Dan Callaway Studio

for people who break into song in real life

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The Thing that Meant the Most — stories, one-liners, and little league baseball advice

My dad’s memorial service was last Saturday, and it was the first time my two brothers and I got to be in the same place since 2019.

Time gets more and more nuts the older you get—the simultaneous slow-fast fake-out.

My brother Ben hopped on a plane from Mexico City (where he was working at the time) to Spain (where his girlfriend lived) when the pandemic began, and he’s been there since March of ’20.

They’re about to move to Mallorca 🏖☀️, so Melissa and I are dreaming up ways we can get a 3 and 4 year old to chill on a transatlantic flight. 😎

But you know what that’s like when you haven’t seen that loved one in too long, and then you see them, and it’s like you were just discussing the final season of Kimmy Schmidt over a <$3 latte.

One of my favorite things about my dad’s service, though, was seeing my little brother pull one-liners outa nowhere.

At one point, he began to well up and paused for a while. The keyboard player filled in with a few soft chords, and Ben commented, “They’re playing me off.”

Buoying grief up with laughter is one of our greatest human gifts.

We three brothers got to have a tag team story time near the end of the service.

Joel recounted Dad teaching him to dive in a motel pool in 1980 when he took him along on a rope selling trip. I’ll never forget the beautiful image of Dad treading water and urging little Joel to go for it—he was there to catch him.

Ben told everyone about the time Dad gave him the Lowe’s business card and the go-ahead to build an art studio in the old room above Dad’s warehouse office—how he made a space for him to tinker and figure things out. It paid off. There’s not much Ben can’t figure out.

And I shared the time Dad visited me in Tucson when I got to go on for Raoul in Phantom. He grabbed my shoulder after the show, and his face said, “You did the thing, son.”

But the thing I remember the most about that visit was Dad telling me the crew’s words about me meant the most to him — that they appreciated working with me. To Dad, knowing I was a kind and generous team member was a lot more important than me having more solos.

The theme I heard over and over on Saturday was this: Dad giving folks money, them trying to refuse it, and Dad saying they would be denying him the blessing of getting to give to them.

I know why one of the words I use in the studio all the time is “generous.”

I learned from my dad that giving is its own reward.

And when we sing, we get to give. That’s free air we breathe in, and the way we give it back is everything.

I got to sing a couple of songs at Dad’s service, and one was with a dear friend of his, Sylvia Lowry, whose voice is very special and straight from the heart.

As we began, I could feel the tears well up and my throat close with emotion.

Then I just heard Dad’s voice from little league before I’d step up to the plate: “You gotta breathe, youngun, and keep your eye on the ball.”

I took a breath, and there was the phrase.

I sensed a special love between Sylvia and me as I watched her sing the first verse, and when I looked in the apparently empty space, I knew in my knower Dad was there with a healing hand on each of our shoulders smiling his wide smile.

If you notice one of those free breaths in your lungs today, turn it into a phrase of a song, and give it generously wherever you are. To yourself totally counts.

I’ve noticed you can’t put a price on that.

I just read a thesis from one of my master’s students, and he concluded his work with, “The most powerful tool a performer has at their disposal is what makes them unique: the way only they can tell the story.”

See? It’s not just me who thinks so—there’s only one you, and folks need to hear the story only you can sing.

Love much,

Dan

ps here’s a special photo of me, Joel holding Noah, Melissa holding Jude, Ben and Ainhoa, and a terrifically messy kitchen island that means we were all together. 

Whose Idea WAS This?

🚂 The Commutah Rail was only runnin’ four double deckahs a couple weeks ago, so I wondered where everybody was gonna sit as the train dinged its way to the Framingham platform.

When the conductor got off the train, he confirmed my query when he smiled through his mask, “I dunno where you’re all gonna sit.”

After months of low pandemic ridership, this sardine situation was new.

But I spotted an open seat next to a kind looking person and asked if I could park myself next to her.

By the time we reached Natick, I knew she was going in for an educational meeting for school counselors, and she knew I was going in to teach young voices to screlt at the BoCo.

I learned about her background in childhood development, her teaching for future guidance counselors, and her research in gender; and her husband was working on a musical documentary project tracing the history of suffrage in the United States. Only in Boston, right??

We had a delightful chat, so I invited her and her hubster to come to my faculty recital. She recommended several great Boston restaurants, and after all that we finally told each other our names.

It was a great morning getting to know Barb.

Then last Saturday at my recital, I spotted her and her husband on the second row in Seully Hall.

As I sang the Strauss portion of the program, I saw them wiping their cheeks in my peripheral vision, and as I tried to keep all my German images straight in my head, I also thought, “If they hadn’t run just the four double deckahs that day, I wouldn’t have met Barb.”

Here’s a shot from the action on Saturday. 🙂

We got to chat afterward, and both of them reflected on how terrific it was to be in a hall with live performance again. We’ve all been starved for these chances to hear music and heal. It’s gonna be a while in recovery, I have a feeling.

