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Musical motivation

sacred music

A good soundtrack is everything. Star Wars, the James Bond films, Shaft, Mission Impossible, Hawaii Five-O and The Wizard of Oz all have famous soundtracks featuring one or more songs that call to mind certain characters and places, and inspire strong reactions. Those songs stay with us, often for life. For of those who like to work out, a soundtrack can be motivational. I have been at many a half marathon where the announcers played the theme from Rocky or Chariots of Fire.  My gym plays a mix of old school hip hop, top 40 rap, and the always fun trap music. When I run, I stick with my disco playlist. When I lift weights at home, it is usually house music mixes or sometimes New Edition hits.  Occasionally, I try something different. When I was doing a 30-day plank challenge, I started using Rio-style samba or the Game of Thrones theme to motivate me. Today, given that Holy Week is well underway, I decided to work out to instrumental hymns.

When you hear “Holy, Holy, Holy” or “Amazing Grace,” you may not be inspired to do multiple sets of squats and push-ups. However, I found the music relaxing which then led me to focus. Usually I’m folding laundry between sets or starting on work email or rearranging clutter on my home desk. Multitasking isn’t good for the brain.  It’s not good for your form or getting into a workout rhythm either. Today it felt good to focus on my breathing. I had a more mindful workout. Plus it was in keeping with my pledge to take in appropriate material this week. I plan to change my soundtrack more consistently. I need more time to truly appreciate my health and the opportunity to improve my fitness.

Last Lent one of the four challenges I took on was to be more prayerful. (4 Challenges in 40 Days) One way I worked towards that was to listen to sacred music or gospel music during my commute. I found it helpful given the stress in my line of work. Combining working out with spiritual music was a welcome new motivation for a Monday.

An anthem

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For Throwback Thursday, I revisited one of my favorite gospel songs, “Looking for you” by Kirk Franklin.  “Looking for you” went all the way to #1 on the Billboard Gospel charts in 2005. It samples the great Patrice Rushen song “Haven’t You Heard” which was also remade as a house music hit. The sample is a great backdrop for an uplifting song.

“Looking for you” gives honor to God for being present in dark hours. The song takes me back to my past experiences. I have undergone intense mental, emotional, and spiritual changes that reshaped my life for which I am grateful. This song takes me back to those times and the hope I feel in working with God and depending on Him for everything.

A few days ago, I was not in an optimal situation to be taking part in a job interview. I was nervous and I thought to myself that I would fail.  (This happens every single time I have a major job interview. I have had laryngitis each time I’ve interviewed for a leadership position. This week, I had my voice but my head was not where it should have been due to personal issues.) Yet I shine in those moments. I reach within and find resilience, strength, and clarity of purpose. I had to do some positive thinking. In all honesty, I literally put my hands together and I prayed.  I prayed for strength and guidance. I put myself in God’s hands (Giving it over to God) I was successful in that I was called back for a follow-up interview.

I feel encouraged. Hearing this song again makes me realize it’s a good anthem.  As I go through changes, I take on challenges to grow into the best version of myself.   I am looking for Him.  That is the key to my success.  I hope everyone has a song to guide you and to make you strong, happy, and positive.

From Roxbury to Oaktown: review of NE Karaoke Night

I was bursting with giddy happiness after attending NE Karaoke Night at Liege Oakland. The sold out event (with a waiting list!) was sponsored by Oakland’s Family Wellness Group. It was an amazing event full of positive energy, love, joy, and warmth. Our MC Shawn William mentioned that there’s so much negativity about Oakland but tonight’s event was so positive. It was a night in My Oakland. There were no hipsters in sight. Sorry hipsters, sometimes I can’t with y’all. A few walked past and probably wondered why we were dancing on the benches. It was the Oakland I treasure and want my daughter to treasure.  It was a great way to kick off the week.

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I had wanted to be there when doors opened at 5pm. I met my good friend Ulili about 15 minutes later. We managed to get seats across from the DJ booth and mic. Before we entered the venue, we ran into her auntie. Once inside, we saw an old friend from the high school Ulili attended and where I once taught.  There were hugs and greetings. The New Edition Story was playing on the TVs so even though the sound was off, we were able to enjoy the Bigs(how NE fans refer to the handsome young men portraying the group as teens and adults) in scenes from the miniseries.  The club played a 90s soundtrack so we danced and sang along.

