What Do You Want From Me?

christine dente wonders what you want her to write about

I have been writing and posting on this site for many years now.

In reviewing past posts and planning for the future, I am wondering what you’d like to hear from me:

More of the same or less, please?

A little of this and a little of that?

However you say it, say it here in the comment section. The lists below will help you decide.

Thanks for engaging in the journey of finding life in the bigger story!

What Do You Want to Know?

In future posts, would you like to know more about:

  • my personal and family life
  • my professional life
  • my creative life

Would you want to read articles about:

  • things I think about
  • parenting in hindsight
  • faith in everyday life
  • the creative process
  • Out of the Grey music
  • Christine Dente music
  • stories from the studio and tour bus
  • stories behind the songs
  • the recording process
  • songwriting techniques
  • vocal technique

 Things I Think About:

  1. Faith and God
  2. Fear and Freedom
  3. Mindfulness and Meditation
  4. Suffering and Struggle
  5. Grace and Growing older

Things I know about:

  1. Creativity
  2. Marriage
  3. Raising kids
  4. Songwriting
  5. Singing
  6. Out of the Grey music/ stories behind the songs
  7. Life on the road and in the studio

PLEASE add your thoughts in the COMMENT section below. Tell me what you want from me.

I will read, publish, and respond to each one.
OR you can respond to this post privately at christineotg@gmail.com

Thanks for joining me in finding life in the bigger story!

 

 

The Curse of Encouragement: 3 Ways to See It

cute pink pig frowns at the curse of encouragement

Last spring, I went to a dinner party where I barely knew anyone. As I walked in, I decided to be open-hearted and unguarded for a change. And for once, I would refrain from offering unsolicited encouragement.

I told myself: “Just listen to people and don’t share your much-needed insights or words of wisdom. Be a listener, not a fixer.”

As I filled my plate at the kitchen island, I scanned the surrounding sea of faces. A woman whom I had met in the foyer stood alone in a corner. I crossed the floor towards her to save us both from an awkward solitude.

“Hey, Annie, how do you spend your time?” I said, jamming a fork into my macaroni and cheese.

“Oh, hey, well, I own a dog walking business,” she said between chews.

“Wow, I bet that keeps you busy!” I eyed my fried chicken.

“Yes.” She swallowed a mouthful of potato salad. “A friend suggested I get active again even though I’m in so much pain.”

I lifted my eyebrows. “Oh, what sort of pain?” I leaned in to hear her answer above the party hum. I was well-acquainted with the topic.

“Fibromyalgia.” She scrunched her nose and pushed some potato salad around with a plastic spoon.

Shoulder to the wall, I chewed my food, ruminating my choices. I could keep quiet, see if she’d elaborate. Or, I could share my knowledge and possibly alleviate her suffering. My experience with chronic pain has taught me many strategies for easing it.

I resolved to offer Annie a tiny gem from my storehouse of learning:

“I just read a book describing how chronic pain, such as fibromyalgia, can be related to emotional triggers. Like anxiety and anger. Maybe you are dealing with more than pain.” I dangled the information like a jewel on a chain.

Annie put down her spoon, adding to the suspense with a sip of water. She swallowed. “I just keep moving and try not to notice it,” she said, angling away from me.

Gulp. Conversation over.

Looking Up

cute pink pig lifts snout at the curse of encouragement

I am a teacher and fixer by nature. First, I devour information relevant to my problems — and yours. After getting my fill, I digest and then share from my treasure chest of answers. I champ at the bit to help.

The conversation with Annie reminded me of Jesus’ message on casting pearls before swine:

“Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.” (ESV)
 — Matthew 7:6

It’s not that Annie was a pig. Her manners were perfectly southern. And she did not attack me. But I didn’t know what was on her plate. I offered a dainty morsel to a stranger who did not ask for a taste. She returned my “gift” with a cold shoulder.

In searching the wily web for other thoughts on the pearl thing, I found:

This is how you should view the things God has done in your life. You can’t put a price on what you have learned through your life experiences as you’ve walked with Him. Like precious pearls, those life lessons are inestimable in their value because they cost you something. They weren’t the result of shallow swimming. You had to go deep into God to obtain those spiritual treasures.

In other words: Don’t use personal epiphanies to enlighten others. Better to give your hard-earned cash to someone who asks for and can appreciate it.

The Odor of Judgment

My propensity to fix sets me squarely in the judge’s seat. The crime occurs when my good intentions are mixed with the intent to enlighten and convict. The resulting elixir stinks with the odor of judgment.

Jesus warns of this in that same passage in Matthew. He said I shouldn’t judge others because it will come back to haunt me. And He said I best discover my own blind spots before pointing out the possible flaws of others.

From my blind-spotted, all-knowing position, I have dropped many a pearl of wisdom on the heads of the piggies in my midst. Certain of what those swine need for improvement, I expect them to receive and assimilate my helpful, loving gifts.

 Instead, they stare at me as if I’m crazy.

 “Who made you the judge?” or “What do I do with this?”

Humiliating, when my investment returns crusted in mud.

A Pig in Pearls

Have you ever seen a pig in pearls?

I’m not talking Miss Piggy. Although her swinely swagger certainly helps with the picture.

Cook up a person with the gift of encouragement. Turn up the burner for bless-your-heart warmth. Stew and stir in some well-meaning conceit. Now add a dash of presumption and a twist of criticism and you’ll see what I’m getting at.

This compelling character says things like: “You can do better. Let me tell you how” and “I believe in you even if no one else does” and “Somewhere inside of you is a very kind person.”

