Welcome to the Songtaneous Blog

ProfileSongtaneous is where spontaneous singing happens. Once a month, singers (and other creative people) gather to share their voices and their selves while making beautiful, complex and fleeting music. I always learn something about singing and myself when I facilitate Songtaneous. In this blog, I'll share what I learn and experience while traveling in the intuitive, joyful, beautiful, expressive, challenging, abstract world of vocal improvisation.

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My Keyword for 2018

Posted by on Jan 24 2018 | Songtaneous

It’s a new year; time for a new keyword.

As you know if you’ve spent time here, each January I pick a “keyword” for the year.

I call them keywords because a in the world of the interwebs, a keyword is connected to other words and other ideas.

When you search using a keyword, you get a range of results that are all connected to the keyword. When I pick my word for the year, it helps me to notice occurrences and outcomes connected to my word.

Recently a friend asked me how do I keep my keyword in the forefront throughout the year?

The honest answer is I don’t. *smile*

For me, keywords work kind of like vision boards. In choosing my word, I spend time reviewing the past year and considering what I want to accomplish/receive/explore in the year ahead, but once it’s chosen, my keyword pretty much runs in the background.

Take last year.

My word for 2017 was FLOURISH. And flourish I did.

In fact, of all the keyword I have chosen (9 to date), this one manifested the most concretely for me. Just look at my metrics. *smile*

  • I spent more time performing. In fact, I performed 32% more than in 2016.
  • I worked with nearly 30 new collaborators/musicians.
  • I doubled my out of town performances.
  • I broadened my range of projects, including singing a contemporary black opera in July and being invited to sing in an operetta which will premiere this February (Dead Mother King, Feb 23 & 24th).
  • I filmed and released a video about my artistic philosophy and upcoming recording project.
  • I held 30+ songwriting sessions to create/discover the songs for my upcoming album
  • I successfully completed my first Kickstarter campaign.
  • I went into the studio the week before Christmas to record my solo album, “What the Music Says Do.”

I knew I had a lot to accomplish in 2017 and that I wanted it to be a year of planting seeds for future growth. Now, I have noticed in this self-supervised life of mine that movement often creates momentum, so I worked to perform more, write songs and raise funds.

That said, I did not wake up each day thinking “Okay, time to flourish.” In fact, it felt like a number of the opportunities in which I participated this past year simply “showed up.”

(In truth, I was being invited to participate based on work I had done in the past, but the fact these projects came this year, I attribute to the power of my keyword.)

So on to 2018.

While it no longer feels original to tell you that I had trouble finding my keyword for the year … I did.

Having come off a big year with a big ending (three days in the studio with a dozen musicians), I spent the first weeks of January napping and getting ready to go back to school. I began to listen to all the audio recorded in December (twice as much as most projects my engineer told me *smile*).

So while I knew it was time to pick a new word, I felt too busy and too tired.

I jotted down ideas as they occurred to me:  visible, up, clear, rest, self-care, balance, learn, appear, savor, etc. I even briefly considered if it was time to reuse a past keyword. But, given this is the 10th time that I’ve chosen a keyword, I had faith that the right word would come.

It took longer than usual, but my keyword for 2018 is REPLENISH.

replenish — v. to make full or complete again, as by supplying what is lacking, used up, etc.

v. to supply (a fire, stove, etc.) with fresh fuel.

v. to fill again or anew.

Looking for your own keyword? Here are some ideas:

share, focus, explore, allow, release, start, finish, relax, birth, flourish, savor, simplify, balance, create, dare, prosperity, plant, discover, nurture, wellness, nourish, creativity, discipline, perform, shimmer, power, present, authenticity, beam, be, embody, imperfect, willing, rejuvenate, unpack, …

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Past and Present Keywords

Posted by on Dec 15 2017 | Reviews and Recollections

My Keywords

Each January, I pick a word for the year. I use choosing my keyword as an invitation to review the past year and ponder and dream about the year ahead. I call them keywords because keywords are connected to other words and other ideas. For me, they take the place of resolutions.

Below is the list of the keywords I have chosen to date.

  • 2009: DISCIPLINE. I was taking the first steps in building my music career. I had been blogging for about 6 months and was looking for footholds in teaching and gigging.

  • 2010: NOURISH. This keyword helped me battle burnout by remembering the importance self care. I also began to really understand and accommodate the energy cycles being self-supervised involves.

  • 2011: EMBODY.  I had just returned from Tenerife in the Canary Islands and I wanted “to spend the next year becoming what I glimpsed about music and improvisation in Africa.”

