for people who break into song in real life

Category: Things that make life better (Page 1 of 5)

You smell that? — Places change, aromas too. Make-believe’ll help you sing like true new you.

We got back from an epic NYC sojourn. We’re still in recovery.

Melissa and I went to a memorial service for a NYC mentor of mine.

We shared in a celebration for my college voice teacher and founder of Elon’s musical theatre program, Cathy McNeela. (Daniel Watts and I shared a sung-and-tapped “Anyone Can Whistle.”)

And we pulled off a first reading of the musical I wrote at SongSpace.

The boys adventured in Brooklyn. (Thanks to former student and perpetual badass Parker Jennings.)

I rolled my ankle and executed a full wipe-out schlepping luggage and garbage down the brownstone stairs where we stayed. 

We pretended to be the Statue of Liberty from Red Hook.

We languished in BQE gridlock and dodged the Five Boroughs’ finest drivers while one child had to poop, a dashboard warning light came on, and our AC went all funky.

We made it to a Bronx McDonalds. Phew.

Adrenaline wore off, and my ankle swelled, so Melissa took over the driving in Connecticut.

The other kid had to poop.

I got COVID.

We made it.

Now that you’re caught up, I want to talk to you about smells.

What does your nose expect when you walk in your favorite bookstore?

Your favorite coffee shop?

You got a perfume you’re okay if you never whiff again?

Mowed grass–where does that send you? Wood smoke? Gasoline?

My nose got a little angry at NYC this last go-round.

You see, I got sense memory expectations in the City.

If it’s warm, bring on the Subway grease, sewer wafts, uncollected garbage, sidewalk piss. Fine. I’m ready.

What I can’t adjust my sniffer to, though, is the skunky weed punching every midtown block.

I mean, I work at Berklee, so I can’t walk to the Dunkies on Mass Ave without three involuntary contact highs. Y’all do y’all, seriously.

But, there was something about the doob fumes in NYC that disoriented my olfactory GPS.

I’d already waved bye bye to the extinct shops form my old hood. The cheese store that sold the best coffee beans where the owner’s cat sat in the window is a trendy tapas bar, and the fluff and fold where the owner and I talked about singing is a Japanese fast food spot.

But that thing about smells —

the odor of a school cafeteria can whiz you back to laughs or abject junior high terror; library stacks can make you cozy or constrained.

Notice when you imagine a camp fire — where does that smell memory go in your body? How about sour milk?

What if you were to hum while imagining those smells?

Different kinds of sounds, right?

Lately, I’ve been playing with the ways your body’s built-in smarts affect the sounds you make.

Your body is brilliant.

When you add up who you are, what you believe, and what you’re saying, you have a world and its sound ready to go.

Working this way, students’ faces look like, “Wait, how’d that happen? How’d that sound come out?” 

It’s magical. Vocal technique can’t live if there’s no story. The story makes your sounds breathe.

So, as you’re working, take a sec to ask yourself — Who am I? What’s happening? What am I saying?

A lil experiment for you:🎵 Hum a 5-note scale (sol fa mi re do) while chewing.
🍨 Pretend it’s something delicious — pie and ice cream.
🥬 Then pretend it’s something healthy yet not so tasty — raw kale.
🤢 Then pretend it’s something you don’t enjoy that you’re eating to be polite.

Did your sound change?

Three different stories change your body, therefore, your sound.

One other way to think about it–

💔 You’re Adele asking your ex, “Why don’t you remembeeeer the reason you loved me beeefore?”
👏 You’re Billy Crystal telling your kid, “Great job!”
🦄 You’re Moira Rose warning someone, “Your wig! It’s coming loose!”
❤️‍🔥 You’re Bruce Springsteen saying, “Can’t start a fire without a spark.”

1️⃣ Identity. 2️⃣ What’s happening. 3️⃣ Need to tell somebody.

Who you are, what’s going on, and you gotta say something — you know these things? Then, your singular and unique body-brain can do most of the work on its own.

So, I’ll commit to you — the next time I’m working my way down 8th Avenue through a bracing cloud of second hand skunk, I’ll try this out.

I’ll be Joe Pesci doing his best Robert DeNiro and shout to the haze, “Hey I’m breathin’ here! What’s a guy gotta do to get a good whiff of a burned soft pretzel?”

You can practice your voices, too.

If you’re in NYC, the good news is you can be as loud as you want, and no one will likely hear or care. 

When I fell off those brownstone stairs, cans clattered, my suitcase handle smacked the pavement, and I moaned like a wounded moose. The woman waiting for her Uber 10 feet away didn’t even turn around. See? The world’s your playground.

In the meantime, remember! There’s only one you, and folks DO need to hear the story only you can sing.

Love much,

Dan

ps It’s so good to email you again. I missed you. 

pps I have to report, though, that I witnessed many instances of folks looking out for each other in NYC — people giving up their subway seats, helping carry strollers on stairs, and some terrific exchanges among Crown Heights residents in the discount store — checking on family and such. We’re all doing our best.

