30 December 2014

The Glory And The Flame

Originally written 27 December 2014. See this post for a fuller explanation of my apprehension.

This has never happened before. I have never had a performance actually bring me to call into question my ability and calling. Even this spring when I danced entirely the wrong section in the middle of the Waltz of the Snowflakes in Nutcracker, I did not doubt my calling or ability (my memory, maybe...). But tonight, on the eve of my second-ever solo performance I am actually ready to quit. To just drop everything related to dance -- performing, choreography, everything. I can't do this. What made me think that I could? What insanity made me think that dance was my calling? Was it just me playing God? Because, when I think about it, how do I actually know God called me?

And the stupid part is, I can't even articulate why this one impending performance has me in such a state. It's a five-minute solo piece in front of an audience that, by and large, doesn't know the first thing about dance. Like at all. Most of them probably don't even know the stereotypes. Anything I do, whether technically correct or not, will be a novelty to them. They will honestly have no clue whether my dancing is good or bad other than from their own aesthetic perspective which I can't help anyway.

It's a solo. I can (theoretically) improvise if I forget or screw up, and nobody will have a clue. I don't even care about that. All the articles say that as long as you perform with confidence, you could make a thousand mistakes and people won't notice. And if there's one thing I've learnt at college, it's that. I would never have survived my voice finals (or my theatrical audition) if it wasn't for that. You just put on the mask. You lie. You smile and pretend it's all right.

So I guess tomorrow I'm going to church to lie.

I want instant gratification. I want to know in advance that I won't fall over in the balance in attitude devant. I want to know, right now, that I won't blank at the easiest part of the choreography. I want to know in advance I will actually have the physical strength to get through this. I want to know, now, that I won't bore the crap out of my audience with some kind of self-centered, self-serving, made-up crap for five irretrievable minutes of their lives. I want to respect my audience. And that means giving them something good to watch -- something well-prepared and well-executed and pregnant with meaning.

But on the other hand, we who claim to serve God also have to toss in that whole 'Soli Deo gloria' thing. Am I doing only for the glory of God? Or for the glory of God and the pleasure of man? And if it's the latter, does that not cheapen the glory of God? But then where does respecting the audience -- His creation -- come in?

26 December 2014

Music Day - O Come O Come Immanuel

My Christmas gift to you: this song, and the re-instation of Music Day, beginning the first Friday in January.

Merry Christmas.

Title: O Come O Come Immanuel
Artist: Gene Eugene, Riki Michele, and Ojo
Album: The Broken Christmas
Year: 1988
Label: Frontline Records
iTunes here; listen on SoundCloud here.

One of the more beautiful, soothing, peaceful, lovely and yearning versions of this song that I've heard.

23 December 2014

Stage Fright

I perform (dance) again in less than a week. It's my own choreography. Theoretically I should be excited and I am, but I'm sick with worry over the performer -- namely, me.

I've always considered myself rather an average performer, as that seems to be the general attitude towards my performing. I'm all right with that. I'm much better at and more excited about composing choreography anyway. The problem is that I have all this great choreography that I want to see on a stage, if only for purposes of critique, and I have no performers except myself. And, as noted, I'm not exactly Anna Pavlova.

The line between performing and composing is not even thought about in Canada, never mind among my typical audience of Baptists and farmers. Therefore, if the performer is terrible, the entire dance is criticised -- even though the choreography itself may have been stellar. Therefore, if I am the only performer of my choreography, and I as a performer am only a sub-par vehicle for what may very well be excellent choreography, I will not get good, clear, honest feedback about either the choreography or the execution of it. By extension, folks will be reluctant to see any more of my choreography -- even if I'm not performing it -- because a sub-par performance will have sullied its merits.

The nature of my audience magnifies the pressure. Baptist churches are not exactly known for their kind-heartedness, grace, or mercy. They know me, yes, but that means they expect me to be utterly perfect -- by their idiosyncratic definition of perfect. I'm already toeing the line by dancing in the first place. If I screw this up, if it turns out this choreography is poorly represented by the relatively out-of-practice performer, there is a very real chance of living the rest of my life as a punch line: "Remember that time Kate tried to dance back in '14? I thought Hell had broken its banks."

There is only one chance in the Baptist church. Do it flawlessly (their definition) the first time or stop being a Christian. There is no room for trailblazing, for learning, for refinement and development of a craft. Add to this that I'm not entirely happy with the choreography itself, and I'm seriously wondering if I should pull out rather than risk submitting five minutes of random potentially-self-serving crap to an audience that never asked for it. Most of them wouldn't know the difference between bad dance and good dance, which makes me want even more badly to show them a shining example of good dance lest they see one example of the bad and subsequently write off all dance everywhere. At the moment, I can't guarantee that I can show them an example of good dance.

But then, if not now, when? I've been chomping at the bit to get my choreography staged, and now it's finally starting to happen a bit. Logic says I should just take the chance and run. But am I really ready? Is this just normal pre-show nerves? I wouldn't know, I've never really had issues with stage fright.

22 December 2014

The Quiet Miracle

Trigger warning -- suicide.

The twenty-second of December, 2009.

I was at my grandmother's house. They are trying to induce labour in my mother... again. Six times they've tried this. Six times she's been at least two weeks overdue no matter how many drugs they pump into her system. The fourth time, when I was only nine, they started inducing her over a full week before her due date. She went in for induction on 26 December that year, and I didn't see her or my dad again till 15 January, the day after my sister was born. In the meantime, my siblings and I were shuffled between extended family members with great abandon. And I, being the oldest, was expected to mind my similarly traumatised siblings, even as my own world seemed as if it was falling to pieces around me without my parents there to stabilise it.

Now, six years later, in 2009, here I am at my grandma's again, waiting for a 'successful' induction that will never be and well we all know it. But by now, the next-oldest sister has taken over some babysitting capabilities, and I am alone in my grandma's basement in the 1970s-orange spinning armchair.

The Christmas lights shine all around me -- the basement is the grandkids' Christmas decoration bonanza, where all Christmas heck breaks loose -- and the gas fireplace runs at regular intervals. This has been my place of solace for years. If the people get too much for me, I retreat here. This is my thinking space, this room, this chair, these warm-coloured surroundings. Some might find 1970s orange shag ugly, but I find it reassuring. (Thinking back, I'm surprised my looks-conscious grandmother lived with that carpet for twelve years.)

I stare at the TV cabinet, thinking, sinking deeply into the bleeding gash across my soul, the bleeding no-one will acknowledge, never mind attempt to stop. I stare at the TV cabinet, at the reflection of the Christmas lights making a plastic smile in the glass door, and I search my mind for the reasons I should live.

On the other end of the basement, in the kitchenette, in the first drawer on the right, are knives. Sharp, turkey-carving knives. I don't know how I know that's where they are, but somehow I do.

But suicide is not something to be taken lightly -- I know that much. So before doing anything, I must be sure this is what I want. To that end I'm sitting here thinking, making sure I really truly have nothing left to live for.

After at least an hour of contemplation, I come to the conclusion -- no. There is nothing.

I am convinced that no-one loves me. That no-one would notice I was gone. Or, that if I was gone, they could finally be happy because then -- finally -- I would have done something 'right.' Then I would be out of their hair and they wouldn't have to deal with needy, annoying me anymore. Perhaps my death would be the only way I could please them, and I so wanted to do well -- to please them, so then they would finally be able to love me. The irony was not lost on me -- that if I was dead, therefore they would finally be able to be happy with me and to love me, I wouldn't actually be able to experience that love and appreciation. But no matter -- at least I could be at peace knowing they would be pleased with me for sensing when I wasn't wanted and removing myself from their lives so they could live in peace, without having to deal with me.

Yes... yes. This was the only way. I didn't want it to be, but there was no reason for me to stay. They wouldn't love me as long as I was here, and all I wanted to do was to make them happy for once.

I sat there in that chair for a good hour (maybe more, I don't know -- time doesn't matter much when you're going to die), thinking it through, every angle, trying to foresee any potential hitch.

No. There was none. All I had to do was get up, cross the room to the kitchenette, and get out a knife. And that would be it. And then they -- that is, everyone -- could finally live in peace, knowing that I would never bother them again.

I sat there. And sat there. Visualising everything, how it would play out. My arms rested, fully and utterly relaxed, on the overstuffed arms of the orange chair. I sank deep into the cushion, my weight, my head, pressing against the back. Comfy. Too tired, too spent, to get up. I wasn't so much sitting in the chair as the chair was holding me. My body was totally relaxed for once. I had surrendered to the chair's sturdy padding.

I stared blankly into the fireplace, still thinking through my decision. Letting my mind wander a little, for the last time. Thinking... would there be anything I would miss? I was crying, inexplicably. But the tears meant nothing. It was only the bleeding, gaping soul wound doing a little housecleaning.

My body sank deeper and deeper into the chair. It wasn't particularly warm, but it was my grandma's and that was enough. I let my head fall back, still thinking, still feeling numb pain, waiting for the decisive moment. Giving someone, anyone, one last chance to call me up and tell me how much they loved me and how much I meant to them, like in all the stories... you know the ones, where someone's decided to kill themselves, and just before they take the pills/fire the gun/whatever, someone they know randomly calls or shows up and says, 'I don't know why, but I really felt like I needed to tell you how much I love you...'