That’s me. A boorish judge in costume jewelry. A purveyor of precious wisdom of the porcine persuasion.

Many times have I apologized for offering an indigestible tidbit of what I considered soul food, serving up gifts with hints of judgment.

For example, a relative of mine once caught my encouragement in his teeth. He spit it back at me and said, “I don’t enjoy being judged.”

His response shocked me. I had offered my words as a compliment, saying, “You have been so generous with your money and time this year. I think, deep in your heart, that is who you truly are.”

3 Ways to See It

Encouragement or judgment? Lovely or ugly? Depends on how you look at it. I’ve found 3 ways to consider this piggishness. Mine and yours—not that I’m judging.

  1. Sometimes it’s ugly. Keep your epiphanies and encouragements to yourself. Some people can’t receive what you have to give. Even if your intentions are pure, not everyone will recognize their beauty.
  2. Sometimes it’s lovely. Share your gems with people you know, people who love and trust you. They’ll recognize the value of your treasures, perhaps.
  3. Sometimes it’s a mishmash. Throw those epiphanies at your own risk but temper your tendencies with wisdom. Better to listen before fixing. Then, let it go and let them deal with it.

I can accept the way I am. A mixture of lovely and stinky. Cultured and coarse. Also, I have undoubtedly trampled precious pearls that well-wishers have offered me.

Picturing my next party, I see myself all dressed up and eating like a pig. I’ll keep my heart and mind open but my mouth shut. Unless someone wants to encourage me. Then I’ll say, “Pass the soul food, please.”

Finding Life in Creativity

finding life in creativity

Creativity 101

I wrote my first song after leaving home. creativity

At eighteen, I’d moved out of my house in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and landed at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh as a college freshman. It was my first time living away from home.

Feeling the loneliness of being a 5-hour drive from all that was familiar, I wrote a song for my boyfriend called, “Baby, I’m Missing You.” That’s all I remember of my first song but I’m certain it was not very good. 

However, this creativity had awakened something new in me. I sensed songwriting was a door to discovering more of myself, healing deep hurts, and dealing with some confusing emotions. Maybe the creative life was for me!

Little did I know how far I would have to go to become a true artist.

Secondary Education

We have to start somewhere. Singing was my beginning. First in elementary schooI then all the way through high school, I sang other people’s songs. I still remember my first solo in a choral Christmas concert. I got to step out and sing a short verse of Wintertime Aglow. The local TV station aired it which thrilled my mom. That performance had a huge impact on my 15-year-old self. What else would I be brave enough to try?

I sang my heart out in every high school talent show that came my way after that. Linda Ronstadt and Pat Benatar inspired me to belt out many a rock ballad for my peers. I was always mimicking the singer’s inflections, matching the song’s sentiment without really comprehending its message. In one show I sang “Someone to Lay Down Beside Me” by Linda Ronstadt. The chorus went like this:

Someone to lay down beside me
Even though it’s not real
Just someone to lay down beside me
You’re the story of my life

Thankfully, it was not the story of my life. The message went over my head but tapped into my heart’s desire. I wanted to sing out my sadness with passion.  

The Singer and the Songwriter

That first semester in college, with all its disruptive changes and challenges, I decided to give my feelings a voice. With a borrowed a guitar, I plunked out the 3 chords I knew. I created a melody and lyrics to match my loneliness. And to fit my writing style.

creativityWell, my emerging style.

Just as my vocal style wanted to amalgamate all of the singers from the ’70’s and ’80’s whom I wished I could be, my writing style wanted to combine Billy Joel, Joni Mitchell, and Janis Ian to create the perfect blend.

In the end, though, I had to be me. My songwriting morphed into a vehicle for my limited vocal power and the message and emotions I had to communicate.   

Creativity 201

At Berklee College of Music I began writing in earnest. I had transferred to this college in Boston because I wanted to move beyond the classical voice training from my first college. Now I could work on becoming a singer-songwriter. Berklee was perfect because it was all about the pop and jazz!

My songwriting and theory teachers taught me so much. I studied jazz harmony, ear training, voice, and performance. Also, I got involved in ensembles, gained recording studio experience, and performed in some shows on Berklee’s big stage.

My singing and songwriting improved as did my performance chops. Probably, I wouldn’t want to record any of those early songs I wrote. But they are still a part of my bigger story.  

Scheduled Creativity

Scott Dente and I had met at Berklee during my second semester. We became an item soon after and have collaborated on music ever since. After graduation and marriage, we loaded up the truck and headed to Tennessee. Nashville, that is. 

As Out of the Grey, we got to make 7 studio records. After that, he and I worked on my solo projects and several outside collaborations. Throughout the decades of our musical marriage, we always had to make the time to write. We called it scheduled creativity.    

In fact, we’re doing it that way still. He works on new music constantly with his production company called Global Genius. He has a lot on his plate and maps the days for creative space.

Creativity has never been easy for me. I can’t just drop everything when a bright idea strikes. Mostly, I like to schedule my creativity and hope for inspiration to show up. She usually does. If not, I come back again and again until I get my writing up to snuff.  

Tools For Creativity   

creativity
A Handbook and A Workbook

Recently, I put together a few songwriting tools for my songwriting students. The Singer and the Songwriter is a handbook and workbook for singer-songwriters. It’s based on my training and experience.

I put in some teaching elements as well as exercises, prompts, and reminders to help writers to get creative.

  • I mapped out 10 steps to keep your flow of creativity going so you can start–and finish–your song.
  • I created a section for developing your lyrics by using figurative language. 
  • I included a section on basic music theory and harmony so you know what chord patterns work well and how to write a good melody.
  • My vocal technique section teaches you how to gain strength and range while releasing vocal tension.

