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.

Allattare tutti i bambini

wbw2013-flower-colorIt is our annual World Breastfeeding Week. In a former phase, Musical Milliner was a certified lactation educator. Because MM breastfed her kids to age two, the only singing was lullabyes for a time. We know anecdotally that </=5% of women cannot nurse due to medical conditions. That leaves 95%of us who can, with support systems in place, experience long-term breastfeeding.

We know that most breastfeeding failure occurs when there is a lack of education, family and peer support. The whole village needs to get on board. Support is crucial in the first few weeks, and peer support is one of the greatest predictors for successful breastfeeding, along with frequent consultation with a certified lactation consultant and a new moms support group as needed. Most medical insurance companies have seen the light, and knowing of the long-term cost savings, now cover lactation services.

Not long ago, WIC distributed vouchers to low-income mothers for formula, a demographic for which health issues are more common. We got the hospitals to stop distributing “samples” of artificial formula. These women learn that breastfeeding will lower their grocery bills and lessen their medical costs.

Yes, there are challenges for most women at first. Between sleep deprivation, and the social, relational and physical adjustments new moms make, things can be tough. Again, support of family, peers and lactation consultants, is key for long-term nursing relationships.

Mother-friendly policies in the workplace is another area in which we’ve seen progress. Having a dedicated space for moms to pump and store milk, or have places to nurse in privacy are important. We need to keep pressing on this one until it becomes the norm.

And while we’re at it, for those still-backward parts of the world where mothers are expected to go nurse their hungry babies in a bathroom stall? NOT okay. How would YOU like to eat your meal in a public lavatory?

All I can add is that my own children were obviously healthier than some of their peers. one child has never taken antibiotics, and the other had one ear infection at age three, when he began pre-school.

In addition, they’ve been raised vegetarians, and I believe this has contributed to their robust health.

Someone once said to me, “Breastfeeding is the first promise we make to our children.”


Libri di Musica

imagesBinder notebooks in several widths. Check. Tape and a three-hole punch. Check. Recycling box. Check. Super cool labeling tape machine. Missing! Crap. Sheets of (interim) file labels, and file folders? Check.

And a fourteen inch stack of orphan photocopies of arias, songs, IPA and translation sheets, research, and the odd program booklets sitting on top of my piano in my music studio.

This is a project I’ve been avoiding for months. After I taught a lesson yesterday, and was unable to locate which binder or file folder contained the music I wanted to give my student, I went mad. Time to have a tidy.

Because this occupation is tedious, I enlisted the White Album to keep me company. It turned out that I worked my way through the last half of the Beatles catalog in the process before I was done.

Before getting to the main task, all the opera scores had to be organized (by composer, and order of composition, and publication for multiple copies). Mixed in were several super-title cuing scores, and directing/production copies. These found a new home on another shelf because the regular scores were offended at their unkempt qualities.

How to divide and conquer? Clearly sorting by genre makes the most sense. But it is trickier than that. There are further divisions. So far, this is how things are going:

  • Opera arias: past “unlikely to ever sing (Gilda, Juliette) again…”
  • Opera arias: Mozart
  • Opera arias, present/learning
  • Opera arias to learn if I live long enough
  • Oratorio arias: present/polishing
  • Oratorio arias: feeling guilty that I’ve not learned
  • Songs: Common Practice
  • Songs: Romantic (by composer and language)
  • Songs: 20thC (ditto)
  • New compositions: 21stC by composer friends
  • Audition pieces: opera and oratorio, ready to go
  • Recital program: two copies/two binders (one for accompanist)
  • Church/Wedding/Funeral: (ditto)
  • Teaching hand-out: (vocalises, information, articles)
  • Student pieces to hand out
  • Three thick binders of lead sheets: (pop/rock)
  • GoshGusMusic compositions (half-inch binder…may outgrow)

Should the reader think of something I missed, please speak up.

The piano pile contained copies of copies of copies. Much tossed into the recycle bin, as were dozens of cassette tapes. I was elated to find eight tapes my coach had recorded of accompaniments to entire opera roles for practice purposes. Lucia, La Traviata, Don Pasquale, and so on. Such generosity. New plan to get these transferred to disc before they degrade beyond usefulness.

As I go about flipping the house for summer cleaning, I will find the label machine, which will produce flouncy covers for the temporary file stickers. I’m thinking Help, Rubber Soul and Revolver should do.

