Archive for the ‘Tending The Fire’ Category

Interview With Mezzo-soprano Isola Jones

Thursday, February 25th, 2016

Guest Blogger, Amy Duncan


American mezzo-soprano Isola Jones is a highly acclaimed opera singer who sang at the Metropolitan Opera for 16 seasons (over 500 performances) and has sung with many opera companies throughout the U.S. and abroad. Isola was born in Chicago, and her striking looks reveal her ancestry—African American, Native American (Cherokee) and European.

Isola Jones is best known for her portrayal of Carmen, her signature role, however she also collaborated with James DeMars and wrote an aria for an opera written for her: “Guadalupe, Our Lady of the Roses.” She is an adjunct faculty member at South Mountain Community College, where she shares her gifts with her students. She has earned her Masters and is now pursuing her DMA (Doctor of Musical Arts) from Arizona State University.

Isola recently participated in a recording for Watchfire Music—a collaboration with pianist/composer/arranger and WFM recording artist Deborah Offenhauser, in Deborah’s debut as an orchestra arranger and her first time recording with a vocalist. The album, “Child of God,” illustrates the Creator’s loving embrace for his children, and is the result of several years’ work by Deborah in writing the music and lyrics.


INTERVIEW by Amy Duncan, Guest Blogger — “Tending The Fire”

First of all, I know you’re working on your Doctorate Degree. I would love to hear about that and what made you decide to undertake this at this particular time in your life.

I don’t plan to retire anytime soon and I love the academic environment. Earning a terminal degree (Doctor of Musical Arts) provides me with the necessary credentials to control my future. I received an Honorary Doctorate twenty years ago from Providence College in Rhode Island, but an earned doctorate is the Holy Grail in education.

Second: Tell me a little about the new CD and your experience working with Deborah’s music.

I’ve known Debbie for over twenty years, and when she asked me to

record her music, I was happy to be a part of the project. She was gracious in allowing me to make some changes in the vocal line that better suited my style of singing.

How would you describe your style of singing?

In 1975, I auditioned for Leonard Bernstein who was casting his newest musical, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. He was amazing and charming and I will quote exactly what he said to me: ” You belong in an opera house.”

Tell me about when you first started singing and when and how you realized it was your calling.

 I suppose I’ve always known that I wanted to sing. It wasn’t until I heard Leontyne Price sing on “The Voice of Firestone” television program in the ’60’s that I decided that the opera was my passion (I was eleven years old). Leontyne Price possesses the most beautiful voice on earth!!

Fourteen years later, when I was the mezzo-soprano understudy with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Sir Georg Solti who was conducting the Verdi Requiem (a major orchestral piece with orchestra, chorus and four soloists), I was called in to sing the final dress rehearsal because the guest artist (mezzo) was sick!

When I arrived at Orchestra Hall I was introduced to the other soloists and we began the rehearsal: on my right, Leontyne Price, on my left Luciano Pavarotti and on his left was Welsh bass, Gwynne Howell.

My career began that day! Solti offered me the role and the recording of the part of Mary in the Wagner opera “The Flying Dutchman.” Decca London Records contacted me about performances and a recording of the Gershwin opera “Porgy and Bess” in Cleveland with Lorin Maazel conducting. “Porgy and Bess” won the Grammy that year for Best Opera Recording.

 You’ve had a broad and varied career in opera. Has this been your only love, or have you sung (or wanted to sing) other genres?

 I appreciate all kinds of music, regardless of genre, but I, however prefer to sing classical music because of its supreme beauty and its power to transform both performer and audience.

 Are you happy with the way your career has developed, or is there something else you have wished for or still wish for?

 I love my life and I’m doing what I love to do! I’m singing, teaching and will graduate on May 9, 2016 with a Doctor of Musical Arts degree.

How do you feel about the future of opera, considering the financial challenges many of the arts are facing today?

I believe the answer is in marketing the product (opera) correctly.

I teach in South Phoenix where the musical culture gravitates to hip-hop, rap and mariachi music. For the past eight years I have given classical recitals to raise money for South Mountain Community College’s annual Stars Concert: music scholarship fundraiser.

Five of those eight years, I’ve sung with my students: solo arias, duets and ensembles. In September we performed the opera “Carmen” to a packed house! We posted notices on social media websites and we had gorgeous posters to distribute.

This is all to say that those who work in public relations need to use their imagination and present a compelling reason for the public to come to the theater. If Madonna can be famous, anything is possible!

Do you have any advice for young opera singers just starting out?

 Young singers need to simply sing well! And what does that mean? It means that they need to know and understand the science of singing in order to have excellence and longevity as the voice matures.



Saturday, June 6th, 2015

Guest Blogger, Amy Duncan

One day, when I was working as a music writer for The Christian Science Monitor, I got a call from a representative at Channel 13, New York’s PBS station. He told me that PBS was going to do a Great Performances special and they would like it to be covered by the Monitor.

maxresdefault“You’ll be interviewing Miles Davis,” he said. MILES DAVIS?!! Omigod! I’m gonna meet MILES!! I was flabbergasted, not just because I was actually going to get to meet the man himself, but because I’d heard that Miles never talked to anyone. The PBS guy went on: “You’re to pick up Miles at his apartment on Fifth Avenue and then take him to lunch at the Carlyle Hotel. We’ll send along one of our PR people to go with you. We’ll pick you up on Thursday at 3 p.m.”