⭐️ppps If you’re in or near NYC, I’m starting a monthly thing.⭐️

It’ll be

🎹 1 3-hour class of 7 folks. Story and vocal how-to with an MD and me in one class learning from and supporting each other.
🫶 2 group Zoom check-ins, work on your material, encouragement and love.
🎵 And me on-call for 20-minute trouble shooting to help you with your priority vocal needs.

I wanna provide you something that’ll
🤝 join your story muscles with your technique neurons,
👀 give you a chance to absorb and learn from your cohort and build a support crew
and
✅ prioritize and target what you need vocally

all for less than what you’d invest for 2 lessons with a good voice teacher in the City. ($235/month)

You wanna join me? Email me, and I’ll make sure you know when we start, and you can hear me bitch about weed smoke like an old man in person. 💙

What’d I step on? 🐙 Ack! wooop $*@# BLUUURG — I’m okaaaaay

Noah and I explored the bracing waters of Nantucket Sound this week.

We examined seaweed samples, spied horseshoe crabs, and spotted shiny shells saying heeeeey from under the sparkly water.

It was one of those supersaturated perfection moments.

–where the self-conscious part of you wishes there were a photographer so you could prove to you friends, “No, really, this was the perfect New England Beach Day.”

This lil PB and J snacker’ll give you a clue.

Check that posture! He’s always calling out my slump.

While we waded, I was feeling the squishy sand through my toesies and pointing out a sailboat when my heel encountered something that was not seaweed.

Something springy, slimy, and vigorous writhed its way under the arch of my foot as if to say, “Hey! I’m LIVIN’ here!”

I acknowledged its communication with a falsetto WOOOP and a splashy hitch kick.

“Daddy! What’s wrong?” Noah asked.

“I stepped on something!” I explained.

“Daddy, why are we walking out of the water?”

“I need a lil break.”

“Daddy, what did you step on?”

“I don’t know, buddy.”

“What did it look like?”

“I didn’t stay close enough to look.”

As we toweled off on the beach, Noah was trying to work out why I hadn’t paused to observe the offended sea creature.

He repeated, “Daddy, what was that?” and “Daddy, were you scared?”

“Yes, buddy, I was startled. I didn’t know what I’d stepped on.”

I could see brain jigsaws interlock as he added, “Oh, Daddy’s scared of some things,” and “There’s stuff Daddy doesn’t know,” to his file labeled “The Way Things Are.” (Remember that from Babe?)

The ocean is unabsorbably beautiful, reminds you how teeny you are, and hosts all kinds of beings most human feet don’t wanna touch.

What you can’t see can be scawwy.

Like vocal technique.


It’s not straightforward like, “You put your left foot in, “ or “Press these two keys to start ‘Chopsticks.'” 

It’s your whole body asking several muscle groups in your torso to play nice with largely involuntary muscles in and around your throat collaborating with more interdependent functions than you knew existed from your throat to your lips.

Your tongue alone has 8 different muscles.

Craysssy. 

And it’s not like you can just look down and check if you’re doing it right.

The good news, though, is that there are indicators you can rely on, and there are things your body already knows how to do.

You wanna try an experiment and see?

(inspired by a terrific thesis by one of the MFA grads I got to advise. Thanks, Evan Rees.)

Here you go. (May wanna do this alone or on a busy street/train platform where no one will likely hear or care.)

  1. 🐣 Pretend you’re holding a lil baby or a sweet animal, and sing a lullaby or a scale on [u]/oooo.
  2. 🎵 Sing it in different keys, and notice that your voice naturally knows how to soothe this sweet lil being.
  3. 🦹🏻‍♂️ Now pretend that a malevolent person tries to hurt your beebee.
  4. 🗯 Call out, “Hey!”
  5. 🎼🗯 Follow that impulse again, and slide ‘Heeey” on an interval, a fourth or a fifth.

What’d you notice?

Your voice is built-in ready when you’re meeting an unfolding sitch.

Your neurons know how to soothe a scared puppy and how to repel an invader.

This intel is crucial for theatre singers because the circumstances you’re imagining change the shape of your vocal tract.

Now, can you tell me something?

What is your number one vocal/storytelling question right now?

Because if you email me back and ask me, I can help you out. 

I mean it. Hit reply and atst — vibrato, breathing, unmanageable stage farting. I’ve heard it all. 

or

If you could make up a magical class or voice lesson, what problem would it solve for you?

It can be an impossible ask like, “I want my class to earn me a Pulitzer Prize for Journalism.” I mean, I can’t help you with that, but I do wanna know what your perfect class would do for you (or any singing storyteller you care about.)

Email me back and tell me.

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

Love much,

Dan

ps We’re heading back to regular land life today, so I’ll have some lesson avail. If you wanna sing freer, love what you’re doing, and bring joy to the room, email me back, and we’ll get to work. 

pps Have you watched Joe Papp in Five Acts on PBS yet? I haven’t, but I plan to because all my snobby theayter friends say it’s terrific. 

ppps This was clearly a working vacation since I also shot a series of looks for an upcoming fragrance they’ve asked me to promote. 🙃 They’re still focus-grouping, but I think it’s gonna be called Panic at the Seashore.  