Well, God. Give me one reason.

I waited. I waited.

No-one did.

Time passed, and the wound stretched bigger. So even God wouldn't send someone to stop me? Even God was just going to apathetically let me die?

My grandma came down and told me to come upstairs for supper. I did without a fuss. I had no reason to disobey.

The rest of the evening is lost to me. I don't remember what I did after supper. I don't remember if we stayed the night or if my dad picked us up so we could spend the night at home. He must have because on the morning of the twenty-third I was at home, ironing my mother's present before wrapping it.

Four days later, 26 December 2009.

I was at a family gathering -- the extended-extended family (my great-grandmother's descendants) Christmas celebration. Sitting at the table next to my (predictably still-pregnant) mother and my aunt, I suddenly felt horribly sick -- faint and hot.

I remember my mother calling my dad over and then everything began to shift and I closed my eyes. I heard voices around me, voices I knew, but it was too much effort to discern what they were saying. My heart felt like it was racing. I was only vaguely aware of someone taking my right arm.

"What's her normal heart rate?"

"I don't know. We've never really paid attention."

"Either way, it's too fast."

"Do you trust me?"

It took a moment for me to register the words were directed at me.

"Do you trust me?"

I couldn't breathe. My head felt like it would explode.

"I guess."

"I'm going to carry you to your vehicle and your dad's going to take you to the hospital. Okay?"

I nodded and was carried, without a coat, into the sharp December air, into the rattletrap (the family vehicle at the time). I lay limp in the seat as my dad drove the two blocks to the hospital. I don't recall if I even had the strength to buckle my seat belt.

My dad stopped outside Admitting and brought out a wheelchair for me, then wheeled me into the emergency room and went back to park the van.

The emergency room was full -- my dad took the last empty seat -- but my ashen face and irregular racing heartbeat got me in within five minutes. I realised years later that they had honestly thought I was dying.

I was given an IV -- to this day I have no idea what it was for or what was in it -- and tests were taken. An hour later the doctor came back with a verdict and a prescription. The former was a dangerously low hemoglobin count, and the latter was for the most disgusting substance on the face of the Earth. I swear they scrape the stuff out of the murky depths of Hell and bottle it and give it to the innocent populace with the wide-eyed promise that it'll restore their iron levels (which it never does, at least not enough that you can stop taking it).

Anemia. A curse that never goes away. It causes not only prescriptions for the nastiest substance in the galaxy, but it causes lightheadedness/dizziness, extreme weakness, and a complete inability on the part of the doctors to diagnose you with anything but anemia ("Fractured leg? It's because you're anemic. Take more iron. You'll be fine"). And based on the fact that I was only six points away from getting a blood transfusion, I had been crashing for a while.

At least four days.

I didn't make the connection until November 2012, when I inserted the experience as backstory in a novel (nothing is sacred). Only then did I see the miracle that happened that day, 22 December 2009.

God didn't send anyone to stop me. He Himself, who formed my body, reached down and stopped me.

That 'curse' -- that curse saved my life that day. I was already crashing, too weak to get up. And that saved my life. Because I can tell you if I had gotten as far as the knife in my hand I would not be writing this now.

17 December 2014

Childlike Wonder

Something clicked for me the other day. Why I do this. Why I want to do this -- this art thing. Creating things.

I was listening to Michael W. Smith's brilliant orchestral piece Glory Battle. I have wanted to choreograph this since I first heard it this past summer. I have blocking and theme all figured out -- all I'm lacking is time to flesh out the actual steps. But that day I was listening to it, trying to wake myself up so I could study. I never realised before how consistently that piece gives me chills. I swear I listened to it twenty times. I sat there on my bed for literally forty-five minutes and just kept hitting the back button every time it finished. I couldn't stop. I kept thinking, Okay, one more time. Okay now, last time. Now this really is the last time. But I kept hitting that button like an addict. I wanted to hear it again, see the dance in my mind's eye again, feel that orchestra again. Like a little kid watching his favourite film or playing his favourite song over and over and over again because it's so captivating and big and can't be experienced all in one go.

Once that little kid was me. And the song was David Meece's This Time. I could not get enough of it. It wasn't a 'kids' song,' but it absolutely captured my four-year-old mind. Perhaps it was because it wasn't a kids' song, deliberately dumbed down to pander to a younger mind. It made me feel happy and sad all the same time, and one listen could not sort through it all. I distinctly remember even as a child trying to articulate why I liked it so much, what exactly it made me feel -- but I couldn't. In a way I still can't. You can analyse the song structure and the theory and production all you like, but it doesn't explain why my soul seems to get bigger and simultaneously smaller when I hear it. It doesn't explain why the world shrinks and expands before me, why snowflakes seem to glitter brighter and yet so do the stars.

This is why -- or at least part of it. I want to give a little kid that moment -- that moment where the soul is simultaneously crushed and flying. Even if the old people don't care, if there can be a little kid that will watch this choreography on YouTube obsessively not because it's my work, but because it awakes in him a wonder and awe he can't explain away, that will be satisfactory. Emotionally, at least. (I do still need to put food on the table somehow. I don't know how that works yet.) I want to give them the same experience I had -- that sense of awe and wonder, as I build on the foundation of those who gave me that same experience. And then may the child go out and do the same for the next little child.

But is it art for art's sake? Wonder does fade. But that path back to the great artists of history that started with David Meece turned out to be a good one. From there I ended up largely in the hands of artists who knew that the wonder they create is elusive and fleeting and that it fades. They had already found -- and directed me to -- the source of the awe and the wonder that never fades. May I build on their foundation and direct the next generation of artists the way that those before have guided me.

08 December 2014

Movement And Power

Earlier this year, as I've mentioned, I choreographed a trio that two of my sisters and I performed several times over the summer. One of those performances was at our church, a Baptist church. For those who aren't aware of denominational stereotypes, one of the Baptist stereotypes is the eleventh commandment against dancing (and drinking and smoking). Our particular church gathering is pretty relaxed as far as Baptists go (we have drums in the song service, and that's a big deal for Baptists), but even so, we had to run the mere idea of a dance the by worship committee, pastor, and the deacon board before being given the go-ahead.

I've been dancing since age six. While public speaking and solo singing still causes serious nerves, I almost never get nervous before dancing. Dancing is just a thing that I do; it's part of my regular life. But that Sunday, as we took our places to perform what we had been working on for a month and a half, what had been in my head for nearly a year, I was nervous. I expected at least a few people in that congregation to fully hate this, on principle. I was also having trouble sticking one of the relevés in rehearsal and under the self-inflicted pressure to be perfect I could not allow that.

My entrance was a brush-step-step into a pas de valse, then a hold while my sister entered from the opposite side. As we launched into our choreography for the chorus, something I've pondered offstage rather often popped into my head and I pictured myself -- only for a moment -- in the throne room of God. I consciously told myself, "I am dancing for God," and there was a moment where I finally let the performance go. I surrendered myself to the choreography my body knew.

I have never done that before in a performance. I'm always considering what comes next, thinking about fixing the things I tend to mess up on -- plié deeper, hold the core on any kind of demi-pointe, turn out for Pete's sake... Dancers talk all the time about 'getting lost in the dance' and despite having been performing since age six, I've never actually experienced this. I'm almost scared to. As soon as I let myself get lost in the dance -- so the reasoning goes -- the technique will fall to pieces and by the time I notice it will be unsalvageable. And if there is one thing about the stage that terrifies me, it is improvising anything, but especially a dance. In dance you have to improvise with perfect technique and end up rejoining the set choreography on the proper foot... oh, and dynamics and timing and stuff.

Back to the point: the moment where I think I really finally put my dancing -- at least for one performance -- in God's hands. I don't actually remember anything specific about the rest of the performance, but I do remember thinking it went quite well. The video bears that out. After the service, I wasn't sure what to expect. I had just trampled the number one rule of being a Baptist at the front of the very sanctuary. I knew there were some people in that congregation who are just as fed up with Baptist fundamentalism as I am, but I also knew there were some diehard Baptist traditionalists. I was bracing myself for some strong negativity mixed with the compliments. To my great surprise, the angry comments never came, but one consistent thread seemed to join the positive responses. The fullest verbalisation of it came from the pastor: "It moved me to tears, especially the part near the end where [youngest sister] knelt down. It just reminded me of the importance of kneeling in worship before the Lord."

That comment surprised me. And consistently the comments were about the ending, that kneel, how it made folks misty-eyed. I was not expecting a response like that.

Personally, I find it hard to know what effect a dance has on people. I've been performing them so long and from such a young age that even I rarely actually get to watch a dance outside of rehearsals, and when I do, I'm usually watching the technique and the musicality and the use of pliés or the line of the arm or something -- I'm so engrossed in the details that make up the whole that I have a hard time seeing the whole. As a result, I often suspect the average dance audience only shows up because either a) their kid is in it, or b) it's perceived as really high-society and upper-crusty and therefore it's something you should do if you want to look high-society and upper-crusty. I always sort of assumed someone without a dance background could not be really inspired or moved by watching somebody else perform a dance, even if it was good choreography and well executed. After all, the dancers are up on the stage doing wonderful things with decades of training and the audience is sitting in upholstered theatre seats, likely digesting a rich meal and trying to look impressive to the folks around them. Can dance even awake any feeling at all in a non-dancer? I didn't know, but I assumed it didn't. People talk all the time about how music moves them and makes them happy or cheers them up and how stage plays make them cry or make them think. But no-one talks about their response to watching dance. Is it too sublime for words to convey or simply too boring? I had no way of knowing. I asked my non-dancing family, but they didn't seem to understand the question.

