A funny (musical) thing happened at the local tavern…

I love life’s little, unexpected moments. Especially when they involve music. Here’s what happened:

On Saturday night, we went out to a birthday dinner with a couple of very dear friends at one of our favorite local spots. The musical act was setting up for their show that night – a singer and a guitarist – and I happened to strike up a conversation with the guitarist. We talked for a bit about the kinds of things we like to sing and play, and, well, long story short, he invited me up to sing a number. This doesn’t happen often, and as a rule, I never ask. Not my show, you know? But hey, I love to sing, and he was really good, and the singer he was playing with was also really good and very nice, and sometimes, you just let the magic happen.

So, with apologies for the poor quality of this cell phone video, I wanted to share that little bit of magic with all of you, too.

I remain just so, so grateful to live in a community full of wonderful, kind, and enormously talented musicians who graciously give me the opportunity to share the music and make good noise. Nothing better in the entire world.

A Most Wonderful (Musical) Discovery

There’s a phrase musicians use – “find your instrument.” What it means is this: Find the one music-making thing that feels like home when you pick it up and start to play.

I haven’t found mine yet. Or perhaps it’s as simple as my voice, in which case, I will never have to pay for tuning or new strings or a collapsed bridge.

Graham always thought his instrument was the viola. He played it for many years and loved it. It fit into his hands and on his shoulder, and he liked the deeper tones, the more caramel-y timbre. Violins sound like silver. Violas sound like gold. Rich, deep, and still bright and resonant.

But Graham hasn’t picked up his viola in a long time. Over the years we’ve been together, he’s tried his hand at guitar and at piano, he’s picked up a harmonica and banged on a drum set. I figured he’d just lost interest. But now I know – the viola is just not Graham’s instrument. And neither were any of the others.

This is all going somewhere, I promise.

See, my parents came to visit this weekend, and my dad brought up his guitar – the usual – and also a mandolin he bought secondhand. He figured it would be fun to learn to play. He was right, of course. Especially for Graham.

Turns out, the mandolin is Graham’s instrument. And we found it, on a warm Saturday night by the fire in our back garden.

He took to it immediately. My dad was a little jealous (sorry, Dad, if you’re reading this, but you know and I know that it’s true), but was also impressed and happy, and gracious enough to give a few quick lessons.

And before any of us knew it, they were sitting there, picking out songs to play together and laughing like they’d been doing it for years.

It’s actually pretty cool, to see two of your favorite people find a new favorite thing. A most wonderful discovery indeed.

P.S. – I’ve been trying to figure out what to get Graham for his birthday. Now I know. Good thing I have until November to do some research and find exactly the right mandolin!

Why I Still Take Voice Lessons

“But why are you taking voice lessons?”

I get this question a lot. It’s usually followed by:

“You can sing.”

And, well, yes, I can. I’ve been singing for longer than I’ve been talking, or so my parents tell me, and it’s one of my favorite things in the world – to feel the music and create a moment and a memory.

But as with any skill, singing requires technique, patience, and practice, and the more diligent you are, the better you’ll become.

And I suppose that’s the simple answer to why I still take voice lessons. But I thought it would be interesting today to dig a little deeper. So, let’s get started.

I take lessons because I enjoy them.

I like learning. Even when it’s hard. Even when it knocks me down a peg. And the more I learn, the more I realize I still need to learn, and that’s exciting. Plus, I just like singing, and so it’s fun to set aside at least an hour every week that I know will be devoted to something I truly enjoy.

I take lessons because I am decidedly not an expert.

I started voice lessons when I was nine years old. I took them all throughout school, and then into college. And then I took a really long break. I decided that singing wasn’t what I wanted to do as a career, and I focused on other things. In the decade and change I wasn’t taking lessons, there were a lot of things I…well…forgot. Muscle memory fades, technique gets rusty. I’m not a bad singer, but I can be so much better, and I want to be.

I take lessons because it holds me accountable.

I’m going to tell you a shameful secret. Are you ready? Oh, God, I hate to admit it, but: I AM LAZY. Like, really, I’m terrible at deadlines, I really like naps, and I’m not great at motivating myself. I do it, and I work hard, but it’s a challenge. Having a teacher (an awesome one, I might add) who can keep me accountable and help me choose the right areas to focus on is just really invaluable, and it keeps me moving forward.

I take lessons because it makes a difference.

I get a little better with every vocal warm-up. I get a little better every time I master a difficult passage in a song. With every lesson, I get better. And the better I get, the happier I am. My voice is an instrument, just like a guitar or a piano. How I take care of it, and the love I give to it, matters.

I take lessons because there is always more to learn.

I mentioned this a little earlier, but I think it deserves a few more words. I will never know everything about how to be the best singer I can be. The more I learn, the better I get, the more that world will open up to me, and the more I’ll have to learn. And I think this is applicable in life, just generally. There is always, always more to learn, and I’m pretty satisfied knowing that I’ll be a perennial student. It makes me excited, knowing that I’m just one breakthrough away from the next life-changing piece of information.

I think that covers it pretty well, but now I’m curious. I’d love to know – do you have a skill you’re still working to hone? How do you approach it? What motivates you to keep learning?

A random post for a Monday, I know, and different from my usual content, but I hope you enjoyed it!

The Joyful Return of Live Music (or, Friends + Music = Happy Katie)

I’ve missed a great many things over the last year and change. I’ve missed hugs, I’ve missed people, I’ve missed travel, I’ve missed parties. Some of the things I’ve missed feel trivial – I love parties, but they’re not critical to my happiness – and some feel big, like hugging my parents. And some things just feel so…weird? I don’t know if that’s the right word. Like, just not right. Like, my world is not right without them. And one of those things is live music.