Pizza Box Solution — and breakfast tricks for your singing AND 🍳 poached eggs

You know those “before” parts of infomercials where the person is having an existential crisis?

They’re trying to hang their trousers in their cluttered closet, and they trip over a stray belt and crumple into an anguish heap on the bedroom floor.

Or they’re incinerating a grilled cheese in an aluminum pan over a red-hot electric stove, coughing as they’re enveloped in smoke and clasping their ears as the alarm screams?

I found this one, too. This gent’s physical comedy skills are top notch. I give him a full Sham-wow.



We’ve all lived the problem stage before the low-laryngeal baritone voiceover says, “Introduuuuciiiing…..

That’s a joke in our house when we’re struggle-bussing in plain view.

We say, “I’m an infomercial over here.”

That was me a couple mornings ago.

Even while it was happening, I said to Melissa, “I’m going to write about this.”

Then, later that afternoon, I said, “What was that thing that happened this morning when I said I was an infomercial?”

Neither of us could remember.

I clearly missed the one-time-offer for the memory supplement.

So, I decided I’d share three useful, unrelated tips that I DID remember this week that I thought would make your life (artistically and otherwise) better.

I mean, some of these are even directly related to singing and auditioning.

🎥 Self-Tape Pizza Box Confidence and Freedom Booster

It’s very clear — the self tape is here to stay. I did one this very week.

I like to be off-book for an audition because, you know, looking up and acting and stuff.

But this week proved prohibitive in the grey matter department.

I wasn’t quite showtime ready, so I used my trusty cue-card sides trick.

I’m surprised I haven’t heard more people share this. Or maybe I’m not reading the right Broadway World online community chats.

This is what you do —

Type up your sides in bullshit-bullshit-MY-LINE-MY-LINE format. Make your lines super easily readable

Leave a gap in the middle of the page.

Print.

Dig that Amazon Prime box out of your recycling, cut out a paper-sized rectangle, and glue your sides to the cardboard.

Cut or Exacto knife a rectangle in the middle or side of your pages that’s bigger than your camera/phone lens.

Clip these to your phone or tripod in whatever creative way that allows your eye line to be just off camera to your scene partner. A strategically placed music stand can also save you rigging headaches here.

And hit record.

And don’t do too many takes. I find the second one is almost always the best one. You peak, and then it’s downhill a lot of the time.

If you’re a visual learner, this is what my last round looked like. And I didn’t need the cuts after all. I used a music stand.



🎵 Audition Song What-Did-You-Have-for-Breakfast Trick

Your song coach told you that time to come up with an imaginary scene partner, pick a spot on the wall, pretend that was their face, and go.

Thing is, you and I have all seen the singers who get stuck on that spot and end up singing “On the Street Where You Live” like a stalker who finally cornered their stalkée.

In real life, our eyeballs move because our thoughts move.

So, here’s the tip to get you feeling more like a human when you sing.

Think about what you had for breakfast.

Now think about what you had for breakfast and notice where your eyeballs move.

That’s your memory spot, one of the places where your eyes move when you go into your internal brain space.

When you do that, I’m all like, “What’re you thinking in there?”

We go in there all the time to pull out memories, grab that word we can’t quite bring up in the rolodex, or to ruminate over that awkward interaction we had with the woman at the grocery store.

(Seriously, though, Melissa almost saw fisticuffs in the Market Basket produce department yesterday. Someone papaya-blocked somebody, I guess. I don’t have to tell you people done lost they mind these days.)

Back to your breakfast.

Yeah, make your memory eyeball spot a frequently visited friend.

Another cheap trick aspect of this — if you haven’t had time to do proper homework on your material (or you’ve practiced professional procrastination), this is a good way to allow some specifics from your subconscious to populate your storytelling.

Just be prepared for random thoughts about pop tarts or second-day T-shirts with suspect pit smell to emerge from the mind sea. 

🍁🍁🍁 Sometimes you gotta pick up two handfuls of dead leaves and throw them back.

I took the boys to the town forest yesterday to search for the witches’ caves.

I think they’re cute.



Noah discovered the joy of picking up dirt and leaves and throwing them at Daddy.

Usually down the back of my cargo camos when I was bending down to pick Jude up from his latest rock-trip.

“Noah, stop!” my humorless, tired morning self said.

He couldn’t stop laughing. And throwing more leaves.

So…

I remembered my days as a kid when we turned the tobacco field behind our house into a GI Joe war zone and had dirt clod fights. The furrows made good trenches, and we’d hurl dried clumps of red clay at each other hoping there wasn’t too sharp a rock hiding inside.

It was good, dirty fun.

And a laundry nightmare for my mom.

But I remembered. And it was on.

We ran our way out of the woods hurling leaves at each other and laughing all the way.

Well, except for the time Noah kept throwing dirt down my pants, and I got angry that he wouldn’t stop, took a wrong turn, panicked a little, told everybody to just hush for a second, and had to get out my phone to figure out which way south was.

Other than that, it was a blast. And there was a lot of dirt to scrub out of heads at bath time.

The moral — when would a good ole yes-and serve the situation?

Later that day, Noah said, “Daddy, I loved it when you started playing with the leaves with us. Daddy, why’d you do that?”

