Saturday, September 7, 2019

Ten Reasons Why I Love Rock Voices

If you know me personally, you've heard about my latest obsession: Rock Voices. Here's why I love it so:

The first time I sang karaoke, in Osaka, Japan (1986)
1. Rock Star Fantasies Come to Life. As a young girl, I had fantasies of becoming a singer like many other young girls. I learned to play the guitar at 10, sang "Let It Be" for my school talent show in seventh grade, and even wrote music. Now I get to perform with a real life rock band and 99+ other people with rock star fantasies, singing fun music with beautifully arranged harmonies.

2. Life-Giving Qualities of Music. Music has filled my life, from learning to play the violin in fourth grade and playing violin and cello through high school to learning how to play mandolin in my 40s. We became well known in the NICU as the "singing Gettels," because we sang to Chris in his isolette every single day. I sang my kids to sleep each evening when they were little. I was thrilled to get my first iPod and felt like I finally had my own personal radio station. I've always been drawn to music, and it has the ability to lift me up like nothing else.

3. The Opportunity to Be Part of Something Bigger.
I was an orchestra kid and sang in our small church choir, so the only other time I've sung in a large choir was my first year in college...and it was all women. Not the same! I love the harmonies and power we create as a large six-part choir! And when we come across a tough piece of music and work it out together, it’s like solving a tough puzzle together.

January 2019 concert
“There are few things that stimulate the brain the way music does,” says one Johns Hopkins otolaryngologist. “If you want to keep your brain engaged throughout the aging process, listening to or playing music is a great tool. It provides a total brain workout.”

4. Keeping the Brain Nimble and Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone. Research shows that music can reduce anxiety, blood pressure, and pain as well as improve sleep quality, mood, mental alertness, and memory. We perform 15 songs each season, and we MEMORIZE EVERY SINGLE SONG! That sounds completely overwhelming, but I've done it now for three seasons in a row. The first time I auditioned for a solo, I was spite of the fact I lead music at church every week without any nerves. Each time auditioning--and singing solos--has gotten easier, and I adore the support everyone receives from Mark and the rest of the choir during the auditions. Each time I've sung in a concert I've been nervous, but it's getting easier and easier each time.

After the Summer 2019 concert
5. The Chance to Drive My Kids Crazy with Part Recordings. The secret to memorizing all that music in a few months? Part recordings! Rock Voices provides recordings for each part, and I listen to them nonstop to learn my Soprano 1 parts and lyrics. My kids hate the part recordings, so of course I torture them as much as possible. You can bet they were really thrilled to hear Mike and Chris are joining, so now they'll hear both the tenor AND soprano parts!! Fortunately they always enjoy the actual concerts, and in fact are amazed by how good the choir sounds when all the parts are put together!

6. Amazing Snacks! We have a snack break at each rehearsal, a full table of snacks in the concert green room, and frequent parties and random get-togethers. Many of the choir members love to cook and bake, and great creativity is displayed in many of the snacks. The last two post-concert parties have been held at the home of the incredibly kind and generous Dian and Steve Wells, who have one of the most beautiful gardens and homes I've seen.

7. (Director) Mark and (Assistant) Caley. I met Caley nearly 25 years ago, when I loved working with her at CH2M HILL. We became close friends and I came to know Mark after she'd left the company to raise her daughters. I am all too familiar with musical snobs...people who have been trained classically (like Mark) who look down on people who do not read music or who struggle to carry a tune. Rock Voices has no requirement to audition or even read music, so the directors deal with all levels of competence and experience. Mark is never anything but patient, kind, supportive, and fun. Caley, also classically trained, accompanies us when we're learning our parts. When Rock Voices began, she thought she'd just do it for the first season...but she soon became addicted like the rest of us. I adore these people.

8. The Community and Fun! What's astonishing about this group of people, which started last summer with about 30 and now has grown to over 100 people, is that I've not met one member who I don't like. Mark and Caley's generous and warm spirits attract others like them. Many of our members are in service professions, and all are kind and caring. I'm all about finding communities, and Rock Voices has become another of those communities. I even feel connected to Rock Voices choirs on the east coast, because we have an active Facebook group. Before the last concert, two women in New England posted videos of their practices together and they were hilarious! We all sing the same songs, which builds camaraderie across the country. On the east coast, members often sing with other choirs...and we've had an occasional visitor come to our choir as well. Our weekly rehearsals always have me laughing, often because of Mark and Caley flirting or teasing one another!

