Harnessing the Healing Power of Song

Colla Voce of the Sierra has started a new chorus!! Crescendo is a chorus for adults with Parkinson’s, their families and their caregivers. Colla Voce partnered with McConnell Music Therapy to bring this program to the Auburn area.  Check it out in the Auburn Journal:  Harnessing the Healing Power of Song.  Kudos to music therapist Tara McConnell and her team!

No Time…

Ok guys… forgive me in advance… can’t help it… too funny.

A choral conductor was crossing a road one day when a frog called out to her and said, “If you kiss me, I’ll turn into a handsome prince.”
She bent over, picked up the frog and put it in her pocket.
The frog spoke up again and said, “If you kiss me and turn me back into a handsome prince, I will stay with you for one week.”

The choral conductor took the frog out of her pocket, smiled at it and returned it to the pocket. The frog then cried out, “If you kiss me and turn me back into a prince, I’ll stay with you and do ANYTHING you want.”

Again the choral conductor took the frog out, smiled at it and put it back into her pocket.

Finally, the frog asked, “What is the matter? I’ve told you I’m a handsome prince, that I’ll stay with you for a week and do anything you want. Why won’t you kiss me?”

The choral conductor said, “Look—I’m a working musician. I don’t have time for a boyfriend, but a talking frog—now that’s cool.”

Are Choral Conductors Crazy? Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride…

I was relating a story to a colleague that occurred during my first week in the CSULA Master’s of Music summer program a few years ago, and she said, “well, choral conductors ARE all kinda crazy, right?”  Yes.  Well I guess so, but not that kind of crazy…

I’ve been burning the candle at both ends and delinquent on my blog posts, so I’m cheating here and will share a post from that first week…

Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride

Whatever possessed me to pursue another degree at this point in my life escaped my consciousness this week somewhere between an intense lecture on the value of understanding the hexachords hidden in medieval chant in relationship to analyzing contemporary choral work and a late-night wild-goose-chase through the bowels of LA with an OCD borderline at the wheel.  I’m in an intensive 3 summers masters program in choral conducting, living in LA for the summer… have you lost your MIND you say….  Well, as a matter of fact, yes.

Life is short, I always say.  It is a good answer to most any annoying question.  I was on track in my early 20’s to get serious about choral conducting, but took a radical left turn after my conservatory work and landed in the world of music theatre among other things.  No regrets certainly, but unfinished business has a way of bearing it’s ugly little head and well, it was high time to check that one off the list before I keel over.  Besides, I’m possessed with the music lately and what else can you do when you are possessed, than to do one’s best to drown in it?  My only lamenting happens when my mind wanders to Québec City….. I’ve loved my summers there, studying French and immersing myself in the francophone culture… 3 summers of choral conducting means 3 summers NOT in QC and what a mournful thought THAT is.  Oh my.

I thought that I would be just fine down here without a car… I never have a car in QC and I get around on the metro system just dandy, so I figured LA would be the same ….. certainly navigating the LA freeway system is not my cup of tea to say the least.  Ken, my knight in shinning armor, would have none of this idea.  He insisted that I have a car and not set one foot on a bus down here.  He promptly presented me with a GPS to help with navigation.  Ms. Garmin.  I call her Sal for short.  She is my new best friend.  I just LOVE her.  She tells me where to go, gives me reminders when I’m going to turn, and re-calculates on a dime when I turn too early, without telling me that I am an idiot or directionally challenged.  (It would be the truth, but who likes a mouthy, opinionated, know-it-all around?)  I love Sal.  Have Sal, will travel.  Going to the Huntington Gardens tomorrow for high tea and a stroll.  Me and Sal.

Last night was a welcome party for the conductors.  I ended up riding with a colleague that we will just call Ms. Hyde (as in Dr. Jekell and company).   It started out innocently enough.  The directions had a misspelling of the street name, so I couldn’t program Sal to be in charge.  Hyde was in charge.  She lived down here for a time, so she felt that she knew everything.  Her extensive knowledge lead us through a terrifying area of LA and when it was determined that we should give up getting to the party and head back to home before we were found, robbed, beaten and beheaded, she consented to letting Sal get us out of the mess.  Sal was great as usual, but Hyde, out of the blue, started screaming obscenities to Sal to shut up, all the while driving like a mad, crazy woman.  Poor Sal, although she doesn’t react to that kind of abuse at all, it takes a moment to shut her off so she just continued to tell Hyde to turn left while Hyde was ranting.  Well, here I am, stunned at the behavior of Ms. Hyde—a prominent, respectable, age 50-something choral conductor—and trying to get Sal shut down before she gets tossed out of the window. I was silent (a rare moment, I know) until Hyde came to her senses.  Sal was invited to take over again and we did make it home in one piece, unharmed amazingly enough, but party-less. Nope, not inviting Hyde to tea tomorrow.  How did you guess?

I am on a quest to find the beauty in LA.  Abe Lincoln is purported to have said, “If you look for the bad in man, you shall surely find it.”  So if you look for the good in something, you will find that too, yes?

Choir Members: Family By Choice!

Not All Families are Related by Blood : Mozart Redux
“It isn’t just the music that moves me. If a family is a group of people among whom more is unspoken than expressed, defined by all that doesn’t have to be explained, then this is my musical family.”

