Sunday, October 19, 2014

Music Gives Purpose In Life

KruegerWhat were your first experiences with music?

Eric:  My first experience with music was learning how to buzz on the mouthpiece for baritone, when Dad was first teaching me.  My Dad is my biggest inspiration and coach for life.  I didn't have much exposure to music, before he got me interested.

Krueger:  Your Dad was your first teacher then?

Eric:  Yes, and I actually took piano lessons from a woman in Grants Pass, Oregon, where I was born.  We moved to Ashland when I finished 2nd grade.  In Ashland I continued piano lessons with Steven Truelove.  Then I don't remember having Tuba, or any lessons on low brass until High School with the Band Director, Sue Foster, in 8th grade.  Then once I got more serious about the Tuba in my Junior Year in High School, I had my first few lessons at the University with Stu Turner even before I graduated from High School.

Krueger:  What got you feeling serious about the Tuba vs. the Piano?

EricNothing really got me seriously interested in the Tuba. I kind of just stuck with it because I liked playing it and thought I was a natural. As I played more and got more experienced, it felt more natural.  I didn't feel like I needed to practice, unless it was completely necessary for success.

KruegerAnd what did you do then, to continue to play?

Eric:   Pep Band and Marching Band.  There was Band Camp of course, which was fun.  My Band Teacher was a 100% supporter.  I joined the Youth Symphony Orchestra in my Junior Year and also I was in Honor Band.  I joined the University Symphonic Band my Junior Year and played with Michael Shultz. Those were tough times because he was like a Tuba Army Drill Sergeant.  I also achieved three Academic Letters for my musical activities while in High School.
In 1997, I got invited to represent Oregon as an ambassador to travel to Europe and play concerts in 7 different countries.  I got a recognition letter from the Governor Kitzhaber, congratulating me on my achievements. 

Krueger:  How long was your trip to Europe? Which Countries did you visit?

Eric:  The musical activities part of it was two weeks only. We started our rehearsals in Portland at Lewis and Clark College. Then we flew to London, shipped with a Ferry through the English Channel from Dover to the French coastline onto Paris.  Then onto a small mountain town in Switzerland called Champery.  We did a small visit to Lichtenstein. Then onto Austria after that, while the organization was there, some of us went to Vienna, and the others went on a day trip to Venice, Italy, which was unforgettable experience.  We then concluded our trip after Switzerland. Onto Germany in a town called Rothenberg.  During all these trips I'm doing choir concerts in evenings and band concerts during the day. I was called a "Doubler" choir member and a band member.

After High School, I continued on at Southern Oregon University with Music Education, and I got accepted into the Music Department, but I never really officially got admitted into the University. I think what I did was paid for classes and attended music classes, but never was officially enrolled and classified as a student.  I went ahead anyways and used my two scholarships and paid for two years of classes and courses.

Krueger:  What role do you feel all of this musical activity played in your life?

Eric:  All of that musical activity in my life made me feel like there was a purpose for me coming into this world.  It opened up a new world for me, a new door to explore and discover.  I really enjoyed it, because it brought attention to me and I made other people around me happy, and I was happy with them in the process.  It was very satisfying and soothing to know that I made somebody’s day memorable because of what I made with my instrument.

Eric currently works at FTD Flowers in Medford, Oregon, and teaches Tuba on the side, while also playing Tuba with the Rogue Valley Symphony when the opportunity is there.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Can Music Help Us Transcend Even Physical Suffering?

Pianist Rachel Palen opens up to us about the potency and importance of connecting with Music, and the triumphs that are possible -even through physical suffering- through this connection.

Rachel: I spent much of my early childhood living in the woods with my family. I was mostly exposed to music through my Dad singing and playing the guitar and playing records now and then. It seems like I always had music in my head though. Maybe it came from nature or maybe it was just there from the beginning, but I remember making up songs when I was very young. Maybe four, maybe earlier. It seemed as though I was always singing or humming songs to myself, singing at the mountains, and singing in the trees. I distinctly remember noticing the rhythm of everything one day, and then I couldn't seem to do anything without being aware of patterns in sounds and even the spacing of objects. 

