Expert Advice

First, let me announce that this is NOT an April Fool’s joke.

The other day, I thought about expertise and what exactly makes someone an expert. Years of experience? A large social media platform? When you seek advice, do you seek advice from an expert? It really depends on what you need, right? After all, you wouldn’t go to someone for legal advice who was still in law school. But you might go to that law student if you were looking for advice about the application process, since that person successfully completed the process.

When it comes to publishing, I usually look for someone who can offer me more experiential knowledge than I currently have. Though I have many years of experience in publishing, I still don’t consider myself an expert, because no one masters every imaginable genre in publishing. So there’s always something to learn, especially from a fellow writer, an editor, or an agent. Even as an editor, I can only give an opinion to the author about what may or may not need to change—even in line edits.

Awhile ago I pitched a manuscript to a mentorship program where mentorships are offered by published novelists if your pitch is picked. Once chosen (not everyone is) you would then submit your manuscript to the mentor or mentors who would then help you to submit it to an agent. The one I’m referring to is this one. Click to find out more information. That’s one way of seeking expert advice.

What expert advice have you sought recently? Were you satisfied with the result? While you consider your answer, let’s celebrate the winners of the following:

Laura Bruno Lilly’s Swimming with Swans: The Music—Goat Suite (Saga) (Click here for the interview.)

and Sandra Nickel’s Breaking Through the Clouds: The Sometimes Turbulent Life of Meteorologist Joanne Simpson (Click here for the interview.)

The winners of Swimming with Swans: The Music—Goat Suite (Saga) are

Jennie

Nancy Hatch

The winner of Breaking Through the Clouds: The Sometimes Turbulent Life of Meteorologist Joanne Simpson is

S. K. Van Zandt!

Winners, please comment below to confirm. Thank you to all who commented.

Covers and photos courtesy of the composer and author. Expert image expertly done by L. Marie.

Check This Out: Swimming with Swans: The Music—Goat Suite (Saga)

With me on the blog today is the amazing composer/musician/performer Laura Bruno Lilly, who is here to talk about her album Swimming with Swans: The Music—Goat Suite (Saga) and the process of composing.

Cover designed by Rita Moore

First, here is the intro:

El Space: How long was the process from composing the music to this finished product?
Laura: The actual length of time from start (inspiration) to finish (digital/cd music release) took 11 years. However, it took only a month or so to compose Goats in the Garden at Midnight by the Light of the Full Moon. While it was a complete piece in and of itself, it just didn’t feel finished. It wasn’t until after our between-homes journey came to an end that I realized it could be developed further in keeping with the structure of a suite. More accurately, those goats insisted there was more of their musical story to tell!

Photo by Terry Lilly

My Goat Suite (Saga) was composed and written while my husband and I were living on the compound in the desert outside Las Cruces, New Mexico from October 2010 through August 2011. It is a self-contained, yet complimentary slice of a larger project, Swimming with Swans: the music & vignettes of our three-year journey between homes which encompasses two standalone, yet related segments comprised of musical and literary material I created during that time on-the-road from June 2009 through June 2012.

Goats in the Garden naturally morphed into the middle movement within a larger three movement piece. Both the first and third movements were completed within a few months of each other, making the total composition time of the piece about a year from start to finish.

So you see, the composing itself didn’t take all that long. I’m very hands-on. Doodling with multiple parts on different instruments, putting it all together—I love that stuff! Composing is my sandbox where I get to play with all the parts of the piece in the course of creating it.

Next came the technical aspect of setting the music into a readable score for use in recording and later future performances. To that end, I purchased and learned a score notation program that enabled me to write down the parts more quickly than if I continued to write it all by hand. as it is scored for two classical guitars, mandolin, 12-string acoustic guitar and rainstick, I’m sure the wisdom in this time investment is obvious!

Once in final score format, I set it aside. The journey from that to the finished product took a more circuitous route. I applied for and was awarded a small grant from the Puffin Foundation to aid in the financial aspect of recording my Goat Suite (Saga). Around that same time, my 93-year-old Dad in Colorado entered hospice. Already juggling long-distance care-giving for a few years, this catapulted my focus 100% on Dad’s final days, shelving everything else.

After Dad’s passing, while getting his house cleared out and ready to sell, I managed to schedule some recording studio time with two longtime colleagues in the area. This effort yielded a finished mix ready to send elsewhere for mastering.

Once mastered, it was just a matter of finalizing the cover art, designing the physical product, pressing the CDs, registering the music with various agencies, sending it off for distribution on various streaming platforms and setting up an internet storefront.

And here it is. Now. Finished.

El Space: When did you decide to become a musician/composer? How were you encouraged as a child?
Laura: I don’t know that there was ever an actual decision made to become either. Most composers are/were also performing artists, so I view composing as a natural outgrowth of being a working musician.

