Thursday, January 21, 2016

Having a Plan B

Ah, winter snowstorms... having grown up in central New York, I am no newcomer to the world of snowy travel, snow shoveling, snowblowing, snow and ice removal from cars, sidewalks, driveways, roads and roofs. It's a bit idyllic at times, in a way, pausing from shoveling one's driveway from large (4-foot or taller) mounds of snow to notice the sparkle of the sunshine dancing through ice crystals on the lawn, on the shrubs or in the trees... it sometimes brings a sense of quiet, peace and acceptance that we are part of nature and subject to its large-scale activities. Watching the birds engage with snowfall is an education--they do not act stressed--they simply take it as it comes, gather food as usual and delight us with their energy and vivid colors--flying, perching and foraging against the new whitewashed backdrop. Winter is a truly beautiful time! Then we snap out of our dazed reverie and get back to straining our backs with the snow shovel for another hour or so, knowing we will repeat this cycle indefinitely until we are out of the snow tunnel and into spring once more.

Living in the south I no longer need to fixate on crafting my weekly schedule to work around winter weather reports... or do I? At this moment I am waiting to hear whether or not my next symphony performance will take place as originally planned due to the threat of impending snowstorm Jonas. To pack or not to pack? Sometimes these plans are changed just moments before (or even after) one is scheduled to depart for the performance destination. Okay--so flexibility is also a virtue that is most helpful in this business! Today I am grateful for my snow-surrounded upbringing which taught me not to fear or be anxious of natural phenomena, but to respect them, and to accept what comes. Hopefully, if performances are postponed, they will be rescheduled and enjoyed at a later date. In the meantime, I wish to pause and enjoy the beauty of this season! That, my friends, is Plan B when snowstorms close everything down for a weekend, bringing your best-laid plans to a screeching halt. Rest now, work later. Unless you have to shovel. ;)

Thursday, December 31, 2015

A New Year

Here we are again... marveling at how quickly time passes and how fast the year has progressed. Reflecting on the past twelve months is a healthy way to take inventory of one's life--an audit, even, and late December seems to be an ideal time for such ruminations. Am I focused on the things that are most important to me and to the dear ones around me? Have I successfully made time for that which is my top priority? Thinking back on the year involves coming to terms with one's weaknesses and losses in addition to recognizing one's strengths, victories and areas of measurable growth. I have found that I must appreciate this balance... Without acknowledging weakness, we never learn and grow in our character and skills. Similarly, without validating our victories we sell ourselves short and cannot achieve our potential for growing and developing steadily through life. Being honest and humble with oneself about such things is something for which one must continually strive, and that honesty, as the Good Book says, is "like a kiss on the lips." (Proverbs 24:26)

Looking back at the year allows the opportunity for grieving the loss of those we have cherished, celebrating moments of joy and success, resolving to learn from mistakes, and bravely moving forward into the unknown. Worthwhile dreams are never achieved overnight, but rather through consistent effort, discipline, focus and patience... The end of a year remarkably (and predictably) promises the beginning of the next, giving rise to new life, new pathways, new opportunities, new faces, new possibilities, new endeavors, new challenges, new chances to make something right. What an optimistic thought, this empty canvas of a new year! I wish you that which I hope for myself: that we would move forward into 2016 with confidence, kindness, excellence, compassion, a grateful spirit and a desire to contribute generously to improve the world around us. Blessings to all!

Sunday, November 29, 2015


One of the challenges of any performing artist's career is the high level of preparation that is demanded for consistently great performances. If an individual routinely has a month or more between concerts, preparation for the next concert may be garnered rather comfortably, but the more an artist performs, the less that type of luxury becomes likely. I consider myself fortunate to have quite a number of highly variable performances on the near horizon, but that, of course requires the discipline to prepare for more than one (or two or sometimes three) concerts at a given time. I believe in taking life one day at a time, so my NEXT performance is always the most important, but if the next one after that is only four days further out, it would obviously be rather unwise of me to ignore that show until the first show has come and gone! How then does one budget time to create the necessary preparation for every performance? Part of the answer lies in knowing thyself. I know that for me to perform a piano/vocal concert (which happens more often than not nowadays) requires both piano and vocal practice (not to mention songlist preparation, consideration of flow, keys, audience and other ponderances) so if the voice feels particularly tired on a given day, piano practice can get greater attention. Also, for a singer, memorization is an ongoing necessity. For instance, I have a performance approaching with the Williamsburg Symphonia, for which I must learn a new song. This is best done without necessarily taxing the voice by singing, and since "practice" can take many forms, it follows that when the voice needs rest, it is a perfect time to sit down with a pen and paper and write out new song lyrics until the ideas flow in the mind without hesitation. This saves vocal energy which can be put to better use when one is rested by singing songs that the body already knows well, focusing attention on expression, nuance and tonal beauty. It also puts practice time to good use when the voice does not feel like singing.

