Twenty-five Years

IMG_3999This band started as a dream, like most bands do. Two girls, born 10 years too late, pouring over the cover of the Beatles Blue Album, which is not even, as it turns out, a real album. Two girls singing into their hairbrushes when no one else was nearby enough to hear. Two sisters, amazed to discover that the other one had a secret desire to sing, too. Two sisters, amazed to discover that her sister had a really good voice. Two sisters, brought up on Seeger and Dylan and determined to make a difference in the world, convinced music could change hearts and minds.

Parents loving enough to suspend disbelief and not insist on graduate school or real jobs.

A guy named Dave who loved them both and was willing to put up with them and put them up while they built the band.

Another guy named Dave who loved them both and was willing to lend his ear and genius and bass parts and nervous system to the project.

A third guy named Dave who played the drums with the passion of Animal and the precision of Edison.

A booking agent named Patty who turned road manager, then co-manager, then manager-babysitter-pastry-chef-maker-barista, who loved and laughed and kvetched and shook the trees and sometimes the sisters’ shoulders.

Tens of thousands of fans, who came and went over the years, but who floated the boat, sang along, believed and encouraged.

Seventeen CDs. Three books. Thirteen songbooks. A DVD. One vinyl double album. 44 states, 6 provinces, three countries, too many cities to count accurately (though Patty probably has a close approximation….)

Two grateful women, sisters, mothers, wives, friends, aunts, daughters, artists, writers, singers in the same old band. They thank you. We thank you. Thank you.

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Our First Vinyl

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Doesn’t every musician born about two-thirds of the way through the last century dream of releasing a double vinyl LP collection of greatest hits?

I know we did. One of our first purchases–scrimped from birthday and allowance dollars, shared between the two of us––was a copy of The Beatles 1967-1970, better known as “The Blue Album” to American Beatles fans. It’s not really possible to convey in words how important that collection was to us as children (we were nine-ish, ten-ish, eleven-ish…) I can feel the disc between my two palms even now, remembering how I’d place it gently on the spindle, waiting for it to drop, hoping the mechanism would catch.

Then I’d hear it–the music the four lads had made ten years previously, at the Abbey Road studios, yes. But something else, too. I’d hear the pops and crackles made not by them but by us.

We made those pops and crackles, and this is what makes listening to vinyl a fundamentally different experience from listening to mp3s or even CDs. Vinyl becomes, over time, a shared artifact between artist and fan. Like the Velveteen Rabbit, it’s more valuable the more worn it is, the more loved. The love, in fact, creates its own imprint.So here is what we hope will become our mutual project. We can’t know who you are, reading this and listening to these LPs. But we hope you are a nine-year-old child, or, barring that, at least have a strong nine-year-old child within you, who will connect to what we did in 1992, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2007, 2010 and 2015.

And we hope in another twenty-five years you will still be playing this disc. Only by then you wiill have overlaid it with your own imprint of pops and crackles, of whispers and ghosts.

Who Needs the Bravermans?

I’ve been watching the now defunct TV show Parenthood recently. Skip this paragraph if you don’t want spoilers. I am up to Season 4, and just saw the episode where Victor hits a home run, Julia quits her job and Kristina tells the family she has cancer.  I love this show so much, and like probably everyone, it makes me wish I had a big extended family whose members all live in one city and show up at each others’ kids’ recitals and baseball games and dance around the kitchen after they do the dishes. I also wonder how the women got their eyelashes to be so fat and long. (Seriously, check this out.)

 

But this weekend, my family got our Braverman on. My excellent sister Abigail drove up from Philly with her twins, Emmett and Reese, and the bunch of us hiked up to Turner’s Falls to see Katryna’s daughter Amelia perform with her band Kalliope Jones. 2015-07-25 16.45.27 FullSizeRender-2The cousins were in heaven, and the aunties and proud moms whooped and hollered and took a lot of photos and waved the mailing list around. (The CD is coming out soon….) and then we went for a picnic and came home and danced around the kitchen. (My sisters both have great eyelashes, too, but their only advice was mascara. Maybe it’s Maybelline.) (Sorry.)