Think For Yourself


I’ve got a word or two
To say about the things that you do
You’re telling all those lies
About the good things that
We can have if we close our eyes

Do what you want to do
And go where you’re going to
Think for yourself
Cause I won’t be there with you

I left you far behind
The ruins of the life that you have in mind
And though you still can’t see
I know your mind’s made up
Youre gonna cause more misery

Do what you want to do
And go where you’re going to
Think for yourself
Cause I won’t be there with you

Although your mind’s opaque
Try thinking more if  just for your own sake
The future still looks good
And you’ve got time to rectify
All the things that you should

Do what you want to do
And go where you’re going to
Think for yourself
Cause I won’t be there with you

Do what you want to do
And go where you’re going to
Think for yourself
Cause I wont be there with you

Think for yourself
Cause I won’t be there with you

(Harrisongs 1968)

SopranoAscends SINGS!

The Musical Milliner

#2, September, from the Vier letzte Lieder (Four Last Songs) of Richard Strauss, 1949. My accompanist is the sensational…sorry. No names here. But he is one of the best in the world. These are orchestral pieces, but Strauss wrote the piano reduction first. My collaborative pianist is the closest thing in the world to an orchestra with ten fingers. God bless him.

The pieces were written as Strauss was aware that his life was coming to a close. It is a story of that journey and full of gentle assessment and acceptance for the new life he was walking into.

The first three poems are taken from Hermann Hesse, and the fourth by Eichendorf.

I hope you enjoy! Texts and translation below.

2. “September”

(Text: Hermann Hesse)

Der Garten trauert,
kühl sinkt in die Blumen der Regen.
Der Sommer schauert
still seinem Ende entgegen.Golden tropft Blatt um Blatt
nieder vom hohen Akazienbaum.
Sommer lächelt erstaunt und matt
In den sterbenden Gartentraum.Lange noch bei den Rosen
bleibt er stehn, sehnt sich nach Ruh.
Langsam tut er
die müdgeword’nen Augen zu.
The garden is in mourning.
Cool rain seeps into the flowers.
Summertime shudders,
quietly awaiting his end.Golden leaf after leaf falls
from the tall acacia tree.
Summer smiles, astonished and feeble,
at his dying dream of a garden.For just a while he tarries
beside the roses, yearning for repose.
Slowly he closes
his weary eyes.

Composed: September 20, 1948


imgresI have never felt more alone than when I‘ve been in a relationship.

Love makes me stupid. I have made a handful of life-altering decisions while in that initial giddy state of passion. Most of these were situations I came to regret. A few ended badly because I did not take time to consider the practicalities. This is an enormous, rather forceful instinct, a human failing of biology. Like other species, we have imperatives to attract and be attracted, to reproduce or have fun trying.

There were a few who got away and a couple with whom it ended gracefully. One I just ran from, only to rekindle later, then quickly recall why it didn’t make sense the first time. There is the one who was the man of my dreams who eventually dumped me in a hideous way. I wandered in a very dark and dangerous place for a time after coming unglued in the process. Finally there was the disaster of marriage between two people who were ill-suited, tried to pretend it was normal to be toxic, and lived with it for too many years.

The husband was my age, and far too young emotionally. The more successful partnerships were with men some years older.

But I am no longer a young woman. I am still vibrant and attractive, and capable of companionable behavior. But the reality is I am midlife, and by choice alone. Lately I have been considering if this isn’t the best way to live out my maturity. I have responsibilities. I have certain duties and projects to occupy me. At the end of the day, I no longer wait anxiously for the husband to come home, obligated to listen to his drivel and neuroses. He of all men I’ve been with had the most distinctive defining character of a high maintenance housemate. I feel relief.

I don’t ever want to feel that way again. I don’t want to live with a man who keeps tabs of my failings and throws them at me when he is upset with himself.

There are other considerations. Can I afford to live alone? Will I end up homeless and destitute. Not having supported myself (although contributing from odd jobs and volunteer work) in over twenty years, will I be able to carve enough of a living to make it?

When I become conscious in the mornings, my first thoughts are always a flood of anxiety and despair over these frights. It is the smell of fresh coffee, the machine responding to my programming, that breaks through the haze.

Do I believe in fate or chance or serendipity? Fairy tales? Not any more. For this reason, I am wary. Men always show up when you are not looking for a relationship.

I truly hope I have gotten over being stupid.

Our Lost Home


Guest blogger August Stadtfeld is a junior at The Marin School in Sausalito.

I settled on a large boulder, having finished my days work. As I relax, I remove my protective helmet, and I can breath. The heavy equipment is dropped, making an audible thud.

The recycled air fills my lungs, both calming my nerves,and stinging my sinuses. I’ve worked in the red mines for several years, collecting precious minerals for our small community. It is a difficult task, but I carry it out dutifully and without regret, for the colony is in dire straits.