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Photo by Katrece Avery

There were two rounds of karaoke before I left for the evening. Our opener was a former Soul Train dancer named Jeffrey. He was rocking a vintage Cross Colours button-down. He performed “Humpin’ Around” by Bobby Brown. His performance showed us the discipline and energy required to sing and dance at the same time.  One of the highlights was my Facebook friend’s husband, Raul, who despite not knowing the lyrics to classic BBD slow jam “When Will I See You Smile Again?” , absolutely killed it. There were initial technical difficulties but once he began to sing, he won the crowd over with his talent and getting audience participation. Raul’s wife, my Facebook friend, Michelle sang “Hit Me Off.” I wanted to sing with her since there are so many parts. I sang along with practically every performance though I never signed up to take the stage. I lost my nerve when I saw the long line into the club. I was worried that my horrible voice would lead folks to be rude. However, there was nothing but love during this event. Even when folks hit some odd notes, everyone was supportive.

The large crowd was warm and welcoming. I was shown love for wearing my New Edition shirt. I finally got to meet Michelle in person after our interactions on the NE fan Facebook group. So it was fun to get a photo opp with her.

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Bay Area NE fans unite

At one point, there were shout outs for folks born in the 60s, 70s, and 80s.  New Edition has been in our lives for over 30 years. That is most of our lifetime.  We all knew the lyrics. We were full of emotion. I posted an Instagram video of us singing “Mr. Telephone Man.” I know many of us were reminiscing about who we were when we first heard these songs, remembering people and situations connected to these songs. These are songs and music videos that meant and mean so much to us.  It felt great to share that common experience with so many others.

New Edition’s music unites so many people across the country and across generations. Several viral videos showcase kids singing or dancing to New Edition. They have a new generation of fans who were born in the last decade. They are feeling NE like we do. M would have loved the event. She would have known all the lyrics.

I want to thank Family Wellness Group, Liege Oakland, everyone who sang or danced for us, and all the New Edition fans that came through.  When New Edition comes back to Oakland, we will be there at Oracle or the Fox. NE4Life!

My NE Heartbreak

A week and a half ago, I had a meltdown.  I’m not proud of it.  I predicted it would happen. But to understand how I nearly lost my mind, I have to explain the context for my near-breakdown. This past January, along with millions of other fans, I fell out when trailers for The New Edition Story hit social media. My love for New Edition predates my New Kids fandom. I have been a New Kids on the Block fan since I was sixteen; I was 11 when “Candy Girl” debuted. It was catchy, cute, and reminiscent of the Jackson 5, the Sylvers and the Motown super groups I heard growing up thanks to my music lover dad. I was a fan of bubblegum, R&B, doo-wop and harmonizing. This song was all those and more. Who could resist Ralph T with his cute face and great falsetto?  Everybody, including me, wanted to be a Candy Girl. So I became a fan.

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Yassssssss! 

Memories of my youth are connected to New Edition. I played “If It Isn’t’ Love” to death the summer I worked one of my first jobs at a yogurt shop.  I remember seeing the video on MTV for the first time and thinking they had grown up. They were a bunch of cute boys and I was close in age to them. They looked like boys I could possibly see in my high school.Like most girls, I had posters on my bedroom walls. The cast of The Outsiders, Menudo, Duran Duran, and New Kids on the Block were all featured at one point or another.  I never put up a picture of New Edition. I would have liked to but it would have been questioned simply because they were black. I thought Ralph T was cute. I found Bobby Brown and the oversexed bad boys of BBD adorable. They were all attractive, fun guys. It was natural that I would be attracted to them. Millions of people were and are. I could not own outwardly that I admired and liked these young men. That’s a shame. As I’ve gotten older, I’m not bound by those old restrictions of my childhood household. I am attracted to whoever I find attractive. I told M about how I couldn’t put any New Edition posters and she was perplexed.

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Church fainting! 

I anxiously awaited the debut of The New Edition Story. I watched the first episode and I was entranced. Several articles and blogs have been written about how this miniseries has impacted people culturally and emotionally. The recreation of the videos and photo shoots and musical performances were perfection. (Yes I’m singing, or rather butchering,  “Still in love.”) After watching it myself, I decided to share Episode 1 with M. The littles were too brilliant for her not to see them. (Caleb is my favorite so I have started watching Stranger Things.)There are scenes towards the end of that episode when they’ve transitioned into teens that were not for her eyes so M saw an edited version. Nevertheless, M was hooked. We watched the rest of the miniseries together but I had to be careful about certain scenes. I would stop the film and we’d start the “clean version” the following evening. Not surprisingly, we both became NE-obsessed.  We downloaded all their hits on our devices. It’s been nonstop New Edition ever since.