I got to sing with Chris' love
 Emma in the spring--
she has a fantastic voice!
9. The Healing, and the Opportunity to Give Back. I have had a hard year this year, as have many other people. Each time I'm feeling a little down on a Monday, I go to choir and it ALWAYS lifts me up. So many of us have experienced losses, pain, anxiety and depression, death of family members, or some other grief...and music heals us, or at the very least, lightens our load a bit. The mission of Rock Voices is "Healing Ourselves and Others through Song," and I witness that at each rehearsal and concert. We raise money for local nonprofits at our concerts, and scholarships are available for people who cannot afford the full fees to sing. (Mike and I are availing ourselves of that benefit for the first time this fall, because of my job situation...and I am grateful.)

10. My book group buddies! I love my book group dearly. They are wonderful, funny, and bright women...and I love seeing three of them each week at choir! I feel sorry for the book groupies who are not in choir, because not only are they missing out, but they also have to listen to us talking about choir all the time. It's seriously an addiction, or maybe a cult! We also discovered that one of our members, Katie, had been hiding away a phenomenal voice and ability to rock the house. The first time Katie sings a solo each season, we are so starstruck listening to her that we fail to sing our parts correctly.

I'm about to start my fourth season of Rock Voices, and this time Mike, Chris, and my dad's friend are joining me. The song list is going to be the widest ranging ever. We take about a month off between each season, and many of us feel desperate to get back together again. Monday nights feel empty.

Let me know if you'd like to know more about Rock Voices or if you'd like to come to a concert! You can see some of our concert videos on YouTube. Our next concert will be in January 2020.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

2019: A year to dance!

Happy new year, lovely readers!

I've been missing my dear blog and am hoping to get back into doing more writing this year. It's been such a year of change for me, and my new job has allowed me less time to write for pleasure. In the next few weeks, look for my Books of the Year and further posts about our wonderful trip to the UK in the summer.

But first things first: today my mom, a few friends, and I attended a New Year's Soul Collage® Workshop led by Kathryn at East Wind Ceremonies. We had a few drumming circle events and we were led by the spirit and our souls to choose a word of the year and an animal of the year, inspired by Soul Collage cards we created.

Soul Collage is a journey of self-discovery where you create collage cards without thinking or analyzing...just letting the spirit draw you to images, and then discovering what they mean after you combine them into a collage. Then you write "I am one who..." repeatedly and fill in the blanks on the back of the card.

I woke up this morning feeling eager to start the new year and embrace some changes in my life. I have selected words for the year in the past, but I haven't done much beyond that.

When I began making my Soul Collage cards, I thought my word for the year would be SPACIOUSNESS. But then my word found me: 
Spaciousness will be the conduit to the dance.

And closing my eyes and putting my hand into a stack of animal images, my animal for the year:

Walrus! I never would have chosen that one, but I'm hoping to figure out why it chose me. After a quick research, I learned that walruses use their long tusks to haul themselves out of the water and up onto the ice. They are big and heavy because of all the blubber under their skin (hmm...what does this mean, I wonder!?)...which keeps them warm and the fat provides energy. I look forward to learning more about walruses in the coming year!

Here's how I got there:

I am one who wants to make order out of chaos
I am one whose mind is constantly full and can't stop moving
I am one who feels overwhelmed by the amount of shit in my house
I am one who needs to create more space and stillness in my life

I am one who desires more beauty and expression in my life
I am one who loves color
I am one who finds value in creative expression
I am one who knows very little about walruses

I haven't written my "I am one" sayings for this one yet,
but it's about savoring my relationship with Mike and feeling a need "to dance."
I am one who needs spaciousness so I can dance,
or in other words, "I want to be able to dance through each room in my house
without fear of tripping on something on the floor and breaking my neck!"

This is about my renewed commitment to my
health (since becoming a vegetarian in September and re-joining a gym)
and living a long life for my children
Instead of making the usual resolutions, I am making some commitments that will help me get to my goals of spaciousness and dance--which starts with getting rid of "shit," to quote my friend Joe, who felt that his weekends were always spent "moving shit around" until his wife Adele hired a professional organizer to purge and organize that shit.

I began my commitments this evening, and I will have to work on my follow-through, which is always a challenge for me! I love this tradition of starting the new year this way, and I hope to make it an annual tradition.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Book group extraordinaire

Eight years ago I co-started a book group with my close friend Kristin. As NICU graduate moms, professional leaders, and former co-presidents of a nonprofit we helped create that supported NICU parents, we used our skills and savvy to be selective about setting it up. Each of us chose three friends in the beginning. Of the original six, three of us remain--me, Kristin, and my dear friend Caley. And now we are seven.

