On The Wiz and being a crossover artist

I finally sat down to watch The Wiz Live on Friday night. For the most part, the stars were Broadway or pop/r&b singers who have a certain vocal style. With some exceptions, the performances were well done (even if I wasn’t always thrilled with some of the “updated” orchestrations), and I’m jealous that students of the future won’t have to suffer through the 1978 version of “He’s the Wiz” while their music teacher screeches the Munchkins’ backup parts during classroom viewings. I was pretty happy with it.

And then Uzo Aduba sang “If You Believe”.

Uzo Aduba is a classically trained musician. She has a powerful voice and an amazing range. She sang that song. She could have mastered it, but she went too far in the Broadway direction and not far enough in the style she does best (even on Broadway).

I know a bit about that.

Since moving to Tucson, I have committed to being a part of two very different styles of musical performance. The first is something I have been doing for more than half my life: choral singing.

I started singing in real choral groups in middle school, having been in glee club since the first grade. Once I realized there was a whole classical side to singing in groups, I was all about it. I was in citywide groups and did whatever I could in high school. When I got to college, I auditioned for a couple a cappella groups but didn’t get in; probably best for me, because I would have probably been satisfied with whichever musical group I joined and not looked further. I went a full semester before I sent the director of choral studies an email asking if he took January additions for the Chamber Choir. He did, and I didn’t look back. However, I joined a research fellowship my Junior year and couldn’t commit to the time choir met, so my director got me into voice lessons, which sent my capabilities skyrocketing. But when I went to grad school, I knew I had to get back into the choir thing, so I joined the symphony chorus in San Jose, and then the small group that did more art songs. When I moved back to DC, I kept that momentum going and auditioned for one of the best known choral groups in the DC area—one that was a significant step up from my California group. But I took it in stride, and in four years became a much better musician with a hell of a repertoire under my belt. So obviously I wasn’t planning to let that fall to the wayside when I moved here.

My voice and mechanism hadn’t adapted to the desert climate when I auditioned for the symphony chorus here, and I just wasn’t prepared as I should have been, so I didn’t get in. Luckily for me, there are multiple choirs that don’t need auditions. I was in one of those for a year and a half, but scheduling opened up my chance to join a different one, which so far is going pretty well. (We’re doing Mozart’s Requiem and Zadok the Priest for the spring concert, which I’m really excited about.)

The other side of my musical coin is a much weirder animal.

I have always loved musical theater. The first music I knew was probably from West Side Story or some Rodgers & Hammerstein production. I was in a couple of school plays but really preferred choral stuff so didn’t do much of it. A few years ago, my work bestie (also the theater teacher) told me about auditions for a community theater production of Ragtime, one of the first shows I recall seeing at DC’s National Theatre, and I was all there. Preparing for and producing that show was rough, but it was one of the greatest experiences of my life.

Fast forward to Tucson. A friend from work’s boyfriend was the director of a small-time, wacky musical theater comedy troupe, and she often invited me to attend. I finally did and thought it was fabulous. So when auditions came up, I waxed and waned over whether I would take part.

Waxing won.

So here I am, a person very much used to preparing for something for months (and often still having the music in front of me, even if I don’t often use it) joining a group whose tagline is “Underrehearsed and Overdramatic.” I was pretty out of my element. But I was loving the chance to perform songs from musicals (and some other things, but mostly musicals).

Finally, we get back to the topic of this post: being a “crossover” musician.

My best singing style is classical. I have the most practice and training in it, and I resort to it when I need to. I know my theater belt is less than half my classical range, which I have lost a bit of since leaving The Washington Chorus, but still have, for the most part. I have been improving my theater voice (you know, practice and all that), but I still incorporate my vocal training when I feel the push. Or the pull. Or the strain. The things that tell me to switch gears  in order to not kill my voice.

You could hear Stephanie Mills doing it during “The Feeling We Once Had”.

(Oh yay, Uzo just won the SAG award as I’m writing this!)


In no way am I throwing any shade at Uzo. She is an amazing performer, as we all know. I’m just questioning the choices of The Wiz Live‘s directorship, and why anyone might have told her to belt instead of using her best voice. Was it the need to appeal to a certain audience? Was it the need to present a certain kind of sound?

I dunno.

I’ll still watch it. And then watch the Lena Horne version on Youtube when I’m done.




Last week’s total fail brought to you in part by The Paradise

Last week wasn’t the best for reading; I spent a lot of time writing, but didn’t really read much. I finished one really quick book (it was about a rich girl who just wanted to be a book blogger. It was pretty cute) and the Giant Days trade. I started a book about “library jumpers” and then it wasn’t what I expected it to be and I stopped. I checked out the novelization of The Force Awakens (after being on hold for several weeks) but I really wasn’t interested so I took it back to the library.

Otherwise, very little book action.