My DVR is always set to record a dozen shows. My few shows are on Netflix but the DVR is almost always packed with our family faves, Rambo’s shows, and news shows. It’s always between 75 to 95% full. I foolishly deleted The New Edition Story because it was available on demand and I knew it would re-air. My daughter and I had watched it three times and Episode 1 five times. I was excited to record it. When I came home and realized it didn’t record because repeats were not part of the recording settings, I had a fit. I was livid. I raised my voice at M (yes I broke my Lenten promise) and Rambo. I paced back and forth like a madwoman. Eventually I headed into my home office and logged onto Facebook to vent with my NE4Life group. Other group members had posted about what they are doing as we wait for the DVD. Within the hour, I downloaded the BET app on my phone. M and I watched part of Episode 1. The evening ended on a happy note though we missed bedtime.

New Edition has been around in all the phases of my life. I feel as if we have grown up together. While I have seen Ralph and BBD perform in the past, I have never seen all six together. I’m looking forward to enjoying a group I have loved for over 30 years. NE4Life!!!

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All six receive their long-overdue star on the Walk of Fame 

 

Gospel truths

On the First Friday of Lent (and Flashback Friday), as I listened to one of my favorite gospel music artists on my morning commute, I thought back to my discovery of gospel music.  I first heard Cliff Petty during the opening service at LA Congress in 2010. He was leading the psalm. My head snapped in that direction so quickly I almost fell over. I turned to my church sisters and repeatedly asked, “Who is that?” as I searched the program for his name.   I was so impressed by his voice that I listened for it during the remainder of the service. Immediately after wards, I went to the exhibit hall to look for his music company. I purchased his first CD and even spoke with him briefly. I’ve been following his career ever since. I went to his concert at LA Congress in 2013. I have taken music workshops he has presented including one in which the attendees were divided into choir sections. I was a “joyful noisemaker” as I don’t have a very good singing voice.  Cliff’s music really opened my heart to hearing the Word in a different way.

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My autographed CD; Cliff’s 2nd release

Part of being Catholic is the traditional aspect. The music is traditional and sacred-sounding such as masses in Latin, Gregorian chant and old hymns. The music is beautiful, formal, and ceremonial. Para ser franca, at times, it can be lacking in energy and joy. Gospel music has been a way to bring joy into my worship, faith life, and prayer life. The songs are based on scripture, psalms and on people’s reflections on their relationship with God. People sometimes associate gospel music with different denominations. That is silliness. Music is universal. I talk to many people who say Mass is boring and that they get nothing out of it. They are going out of obligation, not passion. Music enriches that experience. Even in the most boring of settings, I will sing. When I sing in church, I continue to reflect on the Word and my love of God. Singing allows me to do so in a way that is more creative and expressive. Because of my love for gospel music, I appreciate the liturgy and the songs chosen more.  I am familiar with different hymns. Gospel music has been a blessing which expands and enriches my faith life.

In the past when I have struggled with myself, even in those dark moments, my faith has sustained me. My faith has not been repressive, oppressive, or depressive. However,there are times when faith wavers; the busyness of life can shake me. A song can bring me back to myself. Gospel music has been both soothing and uplifting. It has been with me through times of poor health. When I’ve been so angry and I need to clear my head, gospel music has been the soundtrack. When work has been hectic, choosing the gospel station on Pandora has helped me to refocus. I’m grateful I have made listening to more gospel part of my prayer challenge.  I know it will give me more time to reflect and honor this sacred time.

Find W.Clifford Petty on Facebook at Cliff Petty’s music

Another Puccini gem, Madama Butterfly

Opera review

Dissed by a long distance lover? Check. Played by a military man? Check. Blinded by romantic illusion? Check. Giacomo Puccini writes music that is unparalleled in its beauty and interracial love tragedy Madama Butterfly is no exception. San Francisco Opera’s reigning diva Patricia Racette gave an amazing performance as the lovesick geisha, Butterfly. Butterfly marries Navy man BF Pinkerton, only to find herself pining in poverty for three years to no avail. “Un bel di” is as breathtaking as any La Boheme aria. And what a difference a seat in the orchestra makes!

Bravo! Brava! Bravi!

Azucar y sabor: a closer look at salsa

I’m soaking in salsa. Not in tomatoes, onions or chili peppers. No, for the last two days, since the office is in shutdown mode, I have been listening to Yahoo Launchcast. I started with my usual dose of reggaeton but then I decided to listen to the Salsa Cien Por Ciento station. What fun!