We have been stranded on this cruel orb for generations, and I know not how long we can last on its brittle, lifeless, uncaring soil.

Unlike most here, I can remember what life was like. Before our communities’ cruel twist of fate. Back then,we were a content group. Our society was optimistic for our future, with hopes and dreams of what we could accomplish on this new home of ours.

Back then, I’d explore the world’s surface, as many have before. Occasionally I came across a small rover, its structure long broken, sent to examine our future home many years ago. These remains were my only company as I looked up at the stars.

On this airless world, the stars shine so brightly. But not as brightly as the planets. They glow like beacons, calling others to their surfaces. Jupiter shines almost a dull copper, Saturn is a subtle gold. Our species home was a glorious blue.

Our home was a sign of hope. Our home, once so bright and full of potential, which once shined a bright, clear red, is now only a dark, scorched brown.

After our colony was built, a disaster occurred, unlike any other seen by human eyes.

Our sun, with its warm and calming influence, that had helped us grow for countless millenia, betrayed us. Some say what happened was our fault, that we had tampered with forces far beyond humanities comprehension, and other said it was an act of God, that we were being punished.

The sun lashed out, its eternally raging inferno destroying everything in its path.

Mercury and Venus are gone, reduced to dust. Our colony was spared, but the planet was burned. It’s a wasteland now. But the blue planet, that which began our journey to the stars, that is the one that suffered the most.

As the heat struck it, its surface cracked. The seas dried up, the continents fragmented. From our colony we saw the cities glow white hot, and melt into nothing.

 As it cracked, the planet grew hotter, and when the final blow struck,when that last wave of wrathful heat came, the blue planet shattered.

Its remains flew across the stars to parts unknown.

We are the last of our species. We exist in this vast, uncaring universe alone,with no sign that anyone else has survived.

Many of us have given up,waiting for the inevitable time that the sun burns even hotter, and removes us from existence. We stand here, at hell’s gates, with no hope for salvation, as we weep for our lost home


La Sono Viva!

imgresTo any women out there who are stuck in a bad situation, you can get out. It will be anguishing.
You will make it. And you will learn who your true friends are, because not only are the marital assets divided, but often long term friendships are as well. Be prepared for his extended family to completely shut you and your children off. Be prepared, in case you weren’t already aware, that his family never really liked you anyway.

Almost four years ago I got to a place of such intense discouragement and pain that I jumped ship. This was the beginning of the end, which has still not ended. There has been a mandated truce, but no resolution. I am no longer living in fear, although I am wary that he will go postal. By all accounts, his behavior continues to be strange and negative, and he says random and odd things which get back to me. He complains to anyone and everyone, often to people he only knows casually. The overall theme is I have made him this way; I have ruined his life.

I am no longer the person I was. I am no longer anxious and self-loathing, nor all the bad things he said I was.

In the beginning of the big change, I was like someone touched by both Stockholm Syndrome and post-traumatic stress disorder. I knew with certainty I could no longer bear the life I was leading. All the pretension and all the social masks had worn me down. I couldn’t fake it anymore.

At a point some years earlier, I observed how the situation was affecting the kids. They are perceptive and intuitive, and once they realized I had been lying to them, I had to come clean.

Each went through his own process of dealing, and that will continue to cycle back over time. I am pretty sure both were relieved, and at different times informed me that they were glad that home had become a quiet refuge. I’ve also been on the business end of their anger over the fact that the financial situation has negatively impacted them. They know I love them beyond reason,

The good news is I am more myself than I’ve been in 25 years. I don’t have someone telling me on a regular basis how I don’t measure up, and how useless I am, and what a sponge I am. I know better now.

I am thriving. I am at peace, and I am alive!

La strada panoramica

There are times to keep one’s stories close, and there comes a time to share them with the innocent involved because it is also his history. Timing, boundaries, the effect the information may generate with other parties is tricky business. As a mother, I believe my children deserve to know their complete history. You have to gauge your child’s maturity. Too soon, and they may not have perspective. And then there is understanding that waiting too long can create resentment. They want the truth, and they deserve it.

My timing in these matters can and has missed the mark, but when giving a young adult child bits of their story previously hidden, especially those factual parts steeped in my own deep emotion, when is there ever a right time? Tricky also because in some cases, my perspective is biased to a point where there is only one point.

Recently prompted by a reference to a possible future road trip involving side trips and scenic routes, something long suppressed surfaced. I told my child one of his stories. I started with a disclaimer that he would learn some facts, and some bias, and I would be honest about when the lines crossed.

