Losing my voice

Over Thanksgiving Break, I lost my voice. I was able to talk a raspy talk, but singing was impossible. Over the week, I’ve been getting my voice back, but it’s been tough staying patient while my throat heals up.

Not being able to sing made teaching lessons hard. It’s funny when I think about it; when I first started teaching at my current school, I was afraid of singing and certainly wouldn’t sing in front of my students. Over time, I realized that singing is one of the best ways for musicians to connect with the music they’re playing, especially when developing one’s ear. This week, I surprised myself with how much of a handicap it felt like to have to teach lessons without being able to sing to and with my students.

Reality is setting in; I have a show tomorrow where I’m expected to sing for 3 hours. My voice as it is now is able to whisper out a tune here or there. Basically, the vocal singing styles available to me at the moment are Enya or Tom Waits, hahaha. I was looking forward to debuting some new covers and even some vocal originals, but I might have to wait another day.

That said, I’m still able to compose and put new ideas to paper, so I haven’t truly lost my voice in a meaningful way. : )

Summer Tour: NYC (June 20-23)

Wow! The tour is coming to an end in a month! Then I’ll be back in Philly for my homecoming show with my awesome friends Nalani & Sarina! Anyway, here are some snippets of my summer adventure.

 

Day 1:

Thankfully, my 2009 Subaru Forester passed its yearly PA state inspection. The week prior, I test drove my fully-loaded car to make sure that everything ran fine. Better to work out logistical kinks earlier than later! Here’s a video I shot of the before and after:

The drive to NYC went fairly smoothly with the expected delays. My generous friends and hosts Genai & Jacob put out a cheese and vegetable spread. Then we promptly crashed to be well rested for the day ahead.

 

Day 2:

After waking up and getting ready, I got some food from a food truck and picnicked at Sunset Park in Brooklyn.

NYC Sunset Park

After running some errands, practicing, and more eating, I attended my first rooftop party! The panoramic shot won’t upload, so instead, here’s a weird failed panorama. I assure you that the view was quite pretty:

NYC - Rooftop party

Edit: Yay! Got the panorama to load!

Panoramic shot from a Brooklyn rooftop

 

Day 3: 

I got together with some old bandmates to jam before eating loads of pizza and attending an Avishai Cohen concert. Avishai Cohen is my favorite touring act at present, and he hardly performs in the US, so it was an honor.

Goo Foo

Jam with old friends & bandmates

 

 

Day 4:

I got to play at the Hollow Nickel in Brooklyn. Really great crowd, awesome host, and a goofy, light-hearted vibe for the evening. Got a lot of great advice on how to improve my act as well!

NYC Hollow Nickel

 

Day 5

No NYC experience would be complete without being given a parking ticket in a residential area without any signs that indicated restrictions. My EZ-Pass also malfunctioned on my way out of the city. Imagine the lovely line of patient NYC drivers who were stuck behind me because the cross bar wouldn’t lift to let me through. Anywhoo, on to Connecticut!

On the road: West Chester, Ambler, & Princeton

I might be a klutz and spill water on myself, but even clumsiness can lead to something lovely:

27 Wet pants heart
Before I made preparations to leave for a small weekend away, I got a little something in the mail from AAA: namely travel & camp guides for the places I’ll be visiting on my summer tour!

26 AAA books

I then head out to a rain-soaked West Chester, PA to play at the Higher Grounds. It was a really cool spot complete with an open kitchen, a fireplace complete with sofas, and a nice, open area carved out for musicians. After my set, I managed to break yet another zipper on my Reunion Blues Continental guitar bag. Nothing that a little strand of paracord and a lighter couldn’t fix!

26 Paracord zipper pull

The next day, I had a spot at the Ambler Music spring festival. Some light drizzle and ominous storm clouds scared some people away before my set, but the sky opened up once I started playing. I bumped into my friends at the Engle guitar hammer as well as many other talented musician friends. Overall, it was a fun day of hanging outside, eating food, and listening to great, local music.

26 Student band

My friend Geoff C. also managed to snap some great shots from me playing on my lovely Stonebridge G22CR-C outfitted with Miniflex Model 1 Two-mic system:

Harmonics

Joy

Snap

 

Sunday had me over in Princeton for their Communiversity Festival of the Arts. I really did not anticipate the scope of this event! I spent nearly two hours trying to find parking with no luck. I happened to run into my friend Michael M. who got into my car and parked it while I rushed over to the stage with gear in hand. The kindness of people always floors me. Everything was fine after I took a deep breath and started playing.