Music has always been a huge part of my life. I’ve written about that before, so I won’t tread old ground, but suffice it to say that me and music are an item. Long-term. Forever. We’ve never broken up and we never will. Music + Katie = True Love. My world without hearing live music has just been not quite right.

Which is why I’m so grateful that it seems live music is coming back, and that I live in an area where there’s plenty of live music to see, and that I have extremely talented and gracious friends (link below to their page) who, last Thursday, gave me the opportunity to make some good noise with them. Which, let’s be honest, is pretty much my favorite thing.

And luckily, Graham got a video! So, I thought I’d share it with all of you. I hope it brings you joy, as it did for me.

* The Crooked Angels are an extraordinarily talented, creative force for all that is good and positive in this universe. And they’re pretty cool people, too. Check out their music and share it with your friends. You’ll be glad you did. And so will I. 😉*

An Old Song for the New Season

It’s been a while since my last music post, so I thought I’d share this bluegrass tune today. It’s one of my favorites. I always think of this song as the seasons change, and it’s in my head now, looking out at the blossoms and the newly green grass.

A Sort of Love Poem

*I had planned to post a sweet song for Valentine’s Day yesterday, and then a poem today. But time got away from me yesterday, as it so often does, and well, here we are. So, here’s a sort of love poem, and a video of me singing some Gillian Welch by the fire. I hope you enjoy both! And if you’re in the US and in the line of fire – er, ice – with this latest winter storm, stay safe and warm!*

Dear Someone,
I don’t need you, but
I’d like to meet you
nonetheless.

It might be fun, Dear Someone,
to see where things could go,
but no, I’m not waiting for you.
See, I’ve got other things to do.

It’s a big universe, after all,
Dear Someone,
and who can say who meets who
and when.
Though I hope we do,
eventually, some time, someday,
maybe.

And so,
Dear Someone,
whoever you are,
if by chance we stumble across each other
at some party or in some bar,
I’m open to the possibility.

Some Days Are Just Like That

It’s been sort of a strange day.

I stayed up way too late last night watching a meeting of my local Board of Supervisors, and woke up this morning feeling foggy and sleepy. No surprise.

I had some meetings and non-writing tasks to complete, and they went well. Always good, though they kept me quite busy.

I made way too ambitious a dinner for a Wednesday. It was tasty.

And I got some sad news, which is never fun, and which has me feeling pretty down.

And between all of it, I haven’t had much time to sit and write today. I don’t write every day, but I’m never super pleased when I feel like I can’t write, as opposed to just choosing not to. Anyone else feel that way?

Anyway, I’m just not quite myself today, I think. I don’t have any interesting thoughts or stories to share, and I’m tired. Some days are just that way, I guess.

On Friday, I’ll post some pictures of 2021’s first snow, but until then, enjoy this admittedly low-quality video of my dad, my uncle, and me playing one of our favorite songs at a little café in southwest Virginia. This is from a few years ago, but John Prine never goes out of style.

A Song for Graham (Bonus Post!)

I know this isn’t a normal posting day for me, but y’all, my husband and I have been together for 12 years today, and I forgot until about 3:00 this afternoon.

On this day, 12 years ago, Graham and I basically looked at each other and said, “Let’s do this.” And here we are now, after all this time, married since 2013, living in our little historic house in our beautiful village with our needy pets and our embarrassingly extensive wine collection, and I have never been happier for anything in my entire life.

I can’t believe I forgot.

So, to make up for it, here’s a little Cole Porter, by way of Patsy Cline, for Graham. Note – no makeup, frizzy hair, don’t care. The most important thing is the love. I hope you feel it, too.

A Song for Today

I just have no words after what I’ve seen and heard in these last several hours.

As I often do in times of stress and fear and sadness, I’ve turned to my fond memories, and to my family, and to music. So I thought I’d share a video with all of you of my dad and me playing one of my favorite songs. I’ve not performed this one in public since my grandfather passed away in 2015. He was a WWII veteran, and a coal miner. I am proud to be a coal miner’s granddaughter.

It’s hard to get through this song without tears now that he’s gone. But today, his legacy of strength and perseverance, of hard work and grace in difficult times, and his belief in a strong, fair and free America has kept me going.

Wherever you are in the world, whatever you’re going through, or dealing with, or healing from, I hope this brings you just a few minutes of joy and peace and comfort, as it has for me. Tonight, I’m sending all of the love I can out into the universe.

I hope tomorrow is a better, brighter day.

I Always Have Music

I have no gas left in my tank today. I stayed up until well after 4:00 a.m. EST watching election results come in, and right now, after several cups of coffee and way too much junk food, I am a drooling zombie. (I mean, not really, but if you looked at me and an actual zombie right now, it would be hard to tell the difference.)

And there are still valid votes to be counted, so I’m still watching. (And counting valid votes is decidedly, objectively NOT disenfranchisement or fraud, but that is a post for another day.)

Man, I’m so tired.

Anyway, I got nothing. I wish I had something insightful to say about the state of things, but I can’t seem to find my words today.

Luckily, even when I have nothing else, it seems I always have music. So, enjoy this (admittedly not super high quality) video of a friend and me goofing around and making some good noise, back a century ago in 2019, when things were still normal. Or, more normal. (Honestly, what even is normal anymore these days?)