Friday, January 30, 2015

You Are My Song

Jamie’s Story

     The nineteen-fifties. Elvis is wearing Blue Suede Shoes. The Grand Old Opry reigns supreme in Nashville.
     But in a small Tennessee town Jamie Logan ─ a good-hearted young man with a superb tenor voice ─ stars in his high school's musical theater production and begins an unlikely, almost magical journey that could take him to the pinnacle of the opera world.
     The path is far from simple. Jamie just wants to sing. He is ill-prepared for the jealousy, rivalry and politics he encounters on his way. Personal tragedy, family crises, even a hate crime sidetrack him and threaten to undermine his journey.
     There are far more aspiring singers than there are roles available, and young singers quickly learn that simply having a remarkable voice is rarely enough on which to build and sustain a career. Politics, jealousy, vindictiveness, even cruelty can be a part of what a singer has to deal with. And very often, a career can be launched or ended by luck. There has to be more than a desire to sing. There must be an overwhelming, undeniable feeling that this is the singer's reason for being.
     Jamie has the desire, but he also seeks to understand who he is, not only as an artist but as a man. The people he loves are vital to him and he strives to find a way to balance his professional life and his personal life.  Jamie has a voice beautiful beyond belief ─ and the love of a woman who inspires him to believe in himself. Will that be enough?
     You Are My Song is about Jamie Logan's journey in “opera world” and the choices he has to make along the way.


     I have chosen to write about this world because it draws from my own personal experience and because opera is a unique art form that I am passionate about.
     Opera stirs the soul and touches the heart as does no other form of entertainment. Its combination of drama, soaring voices, and thrilling orchestral accompaniment with scenery, costumes, lighting and staging that engage the eye is truly unique. Or, as the marketing people put it, “sight, sound, motion and emotion.”
     While opera is often viewed today as an elitist art form, in the not-too-distant-past it was the popular music of the people. For generations, opera signers have performed in venues that seat thousands of people, singing without amplification to the stirring accompaniment of a full orchestra.
     There is no other sound like it, and magnificent opera singers were the rock stars of their day, celebrated all over the world as recently as the early twentieth century.
    As you read You Are My Song, I hope you will hear and feel the beauty and the emotions I have tried to capture on the page ─ and also get a sense of the dedication and perseverance it takes to build a career in “opera world.”

You Are My Song is now available in paperback ($14.35) and Kindle ($3.99) on Amazon.

Cover design by Tristan Flanagan

Sunday, January 25, 2015

A Very Different Story

Not a Fairy Tale

     With any luck, You Are My Song should be available for purchase by the end of the month. I’ve included some difficult elements in this story: divorce, alcoholism, a hate crime, a family tragedy. The South in the 1950s and 1960s had its share of problems, especially for people who didn’t adhere to the “norm.” Jamie, mainly through some of his friends and family, faces some difficult moments.
     One of my reader reviews on Amazon for Eli’s Heart states “The story was fairy tale, full of music and wonder.” There is a fairy tale element to the book; there had to be, given Eli Levin’s dual challenges of a serious congenital heart defect and a prodigious musical talent. It could have taken place anywhere and in any era.
     Jamie Logan, on the other hand, the protagonist of You Are My Song, is very much a product of small town America in the 1950s. A product of a small Southern town in the 1950s. He is a good-hearted, naïve boy when the story begins. He has a lot to learn about life, about himself, about what he wants and what he wants to do. About what it will take for him to achieve his dream.
     Jamie is fortunate that he is white, and that he’s straight. He learns through some of his friends and fellow college students that being other than white and straight could lead to complications. To his credit, he does what he can for his friends who face these problems, and grows as a man and an artist because of it.
     Jamie just wants to sing, and it’s not that simple. Despite the many attributes he has, and the fact that he is more than willing to work hard at perfecting his craft, the “gold ring” he is after is not easily attained. Good things happen to him and for him, but there are definitely challenges he has to face, both personal and professional.
     What was most enjoyable about writing the book was revisiting “opera world” by listening to – and watching – recordings and videos of operas, and appreciating all over again those glorious voices I have admired and loved for many years. YouTube is great. I saw full length productions of Carmen, La Traviata, La Bohème. I saw the Met’s HD broadcast last year of Tosca and recently of The Merry Widow (and plan to attend The Tales of Hoffmann soon – a bonus!). I watched again my DVD of Manon Lescaut with the wonderful performers Kiri te Kanawa and Placido Domingo.
     I listened to numerous recordings, both my own and on YouTube, of a number of tenors from the 1950s and 60s: Jussi Björling, Giuseppe di Stefano, Jan Peerce, Richard Tucker, Franco Corelli, Mario del Monaco, Nicolai Gedda, Fritz Wunderlich, and yes, Mario Lanza. Great tenors, all of them.
     I was reminded of both the immense satisfaction an opera singer can experience and the intense frustration he can face. It’s not an easy life. But as Jamie learns, if you are born to do this ─ sing opera ─ you will try to find a way. And there’s a chance if you have the voice and the drive – and the luck – you might know the amazing sensation of standing on a stage with fellow artists and singing with a full orchestra, without a microphone, and feeling your voice soar to the far reaches of the opera house. You will have achieved something few people ever achieve. 

