Jul 052007

(There seem to have been people who were not able to listen to the song. If the player doesn’t show up or doesn’t work for you, try the link at the bottom of the post, please. Oh, and the songs starts with about 4 seconds of silence…)

Well, time to post another song. You might have noticed that the quality of the recordings is getting worse and worse. That’s because I started with something finished and now the songs I’m putting on the blog are getting sketchier and sketchier. (All the songs I have been posting so far can be seen under the label “hear me sing” in the sidebar.)

This really is like a pencil drawing compared to an oil painting. There should be an intro, there is a big drum-set-shaped hole in the middle of the whole song, there should be horns in the bridge… So, imagine the voice being warm and full, imagine the sorry excuse for an organ sound from my keyboard to be a real b3-hammond. You can also imagine that you’re sitting in a real jazz bar, sipping a glass of red wine while you’re at it.

I started writing this song when my son was ten months old in 2003. Teaching and parenting didn’t leave me with much energy for making music. So I committed to improvise on my piano and sing along with it every day. For ten minutes. When something extraordinary came up in the course of these improvisations I wrote it down.

Then life happened, nothing happened with those ideas until I started committing again two years later. Then I got stuck. My husband recommended recording what I had so far in order to be able to hear what was missing and what could be improved. So I recorded it in spring 2005. And then was now.

This is a song about how all things I create seem to be weird, alien and strange and I can’t help it. It’s also a song about that feeling of calmness and elation you get when you’re totally in the moment of creation. Here’s “Weirdness”:

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(You need Flash Player to hear it. If you can’t see a “play”-button to click on it (I have tried to fix it but I don’t really know why it didn’t work.) you can go and hear “weirdness” here.)

Jun 262007

I already told you that my husband has become a blogger too. Over at psychedelic zen guitar he pairs gorgeous photos with breath-taking guitar improvisations. Recently he started collaborating with Elspeth Duncan who blogs at now is wow. They have teamed up three times so far. Their first collaboration doesn’t really have a name yet. If you want you can choose one since it’s still showing at a blog near you. Interestingly the video and music were created independently of one another. But they match perfectly nonetheless.

The second one, “magic” started life as a piece of music my husband had recorded. Then Elspeth did the video. (And it is filmed with the iSight camera of a macbook. Which goes to show that you don’t need much equipment for being creative. See. I told you so.)

With the third project they turned the process around. It’s called wind:

Here is what Elspeth wrote about the process of making it:

Collaborative music/video/spoken word project between Trinidad and Germany. The video was created first in Trinidad and edited with ‘silence’ as the soundtrack. Without seeing the video, Susanne (in Germany) was asked to say something in English about the wind – 20 seconds in length. This narrative was added to the video which was then sent to Gary in Germany who viewed the video and composed the music. The music was then sent back to me to edit into the video.

What is interesting is that Susanne had no idea that the location of shooting (Temple in the Sea, Trinidad) is a sacred site where Hindu people are also cremated outdoors on a large open-air pyre. Her words, about the wind taking bits and pieces of her to the sea, reflect what happens when ‘bits’ (smoke, ashes) of the cremated person are carried on the wind to the sea around the Temple.

Video – Elspeth Duncan
Voice – Susanne Fritzsche
Music – Gary Winter

Location: Temple in the Sea, Waterloo, Carapichaima, Trinidad, W.I.

This is what everybody keeps talking about. You start a blog and suddenly you are doing a creative project with somebody halfway around the world.

(For those of you interested, my script stands at 17,200 words. Four more days and 2,800 words to go. Normal blogging will hopefully be resumed soon.)