The other tool is my Creativity Journal which has lots of space for getting creative with emotions, images, and lyrics. Using samples of some of my lyrics, this journal inspires writers of all kinds to create a flow of imagination and artistry. (If you want to get creative using an autographed Songwriter Handbook, you can find it here and I’ll also write you a nice note!)

Also, I created my 10 Tips for Better Songwriting on this site. 

The Bigger Story

Looking back, I see how far along the road I had to go to hone my artistic expression.

At the end of the day, the joy, the sorrow, and the chaos of life drive us to draw some creative conclusions about what’s going on. 

When I sing,”Walk By Faith,”  it’s because I can’t see straight in the broad daylight. I’m looking for a way to live in the big picture without having all of the answers. 

When my son sings, “Hallelujah,” I lift my hands and agree that I don’t know why I’m alive. Sometimes I don’t have to wonder why.

“Oh hallelujah, I am alive
Yeah and I don’t know why, why
No I don’t know
Hallelujah
I don’t have to wonder”

When You Create….

We all get creative in some way. Trying to put our lives into perspective, we write, draw, paint, or play.

  • Who did you sing along with as a teenager?
  • What artists have impacted your story? 
  • When did you create your first song, story, poem, or painting?
  • Have you tried getting creative lately?

Change–Going The Distance

I don’t like change very much. I cried every time I tried to finish the song,“The Distance.” It’s a song about my son growing up and out of the house. It took me 5 years, really, to put the final lines together and then let it go, move on. Planted on my padded piano bench, my hands gently pressing into the chords, I would sing the first few words in the verse:

The sun sets as we drive the Trace

I’ll never forget this side of your face

It’s not the same as it was, so much has changed since I met you.

My heart would immediately connect with the image in my head: my young teenage son and me driving together on the Natchez Trace, a winding, scenic roadway close to our home. Although it stretches from Nashville, Tennessee to Tupelo, Mississippi, there’s a short section that connects a friend’s house to ours.

the Natchez Trace bridge in Nashville Tennessee

Way back then, Julian and I were crossing the lovely Natchez Trace Bridge which spans a yawning valley. The sky was sunset orange. In the glow to my right, I saw that my son was a young man in transformation. Soon, he would be in the driver’s seat and I would be the passenger. Not long after that, he wouldn’t need me at his side at all. The road before us began to stretch out in ways that my heart didn’t want to face.

Julian had already changed so much in the fourteen years I’d known him. But I knew there was more change to come. For that reason, whenever I sat at my piano determined to finish the song, the words got stuck in my throat.

Transatlanticism

In the awkward silences of Julian’s early teenage years, music was our connection. What kept us talking was our love of the melody and lyrics. A great song can really go the distance, keep its impact despite the flow of time all around it.

In the car, we’d sing along with our favorite songs, working out the harmonies and talking about the lyrics. One particular song by the group, Death Cab For Cutie, was a puzzle to both of us. What did “Transatlanticism” mean? What deeper message was hidden in the song’s images?

Part of its attractiveness was its mystery, the blank spaces left for us to fill. Somehow, it was a bridge in the growing gap between mother and son. It helped me to forge ahead with finishing, “The Distance.”

Change:young Julian DenteWe can’t always connect what’s between us now

And these silent stretches are longer somehow

We turn the music way up loud

And wonder what the song’s about

And the music spans the distance

It’s our transatlanticism

Love and Letting Go

As my son became a man, I finally finished and recorded my song about change and going the distance. Julian writes and records his own music now. He drives his own roads and goes places far from where we first traveled together. His songs keep me and the whole family talking. We all love the chord changes he chooses and sometimes we embarrass him with our enthusiasm.

Thankfully, I can say that I’m glad he has grown up and gone on without me. It’s good when sons—and songs—grow up and move on. He certainly comes back to visit and keeps me up to date on his latest favorite songs. The music he’s making is all his own yet has hints of his beginnings, links that connect him to home.

change: going the distance

Yeah, we always go together now

But I know what I know, soon I’ll slow you down

The time will come when I can’t keep up

And you’ll go on without me

Whether in small increments or large sweeps, change is a guarantee. How I traverse it is key.

Julian has a lovely wife and a son of his own now. I am learning to live with the distance that makes for a great relationship; mothers and sons are complicated! I am still listening closely to every lyric he writes and wondering what the song’s about. But I don’t have to figure it all out anymore or even assign meaning to every little bump in the road.

Trying to enjoy this ride we call life, I can see the mystery as attractive rather than scary. Find the beauty, deal with the impermanence, and go the distance with change. I’ll finish one song so I can move on to write the next one, connecting the changes in a chain of love and letting go.

Now we’re staring at that last bridge

And it feels like the Atlantic

Let the music span the distance

Read more about this and other songs in my book, Lifelines and the article, “Animal House!”

Listen to “The Distance” song and 9 others in A Little Light Left.

Thanks for listening and for going the distance with me.

