30 December 2016

Music Day - Father Explains

Originally written 9 July 2016, 12.21am.

Been playing this song a lot lately. The gritty vocal, desperate lyrics, and raging guitars resonate with me right now.

This is one of the few DA albums that flies under the radar even among fans. Admittedly, it was well-nigh impossible to top their previous album (Darn Floor - Big Bite), plus there had been a hiatus of five years in between the two (mostly dedicated to the creation and perpetuation of the Swirling Eddies).

I've been listening to this song mostly because I identify with the line 'The boy thinks God may be over on the devil's side...' I've asked the same question myself in the past few months. After all, how else do you explain some of the things that keep happening to me? Literally the cycle is this: I hate my life for two years. I finally wake up one morning in a happy frame of mind and am finally enjoying just being alive, and all that comes with it. And before the sun sets, something very catastrophic happens -- divorce, death, all the usual crap.

The bombs came down like steel rain...

And it's another two years before I'm okay again for even a couple of hours. I don't even get a full day. I don't even get twenty-four hours. Seriously, God, how hard is this? If the joy of the Lord is my strength and I have no joy and I have no strength, then where is God? Is He deliberately planning these things just because for some reason I'm the cosmic punching bag?

I'll stop now. (Believe me, that's only a very tiny fraction of the rant. I went for an hour and a half on this the other night.)

This is a song clearly born in the Cold War era. Perhaps it's a little melodramatic to compare my spiritual life (such as it is) to something as horrific as war. But a lot of days, this song is the only thing angry enough to be capable of sympathising with me.

Title: Father Explains
Artist: Daniel Amos
Album: Kalhoun
Year: 1991
iTunes here; YouTube here.

And God only knows how much blood it will take
Before someone makes right all the wrong...

28 December 2016

Fear and Trust

Trust. Fear. Courage.

The latter two terms have been themes on this blog lately. My life since my cousin died has been consumed by fear -- fear of someone else dying. Fear of leaving. Fear of staying. Fear of creating anything in case it sucks. Fear of myself. Fear of others. Fear of God -- what if He kills someone else?

Courage -- I've written about it before, but I have not lived with a single speck of it. As mentioned before, I have created absolutely nothing since my cousin died. I lost NaNoWriMo this past year for the first time EVER. National Choreography Month is in less than a week and I don't have a single plan. I listen to music and I don't see the dancers anymore. I go places and I don't feel the stories anymore. It's like my soul died when she did. And now I'm just stuck in this meaningless limbo called life... this driving to the grocery store and back, this waking up at 8am and eating oatmeal, this sitting in front of my computer and refreshing Facebook because I have literally no idea what to write for any of my papers. How much can you force creativity? I had points before my cousin's death where I thought I was, but now I look back and think, you weren't really forcing it -- you were just complaining about 'lack of inspiration' because then people are impressed by your dedication to making art anyway.

Trust -- how in the actual world do you trust a God who lets a child die in the face of all the prayers for her life? How do you trust a God who claims to hear and bring comfort yet leaves you in the lurch for two years? How do you trust God when His very people turn against you and tell you you are not wanted or even needed?

I can't get out of this black hole called my life unless I trust Him -- but to trust this unpredictable, distant God with my already-broken heart is insanity. What if He crushes it even more, until it's mere powder, carried on a cruel wind? Is trusting Him with my pathetic life really any better than my pathetic life now? On the other hand, is this crippling fear of what more He will do to me justified? Is it holding me back from something good?

But how do you trust a God who is not averse to letting people die?

10 December 2016

A Voice of My Own

Originally written 5 November 2016.

I have a fairly intense singing semester at college this year: choir, voice lessons, and vocal master class. I'm spending more hours a week singing than I ever have dancing. The music students and faculty I interact with keep saying I'm improving, but I don't hear it and instead of gaining momentum I'm actually shrinking back. I haven't really sung in two days -- I've been in the practice rooms, but I've been doing breathing exercises or lip trills or speaking the text for the songs I have or playing the melodies to 'get them in my head'... but no actual singing takes place. I've mentioned before how I hate the sound of my voice and it seems that no matter where I turn I run into my voice, this awkward, clunky, wooden thing that can hit a note but sounds like the screen door on your grandma's old farmhouse in the process.

Their big thing here is volume. Because I hate my voice so much, I speak and sing as quietly as possible so people won't have to suffer the fate of hearing something so ungainly. I've done this for so long that I physically can no longer speak or sing very loud. My second year here stretched my volume boundary a bit, but not as much as is expected of me. I'm in this constant battle between wanting to sing more loudly because that's what my teachers ask of me and never wanting to sing again so no-one has to hear me.

Where did this come from? Nobody has ever outright told me they hate my voice. I've gotten 'I hate you,' and 'you sing flat,' but never 'I hate your voice.' Even the person who told me he couldn't stand me and basically wished I would go die in a hole told me I had a nice voice -- in the same conversation. (Come to think of it, that probably explains why I have such a hard time accepting compliments.)

It must have come from experience... The experience of being in that youth group and not even having a name. The experience of telling my parents I was NOT okay with a certain arrangement they had made and having them ignore me --- thrice (even after watching me spiral downward dramatically after the first two instances). The experience of constantly being ignored and shushed (and rebuked for the things I did say) in the youth group and having the God-card pulled on me at home. The experience of screaming to God for help, comfort, peace, anything for months when hell broke loose in 2015 and hearing nothing in response.

Nobody valued my voice -- literally or figuratively -- until I came to this college. I spent twenty years being systematically silenced and told I meant nothing, that my opinion didn't matter, that my voice was pointless. And now I have to sing loudly? Are you crazy? Who wants to hear that? Nobody.

09 December 2016

How To Make Adrenaline Soup

Written 29 November 2016, 3.56pm.

Prepare three major papers. Simmer for three weeks.

Toss with two surprise (as in not-on-the-syllabus) presentations. Slowly pour in four all-nighters. Sprinkle in three cancelled classes.

Add snow (with all the childlike joy that comes with it). Reheat last Saturday's tuna casserole and add that as well.

Add a liberal shot of excitement for the Christmas musical.

Mix well and serve.

28 November 2016

Things I Really Like About Being a Performing Artist

Note: this is, believe it or not, NOT a sarcastic post. This is a tribute to my reality; this life I love so much. I really do love these things.

- Doing makeup between scenes at rehearsal.

- Costume changes.

- Changing in random bathrooms (dancers know what I'm talking about).


- Driving to practice/rehearsal/performances with one hand and eating Subway with the other.

- The smell of makeup and hairspray.

- Costume fittings.

- Photo shoots.

- Memorising lines.

- Dancing to other peoples' songs while waiting backstage.

- Lining up right before you walk out with the choir.

- Learning new blocking.

- Hearing the full orchestra for the first time.

- Water bottles.

- Trying to walk quietly in heels or tap shoes.

- The full-cast onstage warmup.

- The director's last words before showtime.

- Waiting in the wings.

- Helping others with choreography and costume changes.

- Monologues for auditions.

- That moment when your ballet/pointe shoes are finally warmed up and responsive to your feet (Canadians in winter... you know where I'm coming from).

- Wearing that one favourite zip-up sweater over your practice clothes and it totally clashes with your turn-of-the-century dress or your silver tutu but you don't care.

- The prop table. Holding my water bottle since 2008.

- Posting teaser photos from rehearsals on Instagram.

- All those circled notes and breath markings and arrows and underlined consonants in the sheet music.

- Legwarmers.

- That one last run-through of the section you always forget with one or two others in the wings right before your dance.

- Memorising the programme order before the show starts.

- Footlights. Actually, all of the lights. Especially how the lights cut through all the stage fog.

- Watching the set get bigger and more detailed with every rehearsal.

(More to be added as I think of them.)

25 November 2016

Music Day - Sometimes By Step

I first heard the full version of this song when my dear friend asked me to sing it with her in church. To this day I still like her take better than the original. But that's not to say the original is to be sneezed at.

I was listening to it the other day because lately I've been on a Rich Mullins kick and suddenly... well, you know that moment when you're listening to a song you're heard many times before but all of the sudden EVERY SINGLE WORD of it hits you right in the soul? Yeah. Me too. It's what I live for. It's why I ingest copious amounts of music and am always looking for more. I'm always looking for that moment. And that's why I'm in the arts. I want to give that moment to other people. There's just nothing like it.

Rich Mullins was one of those guys who knew how to write a lyric. He's up there with guys like Mark Heard, Terry Scott Taylor, and Michael Roe. These people can paint feelings with words. That's a very rare gift, and we are so lucky that they had the tenacity to hold onto that vision in a world where depth is 'too depressing' and 'not Christian enough.'

Sometimes the night was beautiful
Sometimes the sky was so far away
Sometimes it seemed to stoop so close
You could touch it but your heart would break
Sometimes the morning came too soon
Sometimes the day could be so hard
There was so much work left to do
But so much You'd already done...

Title: Sometimes By Step
Artist: Rich Mullins
Album: The World As Best As I Remember It, Volume Two
Year: 1991
Label: Reunion Records
iTunes here; YouTube here.