27 Communiversity

After a really fun set in front of a great, interactive crowd, I hung with friend and awesome/funny/hypercreative songwriter Sarah Donner, her foster kittens (pictured below), and her bassist Jay. About the most relaxing way to spend an afternoon.

27 Kittens

I then hiked back into town, grabbed some Chinese food, a root bear float, and jammed in the audience to my friends and favorite multi-instrumentalist, twin sister, musical act, Nalani & Sarina who always put on a killer, high-energy act. After walking around town for a bit, I drove to visit my folks in their beautiful country home. The next morning, I found out that sometime during my time in Princeton, I managed to put my first scratch in my Stonebridge. As Roger from Stonebridge said, “The first cut is the deepest.”

27 Stonebridge crack

And there you have it! A weekend nicely bookended by my clumsiness, hahaha!

Looking ahead, I’ll be at the Spring Picking Bluegrass Festival to demonstrate the Engle Guitar Hammer this Thursday and Friday! Then I’m off to California to perform at the TEDx Conference at Stanford University! What a dream come true!

Love and Peace,

Henry

Overcoming fear of singing

A year ago, I had a ton of insecurities about my singing voice. I hated the way it sounded, and I felt that I’d never be able to sing lead for anything (beyond those screaming metal bands I did). I worked my butt-off anyway, working hard to improve and learn everything I can about singing.

Fast forward to yesterday. A cover I did of one of my favorite songs got a comment from the original artist who said, “I f*cking love it!” among some other very flattering remarks. Well shucks.

On several occasions this past year, I’ve had audience members come up to me saying that it’s crazy that I don’t have vocal album requesting that I do one ASAP. Now I’m getting people asking me for singing lessons! (WTF?)

I know this all sounds very vain and ego-stroking for me to say, but it’s been a point of pride for me to turn one of my most abysmal weaknesses into something others occasionally find pleasant.

With any other musical instrument, you can just buy nicer gear. But with voice, you only have what you’re born with. Some just have it, that God-given talent that makes the Earth stand still with every passing note. Others, like me, can work at it, improve, and make due.

I made excuses for a long time, but none of those excuses got me any closer to actually being able to sing. I still have a LOT of improving to do, but I’m working at it. And that’s all anyone can ask of themselves.

Playing music is painful for me: The drive to create

Pretentious post to follow. Here we go.

My hands aren’t good pianist or guitarist hands.
Every week, the skin between fingertip and nail gets torn.
Every week, my fingertips bleed.
Every week, I go about my days with throbbing, painful fingertips.
The only way to stop the pain is to stop playing music.

And that’s not an option.

Anyone who’s ever taken piano lessons has been told to keep their nails short. Similarly guitarists know that it’s difficult to play with long nails on your fretting hands. My fingernails naturally protrude past my fingertips. Whenever I play piano or guitar, I strike in such a way that bleeding separation occurs after only few hours of practice. When I was competitively playing classical piano, I’d go to sleep with latex gloves on with Vitamin E and lotion at the fingertips to help facilitate healing. It helped with the healing but never solved the problem.

This rambling is all to make a simple point: playing music is and has always been physically painful for me. Even as I type this post on this non-musical keyboard, I’m very aware of the sharp pain felt with every stroke of a key. Music hurts, but it’s my love, and I can’t be without it.

As I spend more time with creative, artistic people, it’s clear that the drive to express and create isn’t something that those without the drive can really understand. When the masses hear, “I will go crazy if I don’t play music/write/paint/etc,” they think we mean it in the way a person would go crazy if they missed an episode of a popular TV show and needed to catch the rerun later: it’s an inconvenience that momentarily discomforts me.

From personal experience further corroborated by account by similarly driven creative types, absence of a substantive creative outlet feels like voluntarily denying yourself of one your five senses. So try the following:

Close your eyes every moment before you see something beautiful.
Cover your ears every moment before you are about to hear a favorite song.
Prevent your tongue from ever tasting anything wonderful.
Stop breathing every moment before your smell something amazing.
Put yourself in a bubble where you can never feel anything pleasurable again.

What kind of world would that be?

Sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch are all ways of perceiving the world  around us. Artistic expression isn’t about creating a thing to elicit half-witted wows from the people around us; it’s about processing everything we experience in a way that makes sense to us. Most often the expression makes no sense to anyone else and is meaningless to all save its creator. Sometimes that expression resonates with others.

And that’s when magic happens.