OK, I thought. OK, yippee! I’m gonna meet MILES!!

On Thursday a black stretch limo came to pick me up at 3 p.m. on the nose. Angela, the PR rep, was sitting in the back when I climbed in. She was black, classy and no-nonsense. She said, “Listen, Miles will probably give us a hard time, so be prepared.”

I nodded, and guessed that she’d already been through this with some other reporters. The limo driver dropped us off in front of Miles’ building. We spoke to the doorman and told him who we were. He rang up Miles, who said there was no way in h**l he was going to do any da**ed interview.

Miles-Davis-in-1989-006Angela grabbed the phone from the doorman. “Listen Miles. This is the time we set up and you agreed to it.”

I couldn’t hear what Miles was saying on the other end, but whatever it was, it took a long time. Angela looked at me and rolled her eyes.

Finally she said, “OK, OK, Miles, we’ll set it up for another day,” and handed the phone back to the doorman, who smirked.

Angela said she’d call the limo back, but I told her I’d take the subway home. She said she’d phone me to set up a new date. I knew they had to get Miles to cooperate for the TV special, so I went home and waited for her call.

And call she did, the very next day, so we trekked back over to Miles’ place. This time we actually made it up the elevator. Angela knocked on the door. Miles opened it with the chain on and peered out.

“No,” he said.

“What?!” said Angela.

“I said no. No interview.”

Angela put her nose about an inch from his and said, “Listen Miles, you’re f**kin’ with my job. I don’t f**k with your job, so what makes you think you can f**k with mine?”

Miles opened the door.

“OK, you got twenty minutes,” he barked in a gravelly baritone.

Miles was married to Cicely Tyson at that time, and their apartment was a big, open, sprawling, multilevel affair covered with gray carpeting. Cicely was out of town. All around the walls there were clothes racks. Miles’ clothes, which he fondly referred to as “my sh*t,” were hanging on them. These were the many imported outfits he’d had custom made by famous designers from around the world, and he didn’t want to keep them hidden away in any closets. They were on display for all to see, with a big full-length mirror in the middle. I remember when Miles’ album “Tutu” had been released a few months before, with a killer close-up of only his face, Miles’ disgruntled comment to the press was “It doesn’t show my sh*t.”

Angela and I walked in, and I pulled out my tape recorder.

“Ohhh,” groaned Miles when he saw it. I sat down next to him on the sofa and pulled out the mike. He moved back, then got up and walked away. I looked at Angela. She walked over to Miles’ clothes racks and started poking through his clothes.

“Yeah, yeah,” said Miles, perking up a little.

Miles was a style man. When all the other guys his age were still carrying the torch around the arena one more time playing bebop and standards, Miles was forging ahead, setting up rock rhythm sections behind his horn and wearing satin jackets and sequined pants on stage. Even though his trumpet playing never changed much, he still liked to inject it into new settings.

As jazz singer Eddie Jefferson sang in his lyric to Miles’ tune “So What”:

“About the clothes he wears…

his style is in the future…”

Miles was anything but old hat. He said:

“If you’re not keepin’ up with the times, you end up with ‘bell-bottom music.'” He beckoned to me to join him and Angela as they took a closer look at his wardrobe. His jackets and coats were made from exquisite fabrics and leathers, things trimmed with peacock feathers, shimmering with silver and gold threads or sparkling with tiny reflective black studs. He insisted that Angela and I try some things on. I picked a Japanese black suede coat painted with white designs.

“Sh*t, that looks almost as good on you as it does on me.” Miles hoisted up his baggy printed pants around his skinny waist. I was having a ball, but was starting to worry about the interview that I was supposed to be gathering for my editor. I knew I’d never get Miles to sit down and talk into the dumb tape recorder, so I said:

“Miles, I have a ten-piece band with a similar format to Birth of the Cool.” It just slipped out, because I didn’t know what else to say, and I wanted to make some kind of connection with him. Bingo. Miles smiled broadly, and said:

“Yeah, Birth of the Cool, really?”

Birth of the Cool, for those who may not know, was the nine-piece band Miles put together and recorded in 1949-50. It was, along with Gerry Mulligan’s Tentette, one of the bands I’d most admired when I was a kid, and was undoubtedly one of the things that led me to my forming my own mini big band many years later. Miles grabbed my hand and dragged me over to his Yamaha DX7 synthesizer, which was set up alongside the clothes racks where Angela was still busy trying things on.

“Do you wanna take a lesson?” he laughed. He played some chords, and then asked me to play a couple of my tunes. In an instant we turned from an uptight journalist grilling a famous legendary jazz trumpeter into just two musicians swapping ideas. Now that Miles was relaxed and feeling good, I said sheepishly, “Hey Miles, we were supposed to talk about the TV show, remember?”

“I haven’t seen it yet,” said Miles. “I don’t know how the idea came up. They asked me to do it. I probably won’t like it.”

“Why’s that, Miles?”

“Because what you see yourself doin’ doesn’t look the same as you think you look…you know what I mean? I’m not so sure I want to see it right away.”

Actually, when I got a chance to preview the show the next day, I was happy to see Miles looking quite fit, sipping mineral water and eating sugar free candies. His bout a decade before with various health problems, as well as injuries from a car accident, had kept him out of music for more than five years. I asked him about it in our “interview.”

“I was sick,” said Miles. “I was an alcoholic. I used a lot of coke. If I had kept on playin’ I’d be dead.” He told me he hadn’t thought about his music at all during that period, that he’d put it out of his mind, which reminded me of some years before when I’d stopped playing myself and didn’t even listen to music. When he finally did come back, though, he was ready for a fresh, new approach. But some of his fans, and even his colleagues, complained. They wanted the old Miles, the Kind of Blue and Seven Steps to Heaven Miles back again.

“It’s like clothes,” he said, pointing at the racks around the room. “Some people look wrong in these new clothes,” he said. “Music is the same way. I play styles. If it’s reggae, I play reggae. If it’s calypso, I play calypso—I don’t play the blues when I play ‘My Funny Valentine.’ When you play styles, you’ll always be up to date, but…I won’t force one style on top of another style. It’s like wearing a sweater over a tuxedo.”

I was intrigued by these remarks since, to me, his trumpet style hadn’t really changed. But when I stopped to think about it, everything he played fit in perfectly with the backgrounds he chose.

Then he stood up and said, “Look, musicians feel like they haven’t done anything if they don’t feel that ‘yes!’ when they play. That happens when you play off each other.”

Then he waxed philosophical and mused about whether some day it might be possible, by some electronic invention, to extract music from the air, music that had been played at some time in the past but had never been recorded.

“It’s out there somewhere,” he said, scratching his chin.

“How’re your chops, Miles?” I asked, wondering how he’d managed to make his comeback so quickly.

“I’ve finally got my tone back,” he said. “I sometimes hit a high note, but I don’t hit it like a trumpet player who plays high notes—I hit it like ptew!—like that,like a gun.”

He looked at his watch. Over two hours had gone by since Angela and I arrived.

“OK, your twenty minutes are up,” he growled. Then he smiled and kissed me and Angela on the cheek, and we were off. I was much happier with our casual chat than I would have been with a formal interview, and I wrote it up pretty much the way it went down, except for his frequent use of the S-word.

“Wow, I just met Miles Davis!” I thought, grinning from ear to a gun.”

He looked at his watch. Over two hours had gone by since Angela and I arrived.

“OK, your twenty minutes are up,” he growled. Then he smiled and kissed me and Angela on the cheek, and we were off. I was much happier with our casual chat than I would have been with a formal interview, and I wrote it up pretty much the way it went down, except for his frequent use of the S-word.

“Wow, I just met Miles Davis!” I thought, grinning from ear to ear.


This excerpt is from my book Getting Down to Brass Tacks – My Adventures in Jazz, Rio, and Beyond available at

A conversation with Jenny Burton

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

Guest Blogger, Amy Duncan

300x300Jenny Burton is an American singer from New York whose long and successful career has included soul, dance, Gospel, and inspirational music. Her distinctive voice and style have brought her acclaim with several hits on the US Billboard dance chart.

In 1983 Jenny began her solo career with the album In Black and White, which featured the Top 20 single “Remember What You Like” and the club favorites “Players” and “Rock Steady,” all released on Atlantic Records. Another major success came in 1984 with the release of her second self-titled album, featuring the #1 dance hit and #19 R&B single “Bad Habits.”

She also has two gold records from films to her credit—Harry Belafonte’s Beat Street and White Nights starring Gregory Hines and Mikhail Baryshnikov.

In the 1990s, Jenny took a new direction as an inspirational artist, with her own band and group The Jenny Burton Experience, which had a standing room only 7-year run at the New York venue Don’t Tell Mama, and opened for Stevie Wonder at Lincoln Center

Jenny with Peter Link and Harry Belafonte

Jenny with Peter Link and Harry Belafonte

In 2011, Jenny performed to sold-out audiences at Watchfire Music’s Listening Rooms Concerts in New York City.

Jenny has just released a wonderful new CD for Watchfire Music that spotlights some of her finest material, The Best of Jenny Burton, with music and lyrics by Peter Link, and includes a 60-page digi-book. Here’s our conversation with Jenny:

Jenny, when I listen to you—just sit and immerse myself in your music—the first word that comes to me is “powerful.” How would you describe your music and your voice?

I think more now than ever…I think of my voice as something I have been given on loan this time around. I feel that the power it conveys is the signature of the gift giver, our Creator.

When young, we often don’t know what we’ve been given. As I’ve listened back, especially now, I deeply realized how amazing all our gifts are. Something, imbued in us, woven into our tapestry. Lately, when listening to others sing or seeing them sing, more specifically, I marvel at the physiological construct of that person’s voice box to make the sounds that come from them.

They’re certainly different than mine—the soprano, mezzo, contralto, bass, and tenor sound. So more than anything, I feel “wonder” about it—that it lives in me, like my breath. I am grateful for the ability to sing and the opportunity to align that with powerful lyrics that, hopefully, bring clarity, joy, comfort or healing to someone else as well as to myself.

JennyBest_7I’m wondering about how it all started. I know you grew up in the Bronx, NY—is your family musical? When did you first catch the music “bug?”

Don’t know much about my family, as I lived eighteen years in foster care. My dad was an actor of sorts and my aunt an actress, but to my knowledge no singers in the family. So, I have to consider my music beginnings as having started their life in the church choirs I sang in.

Also, during my youth, there was Motown and the sounds coming from there. In one of my homes, my father loved and listened to jazz. I think throughout all those years, I absorbed music and styles. I didn’t especially think about becoming a singer, but am grateful that’s how it turned out.

They were years of just surviving, so perhaps it’s natural that I’d express myself through music. I needed much healing and I think sometimes we try to offer what we most need.

I didn’t have formal training, so, as I said in my earlier answer, my talent was something I was given, something natural that brings me to Life and something that expresses my individual Soul.

Do you play any musical instruments?

I don’t play an instrument—wished I’d learned piano, one of my favorite instruments. There’s still time. 🙂

You first recorded when you were in your twenties, right? Tell me about before that…did you ever perform in high school? I’m trying to get a sense of how your career developed.

Mostly I sang in church choirs, not so much in school productions, etc. Music was a big part of my life growing up. It seemed to be everywhere. I also landed several administrative jobs with record companies.

While at one of those record companies, I met a producer with whom I recorded my first records. We had some success there, so I began to follow the footsteps that made sense and that presented themselves, leading to all that has come after.

Jenny with Watchfire Music owners Peter Link and Julia Wade

Jenny with Watchfire Music owners Peter Link and Julia Wade

When and how did you first settle into a style that felt right for you?

I contribute so much of the development of my style to the absorbing of so many kinds of music I heard growing up and the singing I did in church choirs.

Gospel is at the root of much of my style. Getting into the business and studying vocally, I learned much more about how to morph my sound into whatever I wanted or needed it to be, depending about what I was being called on to express or convey.

I leaned better control of my vibrato which also helps in creating style, making it R&B or more pop or classical.

I also think that the things I sing about determine a lot, for me, the style I choose.

You’ve gone through a number of styles, and it seems that you’ve been able to combine them…I love that you’ve combined R&B with inspirational music. Tell me a little about your transition into inspirational music.

Inspirational music is just returning home for me. Singing about things that I’ve come to believe in. It’s very important to me how a lyric is crafted. How much clarity it brings.

I’ve done other music styles, such as disco & dance. I have to admit that my gospel roots always sit at the base of it all.

I think gospel music and music that is based in inspiration is where I do my best work. It allows me to soar into concepts that are most interesting to me.

BestOfJenny_HQYou’ve collaborated with Peter Link on many projects. Tell me what it’s like for you working with him.

Peter always lays the platform of a professional and organized experience for me. We learned, over time, that I work best with him creating structure for me in a song, and then finding those places in which I had more freedom for me to do my thing. The goal is always to serve the song, but also to find my particular way of doing that.

Peter is good at sussing that out for the people he works with. I guess that comes with also having the qualities of director that live within him. He helped me to develop an understanding of what it is to prepare for recording or live performance. He’s very organized, which I so appreciate. He’s always prepared with what he needs to bring to the table, so he has been an example of that for me.

Whenever I have to get to work, I know what’s needed. I go in as prepared as I can be. In that way, there’s room and time for improvising, discovery and all the other wondrous and sometimes unexpected moments that can come to bear in the creative experience. He’s gotten better and better over the years of knowing how to get from the performer what’s needed, helping them to locate it within themselves, in order to bring that to the recording or performance. He’s been a mentor and made me better at what I do.

Your new release for Watchfire Music, The Best of Jenny Burton, left me breathless. I’d love to hear what you have to say about it.

I’m excited about The Best Of. It’s so good to have it out there. It was wonderful to work on; everyone worked so hard on it to bring it to a reality. It gave me the opportunity to be involved every step of the way. I’ve become more and more interested over time in being a part of the other creative processes of doing a project. I love being a part of, discussing and choosing how the album cover looks, what goes into the Digi-Books, the pictures used, doing some writing about what the songs mean, etc.

I also have had the chance to listen back to the work we’d done. To appreciate all that went into it and all who worked on the songs. It’s given me a reminder of the work I’ve done, the career I’ve had in one fell swoop. It gave me a sense that perhaps I’ve touched someone and honored the gift I’ve been given. I’ve been humbled and am very grateful for this CD.

Yours is a voice that’s immediately identifiable. Do you hear that often?

Yes, I do often hear that and I like that. I think of singing as if I’m covering a canvas with sound. The words and thoughts of a song determine that sound for me. Some of it deep, some of it high, some of it soft, some of it dark, etc. To convey to the best of my ability what the song is saying to say.

So, Jenny, what do you do in your spare time just for fun?

I like to read, go to movies, have great conversation, eat good food, discover and learn news things on many subjects. When I can, I love the feeling of giving gifts to friends and family, things they might need, but don’t give themselves, helping young people, getting into volunteering more. I would love to travel to some more to beautiful places.

Plans for the future? We’d love to hear about them!

Planning on a duet with Julia Wade, a wonderful and very talented singer, presently working on a new album of duets with some amazing singers, and which may be the foretelling of some live performances next year. I’m very excited for Julia.

I’m planning on next year being about getting into the best shape I can to sing and perform more in a variety of ways. I’ve been in the corporate world for almost eight years now, which has been an incredible blessing in so many ways and still I look to 2015 as being a time to move back into being more creative as an artist. I have some ideas for two other albums I’d like to record. Shh, don’t tell Peter yet, he has to catch his breath first!

I think my experience as a musician and performer is mostly natural and organic with the added mixture of a great mentor and vocal teacher. Also, I have to give huge credit to what one learns as they do their craft.

For me, it’s been a good mixture, as those things have helped me to hone my craft and grow.

There is also the quiet and still time one must have to create and to hear into the lyric, the scene, the composing, the writing, whatever it is.

There is always a sprinkling of many things that go into doing one’s gift/craft that hopefully makes it fulfilling and creditable.

* * * * * * * * * *

The Best of Jenny Burton is available for purchase as a CD or digital download, or to listen to samples, here:

Check out Jenny’s other albums on her Watchfire Music page:

You can visit Jenny’s Facebook page here:








Balanced focus and love-based motives

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014

Guest Blogger, Amy Duncan

imagesBuilding confidence from a sense of loving what we do, can bring far greater results than focusing on our lack of abilities and our fear of failure

By Anna Bowness-Park

Every morning, the great cellist and pianist Pablo Casals would play two of the Prelude and Fugues for keyboard by Bach. He felt that it started his day with God, because he felt “Bach wrote every piece to the glory of God.”

In the art world the pressure to practice and perform can be huge, and the accompanying stress can lead to some serious health concerns that musicians often ignore or hide. Casals, who played well into his nineties, had an approach that quietly focused his day with a spiritual love that permeated his life, music and health, explained musician Nancy Sheeley, who is a pianist and teacher in Victoria, BC.

schumannSheeley feels that how we approach and focus on the tasks we have to do each day is important, and affects our outcomes. For example, in the 1980’s some techniques espoused both outside of and within the music industry were influenced by Western views of accomplishment. The Jane Fonda’s fitness workouts told women “No pain. No gain.” Sheeley found herself unconsciously using that catchphrase in her practicing techniques, with the result that she experienced a serious injury from forcing her practicing and ignoring the discomfort.

Under the tutelage of a new teacher, Sheeley learned a whole new practice method and realized that she did not need to buy into this Western view of achievement in order to play the way she really wanted to. What she subsequently learned was a daily routine that was closer to Casals’, whose musicality still inspires her.

Sheeley’s new teacher encouraged an approach called “The Alexander Technique.” Along with the more “mindful” approach espoused by Alexander on how to sit, stand or play an instrument, she also embraced a fresh new prayerful perspective. As a result, she found her approach to playing – both in practice and performing – came from a natural and relaxed place within, bringing a healthier balance to her life and music. And, this brought permanent healing of her injury.

She also realized she needed to be more aware of the motive for her playing and teaching. “Expressing love in my teaching and performing is the motive for what I do,” Sheeley remarked. “I resonate the most with music that was written with a spiritual intent – such as Bach. And I recognize that the source of that love has a divine origin, rather than human. That is probably the central point of how I work.”

As a contrast to the way Casals approached his music, she pointed to the sad story of the great 19th century pianist and composer, Robert Schumann. He suffered from deep insecurity about his piano-playing as his wife Clara’s greater musical ability flourished. Schumann’s anxieties led him to develop a painful exercise machine to strengthen his fourth finger, and he additionally practiced with weights on his fingers, focusing on these exercises for hours. Sadly, this led to permanent injury and lessened his ability to perform.

Thinking about these examples of Casals and Schumann had me considering not just the motive behind what we do, but how we focus. Building confidence from a sense of loving what we do, can bring far greater results than focusing on our lack of abilities and our fear of failure.

While acknowledging that focus is important, Sheeley has found it benefits her to sometimes set aside a difficult section of a piece of music and to focus on something else, but with the same motive of love. “I love to knit, write and walk. I learned to knit at a young age, and have always been fascinated by yarns and fabric textures. When I knit, it doesn’t mean I am not focused – I am focused in a different way. I find knitting helps me process my thoughts about the music I am playing, even if I am not thinking much about the music. Knitting is my meditation. Then when I come back to the piece, it is with a fresh view.”

Sheeley found that if she kept focusing on the problem she was having with a certain musical section – trying to force a resolution – it only made her more tense. When she turned her focus to another thing she loved, she found that a sense of love resolved the problem naturally. And with it, the unhealthy stress and tension left. For Sheeley, love is the focus of all that she does.

We don’t have to be a musician to understand that discovering and focusing on our innate qualities with a spiritual love can bring confidence to our activities and better health to our lives. Just think what a sense of meaning, joy and vitality Casals brought to millions, as well as to himself, through his practice of love.

Anna Bowness-Park writes about the connection between thought and health, and the part that spirituality can play. She is a Christian Science practitioner.

This piece was originally published in the Vancouver Sun.




Thursday, September 4th, 2014

Guest Blogger, Amy Duncan

imagesBrooklyn, New York-born pianist and composer Ron Di Salvio is a man of many talents. An accomplished jazz and classical pianist, as well as a prolific composer, Ron has recorded six albums that encompass both genres. He teaches jazz piano, improvisation, theory and composition at Kalamazoo College, and is also Music Director of the United Methodist Church in Marshall, Michigan. Ron has designed and built three homes in Michigan since 1970. He has five daughters, all of whom have graduated college, with two teaching music, and five grandchildren. He is President of Trojan Heat Treat Inc., a position he has held for 35 years.

Ron is getting ready to release his 7th CD Songs for Ten Jazz Legends” featuring NEA Jazz Master Jimmy Cobb. This work of original lyrics and music pays tribute to musicians who have been an inspiration to him. He is author of the Deltadiatonics Method, an outcome of the Baroque figured bass, Jazz notation and the Nashville Number Systems. Ron has developed a succinct universal set of symbols readily accessible to all musicians, composers, improvisers and theorists which simplifies complex harmonic structures and theoretical phenomena.

Ron, you’ve been described as a 21st century “Renaissance man”—what does that mean to you?

Well it was my long departed mother-in-law Betty Petredean who was the first to say that about me. I have a joy and love of life that manifests in all I do. I do many things well and I do them with focus and depth. Whether it’s running a business of fifty co-workers, designing and physically constructing things, cooking gourmet dishes, organic gardening, grinding wheat berries and making bread, composing music, writing poetry, raising children, or teaching at the College, my life flows as one continual stream of events with a lot of improvisation and changes along the way.721_My_Five_Daughters

You started composing and arranging at age fourteen. What about before that? When did your interest in music begin? Do you come from a musical family?

I started accordion lesson at age 11, thanks to my Aunt Anna who gave me her deceased brothers accordion and paid for my music lessons. My Dad played bass and sax in a big dance band in the neighborhood. When I was fourteen I had my first trio and he taught me how to arrange music for the bass and guitar. I also had early training at the Church of the Brethren where the organist, a fellow accordionist, taught me how to play the organ and eventually sub for him.

Pianist Lennie Tristano is one of my personal favorites—you were sixteen when you studied with him. What was that like?

Lennie was blind from birth, you know, so that took a little adjusting for me at the first lesson. I remember there were two grand pianos situated in a very large room filled with mysterious chaotic crayon murals on the lower parts of the walls. The lesson was structured into three parts. The very first thing Tristano did, after I played “What is this Thing Called Love” for him, was to hand me a pad and a pencil. He said write down these numbers: 1,3,5-1,3,5,7-1,3,5,b7-1,b3,5-1,b3,5,b7-1,3,#5,7-1,3,5,7,9-1,3,6,9-1,b3,6,9. This went on for quite some time and by the end of the dictation my head was spinning and my hand was cramped up. He then instructed me that these chord voicings were to be played with the left hand and I needed to learn them in all twelve keys. Next he gave me scales and modes, also dictated with numerical dictation, which employed very unorthodox fingerings. The exercises were to be played at an excruciatingly slow tempo, hands separately and in twelve keys. Lastly I was to bring in a jazz record of my choice and sing (scat) whatever instrumental solo I wanted from that record. Lennie laid down the law at the very first lesson: he told me that he would only listen to one key of chord voicings that he would randomly pick. If I didn’t know them, the lesson would be ended. Fortunately I never had that happen.

You had some success in New York City in the 60s—what made you leave?

The drug-jazz scene was very prevalent in the late 60’s and I was swept up with all of it, I was an amphetamine-hashish addict for two years. I had a steady gig with my trio at the newly formed Top of the Gate, which was on the upper floor of the then famous Village Gate. We were playing opposite the Dave Pike Trio. During this time we got to play with some jazz greats including Art Farmer, Joe Henderson, Enrico Rava and Sonny Rollins to name a few. When my best friend and bassist Lester overdosed on heroine, it was a huge wakeup call for me. I transitioned out of drugs and into Yoga, health foods and classical music all of which helped to save my life. It was during this time of healing that I met Sandy at the Caldron, a macrobiotic restaurant in the East Village, and a week later we married. We wound up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where I was organist for St. Peter’s Cathedral.

Tell me about the home you built in Michigan and the organic food and bakery shop you opened.

We left New York in 1969 in a self-converted VW bus which contained all our belongings and headed across the United States in search of the perfect place to settle down. We were your basic hippie-flower-children of the day wandering our big amazing America. It was after our bus was stolen in San Francisco that we headed to Marquette to stay with Sandy’s parents and look for some property to build a house. In 1970, with a $10,000 loan from the bank, we bought 160 acres of wilderness south of Harvey, and I built a 20’X24’ “A” frame Cedar-Redwood home with only hand tools. We lived for years without running water or electricity, heating the house only with wood. We raised two daughters, Shanti and Aria, chickens, milk goats and had a few horses and ponies. Since it was hard to get natural grains and beans at that time we decided to open a health food store and bakery called “Old Fashioned Foods” in an old garage on Magnetic Street. After two years we took on a partner and a new location at a small shopping mall, changing the name to “Wintergreen Foods.” I ground fresh flour from wheat berries and kneaded the bread by hand. The smell of cookies and granola made with butter, cinnamon and Michigan maple syrup gave the place an amazing aroma. I still grind and make bread and granola to this day.Ron

You play both jazz and classical music very well. Which one of those genres do you feel is closer to your heart, or are they both equal?

From my heart springs forth melody and harmony—sometimes it’s jazz, sometimes it’s a popular song, sometimes it’s dolce, sometimes it furioso, sometimes it’s a very long composition, other times it’s a short 16-measure gem, sometimes I feel I have captured the essence of Broadway in a piece and other times the sound of a holy hymn. Jazz always comes out when I feel that way, and lately it’s art songs that fill my day.

One of the main things that sets jazz apart from classical music is improvisation. I’ve heard some jazz musicians say that improvising is a spiritual experience. What do you think?

This is a big question that I am going answer in a small way: All true art comes from the spirit.

You’re a really prolific composer and player. I’m amazed at how much you’ve accomplished, along with running your own business and raising a family. What’s your secret?

An opening lyric from a James Taylor song goes “The Secret of Life is enjoying the passage of time.” I try to be in the moment as much possible, I don’t dwell in the past and I try not to dream of the future. I just try to focus on the here and now. I work very hard at whatever I am doing and I do it in a focused way.

Tell me about your latest project, “Songs for Ten Jazz Legends”. Who are the ten legends?

This is a project that was an outcome of a live concert that I presented with Jimmy Cobb in 2006. The venue was the Gilmore International Keyboard Festival. We performed all the music from my “Essence of Green, A Tribute to Kind of Blue,” for jazz sextet. I included two numbers that featured a vocal quartet at the last concert of the series. In the months that followed I was so inspired by the sound of the vocal group with the sextet that I began to compose both lyrics and music for “Songs for Ten Jazz Legends.” This will be released this fall on the Blujazz Label.

The Legends and song titles are as follows:

  1. Oscar PetersonOscar-nice-inicity
  2. Dave BrubeckDave’s Brew
  3. Sonny RollinsSunny Side Up
  4. Shirley HornA Thousand Songs
  5. Charles MingusMingustino
  6. Bud PowellBud’s Blossom
  7. Duke Ellington-Tonight Mood Indigo
  8. Gerry Mulligan-Mulligan’s Stew
  9. Miles DavisMellifluous
  • Chick CoreaChicklet

Do you have any advice to give to young musicians?

Set a routine and create a ritual for practice, composing and arranging, make it a daily event.

Try to play and write in twelve keys with focus on your weak keys.

Study music theory.

Listen to the legends of all genres.

Any future projects on the drawing board you’d like to mention?

I am working on setting the poems of Madeleine L’Engle from the “Ordering of Love” for voice and piano.

To listen to Ron’s music and buy his albums:

To listen to Ron’s compositions and buy his sheet music:

Ron’s website:































Tom Jobim and the transcendent

Monday, July 28th, 2014

Guest Blogger, Amy Duncan

tom-jobimI know quite a bit about Antonio Carlos (Tom) Jobim, Brazil’s best-known composer (Girl From Ipanema, Desafinado, Wave, Waters of March, etc.), having listened to and played a lot of his music over the years and having read two biographies about him. What I never knew, though, at least until I read the biography Antonio Carlos Jobim, an Illuminated Man, written by his sister Helena Jobim, was that Jobim had had a “mystical” experience that changed him forever.

Tom was going on a hunting trip with his friend Mario, sometime around 1959, when it happened. Helena tells the story (free translation from the Portuguese by me):

It was a long trip over a dirt road, with the forest nearly blocking their way. Mario, who was driving the car, started to speed. Tom, sitting next to him, started feeling more and more tense. Suddenly, something happened. He felt everything relaxing inside of him. He looked at the headlights shining on the reddish banks, a tree bending over the road, the shining stars frozen in the dark blue sky. Suddenly there was no longer any separation between him and everything around him. He was everything — the light from the headlights, the illuminated banks, the tree, the distant stars — and everything was him. At that moment his fear stopped. Any and all fear ceased in his body and in his mind. There was no more fear of death, because there was no death. He was in everything — more than that — he was everything. And would continue to be forever. Tom said this experience was so intense that it was hard to put into words. It was untellable. He felt changed after it. He had experienced another dimension.

I can’t help wondering how such an experience might have changed him as a composer and musician. The only hint I could find in the book was that he remarked to Helena, when she said she felt the source of her inspiration as a writer had dried up,

“The source never dries up.” Then he pointed off into space and said, “It’s all there, you just have to go and get it.”



Singer/songwriter Peter Wise debuts with new CD

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014

Guest Blogger, Amy Duncan

tumblr_mzs8h7fAGH1qe3rn2o1_1280There’s nothing new under the sun, or so they say… but Massachusetts raised and NYC based singer/songwriter Peter Wise proves otherwise on his new CD, When Day Breaks, which he partially describes as a story about the ups and downs of growing up, becoming aware of ourselves and the world around us.

It’s true that Wise, who is a student of Watchfire Music’s very own Peter Link, flirts with bits and pieces of many who have gone on before him (Paul Simon, Tracy Chapman, and Steely Dan come to mind)—I kept thinking as I listened, wait! where have I heard that before?—and yet there’s nothing derivative here. So yes, there is always something new under the sun for the simple reason that each sincere and genuine artist, singer, composer, performer, etc., can’t help being his or her own self. With Wise, this is revealed first and foremost in his utterly charming voice, and then in all the subtle and original touches of his arrangements, extended instrumental interludes, and the simple, yet captivating twists and turns of his melodies.

The title tune, When Day Breaks, for instance, is an expansive ballad with a soaring interlude that builds and builds and then builds some more when Wise’s voice enters, to a satisfying climax, and then fades out to a delicate keyboard riff. Getting Older offers a beautiful bell-like piano accompaniment, gentle melody and introspective words, and St. Helens is a happy nod to Paul Simon…yet Wise’s own voice soars strong and clear, especially on the chorus. And then there’s the lovely, conversational Abigail, a ballad delicately punctuated by a repeated octave interval on the piano that’s the perfect vehicle for the cozy intimacy of Wise’s voice. The remaining tracks are equally individual and engaging.

To change it up, Wise closes with some humorous, good-timey old yeehaw on I’m a Rock. A nice ending to this promising debut, and pure Americana.

Peter Wise




















Interview with Rebecca Minor

Tuesday, June 24th, 2014

Guest Blogger, Amy Duncan

ChasingLight_197pxSinger/pianist/composer Rebecca Minor has recently released her first CD, Chasing Light, an engaging collection of five original songs that explore her deepest feelings and personal life experiences. Although her background is in musical theater, opera, and singing at concerts in churches, Rebecca has taken a brave and successful leap into the world of pop music. Here she talks about her new album and her career.

Rebecca, tell me a little about how you first became interested in music…do you come from a musical family?

I don’t recall a time when I wasn’t interested in music. My mom says I was humming before I was talking. My older sister was taking piano lessons, and one day I climbed onto the bench of our upright piano and started playing melodies I had heard. At age 6 I began taking lessons myself. Everyone in my family enjoys music, but I am the first to pursue it 1

You graduated in performance from Ithaca College…what was your dream at that time?

I had studied opera and classical repertoire at both Principia College, where I studied for 2 years, and at Ithaca College, where I got my degree in voice performance. At the time the dream was to sing in operas, in concerts, to continue soloing in churches, and perhaps sing the role of Christine in The Phantom of The Opera on Broadway some day.

You have sung in operas, musical theater, concerts, in shows and at churches. Do you have a preference for any of these, and has it changed over the years?

It seems at different stages throughout my life I was passionate about each of those. During childhood I was 100% into music theater. In college I was all about opera. After college, in the midst of pursuing both of those industries, I fell in love with songwriting. I’m very happy where I am at this point: writing and performing sacred music at The First Church of Christ, Scientist in Boston, and for Watchfire Music, and also writing and performing mainstream pop music. I feel blessed to be on a journey that already feels so good, and has the potential to lead to any number of possibilities and opportunities._MG_6066

You’re also a pianist. In addition to reading music, have you studied harmony and composition?

Yes, throughout my piano lessons and in my musical studies through college I learned music theory, harmony, sight singing. However, I never studied composition, and often wonder what my music would be like today had I gone through a composition program. I’ve had the invaluable benefit of being coached on songwriting and lyric writing by Peter Link, and studying it further isn’t out of the realm of possibility.

And you’re a composer. Tell me about the inspirations for the songs in your debut CD, Chasing Light.

The songs on Chasing Light were born from my own experience over the past 10 years of my life, mostly while living in NYC. There is a clear issue being grappled with in each song, and what has been so remarkable about completing and releasing the album is that I look back and realize that each of those issues or questions has been answered. I struggled with the idea of sharing such personal and vulnerable material, but the feedback I’ve received over the years is that many feel inspired by the questions I’ve sought answers to, or simply feel a kinship with the situations I describe, so that’s why I chose to go forward with it. I would hope the spiritual foundation from which I seek to live my life is apparent in the songs, despite them being of a more human, personal nature.

How would you describe the style of your CD? Who are some of your influences in pop music?

I am still learning about musical classification and branding, but basically I describe the music as piano driven pop music. Some influences are the great piano rock music of Elton John, the classic Beatles, Van Morrison, and also Sara Bareilles, Sara McLaughlin, John Mayer, and on and on.

Did your background in sacred and inspirational music influence the music on your CD?

I wouldn’t discount that the sacred solo music I’ve sung over the years has had some influence on my writing, but definitely the ideas and values of Christian Science I’ve studied my whole life have influenced this CD. I like to think that Chasing Light represents much of what I was working through before I “got it”—you know, before the light broke into what is now a new chapter in my life. Singing at TMC, moving out of NYC, finding a truly loving partnership, and a deeper sense of spirituality are some “answers” to the questions I’ve asked in these songs.

At this point in your life, what direction would you like to pursue with your music?

I’d like to continue along this vein of writing and performing sacred music, continuing to develop within my soloist position at The Mother Church, and also working on mainstream music of all styles with other writers. This year I plan to focus on collaboration, and exploring co-writing. Nashville is a community I plan on exploring for co-writing. I can’t wait!

Aside from singing, playing, and writing music, what do you like to do in your free time?

I’ve recently begun teaching voice and piano, and I find working with children enriching, so this is a particularly fun challenge. I also love traveling, meeting new people wherever I go, playing around with friends, going to the beach, and spending time with my beloved family, who are pretty spread out over the US. There is never a dull moment.

If you could give any advice to young, aspiring singers, what would it be?

Advice would be to not limit yourself in any way! Study with as many people as you can, learn the “rules,” but don’t lose your unique vision. Take chances, and believe in what you do! Something that has always been helpful to me is asking WHY I’m doing what I’m doing. If you’re clear on that, and it’s good, you can’t go wrong!

You can read more about Rebecca, as well as listen to samples of her songs and buy her CD at:

You can see samples of and buy Rebecca’s sheet music here:































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