Full lyric for “The Distance”

change: going the distance

The Distance: A Song About Change

change: going the distance

for Julian upon his high school graduation in 2010, from Mom

from the Out of the Grey project, A Little Light Left

The sun sets as we drive the Trace

I’ll never forget this side of your face

It’s not the same as it was

So much has changed since I met you

 

We can’t always connect what’s between us now

And these silent stretches are longer somehow

We turn the music way up loud

And wonder what the song’s about

 

And the music spans the distance

It’s our transatlanticism

 

C’mon, let’s drive along singing the same songs

Hear the wheels hum with our harmonies

Remember these, please

When you go on without me

 

Cos, yeah, we always go together now

But I know what I know: soon I’ll slow you down

Yeah, the time will come when I can’t keep up

And you’ll go on without me

 

Let the music span the distance

Of our transatlanticism

 

There’s a deer standing on the side of the road

So we stop to stare but she starts to go

She’s just so scared of what she doesn’t know

So many dangers on the road

 

Now we’re staring at that last bridge

And it feels like the Atlantic

Let the music span the distance

When you go on without me

Read the story behind this song in “Change: Going the Distance”

The Art of Compromise or The Compromise of Art

art of compromise

Gravity and Relativity

Out of the Grey lite. That’s what my husband Scott and I call Gravity, our fourth record. Actually, a fan came up to our CD table after a concert one night in 1995 and bestowed that description.

“I love all of your albums up to this point but this new one is more like Out of the Grey lite.”

Yikes! He was right.

Before recording Gravity, we’d written our ten songs and were ready to head into the studio. Monday morning, 10 AM downbeat. However, the Thursday before our scheduled session, the record label decided we didn’t have enough ‘radio-friendly’ songs.

What?

Scott and I dug in our heels for a short minute then went with the pressure to play the game. Over that weekend, we scrambled to write a few new songs with more pop appeal. Our producer, Charlie Peacock, helped us win approval by co-writing the songs, “When Love Comes to Life” and “Hope In Sight.”

Half of the songs and a lot of the production came out lacking what we thought of as Out of the Grey artistry. We did get some radio play, though.

At the end of the day, did we practice the art of compromise or did we compromise our art?

A Play on a Play

art of compromiseHave you seen the film, Bullets Over Broadway?

You could call it a play on a play. The story examines artistic integrity and how far an artist will go to protect and defend it—or lose it. It poses a question about the sometimes-dirty word compromise, asking if it has its place or if it is always reprehensible.

At the beginning of this 1994 release, David, a young playwright, tries to gather funds and cast members to perform his beloved work of art. Time constraints, human foibles, and money woes assail his stance on artistic integrity. At first, David stands his ground, refusing to give up control over his writing and his role as director. Nevertheless, when an underworld thug with the funds for production materializes and seems a godsend, David compromises. The catch of the money deal is that the gangster’s talentless girlfriend must play a small part.

After David softens his stance regarding talent and economics, taking the production money plus the girl, his agent leads him into other small compromises. As the play unfolds and rehearsals progress, David’s artistic integrity slips so far that he rewrites dialog at the behest of the manipulative lead actress. However, the playwright’s climactic sin is letting the goon who babysits the talentless young actress make changes in lines, scenes, and the plot. David recognizes that this mobster hitman is more talented than he. In the end, David is not an artist who is willing to stand by his original work.

This play about a play never reveals what the playwright’s play was actually about. We get the gist, though, that more drama, sex scandals, and realism are what the people want. Are the characters speaking our language? Does the plot mirror our own struggles? Have we left off the lofty and abstract so that the crowd can get the message point blank? Bullets fly at movie’s end when the story descends into an action-filled thriller.

Popular Art

The population at large loves what it can enjoy and comprehend without extra effort. As a pop music snob, I pooh-pooh much of the stuff that seems all fluff. I prefer a more complicated theme than, say, “Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored.” Having said that, I’m aware that other types of music-lovers wouldn’t call pop music ‘art’ at all.

To be sure, inside a fine art gallery, I might lift my eyebrows at the abstract and inaccessible. Impatient and ignorant, I don’t take the time to find the deeper meaning, moving further along the wall in search of served-up messages. When it comes to Art, I dig in my heels in relative places, drawing my own particular lines in the sand.

For example, I have written some artistically obscure songs like, “Becoming,” not caring whether anyone heard them or at least not worried that some might miss its message. However, I have certainly written songs with radio play in mind. Economic forces drove my compromise in the form of pressure from the record company and the mortgage company. One argument for concession goes something like this: if some of my art compromises its beauty for popularity sake, it will expose my more artistic pieces to a wider audience.

Mass Appeal

Many an Out of the Grey fan found us first on the radio. Before Gravity, our popularity had been growing. A lot of people told us they liked our fresh, left-of-center sound. Record sales were adding up and we wanted to capitalize on the momentum. It’s an old story.

art of compromise

The pressure to compromise can sideline even the best of intentions. When something good gets more popular, getting more becomes the modus operandi. For example, in the 1990s, Starbucks was just a cool cafe on the west coast. Scott and I had to mail-order their exotic blends and dark roasts. Nowadays, there’s a Starbucks on every corner, the McDonald’s of coffee some say. Compromising quality for quantity some complain.

However, mass-appeal has its appeal. It allows me to find a cheap knock-off of the expensive version of something or other I could otherwise not afford to purchase. As Meryl Streep schools Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada about the origin of the color of her cheap cerulean blue sweater, so I should take a lesson and remember that design is a gift with a steep price.

Mob Mentality

I am an artistic snob when I care to be and part of the mob when I don’t. If I don’t sink my toes into certain artistic fields of expression, I am tempted to pass by quickly with a quick judgment. I may think you are crazy if you only buy a carefully curated olive oil while you may drop your jaw at me for spending so much time choosing between “a” or “the” in a song lyric. You may secretly judge my mall clothes as fashion mongrels while I am arguing internally that you can’t possibly enjoy the ‘music’ of Florida Georgia Line.

art of compromise

From Nicholas Sparks and J.K. Rowling to Feodor Dostoevsky and Charles Dickens, with so many in between, who decides what is good art or bad, high quality or low? Certainly, mass appeal isn’t a consistent measuring stick because watered-down art proliferates even as the cream rises to the top.