When I was 5, I think, my parents bought a big upright old player piano and I started taking lessons. I didn't have much experience of the piano and was mostly concerned that I wouldn't get to play outside as much. I struggled with formal lessons and just following books, until maybe 2 years into lessons, when one summer all of the sudden everything made sense.
Krueger: Can you pinpoint what it was about formal lessons and following books that was a struggle for you?
Rachel: I think it was an issue of not understanding the piano. I had never heard piano music and wasn't really aware of what the piano could really sound like. I just didn't relate to it at first. My experience of music was wandering around singing which was totally natural and didn't follow any sort of structure. I was kind of unnaturally good at math from a very young age and understood reading music and translating it onto the keys as a pattern but I guess I didn't "feel" a connection until the day that for some reason everything clicked and I felt like I was playing "music". From then on out, the piano became sort of a refuge for me.
Krueger: What was it about playing music yourself vs. just listening to others, that was particularly valuable or comforting for you; even a refuge for you?
Rachel: I was going through a difficult time when I really connected to the piano. I was a very sensitive, introspective child and I tended to feel the emotions of everyone around me. Playing the piano was a way for me to sort out my own feelings and to express myself without words. It was one of the few times that I could be completely present. It was how I processed life and emotions and how I related to the world. Soon after, I started playing the clarinet and was so excited to be part of a group where all of the parts intertwined, and I could be in the middle of it and feel like I could disappear into something so much bigger than myself.
Krueger: Can you describe that feeling of “bigger than myself”?
Rachel: I have experienced this feeling of being part of something bigger than myself in band, choir, and when I am able to really tune in to the natural world around me. I think as a child I just was part of the natural world and there wasn't a feeling of separation but, as I got older, that feeling must have changed. Being part of a group where all of the parts fit together allowed me to feel surrounded by the sound. I would listen to the whole group and feel like I was just one small part of the bigger picture. It wasn't just me expressing myself, but a bunch of people that were all different coming together to make something bigger and more beautiful than any of us could be on our own. I could let go of myself and be present in each moment.
I continued to play both instruments and went to college at 16 to study music, where I was surprised to learn that I could play pieces on the piano I never would have thought possible. My teacher would hand me pieces and tell me to play them and somehow my hands knew what to do. It was so exciting to be around other musicians and to feel so wrapped up in my studies.
During my first break my freshman year, I was in a bad car accident and was told I would never play the piano or the clarinet again. I cried for a while and then decided they were wrong.

I could only practice the piano for extremely short intervals and had lost much of my visual acuity and ability to read or remember music. I couldn't feel my left hand. Rather than give up, I turned to nature once again. I would practice and then sit outside for hours. At first, it seemed like isolation because I was disappointed in myself, but then I started noticing the things I had as a small child. The clouds and birds and flowers and wind, and especially the trees. I was able to find some sort of appreciation and connection to life that had been lost for a time. This is what got me through.
However, on what was one of the most devastating days of my young life, I gave up the clarinet and my dream of playing in an orchestra. Apparently the doctors were right about that one thing. I was in too much pain. This was a time of darkness, where I lost my connection to music and to the community it can provide.
Krueger: Could you say it was the separation that you felt from music which brought about a sense of darkness, or was it a sense of darkness which brought about a separation with music?
Rachel: It is difficult to pinpoint the cause of this feeling of darkness. I think it was a combination of the two. They sort of fed into one another. I was in a lot of pain; pain that would keep me from sleeping for days at a time. Pain that made me want to disappear or leave my body because it was everywhere. I started to isolate myself because I couldn't seem to laugh as much as I had before and I was soooo tired but I couldn't sleep. I felt trapped in this body and there was no escape so I stopped feeling because pain was all there was. In doing so, I blocked out not only the pain, but everything else. Hope was lost. This was darkness. I couldn't see the light at the end of the tunnel.

