Phyllis Diller is 94. Carol Channing will be 91 at the end of January. Betty White is 90. Carol Burnett and Joan Rivers (the first female comedian admitted to the famous Friar’s Club) are 78. Mary Tyler Moore is 75. Lily Tomlin is 72. It’s hard to imagine that this country’s funniest women have become not only icons, but grand matriarchs of comedy. These women have made us laugh on radio and television, in film, and in concert time and again.
I first remember seeing Phyllis Diller on television in the 1960s. I resonated with her self-deprecating humor, huge ribald laughter, and crabby reflections on her life with imaginary husband, Fang. Little did I know that we shared a birthday of July 17. Not the same year, of course, but the day was enough for me. Then in the early 1970s, I saw Lily Tomlin in concert. What an amazing ride that was as she shared Edith Ann, Ernestine the Telephone Operator, and Mrs. Judith Beasley with us. I was transported with each new character that arrived on stage.
After Ms. Tomlin left the stage, my father dragged my brother, David, and me across the stage to the dressing room door to say hello to Ms. Tomlin. We were first in line because of Dad’s audacity. As Ms. Tomlin opened the door, she smiled at David and me, and said a gracious hello. In a fit of certain insanity, I broke into Ernestine’s voice and said, “A gracious good evening, Miss Tomlin. We truly enjoyed your show. *snort snort*”
Ms. Tomlin roared with laughter. Dad and David were not as amused. They looked simply mortified watching their 11-year-old son and brother putting the fingers of his right hand down his shirt, and the fingers of his left hand to his ear, intermittently puffing his hair mimicking what he had just seen Ms. Tomlin do. We got her autograph and started walking down the hallway in what should have been a walk of shame. The audience members lined up behind us giggled and pointed. Suddenly, they broke out in applause. I knew this would be a moment that would live in my heart forever.
Last year, I wrote to Ms. Tomlin celebrating her birthday to share this memory with her. She wrote back through her manager and invited my husband, David, and I to her show in March as her guests, with full backstage privileges. This invitation came with the caveat that Ms. Tomlin hopes I reprise my performance for her these 40-plus years later. We’re going.
Many people have memories equally as dazzling as mine because these women chose to share their enormous gifts with us. Could trailblazers such as Sophie Tucker (January 13, 1886 – February 9, 1966) , Fannie Brice (October 29, 1891 – May 29, 1951), Moms Mabley (March 19, 1894 – May 23, 1975), Lucille Ball (August 6, 1911 – April 26, 1989) and their ilk have realized what they were starting? They paved the way for our current and upcoming grande dames of delight! Through jokes, skits, and bawdy songs, these women took risks that were less common in that era. They dared to say unladylike things, at least by the standards of the day. They laughed with the big boys, even while remaining vastly outnumbered. Even today, if one looks at any random list of comedians, one finds the ratio of women to men about 1:20.
Now, the Bette Midlers, Whoopi Goldbergs, and Ellen Degenereses are already making room for the Kathy Griffins, Chelsea Handlers, and Wanda Sykeses, and others of the newer generation of funny ladies. They definitely have huge pumps to fill.
The elder stateswomen of giggles perpetuate their legacy of guffaws still in concerts, appearances, and red carpet photos. We have the pleasure of knowing that there are those who are moving ahead of a younger generation as well, learning from the dynamic mothers of comedy. We can securely know that our laughter remains in good hands.
Thank you women of laughter. We value your presence in our lives and celebrate your creativity, daring, and willingness to tell the truth in the funniest ways possible! Brava diva, one and all!
To honor these performers, my company, Sacramento Vocal Music, will produce a show of all comedy music entitled, “Grins, Giggles, and Grace Notes,” at the Woodland Opera House. The show on June 15, 2012, will feature my vocal students performing funny songs and standard pieces created to be funny. I hope that our Matriarchs of Mirth would be proud!
When I was a young parent, my children would go outside to play with the other neighbor children. Although we might be inside, we would always be aware of where our children were, what they were doing, and with whom they were playing. As they grew up, we watched them become more curious, more adventuresome, more outgoing, and even more timid in some cases. They were forming their personalities into the people they would become as adults. As a more mature adult, I find myself continuing to do the same thing, only with new eyes.
