Why I Sing

Singing is a combination of playing an instrument and storytelling, two of my other favorite activities.

Singing focusses the mind in a manner similar to archery. If your mind wanders, you miss the mark and go off key or out of rhythm.

Singing conjures feelings and is therefore useful for releasing negative emotions (like singing the blues), as well manifesting courage when I feel fearful or passion when I feel apathetic.

Singing comes in handy to entertain children and sometimes adults.

People who sing together enjoy musical and social harmony.

Singing improves my health.

I can practice my instrument while driving my car or checking my email.

Don’t have to check my instrument with baggage or stow it in the overhead.

I have a very good reason not to smoke or eat stuff that gives me sore throats.

I love a whole bunch of songs, some of which I wrote.

There is no end to the possibilities for development of the voice, and if I forget that, I only have to listen to Bobby McFerrin.

EMDR

As I was preparing to record my third CD, What Living’s All About, I thought about how, when I was recording my first two, I always got a fever and a sore throat on the day I was to sing the vocal tracks, so that they never sounded quite as good as the way I sound in live performance.

I decided that this time, I would take the opportunity to change that pattern of subconscious self-sabotage. Fortunately, my sister, Jessica Mercure, is a psychotherapist and up on the latest healing techniques. She had used something called EMDR to prepare herself for a much needed, much dreaded surgery, and not only did she go through the surgery without her expected panic, but she healed so quickly that her surgeon was amazed.

EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) moves the attention of the traumatized person from the right to left to right to left sides of the body, seemingly from the sympathetic (fight or flight) to the parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous systems, so that the mind can rapidly process stressful memories and information that may have been “stuck” or undigested, sometimes for decades. Successfully healing combat veterans and rape survivors of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in only a few sessions (rather than years of talking therapy), EMDR works equally well with less intense problems, including my musical performance issues.

Developed by Francine Shapiro, PhD, a clinical psychologist, EMDR holds up to rigorous double blind testing. No one is exactly sure WHY it works, only that, when it is administered correctly by a therapist trained in the technique, it rocks.

I went to the EMDR International Association website, looked for therapists in my geographical area, and found one that specialized in arts issues, Paulette Rochelle-Levy. I had four appointments with her before recording. The first was “intake,” that is, she asked me questions and gathered information about my life and my issue at hand.

On the second appointment, Paulette helped me find the life moments where my fears around singing were catalyzed, and then, as I pictured them, patted first my right hand, then my left, then my right, and so on. My homework was to write a letter to the 12 year old girl I once was, and tell her what is ahead of her in her life, from the perspective of what I have lived to this date.

On the third appointment, Paulette, instead of doing EMDR, lead me in an exercise that I thought, at first, was sort of silly, but it turned out to be just as profound as the EMDR. She asked me to walk, eyes closed, in her living room and say “I am Alicia’s Higher Self” three times, and then to describe myself.

I said, “I am a vortex of swirling energies: elemental nature energies rising from below, inspirational and angelic energies descending from above, genetic, societal, cultural, familial, and past life energies swirling together from all sides. I am the sum of all of these currents of energy coming together.”

Paulette said, “That’s the answer to the question, ‘Who are YOU to be making a CD of your own music.’”

On the fourth appointment we did more EMDR. Two days later I went into the studio, did not have a sore throat, and sang well.

Was I 100% cured? No. On the day I recorded the vocal for Nature Boy, I had a throat issue again, and, as it was an improvised piece (couldn’t re-record it later) with a legendary player who had made some sacrifices to be at the studio for me that day, I had to just do it anyway. To my delight, improvising that song with John B. Williams and Enzo Tedesco turned out to be a peak experience. I like listening to it, too.

Post EMDR, the studio experience was, for me, on the whole, very much more exciting than it was stressful. Good stuff! And my sister will be taking a professional training in EMDR this fall.  Meanwhile, she lent me the EMDR book, and I highly recommend it.

Amana

In January 2001, singer/songwriter/bassist Sachiho Kudomi was vacationing on the Big Island of Hawaii with her rock star husband, Donto, and their two young sons. While they were watching a performance of a hula dedicated to the goddess Pele at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Donto suddenly fell over, and was rushed by ambulence to the Hilo Medical Center. The next day he was pronounced dead from a brain anurism at 38 years of age. Sachiho decided that Pele wanted to keep him as her own.

Sachiho returned to Hawaii Island a year later for a memorial service at the largest Buddhist temple in Hilo. Several dozen of Donto’s fans flew over from Japan for the service, which featured a musical performance by Sachiho’s all woman trance music band, Amana.