Relative Obscurity

Positively speaking, compromise is a humbled move toward peace. It need not always be an act of artistic cowardice.

What’s my point? Humility, I guess. If pride in my fine taste stiffens my stance in one corner of the rug, someone will surely pull it out from under my feet with revelations of what I am missing. More than likely, what appeals to you has merits I haven’t investigated. Maybe you love every song and sound on Gravity. I’m glad if you do!

In keeping my knees unlocked and soft, I can walk your way and experience the view from your side of the room. You can show me what I’ve missed in Picasso and I can point out the genius of Sting. We can meet at Starbucks, maybe stop to shop at the mall, and go from there.

Out of the Grey’s fan base fell off sharply after the release of Gravity. Our follow-up, See Inside, never found the listeners we thought it deserved. Scott and I sometimes wonder what would have happened if we’d held our ground on how we wanted to shape our sound. The question will remain: does gravity suck or is it just a natural force that no artist can escape? The answer lies in the ears of the beholder. The rest is left to relative obscurity.

The Recording Process #1: Singing Lead Vocals

christine dente recording lead vocals

Recording Lead Vocals: Ordchristine dente recording lead vocalser of Appearance

I thoroughly enjoy the process of recording lead vocals. I usually know my song inside and out by the time it’s time to record my main vocal. It’s my opportunity to play with the words and melody, trying out and creating new features as I sing.

Sometimes I take the studio experience for granted. But I know not everyone knows how the recording process goes. Here’s a basic list of events:

  1. Tracking: this is usually the first step in the recording process. The instrumentalists/players come to the recording studio to record the basic parts to the songs. In pop music, this usually involves drums, bass guitar, electric guitar, and keyboards. Add the producer and engineer and hear the tracks come to life with the skills in the room blooming together.
  2. Scratch vocals: The singer usually sings during tracking to guide the players. These are not usually keeper vocals just markers to be discarded later.
  3. Overdubs: these are the parts of the song we record after tracking, often acoustic guitars, more keyboards and other instruments such as strings, woodwinds, percussion etc. These are musical parts that we layer on top of the tracks, adding sonic fullness and rhythmic intensity to the music.
  4. Lead vocals: these are the recorded vocals that end up on the final song recording. I usually sing these toward the end of the song-recording process.
  5. BGV’s: the background vocals or backing vocals make their appearance as the last recorded parts, the finishing touches that add so much to the song without drawing much attention to themselves.

Making My Appearance

I usually begin recording lead vocals after overdubs and before BGV’s. This is my favorite part of the recording process. Now is my chance to flesh out all of the vocal ideas that have been floating in my head with no bones on them, ideas about phrasing and melodic nuances.

There are aspects of the lyrics that take shape for me only in the solitude of the vocal booth. With headphones on and distractions gone, I begin to sing with the recorded tracks. My voice has just the right amount of reverb, delay and other effects (thanks to Richie Biggs, sound engineer extraordinaire) which allow my lips, my microphone and my ears to form a seamless and intimate loop.

Too much reverb and I slip and slide, unable to get a foothold on the tonal center. Too little reverb and I’m inhibited by the lack of depth and polish in my sound. The perfect mix of my vocal sound and the tracks makes all the difference in how well I perform in this lead vocal zone.

Things Are Not Always As They Appear

You may think I sing the song once and the vocal is a keeper, ready for radio. Ha, no, you know better than that!

I must go back and fix a flat note here, a rhythmic glitch there, a nasal noise somewhere. And yes, that is sort of how it works.

But first, I sing –and record– the entire song anywhere between 5 and 10 times. Usually, by then my voicchristine sings in the vocal booth, recording lead vocalse is fully warmed up and open, making these multiple takes keeper vocals which the producer and I will draw from later.

Now it’s time to move on and record more tracks of just the verses. Maybe 4 or 5 passes of these. Then I may record several passes of just the choruses and the bridge. Having all of these saved passes, we know whether or not we have what we need for a great keeper vocal.

If not, punching in is an option. Say there’s one phrase or word that I have yet to sing well. I just go sharp or flat each time I get to it.  The engineer can ‘punch me in’ at just that spot in the song. That’s how we fix some of the nitty gritty details by singing that spot over and over until I get it right.

Keeping up Appearances

Now that we know we have all of these recorded tracks of my lead vocal with good stuff in each, it’s time for the next process.  I will write about that process in my next blog. It’s called vocal comping and it accomplishes our mission to get the best-finished lead vocals we can. Til then, thanks for listening!

Christine

READ NEXT: Comping the Lead Vocals

 

Happy with Your Lot in Life?

living with your lot in life

Every spring, people get an itch for something new, something different. Many people move to new homes in this season, looking for a different situation or a change of view. They are imagining a better lot in life.

This spring, I have an itch for updating, remodeling, and just cleaning out the house I have. Yet, I am starting to look around, too. I’m noticing all the for sale signs and wondering, “is there something out there that could be better than what I have?”

Turn-Arounders

As a kid, I lived in several rented and temporary homes. No matter how many times we moved, Mom always kept my sister and brother and me in the same school district. But I didn’t like the impermanence of the shifting address, the change of neighbors. I wanted to settle in and stay for awhile.

These days, I live in a house of my own at the end of a cul-de-sac in a small suburban neighborhood. Cul-de-sac literally means “bottom of a sack.” The name says it all. In a cul-de-sac you can’t just drive through. It’s a dead end of sorts for those who don’t live there. My family and I call them the turn-arounders, the cars that come in to find they must follow the circle around to get back out to where they meant to go.