I started my venture into music in February 1969. At this point, I’m an old hand in the industries of music, theater, and business. Now, I am beginning to see the up-and-comers starting to develop. Perhaps because I’ve crossed the 40-year mark, I am not so focused on my own success, but rather prepared to lend a hand, if invited, to those who will take my place when I retire, after creating their own place with their work. It’s not just in music, though. It’s also in the arena of personal growth.
The beginning of my new attention began almost imperceptibly. Glimpses of talent, tenacity, intelligence, and creativity caught my peripheral vision. These young upstarts started showing some real gifts. At first, I smiled paternally at the young whippersnappers as they started showing their mettle. Slowly, my focus changed. I’m now taking an interest as a mentor as they become my peers, working with great alacrity in my industry. Their sense of innovation, fearlessness, and indefatigability become a constant source of amazement.
Was I like this as a younger actor, musician, singer, conductor? Perhaps. I certainly did not see myself in the same way as I perceive these vital young people. I do recall, though, those who took the time to guide me through my growth. It appears it’s my turn to offer that support as our youthful invigorati, if you will allow me a new word, start building their curriculum vitae. The lines in my face are like directional arrows pointing toward extended experience to which some of these newer adults gravitate. It’s like that for everyone I suspect.
So, in the same way as I did for the young ones in the neighborhood 35 years ago, I again am keeping an eye out in case I am needed by a budding musician, a neophyte writer, or simply someone who is searching for his or her identity. I still turn to my elders for their wisdom because I’m not done yet. I still need guidance sometimes; only now, I live on both sides of that line. As I contemplate this topic, I believe I care for our developing success stories because once upon a time, someone else helped me achieve mine.
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When my friend, Rick Gott (who would hate the title of this blog, certainly insisting, “This is all of ours”), first told me about his web-based television series, “Dark Pool,” I instinctively knew he would find success with this project. I don’t mean the contemporary view of success, fame and fortune, which also may come; no, I mean the success of his true intention. Rick intended to create a vibrant environment wherein his students, both past and present, would join with seasoned professionals to create a project that would transform how people viewed watching television.
“Dark Pool” is about a man, Jim Krall, who discovers his daughter is kidnapped at her sixth birthday party. The bizarre aspect is that no one, not even his wife, seems the least bit concerned, and for very ominous reasons. His search for his daughter leads him to DNA manipulation, string theory, and the underbelly of national finance. Not only are these topics timely, but the script and series, I’m certain, will be dynamic.
I haven’t seen any part of it, except for the brief scenes I was in as an extra on the set, but I know Rick. I’ve known Rick since the early 1990s when he was a well-respected actor in local Sacramento theater. Ten years later, we ended up teaching together for eight years at Natomas Charter School Performing and Fine Arts Academy; he in acting, and me in vocal music. We collaborated on musicals and projects together. After 20 years of knowing this man, I am certain that he has inspired everyone around him to achieve at the highest levels they’ve probably ever accomplished. That’s just the effect Rick has on people.
The inspiration for this project was the suicide of one of Rick’s beloved students, Sam. Sam was a deeply talented young man. He was gracious, thoughtful, and intelligent. At only 18, though, he must have felt very much alone and directionless, and as too often happens in our country, he took his own life.
Rick decided that talented people like Sam had to have more in their lives than time to contemplate their own deaths. They needed to be in the middle of life, so as is Rick’s way, he took the bull by the horns and created just that type of environment. He and his amazingly talented wife, and theatrical artist in her own right, Karen Pollard, along with an ever-increasing team of vitally talented professionals in the field of video and film production, came together to mentor our young local artists in this project. The feedback I’ve gotten from those with whom I stay in contact has been nothing less than radiant in praise for this project and Rick, Karen, and the team.
Today, October 13, 2011, “Dark Pool” premieres on YouTube. Mark my words, it will be a magnificent success. It necessarily has to be because Rick is driving the train, and the cargo on board is full of love, right intention, and padded with the support of the best Sacramento has to offer.