That was supposed to change over the weekend. I had time to do some reading and get my cleaning done.

What, then, caused my downfall this time?

Two words: The Paradise.


Based on a novel by Emile Zola, The Paradise is a short-lived BBC/Masterpiece series about the workings of a department store in Fin de Siecle Newcastle. At its center are Denise Lovett, an economically minded, ambitious young woman who just wants to prove herself; and Moray, whose relationship with his dead wife far outstrips any he can have with his on-again-off-again almost-fiancee. We learn about The Paradise, as a store and a community, as Denise does, and often move far beyond her knowledge.

And in the style of Downton Abbey or Upstairs/Downstairs, the ensemble cast is more than supporting. An older department mistress who lives for nothing but her work; a young boy who was born in The Paradise, and knows all there is to know; the charismatic salesman who steps into the wrong mess. The writers—mostly women, Bee Tee Dubs—are really able to weave the stories together so that we feel we are getting a full picture, not just the story of one or two people in such a bustling environment. Sure, Denise and Moray remain the centerpieces of the story, but not to the detriment of the stories of others.

In the tradition of BBC/Masterpiece enterprises, The Paradise is nothing if not addictive. It draws you in immediately with stories from all sides: romance, intrigue, coming-of-age, and even a bit of mystery. All of the characters are interesting, even the silly ones, and the story progresses at a marvelously compelling pace.

And the fact that an actor of Persian descent can be cast in the lead role without a second thought kind of delights me.

Even if the fact that one of the leading women looks like Burn Gorman’s twin but is in no way related to him bugs me a bit.

I watched nearly eleven straight hours of The Paradise on Sunday night and I plan to make it through the final five when I get the chance. Here’s to hoping that it ends on a satisfying note and I’m not upset and whining about it for the rest of eternity. It’s not bound to be my favorite show anytime soon—the second season is just a little too weird to give it that status—but it’s come to be something I really love, and I hope it was given its proper ending.

Two times I got choked up on the KCCH stage and one time there were actual tears

I have been thinking about this story for a long time. Like, well over a year. People often tell cute stories about meeting idols and coming to some kind of realization while singing, but these stories are all connected thanks to one thing: my tear ducts.

The First Time: Finale to Symphony #2: Resurrection, Mostly Mahler, May 2011

I joined The Washington Chorus in January 2010. It was a trial by fire; my first half-season involved three of the major Requiems and some seriously crazy baroque music. So by the time I got around to the second season, the five concert layout for the full season seemed pretty light.

So in the Spring of 2011, I started learning a lot of music I had never even heard before, let alone sung. Among these were the first half of the Veni Creator Spiritus, an act of an opera that Mahler completed, several short pieces, and the Finale of the Resurrection Symphony, Auf erstehen. I prepared with professional recordings and went to all of the rehearsals, but it wasn’t until the orchestra rehearsal that I really grasped the intense emotion that comes from producing those sounds together.

So there it was, the day of the concert. This Finale would be ours as well, as really, you can’t follow that with anything else. The piece begins very quiet, and then builds until there is such an overwhelming amount of sound and harmony as the orchestra brings the piece to a conclusion at the end. The adrenaline had been building, and building, and then I had to stand there and wait for the last fifty bars. I wanted to curl up and cry. But I was good and just waited.

And then I went home and collapsed.

The Second Time: Testimony, The Wizard and I, May 2013

Two years later, I got to be a part of an NSO Pops concert featuring four Broadway superstars. It was a tribute to Stephen Schwartz (who made an appearance!) and the tenth anniversary of Wicked on Broadway. There were some power songs, and overall it was a whole lot of fun. I got to meet Norm Lewis and Jeremy Jordan, I got to hear Julia Murney sing “Shadowlark”, and I got to experience the process of learning and producing “Testimony.”

“Testimony” is Stephen Schwartz’s contribution to the It Gets Better project, and it’s a doozy. Written for chorus (originally TTBB but then for SATB), it has two halves: the first runs the gamut of the feelings of so many young people, questioning or not; the second is a more uplifting reflection on what the speaker might have missed, if they had acted upon those feelings.

It’s intense.

By the time of the performance, I had it memorized. It was such a poignant piece, and so current, and so heartfelt, it was hard not to feel it personally. So by the time we were there, singing to thousands of people (three times, I might remind you), with feedback coming from the conductor, who himself seemed to be affected by it, it was hard not to feel a tightness in my chest and a squeezing in my throat by the end. This time, we were just done at the end of it and could sit down with the lights off and process. And I really had to process after that. Every single time. But damn, I wouldn’t give up that experience for anything.