This whole week had me thinking about you, though. As my recital approached, I kept asking in my brain, “Whose idea WAS this anyway??”

Do you do that? Start a creative idea full of excitement and then about two-thirds of the way down the development or rehearsal road, you imagine loading up the El Camino and driving as fast as you can in the opposite direction?

That’s all of us.

Singing songs for folks takes a lot of practice, and you never know what’s gonna shake down in the moment of the thing. There’s trust and faith involved after all that prep.

All this to say I think you should still make stuff up and do it.

And invite all the folks to it.

You never know when you’re gonna meet Barbara on the train and give her and her husband a much-needed afternoon of healing music.

Healing. Or as Jude used to say— Heawing.

That’s the highest goal that we have as singers. We breathe in free oxygen, then we get to vibrate that back out in artfully crafted frequencies.

Keep doing that.

Listen for folks around you who inspire you and light up your soul. That’s who you’re supposed to be working with.

My incredible collaborator 🎹 for Saturday, Scott Nicholas—I heard him play master’s program auditions at school and thought to myself what is this gut-honey wizardry I’m hearing??

So, I emailed him and told him his piano playing made me feel bumble bees in my nethers, and would he wanna make music together(?). He said hell yes, and now this is the beginning of a terrific partnership.

So that’s the lesson for this week. Keep making stuff up, putting things together, and invite all the folks you can. Someone will be there wiping tears that they needed to cry out for several months.

And in these times, we all have a big reserve of those.

Most of all, remember that there’s only one of you, and folks need to hear the story that only you can sing.

Love much,

Dan

ps Noah and Jude warming up backstage before the recital 



ps and this is the gold of getting to be a teacher — students who become your friends and take the bus form NYC to come see your recital. Love you, Justin Norwood

You Take the 405 to the Mass Pike 🚙 — Like, use ya blinkah, okay?

When I lived in LA, I found you could try various ways to get you from A to B. You’d probably be sitting in rage-traffic no matter which route you chose, but there were options.

Drive thirty-seven miles out of my way? Will I be in semi-continuous motion? Okay!

Here in the Greater Boston area, these roads decided where they went a long time ago, and like a New Englander with a good parking spot at the train station, they’re not moving.

Not only are they not moving; they’re not getting any wider.

One particular thoroughfare I travel widens to 2 lanes, and then it’s like, psych, we’re one lane again, then, oh, we’re back to 2 while you shunt through a series of three stoplights and a busy railroad crossing.

And after all that, we’re squeezing you BACK into one lane, and look out for rogue, crosswalk-averse pedestrians. And potholes.

As the yoga teacher at the Framingham Y said yesterday with her brightest Mass [a] vowels about some jerky necks going on in cat-cow, “Why would you do that?

Civil engineering challenges aside, I bet you remember a frustrating route or two in your own experience—a series of roads you took only to look back and say, “There was a private helicoptah???!”

I often say, to students “I sure didn’t know that when I was 19.”

I’ll reflect on the moments when technique mystification led to yodel-y cracks in front of self-appointed message board critics or other times when the sound emanating from my furrowed face was less love-lorn tenor and more wounded mule.

I’ll say something like, “Wish I’d known that then.”

Then I take it back because it’s not true.

Number 1️⃣ I didn’t know it then, and that’s just what happened.

Number 2️⃣ if I’d known it then, frustration, confusion, pain, and ego wouldn’t have motivated me to find out how to do it; and I wouldn’t be able to explain it to you seven different ways.

Having made the mistakes—be they crawl-in-a-hole vocal outcomes or rehearsal etiquette gaffs— I have a sweet understanding of these lessons because of the price I paid to learn them.

And here’s the key. 🗝

There were folks who taught me to see myself with love.

There were folks who taught me to look at my prat falls and say, “Of course I did that. What else was I gonna do with the info I had?” (And then use that intel for future comic bits, duh.)

There were folks who showed me the cellular difference I felt when I said, “What can I work on?” instead of, “Great job, asshole.”

Gentleness toward yourself can feel real uncomfortable.

You might’ve decided you can only get where you wanna be by screaming “Top of the pyramid!” inside your psyche. (That’s the only Dance Moms reference I know.)

I’ve logged a few years of experiments, and I’m here to report that screaming at yourself relegates you to that spot on the 5 Freeway at 5:30pm going toward Downtown LA where it becomes one lane, and before you know it, you take that accidental left exit, and you’re stuck in traffic on the 60 to Pomona.

So, if you got yourself into a jam, first of all, pick a good playlist. You can’t be stuck in all that traffic listening to twenty-year-old Dr. Laura replays on AM radio.

Then there are choices.

Call someone you love and see how they are. Haul up that monologue text you’ve been putting off and attach some personal images to it. Search for “A Case of You” radio on Spotify and find a good audition song for that Joni Mitchell vibe musical you wanna audition for. (I’d go see that.)