May 162007

Thank you for all your kind comments on my last post. And I’m sorry to have let you hang with the suspense, it is really not nice to tell the world, “I’m nervous, I’m nervous.”, and then vanish from the blogosphere for days. The workshop was in some ways the best I’ve ever been too. To get a feeling for how exceptional Rhiannon’s workshops are I first have to tell you what most jazz singing workshops look like:

Usually there are about 15 to 30 participants, mostly female. Or to be precise, one rarely meets a male singer. Each of the participants then takes a seat, the famous singer enters the room, and talks about singing and warming up and technique. Then she proceeds to do some warm-up exercises that leave everybody slightly hoarse. Then she introduces the pianist, or the band if there is one, and asks the first singer to come up front to sing his first song. “Which song?” the singer replies. Well, the one that we were asked to prepare for, including lead sheets for the pianist or band. It said so when we signed up. The singer doesn’t have a song prepared. She doesn’t quite know what a lead sheet is. Somebody produces a “real book”, the bible of jazz standards. The singer doesn’t quite know which song to sing. After much thinking she decides to sing “I got rhythm” (I don’t know why, but they always do). She doesn’t know which key she wants. She decides to sing it in the original key. Bad decision. The original key is too high (it always is because it was written for an opera singer). After about half an hour of this she is finished. On the second day of the workshop it’s my turn. I stand up, get in front, tell the band, “I want to play “I should care” in G, please give me an eight bar intro, I’ll do a solo after the first chorus then you can solo if you want. Then I’ll sing it all through again, and in the end we slow down on cue. A one, a two, a one, two, three, four.” I sing my song, the band doesn’t look at me when they should for the ending but otherwise all is well. I finish. The very famous singer from the United Stated looks at me and says, “Nice voice.” And that’s it.

That was the workshop where I decided not to go to singing workshops again. But that also was the workshop where I met Laila, the woman who organizes Rhiannon’s workshops in Munich. She told me to go because it would be totally different and she was right. When I went to the first of Rhiannon’s workshops in Munich about eleven years ago, it went like this:

There were about fifteen women in the room. Rhiannon entered, said, “Hello, I’m Rhiannon. please sit in a circle.” Then she stood in the middle, closed her eyes and started to sing. Five minutes later everyone in the room was singing with her. And not a song from the “jazz bible” but one that she made up in the moment. This is called circle singing. We pretty much kept up singing for the remainder of the workshop. We did other things too. Stream of consciousness-like exercises with language, dancing, looking at a picture and then singing whatever came to mind. Singing in small groups, singing with everybody, one of us singing and all the others listening. Scores of different exercises all designed to get our creativity and music flowing. We even learned songs. Like “Throw it away“. (The link leads to a recording of me singing it.)

At the first of her workshops there were exercises that I dreaded. Anything to do with language, with moving and singing at the same time and especially the picture-thing. But over the years I have come to love all of them. Of course I’m getting used to this. And then Rhiannon started adding more structure into her exercises. In addition to all the wild, free-flowing, bursting out into song-stuff, we had tasks like soloing for four patterns and then stop. Ah, I love those. That’s quite easy for me.

This workshop of course was different because there were two other teachers. Men! (I don’t mean what you think. No! But male singers. Wow. That’s like finding a female bass player or drummer.) And we even had three male participants. This time we learned a lot about mouth percussion and singing bass. Which I never had done before. Having studied drumming really helped with that.

Oh, and nobody said anything about my weight. And I wore green on Saturday and orange on Sunday. Jeans, t-shirt, and sneakers really is the look for the fashionable singer these days. On Saturday I lacked the really cool and artsy necklace but on Sunday I changed that. And answering some of the comments about why I was so concerned with the way I looked, I’m always concerned with how I look, especially when I’m feeling insecure. When I have to attend something I feel nervous about, my thoughts go to what to wear. At least that’s something I can control. Thanks to limited funding I didn’t turn into someone who buys a whole new wardrobe when feeling anxious, and I totally know that it’s futile and silly. And I don’t have that much clothes anyway. Since I have about three pairs of pants and two skirts, and all my t-shirts look alike, all my thinking and wondering gets down to: orange, red, green or brown?

The two days of the workshop felt very different too me. On Friday evening me and my husband had been at the concert the teachers gave. They were great. The only thing I didn’t like about it (apart from the fact that the waitress forgot my husband’s beer twice) was that the audience was a little over-enthusiastic. I don’t know why but the minute somebody next to me gets all “Ooh!” and”Aah!” with admiration and applauds even when the singer is only taking a sip of water my experience gets tainted by it. Nonetheless I enjoyed the concert tremendously. But when the first day of the workshop came I had decided to stay in my body and concentrate on myself as much as I could.