I was heavily pregnant, just six weeks to go. The idea of going for a ride up the coast to a nice spot seemed a good idea. But the trip was long, and I always had to pee. We made frequent stops, but I had to concentrate on holding it. After an hour or so, I wanted to go home. This trip had become exhausting. But no, the driver, the father of this child, decided I would feel better when we got to this specific land’s end, so he kept going, and my resentment increased.

Soon we were travelling in our old Jeep down a pot-holed, rocky road, full of dust on a hot day in mid September. My discomfort grew to abject misery. I felt every bump and shake, and my Braxton-Hicks contractions became increasingly painful.

I begged him to slow down. I told him this was not good for me or the baby. He seemed most focused on his own enjoyment. He kept saying, “Buck up. We’re almost there.” Which of course we were not. I’ve never reviewed a map to be certain, but I believe the dirt road was about twenty miles.

We got to the destination, and yes, it was lovely. But I was not feeling well. I was nauseous. I went to the loo at the visitor center and threw up my lunch. All the while the pre-labor contractions came and went. After a short nap on the sand, and lots of water they stopped.

The ride home was better, but by this time I was angry and in tears. He drove more slowly, but spewed a litany of reasons as to why I was such a wimp: I didn’t exercise enough; I didn’t get out enough; I was too consumed with being pregnant; and why were we even having this baby when we were having so much trouble with our relationship. (That last one came up again on the walk between parking the car and a two block waddle to the hospital.) I’ve since learned that this is the language of a bully.

As the story goes, we made it home. There was tension, which was usual, and I went to sleep without supper.

Next day, I had a doctor’s appointment. I got into the shower, and in the course of washing up, I felt my amniotic fluid leaking.

How could this be? I was just entering the thirty-fifth week of pregnancy. I used a piece of Nitrazine tape I had on hand, and it was blue, which was positive for amniotic fluid. Oh shit. This baby is coming too early.

Off to the doctor. I told her about the previous days outing, and she asked me “What was he thinking?”  As she examined me, my little leak turned into a gush all over her table and floor. The membranes had ruptured, and I was going to have this baby. I went home to get some things, and tried to track down my husband, who was two hours away in a business meeting. When he got home, we headed to the hospital during which his insensitive and absurd comment, still burned into my brain, was uttered. I understand his statement was the expression of a compilation of fears unfiltered at an emotional time. But really, his inability to filter is part of what doomed my respect for him.
I was set up with an IV of antibiotics, and the plan was to give me 24 hours to go into labor naturally. The odds of the baby having respiratory issues was about 50/50, his gender making him more vulnerable, as neonate boys produce less surfactant, a substance which allows the lungs to work smoothly. If he weighed in over six pounds, he would just be “pre-term.” Babies under six pounds are premature. I had to get my head together, put my fears aside and birth this baby.

His was an easy birth. He weighed six and a half pounds, and but a for a transitory episode of struggling to get his lungs going, he was plump and pink with blond hair.

When I started this essay, I brought up the ethical question of how much and when to tell an almost adult child. This is the hard part. This fabulous boy, though within normal ranges, was developmentally on the far side. He later had challenges with fine motor skills, and minor learning issues which he has learned to manage and for the most part outgrown. He is a solid student, a creative thinker, and one of the kindest people I know. He is tall and gorgeous.

But I told him of the long road trip, and my belief that his birth was early due to it, and my bitterness over knowing that a few weeks longer in the oven may have made his school days less harrowing. I blame his father, but it’s pathetic because his father discounted my knowledge, went against medical advice and forced us on that drive. I don’t want him to resent his father over this. How can I be objective in this situation? I don’t think it possible. My son will make up his own mind.

(c)GoshGusPublishing(ascap) 2012

Inside the Fog

St. Augustine called it imtima mea, the ‘inward dwelling.” In the East, it is called the Maha Sunn, a void which separates the Created from the Uncreated worlds, where souls wander alone being cleansed, awaiting realization of a higher plane.

For the past several years, this is where I’ve lived. From time to time, there are days and weeks where the air is clear and sweet. There are hours of peace and contentment in the middle of a dark day. Mostly though, the fog is thick.

Sometimes I hear faint voices from the other side reminding me that there is another side. But my compass is broken, and I can’t find my way in the dark. I grasp what is left of the thin thread that keeps me attached to sanity. Is it strong enough? Will it break?

I am tired from standing in one place for so long. I feel the past, but not the future.

I remember being reminded by someone (who claimed to love me once) over and over that my problem was that I measured my life by my feelings, and lack of empirical evidence. The word “feeling” was used as a taunt.

(c)GoshGusPublishing(ascap) 2012