Not me. I belong here and I like being at the bottom of the bag where I can see who is coming and who is going, where I can watch the kids play and the neighbors can have an eye out too.

Permanent People

There are nine homes gathered around our little circle of macadam. Almost half of these have had the same families in them for as long as my family has lived in ours. Scott and I and our three children moved to this house in December of 1995. That same week, a Christmas card from some neighbors in the same circle appeared in our mailbox. Robert and Linda live three doors down and around. Amazingly, they had been in the cul-de-sac for many years before welcoming us and they still call it home these 24 years later.

Also, Joe and Amy to our left and Austin and Diane next to them have been here longer than we have. These four families, including ours, have grown up together. We watched each other’s daughters and sons grow up and go on to adulthood. We didn’t pick each other as neighbors, but we’re happy with the lot we got.

Camels and Change

When we moved to Nashville in 1988, Scott and I decided to live in the suburbs. Having both grown up in suburbia, he in River Vale, New Jersey and I in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, we imagined that living downtown would be expensive or unsafe and that living rurally would be inconvenient. Thus, when we were ready to leave our suburban apartment and buy a home, we settled on a nearby little neighborhood still under construction. We loved the lot we got and the area was spacious and safe.

At the time, the neighborhood was perched on the edges of development. It bordered farms and woods in an unincorporated little town. Not surprisingly, in the 20+ years since then, new towns and houses have sprouted up around us. Now, the traffic growls along the main road for most of the day. It rumbles in the background of our backyard into the evening.

 It wasn’t always that way. The birds and bugs used to be the loudest performers in our backyard haven beneath the trees. These days, I sometimes strain to hear them above a muffler’s roar or a siren’s wail. With city growth comes the inevitable sprawl. We are certainly part of the problem as our neighborhood was just the camel’s nose under the tent.

Convenient and Clean

Nevertheless, our subdivision is still a splendid place to live. Our kids say it was a great place to grow up. Friends were a sidewalk skip away and the nearby neighborhood pool was uncrowded and clean. Community in the front yard and privacy in the back. Grocery stores just a quick drive down the road and a homeowner’s association to keep our property values up to snuff.

Scott and I also found our Nashville suburbia to be the perfect place for making our music. We did all of our recording in local studios. Our first two records came to life in a nearby strip mall studio and the next several emerged from the Art House studio which was only a 5-minute drive from home. Nowadays, our own home studio is as convenient as it gets.

Back in the 1990’s, when we were touring a lot, we would board our tour buses in nearby grocery store parking lots. Our record label was only a town away. Managers and booking agents were close by, too. The airport is a quick 25 minutes on a light traffic day. What more could we want?

Country Cousins

My sister, her husband, and their seven children started out on the outskirts of Nashville near us. Now, they live far out in the country, closer to the border of Alabama than to Nashville. They asserted their aversion to homeowners’ associations and close neighbors early on after their move from Pennsylvania to our neck of the woods. Twenty years later, they have a home on a lovely hill surrounded by their twenty-nine acres. Although their church and community are quite close, their nearest neighbors are tucked out of sight and their closest grocery store requires a twenty-five minute drive.

They certainly have their freedom from associations. What Scott and I sometimes get are nosey board-member neighbors reporting  that our moldy siding and paint-peeled eaves aren’t up to neighborhood covenants. Or we get letters threatening fines for unruly lawns and other debatable infractions. At its worst, our homeowners association has been a small cabal of localized tyranny.

There are more reasons to envy others’ rural isolation. If I lived at the end of a dirt road, I could go out to get my mail in my underwear — if I wanted to. Additionally, it would be nice to not have that middle-of-the-night barking of the next-door dog, consistent and persistent these many years. There was one early morning, around 3 AM, that I actually went from my bed to the dog owner’s door in my underwear, half-asleep as I was from the disruption.

“Please stop letting your dog run around and bark in the cul-de-sac every night at this time. We are trying to sleep here!” She was shocked—by the accusation or the underwear? Both, I suppose. The barking stopped but only for a short time.

City Friends

Those we know who live in cities have a more eclectic community experience. Their neighbors are much more diverse. Our New York City family brushes shoulders with people from an amazing array of cultures and countries. I have family and friends who live in East Nashville and South Nashville neighborhoods who experience a lot of economic, racial and cultural diversity. With some intentionality, they get to know people who look, think, and live differently than they do. They also hear the occasional gun shots and keep their kids inside at night.

In my song, “Cul-de-sac Cathy,” I sing that all of my neighbors are somewhat like me. For the most part it’s true: we stay within a certain income range and have a lot of the same choices of schools and provisions for our kids. I did have an Afghani friend in the neighborhood for a while before she and her family moved away. I enjoyed learning about her views of Islam and America and family life. Mostly, though, I interact with people I can relate to. Seems to be a human propensity. Something about birds of a feather….

American Dreams

What am I trying to get at in my song and in this article?

I am reminding myself to be happy with my lot in life!

Perhaps I imagine judgements from city and country friends alike. These projections drive me to ask myself:

“Who are you to choose convenience and safety? Do you recognize the privilege in your choices?”

  • Do I have a right to affluence and permanence?
  • Is this middle-class American guilt?
  • Would you call it white privilege?

It’s definitely underpinned with lots of gratitude: I like my lot in life!

However, I do not want to sleep-walk in an American dream. I want God’s design for me and my family above all. The questions, however, don’t always get answered. Guess I’ll have to live in the tension.