If you were affiliated with the average evangelical church in the '90s and early 2000s, you probably recognise the chorus. Rich Mullins is primarily known for short repetitive choruses that congregations bludgeon to death, which is a shame because there is so much depth and richness to his poetry. However -- it does create a bridge from the average evangelical to actual creative art if said average evangelical does happen to research the history of it.

Nobody talks about heartbreak in Christianity. Nobody talks about days being hard. And even fewer people contrast that with the work God has done without getting stuck in a thin, cheesy water analogy that they can't seem to get out of (looking at you, Hillsong's Oceans). I'll refrain from the Christian-music-is-fluff rant here. But a lyric like this is real, refreshing, and hopeful. This is everything Christian music should strive to be. Poets and lyricists of the next generation, please take note. The future of songwriting may depend on it.

17 November 2016

Snapshot of the Last Rays of Hope

26 October 2016, 1.52am.

The other day I was flipping through my notes from Songwriting class. I took this class in the final semester of my AA degree, as a modular (week-long intensive) course. This was, of course, the semester when my entire life went to h-e-double-hockey-sticks.

There were a lot of journaling exercises in that class, and it was strange reading some of what I had written in those exercises. At that point in the semester, Brittney had been dead for less than a month. Our family friend was in the final stages of an extremely aggressive cancer and would in fact die less than two weeks later. The two divorces that jaded my entire concept of familial love and care had already burst on the scene (though the extent of the fallout remained to be seen). Less than a month later, God would withdraw His presence and comfort from me and my cousin would die a horrible sudden death two months later. In short, this was in that very intense upheaval period between all those things, and my notes from that class are a unique snapshot of a very short time in my life where despite all the crap I still retained some true faith that it was for good (which left when my cousin died). This was a fleeting moment in my spiritual life, though one can very easily see the torment already in my head.

We had to write a total of six songs for the class. Because I was so completely overwhelmed, I turned out six of the worst songs I have ever written in my entire life, and because of the way everything panned out (in terms of stress, abandonment, and the subsequent loss of inspiration that still haunts me), they have, so far, turned out to be the last. I vaguely remember the concepts behind two or three of them, but the one that stands out to me is the one I wrote for Brittney.

It was composed in a rush before I had really had time to process her death so it was cheesy as heck and because my piano skills are crap the accompaniment was only a couple of token chords in the background just to say it was a song. But I still remember the metaphor I used and I remember the prof in his feedback asking if I wrote poetry because it sounded like I do. I remember feeling incredibly honoured that he would even ask me that -- this was also two years to the week since I had discovered the magic that is Daniel Amos and the songwriting of my artistic hero Terry Scott Taylor (who is nothing if not poetic).

Reading these notes, I was surprised how much hope in God I still retained at that time. Most of the terrible things had happened already by this point. If my cousin hadn't died and God hadn't withdrawn His presence from me, it would have been all uphill from there. Reading those notes made me feel, for the first time, very disconnected with who I used to be. This girl who wrote those notes was hurting but she hoped through the tears. For better or for worse, I am not like that anymore. Hope is a faded memory. I am very conscious of the fact that I have put up a wall to protect myself and nobody is tearing it down -- not even me. Maybe if the wall is strong enough God can't get through to hurt me anymore. It's destroying my fledgling performing arts career (because not only can nothing get in, nothing can get out), but what does that matter anyway? There's no hope for any of that.

15 November 2016

The Black Hole

Sometimes my self-hatred flares up even worse than usual. There's always a low-grade undercurrent of it throbbing through my head, tainting everything I see, hear, and do, but sometimes it rages across me so strongly that it completely stops every other thought and my brain literally feels like it will melt from the acid racing through it. And then I lock up in every area of my life -- sometimes to the point where I literally cannot talk.

It's been particularly bad this semester -- I'm taking eight classes, which I thought I could handle because I did it my last semester, but I failed to realise that last time I took eight classes they were all performing classes. In other words, they were things I have a natural aptitude for and also they don't require papers. This time, they're all academic classes. Which means papers. I may be a writer, but I'm in my third year of post-secondary and I have yet to write a half-decent paper. Academic writing just does not come naturally to me, and that, coupled with my already-crippling perfectionism, is a source of EXTREME stress. I don't have time to actually write the papers either, because I'm attending the eight classes... Add to this the fact that the flat has the LOUDEST heating system ever -- it literally wakes me up every time it runs. And I sleep like the dead. I have three very loud alarms set on my phone every morning and for the past three days I slept through every single one of them. But the heating system in the building wakes me up every. single. time. Add to that my already-near-crippling insecurity about my vocal abilities and the hit my performing abilities in general have taken, and you have a dangerous cocktail.

When I start into serious self-hatred mode, I get into this loop where no matter how much encouragement I receive, its effect is gone within seconds of my receiving it. I learnt long ago how to manipulate people into complimenting me, and though it's one of the things I hate the most about myself, I find myself doing it anyway at these times. This, of course, makes it worse because I already feel bad about myself and then I catch myself fishing for compliments again and then I feel even worse for putting the other person in that spot (seriously, there is nothing more awkward than being in a conversation with someone who is plainly fishing for compliments -- and I hate being that person), plus the encouragement I do get I suck dry within seconds and then start begging for more -- all without giving a single bit back. I'm just a black hole eating compliments and I can't stop it. So I hate myself even more for not being able to stop it, for not being able to live on one compliment a year like every one else does.

Why am I so needy? Why do I have to be that awkward person who takes but never, ever gives? Why does the coveted encouragement only last all of ten seconds before its effect is gone? Compliments don't make my whole day or even my whole minute -- they fade too fast. I'm torn between wanting more, hoping the next one will be the one that lasts and wanting to die so I can stop asking so much of so many and never being able to reciprocate.

11 November 2016

Dancing With Depression - Gene Kelly's Alter Ego Dance

I found this thanks to Operation Tap's Gene Kelly week on Facebook back in August. I had never even heard of it before.

1944. The height of World War II. PTSD is barely an acknowledged mental condition at this point, never mind depression. Yet Gene Kelly -- whether he intended to or not -- personifies the condition with more accuracy than thousands and thousands of modern dances for fundraisers ever have, even after depression started to be recognised as a legitimate mental illness. (I say this as a longtime sufferer.)

It's all here -- the whispers, the dark lonely alley, the feeble hopes, the self-hatred, the fear in his eyes, the tension in his shoulders, the careful drawing of breath, the double reeling him backwards on an invisible string, the double leading the dance -- controlling him, trying to wrestle it down but unable to get a hold of it...

It's the doppelgänger from the ¡Alarma! Chronicles stories. It's the ghost of the heart (wait, that's still ¡Alarma! Chronicles...). It's the Identical Twins, Paul's war on his own sinful flesh.

Words fail me. But this dance... it touched me. Very, very few dances do. But this was one of them (the others are Astaire and Charisse's Dancing In The Dark and Kelly and Astaire's The Babbitt And The Bromide).

Watch. Breathe. Don't focus -- not yet -- on the fact that it's 1944 and everything is rationed and money is tight yet Gene Kelly manages to film a dance with himself. Do that later. Watch the story, the feelings.

Title: Alter Ego Dance
Artist: Gene Kelly
Film: Cover Girl
Year: 1944
Columbia Pictures.
Watch here.

Even the very end illuminates how depression works (SPOILERS) -- he takes a trash can and throws it at the double in a last-ditch attempt to destroy it. It disappears, but there is shattered glass in its wake. (And how long is it really gone?)

Likewise, depression can be beaten -- but only temporarily, and often at a price. And the shattered glass left around us when we've managed to win one fistfight often sends us farther down into the dark alley, wondering why there isn't a way to beat this thing without completely destroying ourselves. Sometimes the trash can is alcohol. Sometimes it's drugs. Sometimes it's food. Sometimes it's suicide. But there are always pieces to pick up. It never just 'goes away.'

06 November 2016

National Novel Writing Month, Day 6

Wrote a death scene for the first time since before that glut of death that was 2015. Last year's novel featured several offstage backstory deaths and one on-stage near-death, but nothing 'for real.'

Today I killed off my MC's mother. She was originally supposed to have been dead before the novel opened, but at the last second I decided to establish a relationship between MC and her mother first. I didn't think I was that attached to her -- I was barely 7k into the novel and I did literally no character development before I started writing -- but I haven't cried like this since the week my cousin died. Even when I killed the FMC in Kyrie (at the 48k mark) I didn't cry this hard, and I was much more emotionally attached to that character than I am to anyone in this current story.

I don't really have a point I'm making here, apparently. But it struck me. I didn't realise how hard it would be writing death -- any death -- after losing all those people like that.  I just realised as I was typing that last sentence that the MC is about the same age as my cousin was. It had never occurred to me until today that I hadn't written any deaths since then.

All I can hope is maybe that's broken my writer's block. I haven't written anything substantial since April 2015 (the November 2015 novel doesn't count because it was so forced), and even on this novel I was behind within two days. I started today at 5,200 words -- I'm supposed to end today at 10k and because of my schedule next week I had hoped to finish out today with something more like 14 or 15k so I have a cushion for next week because I will have to miss a few days (two papers due by next Sunday, plus full class/rehearsal schedule and three performances in two days for Remembrance Day).

