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.