The other thing that took me aback about the general theme of comments following that church performance was that it was the ending, the kneel, that moved them. The ending was actually the choreographically weakest part of the dance. It was literally just two consecutive repeats of the port de bras from the second verse at a painstakingly slow rate as the youngest one knelt on centre stage. I just tacked something on to run out the music (I was NOT going to cut it -- I loathe it when people chop off the song they're dancing to mid-note. Ever heard about the satisfying quality of the final perfect cadence?). But it seemed to be the most powerful part of the performance for people.

Now, I've kind of got myself into doing a solo for this same church for Christmas. I'm fine with dancing at church again, but as I've (probably) mentioned on this blog before, I really don't like solos. I don't like watching them, I don't like dancing them, and I don't like choreographing them. The one I originally proposed to the church has already been choreographed, technically, but the thing is, I do this thing where I choreograph things WAY above my actual skill level (hoping that some angel dancer with loads of experience will join up with me and perform my work while I choreograph it). I could alter it, at the risk of forgetting my own choreography because of confusion between the original version and my modified version. I will have to modify it, however, I just flat-out don't know how to make a solo 'powerful.' Give me a (theoretical) stage laden with twelve dancers and I can make magic happen. But give me one person and I draw a total blank. How do you add dynamics and pacing with only one person? Even with two people you can utilise some give-and-take, push-and-pull, opposition or symmetry or unison as needed. You don't have that kind of variety with a soloist and that makes it so much harder to give both the dancer and the audience anything to connect to. In a duo, there's another dancer to keep the audience's eyes and the other dancer's use of space grounded. In a solo, there is no point of reference. The soloist is self-contained. (Incidentally, that is what I hate most about modern/contemporary dancing -- how the movement all comes from 'within' the dancer rather than from interacting -- meaningfully -- with people or even the music.)

I feel this need to 'top' what I did this summer -- though the response to that was far kinder than anything I expected. I want to be able to move the congregation/audience like that again. But how did the dance this summer bring such a positive response? How did it move the congregation so deeply? Was it really my choreography or was it my surrender? In my intellect I think I know the answer, but it hasn't pervaded my reason. My pride wants a formula, a step-by-step guide, but I don't think there is one. Art is rarely (if ever) formulaic -- if it was, it wouldn't be art. This has been my cry for years as someone just learning to appreciate art, but as an aspiring artist, the idea of making this easier has such an allure...

21 November 2014

Papers, Prodigal, Novels, Dancing and Doctors

I'll try not to get too bogged down in the minutiae of little stories because I'm technically writing a paper right now. It's on Christian artists and their role in contemporary culture, so at least it's something I'm interested in. The only problem is that I know too much about the topic and I'm having a heck of a time narrowing down my thesis.

Through a crazy set of circumstances, I am now the proud owner of one of the limited edition CD sets of Prodigal's discography. I'm listening to Electric Eye as I type and it is brilliant. I'm not a sound engineer so I'm probably not noticing as much of a difference in the audio quality, but it's kind of nice to not have the pops and clicks (though it's weird not hearing the more prominent ones). If you want one of these, word is there's only about a hundred left, and from my understanding, when they're gone... that's it. Trust me... you want one of these. As I'm listening, I'm being reminded again just how brilliant their songwriting is. And the rock genre doesn't hurt anything either.
Also, I really want to do choreography now -- got some really good ideas for the title track and Bobby just now. I've wanted to choreograph those two for a long time now but have never been able to get a bead on what style it should be (because, as previously mentioned on this blog, I refuse to do the easy thing and sully such brilliance with a lyrical dance).

On the NaNoWriMo front (yes, I'm doing NaNoWriMo at college. I'm a trained professional -- don't try this at home): my thirteenth novel has also been dealing a lot with themes of art and theatre and the nature of sacrificial love and friendship and then loss (spoilers: she dies). I'm over 44,000 words, so I'd say that's going well.

Speaking of spoilers, my roommate introduced me to the magic that is Doctor Who. (I promise to try to not fangirl too much on this blog -- I do enough fangirling over DA and Prodigal et al. to keep me busy for a while.) Peter Capaldi is brilliant. Favourite quote: well, all of them; but one that kills me every time is the one where he's looking at Clara and suddenly bursts out, "What's wrong with your face? It's all eyes; why are you all eyes... GET THEM UNDER CONTROL." Also, I've been watching a lot of the Fourth Doctor on YouTube and I'm seriously considering making myself a scarf like that.
Seriously though, the ending to the Season 8 finale (like the last ten minutes) is one of the most beautiful things I've ever watched (starting with the Doctor's monologue about who he is). I really appreciate how deep the show is (and the overall lack of strong language and inappropriate scenes). This season explored a lot of inner struggle and questions on the Doctor's part and I really appreciated seeing him wrestle with his own morality like that.

The college Christmas musical is coming up (next weekend!) and I just found out on Tuesday that I'm going to be dancing in it! I was in the choir anyway, but dancing is always better. Tomorrow we work on (and finalise) the choreography.
I also sort of committed to staging another dance in my home church (post forthcoming about the first one when I have time to finish it). I have a song that's already been choreographed that I can do, however, I have to reteach myself the choreography and get it to performance quality in less than a month. And write two papers and write finals and do a presentation... I honestly don't know if I'll be able to pull it off. I hope so though... this would be David Meece's One Small Child, which is a gorgeous song.

So that's what I came up with for an update in half an hour of typing. Impressive, yes? Hopefully I can start posting more soon. I miss this place.

01 October 2014

Radio Station Re-Creation

So this is something that looks pretty darn cool. KMYS, the California (Orange County) radio station which, as I understand it, helped fuel the North American Jesus Music (1970s-80s awesome-music) movement, is being recreated on YouTube starting 23 October. I am actually so excited for this.

Watch the trailer for the project here.

Don't let the label 'Christian music' fool you -- this is going to be fantastic. Christian music back then wasn't crap like it is now. It was actually on par with -- if not better than -- mainstream artists at the time, musically. And you've all heard me wax eloquent on the lyrics from the time period. There is a lot of deep stuff, but it's not all theological. These are people talking about regular problems everybody faces. I think there'll be at least one song in here for everyone.

22 September 2014

Apple Juice

I shall now regale you with the story of the one and only time in my life I have ever craved anything.

It was when I had strep throat this past March. I had developed the sore throat on Sunday afternoon and by Sunday night, I couldn't swallow anything. No food, no water... nothing. I fought through Monday half in a state of denial: "It can't be strep throat... I just had it less than a year ago... and anyway, I can't get medication because I don't have a vehicle... so it can't be strep throat..."

By Tuesday I realised that there was no escaping the reality -- it was strep throat. I began in earnest the process of trying to beg a ride or a vehicle from somebody, anybody, on campus. I even resorted to asking my friend who lives in the area if her parents could give me a ride to a doctor. But nobody was going to town. Literally. Nobody.

Tuesday night marked 48 hours without food. I went to dance class as usual, even though I knew I was likely to collapse of exhaustion. I was not missing dance class. By this time, I was so miserable I was actually considering walking to Moose Jaw (twenty minutes' drive from the college) -- figuring if I started out right after dance class, I should be able to hit town by the next morning. But when I returned from dance class, I found that one of the hall leaders had 'strongly suggested' to someone with a vehicle that they should take me to the doctor the next day. I had a ride to the doctor for Wednesday morning.

Wednesday I went to the doctor, got the diagnosis and a prescription, and the rest of the day is lost to me. I probably came back to the dorm and slept. I know I missed lunch because I felt so terrible. But I also know I didn't miss a single class over this entire strep throat story, so I must have gone to history class that afternoon.

Thursday the antibiotics hadn't really started to kick in yet. I had now lived over 72 hours without being able to eat enough to satisfy my hunger. I was getting faint and sleeping every spare second I had. The antibiotics made water taste like sulphur, which gagged me, and as a result I was dying of thirst as well as hunger.

Thursday afternoon, after lunch, I was laying on my bed, too spent to move. I had managed to choke down a grilled cheese sandwich at lunch -- the first substantial meal I'd eaten since Sunday lunch -- but the awful taste of water had prevented me from washing the sandwich down with anything. I was so thirsty, but the thought of drinking the water turned my stomach.

So it's 1.30pm and I'm laying on my bed dying of thirst. I can't have water because it makes me gag, I don't want anything sugary because I know it'll just feed the infection, plus I don't really like soda pop anyway. But I needed to drink something or else I would go crazy.

And suddenly it hit me. Apple juice.

The intensity of the craving startled me. I've never before craved anything in my life, and suddenly I wanted apple juice so badly I would have killed someone for it.

But the cafeteria was closed. I would have to wait until suppertime. Unless... I could go to the store. It was only a ten-minute walk to the store, but in my wiped-out, sick, and half-starved state it was too exhausting to even fathom the walk there, never mind walking back. (By this time I was so out of it that I could barely get off of the bed.)