We’ve all probably heard the comment “too bad we can’t choose our own family members” or some similar sentiment.  Except, we DO choose our family members… what school we attend, what church community we adopt (or adopts us…) etc.  Where we invest our time, there resides our family.  And singing in a choir?  Well…. read on…

Thank you Beth for the article!

The Beauty of Artistic Community

Curator Magazine articles pop into my email box almost daily with interesting perspectives on a variety of subjects.  This morning “The Beauty of Americana” caught my eye.  The writer talks about folk music and the power of creating our art in community.  Have a look… it is worth the read.  ~jd

“If my theory is correct that it was the communal aspect of the creation of this album that makes it stand out, “Let There Be Beauty” is the quiet anthem of that sort of artistic community:

So, let there be beauty,
For beauty is good,
The made and the making
And the bliss understood.
So, let there be beauty,
For beauty is free,
Come swim in the waters,
Come drink from the stream.”

with a wave of his hand…

When I was a kid, our family spent a majority of the summer weekends camping in the foothills outside of a little hole-in-the-wall called Grizzly Flat.  My dad would rig up our fly rods at the crack of dawn every morning.  We’d be out on the forest stream with the mosquitoes, pointing our rods ahead to lead the way through the prickly brush, poised to catch our limit of trout.  Daddy was proud of his girls and bragged that Margaret and I could out-fish any guy on that stream.

“What you catch, you clean” he’d say, and we’d both be bending down with our little-girl hands in that freezing, mountain water, gutting our rainbow trout, and feeding the slimy eggs that came out of our catch to the other ravenous fish.


In the hot afternoons, Mar and I would hike down the back side of Mr. McGee’s Christmas Tree Farm to get to “the falls,” the favorite swimming hole.  The boulders were tilted at just the right angle that we could slide down the rushing waterfalls and into the pool below without killing ourselves.  Mom would let us swim until our lips were blue, then we’d have to get out and warm up in the sun.


“Town” consisted of one long building—a relic from the gold mining days—that had been turned into a cafe-by-day-bar-at-night and a little market.  The bar, “Peart’s Place” was the land mark for giving directions or meeting up.  The interior of  Peart’s was lined in fuzzy, old, dark wood with rusted gold-mining gear on the walls.  The square tables had a sketched portrait of a local painted on each corner. At one end of the musky room was a wall-to-wall carved wooden bar, and at the other was a honky-tonk-ish piano with Jack Peart’s drum set in the corner.


Most nights Peart’s was packed with locals coming out of the hills for a bite, a beer, and some down-home music.  Musicians came in from all over to play with Jack and he’d always give them a grand welcome, waving his hand like he was ushering in royalty from another country.  “Weeeeell, we’ve got Brownie and his fiddle here tonight…. Come oooon down, Brownie!” he’d shout over the bar clamor.

Peart's Little Place...

During that time in my life, my dad would pay me a quarter for every one of his requests that I learned. “Somewhere My Love” and “Sentimental Journey” were like dessert after my usual fare of Bach, Beethoven, and Schmitt exercises.

I’d go into Peart’s during the day and practice my pocket-full of standards on that out-of-tune piano while Jack was visiting with the rough and tumble locals.

Bar Piano

One hot night—I was about 11—the smoky bar was fulled to capacity as usual, with locals, musicians and lots of happy music.  Mar and I were sitting in the dark, back corner listening with Daddy—kids weren’t really supposed to be in there at night, but Jack turned a blind eye.  Brownie was on the fiddle, Jack on drums, some old local with a beard that hung down clear to his over-sized belt buckle was on the wash-tub bass making it sound like he’d just arrived from a club in New Orleans.  Jack had empty moonshine jugs on the tables and the listeners were “playing along”, blowing into the jugs in rhythm, contributing their part of the evening’s experience.  Daddy, as always—with that big grin on his face—was playing the heck out of the spoons.  That man could make those spoons sing!

Jack Peart

That evening, like he did with each of those musicians that walked into his place, Jack hollered over to me in the corner and, with a wave of his hand said, “Weeeell, we have young Miss Janine here with us tonight… come oooon up honey, and tinkle those keys!!”

My eyes were like saucers at that moment, and I looked at Daddy, not knowing really what to say (a rare moment I suppose).  He said, “well, get on up there!!”… and so I did.

I started to play the pocket-full of standards that I’d memorized.  Brownie stood next to me and coached me a bit… “now play it again an octave higher…” “now again, and lay off the melody so I can take it”.  And so it went.  My first paid gig.  25 cents.

That evening, old man Jack Peart gave me an invitation to join him in the magic-making. He lead me from the world of the peripheral spectator to the world of an engaged co-creator.  The difference between the two was like night and day.

I imagine that, in those evenings at Peart’s Place, some seed was planted in me.  I’m not sure what, really.  Was it that making music is relational?  Or that the experience of the people participating together created a more powerful moment for everyone?  Was it that co-creating leads to transformation: of individuals and communities, even if that community is a small group of musicians playing late into the night somewhere in a dark bar in the mountains?

Somehow I think old man Jack Peart instinctively knew these things.  Thank you, Mr. Peart, for sharing with me….