Our second annual book exchange in 2011
In the past eight years we've seen a handful of members cycle in and out, most leaving because they were not ready to commit to a monthly read and meeting. In the last year we've grown from a low of four members to a high of seven. As our membership has evolved, so has the way we choose the books we read and how we meet.

We like to alternate between fiction and nonfiction, and we especially like books written by women or people of color and that address weighty subjects. One of our books this year tackled the plight of poverty in the United States--Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond. The process of choosing books is highly democratic and inclusive.

The longest-running core part of book group
Book group overlaps in many other areas...not only have many of us worked together in previous jobs, but now several of us sing in Portland Rock Voices together and get to see each other weekly! And several women even see the same counselor, thanks to word-of-mouth recommendations. We celebrate each person's birthday in some way. We bid a sad goodbye to one of our members when she had to move to Colorado for her husband's job, and then we welcomed her back again happily when she returned to Oregon! Even though we often laugh heartily, we have also shared deep pains and struggles as well, often brought to light through the books we read.

Entertainment provided by Niki's cats,
who love to sit on their perch and watch birds and mice on TV!
Last night was perhaps the most fun evening yet in book group. We enjoyed delicate squash/goat cheese quiche and salad; shared book group stories of olde; had a impromptu, hilarious dramatic reading of this month's book selection (The God of Small Things); played a fun game with imaginary gifts (thanks to my friend Adele, who invented said game); and laughed until we were about to pee our pants.
The dramatic reading

Every December we have a book exchange...and every year we widely read individuals always manage to choose a book that we have never read. It's an unbroken record!

When I chose my book out of the pile, I chose the one with a piece of folded paper on it. And this is what I found:

One of our newest members, Amy, is a gifted and witty writer, and she wrote a multiple-choice list for whomever chose her book. Of course, we had to read it all out loud. And a few of us got misty-eyed!
The gifted, thoughtful writer!
The book exchange had another dramatic reading, as Niki opened a book by a Scottish writer and ensued to read the description in a broad, loud Scottish accent!

I feel so grateful to be part of this circle of funny, bright, justice-seeking, inquisitive, loving, and compassionate women! Here are some more photos of the fun event (keeping the video top secret!!)!

My book came with a gorgeous ribbon I thought would make a nice headband!

Love you all!

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Back to Old Blighty--2, Saffron Walden and Sunday Lunch in Cambridge

A few nights after we arrived in England, we had our first-of-many meetups with old friends. Mike shared a house with Vicky when he studied for his M.Phil in Victorian Literature at Linacre College, Oxford University. Vicky and her husband Nigel live not too far from Cambridge in a lovely, historic old mill house with their three children. Last time we were in the UK in 2007, they were the only ones we saw (being so close to Cambridge). Since then, their oldest son Jacob (and Mike's godson) visited us during his gap year.

We had a lovely evening with them, starting with a brisk walk through the countryside! 

Beautiful old church

Nearing the end of our country walk
One of the fun things about our visit back to England this summer was getting to know our friends' grown (or nearly grown) children. Jacob, Joshua, and Isobel are all lovely!

So nice to have three weeks off work and spend time with my family!

Chris made friends with Jacob and Joshua and later in our trip,
he took a trip to Thorpe Park (an amusement park) with them

Chris and Nick




Jacob, who was also a preemie

Yummy English BBQ, including potatoes they'd grown in their garden

Photogenic Isobel

Cuddling under a blanket as the evening got chilly

Sweet mother and daughter
The next day we went out for lunch in Cambridge at a buffet restaurant, followed by a trip to the movie theater, en masse, to see "Mamma Mia 2: Here We Go Again." We all enjoyed it, but some more than others!

The following day we had most of Mike's extended family over for lunch. Mike's dad had four sisters, and sadly all of that generation is gone now with the exception of Mike's mum and her brother-in-law...and one other brother-in-law in Scotland.

We had a great time catching up with the cousins, and the kids got along splendidly!

The lunch spread

Mike's cousin Kevin with his son Ali, who came to visit us several years ago on his gap year

Mike's cousin Paul's wife Sue, with niece Emily and her boyfriend

The last of the generation!

Lots of table tennis games!

Mike's cousin Kevin and his wife Kym

The younger set

Ali is now an engineer in Edinburgh,
and he came down to Cambridge for the visit!
When he visited us a few years ago, he was a huge hit with the boys!

Emily with her boyfriend Will

Mike with his sister Kath, our wonderful host!

The whole family!
The under-30s!

The over-30s!

Such a sweet couple!
Hugh Gilmartin's part of the family (missing four in Australia)
It turns out that Kieran is a beet lover, like many others in Mike's family!
(I am not much of a fan)