In between the times I recorded Music from Living on the Earth (January 2000) and Living in Hawaii Style (spring 2001) at Seawest Studio in Pahoa, Hawaii, Sachiho recorded a CD there with a world beat band, saw owner/engineer Rick Keefer’s copy of Music from Living on the Earth and recognized the cover of Living on the Earth. “Oh!” she exclaimed, “Very famous book!” Rick put us in touch by email, and the next thing I knew, I was organizing a Hawaii Island concert tour for Amana to follow the memorial service for Donto in Hilo. I had worked hard on the publicity, and we had large, enthusiastic crowds at every show.

Hiromi, the percussionist, also invited Toshi and Masaha, the members of her other band, Dinkadunk, to play between Amana’s sets. Hiromi learned to drum in Africa (and her daughter is half Zimbabwean).

Yoko Nema sings and plays instruments from India, where she goes often to study Indian music and buy merchandise for Tata Bazaar, her gift store in Naha, Okinawa.

About a dozen of Donto’s fans followed us from venue to venue, attending every concert. A couple of them brought their copies of Living on the Earth (Japanese edition) for me to sign. One night I performed one of my autobiographical story shows, and Toshi, whose interpreting skills are excellent, translated my entire show into Japanese for Donto’s fans as I was telling it.

The three band members all brought along their beautiful, happy, elementary school age children, who never squabbled, screamed demands, complained they were bored, or refused to eat what they were served. For an entire week I observed these amazing children, harmoniously playing together or quietly playing alone, utterly unlike almost every single child I’d ever met in the USA.

The band and their families stayed in a big rental home near the oceanfront volcanic warm ponds in lower Puna. When we traveled to the other side of the island, we camped out with friends of mine who have a botanical garden in Captain Cook. We had as much fun as friends can have together in a week’s time, making music together, laughing, sharing stories and meals.

I am looking forward to traveling with Sachiho and her band again in Japan some day!

The Gospel Truth

On November 20, 2005, at the recording studio of Scott Fraser in the Mount Washington district of Los Angeles, an amazing collection of musical minds collaborated in recording of my three original gospel style songs, “Doctor Sun and Nurse Water,” “Sometimes It Takes a Long Time” and “Love, Understanding and Peace,” for my CD, What LivingÂ’s All About, due for release in May 2006. Artist/photographer Hoshi Hana took all of these photos, except the ones of Scott and of Mari, which I took.

First, meet Jessica Williams, red hot rhythm and blues singer and leader of one of the choirs at the Greater Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church. She hired the other singers, participated in creating the arrangements, and hired the pianist, Reverend Harold Pittman, minister of music at the same church. Her fabulous improvised vocal solos grace both “Doctor Sun and Nurse Water” and “Sometimes It Takes a Long Time,” and she delivered a fierce and tender oration on “America the Blues.”

JessicaÂ’s choir on my CD includes her daughter, Vetia Richardson, and her friend Irene Cathaway, with whom she sings backup for Connie Stevens. We recorded the singers five times on each song to create the sound of a full choir.

JessicaÂ’s gospel keyboard specialist, Reverend Harold Pittman.

Our bass player, Kevin OÂ’Neal.

Our drummer, David Anderson.

Here I am, wailing with the band.

Ron Grant, my co-producer, works as a film composer. He made all of the music charts for the songs, collaborated on the arrangements and instrumentation, and sometimes conducted the choir.  He’s got an Oscar and an Emmy on his shelf.

Scott Fraser, recording engineer and live audio engineer for the Kronos Quartet, worked with all of us from a viewpoint both technical and compassionate. Scott was nominated for a Grammy in 2006 for a recording he co-produced.

Our intrepid photographer, Hoshi Hana, creator of spiritually inspired photocollages and other amazing artworks.

Mixing and Mastering

This week Scott Fraser and I finished mixing and mastering my jazz and blues CD, What Living’s All About. This is my third CD, but the first one I’ve participated in mixing. I found it not at all tedious (as I’d often heard), but, rather, really quite fascinating, probably because it’s typical of the intensely focussed, slow, painstaking, detail-oriented actions that are part of creating all kinds of art, even forms that appear spontaneous.

We listened to each instrument and voice separately and in combination, looking for “clams” to fix (not so difficult with today’s Photoshop-like digital recording programs). We adjusted volume between the instruments so that each was easy to hear in its moment to shine and each blended with the others without being hidden when someone else was in the spotlight.

In Scott’s studio, the trap drums get five microphones creating five sound tracks that have to be balanced with each other first, before the drums as a group can be balanced with the other instruments. Bass is next, balancing a track from the pickup on the instrument and a microphone on a stand nearby. The piano gets two microphones, both inside the piano, one pointed somewhat toward the bass end of the keyboard and the other pointed more toward the treble. And so forth, with the lead vocal worked on last.

The mastering process balances the volume levels of the songs, so that none are suddenly much louder or much softer than the rest of the collection. Also we listened for just the right amount of silence between the songs.