Or do like Melissa did one time when she was stuck in 10:45pm traffic in La Mirada—Go get In-N-Out Burger and catch a movie.

What I’m saying is this: Often, we take the wrong exit, choose the line at the grocery store with the late-reveal extreme couponer, or think our scheduled DMV appointment is going to result in an expedited experience

Sad trombone sounds all around.

The good news is you probably have GPS, you might get a good character idea from the cover of the National Enquirer, and your DMV official might be named Officer Booty. (This happened to me, and we had a terrific conversation.)

You’re on the right track.

I mean, you’re reading this right now, and that is unequivocal evidence of your wisdom and acumen.

And if you feel like you’re careening in an unfavorable direction, can you pull over, take a breath, and reassess? Looking back, I’ve seen that usually I’m the one behind the wheel.

Put ‘er in Park. Breathe. Put your hand on your chest. Your lungs are breathing. Your heart’s beating.

What’s a choice right now that moves you closer to phew or maybe some lightly fluttering excitement?

Do that.

(*This is when Melissa often asks me if I made a list. I get annoyed that she’s offering me a practical solution to my brood-swarm. She sits down with me. makes a list, and asks me to mark the priorities. I feel better.*)

Now, check your mirrors, make sure the music’s right, throw her in drive or 1st depending on your transmission, and get going.

Lemme know where you’re heading. I really wanna know. Email me back 💙

Most of all my dear motorist, remember as you belt out KD Lang’s cover of “Crying” (It was on that “Case of You” radio station. You can’t get Joni on Spotify these days.), there’s only one you, and folks need to hear the story only you can sing.

Love MUCH,

Dan

ps I’d love for you to take a spontaneous trip to enjoy the emerging Boston spring this coming weekend, but if your dance card is just too full, join me for my faculty recital this Saturday, April 9 at 2pm in Seully Hall. 

pps I was walking down the street one morning, and this guy on a unicycle playing the kazoo zoomed by. Everyone’s got their effortless brand. 



And I thought this arched brick work was pretty. They don’t build em like they used to. You can see the big Berklee building in the glass. 



And look at these pretty purple tiles I spotted at Back Bay station when I put my coffee down.



And here’s Jude reminding you to play in puddles whenever you get the chance.

You Hope-Challenged, Too? Grow flowers grow 🌷, sang birdies sang 🐦, and lemme hear your heart belt.

Yesterday, I told Melissa’s Aunt Marie (we call her Auntie Doodles) after a generous helping of Rhode Island pizzer strips that I was digging this late New England spring.

It made me appreciate the snow drops and crocuses finally poking up from the ground and the red buds peaking out on the trees.

A bluebird bounced by my basement office window while I was reading through a student’s thesis, and I almost got up and step-touched. 

Then, last night Melissa informed me that the high today was going to be 32°F

That’s when I realized that I was officially out of weather-the-winter mode. My nerve endings are no longer willing to tolerate arctic temps after the official vernal equinox.

It was much like my October rage when temps topped 90° in Los Angeles but in reverse. I take that back. I’d rather put on a sweater than sweat, but still.

Railing against temperature realities initiated a cascade of psyche Rube Goldberg machines on standby that all clanged in unison, “haven’t we all had enough of all this? “

Aaaaaalllll this.

I’d offer you a list, but that’d drag this missive off in an unhelpfully kvetchy direction.

I bet you have a thing you thought was almost over, but then it was like, “Nope, staying.”

It’s achy, and no amount of Serenity Prayer repeats makes that change-longing stop squeezing your guts.

I mean, these are crazy times.

I understand that times have always been crazy; I just feels like so much more of the undersea lava has burst out, and we’re waiting for the next tsunami.

So, how do we fix it all?

Duh, sing some show tunes.

OK, there are myriad things that the singing of show tunes does not solve.

Theatre songs don’t house refugees, stop maniacal dictators, or cure COVID.

And I won’t even try to find a clever way to say that musicals deepen your empathy or fuel your activism or light a fire in you to advocate for the powerless.

You and I know there are plenty of assholes who get paid to sing a lot of theatre songs.

I’m in a much more hope-challenged place these days.

But I’m lucky because I get to help folks make musical stories almost every day.

I get to share the tears when a student starts to trust their voice.

I get to be in the room when that overwhelmed singer rubs their jaw a little bit to relieve some tension and then snots and cries out the log-jammed shenanigans from the last few weeks.

I get to see that aha!-pissed-off look when someone finally gets that tricky coordination that feels easier than it should.

And I get to remember every day how little I know.

People like you in the world—who want to make beauty, who want to connect the unconnected, who want to be brave enough to tell a story so that other people can live it with you and heal a little — tell me how that doesn’t make a difference.

It does.

It did for you. That’s why you’re doing it.

So keep with it, and stick to it.

I don’t know what any of this is going to look like this year or next year, but I know it’s gonna look a lot better if you’re singing and sharing your heart.