So I felt a little distant that day, also I was very, very tired. After that day I was mildly happy and knew that the decision to make my own music by myself had been the right one. The next day I felt quite different. I felt safe and open, I looked forward to spend the day with all these great singers. (The evening before I was less enthusiastic and briefly thought of staying home. But this is how these workshops always go for me. The day before last I’m ready to quit.) I went there and sang and was happy, and content. When the workshop was over I was sad to part, and we all hugged each other and (as every time) we promised to meet again and sing together soon.

I’d like to, but for the eleven years I have been attending these workshops I only once met with another of those singers to improvise. It was real special but a little complicated to set up so we never did it again. On Sunday evening I barely could go to sleep I felt like music was bubbling inside of me all the time. When I taught my first singing student on Monday I almost blew her away because my voice was so strong.

So here i probably have it, the answer to my question if I’m really a singer. Yes, I am and my urge to do it is fairly strong. I’d like to close this post by giving heartfelt thanks to the three teachers: Rhiannon, David Worm and Joey Blake. They are touring Europe right now, as a trio (check out their blog) or with Bobby McFerrin’s voicestra.

May 112007

Despite the headline this isn’t one of those birthday letters. No, I’m going to a singer’s workshop this weekend. To an improvisation workshop. And I’m totally nervous. Stage fright. You thought one could have stage fright only when performing. Oh no. Singing solo in front of about 15 singing teachers and professional singers can be quite intimidating.

The last time I went to one of these workshops was exactly two years ago. Same date, same place. And I’ve been thinking about my life then and now. Of course the obvious change is in my son. 2 1/2 is quite different from 4 1/2. And since he’s in preschool now I have my mornings to myself. That’s an improvement for sure. This hasn’t made me as productive as I thought it would. But then two years ago I didn’t have a blog…

But the main change for me (apart from the blog which is really more important to me than I would have thought) is that now I’m about 22 pounds lighter. Of course that’s the most important thing when you go to a singing workshop – the way you look. I can’t believe that this is so much on my mind. Of course it’s totally realistic that most people won’t even notice since they maybe have a mental image of me that’s dating back to ten years ago when I went to the first of these workshops. And if they notice, I feel a little weird when somebody says, “Wow. You sure have lost weight. How did you do it.” Because let’s face it, nobody turned to me two years ago and said, “Wow. You sure have gained weight. How did you do it?” (If you’re interested in how I did it I’ll point you to my “spring dieting“-series which is quite incoherent but trying to cover the topic in length. And no, I didn’t diet, I’m just eating like a healthy person. And meditating.)

Then of course there is the question of what to wear. You know, it should be something that says, “I’m a real cool artist, and fashion conscious but cool enough not to worry overmuch. And although I am a singer and used to be center-stage, my ego isn’t inflated at all.” Do you know where to shop for clothes like this? Well, I’ll go for the same clothes I wear everyday. Though they rather say, “I like comfortable clothes. Stretch jeans and a tee. With sneakers.” When dressing for a workshop it is very important to wear somethings that allows circulation and doesn’t leave you exposed when bending over or dancing.

So apart from my insecurities about that, which are ridiculous, there is my stage fright and the fact that I feel like I’m slowly going nuts. Which is quite normal at this point. I know it, the minute I set foot there and start to sing, everything will be alright. It’s neither the first singing workshop nor the first of Rhiannon’s singing workshops that I’m attending. I’ll probably know a lot of the attendees. I will probably know a lot of the exercises. And since there are three teachers this time (that’s really exiting and new) we will be doing a little more group singing I suppose. Which suits me fine.

Like two years before I have the feeling that I don’t really belong there. I’m scared. When I read about the workshop and that it was for advanced singers only I momentarily panicked. Would I be allowed in? That was only my fear speaking. When I phoned the woman who’s organizing the workshop she laughed and said, “You have been part of these workshops for so many years. Are you crazy?” I suppose I am in a way. Last time I kept telling people that there were only professional singers and singing teachers there. Wow. I constantly have to remind myself that I am a singing teacher as well. That though I’m not working as a jazz singer nowadays I could if I wanted to.

I feel like I am changing sizes every other minute. One minute I know what I can do and feel proud for it. The other minute I fell insecure and frightened. In the end it doesn’t matter at all. It isn’t for me to judge. Music is not a competitive sport.