Good luck, Rick! I know you won’t need it, but Good Luck, anyway!
Author’s Note: I just watched the first two episodes. Wow!
Update: As of February 17, 2012, the Dark Pool YouTube channel has had more than 15,000 hits in just a few weeks. Viewers are discovering what quality web-based filmmaking is all about!
When it is cold, people spend more time indoors. As they gather, music seems to play a vital role in their quiet time, celebrations, and family cultures. As Chanukah has passed and Christmas approaches, I’ve thought about this quite a bit. My question is, why is music so important to many of us at this time of year?
Higher level animals make sounds as part of their communication systems. These emanations are warnings, calls to their families and potential mates, and serve as locators. Human beings developed the ability to create organized sounds through speech, and the rhythms became an important part of their communication process as well. There must have been something intensely satisfying to the first humanoids to insist on recreating these sounds.
Take a moment to close your eyes. Breathe deeply. Now, hum a little bit. Do you feel it rumble in your chest, right near your heart? Now, hum your favorite song for a few bars. Are you transported to a higher level of happiness as you do this? Most of us are. These sounds surround our heart, fill our chests, and heighten our minds awareness. They cause our bodies to produce a chemical reaction that gives us pleasure.
When we join together to sing or listen to music, the collective happiness grows exponentially. Our voices, hearts, and ears are working together to unite us and remind us of the precious gifts we have. If we do the same things we did earlier, only together, we will see how much better it can be. Take someone you love, hold them, close your eyes, and hum a song you like together. The intimacy is intense; the joy fulfilling.
During the holidays, we raise our voices together in celebration of God’s promise and His gifts. As the Festival of Lights shows us, we are sustained here on Earth through the miracles of resources we never imagined possible. In Christmas, we find the birth of unimaginable love. In one another, we are reminded of the same gifts.
So, this holiday season, join together to sing or listen to music. Remember the hum of your heart and spirit as the music envelopes you. May God bless you and keep you and your loved ones happy and safe this holiday season and throughout the coming new year.
There are few things in this world that touch me more personally than hearing about the possibility of a library closing, especially in a town that I love so much as Woodland. The shock I felt at hearing the Woodland Public Library might die was devastating.
My mother was a librarian, not only by vocation but by avocation. Books, to her, were a refuge. When she would read, it was nearly impossible to talk with her because she would be so lost in her story. She taught me to love books as well, as is in evidence on the shelves that line my office.
When she died, I cried the day a plaque in her honor went up on the Dunsmuir Library wall. It was beautiful, not only because my mother was recognized for her years of service, but because it was in her library where she loved going.
Woodland, California, is a wonderful town in which I spend a great deal of time. As the consulting music director for the Woodland Opera House, steps away from the Woodland Public Library, I understand the value of history, both my own and of incredible places like the Opera House and the public library.
Since the threat to this amazing source of education, literature, and enlightenment has burgeoned, everyone has learned that this facility has operated without exception since 1891 with a minimum of 40 1/2 hours per week of service, even through the Great Depression. This remarkable truth is significant because no other library in California can claim that tenacity. It was the citizens of Woodland who made that happen for these nearly 120 years.
We know, too, that it is the oldest Carnegie Library in California continuously operated as a public library. What does that mean?
A library was granted money by Scottish-American philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie, of Carnegie Hall and Carnegie Steel (U.S. Steel) fame, if the library adhered to the Carnegie formula. This formula included very specific criteria, including that the city must:
- demonstrate a need for a public library;
- provide the building site;
- annually provide ten percent of the library’s construction to support its operation; and
- provide free service to all.
Woodland has been accomplishing this feat since Carnegie’s first grant was given to Woodland in 1903. Now, however, the collection of more than 100,000 books and other materials, valued at $5 million is at risk of going the way of the dinosaurs.
This is my greatest fear. With the advent of mass media, including television, movies, and the internet, we are seeing the relinquishment of our reading skills, and more importantly our love of reading, through neglect. Sadly, the closure of Woodland Public Library may be a reflection of our developing patterns of literary neglect in the United States.