The loss of being able to play in a group left me feeling even more alone, and the decision I made to actually give up the clarinet seemed like I was giving up on myself, my dreams, and the possibility of something brighter. I can't really describe the depth of the emptiness. I blamed myself and in doing so, I lost myself.
[This is making me cry.]
My clarinet teacher said she would support me, but couldn't watch me hurt myself anymore. Looking back I realize that I had support, but at the time I was too afraid to reach out or admit how hurt I really was.  The ugly details are inconsequential to the larger picture, but basically I literally almost killed myself trying to play the piano for the next few years in order to finish my Degree.
Krueger: What was it about finishing your Degree that drove you so deeply?
Rachel: I don't know why finishing my Degree was such a driving force. I don't think it was really about the piece of paper so much as it was about finishing what I had started. I am a very driven, self-reliant person by nature and I had to finish what I started. Part of it was proving to myself that I could do it, whatever the cost. The other part was most likely that it was something to keep me getting up in the morning. I felt so lost and alone that I think having something tangible to hold onto was the only way I could justify my existence. The Degree itself didn't really mean anything. I remember playing an encore at my senior recital and then feeling this complete emptiness settle over me. I was done and I felt like there was nothing left. I finished my Degree, graduating with top honors (for what it is worth) from Southern Oregon University, and then I stopped playing the piano.
I wasn't playing for me anymore. I was just accomplishing goals, getting paid to accompany, playing in concerts and musicals, and I had job offers, but I had become something frightening. Music was my job, not my escape, not my passion. I couldn't feel when I played. It was a relief to say goodbye. [This is making me cry right now.]
I actually learned to deny that I ever was a musician, which is a ridiculous thing that I wouldn't recommend. I was denying who I am.
A few years later, during which time I did purchase a piano and would play from time to time (although I still wasn't connecting to the music), I was offered a job accompanying for the local middle and high school choirs. At first I flat out refused. I was afraid that I couldn't do it physically and that I wasn't good enough. Finally I gave it a try and worked part time, which eventually grew into full time. This was the best job of my life.
I could still technically play the piano and apparently was still capable of moving people emotionally. I was not moved, however, and felt like a liar. I was in pain and exhausted, but the amazing thing was that the kids were so inspiring, they kept me going. I was continually awed by their courage, perseverance, talent, and their sheer potential as musicians and human beings.
I felt like I was finally contributing in a positive way, and even though I was physically suffering, the gift of sharing music, especially with young people, definitely outweighed the cost. After 8 years of working for the schools, however, 1 year ago I was forced to resign from my position. My health had deteriorated and I was not making my healing a priority. I realized that I wouldn't be worth anything to anyone pretty soon if I didn't take a break. This was the saddest day of my adult life. It isn't a sad story though.
Now, it would appear that it is time to come full circle. I had sort of a moment a few months ago when I realized the extent to which I had denied my true connection to music and in doing so had denied my heart, my true self. Music is a precious gift, and one that is meant to be shared. It can transcend pain. I blamed the pain for my inability to connect, but truly I had chosen to judge myself for the "damage" and my loss of certain abilities. Music was always there for me, I just wasn't there for myself.
About a month ago I was playing through pieces I had learned in college, and I finally opened my heart to really experience this gift that I have been given, that I have always had and always will, regardless of the state of my physical body. I could feel my heart and I could feel my left hand for the first time in 17 years. I could feel and I was present.
It is important to me to recognize this was not achieved alone. There were a number of very special people who helped me for many years. Part of the healing has been learning how to reach out and to accept help and believe that I deserve to get better.

Krueger: Do you have any closing thoughts?
Rachel: I truly believe that music can heal our hearts and our bodies. It can teach community, compassion, acceptance, and can be shared by everyone. In the end, I am grateful to have lived my life and learned so much. I once again hear songs in my head and feel the rhythm of nature. There will always be pain and there will always be sadness. These things are part of life, but so is music. I choose to transform the pain, fear, and judgment into beautiful music. I invite everyone to do the same.

Rachel has recently moved back to Ashland where her focus is on healing, with an emphasis in regaining and developing her connection with music and the piano, as an essential part of her healing. Part of her decision to be in Ashland again is based on the level of musical and artistic activity within Ashland, giving her the possibility of going to concerts, potentially teaching a select few individuals, the possibility of accompanying, and the opportunities to share music with others again. While her level of musical activity gains clarity and as she gains strength, she feels that “right now it is best that I am alive and present in each moment with my heart open, so that I can once again experience music as a pure form of love and life.”