The Tears: Almighty Father, Made in America, June 2014

Made in America was the final concert I did with The Washington Chorus. After nearly getting my five year pin but cutting it short because of a need to be economically satisfied and environmentally happy, I had established relationships, friendships, and a hell of a vocal repertoire. I had become a better singer and a better, well rounded person with this group, and this was the last time I would experience being surrounded by these voices. The first half would be a newly cut concert version of Bernstein’s Mass and the second half was a concoction of several modern pieces by mostly living choral composers.

And then, at the end of the first half, there they were.

Fucking tears.

If you haven’t heard the Bernstein Mass, you will in a second. But let me explain what makes it so conducive to tears.

The bookends of a lot of different feelings and forms of expression is a close-harmonied, lightly accompanied hymn. The vibrations between nearly 400 people producing those sounds are tangible. So when you’re not only an empath, but you are also…whatever you call someone who is overly affected by music, that kind of energy just breaks you.

Music is one of my lifelines. It makes my heart sing…but it can also make me exhausted and overwhelmed.

And that’s one of its wonders.

Welcome to Books and Beethoven!

I do things in bursts.

I decide to create something, and then I’m really good at it for a little while, and then I’m really not good at it for awhile, and then I pick it back up again. This time for me, it was personal blogging. I write for large organizations, so writing for me is usually on the back burner. I’d like to change that. Not just this year, but forever more. Because while I came to realize that creative writing just isn’t for me—I’d rather be reading—I’m actually pretty good at creative nonfiction, particularly when it’s about me. *narcissist*

Last year, I decided to start a music blog. It had been something that had been in my head for awhile, and I had things to write about. Well, I wrote about a couple of them, and decided I would hold off on others instead of front loading. And then…I forgot where I put it. The blog, I mean. I lost track of my brain and just…didn’t remember what it was called, or what platform I was using, or anything else like that. So I just stopped. I wrote things down, maybe posted a little something on Facebook if I thought it was really important to share, but otherwise, I just kept it to myself. And I had a lot to talk about, I’m telling you.

Then as this year approached, I decided to join a few reading challenges, like Read My Own Damn Books and Clean Your Reader. These seemed like the kinds of challenges that keeping a personal blog would be perfect for. And it would make me keep myself accountable (not that that has happened upon writing this). So I kept that up for a couple weeks.

And then, I really wanted to write something on my music blog.

So I had to google the title and see if I could find it. Miraculously, I did! And then I didn’t really do anything with it besides create a draft because I’m a ditz.

In the meantime, I was really getting tired of Blogger. I like it, it’s cute, but every single other entity that I work with uses WordPress. So I thought “I’m going to just switch my book blog over to wordpress!” And, of course, someone had my handle. So I decided to just stay with Blogger.

And then it hit me: what if I COMBINED my two blogs? It would be obvious from the start that I was going to be writing about music, too, and I would just have ONE place to go. I mean, I love the concept of Life in Three-Four and my reasons for naming it. But this is just…easier.

So, welcome! And enjoy!

RMODB: #24in48

While in the process of joining reading challenges and just being bookish on twitter, I came across the 24 in 48 readathon, which I’d read about last year but had been unable to join. For this readathon, which is put on multiple times a year, participants make an attempt to read for 24 hours out of a 48 hour timeframe. They can do it however they wish; audiobooks, in small batches between midnight and midnight, or for one giant long reading session. I did something in-between: I set a few goals for myself, and then had breaks once I reached them on both days.

Goal Number One: Get the library books out of the way!

I have been trying to be more discerning in which books I actually put on hold as opposed to just adding them to my “for later” shelf on the library website. But the damn things keep showing up, and I have to at least check them out; and if I’m going to check them out then I might as well read them.  And I really wanted to read everything I had checked out. So, best to get those out of the way first!

I’d started reading Gail Carriger’s Manners & Mutiny earlier this week, so my first benchmark was to finish reading that. It was the final book in the series and super satisfying, so I had to take a mini break to recover before I moved on to Star Wars: Before the Awakening. That was a quick, easy read, but I had made the mistake of putting on the movie Across the Universe while I was reading, because it had been too quiet in the house after hubs left for work. But I’d forgotten how strange that movie was, and began to get easily distracted. It was over by the time I got around to reading Suffrajitsu, but I just wasn’t in the right mindset for a graphic novel—interesting, considering the last readathon I did was almost completely comics—and I didn’t enjoy it as much as I might have some other time.

But Suffrajitsu had been the last of my library books, so I’d hit that mark with plenty of time left in the evening!

And it was around this time that I broke to eat and plot my next move:

Goal Number Two: #CleanYourReader

Since it had already been a goal of mine to get through my Nook books this year, I saw no harm in joining the Clean Your Reader reading challenge for the first quarter of the year. With that in mind, I made one Nook book my second readathon goal. I still hadn’t made much progress in Masque of the Red Death, so that made for an easy choice. And it was gripping enough that I didn’t pay much attention to the sportsball that was on my tv during hubs’ split-shift waiting period.