As far as receiving encouragement as a child, most of my upbringing was taught by example. This quote expresses how my Jazzman Dad influenced my musical journey in general.

Each jazz musician when he takes a horn in his hand—trumpet, bass, saxophone, drums—whatever instrument he plays, each soloist, that is, when he begins to ad lib on a given composition with a title and improvise a new creative melody, this man is taking the place of a composer. He is saying, “Listen, I am going to give you a new complete idea with a new set of chord changes. I am going to give you a new melodic conception on a tune you are familiar with. I am a composer.” That’s what he is saying.
Charles Mingus

El Space: Which composers inspired you on your journey?
Laura:
Beethoven, Vivaldi, Berlioz. John Cage, Philip Glass, Max Richter. Janet Feder, JoAnn Falletta, Joan Tower. John Duarte, Eduardo Falú, H. Villa-Lobos. Mike Oldfield, Herbie Hancock, Ry Cooder. Ennio Morricone, Edgar Meyer, Bela Fleck. Foday Musa Suso, Billy Strayhorn, Anonymous. And more! Google the names and give them a listen.

        

Ennio Morricone (left), Eduardo Falú

Billy Strayhorn (Photo by Carl Van Vechten)

El Space: What leitmotifs occur in the music? Why?
Laura:
The second movement revolves around the most obvious one, introduced by the solo guitar within the first three measures. This Goat Bleat Motif was inspired by conversations held between Mama Goat and her kids. Based upon the intervals of each goat’s voice pitch, I assigned each goat a note and when bleating all together, their monotones made up a minor seventh chord. Then as a compositional element, a Reverse Goat Bleat Motif was used for further development of the second movement—all in keeping with the flavor of goats in the garden frolicking and dancing about.

El Space: What advice do you have for budding composers?
Laura:
Learn an instrument! It doesn’t matter which one. Noodle around with banging pots and pans, humming tunes or sounding the odd finger harp thing hung on your mother’s front door. Music composition in its most basic form is merely an organization of sound. The best instrument for understanding music theory visually is indeed the piano, but that does not have to be your primary instrument. Use it is a tool in context of understanding the underlying structure of composition. Strive to actively participate in a swirl of musical styles. This will surround you with tonal possibilities, blasting through untold sonic boundaries. Along with all that hands-on sort of stuff, listen, listen, listen to a plethora of musical genres. Explore translating your feelings into a compositional piece. Try your hand at arranging already created music. Hone your craft by taking classes, studying alongside a music teacher/professor/mentor and then, just do it. The more you do, the more your own voice will emerge.

Thanks, Laura, for being my guest.

Looking for Laura? Look on her website.

Looking for Swimming with Swans: The Music—Goat Suite (Saga)? Click here
I’m giving away two copies of Swimming with Swans: The Music—Goat Suite (Saga). Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winners to be revealed next week.

Album cover, embedded intro, and photo courtesy of Laura Bruno Lilly. Photo by Terry Lilly. Ennio Morricone and Billy Strayhorn photos from Wikipedia. Eduardo Falú photo from secondhandsongs.com. Music note from wallsave.com.

Music to My Ears—Five Years A-Bloggin’

I was sitting at my desk the other day, contemplating what I would have for breakfast, when I suddenly realized, Oh my goodness! My blogoversary passed!

As of February 19, I’ve been blogging for five years. I didn’t think I’d last five minutes, let alone five years. But here I am. Like the proverbial bad penny, I keep turning up. I’m grateful to all of you who discovered this blog and keep coming back. Rest assured, the weirdness will continue. (Or, run away while you still can.)

On with the show. Recently, a friend who is taking a writing class shared the following video with me.

In case you elect to avoid spending almost eight minutes watching the video (though it was well done), its creator, Nerdwriter1, discusses the recurring musical themes (leitmotifs) of the Lord of the Rings movie soundtracks, composed by Howard Shore (movies directed by Peter Jackson, based on books by J. R. R. Tolkien). These are my favorite soundtracks of all time, so of course I had to take a look.

I was already well aware of Howard Shore’s genius. But the video was a lovely reminder of what you get when a powerful musical score is wedded to a powerful story.

   

See, kids? These are CDs. We used to play these back in the day.

On many days, I had the soundtracks playing in the background while I wrote. I can remember writing scenes that matched the tempo of Shore’s compositions. These soundtracks made me want to write the kind of story that would merit a skillfully written score played by an equally skilled orchestra.