But I have to constantly remind myself about this because when I learned to play the piano it seemed to be about being better and faster and competition. Like when I started studying musicology: There were about 120 students in the room and the professor said, “Only twenty of you will have a job related to music. Only two will work as musicologists.” The funny thing is that I know of at least four other people who were in that room with me, all of them working in some music-related field and three of them working as musicologists.

So why am I writing about this. Nobody wants to hear me debating things in my mind, right? Well, I do because I know that I’m not alone in this. Especially when it comes to creative endeavors we all feel like we’re changing sizes all the time. At least I have the advantage of knowing that everything will feel fine when I’m actually there. And there will be moments when singing will feel like soaring high, and there will be moments when singing will feel like finding a path through the woods with a torch, stumbling over roots and being hit by branches. There will be amazing women there and very few men, there will be people I’ve met before and people I haven’t.

Going there is always very special since singing mostly is quite lonely. There is only one singer in a band. And to meet so many amazing singers (they are always amazing) in such an atmosphere of cordiality and warmth is a privilege.

So while I’m trembling and feeling like I’m going nuts I’m at the same time filled with joy to the brim.

May 102007

I know it’s only Thursday, but since Thursday’s the new Friday and since we can have a party whenever we want (even wearing pajamas and no make-up) I’d like to make this party-time. So, imagine decorations, champagne, paper hats if you’re so inclined, and delicious food of course.

I’m inviting you first, to have a look at the Just Post-roundtable:


As every month, Jen and Mad sent out for posts about social justice. And they’re well worth the read.

But the main topic of this gathering is the unveiling of a brand new blog. A brand new type of blog at that. Interested?

See, after all this talk about blogging and bloggers and such in my house, my husband got interested and started reading. And then he thought, “Why don’t I do something like that?” and so he started his first blog. It is a new type of blog because it is a music blog. A mlog one could say. Every week or so he records something and then posts it on his blog. With beautiful pictures. Sometimes there even are words. He isn’t posting songs though, he is posting improvisations. Just him and an electric guitar, no overdubs, only occasionally a little cutting. He tries to play in the state of flow so they have a meditative aspect, but they’re not often sounding meditative. Or what one thinks of as meditative.

I told you that he had abandoned the thought of making a new CD for now, even though he has spent about two years in preparation for it. Getting the sounds and the equipment, which for electric guitar is inextricably linked, just right. But making CDs on top of everything else, as a “hobby” so to say (as much as I despise that word when used in relation to making music) is a little too much. So I’m very, very happy to announce it here. I hope you hop over and listen to what he plays. For months now I’ve only heard these beautiful improvisations through the wall. Glimpsing only part of it. Now I have the chance, as you have, to hear some of it fully.

Here it comes, the big official unveiling of “psychedelic zen guitar“:

My husband told me that his blogging goal for the next months is to get two comments…

Here, let me get you another (virtual) glass of champagne, click on the image above, set back and enjoy.

(Really, I’d serve you real champagne but you’d have to come over to my place.)

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Apr 212007

I started dreaming about becoming a singer and writing my own songs at the age of 12 or so. I even did some improvisational attempts but my problem was that by the time I pinned something down on paper it had changed beyond recognition. That’s something I’m still struggling with but years of training have made me a little better and the marvels of modern technology let me record my ideas and then I can take my time.

In my twenties I played with the idea of song writing again. There were one or two ideas, things in my head and that was it. Despite this long history of longing the first song I ever wrote was a started in 1998. At that time I played in a Brazilian band with my husband, I wrote my dissertation and had just spent the whole year working on a paper for a music educator’s conference that should have boosted my academic career. I started teaching freelance only. And I went to one of Rhiannon’s workshops. I think it was my third or so. At the workshop we did an exercise to write lyrics. Then we got homework: to go home and make a song or an improvisation out of those lyrics or part of them. I loved that. I always thrive when presented with homework like that. Having someone external setting the frame frees me from my inner censor, perfectionist and procrastinator. I went home on the train a melody trilling away in my head.

