Pulses – transposition

Friday morning at the ever-spacious Sage Music studio and this 100-year old glorious Steinway with real ivory keys. The beauty of the keys – I never actually thought until now how they’ve been alive. Growing. On tusks. I mean, I knew, but I am forever seeing things in new perspectives.

I’m going to move Pulses down from the key of E to C or D. I think it will resonate better in my voice and make it easier for others to sing along to the song. I feel eager to find it – but I know that I should take my time and try out both keys instead of making a rushed decision. I just want to get it and move on. However, learning it in both keys will make me a better pianist anyways. I was also considering C#/Db, inspired by Antony and the Johnson’s Bird Gerhl, but it’s trickier to play (so many sharps/flats), which I can do, but it’s harder to link with other musicians and play right away. It’ll take a bit longer for people to get the song under their fingertips. Maybe. For the best musicians, no. But I want to keep options open.

Tried both C and D. Going to stick with C. Video shoot in three weeks. I’m going to practice this piece so I could do it in my sleep. Play it like no one’s business with keys and the TC Helicon vocal fx.

Video idea – start in black and white. The lyrics are about pale colors. Open up to color on “shatter horizons, observe the sight / come to awaken vision so bright.” Then do crazy fx and collages for the chorus.

Pulses – Bird Gerhl Inspo

Feeling inspired by this performance of Bird Gerhl by Antony and the Johnsons: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KNK6ycMm1YU

Antony changed her name – she’s now Ahnoni. I admire her so much for her courageousness in her representation of her transgender identity and with her openness in her music. I want to be like her, with her amazing music and visual art: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anohni. I’m also sometimes feeling bad that I’ve lost time for myself. I’m not the young teenager pop star. I never really wanted to be that, anyways. It’s comforting to know, however, that Ahnoni garnered first critical acclaim at age 34. Makes me feel more confident that time IS on my side and age is a number. IT’s more about mentality.

Ok. Pulses work now. I had written this song in a Gypsy caravan in France and in artist studios in London and Paris. It’s written for guitar and electronics, but I just love the piano and want to play so something with triggering beats, playing piano, and doing vocal harmonies a la James Blake. Yesterday, I cleaned up the chart I had written for it so it makes sense more. I understand theory more when I spell it out on piano, rather than on guitar. It’s easier to count intervals and visualize relationships between chords. Piano’s my first instrument and I love it. Sometimes I regret spending so much time these last few years working with guitar, but time is not lost. I’ve learned so many beautiful jazz harmonies and chord progressions that I can now take with me to the piano.

Today’s studio goal is to work through the piano part more. I scheduled a video shoot with Kwesi Peters (amazing and generous NYC-based videographer) for the end of the month, so this will give me an impetus to focus on this song. Sometimes I get overwhelmed with what to focus on. This will give me a goal to work towards.

Getting the chords in my hands – play them with my eyes closed.

Did it. Pulses on the keys is becoming a part of me. Working on piano. One piece at a time, not getting overwhelmed by trying to do everything at once. Feeling amazing. I love piano.

First practice session in NYC in 2017

First structured practice session of the new year at Sage. Lofty, airy. 100 year-old Steinway with real ivory keys and a natural wood finish. I am so lucky and I am grateful to have this in my life.

My goal is to develop mastery with the TC Helicon voice and instrument processor pedal by May. It sounds far away, but it’ll sneak up quickly.


I’ll start with my song Pulses. My vision for this song is a bit different than how it is on the record. I want to make it a combination of Latin and boss’s nova harmonies with beatboxed percussion going through the TC Helicon. A mixture between Gal Costa & Caetano Veloso’s Baby and James Blake’s rocking style. Not as him as a rockstar, but literally, his music rocks / sways back and forth. Like dancing.

Notes on last night’s performance at Winnie’s: feeling proud. I set intentions during the day and listened to my favorite podcast on visualization while I was getting ready in the green room. I used to have conflicting feelings about gigs. I would treat them differently depending on the venues and repertoire. For example, I would care more about my original music than covers I was playing because I felt a stronger emotional connection to the music. This is all in line with my last blog post about interpreting others’ music. Since I started setting goals in the fall, I’ve been holding myself to a higher standard. Now, every performance is at the highest standard I can give. I imagine myself on stage at Carnegie Hall. When there are lights in front of my feet at the microphone, I imagine they’re the footlights onstage at Carnegie. I stand more still and am more deliberate with my gestures. I have been getting into dance recently. I imagined my vocals dancing in the rhythms and pitches. I think it was one of the best singing performances I’ve ever done. I wasn’t drinking. I think that helps – not so loose. I was on my own tip. A jib jab. If you know, you know. One of my favorite excerpts was a cover of Georgia On My Mind. I want to record this piece. I started it with more of a speech-singing approach with direct vocals that weren’t too “singy.” Honest, real. Not trying to be Ray Charles or others who have sung this song. It was my own. Then, in the B section going into the final A section, I opened up to a chest voice – and later asked Justin, my bandmate, what note that was – it was an E!! Yeah, baby. The technical key to replicating that kind of delivery is to tilt my held back to change the position of my larynx and to stretch far and open in the back of my head. For high notes in head voice (classical style), you stretch up and diagonally back. For high notes in chest voice, it’s a lower position in the back of your head, behind your ears. Most importantly, it’s all about feeling. Being with the music. This technical approach is to just be able to repeat it and to teach others how to do it, too.