So yeah, I love those soundtracks. But not just Howard Shore’s. I love the soundtracks from Batman Begins (2005) and The Dark Knight (2008) (movies directed by Christopher Nolan), which were composed by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard. These soundtracks, with their edgy orchestration, are an interesting contrast to the Lord of the Rings soundtracks. But they all have an epic quality that evokes emotion. (If you look at the list of musical selections on the Batman Begins soundtrack, you’ll note that each was named after a bat genus. Also, BATMAN is spelled out.)

    

    

I have music in my head, even as I write this blog post. I’m hearing the horns from The Fellowship of the Ring soundtrack. Being a blogger is a kind of fellowship. You post something and hope someone will read it. And when someone does, and you get to know that person, relationships are forged. I’ve met many great people through this blog. People like you. Thanks for coming along for the ride.

Kitty and her interns. Somebody’s gotta get the coffee.

Batman Begins movie poster from geekynerfherder.blogspot.com. The Dark Knight movie poster from popcritics.com. Other photos by L. Marie. Snow-Fro and Kissy Boo Shoppets are registered trademarks of Moose Toys.

A Night at the Opera

Have you ever had one of those days when you looked in your closet and picked out several things to wear, all the while thinking of each, Nah this won’t do? That’s how I’ve been the last several days with blog posts. I started one on writing tips from Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon (yes, really; it’s almost finished) and one on the great outdoors (less finished). But this post you’re reading is neither of those (Perhaps you’re thinking, Whew, I dodged that bullet), nor any of the other ideas I had swirling around in my head.

Last week, a friend of mine and I attended a student production of Mozart’s opera, The Magic Flute (which also is playing at the Civic Opera House in Chicago). Though I have attended several operas over the years, and enjoyed them, I can’t say I’m an opera aficionado. But I have friends who love the opera, and one friend who is an opera soprano (and a faculty member at the University of Illinois). So, that’s how I found myself at the opera several times.

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I didn’t know the storyline of The Magic Flute beforehand (click storyline in the first part of the sentence for the synopsis), though I’d heard one of its most well-known arias elsewhere. That aria, “Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen” (“Hell’s vengeance boils in my heart”) is sung by the Queen of the Night, a character who does what is needful to regain her kidnapped daughter, Pamina. You can listen to that aria here if you like.

You probably already know this (if you do, you know way more than I did last week), but I’ll tell you anyway. The Magic Flute is a fairy tale that follows the hero’s journey model. We meet the hero, a prince named Tamino, whose call to action from the ladies of the court of the Queen of the Night is to rescue Pamina from Sarastro—her kidnapper. Along the way, he gains a sidekick—Papageno, who is forced to accompany him on this mission. In Act I of the opera, you start off with one idea about who is good and who is evil, then find that notion overturned in Act II.

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At left in black is Abi Beerwart, who played Pamina; in yellow, is Bethany Crosby, one of the ladies of the court of the Queen of the Night

I love the hero’s journey story model and fairy tales. Having grown up on a steady diet of fairy tales and musicals, thanks to parents who took my brothers and me to musical performances, this opera was right up my alley. I love that my assumptions were overturned, but not in a frustrating, this-doesn’t-make-sense kind of way.

Several small children in the audience were very vocal in their commentary. Some burst into tears, wanting to leave halfway through the production. Others, knowing cast members, cheered when their favorites appeared. Still others just wondered what was going on. Early in the performance, I had the same question. But at least the children were there, soaking in the rich tapestry that was The Magic Flute.

I’m reminded of a recent post at Jennie’s blog, A Teacher’s Reflections.

Major pieces of art? Masterpieces? Introducing this to preschoolers? It is not easy to explain to people how and why art can make a difference with young children.

You have to read the post (click recent post above to do so) to understand why I thought of it as I wrote this post. Jennie ends the post with, “Art makes a difference.” Perhaps watching The Magic Flute will be life changing for the children who attended it as well.

What kinds of art (musical performance, movies, books, animation, dance, painting or other forms of visual art) were you exposed to as a young child? What difference did it make in your life?

P.S. Extra bonus points if you can guess where I got the title, “A Night at the Opera,” from. Though I had one specific source in mind, there is another possible answer.

Photos by L. Marie.

Baby, It’s Cold Outside!

ice-creamAnd it’s about to get cold inside with the first, hopefully annual, Ice Cream Giveaway!

That’s right! As a way of saying Happy New Year and thanks to all who follow this blog, I’m hosting this giveaway. I found a place that delivers ice cream, sorbet, or gelato to your door—IceCreamSource.com. Unfortunately, they only deliver to the U.S., so I can’t make this an international giveaway. (Sorry about that.)