Note to self— maybe check for more opportunities to chill out and have a lil basic fun.

There you go.

Next time you’re feeling all

Take some time to

🤣 chuckle at self

📦✂️ organize your self-tape supply closet

🧠 practice thinking about what you had for breakfast

and

🍁 be on the lookout for quality leaf fight opportunities

And in the meantime, remember there’s only one you, and folks need to hear the song only you can sing.

LOVE MUCH (I’m belting),

Dan

ps speaking of breakfast, I tried this Julia Child trick for poached eggs, and after a couple of operator errors, I’m here to report it works well.

Pro tip, use a kitchen towel to help you push the safety pin into the egg. You’ll see.

pps Here’s some history on the witches’ caves in our town forest.

ppps Remember if you need any lessoning or vocal troubleshooting this summer, I’m zoomable. Just email me back here, and we’ll set up a time for you. I’m here if you need me. 🎵

🍋 Made me feel like a lemon seltzer —

We met these new friends at the Sherborne playground, and that’s no small feat when you’re trying to teach your two-year-old that a T-rex growl is not the first mode of introduction you wanna select when meeting new toddler buds on the swingy bridge.

There’ve been a few jungle gym moms sporting athleisure and sibilant [s]s who’ve been lessss than underssstanding about our journey in training a two-year-old to manage testosterone, nascent impulse control, and knowledge of The Hulk’s existence in the Marvel Universe.

So, when our new friend (let’s call her Pepper Potts) and her kewpie doll of a daughter were unfazed by our younger son’s presentational rites, we knew we were simpatico.

Making new friends is tough — you ever seen this meme?



Making new friends when you’re parenting two small children through a pandemic and you’re new to New England — this wave-at-strangers North Carolinian wasn’t ready.

Back when I was dreaming about what it’d be like to live in Denmark, I read in all those moving-to-Scandinavia books about how hard it was to crack the ossified social groupings that formed when everyone was in tax-funded preschool.

This felt similar. Only, you couldn’t see the bottom halves of people’s faces indoors to know if there was a you-can-talk-to-me grin underneath there.

There’s a reason the great primal parent scream circle happened in Boston.

But back to Pepper Potts and her understanding one-year-old.

We were coordinating a dinner get-together, and Melissa hadn’t heard back from Pepps for a couple days. When she finally got back to Melissa, she said, “Sorry, we were having a phones-down day.”

A phones-down day.

That sounds nice.

Maybe?

I mean, I don’t know what I would do with the existential void I’d experience in the bathroom, but I can see its appeal.

Then, during one of our get-takeout-after-the-boys-are-asleep dates, we said, “Maybe we should have a phones-down day, too.”

“Yeah, maybe we should.”

“What day?”

“Um, Sunday?”

“Okay. Okay.”

The Sunday came.

I came downstairs, extracted our phones from the charger in the living room, made sure Broadway hadn’t called, and I popped our lil rectangles in the kitchen desk drawer.

I didn’t want to. I wanted to see what the algorithm had prepared to accompany my coffee preparation.

But in the drawer they went.

We checked in on messages at lunch and dinner time, but other than that, our lil slump-n-stare portals stayed cozy in the kitchen.

The day was significantly different.

To start, the boys only lost their minds two-thirds of one time regarding Paw Patroller possession before 8am, and I sat in quiet astonishment reading Atlas of the Heart while each of them played in separate yet connected zones in the living room.

I made pancakes.

I cleared the dollar store goggles, Wendy’s kid’s meal puzzles, and micro fire station toys from the kitchen counters. I even scrubbed down the sink.

Still quiet.

I heard birds sing.

I got ideas.

I heard myself.

It was nuts.

Throughout the day I felt something in my tummy that felt like a nice lemon seltzer. It was cool, it was fresh, just the right amount of zing.

Melissa reported that she felt liberated and freer. Less distracted and able to focus on the thing in front of her.

What was up?

Throughout the week I took to parking my phone in the drawer, and I experienced similar effects. I also tracked my irritation levels on the days I was more phone-involved (they were higher.)

This morning on our second official phones-down day, I pondered the findings from Melissa’s and my two-strong experiment group.

This is what I saw.

You know that His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman? It was a movie (The Golden Compass), and now it’s a series on HBO.

In Pullman’s alternate universe, folks’ souls express themselves outside their bodies in the form of an animal called a daemon.

Here’s the crazily good Ruth Wilson playing Mrs Coulter with her golden monkey.



🐒 That’s what our phones have become.

They’re these identity extension portals that slurp us into unfettered googling, social-ing, weather checking, picture taking, texting, video capturing, darwinian date selection, and in case of the most dire emergencies, phone calls.

Next time you’re on public transit or in a room where more than four humans have to wait, look up from your own screen, and see if I’m not right.

We’re all hunching in on ourselves getting hits of digital cotton candy. I mean, candy floss is delicious, but eat it all day, and you’ve got a sugar exhaustion headache and an unnaturally pink tongue.

So, what if you gave this brief experiment a whirl?

If not a phones-down day, a half day?

I’d love to know if you experience salubrious effects like I did.