So I lay there, staring at the ceiling, half-asleep with the phantom taste of apple juice on my tongue. I hadn't had apple juice in years, but I could taste it. And then I remembered the small bag of Granny Smith apples on the shelf directly above my head.

I have never eaten an apple so fast in my life. It wasn't apple juice, but it was an apple and it contained juice and that was all that mattered. It carried me over until supper, and then after dance that night, despite being completely wiped out (dancing when you haven't eaten in four days kind of takes it out of you), I walked to the store, bought apple juice and a Powerade, and returned to my dorm room, where I proceeded to guzzle the entire bottle of apple juice in half an hour.

And that's the last I remember about strep throat. For scarcely had I had time to recover before facing a new enemy... two major papers and a memorisation worth 50% of the course grade that had been due that week. And it was then that I learnt about the value of mercy, for it was merciful profs who kept me above academic probation.

02 September 2014

The End Of The Rattletrap

Last Sunday I drove the rattletrap for the last time.

It was only a matter of time. Regular readers of this blog will recall the myriad of posts about its voracious appetite for engine coolant (to be regaled with one such tale, click here). It had no air conditioning to speak of, and the heat only kicked in if the vehicle ran for more than forty consecutive minutes. The door covering the gas cap clung to the side with a lone rusted hinge, flapping like a flag at highway speeds but try as we might, we couldn't pry it off of that last tenacious hinge. The thing was so run-down that I could probably leave it unlocked with the keys on the front seat in downtown Edmonton and nobody would bother to steal it. Somewhere in the back it had a chronic rattle -- hence the name. My mother hated driving it mostly for that reason, but I found that if you turned White Heart and Daniel Amos up loud enough, that usually fixed the problem.

It started out as a family minivan in September 2001, after my mother totaled our green Spirit. After carting around three, then four, then five, then six children, it entered retirement in early 2010 when the family grew too big to fit in its grey bucket seats and a larger van joined the vehicular ranks.

Retirement was temporary though... six months later I totaled my car, and my parents decided to dust off the minivan, rename it 'The Little Van,' and give me one of the keys. I had learnt to drive on this van... my dad would take to me to town and then tell me 'turn at those lights,' 'turn here,' and so on until we somehow magically wound up at Tim Horton's.

And so I become the proud driver of the Little Van, although I privately and affectionately christened it 'The Rattletrap.' It was in the rattletrap that I took the left turn that almost killed me for the first time since that accident, and it was the rattletrap that acted as taxi for my younger friends at church until they got their licenses. I was at the wheel when the odometer hit 200,000 kilometres, and I was also at the wheel this spring when it rolled over 300,000 (as I write, it sits at 307,329).

The rattletrap became a bit of a haven for me. The house is absolutely not soundproof at all, so the only time I felt comfortable enough to sing (something I enjoy but in which I am absolutely not confident in my 'abilities') was alone, in the rattletrap, listening to Petra, White Heart, Prodigal, and in the past year and a half, Daniel Amos. I memorised a ridiculous amount of song lyrics on my one-hour-each-direction commute to dance class and/or dance team every week. The rattletrap had a phenomenal sound system, and believe me, I took full advantage of it. It sounded better than every CD player in our house (trust me... we've got a few), and I grew to love driving. Because driving meant music, and I could pay (almost) undivided attention to the glorious music if the only other thing I had to focus on was driving.

I drove to ballet class, Bible study, and worship team practice most frequently. In fact, the rattletrap and I conquered the drive to the dance school so often that I could put in almost any album I owned and know exactly which part of which song I would be listening to at certain points of the journey. If I got delayed, the music and the scenery would be incongruent. To this day I cannot listen to White Heart's album Don't Wait For The Movie without seeing the city lights, the overpasses and the skyline (and the construction) during Dr Jekyll And Mr Christian. I would often pull up to the dance school exactly as the last notes of How Many Times was fading out. Driving home from Bible study and worship team practice would often have me driving during dusk or early darkness, and I relished every second of it.

But the rattletrap was aging. The aforementioned budget for coolant was growing. Even the faithful and much-used CD player started to get a little bitter and grumpy. At first it simply refused to play the CDs I've burnt on the computer. It was a blow to not be able to listen to my Prodigal albums (I haven't been able to get the new deluxe re-release package yet because of financial constraints -- however, you, dear reader, are in need of this collection), but hey, I still had a few factory-pressed DA albums. So I contented myself with listening to ¡Alarma! all summer long. But then, one day when I returned to the rattletrap to drive home from my grandmother's house, it simply refused to pick up the CD where it had left off. I argued with it for half the drive home and even put in DA's Darn Floor - Big Bite, which it had played without complaint only a few days earlier. It shot me an error message before the disc was even fully loaded in the player, and then refused to return the disc to me. I eventually got the CD back, but I knew the rattletrap was now in its final days.

Two weeks later it started to 'overheat' even with the coolant tank full. We could only drive it for about ten minutes (if that) before the warning light would come on. We could no longer tell whether to heed the warning or ignore it.

It was over.

I cried as I nursed it home for the final time, in silence. It still handles beautifully -- it was almost like a ballroom dance partner. People tell me all the time I'm such a smooth driver, but I think most of it was the rattletrap.

I knew when I first became its primary driver four years ago that its days were numbered, but you're never quite ready for the day when it comes. And now that I'm back at college, I will never see it again; never again share with it a dark magical highway with streetlight-stars and skylines lighting my way to dance, friends, or home.

I miss you already, Little Van. Thank you for the good times, and always for the music.

16 August 2014

Record Collector Problems

So for my birthday, my grandmother took me shopping. Most females my age would probably buy clothes and shoes in such a situation, but to me, 'shopping' means 'music.' So on the Monday (freaking holiday Monday -- me and the August long weekend have a hate-hate relationship. Actually, me and long weekends in general have a hate-hate relationship), I hit the vinyl shops (all two of them) and came away with a pretty good haul if I do say so myself.

Some points I would like to make about the excursion:

Do you have any idea how much willpower it takes to leave the second copy of DA's ¡Alarma! at the store? I was seriously tempted to get both copies. Even though they were exactly the same. And I had already bought the first one. And I have the deluxe CD reissue they put out last year (buy it here. It is just as awesome as they say it is).

Found an After The Fire album that I only bought because I vaguely remembered reading about it on the 500 Greatest Albums blog. In fact, I found three copies of this album. Of course I bought the one with the skip in the middle of the best song.

Bought the 1977 Pantano/Salsbury album (entitled Hit The Switch) purely because of the ravings of those over at the Jesus Music forum on Facebook. Completely worth the money. Imagine mixing the songwriting of Prodigal with the playing of early DeGarmo and Key. And a talking guitar that puts the then-future Bon Jovi to shame.

Found the one Margaret Becker album we don't have... for $24.95. This at the shop where I snagged a pristine copy of DA's Horrendous Disc (which is, to my understanding, the most sought-after and hard-to-find DA record) a month ago for ten bucks.

Also saw Stryper's To Hell With The Devil not once, not twice, but three times... in the same store. In three different places.

Was hoping to find some Randy Stonehill -- nothing.

Why do they make the crate units at the shops so darn high? I had to stand on my very tiptoes and lean forward onto the tableau to flip through the records at the very back of each crate. I'm not very heavy, but those things were wobbling.

I realised today, while importing the ATF record and trying to classify the genre of it, that I really only need two genre tags for my iTunes library: Rock and Not Rock.

Also, two big pieces of music news!

1. White Heart is touring... and we have cities! Columbus, Atlanta, Dallas, and Chicago -- go buy your tickets now and bring these guys out of retirement! If these shows go well, we may just get another tour in 2015... and maybe they'll venture up to Canada for that one. Also, they've been dropping hints on a new album. They haven't actually come out and said, 'we're making a new album,' but they keep talking about new music coming soon, which is basically (hopefully) the same thing.

2. One of my favourite albums of all time, Daniel Amos' Doppelgänger, is being reissued in a deluxe CD package. This is cause for extreme excitement. No timeline on that yet, but I assume it'll be by the end of the year.

20 July 2014

Choreography Dream, Part II...?

The short version of what happened since I fell off the face of this blog: I have survived my first year of college (except for the part where I almost died of strep throat -- the week EVERY SINGLE PAPER of the semester was due), returned to my dance school in Alberta just in time to be a part of the waltz of the snowflakes in the Nutcracker (and managed to screw up every performance except the last one), and am working a *gasp!* 9-to-5. I'm still not comfortable saying that. I don't want to get stuck in the world of the 9-to-5. This is only to pay for college next year. It bothers me even to say that much because I know so many people who get a 9-to-5 and they swear it's only temporary... and twenty years later they're still working the same deadbeat job and all their dreams have died. Or were they sacrificed on the altar of the steady paycheck...?

And now, to talk about dancing.

It was over two years ago now that I started getting serious about creating choreography. My goal was to build up enough half-decent choreography in my repertoire that I could make a half-decent setlist of some kind out of it. Having since completed thirty-four works and having probably hundreds more in varying stages of completion, I'd say I can check off that goal. Next goal? Finding people to actually dance this stuff.

I live in farm country, Alberta. Art is a word from a foreign language here. Art? What's that? Does it make money? Do cows eat it? Is it a new brand of canola or something? Ah, it's probably an oilfield acronym. (Who can keep up with those anyway? Those acronyms multiply like rabbits.)