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Kalliope Jones, from left to right: Alouette Batteau, Isabella DeHerdt, Amelia Chalfant

As I spent time with my sisters, I felt a sense of resurrection. Tom knew it was coming. “You’re a person who needs your family,” he said when I had complained to him of my low-grade malaise. I am a person who needs her people.

Some part of me had gone numb after the highs of my Summer Writing Camp and my kids’ Suzuki Camp. The only pleasure I got was by counting my FitBit steps (always a bad sign for me). That, and listening to my kids play violin. Lila and Johnny and I had spent a glorious week at the Suzuki Summer Academy in Easthampton, and I certainly got my steps in, running up and down the stairs of Easthampton High School, dividing my time between my kids’ classes. They played like little maniacs all day every day, all week long. And then at the end of each 8 hour day, they came home and practiced. I am not kidding. In fact, they wanted to. Lots of soccer was played at Suzuki camp, and many drawings of Carli Lloyd were composed 2015-07-15 19.28.03in the breaks between master classes. Once again, I was deeply impressed by the Suzuki ethos of practice not for the sake of becoming a good violinist, but rather in the name of building a beautiful character.

 

The other thing that brought me happiness were my 5am writing sessions. I have been working exclusively on my novel The Big Idea, (as you know, since I have barely been posting on this blog at all). But trying to get up at 5am while my kids were on summer vacation and stubbornly maintaining an obscenely late bedtime was making me psychotic.

But part of the reason Abigail came to visit was to lend me her daughter Reese, the 11-year-old phenomenal singer. She and Amelia (14) and I had been cooking up the idea for awhil2015-07-26 14.26.08e now for me to re-release my 2005 novel Plastic Angel as an ebook, and 2015-07-26 13.59.21to re-record some of the songs from the accompanying soundtrack using their voices. So this we did (with the help of my beloved brother-in-law Dave Chalfant), with amazing results that I hope will be published in the next 6 months. Each of my nieces brought so much to the project: incredible style, preternaturally good singing chops, and a delightful attitude. We got four songs done in five hours. Not only that, but the girls had read the book and had lots of ideas for a sequel.

As I write this, I remember the Golden Rule of creativity that my friend Pam Houston taught me long ago: the joy is always ALWAYS in the creative process itself. The joy is in the moment of inspiration, but it’s also (even more, for me) in the refining, polishing, pondering, choosing, and of course, performing. The aftermath is a whole different animal, and it’s never been that great for me. Even when people love my work and gush and tell me that it mattered, or helped them, those moments are just stories, completely disconnected from my body and soul. The work is out of my hands at that point, and really just theoretical. It’s not my own anymore. My nieces kept saying, “This is so much fun!” as they sang their parts. I totally related. It’s among my favorite things on earth to record vocals. I would pay to record vocals. I would pay to write novels. To paraphrase Elizabeth Gilbert (whose podcast called Big Magic I have been enjoying), it never works to demand that our creativity support us. Rather, we need to support that precious, dear, sweet little fragile being inside us that is our creativity.

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Last night, we rehearsed with our CrackerJack band for Falcon Ridge. These are the guys who have been there from the beginning, in the case of Daves Chalfant and Hower, and even Paul Kochanski, who joined us in 2002 has been with us now for years. John Colonna, our 31-year-old cousin, drove up from NYC to play his piano magic, and I could not wipe the huge grin from my face during our 3 hour rehearsal. “Can’t we create an alternate universe where we can play together every week and make albums and also still have our kids and husbands and wives and stable lives in Northampton?” I asked them.

My novel is about a band in the 1990s. They are a family, trying hard to make it in the big time, while also maintaining their love for each other. The book is about how we see each other, and how we grow from our struggles and failures; how we as young adults eventually come home to ourselves. My goal is to have a soundtrack that we (The Nields) record to go with the book, just as we did for Plastic Angel. I want this book published. But I realized, as I rehearsed with the guys, that what I really want is the pleasure of writing––the book, and the 90s flavored songs. And I have that already, just as I have a Braverman-like family, and just as I still have that alternate-universe rock band. In the midst of playing with these amazing musicians, once again, I got it. This IS the alternate universe. I am living it. It’s in the daily practice.  It’s in the Creativity Retreat Katryna and I have scheduled for the fall. It’s in the show we are doing on Sunday at Falcon Ridge, where we will play our hearts out, get inspired by the other musicians there, hand our guitars to the kids, and then come home to a calendar full of shows to play. We all come home to ourselves differently. My way is to practice music and writing, to listen to what I have made, read what I have written, and nurture that tender being that makes all the magic happen. And all the while, nurture those tender beings outside myself.

