Boom! Summer is here and the living is busy! My recording blog is on a temporary hiatus as I’ve been very busy with the Seattle Opera in Schools (teaching in summer school), my private students, and preparing for my Cuba concert in the fall. I participated in an amazing piano master class in Portland over the weekend with the inspiring Dr. Jill Timmons, my mentor. What a thrill and humbling experience to play a concert hall sized Bosendorfer, valued at $300,000.00 (that’s a whole other story). Joe and I made a weekend of it and spent the next day at Mount st. Helens.
After an overnight at a Super 8 along I5, we headed toward Mount St. Helens. In all, we spent about 4 hours at Johnston’s Ridge, the highest visitor’s center. We took in the exhibits, lectures, and movies and also took a short hike on a very pleasant trail with great views. There were two really interesting films about the eruption and the geology of the mountain which is still, by the way, active! The rangers also do a great job with their talks. It wasn’t an entirely clear day, but it was still spectacular. What a bonus, that the area was alive with wild flowers at their peak bloom! You can see by the pictures, the side of the mountain blown out with the landslide still looks quite barren.
The eruption was in May of 1980, 57 people died, you can see the memorial below. The explosion could be heard as far away as Missoula, Montana. I still remember waking up to an ash covered Choteau, Montana when I was about 10 years old, everything was covered with the grey dust including cars, steps, sidewalks, etc.
On our way down from the mountain, we stopped at an adorable road side cafe overlooking the Toutle River- picture of Joe drinking coffee.
The last few weeks, in addition to teaching my private students, I’ve been working as a teaching artist for the Seattle Opera in their Opera in Schools Program. The opera work includes composing mini operas with 3rd graders. I’ve also been teaching general music at Wedgwood Montessori Preschool. I am inspired, energized and humbled by the fearlessness and creativity of children in the schools and in my private studio.
How Can I Keep From Singing is an American song dating as far back as the mid 1800’s, possibly written by Robert Lawry. The melody is sweet and simple while the text is beautiful and timeless.
My life goes on in endless song above earth’s lamentations,
I hear the real, though far-off hymn
That hails a new creation.
No storm can shake my inmost calm,
While to that rock I’m clinging.
It sounds an echo in my soul
How can I keep from singing?
Silly Laura and her mom, Gail Dean at Rancho la Puerta
Romances Sans Paroles translates to Songs Without Words. Below I play #3 by Gabriel Fauré (played on my digital keyboard and mixed on my Macbook as a harp/guitar duo). What a perfect piece for Mother’s Day. No words can describe how grateful I am for my mother, Gail Dean. She’s a woman of steel who raised two kids on her own with courage and grace after losing my dad in a highway accident when we were all very young.
Thanks, Mom, for all of the hours of music lessons, for driving across the state of Montana for camps and concerts, for sewing all of those costumes and dresses, for giving me a great education, and for giving me the courage, independence, and grit to pursue a life in music. I owe it all to you!
To all of the Mamas our there! You know who you are and I know how hard you work to make it all look easy! Here’s to our Moms and here’s to us, the Mamas!
Don’t Advertise Your Man piano and singing by Laura
Here’s my awesome guy, Joe Sweeney! He does laundry and helps my daughter with her math, he also is an amazing bird photographer, very funny, extremely handsome, and the love of my life. I could go on and on, but before I do, I think I’ll take the advice of Clara Smith who first wrote this old blues tune back in the 1920’s, Don’t Advertise Your Man. Sippie Wallace came our with her version in the 1960’s. Bonnie Raitt has also recorded a sassy version.
Be sure to check out these recordings, and remember, girls, Don’t Advertise your Man!
Raspberry Beret music and lyricsby Prince, piano solo by Laura
Growing up in beautiful Choteau, Montana (population 1800), we had one movie theatre, the Roxy, open only on the weekends. To my delight, in 1984, the Roxy showed Purple Rain, starring Prince. As a young high school desperate to explore places and faces outside of my hometown, I was mesmerized by the music, the story, and of course, the romantic vision of Prince cruising down the open road on his motor bike! Vroom!
Today, and homage to Prince, an amazing talent and unique artist! Oh how I long to be as cool as the elusive girl in Raspberry Beret.
Still dreaming of adventures in Cuba. Today, a post featuring Lágrimas Negras (black tears), a traditional Cuban Bolero written by Miguel Matamoros. My group learned this piece under the instruction of a wonderful voice teacher at the havana music school.
The bolero, in two parts, opens with a slow lament. The singer has been abandoned and suffers immense pain. She sobs black tears over her lover’s transgressions. The second half picks up as she decides to suffer no more. Above, my recording, a piano arrangement of Lágrimas Negras.
Don’t miss these three different takes on Lágrima Negras:
Obini Bata is a government sponsored bata drumming and performance group. In fact, this is the first group of women in Cuba to play Yoruba drums professionally, a role typically reserved for men. Bata drums are hourglass-shaped drums played in a group of three.
Yoruban music has African origins, Nigerian, to be exact. This music and dance were originally used in religious ceremonies. The leader of Obini Bata, a former principal ballarina, tells us the group strives to portray Yoruban music and dance as a cultural art without religious implications.
The group has performed all over Cuba and Nigeria. The performers rehearse 4-8 hours every day in their bare bones studio in a crumbling building in the Central District of Havana. Our visit includes a powerful private performance of singing, drumming, and dancing. The women also conduct a workshop for my group where we try our hand at Yoruba drumming (much harder than it looks), sing a Yoruban song, and dance in long white skirts.
For more about my adventures in Cuba, please visit week #9 and week#10 of the Yellow House Salon.
Today’s recording is a video of Rumba dancers and musicians taken at El Gran Palenque. (Havana, Cuba)
Rumba! Locals are packed in at El Gran Palenque in the Vedado district of Havana, Cuba. It’s a rumba fiesta and all generations are represented in this lively party under the hot Havana sun.
Rumba is a Cuban dance accompanied by a live band. The musicians (rumberos), include a lead singer and percussion. There are three sizes of drums (trumbadoras) and smaller percussion instruments including claves (two hollow sticks struck together), a catá (a small hollow trunk mounted on a stand and struck with two sticks), and sometimes a type of gourd shaker (a gourd covered with a netting of beads).
There are different styles of Rumba including the guaguancó, the columbia, and the yambú. The guanguancó is danced by couples and has a courting element where the man pretends to kick the woman between the legs and the woman quickly covers herself to avoid his advances. The Columbia is a solo dance for males while the yambú is for older people, often accompanied by a cajón, or box drum.
Fueled by a sunny Seattle day, an invigorating yoga class, a stop for coffee, and a bouquet of fresh flowers, I headed home to record episode #2 of Yellow House Salon. Two and 1/2 hours later here it is.
Today’s episode is two recordings based on the traditional folk song, Wayfaring Stranger. This song has a beautiful, longing melody with words that speak of our journey through life. Walking through my wonderful Wedgwood neighborhood, I don’t feel like a stranger, on the contrary, I feel a great sense of belonging and contentment. That aside, here are my two takes on Wayfaring Stranger.
Laura singing/playing guitar Wayfaring Stranger, Traditional
Laura playing Wayfaring Stranger from American Ballads by Roy Harris.