As a consequence, the potential artists from Alberta either leave for New York or something, never to be heard from again because their families disowned them for not working 9-to-5, or they get a deadbeat job ('to pay for college') and starve the artist within until she slips quietly away somewhere between the alarm clock and the water cooler. This leaves no artists for those of us who remain to learn from or collaborate with.

And this is where I am now. I have thirty-four complete dances and zero dancers. I can only create so many solos (I don't like watching solos, I don't like choreographing solos, and I don't like dancing solos. Groups are just all-round more interesting to watch and to work with). Step one of this dream is accomplished, but now what about step two? Where are the dancers coming from? Yes, I have friends I've met at dance classes, but so far I can only name one (maybe two) who love dancing enough to do it outside of class.

I've thought of the idea of creating a dance team from whoever wants to be in it and then training them from the bottom up. However, training dancers from scratch is a much different animal than merely teaching choreography. It's the difference between saying, "Okay, here you do a jeté and then you go into chassé pas de bourré..." and "Okay, this is what a jeté is. Turn out. Bend your knees. Now brush your foot out and off of the floor and jump. No, both at the same time. Point the other foot as it's in the air too. Land with your feet together in fifth, turned out. Brushing foot closes in front. Bend your knees. Make sure you turn out. Don't thud down -- land lightly..." (and so forth). It's easy enough for someone to say they want me to teach them how to dance, but dancing does demand time and rehearsing and performing takes commitment and endurance. I can't start training starry-eyed college kids and then have them back out in the middle of learning, say, Sanctuary, muttering "homework" as they go because it wasn't as 'glamorous' as they thought it'd be. It's an idea, but I've yet to determine if I'm willing to invest that much time in people who may very well drop it when the novelty wears off. Or maybe I'm just being too negative and graceless.

I must, however, add that my two dancing sisters and I are putting together a little piece for a talent show for the upcoming family reunion. This same piece may also be performed in our church sometime in August. This will be the first piece of my choreography performed by people other than me (the only other piece that's been staged was a solo performed by a gravely-ill yours truly. This new dance still has me in it, but in addition to my sisters). And, if the church agrees to let us do it (Baptist church, you know), it'll be the first piece I've created that's been shown more than once.

So I suppose stuff is happening, just slower than I'd like. Maybe it's for the best -- easing me into it instead of just dropping me into showbiz.

01 July 2014

An Update On Music Day/Blog In General

For those of you wondering, 'what the heck happened to Music Day?' here are a couple of excuses I mean updates.

First, I have always endeavoured to give an iTunes link and/or artist's website, someplace where you can buy the featured song legally. As I've moved deeper and deeper into the world of early '80s Christian rock, I'm finding more and more UTTERLY FANTASTIC stuff -- but it's not on iTunes. Or there's no artist website. I have deliberately avoided featuring some of my very favourite artists because there is no place to legally purchase their music and I know from experience that it's frustrating when someone talks about a fantastic song/album you just have to have... and it's completely unavailable anywhere.

Second, in order to pay for college next year, I have been forced into the Coliseum and fed to the lions -- sorry, I mean the 9-to-5 job arena. Nothing is more exhausting than the mere act of waking up at 8.30am. Nothing. Seriously. By the time I sit down in front of my computer to check my email at 10.30pm, I can barely string together a coherent sentence. But I want to make Music Day posts interesting (whether with a personal story/reflection or with a good description of the song), and I can't do that when I'm so tired I can barely see straight. I would often spend weeks crafting the average Music Day post you see on this blog, picking at it, refining it until I was satisfied before daring to post it. I don't have that kind of time right now. Even writing this, I'm taking breaks every paragraph to snatch a catnap.

Am I quitting Music Day? ...Temporarily, I guess. I'd really rather not. Music and sharing great music is one of my great passions, and Music Day is really my only chance to share that. I hope that perhaps I can re-instate a more regular routine over the next couple months.  Maybe I can hit a gold mine of great songs that are actually on iTunes, songs I love and treasure and believe in.

Am I quitting the blog? I hope not. This blog has been the one place where I can fangirl about White Heart or Daniel Amos all I want and nobody gets annoyed -- they can always just close the tab in the web browser. This is the place I can rant about and make sense of life as a wannabe artist.

For the sake of posting something, I may post some stuff that I wrote while at college this past year that has remained in draft form. A lot of it isn't accurate anymore, but it was an honest assessment of what I was feeling at the time. If I do post things from the draft archives, I will be noting that at the top of the post. Some of it is pretty good and makes me wonder why I never published it in the first place. Mostly it was because I was too stressed to be able to tell if it was worthy of publishing, so I erred on the side of caution and didn't post anything.

And now, bedtime. (I must be getting old. It's only one in the morning.)

18 June 2014

Late Life Or No Life

I usually work until five or five-thirty-ish. And since my father is also my employer, he'll try to finish up early if there's somewhere I need to be in the evening.

Today (well, yesterday) I had music practice at the church at seven. It's no big deal as long as I leave home by 6.30. But we were very nearly done the roof we were shingling, so we pushed the time limit... five... five-thirty... six... None of us thought to check the time. It was six-thirty by the time we left the jobsite.

My dad drove exactly right at the edge of the limit the entire way home. It's possible to do the drive to church in fifteen minutes if you go flat-out so if I could leave home by 6.45, I would still have a chance.

We got home. I changed, washed my face, grabbed the sandwich my mother handed me, and raced back out the door to the rattletrap.

Full disclosure: At the time of my story, I was doing five kilometres over the speed limit. It wasn't intentional; it was that thing where you know you're late and can't afford to go slower than the speed limit so you keep nudging the pedal farther down until suddenly you look down at the speedometer and go, Holy cow, slow down, Flash.

I had just noticed that I was five over the limit when in the sideview mirror I saw the minivan behind me pull out to pass. At first I was gearing up for a rant to share with my persnickety CD player -- I'm late too, so you can't make that excuse. Plus I'm already speeding. You're still going faster than the limit even following me. And you're STILL going to pass me? 

The rant was choked back when I saw the car in the oncoming lane. At first it looked like the passing minivan might just make it in front of me... but, oh my, were we closing in fast. Suddenly the car was almost directly in front of me.

As much as my pride wanted to keep my speed and let the Stupid Idiot Moron in the minivan have a heart attack and be forced to move back behind me until it was actually safe, I couldn't. I slammed on the brakes, if only for the sake of the poor guy in the car. As it was, he almost had to hit the ditch to avoid a collision.

The minivan slipped in front of me without even a touch on the brakes or a signal light. Just cruised on through as if she hadn't almost killed somebody -- or herself.

I expected myself to be angry, but I found myself strangely gutted.

How can anyone do something like that? We look in the newspapers at stories of murders and rapes and stabbings and violent kidnappings and ask how anybody can do such a thing, but taking a chance on the road just because the gas pedal isn't touching the floor yet is not that far removed. Someone almost died on that road tonight. It may have been the man in the car. Or it may have been the idiot driver herself. Yes, there may be enough room to pass, but are you willing to bet your life on it? Is getting where you need to be on time really more important than your own life? What good is being on time if you arrive as a newly minted corpse -- or murderer?

That woman in the minivan owes her life to me. I don't expect her to do anything to thank me, but I do hope she realises that. She gets to see another sunrise. And I could have taken that away from her by simply not moving my foot -- or by not even seeing her in my sideview mirror.

13 June 2014

Music Day - Writer's Block

Before the triumphant Kickstarter project...

Before the long-awaited reunion of the band that wouldn't go away...

Before Dig Here Said The Angel...

...there was Writer's Block.

Even when Dig Here was first released, many (myself included) noted similarities between that project's sweeping, moody title track and this piece of brooding atmospheric goodness tucked away on Daniel Amos frontman Terry Scott Taylor's 1998 solo project.

The most striking similarity is the bass intro. Thick and moody. String arrangements lend a stately grace to both songs. Booming drums lend some solid ground even among the swirling low-end instrumentation.

Personally I like the lyrical theme in Writer's Block. The song seems to ruminate on a general feeling of helplessness in the background of day-to-day living despite having learnt how to 'work the system' a little (I've made an art of clever demonstrations... But can't exchange it for my occupation as a fallen cleric, chief of sinners, poor in spirit...). It's a general cry for grace. And, like most of Terry Taylor's output, I like the imagery in the lyrics: I paint a thousand pictures here... On the inside of my skull... Sometimes I crack it open... Though my instruments are dull... In the bridge you get a sense for just how skilled a vocalist Terry is, when he goes from near-guttural screaming to nailing a decently high note without so much as a breath between. Not bad for a guy who was in his mid-to-late forties at the time.

Title: Writer's Block
Artist: Terry Scott Taylor
Album: John Wayne
Year: 1998
Label: KMG Records
iTunes here; YouTube here.

Sweeping, rich, deep, and of course, honest. It's everything you could really ask for in a song.

10 May 2014

Unofficial Choreography Month - Day 10

Unofficial Choreography Month this year kind of snuck up on me. During finals at college (the second and third weeks of April) it was right at the front of my brain: Study for the next final, and then work on the choreography setlist. But then when I came back to Alberta, I forget about Unofficial Choreography Month completely. Until 11.30pm on 29 April when I suddenly realised I had no setlist and uttered a hearty and resounding "Oh crap!" Since the 30th was already booked almost solid, I didn't actually come up with a setlist until I made a rather rushed one in my head on the way to work on the morning of 1 May.