Word count goal for Day 6: 10,000
Current word count: 9,130
Oilers wins this month: 2
Free meals: 3
Papers written: 0
Papers due: 2
Loads of laundry done: 2

28 October 2016

Music Day - I Can See

I have been playing the crap out of this song lately. The other day I found out about the Steve Green cover of this song (which is fairly true to the original, and also it's apparently fairly well-known -- you know how sometimes the cover eclipses the original even if the original is better? This looks like one of those times), and I've been playing the original (which I already owned) ever since.

I really want to do a ballet solo to this. The orchestration is perfect for it. Now that I think about it, this song -- the album closer -- was really a departure from the album that preceded it. This was probably David Meece's most rocking album (which is still pretty mellow), and then at the very end comes this lovely quiet tender piano piece with a string orchestra and a very heartfelt (rather than energetic) vocal performance. David Meece is one of those performers who bleeds into his songs -- they're not just his way of making money (theoretically), these songs are a part of him. They come from his very soul and he means every word he sings. And it's not just the lyrics that are heartfelt -- the fact that he was practically born playing piano means he has that elusive ability to speak through the piano. The piano is an extension of his thoughts. This kind of intimacy with an instrument or tool only comes with long practice so it's quite rare (though less so among classical musicians, which David is), but it's so incredible to hear. There's a person at our church who plays cello and she's the same way -- she's so intimately acquainted with her instrument that the bow is an extension of her arm and she knows exactly how to make it say what she wants. (I hope to be able to dance like that one day -- that I will be able to know exactly how to shade what I do to speak without words. The sad thing is most dancers age out before they attain that level of thoroughness in their experience.) Photographers can do this too -- the camera is so much a part of them it's like the pen with which they write. They know the camera and the camera knows them. Taking a picture is a conversation between the photographer and her camera. But I digress...

This is a Don Francisco-style lyric (for his take on the same Biblical account, check out his song The Traveler/Joy), but David's voice is not quite as harsh as Don's and so blends better with the fragile flowing violins he chooses for his arrangement. I was first introduced to this song on vinyl (courtesy my dad), and that's a special treat. The warmer sound of vinyl adds just a little bit extra to the experience (although if your record has a lot of surface noise -- like ours does -- it's much harder to hear the actual song because the song is so quiet to begin with). If you get the chance to listen on vinyl, take it. But even listening in a digital format can be a moving experience.

Title: I Can See
Artist: David Meece
Album: 7
Year: 1985
Label: Myrrh Records
iTunes here; YouTube here.

All at once he walked beside me
Like he'd been there all along
Not a stranger -- but a father
Who can sense when something's wrong...

24 October 2016

Big Deep Space

I finally figured out what I like in my music -- why I love the '80s so much and why I CANNOT STAND hipster music.

I mean, there are several things I like: a good clear voice that's not nasal or raspy (Rick Florian of White Heart, Loyd Boldman of Prodigal), keyboards/piano (David Meece, Crumbächer) poetic/deep/insightful lyrics (everything Terry Scott Taylor has ever breathed on), a good dancing beat (basically the entire 1980s)...

But the other night one more ingredient clicked in my mind: I like bigness.

The 1980s (especially rock and, to an extent, pop) are notorious for 'big' production. Lots of instruments, lots of layers, lots of space -- music that could, and often did, fill arenas and stadiums. Late at night, go crank up the local '80s station and notice how sooner or later your mental pictures start going into outer space even if the song isn't about outer space. The production is just so big, so open, that your mind just starts to fly on its wings and suddenly you're meandering past galaxies.

You don't have that kind of space in a hipster song. There's nothing between the moaning vocal and the acoustic guitar. It's so flat and listless. Rock used to glitter and sparkle and have shape -- big shape, like a cathedral's ceiling. There were layers you could dig through -- drums, bass, keys, multiple guitars, vocal harmonies -- and they all had different dynamics. I realised I like music that lets me escape, distracts me, lets me fly, fires my imagination, releases me to the stars. It awakens my sense of wonder, and these days I need as much of that as possible. Hipster music doesn't do that, and worship music especially doesn't do that (worship music should though, in my opinion -- how are you going to inspire wonder in a congregation about a God you can only praise with flat, listless, bland, boring music?). (For more on that rant, see here.)

This doesn't just apply to '80s rock either -- choral music and symphonic music have a similar effect. Both have been widely used in the church and still capture the hearts of young and old in any religion today. Coincidence?

I'm not saying we have to go back to '80s arena rock. It's not everyone's thing, and that's cool. But can we at least kill this hipster music thing so we can have a resurgence in inspiring music? Please?

22 October 2016

Why I Can't Get Any Homework Done

Written 21 October 2016.

Me, yesterday: "Tomorrow is pretty busy, but I'll try to get some work done in the afternoon between my dance classes."

Me, today:

10.15: *gets up*

10.20: *dresses/eats breakfast/does hair*

10.50: *goes to dance*

1.13: *goes to post office*

1.20: *makes lunch*

1.35: *eats lunch*

2.00: *practices voice*

3.00: *goes to music department office*

3.15: *heads back to flat*

3.18: *notices flat tire on van*

3.20: *calls dad* (*interrupts funeral*)

3.26: *calls tire shop*

3.27: *calls doctor's office about x-rays*

3.37: *meets tire shop people*

3.41: *calls x-ray place*

3.45: *homework*

4.02: *kills spider*

4.06: *walks two blocks to pick up van*

4.17: *drives back*

4.21: *writes blog post about not getting homework done*

4.35: *makes supper*

4.45: *eats supper*

5.36: *leaves for dance*

6.03: *goes to bank*

6.18: *arrives at dance school after having to cross Main Street, pull a U-turn, and come back because for some bizarre reason you're not allowed to turn left onto Main Street after leaving the bank even though you can turn left onto Main Street at literally every other intersection*

6.45: *pays outstanding dance fees*

7.00: *dance class*

10.20: *leaves dance school*

10.45: *brief detour at friend's bonfire*

11.13: *leaves bonfire*

11.32: *drops friend off at her house*

11.36: *returns to flat*

12.07: *emails mother*

12.36: *checks school email*

12.54: *publishes blog post*

21 October 2016

Music Day - Morningstar

One of my favourite Terry Scott Taylor lyrics EVER is Daniel Amos' song When Worlds Collide. It's a beautiful lyric, from the perspective of God to those He loves. This is a notoriously difficult angle to write from -- so rife with potential pitfalls that most songwriters rarely attempt it and those who do usually make it so contrived it's unlistenable. Terry Taylor, however, is 1. not out to write a Number One hit, and 2. a thinking man -- which in this case translates into 'fantastic songwriter' -- and as a result his take on it is probably the closest one out there to how it actually is.

Not long after that song appeared on DA's Vox Humana album in 1984, Terry Taylor produced an album for a little band called D.O.X. that made two albums and disappeared. Even though he only wrote two of the songs on it (the band took care of the rest), his influence is ALL OVER that album. I keep thinking it's a lost DA record (compare with DA's Fearful Symmetry album from the same year). You can even hear Terry Taylor, Rob Watson (DA keyboardist), and Tim Chandler (DA bassist) in the background vocals in some of the songs. This influence extends to the songwriting of Mark de la Bretonne (D.O.X. frontman), and nowhere is this more evident than in the album closer, Morningstar.

Title: Morningstar
Artist: D.O.X.
Album: D.O.X. (Defenders Of The Cross)
Year: 1986
iTunes here; YouTube here.

The song opens with a brief but crisp description of loneliness and twisted love in the big city, enough to paint a picture of a heart's desolation. And then it segues into what is clearly the voice of God, pining over an unrequited love (hint: that's all humans), much in the style of the aforementioned When Worlds Collide (though admittedly, Morningstar is not as tender -- I mean, it has rock guitars).

The real payoff here is in the final minute of the song, when some genius (who, I suspect, bears the initials T.S.T. but I could be wrong) decided to layer bits of the first verse with the chorus and the result is heart-wrenching. It stopped me in my tracks when I first heard it.

Sit down. Close your eyes. Breathe. Listen.

I walk the streets alone
I call your name...

08 October 2016

Music Day - Kickstarter Alert!

Ever wanted to see Crumbächer in concert?

Or the Altar Boys?

Or The Choir?

Or Undercover?

Or 4.4.1?

If you, like me, are too young to remember the glory days of Christian music, here is your TARDIS!

See, back in 2005, these five bands did a one-night-only reunion concert. This show was filmed. Interviews were filmed. And now, eleven years later, they're putting it all together in a double-disc four-hour DVD extravaganza!

...If they get the funding. And that's where we come in.

The link to their Kickstarter campaign is here. If you're not familiar with these bands, allow me to introduce you...

Altar Boys
These guys have gone down in history as Christian music's first legitimate punk band. They were raw and gritty and honest and above all, passionate.
You Are Loved
Hearts Lost In Nowhere
Life Begins At The Cross

The Choir (Website here.)
If you're more into the mellow introspective side of things, this is the band for you. Hipster music fans, this is your entry point.
Children Of Time
Sentimental Song

The true masters of '80s synthpop. With killer harmonies to boot.
Once In A Heartbreak
Life Of The Party

Straight-up rip-your-face-off melodic rock with one of the biggest voices EVER in Christian music (featured on the the last two links below).
Is Anyone Thirsty?
Build A Castle
Darkest Hour

4.4.1 (Website here.)
I'm not as familiar with this band, but I have played the crap out of Mourning Into Dancing on YouTube.
In The Night
In His Presence

As you can see (and hear), there's something for everyone at this concert. Maybe '80s synthpop isn't your thing. So skip the Crumbächer and headbang to Undercover. Maybe rock makes your ears bleed. Fast-forward Undercover and go hang out in The Choir's section of the disc.