At home I got the message that the paper I had worked on for nine months and that had been well received at the conference was rejected for publication. I was devastated. I phoned a tutor, I phoned my advisor and I was totally freaked. Then I sat down and wrote a new melody and harmonies. Since this was written for a singer’s workshop it requires a choir. The next day at the workshop I sat down at the piano and taught the other singers the harmony. I was said that I had only part of a song. For the next years it sat in a drawer waiting to be finished. I must have pulled it out from time to time and then put it back. In 2005 I decided to get serious with my music and to record the few songs I had. Since I don’t have a choir I worked again by overdubbing. I’m not entirely happy with the sound, and I’m still not sure if there shouldn’t be other instruments. So this is like a sketch:

I remember

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The lyrics were inspired by a trip we had made the year before to the Greek island Crete. We went there at the beginning of November when tourist season is over but the weather is still mild. Especially when you’re coming from the beginning of German winter.

[Update: I just listened to the song again and have to warn you, the beginning really is out of tune. See, I said it was a sketch. It is getting better later though.]

Apr 162007

I have been thinking about putting some of my songs on this blogs. But then I listened to them again and had the feeling that I should do them over before showing them to someone. But then I don’t plan to work on my songs for the near future. Instead of having them gather dust on a shelf (or on the computer) I thought you might be interested in hearing something original by me. Even if it isn’t perfect.

The following is an improvisation that I recorded in 2002. That’s something that’s “finished” as far as an improvisation can be finished. My husband made his first CD at that time and asked me to do vocal improvisation which he wanted to use as “raw material” for a song. Unfortunately you can’t listen to the song he has made of it. It’s called “Elusive Breath” and only features parts of it.

When he asked me to record something I procrastinated so long about it that he threatened to finish the CD without a song based on my singing. Then he showed me how to work the recording equipment so I could do this all alone, and left the room.

I decided to do something I had learned from Rhiannon. She is doing this exercise in her workshops, and it’s called “three faces front”. Everybody is sitting in a semi-circle and three singers stand in it. They are not allowed to look at each other but they are facing the “audience”. One of them starts improvising and the other two are supposed to “follow” it, harmonize or do counterpoint. After a time someone else leads.

Of course I had to change it since I’m only one singer, not three. This is overdubbed. The voice that starts it was recorded first and the other two I sang afterwards. What you’re hearing here is very long, about 8 minutes. It isn’t cut or anything.

After I recorded it I forgot all about it. (this may have been recorded while I was pregnant, I’m not sure.) When I was in the hospital because our son was born my husband gave me a CD of this improvisation for Christmas. He had taken all the time to mix and master it. This gift was his sign that he wanted to support my music even when we just had had a child.

3 faces

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(I have to warn you, it is quite weird.)

Apr 092007

Today in the morning I listened to a CD I haven’t heard for a while. It’s called “Out of the Blue” by Rhiannon and Bowl Full of Sound. I wanted to listen to something cheerful and also this was part of my preparation for a singing workshop Rhiannon will be teaching here in May. Since it’s still easter and this is one of my favorite songs from this CD, I wanted to post the lyrics to “Start Again” here. I’m quoting the liner notes of the album, the song was written by Rhiannon and Frank Martin. You can listen to part of the song, though this recording is from the album “In My Prime” and slightly different.

Start Again

(Rhiannon wrote: Written for Terry Dobson as he lay in state on David and Nancy’s deck under the great trees with all our prayers for him in the air. Also for Rikki Moss, his partner, whose face told me everything I wrote in these lyrics. Blessed be.)

Start again,
trust your memories to last you
Start again.
Trust your beating heart to open once again,
in the silence,
Start again.

One more time
Wait until the night is over
You’ll still be here
Living out the dreams the dark has brought to light
Trust your wisdom,
Start again.

When the snow, when the chilling snow comes down,
All of life dies down to the ground
Be sure, you can be very, very sure
life will come back once again.

Open up your eyes,
Ask for all you can imagine,
It might just come to you
give in to it, take all that love inside
Of your precious body
Start again.

When there’s trouble,
more than you can bear,
all around you, like a fire,
Let it burn.
I know it’s easier to say than to do,
but what choice can you make but to move,
Move mountains,
Move your body, you can move your mind,
Repair this world,
and forgive.