You know how I know?

Cuz—-

There’s only one of you, and folks need to hear the story only you can sing.

Love much,

Dan

ps in case you’re wondering what Rhode Island pizzer strips are, here’s a link that’ll tell you all about this culinary treat and one place you can get it (D. Palmieri’s in Johnston, Lil Rhody) 

pps And mark your calendar for Saturday, April 9, 2pm, because that’s the part of your weekend getaway in Boston when you’ll come to Seully Hall at 8 Fenway for my Strauss and Sondheim recital.

Seriously, even if I go tone deaf just before the recital, you’re gonna wanna hear my collaborator Scott Nicholas play the piano. Angel choir-grade artistry.

Here’s a poster for you

I should have a live stream link for you next week, too. 💻

Your Bestie, Regret — for all your rewind and edit moments and the YOLO lies 

Do you go back and replay/edit life moments? 

I usually do it around 3:32 AM after our two-year-old loses Kitty in the covers or drops his water cup into the unsearchable crevasse between the bed and the wall. (I never had a water cup in bed, did you? These kids….)

I crawl back in bed, and my mind toggles the tabs like a Netflix menu, and it experiences zero choice paralysis when selecting a series to binge.

I go back to times when my emotions took over or I made a call out of fear instead of faith, and I re-write the scenes like I’m Liam Neeson avenging an abductee’s family. 

I stand stoic and still in the face of conflict, and I let the other party tailspin in my austere presence.

I replace every scene where I flounder, flop, and flagellate with vignettes of steady, stern steel.

I also alliterate when I do deign to dialogue with my scene partner. That vanquishes them utterly. 

Then I’ll take a breath or seven, and I’ll re-accept the way it actually shook down.

I look askance at folks who wave their YOLO flag and declare “No regrets!” in tidy Instagram story form. 

There are lots of things I regret, and if you’re a human paying attention, you won’t walk through a significant chunk of days without racking up a list of woulda coulda shouldas. 

And when I look at the moments I really shat the sheets, there are always gifts there.

🤐 That conversation when I should have stayed silent and let the dishonest party dig their own ditch, I learned to take a beat before I speak and measure words more carefully. (A pretty important skill for teacher folk.)

✌🏽 The time when I should’ve told the industry guests who verbally spewed on my students to take an early Über to the airport–I learned I need to listen to my FIRST instinct that knows what’s right. Still working on that.

❤️‍🩹 The times when I got defensive and triggered with Melissa, I learned to go into the next room and take about twenty seven deep breaths. I also learned that asking for and absorbing forgiveness is one of life’s must beautiful graces. 

The common theme is that I’d never have downloaded the sweet truths if I hadn’t lived through my ability to run background software programed by fear and un-love. 

It’s the same on your path–

You have a clue of what feels good when you sing because you’ve prolly sung in ways that are a lot of work.

You probably know that one tidbit of etiquette because you didn’t know it at one point, and it was embarrassing. (Just ask me about the time I started singing in understudy rehearsal on tour before the conductor brought me in. 😳)

There’s a whole lotta both-and in all the places we wish we’d done better.

There’s the pain of the I-wish, the sweetness that comes with the hard-won lesson, and the compassion that comes with seeing our inevitable blunder-ability.

What’s your main replay/edit? Can you find the sweet take-away? And what can you bring forward?

I once heard Marianne Williamson in a Q&A in LA tell someone that they’d paid tuition to the school of life. That image stuck with me because I redefined things I once called lost as invested.  

You’ve made investments. You may think you took a big loss, but I’d put money on the fact that all that you’ve laid down is accruing terrific compound interest.

If we soften up to what our wish-that’d-gone-another-way experiences have to teach us, there’s a lot of gold there.

Of course, this also means you’ll need to show yourself a little grace and love. I bet you can.

Because we’re waiting to hear all the ways those struggles tenderized your heart. And when you open that heart and share it in your song, folks get healed. I stake my whole work as a teacher on that.

When you let a free sound through your face, folks who hear it get a little freer, too.

Because you know what I’m fixing to say—there’s only one of you, and folks need to hear the story only you can sing. 

Love much,
dan

ps We really enjoyed Somebody Somewhere starring Bridget Everett on HBO Max this week. Great characters, great relationships. 

pps Remember your voice is a 360 event–just watch this lil singing froggy for evidence 🐸. Witnessing your sound waves traveling behind you can be a really freeing image. Try it out and let me know if you notice a difference. 

ppps Here’s your me-with-boys-by-the-water pic for the week 💙 Coming atcha from Quincy on a glorious warm day. 

From the toilet seat at the Great Wolf Lodge — I bet you’re doing your best

I write you from the toilet seat in the bathroom of Room 257 at the Great Wolf Lodge of Fitchburg, Massachussetts. 

See?