  • 2012: CREATE. This keyword led to a year of business-building activities like re-launching my workshops and private lesson studio.

  • 2013: START. I was beginning work on my grant-funded vocal work and had little idea of how to begin.

  • 2014: PRESENT. This was the year I presented my first full-length improv composition Between: A Journey Through the Middle. It was a whirlwind of a year filled with big shows, new workshops and many, many gigs.

  • 2015: RELEASE. I originally chose the word because I wanted to share more of the music I create with more people, but 2015 became about releasing expectations.

  • 2016: HEART. I felt this keyword guiding me as I worked on my (successful *smile*) album funding proposal and as I processed the events before and after November 2016’s election.

  • 2017 – FLOURISH. I knew I had a lot to accomplish in 2017 and I wanted it to be a year of planting seeds for future growth.

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There is No Comma in This Title

Posted by on Dec 06 2017 | Songtaneous

This post first appeared on Dec 4, 2017 in The Spoke published by The Albright Institute.

When we name something, we create it — a reflection on cultural identity and authenticity in music

I have not named very many things in my adult life. I do not have children and my pets have usually arrived with names already firmly in place. As a black, African American, biracial woman, however, I well know the importance of language and names. Ours is a history of being unnamed, renamed, and mis-named. We personally and keenly understand that the names we give people, animals, even things, inform how we view, receive, and interact with them. Therefore, when it came time to name my album, I knew that its name had work to do. It needed to hold this group of songs individually and collectively. It also needed to speak to its genre, jazz.

I have been working full-time as a singer for a decade. In this time, I have learned that as an artist, I have the responsibility and privilege to create art. My most recent artistic undertaking — writing and recording an album of original jazz songs — stems from this understanding. As I began work on my project, I resolved to write the songs that “arrived.” In other words, I did not decide to write an album of love songs, or songs about the seasons, or songs in certain keys. Instead, I chose to work through each of my song ideas as it presented itself, in the way that it presented itself.

Some songs came easily — a lyric and melody would arrive and I would follow them down their musical path until they reached their destinations. Others came in pieces or in dreams. Some were insistent. Others were reluctant to be revealed. In the end, I have written a collection of songs about my love for family and friends, about expressing — and being — one’s true self, and about living as a woman of color. To say that this collection of songs is varied might be an understatement.

So. How to name such a project? Names like “Songs I Wrote” and “Untitled” don’t do the work. As important, they cannot convey the rich complexity of what jazz does. For me, jazz sits at an intersection of the sounds, history and feeling of its many, many icons and the tones, stories and needs of present day jazz makers and listeners. The history and formation of jazz include combining the familiar, the new and the available in inventive and alternative ways.

My album’s title needed to hold all of this, to name all of this.

I am not quite sure when I came up with the title “What the Music Says Do.” I know it was not my first idea for a title (or my last). I kept the name to myself for weeks, but the more time I spent with it, the more convinced I became that this was my title. It captured my experience of creating the album. My belief that an answer can always be found if I simply listen for the music and then, without ego or agenda, do what it tells me to do.

But names are funny, and sometimes they do things we don’t expect. When I launched my Kickstarter to crowdfund support for my work, the album’s name became public and people started to ask questions.

“Did you mean ‘What the Music Says’?”; No, I didn’t.

“Did you mean ‘Do What the Music Says?’”; No, not really.

“Should the title, perhaps, have a comma? As in, ‘What the Music Says, Do’.”

This last gentle query was from my mother, a former writing instructor. I am grateful to her for posing this question because in our conversation, I discovered that I was absolutely certain that this title has no comma.

As a black woman writing songs in an African American musical genre, it feels important to honor the syntax of the name of the spiritual that inspired my album title — “I’m Gonna Do What the Spirit Says Do.” My choice of the name “What the Music Says Do,” pays homage to one of the African American musical traditions from which jazz descended, spirituals, while resisting a frequent desire of dominant culture to tidy, correct or anglicize black language. I see the same desire to tidy, correct and anglicize jazz. A black art form, jazz is rooted in oral and aural traditions. This is not because black people were not or are not educated enough to write this music down. It is because this music (jazz) is a language in its own right. Dissecting it or notating it, often results in subjecting this language to a Western, European idea.

Jazz is transmitted from mouth to ear; from instrument to body. When I perform, I am sharing the jazz language with you — a language with its own syntax, semantics, and lexicon that cannot fully or faithfully be transcribed. The songs on my album are quite literally my voice. I have done what the music says to birth this album.

And I am the one who names it.


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