Even if you don’t go on a phone phast, having a phone drawer is a big deal.

What if you made your phone a cozy bed in your house and decided on some times when you’ll check in on your extensive correspondence demands?

You’re prolly not gonna wanna do it. I didn’t.

But, if it can alleviate irritation, zero in your scatter-noggin, and keep info pile-up from clogging your pipes like it did for me, I’d say it’s worth a try.

Maybe you can sing a song instead. 

Cause ‘member— there’s only one you, and folks need to hear the story only you can sing.

Love much,

Dan

ps truth in advertising — the terrific effects of my phone-phree days were sometimes offset by my mind’s need to fill the distracto-void with all the creative projects I should have completed in 2020. That and end-of-semester moodiness. Sorry, family. I’m still working on it.

For horses-outa-the-barn brain stampedes, I recommend you keep a piece of paper handy and jot down all prancing ponies and set a near-future date when you’ll revisit them.

pps I’ve been rereading parts of this wonderful book An Everlasting Meal. I love Tamar Adler‘s philosophy on food and her ideas on cooking. Something to do while your phone’s in bed. 

ppps The first paragraph from this story in The Atlantic will tell you what that Boston primal scream circle was all about. 

pppps Georgetown Computer Science Professor Cal Newport recently blogged about a new study that showed “Taking a Break from Social Media Makes You Happier and Less Anxious.” I mean, duh, we all know, but very interesting way they set this up. 

ppppps If it’s a hot day, and you need something to do besides doom scroll, get a few friends together and spray a garden hose. 
   

Iron Man chili cook-off — Choose your own Avenger-er–you can go back and pick again

At night after we’ve read Milo the MagnificentWe’re Different We’re the Same or Angry Ninja (which features a very effective calming-the-eff-down technique that I often employ), the boys pile on Noah’s twin bed eager for Daddy-makes-up-a-story time.

At the end of the day when brain glucose is flagging and I’ve used up my last empathy reserves on floss negotiations, bedtime narrative conjuring feels like a lot.

“Daddy, it’s time for our Avenger-ers story,” Noah says.

You know, the Avenger-ers. Iron Man, Black Widow, Thor, Captain Marvel and crew?

We’ve constructed a whole universe.

There’s Noah Bear and Jude Bear who live in a forest cottage with their benevolent ursine parents (Mommy Bear and Daddy Bear, duh). Look out Bernstains.

The cottage comes complete with a slide that shoots out of their second floor bedroom window for expeditious adventure delivery when Thor comes a knocking.

So far, the Bears and Thor have battled

the Fun Sucker at the State Fair,

Wet Blanket who sought to wipe out Dinotopia’s cotton candy supply,

and there was, of course, the great space battle with Loki disguised as a Viking when they got warped out of the big cone waterslide at the Great Wolf Lodge.

I don’t even have time to fill you in on the other characters populating our bedtime world like Eunice the Unicorn, Skalefaton the green dragon who breathes out both fire and water, Sam from the lakeside village, and Bonnie the Snow Bunny with her unexpected pal William Wolf.

This morning after getting Eggos, Multigrain Cheerios, and grapes on their last edible day (🤞) into the boys’ grumble bellies, Noah said, “Daddy, can you tell us the chili story?”

He meant the story of Tony Stark and Pepper Potts entering a Texas chili cook-off only to find that one of Thanos’s dark agents is feeding the judges spicy beans that make you disappear.

I’m getting The Complete Hans Christian Andersen Fairy Tales from the library stat. I’ll even honor requests to read it in Thor voice if it means I can let Hans spin the yarns for a spell.

The big challenge comes in when the boys ask for a story encore.

I can’t remember the setting, which Avenger-ers were present, nor the antagonist’s identity. I usually have to rely on Noah to correct me on plot points.

Reminds me of something my great grandpa Joel used to say well before The Four Agreements came out — always tell the truth. That way you don’t have to remember anything.

All this story time got me asking

#1 Why/how are we humans so wired for a good chronicle?

#2 And what stories am I telling me?


Case in point. Writing the top half of this letter to you— the sun comes up EARLY here in Massachusetts, so I was wakey just after 5.

I know. It’s offensive. Melissa’s just starting to accept this trait.

Great! I can do some writing.

I start the coffee, I drink some water, I open the door to the deck, smell the morning, and listen to the birdies.

Then…knock knock knock.

Someone else is up with the sun.

I tromp upstairs taking deep breath’s like the Angry Ninja book taught me, and I find lil Jude at the door excited as Disneyland to come downstairs.

“Buddy, I know the sun’s shining behind your curtains, but it’s still very early. Can you lie down for a few more minutes, and I’ll be back to get you soon?”

Okay, Daddy.

Daddy, I need to go potty.

Daddy, I need to blow my nose.

TP from bathroom. Blooooooow.

Re: the nose blow: Daddy, that was a biiiiig one. 

Daddy, how you break your glasses that time? (This is a recurring explanation request.)

I make it downstairs, sip my coffee, open the laptop.

Knock Knock Knock.

Angry Ninja

Tromp tromp tromp.

This is Sisyphean. I manage to contain them in their room until 5:53 just to preserve some illusion of paternal agency.