Citizens of Woodland have an option, though. This coming Tuesday, June 8, 2010, residents will be able to vote on two measure to keep the library open. A Yes on S vote in tandem with a Yes on V vote will provide the action necessary to save our beloved library.
Yes, it’s a sales tax, but it’s a mere quarter per one hundred dollars. A quarter. 25¢. In this age of financial woes, it’s understandable that some may have their questions whether there should be another tax.
The real question is, to save those 25 cents, are the wonderful people of Woodland unable to help the library avoid:
- cutting the adult literacy program by 42 percent, displacing it from its current location?
- allowing their children to have their 7,200 homework assistance requests unanswered?
- shutting the door on the 800-1,000 daily visitors?
- discontinuing the 31,000 opportunities the community is provided to use the library computers?
- turning away from the library doors over half the population of Woodland who hold the 29,240 library cards ?
- not being available to serve the 5,000 attendees at 175 different library programs?
My brother was born in Woodland. I have felt like an honored guest here for over 12 years. This is my second home. I feel an obligation to speak up about this possibly sad end to a dynamic and honored institution.
On election day, please Vote Yes on S and Vote Yes on V to save the Woodland Public Library.
Honestly, it’s a quarter. Our community’s education is worth so much more than that.
Thank you for sharing your voice on June 8 in support of the Woodland Public Library.
Author’s Note: Since the first posting of this blog, I have been notified that another Carnegie Library in Port Angeles, Washington, as well as my mother’s library in Dunsmuir, California, are also facing the same threat as the Woodland Public Library. It’s not a good day.
(2010) Friends to Friends, Woodland Public Library.
(2010) Retrieved from http://www.carnegie-libraries.org/
(2010) Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carnegie_library
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Kelly Clarkson. Ruben Studdard. Fantasia Barrino. Carrie Underwood. Taylor Hicks. Jordin Sparks. David Cook. Kris Allen. These are the winners of the last nine seasons of American Idol.
Unless one has been living in an alternate universe, everyone in the United States of America has heard of American Idol, the television show where people between 16 and 29 vie for a recording contract, automobile, and a variety of other prizes and cash. They sing their little hearts out every week until, finally, one person is selected as that season’s American Idol.
Clarkson, Barrino, and Underwood are the only three winners who have become actual stars. Others contestants, including Clay Aiken, Jennifer Hudson, Chris Daughtry, and Adam Lambert have moved forward in their careers in huge ways; however, the other winners have had moderate to little success along the way.
All this is to say, here we are again. Next week we will see another person crowned as Season 10’s American Idol. The two contestants are Lee DeWyze and Crystal Bowersox. Both are unique and powerful personalities… sort of.
As a vocal director and music instructor, I would like to take a minute to look at each of them as performers and to address their vocal qualities.
Lee DeWyze is an enigma. He seems to have very little self-confidence; yet, there is something I intuitively sense about his ability to manipulate the public with his humble persona. DeWyze never seems to find a comfort zone with his music. It’s almost as though he is afraid we will discover his vocal skills really aren’t that good. His gravely voice clearly will not last beyond two or three more years. He will most likely develop nodes on his vocal cords and require surgery. His inability to stabilize his pitches without sounding like sandpaper on metal makes very little sense for him to win. This is not the end of the story, though.
Crystal Bowersox is a powerhouse, internally and vocally. She has an understanding of her craft that belie her 24 years on this planet. Her self-assured defiance of some of the judges recommendations have served her well. She continues to make the right choices week after week. The clarity of her sound and her understanding of her vocal instrument ensures many years of successful singing ahead of her.
Most importantly, she seems to know exactly who she is as a person. She makes no excuses for her methodical analysis of what is happening around her. She is a thoughtful person focused on growth, manifesting her art, and taking care of her family.
With regard to her presentation, it cannot be understated how important pulling her look together is going to be on a global stage. She must get her teeth repaired and if she is going to continue to maintain her hair in dreadlocks, she should use more colorful elements, such as scarves and jewelry to create a more finished look. This, however, is just dressing because her art is where her strength is. Let there be no misunderstanding – she is an artist. Lee DeWyze – not so much.
