Playing Favorites with your Musical Children

This Friday, April 29, Ryan and I will be performing “If Music Be the Food of Love: A Culinary Cabaret” at Carroll University. This is the second of the cabaret shows that I’ve written for our duo, the first being “Oh, to be a movie star.”


As much as I loved the first show, the idea for which ruminated in my head and heart for 15+ years, there is something about the songs we’ve selected and the medleys we’ve put together for this show that really makes my heart happy. Especially this go-round, with a couple of different songs that suit us even more than the first time we did the show. 


Each song represents a different theme of food as a metaphor for a different life experience or how it’s used in culture. For example, we’ll be doing Jake Heggie’s “Snake” (original sin); “Vanilla ice cream” (plot twist), “The ladies who lunch” (status) and “If you love me, please don’t feed me” (gluttony). 

I know I shouldn’t play favorites – “Oh, to be a movie star” might be my first-born cabaret show, but there is something particularly special about “If music be the food of love.” (Hmm, kind of reminds me of my relationship with my dogs Dave & Pippin.)

It’s nice not to have to depend on a great turnout to break even, unlike our last few shows (curse the February 20 ice storm!), because they’re paying us and there’s no admission fee. But a great turn-out would be welcome not only because I’d love to have a full house, but because I think this is a great show and you’ll all have a good time! And I have to admit – I want people to come so I can pull a Sally Field and say, “You like me… you really like me.” (Well, hopefully not aloud.)


I’ve been kind of afraid of saying that because I don’t want to sound petty or needy, but hey – I’ve attended a lot of performances over the past few years and reciprocation would be really, really nice.

So – come. Bring people. The show should be over by a little after 8pm, so there’s plenty of time to go and grab a meal somewhere in Waukesha County. Lots of good food to be had, and after listening to us sing about food for an hour, you should all be hungry. (Another reason we cut “Have a little priest” – so people wouldn’t be thrown off their feed.)

How to talk to a tenor (or any singer)…. some thoughts

I went to a pre-conference workshop (Pedagogy Saturday) on March 26 and attended a session with the above title. It was run by two teachers, one piano, one voice, and was intended to foster communication between singers and pianists, especially those who are young and not used to collaborating. Also some things about playing for students if you’re not really a pianist (hello!) or coaching singers if you’re not really a singer.

There were some good things about it – some things that reinforced what I am already doing in my own studio, some good ideas – but what bothered me was 
1. The title. Kind of reminded me of Ann Coulter’s How to talk to a liberal (if you must), which advises her readers to be deliberately combative and never see an opposing point of view as having any validity. (If you agree with her, don’t share it with me. I’d rather continue to think of anybody reading this as being gracious and open-minded.) It seemed to play up the “Us vs. Them” mindset or, more specifically, “Musician vs. Singer.” 
2. At the end, they addressed “what if the pianist is wrong?” by telling us that the singer should take the blame.  “I didn’t get that pitch – could you play that opening again?” 
That … is … so … girly. 
And it made me think that maybe I need to do some writing about collaboration – from a singer’s point of view, from a woman’s point of view, from a pedagogue’s point of view. How do we work together without becoming subordinate to our collaborator? Or making them feel like they are “wiggling their fingers in the background” while we take center stage? (Great perspective on that – see Ben Moore’s song “Content to be behind me,” about a diva who dismisses her pianist’s prodigious chops as being all for her.)
Hm. This is something to think about.

Musings on an April Fool’s Joke – one year later

Last year, someone wrote me a terrible email  criticizing me for talking too much in my lessons and not being worth the “very expensive” rate that I charged – it was signed “Anonymous” and came from someone identified as “S S” along with an email address that I will not post. I was hurt and embarrassed and wrote back to the person apologizing but also stating that if ever a student felt like he or she was not getting his/her money’s worth, I would want to be told. The next email I got was “April Fool’s! I hear you’re a great teacher.” And then the next day, an apology (still anonymous, still claiming that the person was not my student but just someone who was angry about something else and took it out on me).

It changed me. It made me examine my teaching style and made me realize that perhaps at times, I had been self-indulgent (maybe because both my parents had died within the past six months) and had shared too much about my life, primarily from a musical/career POV, thinking that what I was saying would offer some perspective from my vast life experience that they could use in their lives. Especially with people who seemed to be going through similar things that I had gone through at their age, and who seemed to be hurting. That was what I intended, but clearly not what was being perceived.

It made me realize that –

That’s not what I’m not here for.  My students are not my peers, nor my children. If they ask for my advice on a non-music related matter, I will offer it (if it’s appropriate), but I cannot offer unsolicited and in the case of the person who wrote the email, unwanted advice. It’s not part of my pay grade.

I don’t believe for one moment that this was an April Fool’s joke nor that it was someone who wasn’t a student of mine. I believe that it was someone for whom I crossed a line, albeit unintentionally, and who didn’t have the guts to tell me. I believe it was someone who was going through a very similar situation to my own high school experience who I ached to help, but who was unable or unwilling to accept my help. And I probably would have responded the same way at that point in my life (although technology being what it was, mine would have been an anonymous letter that I never would have sent because I would have discarded it long before it getting to the mailbox – ah, the advantages of the pre-internet life). I also believe it was a she because guys simply don’t handle things like that. I do believe that she was angry about something else and did take it out on me. That I believe.

As a result, I limit my chatting to the stretching portion of our lessons. I try, anyway – hey, I’m a Gemini. I chat, therefore I am. It hasn’t changed my students’ development – they are still as accomplished as before that email hit my inbox. They still win awards, get accepted to music programs, are cast in their musicals. What has changed is me. I am not as emotionally invested in my students as I used to be, and while that’s probably a good thing, it’s also a little bit sad. I’m warier now than I was a year ago. I trust a little less. My guard is up.

I hope that whoever “S S” was, she’s less angry now. But I also think that I’ve changed because of her email. Not sure if I should thank her or not – it was probably the most hurtful thing I’ve ever received – but clearly, if it struck such a nerve, there was some truth to it.