Another crucial aspect of preparation is knowing when to schedule performances relative to each other. Knowing thyself is also a necessary element of doing this successfully. Since different types of concerts (a two-hour solo piano date vs. a symphony solo voice performance vs. a jazz combo show vs. a big band concert, etc.) require mastery of completely different repertoire and stylistic delivery, one must be careful to give oneself adequate time between performances for the voice to rest and for the mind and body to fully absorb the next assignment. Having eight shows a week on Broadway is one thing--the show is the same each night for a series of weeks or months, as taxing as that may be--but in my niche, each show (and I mean EACH show!) is different, having a different songlist and most often completely different repertoire. Each concert is advertised very uniquely as being a "one-night-only" event, so symphony conductors, concert presenters and venue owners often help to create the songlist (or at least select the theme) for each singular performance. Challenging for the artist? Very. Rewarding for artists who love to take risks while performing a wide variety of repertoire? Extremely.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Teaching the Super Talented

Possessing a dual career, while often daunting, has its perks. My dual career is, of course, performing and teaching. Through the years one or the other has taken more time and priority, sometimes to the neglect of the other, and it seems to happen in waves... for a few years the teaching has been overshadowing the performing, but the pendulum swings back eventually to bring balance back to this soul which yearns to do more than one thing very well...

Today I am excited to share news of one of many very successful singers I have had the privilege of teaching... having had no fewer than five former voice students (that I know of) perform in Broadway musicals, not to mention those who have pursued successful careers as stage and film actors, pop singers, opera singers, and music teachers, I am blessed to now sit back and watch their blossoming careers unfold. One such success is Broadway star Jessie Mueller, who garnered a Tony award for Best Lead Actress in a Musical in 2014 for her role as Carole King in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, and then a Grammy award in 2015 for that same role--she and her cast won in the category of Best Soundtrack of a Musical. She has recently been cast in her fifth leading Broadway role in Waitress, which opens next spring and features the amazing music of Sara Bareilles. Jessie's mastery of so many styles--operetta, Broadway belt and legit, jazz, and pop--have ensured her place in the repertoire as one who can do it all, and her peerless vocal beauty will, I expect, keep her on the top of the A-list of leading ladies for quite a while. As her undergraduate singing teacher, I remember so many great songs and arias we worked on together, and her constant thirst for discovering new styles (she asked me one day to teach her to scat-sing, which she did so well opposite Harry Connick, Jr. in On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, for which she earned her first Tony nomination). Of course, she was a natural, and it was my pleasure to share my expertise in this and other areas with the musical sponge that is Jessie...

I look forward to traveling to New York in the near future to see Jessie and many of my other former voice students do what they do best, and I count myself tremendously blessed to be able to share the joy of their success. As any teacher knows, watching one's students (or former students) go on to do great things sports a particular brand of pleasure. I am proud of every single one of my students and I count myself so fortunate to enjoy a dual career as performer/teacher that yields so very much.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Songs From The Heart

What an exciting time! The flurry of things to do when an album or recording is about to be released is formidable... and sometimes it's difficult to guess when it will all get done. When I recorded Songs From The Heart with John Chiodini (our third recording project together), it further proved that when you've got a good thing going, it's just silly to change it. The rhythmic interplay, melodic dances and pure improvisational bliss that we experience in the studio or on the stage together drive the point home that I have found my ideal collaborative artist. The title of the collection comes from a press kit testimonial John wrote for me several years ago in which he declared "Tish sings from the heart." The first track, "Follow Me," came out as a country love song. Songs are like children--they are who they are and you cannot make them into something they are not! Since I do not consider myself a country singer (although I do teach country singers), obtaining the authentic vocal sound we wanted required a great deal of effort in the studio as well as coaching by John (he has performed professionally with thousands of A-list artists in all genres, country stars included), and we both were quite happy with the outcome. He even "signed" it with a signature bluesy riff smack in the middle of it... a feature that makes us both smile each time we hear it.