All of the songs mentioned above will be on this DVD set. But this is only a small offering of what is in the footage, and even that is only a small portion of each band's total output. If you like what you hear, go buy some music from their websites or from a legal source and then go fund this thing. Immediately. If I had 45 grand in my bank account, I would pay for this entire thing myself. But I don't, so that's why we need your help.

You know you want to...

02 October 2016

Self-Perception and Faking It

Lately I've been thinking a lot about talents and skills and our perception of them. Obviously the way we see our own abilities differs from the way others see our ability. In the same way, the way other people see their own ability sometimes differs quite widely from the way we see their ability.

I really notice this when I'm at college. You all know that I have a very poor opinion of my own singing voice and am perpetually intimidated by everyone in the entire music department in that respect. Yes, I have seen improvement in my singing, but I feel I'm still so far behind. So often I see or hear the other music majors and I think 'wow, they're so great... I wonder what it must feel like to have all this come so easily.' I mean yes I know they practice but still... they see results from their practice. They know exactly what to fix and how to fix it. They know how to improve. I just sing it over and over until I'm tired and I've logged my time for the day. I'm just faking it and still terrified that one day they will all find out I'm faking it and don't have any actual talent.

Of course I've often considered that maybe they are just as insecure about themselves as I am about myself. But recently I wondered if they listen to me sing and think similar things to what I think when they sing. The thought seems kind of ludicrous -- who in the world would be jealous of anything I have? -- but maybe they think that exact same thing about themselves too.

It's so hard to know who to seek out and encourage. It's so hard to know who's unaware of their talent. Maybe the reason we performing artists go so under-encouraged is because we're so good that everyone assumes we're aware of it when really we think we're just frauds and are hoping no-one will find out and we're hoping for some kind of sign that we aren't frauds...

One one hand it can be helpful. This constant not-knowing if I even have any business being in this program drives me to practice like a madwoman -- sometimes at the expense of my schoolwork, health, and sanity. The sheer amount of practice means that I improve at a steady pace, even if I don't see it. Plus, there are still some people in the world who look for a hard worker rather than a good-looking babe with natural talent oozing out of her ears.

However, on the other hand, there is the very real potential that not-knowing will eat me alive. I fight this every day... waking up in the morning wondering if today is the day someone tells me the horrible truth -- that they can see right through me, that they know I'm faking it, that they're not going to humour me anymore, that I'm not welcome among the ranks of the actually talented any longer. I feel like a spy in enemy territory, constantly on edge, just waiting to get caught and executed.

This is part of why I find myself trying so hard to be bland and invisible -- if I'm invisible, no-one can see that I'm faking it, because no-one can see me. But the very nature of the career means you must be seen. It's your job to be seen and heard, very brightly and very loudly. How to reconcile that without feeling even more like a fake...?

24 September 2016

The Pink Paper

15 April 2015. Three days before I graduate with my Associate of Arts degree.

I'm walking to my program director's office for the second time in ten minutes. In my hand is a single pink sheet of paper. Across the top of it are the words Program Declaration/Transfer Form. Beneath those words, in my handwriting, are my name and the date -- my sister's birthday. Below that are the words Current Program and New Program. In those fields, in my handwriting, are the words AA Music and BA Music, respectively.

And I am taking this sheet of paper, which may or may not determine the next two years of my life, to my program director for his signature, which I know he will give... he's the one who's been pressing me to take this step for the past month and a half and who, five minutes before, directed me to get this piece of paper from the academic office.

I knock, and enter.

"I'm back." I hold out the paper.

He bids me wait a moment and finishes with the computer. I stand back from the screen -- he's doing grades; he told me this when I was here five minutes ago. Then he rolls his chair closer, takes the paper and signs it. Twice -- once as the director of the AA Music and once as the director of the BA Music. He hands it back.

"There you go. Take it back up. They'll open registration for you and they'll fill in a program sheet for you and email it to you and me."

I'm aware that my face is pale. My heart is racing. What am I doing? But I manage a nod. He's already made it clear that I'm not actually committing to anything yet and can still decide not to come back. But perhaps he sees my terror at my own volition for he says it again.

"You can always decide not to come back if things don't work out. But I want you to come back. Keep me posted through the summer. Shoot me an email."


I thank him, leave, and take the paper back up to the academic office.


One full year passed -- summer, fall, winter, spring. A second summer hurtled by. By mid-August it was clear that the money would not be there to return for this degree, this program on the pink paper, and so I began packing my schedule to the brim with dance classes in Alberta. I was pulling from three different schools, working around theatre rehearsals and the few auditions I could scrounge up online, practicing on my own, working my actual job every second I could in between.


29 August 2016. Three days before registration day at the college -- a day I know I cannot attend. I have come to peace (at least a bit) with the fact that I am about to forfeit my Bachelor's degree and two years of musical theatre training due to lack of funds.

I go to visit a friend of mine from church. We talk about what's new and the college comes up.

"About that..." she says. "I contacted a few people I know. They have collectively contributed two thousand dollars and there is one person who is willing to loan you the difference."

Never before have I experienced the feeling that I'm dreaming when I'm not. But I am now. I sit, studying her face, utterly lost for words. So thoroughly had I despaired of ever going back again that to have it sitting in front of me, within my grasp, seems incongruent.

This just does not happen. Not to me.

Years in the church, hearing the stories of missionaries and laypeople and pastors having miraculous answers to prayer, financially, have still not prepared me for the idea that that could happen to me. I have always been the punching bag on the outside looking into grace. Miracles don't happen to me.

Every thought I had had all day disappeared from my head. She was asking me about my week and I could barely string together a sentence. I had literally forty-eight hours to notify everyone, pack, and move out-of-province. But we did. My family rallied around me and saw me out the door on my first solo flight to the middle of nowhere on the second.

And that's (the condensed version of) how I ended up back in Saskatchewan this semester.

17 September 2016

Music Day - Breakfast

I've really been feeling my age lately. This week I realised that this year's eighteen-year-old college freshmen were born in the year 1998. And that fact will not let me go.

I know 1980s music is old. I get that. But to me, mid to late-'90s music is the actual soundtrack of my childhood. (Even though I wasn't allowed to listen to Britney Spears, I was aware of her.) So I have this thing in my head that just kind of assumes '90s pop is the soundtrack to everyone's childhood -- that is to say, that all church kids grew up singing Shine and The Devil Is Bad and Big House and Flood and maybe even (like me) Missing Person.

And this week I realised it's not. Not anymore. The college freshmen I rub shoulders with this year are younger than all but one of the aforementioned songs. They're not just 'too young to remember.' They were literally not even born yet. And now they're in college. There are adults on this planet who cannot remember hearing Dive on the radio.

So today I am going to do my part to rectify this unfortunate situation. Yeah, the '80s may be a bit of a stretch for this generation, but surely the '90s can still get some attention. They're getting forgotten -- taken for granted. They're in that weird limbo state where everyone thinks they're familiar but they're totally not.

I give you one of the greatest Newsboys songs to ever grace the airwaves, back when the Newsboys were Australian (this generation of college freshmen doesn't know that either). Steve Taylor (who?) was clearly well-involved in the band by that point, and it appears that with this song he simply set out to see how many food puns he could cram into three and a half minutes and still sell it.

The Newsboys, of course, pull it off in infectious, danceable style -- that opening guitar riff is still one of the most recognisable riffs of my generation. The syncopated acoustic piano you hear in the back is something CCM hasn't heard since. This, I believe, is also the start of the tradition of whistling somewhere on every Newsboys radio single (up until they Americanised). You have to give these guys props -- who else could sing a lyric like this and actually make it sound fun (even twenty years on) instead of stupid? Steve Taylor and the Australian Newsboys were a match made in heaven.

Title: Breakfast
Artist: Newsboys
Album: Take Me To Your Leader
Year: 1996
iTunes here; YouTube here.

26 August 2016

Music Day - Hero

This song really hit me in my final semester (so far) of college.

I was in the midst of the worst year of my personal life (to that point). Two divorces, both completely out of the blue, came right on each other's heels -- one involved my favourite uncle leaving my favourite aunt. That was the first of two straws that broke me (the second was the death of my cousin). It was unfathomable -- that my uncle, who was so caring and affectionate, would turn his back on the woman he promised to love till death parted them and deliberately rend his children's lives in two.

Not long after that bomb broke, one of the chapel speakers at the college gave a talk that made me realise that my uncle had been one of my heroes. But, as Steve Taylor notes...

Heroes died
When the squealers bought 'em off
When the dealers got 'em off
Welcome to the in-for-the-money-as-an-idol show
When they ain't as big as life
When they ditch their second wife...

It's an incisive look at the despair of a little boy as he grows up and all his dreams are crushed... as he finds that the idol you thought you'd be... was just another zero.

And while I'm not a male in an increasingly feminist world, with all the double-standards and pressure that comes with it, that about sums up how I feel too.