Two breakfasts, three dinosaur figure hostage negotiations, and seven Avenger-er costume changes later (why do they come with GLOVES???), I get to the part where I tell you about the Iron Man chili cook-off story.

Why?

Because I have stories.

They read like this:

Our four-year-old and two-year-old should sleep until 6:30 even though the sun mocks our east-facing blackout curtains.

Our boys should quietly read 
War and Peace in their respective corners while I peacefully type this letter to you.

Jude’s demand to change from the Hulk to the Spiderman cape costume is thwarting my creative goals!


And I wonder why I need to do the Angry Ninja breaths.

Your girl and mine, Brené Brown, shares a useful tool that she and her husband use.

They say, “The story I’m making up about this is….”

It’s a great way to own your interpretation of events and help the person who may or may not have hit you in the feels to see the issue shoulder to shoulder with you rather than at the end of your Thor hammer.

It’s also a terrific way to help yourself loosen up.

If my assessment of the territory is unassailable, I’m stuck in a misery loop.

I can’t get anything done! This two-year-old miracle we prayed and prayed for is so demanding!

Ninja breath.

Is the story I’m making up true?

I look at little Jude’s eyeballs and see this mighty soul who wants Daddy to be Bruce Banner for a little while.

I’ll get stuff done later. Or not? In one year, is that gonna matter?

My ego screams out, Nooooooooo!

Another great influence in my life (besides Dr. Brown) is Father Richard Rohr who says the ego always wants to be separate and better.

That’s how I can always tell if I’ve taken a hard turn into Judgytown.

dun-da-dun 🎵won’t you take me to 🎵 dun-da-dun 🎵 Judgytoooown?

Judgment says, “I would never do that.”

Understanding says, “That hurts me, and I’m capable of the same.”

“I would never do that.” It’s a story.

And a false one. You know it, and I do, too.

So here’s the takeaway from today’s chili competition against Thanos.

What’s the story you’re making up?

Could another narrative be as true or truer?

Storyboard a few options, and see what you come up with.

I’ll give you another piece of advice I picked up from my sensible Londoner pals Graham and Sara just before Noah was born.

They said, “Whatever makes you the most relaxed as a parent, that’s the thing you need to do.

That applies to errythang.

Whatever makes you the most relaxed as a singer, friend, writer, partner, Avenger-er, that’s the thing you need to do.

In the meantime, I hope you’ll see if there’s a different page you can turn to in that choose-your-own-adventure book of yours. You can flip back and try again, you know.

And MOST IMPORTANTLY, remember objectively, scientifically, and ontologically— There’s only ONE you, and folks need to hear the story only you can sing.

Love much,

Dan

ps My podcast dreams came true a couple weeks ago when Brené Brown and Fr. Richard sat down to talk about Spirituality, Certitude, and Infinite Love. I recommend. 

pps And just look at these Avenger-ers. IMO two of the cutest email interrupters ever. 


and I’m very grateful we live a short-ish drive from these New England beaches

.          

Now do something that helps you relax a little.

Speaking of, I’m doing a lil experiment with my cell phone relationship. So far, cortisol levels are on a good downward trajectory. I’ll fill you in soon. 💙    

Recs to make your week sweeter — stuff you can watch, read, follow, bake, and brew

I almost told you a commuter anecdote, and then I was like, I can’t subject you to another train story.

Then I was gonna tell you about how I’m a craft time disaster and about the despotic overlord I become when safety scissors and glue sticks come within three feet of construction paper and my lil boys.

That needs a few months’ processing before it’s ready for air time. 

So instead, I’m rolling into your inbox this week with some recs that’ll make your life better.

And as the character Maui as voiced by Dwayne the Rock Johnson in Disney’s Moana sings, “You’re welcome.”

Quality TV:

Julia on HBO Max. I’ve flipped a lot of omelettes in the past five weeks as a result of this terrific show. Heartful relationships and performances.

We’ve also just started Hacks starring Jean Smart, and it’s good. I’ve laughed a lot in the first few episodes. Looks like Season 2 starts tomorrow as well!

Reading:

One of my dear MFA students gifted me Facing the Music: A Broadway Memoir by Musical Director David Loud, the Ted Lasso of the theatre business, and so far it’s delightful.

On the social:

Do you know about Armen Adamjan? Creative Explained on Instagram.

I love his content, and today I soaked my banana peels for 2 hours before feeding our houseplants with the nutrient rich nay-nay water. 🍌

And just to restore a little faith in humanity if you’re caught in a doom scroll spiral, you gotta follow the Good News Movement.

Best chocolate cake recipe?

Hands down, it’s this one from my girl Ina Garten. You won’t find a better one. You just won’t.

Best coffee?

2 of them are Fortuna Coffee out of NC. They brew it at Delicious Bakery which is just a gem of a place in Greensboro, NC, that we miss a lot.

And Stumptown Coffee that they serve at bougie and delicious Tatte in Boston. It’s special.

You wanna make some biscuits?

You heard from this hillbilly first that the best recipe I’ve run across is from a New York Times recipe by Mark Bittman. And it’s better with yogurt instead of buttermilk. My great grandma just slapped me from heaven.