The boys are snoozin, and Melissa’s off for sibling time with her brother in the bar. You like my Christmas jammies? (They say “Feelin’ Jolly”)

There are some door-slamming children on our floor, and it sounds like the pipes our shower shares with the next room are in need of a lil look-see.

The property here in central Mass is surrounded by hilly New England forest–bare tree sculpture bunches punctuated with chalky birch trees looking like whitewashed coat racks.

We had birch trees in our yard when I was a kid, and when I drove by them on the mower, I’d grab the catkins off the branches and roll them between my fingers. I loved birch bark; it was shiny and bright and special.

After we moved to Mass, I texted my dad a picture of the birches around the Ashland Mill Pond– the ones in the yard had died. 

He texted back and said there used to be a lot more birch trees in NC. 

Over the last month, I’d see a birch tree or a pair of mismatched drum sticks a Berklee kid left in the dining hall (like I did last September, another photo-text),

and I’d think of Dad. I’d feel the impulse to text him but then remember he wasn’t reachable by 4G. 

You hear a lot of folks tell you to make sure you tell your people how much you love them because you never know when they’ll be gone. 

I reflect on that in the moments when I want to shoot my dad the odd communication and I can’t, and I have to tell you–we sure do put a lot of pressure on ourselves. 

When my dad died, there were issues where we no longer shared common ground on sky color or cardinal directions. It was painful. But I loved him and he loved me–both of us the best we knew how to do at that moment. 

I was looking at one of my last little email replies back to him, reading through some of the messages he sent me. I always told him I loved him.

And I don’t know about you, but I believe he knows it more clearly now. 

You got a thing like that? A place where someone’s social media Hallmark card covert guilt trip makes you sink inside?

I wanna invite you to do something. Will you check in to your guts and ask yourself something? Are you doing the best you can do? 

Take a sec.

Are you doing the best with the resources and bandwidth you got right now? 

My guess is you probably are. 

So there you go. Big squeeze for you. 🤗

Next thing to ask you is, “What’s something that’ll help me have more freedom around this situation?”

☎️ It might be a loving phone call that makes your heart rate increase, but you’ve auditioned for stuff before. You can handle adrenaline. 

🍨Maybe a “God, grant me the serenity to go get a fro yo and adapt.”

👏Might be an email to that person you want to work with to tell them you think their work is terrific. That can be a heart pounder, too.

I felt like you needed to hear the wise words my father-in-law Robert Klees says so well in his Rhode Island  basso profundoDo your best. It’s all you can do. 

You’re doing great, I just know it.

And now it’s time for me to wrap this missive up. There’s a reason they say not to sit on the toilet for a really long time. It’s not the comfiest.

But do remember, please, that there is legit only one you, and folks need to hear the story only you can sing.

Love much,
dan

ps Friends of ours from NC days, Jimmy and Gayla Renslow, have been in Berlin for the last few years serving the refugee communities in Germany.

They’ve been boots on the ground in the last two weeks helping those fleeing the crisis in Ukraine. They’ve carried supplies to the Polish border and driven refugees west. I believe they’re housing 7 folks in their flat in Berlin now.

If you’d like to donate to their nonprofit, 100% of your contribution will go directly to help refugees. They’re distributing 250-Euro gifts to families in Krakow and Berlin who are hosting Ukrainian families. You can find out what they’re doing here. I vouch for their hearts and badassery personally. 

I’m Sorry and Other Gifts — a theatre moment I’ll never forget, and why you gotta keep singing

I’ve been working with a student on a song from High Fidelity this semester called “I’m Sorry.” Or “Laura, Laura.” I don’t know which is the official title.

The first reminds me of the dramatic strains of The Platters’ 1954 hit. That’s not the one we’re working on. But side note for your own research—The Platters recorded some great tunes.

The song I am talking about, I first heard in a staged reading of High Fidelity back in LA, geez, like 12 years ago produced by Musical Theatre Guild, the terrific company I was a member of.

You may know the film starring John Cusack which was based on a Nick Hornby novel. Musicals and their provenance, I tell you.

Aaaaanyway—By Act 2, the lead guy, vinyl record store owner Rob, has a Damascus Road experience and realizes how his constant side-glance to the bigger better thing took his gaze off of the invaluable love in front of him.

It’s a pretty rock ballad, and my student, Nick, sings it great. I keep yelling at him to take out gratuitous riffs, but if I were as good a riffer as he is, I’d put too many in, too.

I told him how I’d never forgotten this one moment at the Alex Theatre in Glendale, California.

After all the boollshit this guy puts his ex-girlfriend, Laura, through, he finally sees it, looks right at her, and tells her all he’s done that hurt her and their relationship.

And this is why I’ll never forget the moment in the theatre.

Will Collyer, the actor playing Rob, and Robin DeLano, the actor playing Laura, stood downstage center. Will looked right into Robin’s face, standing profile to the audience and just sang the whole song right to her.

That was the blocking–look at her and sing the song.

I’ll never forget it.