The likelihood is that Lee will win American Idol. He is being perceived as a smoldering sex symbol in the mold of James Dean of yesteryear, and it is this alone that is moving him toward winning this competition. If all is right in the Universe, however, Crystal will win. She deserves to be on top.
In this case, I can only hope my view into my crystal ball is wrong and Crystal will win. I know I’m going to vote next week.
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Students are funny little animals. They burrow into your heart for a while and then, when they are ready, they scamper out into the world to make their way on their own.
The best part is, though, sometimes they return to visit.
Since beginning my classroom teaching, I’ve been blessed to have students who have been with me since seventh grade, graduated, gone to college, and moved onto their own careers. They’ve gotten married, had children, and still, with everything else going on with their lives, they’ve chosen to return to check in on me and to let me know how they’re doing.
I recently closed a show with a former student who is within a month of graduating. When he first came into my class in seventh grade, he was a scrawny little kid with big eyes, more energy than an electric company is allowed to store, and a vivacity that is unmatched.
For his senior project, he decided to do a benefit for the Sacramento Ballet. He pulled together a gaggle of singers-dancers-actors to create a revue. His cast was phenomenal.
Every senior in his program is supposed to have a mentor in his process. Originally, Alex Stewart, my former student, had chosen a very talented young man with whom to work. For reasons not clearly understood, this fellow had to attend to his own family business out of town, leaving Alex to find another person to fill that role for him.
Although I had stopped teaching at his school, he decided to call me to ask if I would mentor him and music direct the show. I was between shows and I knew some of the cast he had selected, so I was more than willing to donate a bit of time to Alex and toward a worthy cause.
Over the six or more weeks I worked with this terrific team, I had the best time and the show was a huge success. Everyone was thrilled, particularly the Executive and Artistic Director of the ballet company, Ron Cunningham. Because of Alex’s work and focus and the determination and talent of his cast, his outstanding show brought in, in ticket sales, concessions, and matching funds, nearly $6,000 in profit to the beneficiary organization.
Alex is 18 years old.
The show, “At the Ballet: A Musical Revue,” was sold out both nights and the reviews were clear raves from every front.
This was an important time for me because I got to work with a very talent former student and his equally matched cast, and also got to be a part of a worthwhile cause. What more can a fellow ask?
My little animal returned to the burrow for a time and warmed my heart once again. Now, he’s focusing on returning to the outside world, ready to take on the theatrical world by storm… and he will!
This morning, I was giving vocal music lessons to my students at the Woodland Opera House. The young ladies range in age from 8 to 16 years old. They are well-disciplined, kind, talented, and very sweet to be around. I feel very fortunate to be invited to watch and participate as these young people grow in their art.
Last week, one of my former high school students and current singing student, Adrian, just went out on a national tour with his friend, Miss Ricky Berger. He’ll be back in a few months. He had taken it upon himself to begin lessons again to improve his performance. He is now ready for this tour.
It got me to thinking about a time when I was in eighth grade. I used to walk past this girl who, every so often, would doodle in her notebook. I’m sure she didn’t think a thing about her flowers, scribbles, and faces, but I loved what she drew. It was in 1972 that I became Shirley’s fan. Over the years, I stood on the sidelines watching my friend finish high school, go to college, get married, and have children. I’ve also seen time pass when her art took a back seat in her life.
Yesterday, I had an opportunity to go to Pacifica, California, to attend Shirley’s art show, “Arts on Fire,” at the Sanchez Art Center. Since her art has returned as a major focus in her life, after her family, of course, she has been amazingly prolific. Her incredible oil painting hung in the show, “Napoleon House,” was based on a particular moment in a restaurant in New Orleans, Louisiana, when she and her husband were there on vacation.
The actual building, Napoleon House, was constructed as a place for Napoleon Bonaparte to live in the United States after he would have fled France; however, he died before he could ever see his American domicile.
In addition to the tantalizing history, Shirley Manfredi’s painting is stunning.