And there you go — I hope these recs make your week a lil more artful, funny, encouraging, innovative, restorative, caffeinated, celebratory, and/or buttery. 

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

Love much,
dan

ps School’s just wrapped up for me, so I got a lil more time on my hands. If you need a check in, brush up, audition prep, SOS, or an opportunity to make ridiculous sounds on Zoom, you know where to find me. 💙

Ungoogle-ables: Train revolution revelations and YouTube. You too?

One morning this week, I woke up and tip toed (so as not to wake the bairns) my way down to the coffee maker.

I got things brewing, drank some water, and pulled my phone from the charger in the living room.

The little white arrow in the red box beckoned me, and I obediently tapped.

ummm


I scrolled through the offerings and got increasingly agitated.

None of the click bait headlines were baiting my click.

“Algorithm, why have you let me down?”
I queried.

[I’ve logged more YouTube screen time since the invasion in Ukraine. Okay, that’s a lie. My YouTube time was already ample, but recent geopolitical events have goosed my stats.]

I comb the site for a reputable news source to tell me that Vladimir Putin has been vaporized.

My searches have proven fruitless thus far.

But that morning, I took note.

I was enmeshed with and dependent on my AI frienemy.

My internal monologue: “YouTube, you know I enjoy a good “A Closer Look” with Seth Myers, but come on, the Android monitors my every word. I’d think you’d understand my viewing need nuances as I wait for the BOGO Café Verona to percolate.

Then

later that morning as I took the train into work,

I did something utterly shocking.

Revolutionary.

I looked out the window.

I knoooow. Right?

I sat in my seat, and I watched the boulders, muddy Natick backyards, bougie Wellesley boutiques, and reservoirs go by.

I wondered, “Who lives there?”

“Who dumped that vinyl couch by the tracks??”

and

“How did that graffiti artist shimmy down that bridge?”

Reminded me of when I played Philadelphia with Phantom, and I stayed with the Ledger family out in Malvern. I took the SEPTA every show day, and all I had for ocular occupation was Pillars of the Earth and the Bryn Mawr station.

But nowadaze, you know the drill.

We’re all up in our screens.

I’m looking at a screen as I type this to you right now…on the train. (Although I’m attempting to type and look out the window, too.)

See?



And what are we missing? And what mysteries are we not getting to be baffled by? Like that couch!

That morning waiting for the coffee, I realized I’d given my agency to the algorithm.

I didn’t even take the step of going to the google machine to type in, “When is Vladimir Putin scheduled to be vaporized?”

Nope, like some laboratory mammal, I let the YouTube slow-drip the control group serum to my eager limbic receptors.


[***Quick tangent*** The train conductor just said, “Wellesley Squa-ah next, no no, Wellesley Fahms next. Wellesley Fahms.”***

That’ll never get old to my silly hillbilly ears.]


But yeah—the algorithm and the train window (The title of my next musical)— They got me thinking about you.

You know how we actory singery folk get when it comes to jobs?

Who’s gonna hire me? What’s trending? What do the table people want? What Olivia Rodrigo hook should I mash up with “Poor Wandering One” and a triple pirouette?

🤯

We’re waiting around all Daisy and Violet belting, “Who will love me as I aaaaaaam???”


But here’s the good news.

You don’t got to get this job, and I’ll put money on the fact that you’re not a conjoined twin. (In-Sideshow reference from above. Sorry not sorry.)

Therefore, there is no physical constraint placed upon you that would dictate any limitation on your creative path.

I’m surrious.

The thing that scares us the most (at least me, it does) is that there is SO MUCH possibility, not an opportunity drought.

Just ask me.

I submitted a few self-tapes this spring for summer work.

I was proud of em.

Response?

🦗🦗🦗

So, I could look at that and think,

(Molto drammatico)
“There just isn’t a place for me this summer. No opportyuuuunities.”

But thing is, there is. And there are.

I can make them up.

I can make up about five right now, and that’s not even counting garage organization and tax filing.

What’s coming to mind for you right now?

What idears did you talk into your Google Keep?

What if you opened that note and talked a few more ideas underneath that?

You might come up with something crazy and fun.

It might not pay your bills. Might even cost you.

But what if it knits community and connection for you and your people?

What if it’s the thing that makes someone laugh, cry, or feel beauty and meaning?

In my experience, that transcends a project’s ability to make money.

I mean, Anyone Can Whistle closed on Broadway after five minutes, but dang I’m grateful Mr. S wrote that score. 

And if you make money, too, I’m so happy for you.

And then there’s this cray cray notion —

What if you sat and looked out the window?

I know, right?

Now, that’s the thing we’re all relentlessly fending off while gazing at these 2D configurations.

Sitting. Looking. Noticing questions that aren’t google-able.

It’s way too Rilke for most of us.

I encourage you to try it, and I’d love to hear how it goes. Maybe take a pic out your window with that phone you’re not looking at. 

In the meantime, remember, for reals— There’s only one you, and folks need to hear the story only you can sing.