Me and Ian Hutchinson (bass) at the gig last night.

Maria Callas, one of my favorite opera singers, and one of the greatest of all time, has a few videos up on YouTube where she’s interviewed about her process in getting into a role. The art of performing. EVERYTHING has a purpose. Every gesture. Every look. It’s acting. You know, Beyonce steps into a role onstage. She created a stage persona named Sascha Fierce. The idea is that your character is not the same as your performance and your voice or instrument. I take this in my daily life, too. Even walking down the street, I think about my posture, my arms, the distance between my steps. This attuned awareness informs the performance and also just who I am and want to be.


If you’re interested in Maria Callas’ interviews, start here.


Ok, goals for today’s practice session:
Warm up on voice and piano – done
Play piano though Lovage (an original piece in development) and the intro to Franz Schubert’s Nacht und Traume – done
TC Helicon pedal —- my main goal, and I should not forget it by being distracted with so many other wonderful things. I need to figure out why my harmony settings change after shifting in and out of presets. This should not happen. Also, why does the stutter function not work properly? It stutters background noises and not my voice. I need to focus on loop and beatboxing practice for Pulses and addressing these two issues.


Alright, getting to it. L8r.



Night and Dreams

Ten years ago I performed this gorgeous Lied (meaning ‘song’ auf Deutsch) by Franz Schubert in Graz, Austria at the American School of Musical Studies and at McGill, my alma mater, in Montreal, Canada. “Nacht und Träume” = “Night and Dreams”. It’s simple, and therein lies its power. It floats and just at the turn of a passage, it twists and gives you a calm, gut-wrenching note.

I’ve loved this song forever. If possible, maybe I’ve loved it before I knew it existed. It floats, it’s poignant, and I imagine the velvety night enveloping me.

The lyrics:

Heil’ge Nacht, du sinkest nieder;
Nieder wallen auch die Träume
Wie dein Mondlicht durch die Räume,
Durch der Menschen stille Brust.
Die belauschen sie mit Lust;
Rufen, wenn der Tag erwacht:
Kehre wieder, heil’ge Nacht!
Holde Träume, kehret wieder!


Holy night, you sink down;
The dreams flow down, too,
Like your moonlight through the rooms,
Through the people’s silent chests.
They listen softly with desire;
They call, when day awakens:
Come back, holy night!
Sweet dreams, come back!

I love classical music, especially German Lieder, but it’s been done in its traditional way for a long, long time. I think that’s why I could never fully gel with my opera studies. I’d rehearse with my coach, and I’d ask her about making it my own. She told me that my interpretation and delivery is my voice for the piece. I’ve always been stumped on that thought. There have been many singers before me and there will be many singers after me who will offer their interpretation of traditional classical pieces as they’re written. I just never felt any ownership. It wasn’t MY soul pouring into those pieces. I felt, in a way, like a puppet. That’s part of the reason why I have always wanted to compose my own music. I needed to find a way to release what’s me. I’m shy of sharing, because I don’t think anyone cares, or, if they do, so what? But I do it for myself. I write what I want to listen to.

That’s why I am deciding to make a modernized electronic version of this Schubert piece. I dreamt up the idea while walking the halls between the practice rooms at McGill. It’s a rhythmic piece, so it will lend itself well to an easy beat. I don’t think I’m going to put any drums on it; it’s a gentle piece. I have, however talked to a kickass opera singer friend of mine who agreed to the project – she’ll sing the piece, and I will slice and chop her voice, then sample it. As they do in hip hop.


This fall, for a number of reasons, I’ve been shifting my life and having tiny victories – shoutout to Greg and Doug Walters, Cason Kelly, and Austin Purnell (it was the name of their band). I’ve set goals and they’ve realized themselves. So screw limiting beliefs. I’m going to make this piece – and it will be awesome. I’m gonna do what I wanna do!

Here’s me singing “Nacht und Träume” in recital during my opera days: