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Before I left my job as associate editor at Kripalu, I had the good fortune to take Claude Stein’s Natural Singer workshop. Below is a piece I wrote about the experience, just printed in the newest Kripalu catalog.

I love singing—in the shower, in the car, around my apartment—always by myself. I hate public speaking. My voice shakes, my hands tremble, my heart races. So, it logically follows that the idea of singing in front of people terrifies me, even in front of really close friends. And yet, somehow, the weekend after Thanksgiving last year, I found myself standing in front of a room of 27 strangers, staring at the floor, trying to find the strength somewhere inside of me to sing the first few lines of “Seasons of Love” from the musical Rent.

I’d gotten to a point in my life where I was sick of letting my fear silence me. In all sorts of ways. So I signed up for Claude Stein’s Natural Singer workshop, something I had always wanted to do but never gotten up the nerve to.

The first night of the workshop, we all sat in a circle, sharing our goals, which ranged from singing karaoke to improving vocal technique to just getting started or getting back into singing again after a long break. We sang simple things together and did warm-ups and exercises to work on tone and projection. You could feel the nerves in the room calm a bit, and excitement and joy begin to bubble up.

Claude urged us to hold on to the reasons we were there. He told us that emotions would naturally come up during the weekend. “Don’t think, just sing,” he said, urging us to let our intention to sing be more powerful than anything else—more powerful than nerves, emotions, fear. Scared? Sing louder. Crying? Sing through the tears. Just keep singing, even if it’s “Row Your Boat” or “la la la.”

That’s how I found myself in front of the room, staring at the floor. I took a deep breath, opened my mouth … and nothing came out. Still looking at the floor, I took another deep breath and then sang my song quietly, hands gripping my pockets for dear life.

Claude has an uncanny ability to know just what to say, just what exercise will get you—and by you, I mean anyone—to loosen up and let it out. He knew my goal was to get past the fear that silences me, so he identified volume as the first thing to tackle. “Volume is the key today—to life, to everything,” he said, which felt so incredibly true for me.

We started with baby steps. Literally. He asked me to take a half-step toward the audience (“I don’t think you could get any further from us unless you opened that window behind you”), and then another half-step. Then I sang about what scares me, to a tune Claude provided. Half of what I sang didn’t even make sense, but I just kept on singing. When I sang that I was scared of looking silly, Claude suggested a new exercise: sing “Seasons of Love” again, only this time with the accent of a Russian from Paris who spent time in Bolivia. When I told him I’m not very good with accents, Claude said, “Perfect!” and sang with me in an accent for the first line or two. It was hilarious. And awesome.

At the end of my time in front of the group, I sang the first lines of “Seasons of Love” one more time—this time looking into the eyes of the people watching me, singing louder, smiling even. I wasn’t shaking; I felt amazing. And I sensed that I could bring this feeling back into my life—this conquering of fear, this getting past silence, this bolstering of self-confidence. Looking around the room, I saw supportive, smiling faces. No one was judging me. One woman said to me afterward, “It’s clear you have so much in there, and we could see it start to come out, and it was beautiful.”

Not only was my time in front of the group amazing, but witnessing everyone else was, too—seeing myself in others, watching people work through what came up for them, appreciating their strength and talent. Recognizing how far each of us came in our own particular ways, in such a short time, was awe-inspiring, and left me wondering what it is that silences all of us. We have things to say. We have things to sing.

Jessica L. Atcheson is a writer and editor whose work has been published in regional newspapers and online. Formerly Associate Editor at Kripalu, she now works as a writer/editor at the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

© Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health. All rights reserved. Originally published in Summer 2010 issue of the Kripalu catalog. Reprinted with permission.

Whenever I’ve come across buskers on the red or orange line, their music has eerily reflected my state of mind or emotion. Is it just coincedence? Projection? Either way, it’s kind of delightful. Fabulously, bittersweetly delightful.

Pete Seeger Postcard

Know who “Old Pete” is? Then you know how happy this still makes me.

Club Passim

Club Passim is a legendary folk-music venue that's been around for more than 50 years.

Now that I’m settling into Boston, I’m totally excited about all of the things there are to explore, whether it’s museums, lectures, films, workshops—or live music. One place that I already loved before moving here was Club Passim, a great folk-music venue in Harvard Square, where I saw Girlyman last year. I’ve already been back there twice since I’ve moved in, thanks to the generous welcome of an awesome friend. Seeing Jeffrey Foucault on February 6 followed by Kris Delmhorst 11 on February made my head want to explode (in the best kind of way) in contemplation of the fact that they’re married and all of that amazing talent—the distinct enchanting quality of their voices and the richness of their songwriting—lives in one family, one home.

So why do I love Club Passim?

  • Such a great number of artists I love play there (and yes, I’m seeing Girlyman there again when they play in March).
  • It’s tiny and feels like a cozy community of music lovers.
  • They have a music school (their big official name is Passim Folk Music and Cultural Center), where you can take music lessons and workshops on the guitar, banjo, ukulele, fiddle, and more.
  • They are also home to Veggie Planet, which serves really delicious food before and during shows (and also does a great Sunday brunch).

Stay tuned for many more things in the Things-I-Love-About-Boston series!

Girlyman (one of my favorite, favorite bands) is on tour again, celebrating their new CD, Everything’s Easy (which I have been enjoying since its release)!

I had the distinct pleasure, honor, and delight of attending their show at the first stop on the tour.

But first, check out their countdown to the new tour:

There were many highlights to the wonderful evening at Infinity Hall in Norfolk, Connecticut (only 25 minutes from Great Barrington—who knew?). Here are a few choice slices of the experience:

  • Ty singing “Hudson” solo, just her, her pink tie, white sneakers, and guitar on stage (“I’m gonna go get a snack,” Nate announced before leaving the stage). Loved it. Plain and simple.
  • The opening band, Po’ Girl, was great (loved the accordion, the banjo, the xylophone), lots of fun. But most notably, their drummer, JJ Jones, (who accompanied Girlyman for a big chunk of their set) is a phenomenon in the best kind of way. She plays the drums with her whole body, with a truly unique and rocking style, and it makes me smile and want to be her friend.
  • Girlyman banter, always a delight. Included impressions of Beaker from the Muppets, a musical therapy session, and a tuning song about Nate’s mind being in the gutter.
  • Po’ Girlyman Son of a Preacher Man finale.
  • The sweet couple—a woman and man in their 50s, both school teachers, who had driven two hours on a school night for the show—who sat next to me and chatted about how much they love Girlyman and Dar Williams.
  • Talked briefly to Ty, Doris, and Nate afterward, admitted that it was my eighth show. They’re all adorable and sweet.
  • Beautiful, beautiful venue. I really enjoyed being led to my seat in the sixth row even though I chose the cheapest ticket price (definitely sat there for a few minutes thinking I would get kicked out once a mistake was discovered). Apparently, as the guy sitting next to me was telling me, it used to be an old town hall meeting house, and last year it was restored and renovated into this beautiful high-ceilinged, polished-wood, acoustically awesome, warm, welcoming space. And there’s a great restaurant there, too, I’m told. Can’t wait to check it out again soon.

It was a fantastic night. Never fail, Girlyman—their music, their shows, their presence, their certain ineffable girlyman-ness—just makes me really happy. So, a most genuine of thank yous to them.

Their (not in order, as best as I can remember) set list from the night:

  • Easy Bake Ovens
  • Joyful Sign
  • Viola
  • Could Have Guessed
  • Moose in the Road
  • Amaze Me
  • Reva Thereafter
  • Everything’s Easy
  • Hudson
  • Trees Still Bend
  • Through to Sunrise
  • Say Goodbye
  • Young James Dean
  • Tell Me There’s a Reason
  • My Eyes Get Misty
  • Son of a Preacher Man

(As I typed up this list, I started putting an asterisk by my favorites from the evening, but then it was over half of them, and then I started double-asterisking the favorite favorites, and then it was just out of control, so I deleted them all.)

Be sure to check them out sometime during the rest of their tour!

This past week was the first annual Word X Word Festival in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, organized by Jim Benson of Mission and his crew. Five nights to celebrate and experience words, written, spoken, and sung. Such a genius idea, so well pulled off.

Shira Erlichman

Shira Erlichman

The first of two spoken word events I had the chance to check out featured the multitalented Shira Erlichman—poet, musician, and artist. My friend Angela, who booked her for Take Back the Night in Amherst, told me that I would love her work, and she was spot on with that prediction. My take: Shira’s awesomely inimitable voice, rhythm, words, and presence speak to the richness of life. From charmingly playful to honestly serious, she is powerful, she is delightful, she is fiery. She leaves you wanting more (upon encore, she asked the audience if we’d rather hear another poem or another song; we replied, “both!” and she graced us with just that). While I’ve only gotten a small taste of her work, I can most certainly tell you this: she totally rocks.

And she’s even so cool as to have answered a few of my questions over e-mail—you, too, will be captivated.

What are some of your favorite words? (Me, I’m a big fan of inimitable, querulous, and weltschmerz.)

Shira: In linguistics class my freshman year of college, we studied compound words, and my life was changed. Compound words take the cake. Hopscotch, eyelash, see-saw, hammerhead. I love the minds that thought: one word is not enough! Let’s use two! Highrise, see-saw, chill-pill—they are tiny poems. Once you start to notice them, they’re everywhere. Following close behind compounds are: float, sink, sift, rub, sweep—words that somehow sound like the movement they signify.

Two things that make you happy and two things that make you angry?

Shira: Two things that make me happy are my girlfriend and riding a longboard. Two things that make me angry are not understanding my feelings and not understanding computers.

What do you hope people take away from experiencing your work?

Shira: At times, especially with sad pieces, or awkward pieces, or confused pieces, I hope they sense that someone else has gone through what they have gone through—that they feel connected, to themselves, to me, and to the other people in the room sharing the experience. On the other side, the laughing side, the silly side, the poems and songs that walk on that dock, I hope they feel lifted from the fog or sadness they’ve felt, that the song rubs the mud off their shoes, that they laugh. I hope the work opens a window they didn’t know was there. Perhaps they thought it was a brick wall. Perhaps the window suddenly floats over an ocean inside them. Most of all, I hope people leave feeling less alone.

Random factoid about one of your songs or poems?

Shira: I wrote the song “Bronze” in poet Jon Sand’s parents’ house in Ohio while on tour. “Your Life is a Kaleidoscope” was written on the way to and from the bathroom. “Daddy’s Parking Lot Sermon” came out in one sitting, almost 100% as it is now. The first line of “Power Out” (“Our TV medicine is dead, dead, dead!”) is the title of a song by my brother, Shai Erlichman.

Who do you think totally rocks?

Shira: I think The Whitehaus in Jamaica Plain, MA, totally rocks. Kate Bush totally rocks. Devoted and passionate teachers totally rock. The Cantab Lounge audience in Cambridge, MA, totally and completely rock. They do not hold back, they want you to win, they root for world peace—the ultimate ability to rock. People like that totally rock.

Where can we see you perform next?

Shira: From mid-September to late November, you can see me perform with nationally touring Elephant Engine High Dive Revival. Specific dates will be up this month at www.myspace.com/elephantengine. You can also check out my website www.shiraerlichman.com for dates for this tour and beyond.

* * * * *

A prediction of my own: you’ll want to listen to the video above many times over.

Oh, and she plays the ukulele, too. That’s just cool.

Big thanks to her for being awesome, in myriad ways.

More on the other Word X Word performance I attended, featuring spoken word poet Alix Olson, to come.

Whenever I look at this photo of me when I was little:

When I Was a Boy

I played horseshoes.

I think of this song (“When I Was a Boy,” by Dar Williams):

If you’ve never heard this amazing harmonizing folk-pop trio, then you don’t know what you’re missing. Girlyman is made up of Ty Greenstein, Nate Borofsky, and Doris Muramatsu—and they are delightfully bewitching. They also have the best and most charming stage banter I’ve ever heard—from one-of-a-kind tuning songs to stories about seagull attacks. I spend as much time laughing while I’m at a Girlyman show as I do fawning over Ty from afar (a lot).

My friend Angela and I first saw them when they opened for Dar Williams at the Calvin in Northampton in 2005. Since then, there’s been many a show in many a venue: a church in Pittsfield, the Pioneer Arts Center of Easthampton (PACE), the Iron Horse in Northampton, and Club Passim in Boston. I think I’m up to seven shows total. And there will definitely be more.

I got their new album, Everything’s Easy, in the mail a few weeks ago (yes, I preordered it; I just can’t help myself).

Everything's Easy—signed, sealed, delivered.

Everything's Easy—signed, sealed, delivered.

My current favorites from this CD: Could Have Guessed, Storms Were Mine, Somewhere Different Now, My Eyes Get Misty.

Another cool thing about the new album: the liner notes.

Yes, that's my name in the liner notes! Yes, I'm goofily excited by this.

Yes, that's my name in the liner notes! Yes, I'm goofily excited by this.

If you’re looking for other songs of theirs to check out, while I would say check them all out, here’s an incomplete list of my perennial favorites (from all of their CDs): The Shape I Found You In, Easy Pearls, Young James Dean, Speechless, Amaze Me, Joyful Sign, Through to Sunrise. Oh! And they do awesome covers, too, like All Through the Night, Angel of the Morning, and Son of a Preacher Man.

Me, Ty, Nate, Doris, and Angela after the PACE show

Me, Ty, Nate, Doris, and Angela after PACE show

Last night, following a delightful afternoon of Harry Potter and wandering around, I saw Kris Delmhorst—an amazing artist with indie-folk-bluegrass roots, and one of my very favorite musicians—at Mission with my friends Angela and Nate. Kris plus the intimacy of Mission, their delicious food, and awesome company was a perfect combination.

The title of this post comes from her song “Early Everlasting,” from Horses Swimming (the title is a reference to how her fingers look playing the guitar), which I could listen to (and do) over and over again. Her mellifluous voice is enchanting, and her songs speak to the range of life—bittersweetness and just plain sweetness, yearning, journeys, connection, and all sorts more.

Some songs I love that she played last night: Early Everlasting, Mean Old Wind, Words Fail You, Open Road.
Would love to hear next time: Made of Time, Moscow Song, Weatherman, Red Herring, Yellow Brick Road, Strange Conversation.

Angela and I couldn’t resist chatting her up a bit after the show and posing for a grainy and slightly out-of-focus photo.

Angela, Kris Delmhorst, and Me

Angela, Kris Delmhorst, and Me

Big props to Mission for hosting her. They’re up to a lot of great stuff, including the upcoming WordXWord festival that I’m excited to check out (already have my poetry pass purchased).

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