That setlist was as follows:
The Twist (live Daniel Amos version from 2011)
Come Away Reprise (Don Francisco)
Crushing Hand (Lost Dogs)

However, there was a bit of a wrinkle already. Usually, in the lead-in to a choreography month, I finish off any outstanding projects so I have a clean slate for the first of the month. But since I had completely forgotten about it, I was smack dab in the middle of a classical ballet for eleven and there was no way it was going to be done before May.

I'll tell you a little about it because I'm quite happy with how it turned out. See, the day after Loyd Boldman passed away, I was listening to Prodigal, partly in his honour/memory, and partly just because I wanted to. Specifically, I was listening to the song Neon.

Neon is more of a spoken word track than a song. Loyd's spoken vocals in the verses are a near whisper, layered lightly over a few simple keyboard measures that are repeated throughout the entire five-minute song. Then it soars up into a soft, almost ethereal chorus, a cry of the heart, genuine and yearning, with a fuzzed-out keyboard to keep things grounded. There are the sounds of urban traffic in the back of the mix, somewhere behind the vocal but weaving over and under the keyboards. And then at the end, it goes into this terrific drumming sequence -- one minute and forty five seconds' worth of hard strong steady drumming, enough time to let the listener really ponder what they've just heard.

Due to the sparse instrumentation, the spoken vocal, the subject matter, and the drumming bit at the end, this dance has 'modern ballet' written all over it. Which would be perfect, except that I pretty much loathe modern ballet -- as far as I'm concerned, if you're going to say you're doing ballet, do actual ballet, not just contemporary in pointe shoes. It looks awful and gives real ballet a terrible name. I have always wanted to choreograph Neon because the lyrics were so poetic and let's face it, the drumming section is the bomb, but I outright refuse to choreograph anything that could be taken as 'modern ballet.' If I'm choreographing ballet, I'm choreographing ballet, dang it, real ballet, that requires skill and heart and soul and sweat and strength and practice and is not just a contest to see how fast we can turn in/turn out one leg or the other.

So anyway, I'm listening to Neon and in my mind's eye I saw ballonnés. Hm... good. Anything else? Posé pirouettes. Well, that looks nice... then what? A rounde de jambe/coru section for the chorus... some corps-work for a group of nine in the second verse... and a wonderful moment of suspension just before the drumming kicks in. Within half an hour or so, possibly forty-five minutes, I had most of the dance figured out in my mind's eye. So I sketched it out on notepaper lest I forget the ideas and began notating. This is what I was still notating at the beginning of May. I spent the first full weekend finishing the notation of Neon, then I proceeded to choreograph the entire dance to Crushing Hand in basically twenty-four hours. Mind you, it was only a ballet for two, and the song itself is only two minutes long. But no matter -- it still counts as a dance done and for that I'm very grateful. It gives me quite a bit of time to work on Come Away (a ballet solo) and The Twist (ballet for two), and if I've got the time, I'd like to choreograph a fourth this month or maybe even bump it up to five.

Right now I have a few notes on Come Away, but I'm actively working on The Twist. It's over half-done. I have nearly the entire thing figured out in my head, it's just actually writing it and notating it that still need to be done. It's quite a task trying to get a bead on the characterisation for it though. What's the first dancer's mood? What are they trying to communicate? When does the tone change into a challenge? Is there still love mingled in with the implied challenge? What's the second dancer's reaction? How do I convey it? When does the mood change, and how abruptly? How can I convey it without relying too heavily on the lyric and without resorting to modern-dance-hyper-exaggerated-mime? What is the second character's mood here anyway? (The song is ambiguous in that it's never stated what the listener's reaction is, and I sort of want to keep it that way -- it makes people think if you don't spell out all the answers for them.)

I hope to get notating The Twist sometime tomorrow, maybe even finish it tomorrow or Monday. Then hopefully I can complete Come Away this week and then have some time left to write two or three more dances before the end of May.

25 April 2014

Music Day - Reader's Digest

Where had this song been all my life? Seriously. Such sarcasm... Usually I have a hard time liking Larry Norman's stuff (his voice annoys me), but here the sarcastic delivery trumps the nasal droning voice. I mean, seriously: They brought back a big bag of rocks.
Only cost $13 billion.
Must be nice rocks.
If it hadn't been quiet hours in the dorm when I first heard this, I would have literally screamed with laughter. This is exactly my take on so much of life... also, this song sort of reminds me of DA's Through The Speakers, musically.

I should clarify though, for all you people who are gaping at the screen going "She doesn't know this album and she calls herself a Christian rock fan?" rest assured that I know this album -- my father has the vinyl -- but I don't think I'd ever actually heard it all the way through. I'm certainly familiar with The Six O'Clock News, The Great American Novel, The Outlaw, Righteous Rocker #1, and (one of my dad's favourites to quote when the topic of rock music comes up) Why Should The Devil Have All The Good Music. But for some reason, nobody talks about this half-rapped piece of dryly served rock genius:

Title: Reader's Digest
Artist: Larry Norman
Album: Only Visiting This Planet
Year: 1972
Label: MGM
iTunes here; YouTube here.

Much good. Very sarcasm. Enjoy.

24 April 2014

A Prodigal Goes Home

Well I came into town alone
And I sang my songs for free
I was three years away from my home
And low down as a lowdown soul could be...

Most of you who care about this sort of thing will probably have heard this already, but in case you haven't, Loyd Boldman (vocals/keyboards/songwriting for the band Prodigal) passed away the evening of 22 April. He had struggled for several years with some serious health issues, but as I understand it, it was liver cancer that finally brought him to the end.

I'm not really sure how to react yet. I only found out about ten minutes before I started typing this post.

The hazard of liking music created in the '80s means that the artists who created it were generally born in the '50s or maybe the '60s. This means that unless Rick Florian or Terry Scott Taylor lives to be 150, I will probably outlive every one of my favourite musical artists. I will have to watch as they, one by one, vanish from the earth. I knew that, but I pushed the thought out of my head... This is the first loss from the era that I've experienced with this kind of immediacy. I was not yet born when Mark Heard passed away, I didn't hear of the Lost Dogs or Adam Again until long after Gene Eugene's passing (the same situation again regarding The Call and Michael Been), and it wasn't until about two years after Dana Key died that I really began to listen to DeGarmo and Key (though I'd known of the band since childhood).

Back to Mr Boldman.

I believe I've probably talked before about this man's incredible voice. He's right up there with Rick Florian as one of my favourite vocalists of all time. Loyd had a huge, soaring, booming voice that for all its strength could carry a sometimes unnerving amount of vulnerability as the lyrics required. Two of my favourite performances are Future Now (1985) and Neon (1984). The former is a truly dynamic performance, showcasing both the loud, booming, powerful Boldman as well as a strained near-whisper communicating as if from within the quiet fear and heavy unrest of the 'everyman'; the latter brings out a more ponderous, poetic, melancholy, hopeful, yearning Boldman.

I also have a deep love for the songs he wrote. He could be just sarcastic enough to make one think about why we think the way we do (I get my good times from a laugh track... I got my news from professional smiles...)*, he could cast something 'everyday' in an entirely different light (Bobby - quarter in the box... Buy another try to beat the clocks... Bobby - growing up scared... Wired to your own electric chair...)** and he could paint a vivid -- nay, full-on 3D -- picture with mere English (I quote here the entirety of the lyrics to Neon). The world always seems clearer to me when I'm listening to Prodigal's music, no matter which member wrote any given song (three of the four members of Prodigal wrote songs for the band). I am deeply grateful to Loyd for his part in it.

Perhaps the saddest thing about this is that hardly anybody knows he's gone. We have lost a great artist (I do not use the term lightly) -- and hardly anybody even knows that he's missing. This is perhaps the greatest tragedy.

But... Loyd's death is not a total tragedy. Loyd is now in the presence of God. His spirit is at home. Prodigal's final album, in 1985, was titled Just Like Real Life. The title cut was a somewhat sarcastic (though sobering) look at how we tend to watch TV and think that's how life really is: It's just like real life... just like real life... But I can't help but think that this life on earth in comparison with the presence of God is somewhat analogous to that song's point. Compared to the abundant life found in the presence of God, this life we live on earth is 'just like' real life... but not quite exactly.

But now Loyd is experiencing real life.

There's a freedom to me now has come
From giving myself away
And Jesus I know is the one who has changed it
And made it worthwhile some way...

(Song quotes (bookending): Prodigal and Prodigal (Part 2), both from the album Prodigal, 1982. * from Electric Eye, from the album of the same name, 1984. ** from Bobby, from Electric Eye, 1984.)

20 April 2014

Music Day, Part II - The Traveler/Joy

It must be Easter -- I'm listening to Don Francisco. I don't know why... Don Francisco at Easter just feels 'right.' This is the influence of my father on my life. (Don Francisco is also one of the very few artists who appears to remember that Jesus was actually raised from the freaking dead. I have no trouble finding songs for Good Friday -- everyone has a song about the crucifixion. But precious few songs exist that attempt to capture the joy of the knowledge of the resurrection.)