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Can A "Career Voice" Be Satisfied Without the Big Career?

Shelly Cox is a big voice, big talent singer who currently sings as a part-time professional, living in the small town of Talent, Oregon -current population of about 6,000- where she also grew up.  Shelly is a full time accountant at a CPA firm in a neighboring town, and is 7.5 months into raising her daughter and first child, Cece.  Here she opens up to us about her challenging path in pursuit of an Opera Career, and what she realized in the process.


Krueger:  What is it that drew you to singing?

-Shelly:  I've always loved singing so it's hard for me to pinpoint what exactly drew me to singing in the first place.  I think what it really boils down to is that singing makes me feel really good....

Krueger:  At what point did you start to pursue music more formally and in what ways?

-Shelly:  I began after meeting my voice teacher Ellie Murray. I met Ellie in an extracurricular teen theater workshop that I participated in, in 6th or 7th grade. She heard me sing and asked if I'd like to take voice lessons.

Before meeting Ellie I had already been singing in my Middle School's choir. When I started I was very shy and nervous about singing and sang very, very quietly. After working with Ellie I "found" my voice and realized that I could be an asset to the choir, so I sang out more and really just enjoyed myself.

After several months of lessons, I participated in the preliminary State Vocal competition, where I got some wonderful feedback from my judge. I continued to compete through high school.  During high school I performed as much as possible: in school musicals and plays, solo and choral competitions, recitals. I also sang with Rogue Opera in the chorus. 

Krueger:  What were your goals in pursuing music formally?
-Shelly:  My ultimate goal was to become an opera singer and join some big company like the Met or SF Opera. ​

Krueger:  How did you develop the goal (what gave you the idea) to become an Opera Singer, and to pursue this goal towards joining a big Co.?

-Shelly:  I suppose the idea came from being told that I had the right kind of voice for singing in an operatic style.  The goal for joining a big Co. came from hearing about competition/auditions that seemed to be the gateway for getting one's foot in the door, per say.  

As far as pursuing my goals: I sort of felt lost there. I was taking lessons, and competing, going to University. At one point someone I respected, and who knows the business very well, told me I should just start auditioning/performing as much as possible and that a music degree wasn't absolutely necessary.  I did eventually go that route, and because of that choice I realized that being an opera singer wasn't my bag, baby :).

Krueger:  Were there specific experiences in your pursuit which helped you realize it wasn't the right path for you?

-Shelly:  I moved to San Francisco and started auditioning wherever I could.  I auditioned for churches, for choirs, for roles, and got just one callback during that time, and there were about 50 other singers for that callback.  It was really competitive, and after spending about a year doing that, I started dealing more heavily with feelings of rejection and became depressed.  It got to the point where I didn't even want to sing anymore and I basically quit.  I spent another year there feeling lost and got into a bad roommate situation, and I finally decided to move back to the Rogue Valley.

:  How did you feel once you were back?

-Shelly:  I felt bad about it for quite a while, like I had wasted mine, my teacher's, and parents' time. Now I realize that just isn't so. I still perform and I'm a professional singer, it's just on a different scale than what I set out to do.

Krueger:  While you still have the rest of your life ahead of you, is there anything you would do differently if you had the past choices to make over again?

-Shelly:  It's hard to say, but yeah, I would have worked harder.  I didn't take it seriously enough.  I would have probably stayed in University and finished my degree.  But I don't know if that would have made any difference, I don't think I wanted it enough.

Krueger:  Do you have any advice for young singers, working to find their path?

-Shelly:  You're going to need to be prepared to do a lot of figuring things out on your own.  Especially if you live somewhere rural.  Unless you have a big support network, including financial support, live in or near a big city, and have started in the ideal ways, you're going to need to be prepared to do a lot of figuring things out on your own.  There is just not a set path and having talent is not going to make your career for you.  You really need to have the right personality for it, too.

Also, ask for help. I think that may have been one of my greatest downfalls. I was too proud/embarrassed to ask people for assistance or advice. The truth is: I think there were people out there who wanted to help me and I just didn't take advantage of it.