I looked up to my uncle. He was cool, he was funny, he was smart, he was a fantastic storyteller, he was one of the few people who would actually talk to me during my teen years. He still does all these things, but now they reek of insincerity. How can I believe that you will always care for me, your mere niece, when you couldn't even muster up the will to care about the woman you professed to love and the children she gave you? And if I can't look up to my uncle, who else can't I look up to? Who can I trust? At first the obvious answer was 'God,' but then my cousin died -- in spite of our prayers for her -- and I realised even God will turn His back.

Title: Hero
Artist: Steve Taylor
Album: Meltdown
Year: 1984
Label: Sparrow Records
iTunes here; YouTube here.

Plus, it accurately sums up life as an artist: I want to be an artist -- someone who creates things and touches hearts. I want to be a hero.

But the practical side
Said the question was still,
'When you grow up, what will you be?'
...I want to be an artist.

But that's the wrong answer.

25 August 2016

(I don't really have a title for this.)

I'm so tired. Of life. Of fighting. Of trying to see hope when I know it will shatter -- just like the last hope, and the previous hope, and the hope before that.

I'm tired of being passed over and ignored and rejected. I'm tired by all the efforts I've made to prove myself worthy of attention and love. I'm tired of never being good enough.

I'm tired of praying and getting only static.

I just want somebody, anybody -- God, a human, I don't care -- to notice me, to tell me I don't need to fight anymore. Yes, I'm exhausted, but if I learnt nothing else at college, I learnt to keep going though my knees have turned to jelly from sheer fatigue.

I'm tired of waiting for God, waiting for you, waiting for the happy end which I doubt more and more is coming.

Stop this merry-go-round. Stop the madness. I want out.

19 August 2016

Music Day - Ping Pong

There is a lot of guitar in the world.

A lot of guitar players. A lot of guitar music. And after a while, it all sounds the same. Even across genres it starts to sound the same. It's hard to pick out a favourite or even a certain guitarist's distinctive style because there is such an overwhelming number of other guitar leads crowding our heads. I am very surprised that we as a culture have not reached saturation point, revolted, and went back to classical piano or something.

With all of that said, Michael Roe is the only person I have encountered in my musical forays across time whose guitar-playing style I not only recognise, but actually enjoy on its own merits. His music is the only music I buy specifically for the guitar work. Everyone else I listen to is judged on lyrics, vocals, and/or keyboards (usually in that order), but Michael Roe/77s alone is in my library because of the guitar work. That's how distinctive it is. And in my world, distinctive (in music) is a very, very good thing (that's literally the reason I am a Daniel Amos fan).

This song is my favourite from Michael Roe and his band, the 77s. The tap dancer in me shivers with delight every time I hear this song. Every single time. He plays with the rhythms so effortlessly (both in the music and the lyrics) and blends them together so fluidly. Keep in mind this was their debut album. He started his career here. Most of these hipster kids today won't get to this level if they live to be a hundred and seventeen. (Plus, this song is just darn good old-fashioned rock -- witness Roe's teen-rebel-esque vocal delivery -- and heaven knows the hipsters have no idea what that is.)

I would be remiss not to give a shout-out to the bass player (Jan Eric, according to BandCamp) for making a bassline that actually sounds like ping pong. Genius. And the perfect harmonic counterpart to Roe's guitar. I love this bassline. Yes, the guitar is fantastic, but without this bass work, the song is sunk. Further props to the drummer (Mark Proctor), for keeping up with and further accentuating the work of these two. And to Mark Tootle, who I assume is responsible for the other guitar line you hear in the interlude.

Title: Ping Pong Over The Abyss
Artist: 77s
Album: Ping Pong Over The Abyss
Year: 1982
Preview, read lyrics, and buy (CD or online) from the artist here.

Also, can we talk about the ending? This, kids, is how you do an ending. In music theory they told us that the longer you put off the final cadence, the more satisfying it is when you finally get there. This is exactly what Roe does here. There are about five false endings here -- you think it's ending, then he pivots and goes off on another melody line. Then just when you think it really is ending this time, he pivots again and charges off in another direction. I think he revisits every note he played in the song in the final fifteen seconds.

But -- lest you start telling me that Hillsong's Oceans doesn't end for forty-five minutes so that's the same thing -- Roe makes it interesting. He plays with several different -- but familiar to the song -- melody lines in about thirty seconds. He keeps the pace moving. It twists and turns and draws the listener in like Bm-G-D-A at a cassette tape's pace never could. It's a sonic maze, and it's full of delightful surprises. The whole song is, really, but Roe definitely saved the best for last in this case. (Take note, artists-who-fade-down-every-song-on-every-album.)

They don't make 'em like this anymore. Enjoy.

17 August 2016

Cybermen and Parallel Universes

So I'm slowly making my way through Season 2 of the new Doctor Who, and I just watched the Cybermen doubleheader (I don't think there should be spoilers in this post, but I make no guarantees. Proceed at your own risk).

The whole thing with the emotion inhibitor (look at me go, SPOILERS already). How nice does that sound? To not have to make any more decisions, to have no more passion to tear me to shreds because the world doesn't want it, to never love and lose again, to not have to pretend this tornado of emotions in my head 24/7 doesn't exist because apparently nobody else is tormented by all the pain in the world so I must be the strange one... Every time I've come close to contemplating suicide, this is my reason -- if I kill myself, I don't feel any of this anymore. The love for dance and art and people that both drives me and destroys me will itself be destroyed and the pain will stop. I won't have to wake up every single morning and decide -- again -- whether I'm going to earn money with my life or if I'm going to live broke because I want to actually enjoy my job. Having to make that decision once is bad enough. Having to face it every single morning of your existence is exhausting beyond words. I could take the easy path and choose money -- then everyone will be happy with me and I won't legitimately have to wonder how in the world I'm going to pay for dance this year -- because there will be no dance.

So why do I keep choosing dance? Every morning I choose dance, even though it's killing me financially, physically, emotionally, mentally. Why don't I give up? Why don't I pick the easy way out? Why do I still hang onto this thing that, by all accounts, is useless?

I don't know. And that makes my continual decision to keep it even more ridiculous. It makes me trust myself even less. If I have no good reason to keep it -- should I? Shouldn't the fact that I don't have a real reason be reason enough to drop it?

The Doctor, in his big saving-the-universe speech, focused on the creativity and imagination that comes from being human, with all emotions intact. He saw that as a good thing. He's one of the last remaining beings in the universe to think that. People here, now, today don't see it that way. Art is disposable. And in this eco-friendly world, disposable is a Bad Thing. Therefore, I am one of the last vestiges of an old-fashioned dying race ("and good riddance to 'em!").

Something in my head just said, 'so make them wish you weren't the last.'

But how? In a world that will not listen to artists anymore, how do you get their attention? How do you make an impact on their lives when they turn a blind eye, mock you, call you stupid -- for the umpteenth time? Mickey got to move to a parallel universe -- one where he was able to prove his worth and earn his place. I don't have that luxury.

Now I'm trying to picture a parallel universe -- one with me in it, but not as a dancer. One in which I was a normal, reasonable person who went into -- I don't even know, what do females my age do, anyway? Say nursing. No dance, no acting, no singing, no performing, no writing, just nursing. Anatomy and biology and all that stuff. If art weren't an option in that world, if it literally didn't exist -- could I enjoy nursing (or whatever else)? I can't even picture that. I can imagine a lot of things. Choreography literally is imagination projected outside of the mind's eye. I once imagined a huge dancing choir of angels -- seventeen of them -- comforting a scared little child in the night over the space of four minutes and then spent the next eight hours writing it all down, capturing all the details of the movements I had seen in those four minutes. But I can't imagine a world in which I wasn't drawn to art in some form. I can't picture myself as a 'normal,' 'reasonable' person.

The only way I could be 'normal and reasonable' would be to become a Cyberman. To inhibit all those emotions and passions. And despite the Doctor's passionate speech to the contrary, wouldn't it be so much easier if there were none? Those of us who are artists at heart wouldn't have to feel our very souls being ripped out of our bodies by taking desk jobs and never having hobbies. We would finally be some semblance of happy and we would never realise that we weren't fulfilled -- just content to exist to shuffle papers and computer files around.

We could finally stop fighting for our losing cause.

14 August 2016

On Losing Childhood and Imaginary Worlds

Over the past week or so I've started realising something. That despite all my vehement protests to the contrary, all the promises made to myself that it wouldn't happen, I grew up.

The other night -- my birthday -- I was watching my younger siblings play in the front yard. They were fully invested in their imaginary world, their story. And suddenly I realised that to them, I was not a playmate. I was not one of them. I was more like a second mother figure, constantly throwing cold water on their imaginations.

When was last time I was so fully invested in a story that everything around me served the story? My next-youngest sister and I had a fictional family living in darn near every tree on our yard, not to mention the trampoline and the playhouse our dad built and in every row of the garden and in the ditch... We could enter that world at the drop of a hat. It would take one second.

When was last time we entered that world? She and I hardly even speak to each other now -- our tastes are so different and it has divided us so deeply. It's a ridiculous thing, I know, but somehow our imaginary world was literally the only thing holding us together. When we stopped entering it -- and heaven knows why -- we stopped talking to each other. Could we find it again? Are either of us brave enough to try? Would we be able to get past the self-consciousness, the petty arguments, this silent gaping rift?