Just imagine this song playing on vinyl, as it was originally heard. As is Don's method (especially on these earlier albums) he starts with a story (from the Bible: Luke chapter 24) put into song form, but then he segues the narrative song into an exuberant praise song. The second part of the song, the celebration, is the continuation of the story Don retells in the first part, but it's also very clearly coming from Don himself. You get the sense that he physically can't express more joy than he already is, but more joy most definitely exists, boiling fiercely just beneath the surface -- just listen to him cry out We have been redeemed!

Title: The Traveler/Joy
Artist: Don Francisco
Album: The Traveler
Year: 1981
Label: NewPax
iTunes here; YouTube here.
CD available at the artist's website here.

He is risen!

18 April 2014

Music Day, Part I - The Twist

It's Good Friday.

I'm featuring two versions of today's song. Both are worth the money.

First is the original, the rock version. The song grabs and doesn't let go for nearly five minutes. It's relentless. The electric guitar swirls around, pushing and pulling, desperate, flailing... Hang on -- believe...

Title: The Twist
Artist: Swirling Eddies
Album: Zoom Daddy
Year: 1994
Label: Alarma Records
iTunes here; YouTube here.

And here is the heart-stopping live version. It's a completely stripped-down acoustic version. Normally I hate it when people do acoustic versions of their rock songs (I think this is the only one I don't hate), but the guys of DA are of such a high artistic caliber that they can pull it off. I love the slow build in this. You don't notice it unless you're specifically listening for it (and even then it sneaks up on you), but suddenly when the second chorus hits, you're knocked backwards -- when did the full instrumentation come in? The bare acoustic guitar at the beginning lays a velvet nest for Terry to thread a light, soft, barely-there vocal through that auditorium.
The other day I listened to this song literally six times in a row and every time I got chills at the three-minute mark. Every time. Even though I knew it was coming.

Title: The Twist
Artist: Daniel Amos
Album: Live In Phoenix
Year: 2011
Label: Independent release
Bandcamp here; YouTube here.

Lyrics (they're the same for both recordings).

Don't take this too lightly. I'm not going to get too evangelistic, but I will say this: you are either with Christ or you are not. There is no middle ground. There is no lukewarm. You don't have to be with Him, but then you must be fully aware of the fact that you're not. You cannot take both sides. You cannot walk the fence. I think the lyrics largely speak for themselves, so read them and ponder them. No matter which conclusion you come to regarding them, ponder them.

But know this: this was no phantom guest.

11 April 2014

Music Day - When Everyone Wore Hats

I was raised in the shadow of the world of the good old days, in the farm country of Alberta -- close enough to the 'big city' to know what was happening in the world, but far enough from it to still have real neighbours, real community. The actual time of old-fashioned gentility had long passed by the time I was born, but the scent of it still lingered in our neighbourhood. I remember it, vaguely, but at the same time I knew it was lost. I lived in its ghost.

For me this song is at once a trip down memory lane and a yearning for a time I never knew. The world of the good old days. The melancholic grace of the electric guitar so perfectly captures the wistful tone of the lyrics.

Title: When Everyone Wore Hats
Artist: Daniel Amos
Album: Songs Of The Heart
Year: 1995
Label: Brainstorm Artists International/Frontline Records
iTunes here; YouTube here.

This song takes on a stronger meaning for me now, as I'm so far from home. I'm nearing the end of the semester, and I feel I can almost step into the small-town restaurant where my parents would sometimes take my sister and me for breakfast on Saturday mornings, as an occasional treat. I feel that would be the closest I could get -- the place where everyone really could wear hats and it wouldn't seem out of place.

This is really just an all-round beautiful song. It's five and a half minutes of that lovely DA blend of rock and melancholy and poetry. Perhaps one of their best.

09 April 2014

Looking Forward To The 'Different'

I'm downloading my advance copy of the new album from The Choir as I type (Kickstarter backers only... release date is 15 April for those who missed the project). Hopefully that means we're getting an album review on this blog soon... along with Music Day... and general life...

It's really hard to update a blog when your days are all the same. All the same classes, the same routine, the same people, the same locale. I don't even get to go on excursions to a different town anymore. I do a lot of walking every day, but it's all within the same two blocks. I seriously live in a bubble here. But exams are this week (my first one is tomorrow afternoon) and I get back to Alberta most likely next Wednesday. And then... then I will have a life again. Until next September.

And then... then I will be rehearsing the Nutcracker with my 'home base' dance school. Then I will be able to see my siblings every day. Then I will be able to work with my dad and the rotating cast of armchair philosophers who help him out on the job when he needs it. Then I will be able to drive myself around at dusk (and other times of day) again. Then I will be able to make Daniel Amos and White Heart references and people will understand them because I've painstakingly educated them on why it's so darn funny. Then I will be able to eat nachos with cheese. Heck, then I will be able to eat whatever I want whenever I'm actually hungry, not just when the cafeteria happens to be open. Then I will be able to linger after church on Sunday because I actually know the people there and I can talk to them. Then I will be able to sleep in if I want because breakfast doesn't close at a certain time. Then I will be able to see the city again... to randomly pick a day to drive around with my family listening to music and looking at downtown storefronts and running errands and, if we're there late enough, to watch the streetlights come on across the city as if I'm in a modern-day Mary Poppins.

I do like it here, but it doesn't offer a lot of blog inspiration (or time). And speaking of time... I need to study for a history final. I shall post when my life has a little more variety again.

02 April 2014

An Old Nemesis Returns... Also, Dancing

I suppose I should post something more than Music Day, huh? How about a brief and rather haphazard recap of my second semester of college?

Well, the semester started off with me feeling guilty and angry at myself and basically wanting to quit. I hated being here and I hated being away from my family. But then I started to develop some friendships here. Plus, dance class happened...

See, the college is just beginning to foray into dance classes. This semester, they were offering tap, jazz, and ballet. Of course, I registered for all three. This equals six hours of dance a week, in two three-hour chunks. I was perhaps more surprised than anyone that I can actually physically handle it (most days, anyway...).

Also, at the beginning of February I ended up in the emergency room because I couldn't breathe. Despite the fact that I was struggling even to talk for lack of air, I almost had to demand the prescription for the inhaler. Yay for The Great Canadian Health Care System.

The last week of February was a break week, so I went back home and took all the dancing back at the dance school there (which, by the way, I'm being allowed to rejoin when I get back to Alberta in mid-April so I'll be in The Nutcracker with them in June), however, on the day we were driving back to college, I developed a sore throat. No big deal, I thought. There had been a sore throat going around my family that week anyway. But by the time I went to bed in my dorm that night, I recognised all too well the unique ball-of-razor-blades-in-the-back-of-my-throat feeling. The next morning it was still there. And the next. And the next. In fact, it was nearly three days before I could finally get a ride into town to see a doctor so I could get the prescription for the antibiotics I knew I needed (the rattletrap remained in Alberta at the decree of my mother, so I couldn't drive myself). By that time, I was half-dead. I hadn't eaten (due to the agony of the mere act of swallowing) in four days, and I had two papers due. I managed to get the one done (in a rather thick Tylenol haze that did absolutely nothing to kill the pain), and I got an extension on the other. I managed not to miss any classes, but every second that I wasn't in class or in the cafeteria trying desperately to eat something, I was socked out on my bed. Last time I had strep throat, I was able to live a normal life (except I couldn't swallow a blessed thing), but this time it completely wiped me out. I have never been so tired in my entire life as I was for that week and a half.

So due to spending a week and a half dying of strep throat, I got behind on a 2500-word paper and memorising the entire book of Ephesians -- both due on the same day. The latter project was worth 50% of the course grade (hey, it is a Bible college...). I'll spare you the gory details, but let's just say I'm bracing myself to fail two courses this semester.

Also, I have a (completely unrelated) word of advice for you all: never get shin splints. They hurt like heck. And I can't even really complain too much about shin splints because at least I can eat through the pain of shin splints... you can't eat through the pain of strep throat. But back to my word of advice: if you do get shin splints, never ever ever run on an uneven cobblestone sidewalk. Even if you're late for choir. Don't do it. I did last Wednesday and I'm still paying for it a week later.

This weekend is performing weekend around here: dance rehearsal on Friday, choir rehearsal and dance show on Saturday, choir performance on Sunday. Yesterday was the last day of dance classes... I didn't know that till I got there. I thought there was going to be one more, but alas...

It's funny how the world seems to stop when the dancing is gone. It's only temporary -- by the end of the month I'll be rehearsing Nutcracker in Alberta -- but dancing seemed different here. Maybe it was the group of people, maybe it was the fact that it was six hours a week (in Alberta I'm usually only taking maybe two and a half hours a week because that's all the courses at my level that the school offers), maybe it was the fact that I learnt so much about myself and where my weaknesses (and strengths) are as a performer, maybe it was because I was doing more than just ballet. But it was different -- I don't know if 'richer' is the right word for it because the dance school I'm at in Alberta has a very rich community as well, but here in Saskatchewan there was a different feel to the whole experience. Maybe it was learning how to work with a completely new group of people. I've been with the school back home for over five years, so we're all pretty close friends already. To have to learn to 'read' a totally new group is a bit of a challenge because you can't coast into it (I mean, not that I would ever do that back home, of course... *cough*). I don't know. Basically what I'm trying to say is the fact that it's basically over is making me immensely sad and I miss it already. A bunch of people from the dance classes here at college are either moving, graduating, or changing plans and not coming back next year, so that means that we will never again be all in the same group, dancing together. Back home everyone comes back to the school every year (you might lose one person every couple of years), but not here... dance doesn't consume most of these people like it does me. Their lives go on. But mine kind of stops when the dancing does. It's like the breath is snatched away. Maybe that's why I need to do choreography so much -- it's a way of dancing, even if it's just mentally, and I need that. I don't know why... I just do.