Love much,

Dan

ps Today’s our Noah Bear’s fourth birthday. I can’t even believe it. I even typed “first“ in that last sentence. Our sweet miracle Cinco de Mayo baby.


pps This is what I meant when I said “way too Rilke.” Rainer Maria Rilke from Letters to a Young Poet



One thing that’s not a question? You’re terrific. Now go look out a window 💙.

Behind What? Hot messery, long shortcuts, and 🎵 🎥 my faculty recital video

You ever heard someone say, “going around your ass to get to your elbow?”

That’s what the morning drive to the train station’s like for me.

On rare occasions, there’s VIP track-side access awaiting our lil green Scion (her name’s Willow). 

There she is chillin in a Boston alleyway–


But most of the time, the early train birds have already nested their mid-size SUV (M)asses into these spots.

So I get to lurch by these occupied spaces awaiting the left turn arrow to wend my circuitous way to the north side of the tracks.

I get inordinately angry at these early parkers. That little spot tucked in on the side is MINE, don’t they know??

There’s a not-short-at-all shortcut I sometimes take that means I drive well north of the station and around a reservoir, but it does guarantee me mostly continuous motion and lovely pond views.

Semi-colon, HOWEVER, this route eliminates the possibility that I may just snag that coveted platform-side position.

Which way to drive? THE STAKES ARE SO HIGH!

I mean, do you see another alternative that doesn’t involve molecular rearrangement in order to pass through buildings and the freight train that’s sitting on the adjacent track every morning? LMK



To borrow another turn of phrase from my native land, yesterday morning I felt like a one-legged man in an ass kicking contest.

I just couldn’t get out ahead of anything— (hence why I’m writing you on a Wednesday instead of a Monday this week.)

I parked as the train dinged its way toward the platform, grabbed my various bags (AND remembered my coffee!), hopefully locked the car, jogged up the metal stairs, cantered across the overpass, and then saw that the boarding line would allow me enough time to slow to a light dad shimmy-shuffle down to the platform.

As I’m clearly in a mad hurry to get on the train, a man sauntering down the stairs says, “Hey, can I ask you something??”

“I have to get on the traaaain!” I cry, much like Sweeney Todd says “I have no tiiiiime” before he sends the Beggar Woman down the chute.

People getting there before you; longer routes; folks tryina stop you mid-sprint; and too many asses to kick.

Ring a bell tone?

This past weekend, I got to hear my students sing their spring recital.

I’m reflecting on how many of them said something like this to me this year:

“I just feel like I’m behind.”

To which I asked, “Behind what? Or Whoooom?”

Then Sunday at 11 am, I saw all of these folks get up on that recital hall stage and be perfectly themselves.

One student commented, “Everyone was so different from everyone else.”

That’s when you know you’re on the right track.

And let’s talk for a lil sec about technical skill.

Every one who got up on that stage who’d told me in the fall, “I just feel like I’m behind,” coordinated mechanical and storytelling skills in front of folks that they didn’t have in September.

⏱ They’d felt like their peers got to the station first.

🚗🤬 They’d felt like they had to drive around the reservoir to figure out how to get their breath and their thickeners and thinners to cooperate.

🤢 They’d felt like those off-hand comments from peers or perfectly aimed TikTox were puling their focus from their lane.

🤯 They’d felt like they couldn’t handle one more project, assignment, family crisis, Covid exposure, or double shift at the restaurant.

And there in that moment too early on a Sunday morning, every one of them got up there and sang damn good from their hearts.

The moral? There’ll always be hot messery.

If you’re picking up the tools available to you and using them in the 15 minutes you’ve got to walk from A to B, then those tools fire the neuron trees you need to be strong when you’re in front of the folks doing the thing.

I tell my students the only time I have to practice is walking from the train station to school with my earphones on or in 10 minute spots between scarfing an Amy’s burrito and asking the next student, “Wait, what did we decide on for your jury?”

I didn’t give my students any kind of system or even a freakin vocal exercise practice recording. I’m too administratively challenged to follow through on anything so systematic.

What I found was that they show up, I listen, I give a shit, I say some things they remember—never the things I think they remember, and then they learn stuff in other classes and talk to their friends, and then things come together.

Then they’re on the stage being brave and making me cry.

It’s not a neat series of steps, not in my experience.

So here’s my encouragement to you today—

trust the traffic;

trust the longer routes, and look over at the morning sunshine on the Farm Pond;

and remember you can only kick, punch, or head-butt one ass at a time.

And most of all, remember that there is biologically and objectively only one you, and folks NEED to hear the story only you can sing.

Love much,

dan

ps I got to visit these terrific, brave, and quick-study singers at Brown University last Saturday, and we had so much fun.

pps When you go hiking, don’t forget that being Batman and the Mandalorian makes things funner. (And insisting your dad talk like Thor the whole time, too). Hiking sticks courtesy of Gram.


ppPs and if you missed your flight to Boston for Scott Nicholas’s 🎹 and my faculty recital on April 9, never fear. You can pop some popcorn, throw in some Raisinets, and listen to some Richard Strauss and Stephen Sondheim as much as you want now. You can even boop down into the description and click straight to you favorite German jam. 

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

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