In deed, I know I’ve got a lot that isn’t just a house. No more rented and temporary for me, I get to settle in and stay awhile. Thanks to the circle, Scott and I see our neighbors and they see us. We belong here. To this day we are all sharing our lives and dreams. In defense of suburbs and close associations, I’ll just say something about if the shoe fits….

                                                 Cul-de-sac Cathy

Everybody’s got two cars in the drive

We’re all working hard to give our kids a life

Tell me then, who am I to criticize?

The shoe is mine

 

I’m Cul-de-sac Cathy

Happy to be

Here where the world is convenient and clean

All of my neighbors are somewhat like me

Getting to work on American dreams

 

Why would I trade away my pretty little yard

Where the kids can play and life is not too hard

And it’s safe to stay outside even when it’s dark

It doesn’t get better than

 

Cul-de-sac Cathy

Happy to be

Here where the world is convenient and clean

All of my neighbors look somewhat like me

Falling asleep with American dreams

 

Well the country cousins say the isolation gives them freedom from associations

And my city friends seem so progressive in their accommodations

I must admit I wonder what I’ve missed by playing it safe,

playing it safe, am I playing it safe?

 

Guess I’m gonna live in this middle ground

Cause I got a lot that isn’t just a house

Location of the heart they say is everything

 

Cul-de-sac Cathy

Happy to be

Here where the world is convenient and clean

All of my neighbors are someone like me

Living our lives and sharing our dreams

 

Check out the other songs on my 5-Song EP, Closer to Free.

More like this: I Wanted My DogDead

Finding the Blind Spots

rear view mirror

I looked in the rear-view mirror twice to be certain no one was in that lane.                                                            Turn signal on, I made my move across that dotted white line.

“Watch out!”

My husband had been looking in the same direction as I had, but he saw the car I had not seen.                       An angry horn blast added to my addled nerves as I swerved back to my side of the road.

“I never even saw that car. Must’ve been in my blind spot,” I muttered, hands shaking slightly on the wheel.

Defensive Driving

We all have them.

Not that we know what they are exactly.

Blind spots are elusive but we’ve made enough dangerous moves to know they’re out there. Shouldn’t we conclude then, that there are things other people see that we are blind to?

My husband, Scott, and I made a deal early on in our relationship: When safety is on the line, we can say anything to each other.

We made this pact when we started having babies. Safety was tantamount back then, especially when driving around in vehicles. For example, if I saw some moves he was making that didn’t seem safe, I could tell him so. And he wasn’t supposed to get defensive.

Conversely, if he thought I was driving too fast, even if I didn’t agree, he could say it without fearing my justifications.

Or so it went, in theory.

We tried to acknowledge areas where we could be in error, not seeing straight. We agreed to stay open to another perspective.

The question is: What are my blind spots?

I don’t know exactly. But some of my friends and family do. Hopefully, I’m open enough to invite honest revelations from someone who cares: Christine, you’re over the line, with eyes off the road, and headed the wrong direction on a one-way street.

“OK,” I say, “thanks for letting me know.” Or so it goes, in theory.

Three Ways To See It

We approach the intersection of what we see clearly versus what remains murky with three choices:

1. We Can Help Others: Identify and point out the blind spots that others have.

Have you ever dared to tell someone what you see that they do not?

A dear friend of mine, who will remain nameless, was what I call a ‘nay-sayer.’ He’d often respond negatively when I first presented an idea to him. I did not think he was aware of this negative habit.

For example, I once asked, “Do you think we should try putting the couch on that side of the room?”

“No,” he said, “it won’t look right there.”

“Well,” I suggested, “can we at least try it?”

Minutes later, he admitted, “Wow, that does look pretty good over there!”

“You know, you do that a lot, saying no automatically before opening up to a possibility,” I mentioned.

He did not like the remark but took it to heart. A few days later, he responded to something affirmatively instead of a knee-jerk no.

It worked! When I dared to point out his blind spot, my ‘nay-saying’ friend reined in his bad habit.

Mostly though, people do not respond well to these types of observations and instead, they feel judged, threatened, and downright defensive. Honestly, it’s rarely worth the risk to help others by pointing out their blind spots.

2. We Can Help Ourselves: Another choice is to just notice others’ blind spots and learn from them without attempting to correct their vision. Spotting other people’s headlong rush to self-destruction, or just their annoying habits, is easy and we may even have a plan to get them straightened out. But usually, we do better to keep our observations to ourselves.

For example, I had an acquaintance who related to her teenage daughter more like a friend than a mother. I was certain they were headed for some rough roads if she didn’t step in and act like a parent. However, I decided not to go poking my fingers into their business. As the years unfolded, the girl grew up and turned out just fine. They did not need me to set them on the right path.

In other good news, my angst and my judgment did cause me to take a look at my motivation and try to find my blind spot in that situation.

3. We Can Humble Ourselves: The best choice I know for finding blind spots is to admit there’s always more than meets the eye. When looking at others and ourselves, humility is key to breaking us out of our pride and insecurity, two-sides of the same prison cell.

If I look for my own log jam and give the benefit of the doubt to others–also known as compassion–I’m on my way to finding freedom.

Consider the Blind Spots

Why do we defend first before considering assertions? I have noticed how I leap to justify myself when someone questions my moves.

For example, a few months ago, my daughter challenged me about a certain attitude of mine that boiled to the surface:

Two high school boys approached us as we were leaving a store. They had a box of candy which they were selling to raise money for something at school. Or so they said.