After the lesson teaching the song that day, I had to throw up a social post reminding the director, Richard Israel, how that was such a special two-plus minutes.

It was heartwarming to read all the comments from friends who remembered that moment, too.

You got a memory like that? A sweet-savory morsel of theatre experience that arrives like a surprise chocolate box when you hear a certain song?

That’s soul medicine. It’s beauty. It’s gratitude, and it’s us recognizing us in each other.

Just imagine how things might look different if we were able to do more of that.

All this to say–what we get to do matters to folks.

More than one student has come into the studio this past week wondering how their pursuit of being a musical storyteller matters in the face of the unbelievable suffering happening in the world.

I wonder the same thing.

While we’ve learned in the last 2 years that getting to stand on a stage in front of people depends on a ton of things going well, it doesn’t mean that what we do is frivolous or a luxury.

When Will stood on the Alex stage and sang that ballad to Robin, he opened his heart and shared the deep healing that happens when we tell another human that we understand how our actions hurt them.

To stand in that place with open hands and ask another human to forgive you is a gift.

To hear someone say, “Yes, what you did hurt me, and I’m going to erase that from my ledger over here,” is Tiger Balm for your heart.

And when we forgive each other on stage singing beautiful melodies with stick-to-your-feels images, all that music and poetry psychs out the stubborn, cross-armed bridge troll in our brain, and we start to set our hearts a little freer.

I mean, you’re a musical theatre nerd. Haven’t you asked yourself if you woulda said you gave Valjean the sliver candlesticks like that low-voiced priest did?

This question–do we keep singing while the world burns?–also brings up our universal human need to practice comparative suffering.

I teach another student who received a challenging medical diagnosis just before starting his studies at the BoCo. When I ask, “How you doin’ today?” he’ll often respond, “Aw, could be worse. People are going through much more.”

Yes, both statements are true. 

And then I remind him that just because the guy next to me is a triple amputee doesn’t mean I don’t hit the cut on my hand with peroxide, Neosporin, and a Paw Patrol bandaid.

I’ve been trying to hold my weeping at the news footage of the Ukrainian father sobbing at the head of his 16-year-old-son’s murdered body together with the deep gratitude, guilt, and relief I feel when I tuck my boys into a safe, warm bed at night.

I can’t imagine his suffering, and looking right at it shows me that the grace my life overflows with is something I want to cherish and share.

Telling musical stories matters, and the way you tell musical stories matters. The way you show up to sing one day could be that heart and honesty morsel someone saves for a devastating day. 

Because remember, there’s only one you, and folks need to hear the story only you can sing.

Love much,

Dan
 

ps The YouTube algorithm delivered a moment of healing beauty and grace to me this week. I was about to ignore and go to the next doom news video, but it started before I could intervene. 

Take a moment to watch and listen to this Beethoven’s 9th Flash Mob in Tokyo. I may have been shoulder-bounce crying as I packed our picnic lunch yesterday.

pps You wanna learn from a really smart director like Richard Israel? You can! Here’s his website. And here’s where you can find out how to work with him. I recommend. 

ppps You know I gotta hit you with the latest New England cold-ish beach pics. We had a quick day trip out to Nantasket Beach/Hull, Mass. I love being an hour from the water–the ocean’s healing.




pppPs One more thing—I’m prepping for a faculty recital at BoCo Saturday April 9 at 2pm, so mark your calendars if you wanna catch the live stream. Or come to Boston! The school’s open to outside visitors attending performances now. It’ll be the music of Richard Strauss and Stephen Sondheim. I’ll keep you posted!

Vengeance Prayers — magical thinking, deaf virtuosity, and gratitude 🤟🏽

I’ve been tracking the Russian invasion of Ukraine this week like when I was a kid counting stair steps, avoiding sidewalk cracks, or ensuring my left foot made the same amount of sneaker taps as my right under my second grade desk.

I assured myself these behaviors directly influenced outcomes in my 8-year-old universe.

I’m refreshing the Washington Post app several times an hour, checking the YouTubes for people who might know what they’re talking about, and praying vengeful prayers.

When I see the video of a Ukrainian woman telling an American reporter that she’s staying in Kyiv because it’s her home, that it’s Russia that needs to leave, I feel justice and shaking fists rise up in my throat.  

I’ve been asking God to supercharge the Ukrainian people like the Avengers and imagining school teachers in Kharkiv taking up rocket launchers and taking out invading tank lines.

I’m so angry this is happening.

I think about the busloads of traumatized, silent refugees disembarking at the borders, crowds of folks who were taking their children to nursery school last week now trying to figure out how to get food and keep it together in front of their toddlers while others stay behind. 

I think about my lucky life–how my direct encounters with war are limited to a family friend lost in Afghanistan and others bearing the emotional toll after making it back home.

I remember singing “War is a Science” in Pippin back in the day with Deaf West Theatre.