I wish I could send pints to all of you—you’re all deserving. But there can only be ONE winner! (Just like there can only be one Highlander!) I will have the pint of the winner’s choice sent to that individual. IceCreamSource.com lists many brands, including Ben & Jerry’s, Hagen-Dazs, Breyer’s, Silver Moon, and others. And what better way to celebrate the freezing cold of winter than with freezing cold ice cream??? Huh? Am I right or am I right?

   BreyersLogo125 VtFinest-Logo125 EdysLogo125 

You might dash on over to IceCreamSource.com (click on the name in the second paragraph) and look at the brands, then comment below and tell me which one you would like, if you haven’t already done so in a previous post. If you have, cool. . . . And that by the way, is a winter pun. 😀 Also, since I’m nosy, please tell me which winter activity—including Winter Olympic sports—you love the most. (BTW: I love sledding! As for Olympic sports, I love all of the ski events, especially ski jumping; snowboarding; the luge; bobsledding; and all of the skating events—figure skating, ice dancing, speed skating, etc.)

Winner to be announced on Friday, January 31.

frozen-logoYes, winter sports are cool. But appreciating winter is sometimes a battle for me. On Sunday, as I was driving to church down one iced-over, unplowed street after another (all with the look of evil meringue), and watching snow falling for the 50,000,000th time this winter, appropriately enough I blasted the Frozen soundtrack. If you have seen the movie (Disney’s latest animated movie), or own the soundtrack like I do (it’s good, isn’t it?), you’re familiar with “Let It Go,” a lovely song written by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, and beautifully sung by Idina Menzel. Well, I tend to have anxiety sometimes, especially if I’m driving down a street glazed with ice and snow. So, I needed to hear that song, especially the last line: “The cold never bothered me anyway.”

Frozen-Soundtrack-frozen-35659358-1280-1280

So, here’s to winter and its fickleness and frigid temperatures. Let’s raise our ice cream spoons and say, “Take that, winter! Yeah, the wind chill index is 20 below today! But you know what? The cold never bothered me anyway.”

Ice cream image from hfboards.hockeysfuture.com. Frozen logo from animationmagazine.net.

A Belly Button for My Bookcase

024Every bookcase needs a belly button. What? You don’t believe that? It just so happens that mine has one. (And yes, my bookshelves are crowded.)

Have you spotted it yet? The belly button I mean. It’s the word joy. A belly button reminds me that I was born a vulnerable human being—a tiny baby connected to my mother for nine months. Joy reminds me that I’m still a vulnerable human being in need of the fresh perspective that joy brings.

And of course, this season of Christmas with songs that declare “O tidings of comfort and joy” and “Joy to the World, the Lord is come” are a vivid reminder to be proactive about being joyful. Not always easy, huh?

Julie-as-Maria-maria-von-trapp-julie-andrews-30320447-486-750You know, the word joy has occupied my bookshelf so long—years actually—I stopped seeing it until today when I needed the reminder. See, instead of tidings of joy, I’ve been singing tidings of grumpiness, constantly focused on what I think I don’t have or what I do have (loud neighbors, a car with bald tires, a refrigerator without chocolate). I’d forgotten that joy, unlike happiness, isn’t intermittent or based on things going right. It’s an all-day feeling—a secret room in my heart. I can go there, put my feet up, and remember. As Maria (Julie Andrews) in The Sound of Music sang, “These are a few of my favorite things.”

Take a joy break with me today. Remember what brings you joy.

    zuko-300x185Plain-M&Ms-Pile

Royal_Poinciana

“These are a few of my favorite thiiiiiiiiiiiiings!”

Julie Andrews as Maria von Trapp from fanpop.com. Prince Zuko from probablymortal.com. M&Ms from shinebeautybeacon.blogspot.com. Royal Poinciana tree from commons.wikimedia.org.

Beauty for Ashes

To comfort all who mourn . . . to give them a crown of beauty instead of ashes.
Isaiah 61:2–3 HCSB

 Evstafiev-vedran-smailovic-sarajevo1992w

Over 20 years ago, during the bombing of Sarajevo, cellist Vedran Smailović reacted in a memorable way. He played Adagio in G Minor (supposedly composed by Tomaso Albinoni) on his cello amid the rubble of various bombed buildings. Despite the danger, Smailović, in formal attire, provided beauty in defiance of the ugliness and hope for those who despaired. Beauty for ashes.

I sense the call to do likewise. Do you? What will you do to provide beauty, even a tiny bit of it, to a world as thirsty for it as a plant thirsts for water?

While you think about that, you can listen to internationally renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma playing The Cellist of Sarajevo, a lament composed by David Wilde in honor of Smailović, who had become known throughout the world as the Cellist of Sarajevo. If for some reason, the video below doesn’t play, you can find it here. Please note that the music takes awhile to start.

Smailović photo from Wikipedia. Video uploaded to Youtube by MB7classical.