I was immediately suspicious and just told them, no thanks. The store manager had come out by then and asked them to move away from his storefront. As we walked to the parking lot, I told my daughter they were probably just scamming us, not really raising money for their team but for themselves. Her jaw dropped and she asked me if I might be judging them because they were African-American boys.

My feathers ruffled, I said, “no, I just didn’t see any official looking stickers on the box or have any sense that they were legit. I’m not prejudiced!”

She suggested, however, that I could have been reacting to them based on their skin color without realizing it. “They did have an official-looking document explaining it, Mom. You just didn’t see it.” Blind spot. Ouch. I had to reconsider my reaction.

(I found out later that, before she went to where her car was parked, she found the two young men and apologized for how the store manager had treated them and she wished them the best in their endeavor. That’s my girl!)

Poor Judgement

Jesus told us to remove the plank in our own eye before trying to nab the speck of dust in someone else’s. He says I will be judged in the same way I judge others. Is that really what I want?

No way!

My judges won’t see all of the extenuating circumstances or hidden situations in my life. They’ll make projections and false accusations. This gives me pause–a long inhalation of introspection–before I dare go pointing and poking.

Jesus’ point, I believe, is to focus us on our humility–or lack thereof.

Humbling myself is a slow-motion scenario. It involves an interlude of reflection before reaction or projection. Check the mirrors. Check them again. Ask what my fellow-travelers see. Look over my shoulder and proceed with caution.

Cultivating this sort of honest accuracy in your self-assessment will help you to know where your talents and limits truly lie, saving you from embarrassment in some situations while ensuring greater success in others. Meanwhile, you will have an honest and accurate sense of which areas you truly need to improve.

We know blind spots can crush us. If we refuse to look where we’re going, examine bad habits, and listen to what people are trying to tell us, then we’re headed in the wrong direction.

Three Best Case Scenarios

Here’s what we should do when it comes to blind spots:

  1. Give the benefit of the doubt to those we’re tempted to correct. Assume we don’t see the entire picture.
  2. Stop being defensive when someone points something out to us. Consider their perspective.
  3. Humble ourselves by taking an honest look in the mirror. Be willing to really see what’s there.

Through meditation, introspection, journaling, and just journeying, we can find some of our own blind spots!

But don’t stop there. Especially when you’re already in the car and picking up speed.

Ask for help from another set of eyes. Invite others to tell you some things about you. Seek another perspective before you make a lane change. Who knows, maybe if you drop some of your defensive maneuvers, the people around you will do the same.

 

*A word about Self-Compassion: This article is not meant to be one more way of beating ourselves up or driving ourselves to do more. Self-compassion is at the heart of a beautiful life. The instruction to love others as we love ourselves implies that we love ourselves. It is not a given that we actually do. In fact, some of us despise ourselves and it shows in the way we live. If we start with love and acceptance of ourselves, we can then find the freedom to live an honest, open, humble, and joyful life! More on this in another article.

Check out my related article: Making Connections, Not Projections.

Making Connections, Not Projections

making connections

Walking with my daughter, Carina, on a lakeside trail recently, I happened upon an epiphany:

I project when I don’t connect.

What I mean is, I create mental projections on the wall of my imagination if I do not have real-life interactions and conversations.

Like when a friend has not called me in a month, I might picture all the ways in which I have probably offended her. Another example is how I will tell myself a tale of rejection to make sense of an unanswered message I’ve sent with the sincerest of emoticons.

By creating a movie on the screen in my head, I can come up with all kinds of fictions explaining why someone hasn’t called, texted, emailed, “liked,” or otherwise given me a thumbs-up to acknowledge our relationship. When real-life conversations have fallen away, my brain works overtime to fill in the blanks.

making connections not projections

For instance, while side-by-side with Carina on the trail, I was explaining to her how I had been feeling disconnected from my brother who lives in another state. I admitted to her that I hadn’t called him because it was clearly his turn to call me. Way past his turn, actually, because I had been doing all of the connecting in the past year or so it seemed. I felt a bit hurt and had listed in my head all of the ways in which I deserved better.

Also, I had projected on the broad screen of my skull a colorful parade of the reasons he’d been neglecting, avoiding, and even rejecting me. I had come up with some scary scenarios and worst-case worries.

Maybe some of my mental projections were true. My feelings were definitely real. But I had gone too far. You see, I had left the mainland where the wires and synapses fire at the sound of human voices. I had crossed over to the island of extended imagination where weak signals send scrambled messages at best.

staying connected

My phantom brother, in that far-off country without communication, had become a flickering kind of figure. Like Princess Leia’s holographic image projected from inside R2D2, he was trapped like an apparition in my memory. I could only tell myself stories about what was going on between us for I did not have the facts.

“Carina,” I said, “I finally just decided to call the guy, whether it was his turn or not.”

I had pressed the green icon on my smartphone. When he answered, I told him immediately what I’d been thinking and feeling. My throat got a little choked. He said, “wow, you got to that pretty fast.”

I did. We talked for a long while. He told me about how busy he’s been with his job and family. We laughed about some of the tales I’d been telling myself.

Thank God for smart phones with good connections. When we pressed our red icons good-bye, I felt so much better. I remembered my little brother. The kid he was and the man I love. There’s nothing like an honest conversation for dispelling hallucinations.

With Carina it’s easy. Together on the path, we connect before there’s a chance to project. With others I love, there’s just more distance to cover. It can be done though. All it takes is making connections.

Henceforth, I will remember this lesson: don’t project–connect!

Instead of playing old movies on my wobbly mental screen, I’ll shut off the projector and use that modern machine. Just press green.

 

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