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SNOMG! And Our Traumatic Ecstatic Day

I discovered yesterday that Patty, our longtime manager, doesn’t believe in indoor heating. I figure this has something to do with her obsession with women’s basketball and subsequent wardrobe of extremely thick Connecticut Sun sweatsuits. Or maybe it’s because she drinks so much hot coffee that she is inured to the cold. This was the only explanation I could come up with yesterday, as I sat on her living room floor with my fingerless gloves and my polar fleece balaklava and my filthy yellow parka, addressing envelopes, stamping envelopes with Katryna’s super cool woodblock stamp that says “XVII”, signing copies of the new CD in one of the mirrors of the mirror barn that lays out on the booklet as one opens it.

I put a CD into an envelope, sealed it, and looked at the address. Fans from Missouri. Fans from Texas. Fans from Florida. Several from Seattle. One from Wisconsin. Many from CT, NY, MD, VA. Too many to count from MA. I was overwhelmed with gratitude for these fans, some whose names I knew well; some whose names I’d never heard, though perhaps if I saw their faces I would recognize them. I saw names of friends, and names of cousins I rarely see. All four of my aunts pledged, and to see each of their names on our packages warmed me to the point where I almost felt like I could take off my balaklava. And in that cold living room, with Patty’s daughter and granddaughter (one helping, one charming) and Katryna, my kids (also helping, charming) I felt a solid completion, even though we didn’t get every label onto every envelope, and there are still boxes of CDs, a few books and bags scattered around.

It had already been A Day. Jay’s first cavity filling that morning had gone from bad to worse. He has a gag reflex, and is not such a fan of dentist in the best of times, but having been assured by Elle and me that fillings were no big deal, he was not prepared for the horror he encountered. “They are actually DWILLING MY TOOTH!” he wailed, putting his hand up to stop them, to take the horrible beige laughing gas mask off his sweet little tear-stained face. “Don’t cry!” the dental assistant kept saying. “The gas can’t work if you get all stuffed up and breathe through your mouth instead of your nose!”

I wanted to hit her. Instead, I held his two hands and kept murmuring, “Mama’s here. Mama loves you,” as he became incrementally traumatized. Having read Peter Levine’s Waking the Tiger, I suggested he shake himself off like a dog when he finally got up, trembling, from the dentist’s chair, but all he wanted to do was be held. So I held him.

When we arrived at Patty’s, I was starving, having had to take my kids to both Berkshire Yogurt (closed) AND GoBerri, because of the dentist (naturally, if one has cavities, and then fillings, one needs more sugar to get over the affront). But just as I heated up my meal and was sitting down to eat it, both Katryna and Patty’s daughter Ashley took one look at Jay and shouted, “He’s having an allergic reaction to novocaine! Go get him some Benedryl!” I hesitated, fork halfway to mouth. But these two Supermoms had no mercy. “NOW! Get him Benedryl NOW!” So, I gave one more reluctant glance at my warm food and made Jay put his coat back on (well, actually, given Patty’s no heat rule, he’d never taken it off) and we set back out to the van.

Couldn’t there just be one less thing to worry about? Here we are in the midst of Blizzageddon, trying both to get our Pledge packages out AND prepare for possible power outages. We have no fireplace, wood stove or any other way to stay warm should we lose power. I was planning to get my van filled up with gas and make it to Radio Shack in between the PO and Elle’s violin lesson, plus the requisite trip to the grocery store for extra bananas. So in the van, out of sight of the Supermoms, I decided to call the dentist before driving to the Rite Aid.

“Is it just on one side of his mouth, “the receptionist asked immediately. “Take a picture and email it to me.” I did so, while still on the phone with her.

AH! The joys of a smart phone!

“No worries. He’s bitten his lip because he’s numb. Tell him to stop.” She said, and I brought my traumatized son back into Patty’s cold house.