And then it was time for him to leave and I wanted to make sure there would be noise (because I am particularly suspicious of the nighttime without sound). So I did what any discerning person of the book would do: I put on Pride & Prejudice. I’d started out with the 2005 movie version because I was lazy and it was on Netflix. But the changes in dialogue for pacing’s sake were more distracting than anything else, so I ended up putting on the DVD of the 1995 BBC/A&E version. AKA, the Essential Pride & Prejudice. Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle, my first OTP.


Masque of the Red Death turned out not to be a standalone as I’d expected it to be, but it ended in a good spot and I did not end up going in search of the next book at midnight. So that was good. It was just as compelling as it had started out to be, but I feel no need to acquire the others just yet.

Day Two was a late start. I woke up pretty early but was feeling some indecision. I posted a photo of my to-read corner in distress. What was I to read?  A friend had a solution:

That turned out to be Daughter of Gods and Shadows, a book I definitely bought for its cover several months ago. Thankfully, it lived up to expectations.

When I finished that, I made another expedition to the to-read corner and pulled out a couple of things for the home stretch. The first was Missed Connections, which is a quick, adorable read, and then In It to Win It, a baseball player/sportscaster second-chance romance I bought at the Dreamers’ Tent at the Tucson Festival of Books in March of 2015. That one was a little more dense than I’d expected, so it carried me right on through to the end.

All in all, I had a successful readathon. I read a few of my Own Damn Books; I got all of my library books read for return on Tuesday, and I read cross-format, which is not always something I remember to do (even though I have a million books in both formats). I hope I am able to participate in the next one, if it is on another three-day weekend.

Cause now, I have tomorrow to do all the stuff I didn’t do this weekend. Uy.

So Compulsion Problems are a Real Thing

I come from a family of pack rats.

(I also didn’t know pack rats were a real animal until I started dating someone from Arizona.)
When you combine a mentality that collecting/keeping is good with a lack of willpower, you get, well, me.
I know there is too much stuff in my house. In the past few years, I have been able to go through my clothing once every year or so and say “I don’t need this, this, or this.” I’ve very recently come to do this with my books as well. I’ve already been able to offload dozens of books at the used bookstore chain in my city. 
Those of you who understand how used bookstores work know the obvious flaw in this scheme: 
At most used bookstores, someone will determine what among your offerings will be useful to them, and then offer you either some amount of cash, or three times the amount in trade. You always take the trade, because you can use it for other things! Movies! Records! Little knick knacks and scarves and bags you can give as gifts! Books you can give as gifts!
And then you just hoard it for yourself.
While I might get half the number of books I brought in, I’m still taking books back home. Bad Jess!

At least, for the most part, I only buy books either used or on super kindle sale. Sometimes I’ll get something full price, but I’m either getting it with an employee discount (yay, spouses!) or paying full price in order to support my local Indie Feminist Solar-powered Bookstore. This is a good middle ground between my high school and college practice of BUY ALL THE BOOKS (remember those wonderful years of nothing but expendable income?) and my frequent, failed efforts at adulting via moratorium.

I know there will be compulsion buys. I don’t feel compelled to buy something every time I’m in a bookstore, but it’s probably more frequent than it could be. So I stick to my parameters and try to be strong.

Cause I know if I’ve just come across it randomly, I won’t get to it soon anyway. 

Week One Recap: Total Fail

The year of reading my own damn books did not start out that way. Yes, I finished an awesome galley on the first, and I guess you could consider that mine, but then I went out and bought three more at the used bookstore. And ordered two online. And bought four more at another used bookstore. (And that was just the first half of the week.) So that was fun.

I had already had a book out from the library and needed to renew it because I got stuck, and then my holds came in right before the holiday. So now I’ve got three library books too. (And another one just arrived on the holds shelf.)
And then, there was the biggie: a colleague in Collection Development ordered a book that I thought would be important to carry just for its face value. Well she bought copies last week. When I went to visit one of her fellows a few days into January, she held up an ARC—coveted amongst book reviewers—and asked if I wanted to read it. 
Hells yes.
I started it on my lunch break. And then I read more when I got home. Library books? What library books?
But my week wasn’t a total fail. I’ve got a grasp of how I’m going to approach this whole thing, And I started acting upon it. After seeing 2001: A Space Odyssey in 70mm on Sunday, I ended up spending a few hours in a bar while hubs and his dad watched football. 
Thank the gods for cell phones.
I started reading The Masque of the Red Death and it’s so good! If I hadn’t gotten distracted by If I Was Your Girl I would totally have devoured it by now.

It’s slow going, but I think I’ll be able to pick up the pace once I get rid of All. These. Library. Books. (Plus the ones that I put on hold when they went On Order in the catalog and won’t be out for several months…)

I can do this.