Trust your heart, just one more time. Take all that love
inside and start again.

Dec 222006

I had wanted to write about this a month ago, but then I had NaNoWriMo, and so I’m more than a month late. I know that I always complain how I don’t make enough music. And you can see it. Every time something comes along the first thing to go is sleeping enough and the next the music. But this is not what I want to focus on today. Last year on the ninth of November I started a music journal. Before I had had piano lessons for the first time in ages. Even though I am teaching piano myself I have had only six years of training and then got better by not stopping to play. (It’s weird, my husband found the same. When you are a teenager there are lots of better musicians than you. Then they get a job, they get children and they stop playing. Then you’re middle-aged and suddenly you’re playing better than them.)

Back to the music journal. I took lessons from a fabulous jazz player because I wanted to learn to accompany myself and my students better. And I had just realized that my music depended on strong singing and a weak piano tagging along. So I wanted to improve my piano playing. Before that I had spent ages to find the right pianist. Without luck. And then I found that I had one already in the house. I would like her to play better, but at least she play whenever I want.

So, I took piano lessons and opened every single lesson with the traditional call of the adult student, “I feel so bad because I didn’t practice since last time.” As a teacher I know this from the other side too. Take any mother who wants to learn an instrument and all of them have the feeling that they don’t practice enough. Even if they do. Guilt. I think this is a mother thing.

After a couple of months I decided to stop taking lessons and start applying what I had learned. I opened up a fresh notebook and after a few preliminary sentences wrote down my goal to practice and make music in earnest. I didn’t want to continue to just play a couple of songs through twice a week, I wanted to work on my piano skills, or better, on my music skills. I made a plan and a list as always. I wrote down my goals.

I want to make the music that only I can make.

For this I want to improve my technical skills until I don’t have to think about the how anymore.

I want to become able to play what I hear in my head.

I want to feel at home in music.

The basis for my music should be voice and piano.

I want to become a better piano player.

And then I made a plan what I had to do to reach these goals. Improvise on a regular basis, transcribe songs from CD, and so on. I wrote that on Tuesdays and Thursdays I’d practice while my son was in play group, at least two times per week I would practice in the morning while my son played in the same room, and I’d practice on weekends once. And then I started right away.

Each time I played I wrote down when, what, how I felt, and what I wanted to do next. One other thing that I did in the beginning was to give myself stickers for every time I played. And I put the stickers on a calendar that I had in my room where all my students could see them and I told them what they were for. That was motivating! Imagine being a piano teacher and having to tell your students that you didn’t practice the whole week. That never happened.

All the time I was – of course – not content with what I achieved. It never seemed enough. And in a way it is, but in a way that’s how art works. It never is enough. Even if you spend all your waking moments on you art it won’t be enough. And this is what I have kept telling people again and again, “I don’t play enough, I don’t write songs.”

But if I were my own student I would be quite proud of myself. Making music has become a habit again. Only very rarely do three days go by without an entry in my journal. And one has to keep in mind that even if there is no “practice” I usually play some music every workday because I teach. When I teach singing or guitar I play all the time. When I teach piano I often sit and listen for long times but even then I get to play about ten minutes of every thirty.

And my playing has changed. I really feel better as a pianist. My tone has changed. It sounds better. when I started a year ago I was desperate because my piano is bad. And if I had 10,000 € to spare I’d buy another one in a minute, but I’m not desperate about my piano’s sound anymore. Because now I can make it sound better than before.

So during the past year I have been gone from playing one or two songs about twice a week to real practice sessions complete with improvisation, scales and concentration about three to five times a week. Sometimes more. That’s good. I don’t need to put stickers on a chart where my students can see them. And through playing guitar I found a way to make my music portable.

So my next goal is to to even more and not only improvise but make songs again.

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Dec 112006

For a couple of weeks now I have been trying to find a way to have audio on my blog. Without paying extra. And here it is. It is not pretty, you don’t have a nice little player right here, but if you click on the link you can hear me sing the song that I sang at my sister’s wedding. It is not a wedding song as such. It was written by Abbey Lincoln.

Throw it away

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For more music go to “Finally music for you“, a post with all the links to my husband’s songs.

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