Suddenly I'm not a child anymore. I even made it through two years of college still sort of thinking that I was, or at the very least that the child in me wasn't that far away. That's how subtle it is. That's how slowly it happens. You don't notice it's gone until years after the last foray into the imaginary world. I think last time we were there I was fifteen -- admittedly, that's older than most are their last time -- and the only reason I remember that is because it was somehow a more conscious decision for me to enter that world that time. I pre-planned that day before it happened. I planned the night before that we would play our game. We got into it the same as we always had, but the preamble felt different to me. We didn't just jump in -- it was pre-meditated. It wasn't spontaneous.

What changed? I don't know. Certainly not self-consciousness -- at the time I had exactly zero friends and wasn't trying to impress anybody. I did get a job the next summer. I joined Facebook. I got my driver's license. I was diagnosed as severely anaemic. I went through the worst phase of my depression and nearly committed suicide. Was I really so wrapped up in numbing the pain I was feeling that I forgot about the most effective cure? Did I think it wouldn't work? Or did I truly forget it was available to me? Why did it never occur to me between then and now to try re-entering the story again?

I feel like I cheated her. She's younger than me, and so her last time entering the story was younger than mine.

Or maybe the reason I didn't notice was partly because I did keep connecting to characters -- but they were created by me, for me, not with her. I kept using different personas while writing, and now it's showing up as dancing and acting. Maybe that's why I cling so desperately to my performance dream -- because if I give that up, I have well and truly given up on the childhood I swore I would never completely lose.

If I were to try and join my siblings now, would they accept this new character? Would I accept their world? Do I still have the imagination to narrate myself out of a corner if need be?

31 July 2016

(Belated) Music Day - Looking Glass

Next up, on 'this week in Kate's existential crisis'...

I actually forgot this song existed until I was scrolling through my iTunes library looking for good tap dance improv practice songs.

The entire album is White Heart at its most mature and most mellow. By this point, the powerhouse six-piece rock band had dwindled to three -- Rick Florian, Mark Gersmehl, and Billy Smiley. This song opens with an acoustic guitar, of all things. Rick's voice is still smooth as butter (although most of the songs featured Gersh on lead vocals, so the point is kind of moot). But the fire behind their playing had dwindled to a mere ember.

This is not to discount this album entirely. What the album lacked in musical imagination, it almost made up for in sheer depth of songwriting. The lyrics here are some of the most probing and mature ever released under the White Heart name.

There's an irony, I think, in starting this album with an attempt at a recommitment song and then spending the rest of the album talking about estranged relationships. The irony is furthered by the fact that this is White Heart's last album to date, and it is extremely likely they knew this at the time they recorded it. It's something like starting with Independence Day and then following it up with a SUPER mellow ABBA album. It could have come off well if the other songs weren't so depressing. This is probably the most upbeat song on the album (which tells you a lot).

Title: Looking Glass
Artist: White Heart
Album: Redemption
Year: 1997
Label: Curb Records
iTunes here; YouTube here.

It's a shame, though, that this was their last album. They could have done so much better. They could have gone out with a bang. But instead this must stand as their final work (because at this point it doesn't appear that they'll ever get their collective act together enough to even record a new song, even though there are hundreds of us waiting with wallets open to Kickstart this thing).

I want to heal
Want to feel my heart again
And not the way it's been...

28 July 2016

Watching A Dream Die

The last couple weeks have been harder than I've let on.

Much harder.

Like to the point where I've had to Google the suicide help line. I stopped short of contacting it, but I Googled it and had the page ready and waiting. Even in my darkest moments when I was sixteen, I never got to that point.

In part, this is my problem: all I have ever wanted to do is dance, and failing that, I wanted to be onstage in some capacity.

One year ago this seemed like a very real possibility. I was just coming off of my musical theatre debut and had been personally invited back to the college's musical theatre program (I believe it's one of the strongest musical theatre undergraduate programs in the country, but I don't know that for sure). I was diving into nearly full-time dance training. Everything was going fairly well on the 'future career' side of things (if not the 'personal/family' side...), for the first time ever.

My invitation to the college still stands for this school year only. In other words, either I go back to college this year or forfeit my degree. And I can't go back again this year, because finances simply will not allow it.

In lieu of that (as it looks increasingly unlikely that I'm going to have enough money for even one semester of college), I'm piecing together a near-full-time dance training schedule, between two (possibly three) schools and personal practice. If I'm going to dance, I need to gun it. Now. I'm already old in dance years, and I'm not getting any younger.

The problem is this: I have no talent. None. The only way I've survived this far is because I've learned how to shine by comparison. I can pick stuff up very quickly in a class setting, so while everyone else is still going 'wait, which foot do I start on?' I'm already doing the entire sequence. So they think I'm good because I can figure out the footwork quickly and I can remember stuff. But that's where I stop. I realised this right at the end of last dance season -- as soon as I have the footwork down, I start doing it by rote. I don't play with it, I don't work with characterization, nothing. This was a bit of a blow, but I resolved to take just as much dance next season and focus on that -- on truly making my dancing the best it can be, not just 'better than the others.'

But in the meantime, to bring my tap dancing up to par (I only started three years ago, therefore my skills are SEVERELY lacking), I decided to practice every day, for minimum half an hour. It's not much, but I'm still working full-time too. I hoped to see some improvements by the end of the summer, if only due to consistency.

Every single practice session this week has ended prematurely, with tears. I am literally watching my ability to dance atrophy every single day. Once I had great paradiddles... now a 'paradiddle' is apparently defined as 'a stomach-twisting scraping sound with a foot that would make a banana look straight.' Once I could syncopate to almost any song in my music library. Now I play an old standby to improvise to and I'm lucky if I can keep straight time, never mind anything approaching syncopation. I used to be able to do a toe stand and chill out there, no problem. Tonight I literally spent ten minutes on one eight count phrase that includes step-heel, step-heel, step, step, scuff. And I wound up giving up because my feet would not do it, no matter how slowly I went, no matter how much I spoke the phrase out loud, no matter how many times I reviewed my notes and the counts.

I have to face it: I can't dance anymore.

Everyone around me is telling me to go for these auditions I keep finding, to follow my dreams, and I am watching my feet turn into concrete blocks at the end of these dysfunctional sticks called my legs. No self-respecting tap dancer would be caught dead going to an audition knowing she can't even consistently shuffle anymore. No company on the planet is going to hire a ballerina who can't turn to her left, ever.

So now I can't continue my musical theatre training (and heaven knows I do need training), but I also can't pursue my true love. My brain and my body have conspired against me and have given up. What else is left?

Googling reasons why I should keep living, none of which apply to me and all of which ring hideously hollow.

25 July 2016

Resistance and Perfection - Definition Of An Artist

I have been called worthless.

I have been called lazy.

I have been called stupid.

I have been called a whore.

I have been called annoying.

I have been called too smart for my own good (and believe me, that's not a compliment).

I have been called whiny.

I have been called too negative.

I have heard people tell their friends not to associate with me.

I have heard people tell my friends not to associate with me.

I have been told I'm not wanted.

I have been ignored.

I have been yelled at.

I have been told I will never amount to anything.

I have been told I am a waste of skin/of time/of space.

I have been told I'm wasting my life.

I have been called unloveable.

I have been told I mean nothing.

I have been given the cold shoulder.

I know how Larry Norman must have felt -- what it's like to be too worldly for the church and too Christian for the world. I know what it's like to have the church look at you and say "we don't need you and we don't want you."

I know what it's like to cry myself to sleep. I know what it's like to practice until I literally collapse. I know what it's like to rehearse until my practice clothes are sweat-glued to my body. I know what it's like to pull an all-nighter -- for an entire semester. I know what it's like to starve. I know what shin splints feel like. I know what emotional heartbreak feels like. I know what it's like to pay enormous chiropractic bills because I have destroyed my body trying to be good enough. I know what it's like to practice until I can't breathe.

I have known all this in the past two years. I know most of this as I write.

Tell me now how worthless and unlovable I am. Tell me that I am solely responsible leading today's generation astray. Tell me I am the antichrist. Tell me all this sweat, all these hours, all this work, all this pain, all this love in my heart for it -- tell me it means nothing. Tell me the oxygen in my lungs as I practice is a waste. Tell me I'm wasting my life. Tell me God hates me.

Go on. I dare you.

22 July 2016

Music Day - Father's Arms

Monday night/Tuesday morning I was working and was listening to Daniel Amos to keep me awake. I was just picking songs at random and hit on this one that I'd apparently played exactly twice before. (Just for comparison, the entire Vox Humana album sits at about 48 on the iTunes play count -- and that doesn't include playing the CD approximately four thousand times during the summer of 2013.) I didn't know this song well and I wasn't really listening at first, but then the lyrics began to sound familiar...

'And the darkness comes whispering down the halls
And you're a scared little child who dreams he falls...'

How many times have I daydreamed of falling -- falling off the overpass, off a bridge -- over the past two months?

I was listening more closely now, and the song got even more autobiographical:

'You assure them while composure is breaking
And they watch as you run and you hit the wall
Slump to the ground and begin to crawl
To the edge of the cliff where you start your fall...'