I will update on the choreography side of things later, when I have more time (because despite all odds, I've actually completed almost three dances this year and sketched out lots and lots of others). Right now, though, I need to go to bed, and I also have to somehow manage a 2500-word paper over this performing weekend. Then finals, but as long as I study, I should be okay. (Famous last words...)

14 March 2014

Music Day - Only Jesus

This album (along with David Meece's 7) was the soundtrack to my life when I was eleven/twelve years old. I happened across it again while organising my iTunes library (and by that I mean procrastinating on two papers).

I always thought Betsy's voice was so sweet, and to hear it again is like a soothing balm to my frazzled soul (see above parenthetical regarding academic papers, plural). These songs communicate nothing if not 'everything is going to be okay.' Yeah, okay, so maybe they were a REALLY inoffensive blend of Maranatha! singers and Second Chapter of Acts in the mid-eighties to boot, but this stuff has a simplistic beauty to it. Betsy's lead vocals are saturated with childlike faith, and that's what makes this group so darn endearing. (Plus, you know, ethereal synthesizers.) If the members of ABBA had been Christians, this is what they would have sounded like.

Now that I actually know a thing or two about music and singing (specifically, harmonising), I'm a lot better able to understand how intricate this group really was. When I was eleven, I had never even heard of the concept of harmonization. I never really thought about why this group always sounded so rich and full -- I just assumed that since there were two ladies singing, it sounded like that. Turns out I was partly right, but I never would have figured out the whole 'harmony' thing. Betsy Hernandez may be the sweet voice in the front, but Patty Gramling really held this together, lent Betsy the strength.

I could pick any song from this album. This particular song has always seemed like the perfect seventh track on an album -- it's not radio-friendly enough to be on the first side, and it's not edgy enough to bring in the second side. But it's not the graceful perfect cadence (or hard-hitting rocker) to close out an album either. It's that unexpected sliver of a sunbeam on the second side, where you don't usually expect much, but then something graceful and soaring rises out of the vinyl. How fitting that the lyrics explore bird imagery.

Title: Only Jesus
Artist: Silverwind
Album: By His Spirit
Year: 1985
Label: Sparrow Records
iTunes here; YouTube here (yes, it says 1986. I own the vinyl, which says 1985. So there).

In other news: Prodigal (who longtime readers of this blog may know as the creators of the FANTASTIC song Future Now) is releasing not one, not two, but ALL THREE of their amazing albums on CD later this year. Rest assured that I will be spamming this blog with the website information once I have it. For now, be aware that you need this album in your life. Even if you never buy a White Heart album (though you should do that too), you should at least buy Prodigal's Electric Eye. It is a work of art. Full stop.

07 March 2014

Music Day - Casual Christian

DeGarmo and Key wrote a couple of great commitment anthems, but this is perhaps their best. And if not, it's at least my favourite.

Title: Casual Christian
Artist: DeGarmo and Key
Album: Commander Sozo & The Charge Of The Light Brigade
Year: 1985
Label: PowerDiscs
iTunes here; YouTube here, live video here.

Dana Key's vocals are always so heartfelt and passionate, and the chorus just soars. Plus, keyboards.

'Cause I want to light up the night
With an everlasting light
I don't want to live a 'casual Christian' life...

28 February 2014

Music Day - Sanctuary

Having been a DA fan for a year now (it was a year last week), having at least listened to all of their catalogue (excluding the self-titled debut), and experienced the shades of their work amplified by/contrasted with the work of the Swirling Eddies, Terry Scott Taylor's solo/production work, and the Lost Dogs (it was a really expensive year), I think I can whittle down the list of DA songs to a (slightly) smaller list of personal favourites.

Certainly, storied cuts like Hollow Man and The Double appear high on the list, as well as the epic and soaring Dig Here Said The Angel, the infectious Darn Floor - Big Bite, the stunning When Worlds Collide, and the haunting Pictures Of The Gone World. (And, you know, pretty much everything else they've ever recorded.)

But I think this one may be my favourite Daniel Amos song of all time. (At least until their next album.)

I suppose this album came at the right time of my life. It was just starting to sink in just how drastically my life was about to change. The depression that had been lying dormant in my soul for two years saw its chance to get its hands round my neck again. In times like this, I need two things: humour, and to brood. Vox Humana provided both. Songs like (It's The Eighties, So Where's Our) Rocket Packs, Home Permanent, and Dance Stop made me smile, if only at their ability to turn a phrase, while songs like William BlakeWhen Worlds Collide and Sanctuary were soothing, poetic, and deep, with a touch of melancholy to keep them grounded.

Sanctuary in particular has made an indelible impact on my life. Sanctuary is the only song to which I have choreographed a dance, yet every time I hear it I get this intense desire to choreograph it again. It is that captivating. Sanctuary is the song that takes me back to that still, open summer night in Alberta when I think I really heard this song for the first time -- the night that the first choreographic puzzle piece fell into place (developpé kick, step side and back attitude turn). It was another solo drive home from town as the indigo sky stretched out above me and the poplar tree stands faded back into shadows, as the summer night dew fell on the grass and the last sounds of the frogs and crickets echoed through the ravine near our house. I remember imagining what it would be like to dance this beneath the velvet sky with the moist grass rustling under my feet. That's still what I think of when I hear this song.

Title: Sanctuary
Artist: Daniel Amos
Album: Vox Humana
Year: 1984
Label: Refuge Records
iTunes here; YouTube here.
Buy the album from DA's website here. (You'll have to scroll a bit to find it -- look for the yellow album cover. I've purchased through the site several times now and the service has always been great.)

Sit back. Close your eyes. Let this swirl around you, sink into your mind. The final minute, when they finally release up into the sky all the brooding tension that's been building for the previous five minutes, is perhaps one of the most beautiful passages of music ever recorded.

Should the stars get in your eyes tonight

Should you come into the promised land
From where you came

And if your greatest fears are realised
Your sanctuary

25 February 2014

The Invisible One

Even as a child, I was both shy and a perfectionist. Since I wasn't about to attract attention by being outrageous and I tried so hard to do everything perfectly, I was really only noticed when I did something wrong, and when that happened, I was noticed long enough for the chew-out and then dropped after that. Then in my teens, in the church youth group, they all ignored me. I was the definition of 'wallflower.' Even when I would try to insert myself into a conversation, they would just look over my head and keep right on talking to each other as if I had never made a sound.

When people ignore you that steadfastly for that long, you start to believe that you actually are invisible (in a 'if-I-close-my-eyes-you-can't-see-me' sort of way) and nothing you say or do matters anyway -- at least, not in a good way. You start to believe that invisibility, unobtrusiveness, is a skill to be prized and defended with your life and if anybody notices you, you must be doing something Incredibly Annoying and therefore they probably hate you for making their lives more difficult by being one more person they have to look at. You make yourself smaller and smaller, shrinking down, shrinking in, trying desperately not to get in anybody's way while at the same time desperately needing them to see you and tell you they care... I've always had this struggle of wanting to be noticed and liked, but not wanting to be noticed -- the logic being if I'm noticed, it must be because I'm being Incredibly Annoying or in someone's way.

All that preamble is so that I can say this: One of the strangest things about being at college is the fact that people talk to me.

Sure, people back home talk to me too, but you get the sense that a lot of them really only do it because they have to... because I live in their house and go to their church. But at college, I can walk down a hallway and have three people -- people I don't even hang out with or know outside of class -- smile and greet me by name. This sounds so minor, but it's so weird. I fully expected to be a number here. This is college, after all... this is a big place and everybody's busy. Nobody knows anybody's name in high school, never mind college... right?

Apparently this is not the case. This is a rather small school (by post-secondary standards), but still -- there's five hundred students here. And it's not just the students -- the profs will greet me by name in the hallways or at church (when you're in a Bible college town, you see profs at church). I mean, the profs! These people see how many faces in just one day -- the fact that they remember mine blows my mind. And even people who I swear I've never seen before in my life... they'll sit down beside me at the cafeteria, greet me by name, and ask how I'm doing. It's so weird. How is it that my face stands out to anybody as recognisable? Before college, I can't remember the last time anybody called me by name and was genuinely glad to see me (aside from three particular friends at my home church). But on the first day back at college after Christmas break, I had at least three people come up and hug me and say they were so happy to see me again. People don't tell me these things back home. I'm lucky to get asked if I could clean out the dishwasher before supper.

It's hard to know what to do with this. Don't get me wrong, I really appreciate being noticed and -- dare I say? -- accepted. But what do you do when suddenly you are no longer invisible and people know your name? I've been invisible for so long that I got used to being invisible. It became something that defined me. I could always hide behind this cloak of apparent invisibility if the world got to be too much for me. I can't do that here. Half the college knows me. I do enjoy it, but I'm really at a loss how to respond.

Is this what life is really like? If so... I could get used to it...