Shelly currently enjoys singing with the Southern Oregon Repertory Singers, the Trinity Episcopal Church in Ashland, and in whatever gigs come her way.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Woodturner Who Can't Live Without Music

Charles Nicholls, a woodworker from Arkansas, gives us his perspective on the role of music in his life.  Charles is not currently a musician, feeling that he has now found in woodworking what he was looking for by taking guitar while in high school, but he also feels as though he cannot live without music in his life.

Charles:  Musically, it's mostly 80s Rock and Country.  Some of the newer stuff is OK but I don't like Rap at all. Usually, I have music running in the background while I am doing my shop thing, unless something major is going on in the news.

Krueger:  Has your musical taste remained the same throughout your life?

Charles:  It's changed only slightly.  Actually, there are some 90s songs I like, and I used to love disco in the 70s, but yeah, for the most part it’s 80s.

Krueger:  Did you have music in the household, in any way, growing up?

Charles:  Oh yes, but then it was mostly Country music because my parents hated Rock; no one played the music it was always records or tapes.

Krueger:  Would you say that you inherited a love for Country because of your upbringing and discovered Rock on your own?

Charles:  I wouldn’t say I loved Country, I sort of just tolerated it because that was all that was available.  Then, yes, I went to Rock on my own because, well, it was prohibited [LOL].

When asked if Charles ever listens to Classical or Jazz, he answered that he has listened to it before, but does not care for it.

Krueger:  What about it is not appealing?
Charles:  It has very little, if any, singing, and really nothing to do with any of my moods or thoughts.  There is no voice in Classical, now Jazz there is a little.

Krueger:  Can you imagine a way that you would better relate with Classical and Jazz, or even Rap?

Charles:  No, not unless for some reason I happened to like the person doing it, first.  Now, there is -I guess you could say- violin music I like, check out Lindsey Stirling sometime.

Krueger:  If you can relate to the person, it helps you relate to the music?

Charles:  Yep, because the music comes from that person.

Krueger:  Perhaps there is a gap between the ways in which many Classical, Jazz, and Rap performers/musicians act as people, and who you are. At least on the surface.

Charles:  I guess you could put it that way. If I have nothing to do with their experience that they created the music from, then I can’t relate to the music itself.

Krueger:  Perhaps it's related, even, to perceived values in life?

Charles:  Yep.

Krueger:  Do you feel that music plays a vital role in your life, and even in your health, mental or otherwise?

Charles:  Oh yes I have to have music.  This computer is playing music literally 24/7 unless it is rebooting.  I have to have it, I'd go nuts without it.  Most of the time if the TV is on for news, the music is still playing in the background [LOL].  For me it just calms me down or picks me up, depending on what I need and what is playing.

Krueger:  If somebody you love does not appreciate the music you enjoy, do you think it's because they do not understand it?

Charles:  They either don't understand it or, more importantly, they don't understand me.

Krueger:  How would you classify yourself in terms of your relationship with music?

Charles:  Can't live without it.

Krueger:  Do you play any instruments?

Charles:  No, I wish I did.  I tried guitar but had a poor Instructor who wouldn't work with me.

Krueger:  You felt ignored in your lessons?

Charles:  You could say that, yeah; 5 minutes a day was spent with me MAYBE.  That was when I was trying to find a way to make art of some sort.

Krueger:  Do you feel it permanently made an impression on you?

Charles:  Yes, but I finally found what I was looking for in woodturning.

Krueger:  Do you think it would have made a difference for you, if you felt your teacher were more attentive?

Charles:  It may have but I don't know. I know it would have to my parents who spent $150 on the guitar and about that much for the class.  Sorry, I am starting to get a bit frustrated here.  I’m just annoyed at the moment, not so much at you as at old, bad memories.  Those were some really bad times for me, sorry.  I usually won’t go there because the feelings are so bad.


Krueger:  Are you OK?

Charles:  Yeah, I’m fine, just shaking off the bad stuff… Anyway, I need to get some more seam rippers and needle cases done for an order.

Krueger:  Thank you for your time, and enjoy your woodturning!