require a simple charming love song to need tarting up to better suit the event.

I am faced with the occupational hazard of choosing sportsmanship over integrity. Good will for more jobs.  We’ve all been there.  I’ll give a good performance, and the people there who know will understand that I’m just the help, singing the gig.  A situation with which they’re familiar.

Back to the imaginary letter.

Good Afternoon,
Thank you for the
pdf file with your orchestration of the Strauss.

I think you’ve done a nice job capturing the feeling of the piece. I appreciate the effort you’ve put into this orchestration.  I do, however, have some concerns.

I am uneasy about the key change. You said it’s impossible to play in Gb.  Strauss wrote this for voice and piano. I can comfortably sing up a half step, but you are changing both the color of tone and the intent of the composer. You play harp, non?  I know nothing about the challenges of your instrument other than I am stunned that anyone can play it. If the key change is to accommodate the harp, I sympathize. I am advocating for my beloved composer and his intentions. Can we return this Lied to its original key, please?

May I add a couple of  housekeeping items offered to you in good faith, from a singer who’s taken a few laps.

Please cite in your copy, especially if you intend to use it again, that the lyrics are by A.F. von Schack. He wrote such beautiful words for these songs.  Without him, where would we be?

Also, this song is part of a group of six Lied for voice and piano. Please cite Op. 19, No.2 My understanding is that Opus 19 is not in the public domain, in case you find yourself using this arrangement again.

In measure 4 ( I’m counting from the start per Strauss, and not the two introductory measures you wrote and kindly agreed to remove for me)  you have the 8th notes in the second beat tied. Strauss made space there in the diction and vocal line. If you must make an adjustment, tie the 8th notes in “da stroemt” -I have misplaced my umlauts-sorry.  I realize it doesn’t matter to the players, but I offer this for notational accuracy.

Please do not tie  “…Klar mir deiner…”  as there is a phrasing there.  And space. You’ve made the same notation after “… Kranz, ich will nur…”  and below it tied vln1 with an extra note.  Strauss put space under the voice because the singer, per the lyricist, is phrasing there in order to build on that crescendo which weeps into a diminuendo of sublime delicacy. That extra note from the fiddle player, although pretty- I think I get your intentions to perhaps extend the legato- will cause the player a bit of grief.  This is a fluid moment for the singer in terms of tempo. My read and my experience is that Strauss wants the voice exposed there.

In this piece, the lover’s ardor is expressed so gently, and at the same time, so quietly passionate  as to not require more that some chords with a few leading tones to convince the listener of the committment of the lover.

As to the 5/4 bar in lieu of 4/4, I understand that will help the players. However, there is no triplet “…und deiner…”  but a rubato, and the singer’s part marked with accents over those five notes. I think the intent in the translation here is  “…and how beautiful I feel when you look at me.”  Strauss places emphases on the romance.

You’ve added quite a lot in the last three measures.  It is pretty, but perhaps a bit busy? The singer ends with an intense piano decrescendo. Shall we trust our composer’s intelligence and let the music reflect the sweetness and simplicity of the piece? Less is more in this case.

Please advise (you complete idiot).

Your Soprano




A few stolen days, and a reminder that who I am is of value.  A reminder that I have had a rich life, and when I tell my stories, I remember that I have contributed good to the world, and there is more here for me to do.

A reminder that I am cherished.

Finally, I am reminded that happiness is found in the eyes, and touch and conversation of everyone I take time for, every day.

Note to self: count my value.  Vocalise for two hours every day. Practice piano for one hour, and spend another hour on learning new scores and songs. Remember remembering.


More Keys. More Stages.

I was taught “The Five Stages of Grief ” in a philosophy class I took back in high school. Apparently, in the intervening years, some clinicians added two more stages. As if those five weren’t daunting enough, we must now swim through ever murkier waters between crisis and resolution. Swell.

Before the old first stage of Denial, we must first confront Shock or Disbelief. This makes sense. Before one can vigorously deny the issue, there has to be an action which precipitates the crisis. Minding the third slot from the old model is Bargaining. This is followed by Guilt, and number five, formerly Acceptance is now in the spleen-venting position of Anger. Number six is Depression. Finally holding forth at number seven is Acceptance & Hope. Such an enormous journey outward from Dante’s misery.

In my experience, each one of these seven stages is interrupted by Anger and Depression at expected intervals. And that adds roughly six more stages which I must slog through. Perhaps my orientation towards processing versus solution is a bit too thorough. At the least, it is inefficient because I fall into the discouraging pattern of one-step-forward-two-steps-back, an adage I find terribly annoying just now.

But this is hard stuff, and I am motivated to slow down the stages to mitigate damages to innocent parties. Mindful, of course, that I need to move forward slowly for my own mental and spiritual health. Just trying to keep moving.

The problem is that my Stages are not really following any predictable path. Five, seven or thirteen- all is a jumble. All is untidy. I can see that any course down this road contains a bit of a bi-polar element. Not pathology really, just a certain unpredictability from day to day of where I’ll find myself. It seems there is a general correspondence to the Stages. Still, something is not working here.

We are given to believe that these stages unfold in a forward path, when in truth, they are traversed over pebbles and gravel, with the occasional unpleasant water feature. On this journey lie confounding trails with intricate mazes, not unlike those found on grand old estates in Britain and elsewhere. Very pretty, but within are dozens of chances to make wrong turns and hit scratchy walls of thorns, or of falling into ditches.

The thorn in my side comes from the person from whom I am trying to unyoke. We are both experiencing these stages, but not at the same rate or time, or place. In addition to being fucking inconvenient, it is damn aggravating. Just when I think I’ve stumbled past Anger, I find myself back in Denial, be it produced by my partner or of my own making. Add to that my experience of observing the other person’s experience. Whoa! Here I’ve managed to navigate past a couple stages down the lane, but my partner is still stuck in wherever I am not…this is a problem.

In any case, I am Bargaining like crazy these days. And bargaining is consumed by Depression, which is motivated by Anger. And round we go in this endless dance.

It is hideous.

Since I tend to view my world through musical language, I’ve noticed that there are corresponding keys to the phases. If you pay any attention in music school, you pick up on the color of keys and harmonics using an incongruous blend of physics and psychology. Were I to rename the “Stages of Grief”, I would subtitle them “A Symphony of Lamentation and Heroic Struggle in C# minor.”

Some other time I might just examine the Circle of Fifths for a comparative study. Presently, it seems, I must attend to Bargaining before I get pissed off again.


A New Key


Instrumentalists look at the key signature before beginning to play a new piece. Being a typical singer in this regard, I look at the inclusive range of notes. Two considerations: the extreme- how low, how high, and the tessitura, the Italian word for “texture” – the place where most of the notes call home.

For me, the parallels of these matters to my current situation is telling. What are my limits, my breadth of tolerance? How do I live in my home when it is no longer where I belong? How do I find my way to a comfortable tessitura? And how do I find the strength and stamina to live those long, arching lines and difficult passage work, which fly naturally from my throat, yet not from my environment?

So I begin. Not to fret over the key, because I own the gift of relative pitch. Rather, to find that tessitura which will lead me forward into a new way of living.