Charlemagne broke down the battle plan to his soldiers–human lives reduced to color-coded action figures. Then followed “Glory” with a finale of axed-off limbs falling from the fly space.

Easy to be wry and satirical about war when you’re in costumes under lights in a climate controlled theatre.

When you’re in it, the irony explodes, and you’re left with the realities of demolished lives. 


I’m gonna take a gratitude detour and celebrate the man in the picture above.

That’s Troy Kotsur who just won the SAG Award for Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role. I was telling you about him back in August


Ever since I got to collaborate with Troy in Pippin, he’s been my actor hero. 

He turned words on a page into magic in the air.

​Troy taught me that a script wasn’t a fixed rules-y document, but a terrific sandbox with tons of toys.

I’m a very ear-based singer and actor. I always start with how things sound. I mean, duh, I’m a voice teacher. 👂 So, watching Troy craft visual wizardry out of the printed word was new territory.

He tweaked signs all the way through the run, and he’d wave me down after our scenes to see how the audience responded.

I think we dissected about seventeen different iterations of the line, “Lewis is an asshole.” I had no idea there there were that many versions of an expletive in ASL. 

Troy also had jokes.

One day in rehearsal he caught my attention from across the room and spoke-signed, “Your voice. It’s sooo beautiful. It makes me cry.”

As he traced a sincere tear down his cheek, I began to say, “Awww, thank y….” Doh! 

That wasn’t the only time he got me. Let’s just say he wasn’t one to implicitly trust for ASL education. 

What I loved the most about Troy, though, was his passion and enjoyment of every line of the story. He showed me words were symbols that hold the place of what we really mean, and there are all kinds of ways to paint those pictures.

It’s also terrific to see someone who’s worked so hard and taken so many leaps in an industry that’s not all open doors get much-deserved recognition. (He’s received an Academy Award nom now among many other honors–go Troy!)


So, I just wanna tell you how grateful I am.

I’m grateful I get to write this email to you.

I’m grateful I get to be annoyed by my boys’ shenanigans rather than grasping to figure out how I’m going to keep my family safe in the face of an armed invasion. 

I’m grateful for lungs that breathe, legs that walk, eyes that see, ears that hear, and a heart that can love.

And I’m believing that anger-filled eight-year-old magical thinking vengeance prayers can get translated into something useful in the heaven-sphere.

And I know for sure that there’s only one you, and folks need to hear the story only you can sing.

Love much, 
Dan

ps Here’s a link to a WaPo article with links to places you can donate to help Ukraine.  

pps I love this 4-second video of Troy finding out he got a BAFTA nomination. Listen for him laughing at the end :). Here’s an LA Times article about our collaboration on Pippin. And here’s a gorgeous monologue from Cyrano. I’ve always been a fan. 👏🏼🙌

That’s How the Light Gets In — delicious soup, peace lilies 🕊, and Leonard Cohen

Hey Hard Day Hero—

This image encapsulates much of my week.

I made it through the front doors of 8 Fenway Tuesday morning thinking, “Is this what frostbite feels like? I think this is what frostbite feels like.”

I said hello to Chris who commandeers the lobby desk of the Conservatory like a friendly, short-haired mage who drops [r]s and available room knowledge with equal munificence.

I wound my way back to the side of the building where my studio sits on the 4th floor only to see a very able bodied student shouldering their way into the cramped, slow elevator I coulda used that morning. 

The stairs it would be. I climbed and thought, “Why don’t they label the second floor 2.75 because of that extra flight they throw in for funsies?”

I finally completed the ascent to my studio.

Only I couldn’t see through my glasses because mask fog 😷. I popped my specs on top of my head, dropped my two bags, peeled off my coat and unwrapped my scarf.

Only when I did, my muffler caught the temple tip of my defogging lenses, and the next thing I knew I heard the distinctive clack of my Warby Parkers on the tile floor. 

I also cracked my phone screen an hour later that morning when trying to position it on a music stand for a self-tape because, duh, I left my tripod on my desk at home.

All this cracking reminded me of my conversation with Chris that morning. She was reading her new library book, and I asked her what the latest literature was. 

It was a bestseller mystery series about a guy named Inspector Gamache (of course, I thought she said ganache) called How the Light Gets In

 “Oh, like the Leonard Cohen song,” I said.

“Yeah,” said my Massachusetts mystic, “They talk about the song in the book.”

I was referencing Cohen’s song, “Anthem” that says,

“Ring the bells that still can ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.” 

Don’t you hate that, too?

I mean, there’s the initial comfort of oh, phew, my busted self gets some light shone in there because I’m banged up like a dragged-across-the-patio-too-many-times terra cotta pot.

Then there’s the part that wants to source my own C batteries for my survival kit flashlight, thank you very much. 

This week I been busted, cracked, and as my British friends say so beautifully, shattered. 

And Mr. Cohen was right. That is how the light gets in, dammit.