Even with all of us signing, stamping, stuffing, we had to dash to fill Patty’s Prius with the boxes of envelopes to make it to Patty’s appointment with the Easthampton PO for 3-5pm. As we were loading up her car with boxes full of stuffed envelopes, she discovered that her Prius’s latch was broken, so she called AAA. Finally, latched fixed, Elle and Jay and I helped Patty get the boxes into the small car. We got to the PO at five of, only to find that they were closing because of Snowcapolyse. The four of us stood there with huge boxes of stuffed envelopes in our arms, Jay holding the “special” ones as Patty had instructed him to do. The employees were all refusing to make eye contact with Patty, who was fuming. But we prevailed. I’m sure the kids’ cuteness didn’t hurt. Who can resist a couple of kids in snow parkas being helpers? So finally, the Postmaster General of Easthampton had no choice but to accept our many (like 500) packages. They might sit there until Snowgas Khan has retreated, but at least they are out of Patty’s Prius.

Snowgas Khan, or SNOMG! turned out to be a bust. Just as well. I am going to close this almost pointless post with a couple of observations.
#1.Patty totally rocks, and we won the jackpot in tricking her to be our manager lo these 20 odd years ago.
#2.My dear friend Anne emailed me this picture to prove that we were smart in our choice of album cover. Cool People, a piano, a tree. Nuff said.

First Fundraiser of the Week for our PledgeMusic Campaign: MotherWoman!

Back in 2011, Beth Spong, then-executive director of MotherWoman, asked us to write a song for Mother’s Day, and MotherWoman made a beautiful video of it (see below), using photos by our friend and photographer Sarah Prall. But today we are calling your attention to this wonderful organization which supports mothers in myriad ways, by making them our first Fundraiser of the Week for our Pledge Campaign. This means that if we raise 10% of our total between November 10-17, we will donate a concert in which all proceeds will go to their organization.

MotherWoman supports mothers on every level, creates support groups designed to be inclusive of women of all backgrounds, makes a space for women to speak ALL of their truth in a supportive environment. They are also dedicated to building community safety nets, and impacting family policy at the national, state and local levels. We have been deeply moved by their principles; their “Universal Realities of Motherhood”. To support the MotherWoman Performance, all you have to do is pledge between Nov. 10-17.

Universal Realities of Motherhood:

* Parenting impacts every aspect of our lives; physical, emotional, interpersonal, and spiritual
* Parenting creates stress and difficulty in many areas; relationships with partners, parents, friends, concerns about money, work, physical needs for sleep, food, exercise, leisure time, etc.
* Becoming a mother brings up issues from a woman’s past such as how she was parented, past trauma, mental health history, relationships with her own mother, grief, losses, etc
* Parenting can make us see ourselves more clearly- the good, bad and the ugly.
* Becoming a mother can motivate us to make necessary changes in our lives.
* Motherhood can motivate and encourage a woman to become her best self.
* Becoming a mother can overwhelm us with joy and challenges.
* Parenting is an emotional rollercoaster of highs and lows.
* Parenting can make us feel very insecure. Mothers are typically very hard on themselves.
* We go into parenting totally unprepared and yet are expected to be “experts.”
* Self care is essential in mothering and, for many reasons, seems impossible.

I like the Reality that “Parenting can make us see ourselves more clearly–the good, bad and the ugly.” I always joke that before I became a mother I was *this close* to enlightenment. That’s because, before I became a mother, I wouldn’t let anyone get *this close* to me, not even my husband. Well, OK, my husband. But, you see, my husband is a really nice, polite, well-bred guy with excellent boundaries and infinite patience. When I annoy him, he takes three deep breaths and asks God for help, or something. My kids, not so much. when I annoy my kids, which I do on an hourly basis, they yell at me, roll their eyes, or ignore me, depending on the extent of my annoyingness. Lately, both kids are practicing their teen-ager ‘tude. They have learned what sarcasm is and are going to town practicing sarcasms many applications. I do not like this and tell them sarcasm is very unattractive. Somehow that doesn’t convince them to stop.