The next track is a song I wrote a few years ago for a group of close friends. I sincerely hope they will get to hear it! Singing it brings me a sense of God's presence and fills me with peace. I feel so privileged that God has given me songs this way--to comfort me first, and then to share that comfort with others...exactly as the Bible says in 2 Corinthians 1:4... "A Blessing" is a song I wrote for my brother's wedding... it's very personal to me, but it would be thrilling if others wanted to include it as a song at their own weddings. It is my hope that it will become a new "wedding standard"! :)

I will leave you with those "teasers" in hopes that your interest is piqued enough to purchase the EP in November when it is officially released! Look for it on CD Baby... Those wishing to pre-order their autographed copy (for only $10 including shipping!!) may send me an email at and I will be happy to send it out as soon as they arrive off the presses! Thank you in advance for listening and, as always, for reading. Enjoy your autumntime!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Music to Accompany Summer Travels

Wow! The summer has flown by! I was shocked today when I stepped into my blogworld and realized I had not posted anything for over two months. I have been busy, it's true... May was enveloped by my symphony pops performance with the Spartanburg Philharmonic Orchestra on Memorial Day followed by a nostalgic trip north to my high school alma mater to accept an award as a Graduate of Distinction... Next, I headed to Palm Desert, California for my solo piano/vocal concert, Divas and Masters of Jazz, at the Alfred Newman Theatre at the Joslyn Center, after which I drove to L.A. for a week of recording my EP with the great guitarist John Chiodini. We recorded two original songs which will be released soon... I jumped into my awesome photographer's studio for an afternoon of fun, posing for new head shots, promo pics and album art... and headed back home. In the meantime, I stayed with three sets of California friends and had a grand time visiting, sharing music and catching up on their news!

Vacationing came next, as business travel taxes the body, brain and voice... Hilton Head was beautiful in June, and even after sneaking in during the second set, I still was asked by the management to sit in with the band at the illustrious Jazz Corner... of course I was pleased to do so! It's always a pleasure to perform at a Top 50 jazz club in the world, and to be asked to sing upon my entrance each time I visit is a sweet reminder that I am family there... The audience response is always overwhelming, as they do not expect a guest singer who just walked in to amount to much... weren't they pleasantly surprised when the band and I took "Misty" and "Centerpiece" down roads they perhaps had not yet been...

A trip to Portland followed, where R&R included climbing the highest mountain in the northwestern Oregon coastal range... After that, I spent three weeks teaching jazz camp in Greenville, SC and supervising a college internship... Needless to say, the summer was eventful and energy-depleting! What is on the docket for the next season? That will have to wait until my next blog, which I promise will post sooner rather than later.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Jazz Academy

In an effort to spread the love of jazz to my community's youth, I have accepted an invitation to serve as Musical Director of The Jazz Academy in Greenville! The Academy runs from July 27-August 14 and serves junior high and high school students age 11-18. Week A (7/27-7/31) will be for instrumentalists (age 14-18) including brass, winds, guitarists, bassists, drummers and pianists. Week B (8/3-8/7) will feature vocalists and rhythm section players (age 11-14). Week C (8/10-8/14) will showcase vocalists and rhythm section players (age 14-18). Applications are currently being accepted online at

This jazz camp runs weekdays only, each camp lasting for one week, meeting from 10am until 4pm Monday through Friday. Campers will enjoy daily exposure to group lessons, music warmups, workshops, jam sessions and rehearsals targeting jazz history, jazz theory, improvisation and performance. A final concert for campers' parents will be offered at 3pm each Friday that camp is in session. While no jazz performing experience is necessary, instrumental students are expected to have a working knowledge of how to play their instrument. Lunch will be provided daily at the camp location, Blues Boulevard (300 River St., Suite 203), in downtown Greenville, SC.

As the current Director of Jazz Studies at University of South Carolina Upstate I am looking so forward to directing this series of jazz immersion day-camps for the youth of Upstate South Carolina! Non-residents of Greenville and Spartanburg counties are also welcome to attend these day-camps. These educational experiences are supported in part by the Blues Boulevard Foundation which aims to spread the love of jazz to the youth of our community. Scholarships are also available (please see the official camp website). Camp counselors assisting me daily include a jazz performance major from Loyola University in New Orleans and a commercial music major from USC Upstate, both having excellent performance chops as well as prior experience working with children in a jazz/music camp setting. For additional information about my jazz career, please see my website,, and for camp information please consult our Blues Boulevard Foundation website, clickable in the link above. Please feel free to forward this information to any youth in our region who may be interested! Thank you for your support of jazz education... and may your summer be filled with wonderful music!