Through Cathy, Tom, and Stanley who sent us soup, rolls and cookies with a sage quote from Cookie Monster:

and through my college musical theatre class who sent us this gorgeous peace lily

and the perfect words

Through a seaside therapy day trip to Melissa-Lee’s Little Rhody-

Through more light rays shining into the cracks this week than I can name.

I’m grateful.

Where are some light sources giving you some needed sunshine this week? I’d love for you to notice how that phototherapy feels on those busted up zones. 

I’m finding more and more those are the places of illumination entry.

Sending you my care bear stares today, and reminding you that there’s only one you, and folks need to hear the song that only you can sing. 💙

Love much, 
Dan

ps I have to show you a few more pics from Warwick, RI today.

pps If you ever want to send someone gourmet soup and rolls that’ll make them feel really loved and cared for, Spoonful of Comfort is a great place to look. And the cookies are delish, too. 

ppps Here’s a link to Anthem by Leonard Cohen, Live in London

Thank You, Trauma? 🧳 Your baggage has great news for you.

Hellerrrr You Brilliant Resilient —

I’m a late processor. Late for what? I’m not sure.

I’m a take-my-time processor. That’s it.

When I was in London, 🇬🇧my voice instructor would sometimes pour us both a whiskey and ginger before a lesson (in tea mugs).

I remember the end of one session while another was beginning, she sent me to the corner off-licence for supplies. That’s when 22-year-old me learned what a Moscow Mule was.

At some lessons she was sweet as pie, and other lessons she said things to me that made my throat catch, my stomach clinch, and tears sting my eye corners.

I never knew which teacher I’d be seeing that day. And I wondered why I felt stressed biking down to Brixton every week.

A year after I’d moved to NYC, I was walking down Second Avenue when in an 8-part harmony angel choir theophany moment 🎶, I stopped in my tracks and said out loud, “Sylvia was an alcoholic!”*

I just thought all Londoners drank that much. I did bartend in a pub, so I had plenty of evidence.

But yeah. A little slow in the evidence assimilation there.

As I tell you that, a list of dodged bullets runs like a dang-that-was-close news ticker through my young adult years.

You see, for various reasons in my childhood, my mind learned to file potentially painful information in the “Process Much Later” file. 🗂

While this has caused problems (ask the active paperwork inbox in my still-unpacked studio), it’s also brought benefits.

I’ve navigated scenarios so chaotic that if you proposed them in script form to Lifetime TV, they’d tell you to bring them something realistic.

My brain created all kinds of back door exits in response to life traumas that are very handy escape hatches when I encounter crap-tastic circumstances.

Don’t get me wrong. My lil-Dan coping mechanisms have wreaked their share of havoc.

Thousands of dollars worth of therapy and credit card interest later, I’m here to tell you I’ve come to a spot where I can usually meet my psyche’s brilliant survival tactics with understanding and gratitude.

They even work in my favor sometimes.

Big emotional event?–My mind organizes the ordeal into the deal-with-later file, and I know one day I’ll let the snot and tears dribble. But today I may just have to pay bills.

What are the things that little you did to cope that keep showing up today?

Did you know that your voice tells you about these kid skills too?

👅Tongue tension, for example, is often a belief that you need to press back your expression because you might have run into negative consequences for letting out your feels.

😣Pharyngeal constriction (intense whispery/constrained feeling) can link to earning love through meeting a perfectionistic/impossible standard.

🫁And hypofunctional phonation (not enough breath energy for a vibrant sound) can shine a light on areas where you’ve judged you don’t deserve things.

I remind myself, and I tell my students that these things are all tryina help you.

Your tight tongue is protecting you from the danger your expression got you in in the past.

Your constricting pharynx is trying real hard to keep you doing the things that get you love and acceptance.

And that stingy air flow is keeping that story alive about not deserving nice things so you don’t have to grieve over the years you’ve ID-ed with the deprivation that got shellacked on you as a kid.

I’ll often ask a student to pause and meditate into the spot that’s not doing what they want it to do.

They have a little conversation with their tongue root or their pharynx, and just like when you ask anybody a genuine question with the desire to understand, those parts of the body speak up.

When we can meet the parts of ourselves that seem to be getting in the way with empathy and compassion, we learn a lot.

I guarantee you it’s a lot more effective than shouting, “JUST RELAX!”

This week I invite you to notice the patterns little intelligent you cooked up to survive, and maybe give your baby psyche some props for their resilience brilliance.

When we invite these things to share their stories with us, they can mellow out, and they can even integrate themselves into some healthy adulting if we can partner with them in a gentle and conscious way.

And remember, beautiful you with your intricate assortment of survival skills, there’s only one of you, and folks need to hear the story that only you can sing.

Love much,
Dan

ps *re: my London story, names have been changed, and I still talk out loud to myself on city streets.

pps here’s the bar where I worked in London. The Havelock Tavern. Still there in Brook Green. I enjoyed working there, and it’s where my love of cooking started.

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