The problem seems to be that I want them to do stuff they don’t really care to do–everything from taking a bath to eating something other than chips-and-bread for dinner, to cleaning up the fifty bazillion lego pieces off the floor. But that’s all par for the course; every mother knows she will struggle with that. Where it gets really wiggy and unenlightened is when I sit down with them to witness their violin practice.

We do the Suzuki Method, and I explain why in great detail on my other blog, Singing in the Kitchen, which is all about our adventures in family music-making. If you don’t know the Suzuki method, I’ll just say it involves the kid taking lessons, which the parent goes to (and does not get to play on her iPhone while she is there.) Then the kid practices for a half hour to an hour a day, and the parent not only makes sure s/he practices, but actually kind of coaches the kid. So if, for example, the teacher tells the kid to play eight pieces and a scale and do some sight reading, all the while focusing on keeping her wrist straight, it’s understood that the parent is supposed to watch the whole practice, and intone “wrist, wrist” when the wrist (inevitably) goes floppy.

A few weeks ago. after we’d come home from New York, we had one of those famous terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days, which you can read about here. On Monday, my son Jay refused to practice violin. In fact, he quit. I was so cooked, I actually let him quit, even though it’s long been my feeling that kids don’t get to quit math, so why should they quit music? But I was done with the tantrums and the forced practices, the bribes, the legos (which were the bribe, usually). For ten days, he was in official Quit mode, which for us meant he still had to practice every day, because his wise teacher Emily had encouraged him to work toward a finale: a One-Half Book One Recital in which he would perform all 16 of his pieces, then take a final bow around mid-December and give back his tiny violin to Stamell’s String Shop for good. But something strange happened during those ten days. I felt really sad and mad at myself for quitting, and for letting him quit. What ever happened to my commitment to raise gritty kids? There were so many pros to sticking with violin. 1. He is actually really good. 2. It’s helped his fine motor skills tremendously. 3. The local Suzuki community is fantastic, supportive and fun. 4. Some of his best friends are doing Suzuki.

I felt as though a dark cloud had settled over his whole future, and it was all my fault. All my own issues of musical perfectionism come to the surface in that half hour to an hour of practice. That was me with the little fiddle and the floppy wrist. And somehow, when I’m sitting on the witness couch, all my own critical voices come swooping down, so afraid of being anything less than musically perfect. But why couldn’t I just let him play the little fiddle and dance around the room with it the way he wants to? Isn’t that where I ended up as a musician? Dancing around the stage with my guitar making a big, imperfect sound? I looked carefully at the way I’d been sitting with him as he played, my eyes glued to his bow hold, ready to pounce as soon as I saw it slip. “Bow hold!” I’d shout, as if I were going to be in trouble if I missed it. Not for the first time, a voice in my head said, “It might be better to be a B minus student than to not be in the class at all.” (And I’m not talking about Jay being the B minus student. I’m talking about his Suzuki Mom somehow not being the shining star). Why couldn’t I let him progress at his own rate? What if he stayed in Book One for 4 years? Would that be so bad?

On the tenth day of Quitting, I sat with my older daughter as she practiced. She’d gotten into trying to pick out the theme from the Harry Potter movie (“Hedwig’s Theme”), so I’d printed it out for her, and her teacher had told her to read it for sight-reading practice. She picked out the notes, hung up her violin, and I called Jay over for his practice. He got out his tiny violin and brought his bow to the strings. Incredibly, he too picked out the melody for “Hedwig’s Theme,” which, you may know, is not easy.

My eyes filled with tears. He looked up at me, over the neck of his violin, with big shy eyes, a pleased smile on his lips. And though I knew I shouldn’t say things like this, I couldn’t help it: “Oh, Jay, I wish you wouldn’t quit. I am going to miss you playing violin.”

“Ok,” he said. “I won’t quit. I don’t want to quit!”

“You don’t?” I practically shouted. “You don’t? That’s great! Let’s tell Emily!”

He took my iPhone and stared at Emily’s picture. “Hi Emily,” he said into the phone. “If it’s OK, I’m going to keep playing violin. I’m becoming a better violin player. It’s inside of me.”

Being a Suzuki parent is like the MotherWoman Reality exponentially. I see the good, bad and ugly every time I sit down with the kids to practice. We see each other’s good, bad and ugly. And we grow. And at the end of the day, there’s music.