Parenthetical paragraph: These lyrics also call to mind another song that would come from Terry Taylor's pen ten years later: Safety Net, from Darn Floor, Big Bite. Specifically this part:
'Down to the black bridge of sighs
She drains her head by the river
Bowed to the father of lies
And hangs on the ledge of forever...'
(End parenthetical paragraph.)

The invitation issued in the chorus, though, still gives me pause -- 'Come fall in your Father's arms...'

Do I trust God even that much anymore? Do I trust Him to catch me as I fall apart, as I fall off the edge of faith, of joy, of everything that was good in my life? The call is so gentle, but still I stiffen and pull away. It's a nice thought, but is it really true? I wish it was, but I honestly don't know. The last couple times I trusted God, He just went ahead and wrecked everything anyway. This invitation here is so sweet and gentle though -- it makes me miss that assurance that He would catch me if I fell.

Now for the arrangement.

First -- those harmonies. DA has always been noted for their harmonies, especially in their early days. They're lovely here in the chorus. That third line where someone (Terry?) takes a higher harmony -- that's my favourite part.

Second, the melody is both beautiful and unique -- classic TST. I love the leap upward it makes at the end of the second line of each verse. I don't think anybody but Terry Taylor would write a melody like that. And I like the slightly-offset rhythm of the 'All right, okay, oh yeah...' line -- gives the song a little bit of verve.

Plus, the strings and piano add a bit of drama and almost-symphonic beauty to the song (particularly in the interlude), while the electric guitar keeps it in rock territory. This song is darn near perfection.

Title: Father's Arms
Artist: Daniel Amos
Album: Shotgun Angel
Year: 1977
Label: Maranatha! Music
Buy the (deluxe two-disc remastered) album directly from the band here.
iTunes here; YouTube here.
Lyrics here.

19 July 2016

How To Make A 'Worship Song' And Get Super Famous

11 January 2014, 11.30pm.

WARNING: Major sarcasm alert. This is definitely not for the easily offended.

How to make a 'good' 'worship' song (note the liberal use of sarcastic quotes):

Things you need:
A mega-church, preferably in Texas somewhere.
A YouTube account.
The services of a professional video recording/production company.
A 'band name,' usually consisting of the name of your church with the word 'worship' tacked on the end.
Several thousand people to fill your auditorium during the set (mostly in the early-twenties demographic).

Step 1: Load up the stage.
Atmospheric purple lighting (yes, it must be purple), super troupers, an otherwise dim auditorium, three to seven guitarists, a drum set in a shadowed corner, one electric piano, a lone vocalist in the centre of the stage with a microphone and an iPad very prominently displayed on a music stand/pulpit.
If the vocalist is male, he must have an acoustic guitar and a mic stand. He should also be wearing a white or light-coloured button-up shirt which should not be tucked into his black skinny jeans. For maximum 'relevance' (how I loathe that word!), he should also be wearing Crocs. The successful worship pastor will also have a beard and at least one large, very visible, ambiguous tattoo.
If the vocalist is female, her hair should be shoulder-length, straightened, and preferably dark-coloured. Make-up is acceptable and in fact encouraged (for relevance, of course -- after all, God doesn't make mistakes, right?). She should wear a dark-coloured top, skinny jeans and shoes that are fashionable and expensive-looking (though not necessarily actually expensive). Jewelry is restricted to a couple of metallic-coloured bangles and maybe some dangle earrings. She is also forbidden to have her eyes open for more than a total of six seconds of the entire song.
Note that everybody on the stage must be white, with the possible exception of a female vocalist (who may be of Asian or possibly Hispanic descent in order to demonstrate that God loves people from all races).

Step 2: The intro.
If the vocalist is female: Put a female blonde with straightened hair in front of the keyboard. Have her play an extremely slow phrase in 4/4 time, preferably using only whole notes, but half and quarter notes are permitted in extreme circumstances. She must repeat this exact phrase, over and over and over again, in excess of six or seven minutes. She must also close her eyes, slowly shake her head from side to side at appropriate moments, and gently sway her upper body forward and backward as if hypnotised (this sends the very clear message to the audience -- sorry, 'congregation' -- that they too should be hypnotised by the revolutionary F-C-G chord progression).
If the vocalist is male: It is acceptable, in extraordinary cases, to use the classic drumstick-time-signature intro, but nothing too exuberant. Temper the enthusiasm. The all-powerful God might go deaf, you know. However, for 'slower' songs, follow the piano intro as described under the 'female vocalist' heading.

*Please note that throughout the remainder of this guide we will be assuming you're going for the more common and more boring -- sorry, powerful -- slower worship song.

Step 3: The first verse.
The first verse (actually, the only verse) should deal primarily with the subject of oneself and one's warm fuzzy feelings -- 'how You loved me,' 'how You save me,' 'oh, what You've done for me,' et cetera. Actually focusing on God and worshipping Him due to His beauty and goodness and might would be absurd and might 'turn off' your ultra-hip, 'seeking' crowd. The vocalist's eyes, as previously noted, should be closed. If female, she should also shake her head side to side, slowly, at appropriate moments (usually on the words 'how' and 'You'). Halfway through the first verse, the drummer should do a soft roll on the cymbals (author's note: I'm pretty sure that's not what they're actually called, but I don't know what the correct name is). Also note that the use of complete and/or logical sentences in the song structure is optional and in fact discouraged.

Step 4: The chorus.
The volume of the keyboard may change here, to signify that we are now entering the chorus part and that the audience/congregation should raise their hands and close their eyes accordingly. (If you want to get really radical, the keyboardist can change keys. But be careful! You should not attempt this unless you have at least a Bachelor's in music and even then this should not be attempted more than once per concert -- sorry, service.) The vocals become more earnest. The lyrics should consist of the same phrase repeated over and over again. Again, proper grammar and syntax should be avoided at all costs.

Step 5: The remainder of the song.
The rest of the song consists of the chorus being repeated at least a half a dozen times. The instruments then fade out, and the chorus is repeated a cappella about two dozen times (audience participation is heavily encouraged, if not politely demanded). Then the instruments come back in and the audience and musicians repeat the chorus in a slow, gentle sort of way, while the vocalist raises one hand (if female), or both hands (if male) and tilts their face upwards with a rapturous look on their face. Be careful that the eyes stay closed. They may speak or sing a random assortment of the following very handy stock phrases:
'Cry out to Him.'
'Thank Him.'
'Yes, Lord.'
'We love you, Lord.'
...and so on. They may also repeat lines from the chorus one phrase before everyone else sings them. Be very careful here. You could make or break the song at this point. Don't you dare open your eyes -- it'll kill the atmosphere of spontaneity. Be very reluctant to let the song go. You should at this point be pushing the seven-or-eight-minute mark. Eventually, long after everyone's bored out of their minds (but won't admit it because they had been trained to feel ashamed of boredom in a 'worship service'), let the song fade to oblivion... very... very... slowly. For best results, let the song fade so it sounds like it's ending, then after murmuring the chorus a cappella once or twice, bring it back again and continue for a while, then let it fade. Repeat. Ad nauseum.

Step 6: Fame and fortune.
Put the professionally-recorded full-length live video of the song on YouTube. Send the link to your local Christian radio station. Get a CD put into the Christian bookstores (be certain the album cover has a picture of the crowd -- I mean congregation -- on both the front and the back to show how serious you are about your worship concerts -- sorry, services). Make thousands of dollars as the Christian-consumer-culture drones buy everything with your name on it. Be fangirled over by every female Christian ever.

Tip: The slower and more reluctant the song is to end, the more people will call your song 'powerful' and 'moving.' This translates directly into sales. Just be careful to keep that script of humility at the forefront of your memory. As soon as you stray from the 'we never expected this, wow, God is moving in this generation' script, you will be blacklisted by the loving Christian community.

You're welcome.

17 July 2016

Summer Update

We'll see if I can write a blog post without complaining (that's why I haven't been posting lately -- literally every post I try to write has been a huge gripefest and I'm pretty sure none of you want to read that). Life is still very difficult though. Now it's that endless parade of little things that make you go, 'really? Really? There just had to be one more thing, didn't there?'

Dance is over for the season now and it's killing me. I used to be either at work or at dance. Now I get to go to work, but I don't even get the reprieve of dance afterwards. There's another month and a half left before the season starts again (it only ended two and a half weeks ago...), but in dance years that's a long time (in deciding-to-do-with-my-autumn years, however... it equals about two OVERWHELMINGLY STRESSFUL seconds).

I've established a couple of personal goals for the summer though, mostly involving tap dancing. I'm still very uninspired on the ballet front. While my technique improved a lot this past dance season, my brain is still not really latching onto the choreographic possibilities. So I've been focusing on my tap dancing because it's still dancing, but it's different enough that my brain is still willing to work in it -- at least a tiny bit. Also, it takes much less space to practice tap than it does to practice ballet, and I have exactly zero practice space in my life right now. So I've worked out a daily tap practice plan and I'm already seeing improvement in some technical things I struggle with.