As intimidated as I seem when at Luka’s or a family gathering(or my recent night at Nashville’s Ibiza), I have always loved salsa. There’s something about that piano, those horns, that cowbell, the timbales, the bongos and congas, and all the voices of the coro as they play and dance in unison. Salsa has been a part of my musical life for as long as I can remember. I grew up on Willie Colon, Celia Cruz, El Gran Combo, Oscar D’Leon, Tito Puente, and La Sonora Matancera. I learned the basic salsa step of right foot forward and back and right foot backward and back, the duro palante and pun patras that Daddy Yankee calls out, along with all other dance moves. Of course, I didn’t learn to dance with a partner because Peruvians dance freestyle, which now that I think about it, must be because all Peruvian dances, including the equally movido Afro-Peruvian dances, are danced alone and incorporate plenty of improvisation. Salsa brings back great memories of dancing in garages and family rooms, of singing along with classics like “Caballo Viejo”and “Brujeria,”of beating time on a sofa or a table.

Recently, I read Mi Vida, the autobiography of the Queen of Salsa, Celia Cruz. I always admired the brassy singer from her young days with La Sonora Matancera singing the chacha(I love “Yerbero Moderno”) to her 1980s Mazola commercials. There was something about her crazy wigs, wild outfits, and wild makeup, and her signature shout, “Azucar!” Her life story is the American Dream Latino style and taught me a lot of history as well as more about salsa(which is a term made up by the media and music moguls to market Latin dance music and one which the veteran performers never fully embraced.) I have even more respect for her now, knowing that she performed up until a few days before she lost her battle to brain cancer. Her songs are especially inspirational to me now, knowing what she endured and yet transformed through her art

Listening to the salsa station has reminded of the artists I enjoyed in the late 80s and 90s when I got back in touch with my Latino musical roots: Luis Enrique, Jerry Rivera, Eddie Santiago, La India, Marc Anthony. I can tell the difference between these pop salseros and the more jazzy vets like Eddie Palmieri. The station plays a good mix of old and new school salsa with a few merengue songs and even my old favorite, “Yerbero Moderno.” Alone in my office, I danced both the chacha and salsa. Azucar!

Cinematic therapy, Vol. 3: A classic pop treat

A Hard Day’s Night

How do I survive hours of ironing? The last two times I have ironed(approximately two months apart), I have revisited an old favorite, the Beatles’ quasi-documentary. Filmed in black and white, this hour and a half comedy follows the boys from Liverpool at the height of their boy band heyday. Quirky John, mellow George, sensitive Ringo(always my favorite Beatle since we share a birthday and an underdog complex,) and no-nonsense Paul are headed to a TV variety show concert. They drive their manager Norm crazy with their antics. They alternately dodge and flirt with hordes of fans. They also try, unsuccessfully, to keep Paul’s instigator grandfather(the hilarious Wilfred Bambrell) out of trouble. The high jinks reach their peak when Ringo heads off on a solitary quest—forty minutes before showtime. My favorite scene is the concert performance of “She Loves You,” complete with surprise cameo. The action is broken up by the band performing some of their hits. Not a bad way to spend an evening, especially when faced with a not-so-fun chore.

Why tears?

I recently brought my piano to my house. My piano has been with me since I was twelve so it has seen me when I was an innocent, sad child. Though I still feel like that girl sometimes, I have grown up into a woman. I grew up to be somebody. I have my own house where I can play my piano as I look out at my magnolia tree while the birds sing their evening songs.

It has been two weeks since I have played. I had committed to playing at least once a week for a solid half hour and want to establish that routine. Playing lifts my spirits and feels great. So I have missed it. Tonight I played my usual: The C Major scale. A page of Beethoven’s “Fur Elise.” A page of Strauss’s “The Beautiful Blue Danube.” My signature recital piece, Ivanovici’s “Waves of the Danube.” I also played a song from a memory, a children’s song from my first piano primer, the sweet “Evening Song.” I ended my half hour with another memorized primer song. I don’t remember the title but I remember it was in G Major and I remember the opening lyrics, “Sing, sing, sing, for today is spring.” Then I began to cry.

Why cry? Because I remember each note and each key. Because the piano has a certain smell, one that reminds me of who I used to be, who I used to want to be, and who I still am. I cried with pride at my ability to make something so sweet and gentle. I recalled how I used to play that little song for an audience of my mom’s parakeets and my brother. I remembered how playing would motivate me to memorize longer and more challenging pieces to play for company and at the annual Christmas recital. I cry because I used to play for myself. I cry because little things, like a simple song, still make me happy. I cry because I can.

It’s good to have my piano home.