Although I was never too effusive directly to Shirley about her art when we were young, because she would just laugh and look confused at my appreciation for her creativity, I did, on occasion make a comment or two. It was the best feeling to congratulate her yesterday when she realized she was awarded a Juror’s Special Mention in the show.
Shirley’s sister, Sharon, who is the godmother to all my children and a beloved aunt, and my husband, David, were in attendance, as well. Shirley’s husband, Louis, and their children could not be there, unfortunately.
It’s starting all over, I suppose. It’s 2010 and I’m beginning to watch a third generation begin their artistic process. It’s an awesome place to be, to be quite frank.
To be in Woodland to see my students successfully audition for “Les Miserables – Student Edition” a couple of weeks ago, at Adrian’s last concert in Sacramento for a while last Saturday, and Pacifica for Shirley’s show on Friday, really put my participation in art in perspective. I think, in many ways, I’m a cheerleader, of sorts. I smile, offer my thoughts when invited to do so, and cheer when the accolades arrive for these students of various art forms. Some may believe I have more to do with my students success than I do.
As I tell them so often, “I can talk until I’m blue in the face, but if you don’t do the work, then I’m just spouting hot air. My job is just to share some thoughts and, then, watch art grow.”
After years of teaching voice privately or in a school setting, I’m taking my lessons on the road, as it were.
I’ve been joyfully affiliated with Woodland Opera House for twelve years and finally, I’m beginning vocal classes there. It’s exciting to have yet another part of my life experience melded with this 100-plus-year-old theatre.
As I’ve been preparing for my classes, I’ve been wondering why some people are afraid to sing. Could it be because as the breath of sound begins, it resonates with one’s heart? As this intimate expression of our feelings and art exits our bodies, it doesn’t stop until it finds its way to another’s heart. I suppose to some, this might be fear-inducing; however, not to me.
This truth is simultaneously intimate and grand.
The fear that we may feel is like a pain when we’ve been injured. They are both simply messages to our brains that we have work to do to make things right. Because fear and creativity cannot co-exist, we know that once we get beyond that fear, we have every opportunity to grow creatively and emotionally, and some would say, spiritually, through our art.
If you are interested in participating or simply want more information check out my Facebook page for these lessons, James Glica-Hernandez @ Woodland Opera House.
Group lessons are on Thursdays at 6:00 PM.
Individual lessons are on Saturdays between 9:00 AM and 2:00 PM.
I also teach privately from my home in the West Natomas area of Sacramento, California on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
I look forward to hearing your voice.
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When we began our vocal lessons, my student had a challenging history with singing. During the first show he had ever done, he was asked not to sing out loud, but to simply lip synch the words, because he didn’t appear to be able to carry a tune.
He came into my current show late, and unfortunately, his mind still replayed those old tapes he had learned in his previous experience. He arrived at my home to catch up on all the music in the show and his mother warned me about this fifteen year old’s challenge with pitch.
After about twenty minutes, he not only sang in excellent pitch, but could remember everything I’d taught him after only one or two times listening to what I was modeling.
I’ve never thought of myself as a great teacher. I honestly don’t think I am. I’m good, I suspect, but not great. What I can do, however, is give people reminders of what they already know how to do. I’m a great piece of reference material.
“When you speak, does your voice go all over the place like an out of control rollercoaster? No. That’s because you can hear pitch well enough to modulate your voice appropriately.”
That’s all he needed. When he realized that he’d been using his listening skills to hear pitch for his entire life, the rest was cake.
I just got a call from the director of a show at the theatre where I work most often. My student was recognized for having one of the best voices of the young men who auditioned. They were stunned with his progress.
I reminded the director that it was my student’s work that got him to that point in only a few months. He’d chosen to utilize the skills he already had in a new way. The benefit for him… and the theatre… is that his work paid off.
I am very grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to work with wonderful young people who are at various levels of security. Certainly, there is a talent differential to be considered, but what I’m learning is that if they have permission to succeed, they most often will.
So, here I am basking in the joy of seeing yet another of my students feel his sense of accomplishment. What a great day!