One other thing is I want to get another one of my dances staged and filmed, both for my own experience, but also so I can start building a bit of a portfolio. There was supposed to be another piece staged this summer, but the venue backed out (rather rudely and without explanation) well into the process. This venue had previously been very supportive and to be shut down like that without cause (at least not any cause they're willing to name) was completely unprecedented. It's left me floundering because without them, I actually have nowhere to stage my dances right now -- I haven't gotten in anywhere else yet. This was quite a severe blow and I'm still reeling from it. Practice space is again a huge issue though, as I have nowhere to rehearse my other dancers -- as longtime readers know, I don't typically choreograph solos.

On the writing front -- I'm actually sort of trying to revise Kyrie. I'm not sure how it's going. I'm doing character development right now on the secondary characters and it is actually flipping hard. I used to be the queen of character development, but apparently not anymore. My three main characters are fantastic, but everyone else feels like they're made of air and if you look at them too long they'll disappear like phantoms. I think part of my problem right now is that character development keeps bleeding into plot structure, but I'm trying (unsuccessfully) to keep them separate right now until I get the stupid characters figured out.

I've also found myself writing short stories, of all things. I never thought I could. My brain doesn't make stories short enough usually -- it's generally either novel-or-nothing around here (and lately it's just been nothing). But I've written two half-decent rough drafts of short stories in the past couple of weeks and have plotted a third. They're kind of fun actually.

All this fills in the time between work. I'm considering going back to college, but in order for that to happen, I need minimum ten grand by the middle of August. The year I took off from schooling should have more than covered that, except the province's entire economy tanked and even now, jobs are hard to come by. I'm technically still employed (which is more than a lot of people have right now), but I'm getting very few hours. I don't know what will happen. I really don't know. And I hate not knowing. Tap practice is one of the very few things saving me right now.

And hey... I think I kind of managed to write an entire blog post without going on a rant! Now as long as nobody mentions Hillsong in the comments, we should be good.

25 June 2016

Music Day - Place In This World

Been listening to a lot of Michael W. Smith lately. Something about the '80s angsty stuff is resonating right now, putting into words the feelings that numb my own pen.

This is one of his most recognisable songs of the era. There are many, but this one resonated with an entire generation. I remember reading an interview somewhere once from someone in one of the bigger bands of the late '90s -- I don't remember exactly which one, but it was on the level of Audio Adrenaline or Jars Of Clay -- and this guy said when this song first came out, he would sit in his college dorm room with his headphones on and just play it over and over. He cited this as a defining song for him as a musician.

It was the perfect radio ballad -- keyboard-driven, with just enough power chords to appeal to its intended audience, soulful, searching. MWS has proven himself skilled at walking the fine line between radio-friendly arrangements and rather personal soul-searching.

Title: Place In This World
Artist: Michael W. Smith
Album: Go West Young Man
Year: 1990
Label: Reunion Records
iTunes here; YouTube here.
For novelty's sake, watch Mark Lowry's parody here. This parody, I think, is almost as famous as the original.

These are my own questions right now -- my own feelings. Thank goodness somebody else made something haunting and lovely out of them because if it was up to me right now, it would never get out of my muddled brainpan.

This becoming is harder than it seems...
Among the many, can You still hear me?

23 June 2016

If You Buy Different Pointe Shoes...

22 June 2016, 3.37am.

In the spirit of the If You Give A Mouse A Cookie books, I have written a fine piece of literature on what happens if the dance store is out of the pointe shoes you've been using for the past five years and you decide to buy a different, 'comparable' pair because you've already driven an hour in rush hour traffic to get to the store and feel it shouldn't be wasted.

If you buy different pointe shoes...
They will have those ridiculous elasticised drawstrings that are about as useful as an umbrella in a wildfire (the point of a drawstring is to pull something tight. The point of an elastic is to stretch. Am I the only one who sees the oxymoron here?).

If said pointe shoes have the aforementioned ridiculous elasticised drawstrings...
The shoes will slide off your heels with every single relevé, necessitating that you stop, pull the heels of your shoes back on, and continue -- until the next relevé, when you have to stop and pull the heels on again. (Consider that in your average minute-long warm-up exercise, you can have up to thirty-two relevés.)

If the shoes slide off your heels with every single relevé...
You can't break them in. (Think about it. How can you soften and manipulate the shanks of the shoes when they are not in contact with your foot because they're flopping around because the heel has slid off again?)

If you can't break them in...
You must find a way to break them in. This means doing anything possible to keep those stupid heels on your feet.

If you try to find a way to keep the heels on your feet...
Since the aforementioned ridiculous elasticised drawstrings are, as previously established, completely useless, you will try rosin inside the heel of the shoe.

If you try rosin...
It will do absolutely nothing because it turns out the heel of the shoe is not actually in contact with your foot, which is why it keeps sliding off in the first place.

If rosin does absolutely nothing...
You will tie the ribbons even tighter.

If you tie the ribbons even tighter...
Your ankles will bruise spectacularly. This will also severely exacerbate the ankle issues you have been having for five months and entirely remove your ability to plié.

If your ankles threaten to break under the tension...
You will try sewing elastic on the shoes.

If you try sewing elastic on the shoes...
You will, due to your busy schedule, end up writing an overdue letter, showering, and sewing the elastic on your shoes almost simultaneously at 2.30am when your pointe class is at 9.15am.

If you end up sewing elastics on pointe shoes at 2.30am...
You will inevitably stab your thumb with the needle and bleed all over the shiny new pointe shoes (which are only shiny and new after three weeks because you have been unable to break them in because the heel keeps sliding off so you can't actually manipulate the shanks with your feet...).

If you have to pause to wait for the bleeding to stop...
It gets even later.

If it gets even later...
You are now sewing pointe shoes at 3.30am with black spots floating in your vision and cursing everyone who has ever said that dance life is easy.

Moral of the story?

For dancers: If they don't have your size in your shoe, don't buy a new brand/style. Just go home and nurse the dead ones you already have for another week or two until they get your size in again. And next time, ask when you call to book the appointment if they have your shoe in your size because if not, you're not coming in. It's just not worth the hassle (and expense, and time) trying to find another shoe that fits right.

For non-dancers: Don't ever tell a dancer that their life is easy. If you do and they punch you in the face, don't say I didn't warn you.

12 June 2016

Spots Of Light and the Deepest Dark

27 May 2016, 2.25am.

Is it better to be consistently depressed, with no bright spots at all, or is it worse to hope and hope and hope for something... only for it not to happen?

I have such a vivid imagination (or at least I did...) that I can imagine any number of ways God might answer a prayer. So I think on the myriad of creative ways He could help me... and He doesn't do any one of them. In fact, He doesn't even come up with an alternative that I hadn't thought of yet. He just doesn't do anything.

Which is worse, an imagination so beat down by society and circumstance that it no longer functions at all, or an imagination that supplies hope that will always be in vain?

31 May 2016


I think I finally did it. I figured out my 'why' (at least for the time being).

A while back, I wrote a post outlining my quest to figure out why I want to do this performing thing. I ruled out a couple of answers -- the admirable but as-yet-not-completely-true 'for the glory of God' and the too-general 'because I love it' being among them.

But in the past couple of days it's suddenly occurred to me that the reason I dance, the reason I perform, is so I can escape.

I don't know if this was the case when I was a child -- after all, I really didn't have much to escape from (even if I sometimes thought I did). But definitely in my teen years it was that. After I returned from my dance hiatus (which happened to be smack in the middle of my nine-year depression episode), that one hour a week of dance class slowly chipped away at the despair that engulfed me -- so subtly that I didn't notice it for several years. It distracted me enough to lessen the intensity of my own self-hatred, and the venom I directed at myself gradually waned (mind you, dance wasn't the only thing that got me out of that, but it helped start things).

In college, dance was the only thing that brought me back for a second year. And in my second year, being in The Secret Garden was quite literally the only thing that kept me sane as I was trying to stay on top of eight classes, failing what had been my best subject, and watching helplessly as my entire extended family unraveled. I looked forward to rehearsals, costume fittings, hair and makeup, anything that would transport me to this other world and distract me from the unrelenting stress and the fact that I hadn't eaten in two days.

And even in recent weeks -- more than once I've driven to dance in the past couple of weeks and arrived at class determined that once I get out of class I'm going to drive onto an overpass, pull over, get out, and jump onto the highway below. But by the time I actually get out of dance class, the thought doesn't cross my mind. I drive home the way I normally do, without a thought of quite literally jumping off a bridge. Dance class has invariably distracted me enough that this is no longer a rational thought that I seriously entertain (at least for a while).

All this has made me realise that dance (and performing in general) is my escape. This is why, even though I was so exhausted I could hardly stand up through my second year of college, I never missed a dance class. This is why performance season is my favourite time of the year -- the extra rehearsals and shows give me more time to be focused on performing and not whatever is stressing me out at the time. There's so much to remember and execute perfectly that there's no space in my brain for self-hatred. That thought pattern is interrupted and dies on the vine -- at least temporarily; enough that I get a break from it and therefore it's weakened slightly at intervals.

That line from that unwritten poem all those years ago is closer to the truth than I thought -- I dance so you can't see me cry. I dance to block out (or at least cope with) stress and heartache. It's the only thing I've found so far that reliably offers me some relief. And even temporary relief is better than no relief at all. And, logically, the more I perform, the more relief I will get. I do love it. But it seems it's also a bit like a drug.

And, of course, this throws a wrench into my whole nice-sounding 'I got into dance to touch people's lives' philosophy...