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Introducing Jamie Logan, Tenor

You Are My Song

    The nineteen-fifties. Elvis is wearing “Blue Suede Shoes.” Country music reigns supreme at the Grand Old Opry in Nashville.
     But in a small Tennessee town Jamie Logan ─ a good-hearted young man with a superb tenor voice ─ stars in his high school’s musical theater production and begins an unlikely, almost magical journey that could take him to the pinnacle of the opera world.
   The path is far from simple. Jamie just wants to sing. He is ill-prepared for the jealousy, rivalry and politics he encounters on his way. Family crises also sidetrack him and threaten to undermine his journey.
    But Jamie has a voice beautiful beyond belief ─ and the love of a woman who inspires him to believe in himself. His desire to sing becomes his reason for being. Will that be enough?

     My third novel, the story of a young tenor who aspires to sing opera, will be released by the end of January. I introduced Jamie Logan in How I Grew Up; he played opposite Melanie Stewart in their high school production of Carousel. I like my character Jamie. He has a naturally beautiful voice. He has innate musicianship and an ability to learn quickly, and no ego. He’s friendly, generous, outgoing, considerate. Oh, and unusually good-looking. He and Melanie have a strong connection, and they both wonder if they could be in love. But no, Jamie has a jealous girlfriend he later marries, and she doesn’t want him to sing.
     When You Are My Song begins, it’s four years after Jamie’s graduation from high school, and his marriage has failed. I had to laugh at my readers’ reaction to that; two of them commented they weren’t surprised to learn of Jamie’s and Sarah’s divorce. I wasn’t either. I wanted to see what would happen if I allowed Jamie to reconnect with his love of singing.
     Jamie’s lack of ego is unusual in a tenor. It’s a challenge to be a tenor in the world of opera; everyone wants to hear the tenor’s high notes, and if he doesn’t deliver, there are inevitably negative reactions. There’s a reason many of us love the tenor voice. There’s an intensity to the tenor sound. The response to that sound and those high notes is visceral. It’s a thrill to hear a tenor sing high notes with power and beauty.
     My theory is the tenor ego may be a way to counter the combination of insecurity and fear. Today I can sing a high C; can I sing it tomorrow? That’s the standard in “opera world.” That’s why we find videos on YouTube titled “Guess the Tenor by the High C!” and “Tenor Sing-Off – Faust High C – 15 Tenors.” Even more, we love to hear a tenor who can not only sing that C, but hold it forever and play with the dynamics. All of these things are probably contrary to the laws of physics, or medical science, or something. But the poor tenor is stuck with it.
     Of course, there is so much more to what makes a good tenor: evenness of scale, sensitivity to the music, the ability to shape a beautiful phrase, use of dynamics, command of many languages, connecting to his fellow artists and to the audience among them.
     Jamie has all of that, and more. Here’s his introduction to the reader in my first book, How I Grew Up, remembering the narrator is Melanie Stewart:

“Alice [Melanie’s sister] was right; Jamie was a very handsome boy. He had very dark hair, but fair skin and startlingly blue eyes. But it was more than that which made him so appealing; Jamie was someone everybody liked. He was friendly and kind, and always had a ready smile. Jamie had a truly beautiful tenor voice and he loved to sing, but he wasn’t conceited about it. When people complimented him on his singing, he always seemed a little surprised. He was just doing something he loved to do, and if people liked hearing him, well, that was great.”

     That was Jamie at eighteen. My new book begins when he is twenty-two and follows him through the next seven years of his life, and Jamie goes through a lot in those seven years. While you’re waiting for You Are My Song (and I certainly hope you are planning to read it!), if you haven’t read How I Grew Up or Eli’s Heart, you can order them in paperback or e-book format on Amazon, or people in the Poconos can purchase them at a slightly discounted price at the Pocono Community Theater. I’ve loved writing these books. I hope you enjoy reading them.

 Cover concept and realization by Tristan Flanagan

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Time Marches On

No More Birthday “Celebrations”

     Birthdays I remember fondly: Sixteen. Eighteen. Twenty-one. Twenty-five. Forty. No doubt you’ll notice I skipped Thirty, because I didn’t like that one. It was proof that I was Past My Youth. But Forty was great! I was finally a Real Grown-Up. I’ve tried to ignore Milestone Birthdays past Forty. They started to be what they all are, really, the inevitability of approaching Old Age. Which is where I am firmly ensconced now, and which is why I’ve decided to no longer celebrate my birthday. Oh, I have no choice but to acknowledge they take place, but I don’t intend to celebrate them. Lunch with good friends so we can commiserate. And we will.
     I love Facebook. I joined in 2008 when I realized what a great tool social media is in spreading the word about an upcoming event. Setting up an event page and spreading the word has become the modern day equivalent of that old word-of-mouth tool, “the grapevine,” as in “I heard by the grapevine.” I’m sure if you use social media to your best advantage, you reach many more people than you do through newspaper advertising. And unless you have gobs of money, who can afford to advertise on television?
     Since I had to set up an account, I included my birthday. Notice I did not say my “birthdate,” because I kept the year private. I was already old and didn’t really feel a need to broadcast that fact. So on my first Facebook birthday, it was fun to get greetings from lots of people I seldom heard from otherwise. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy Facebook. I’ve reconnected with people from my past and it’s been great to catch up with them. One is a woman I attended junior high school with and we’ve developed an entirely new and rewarding friendship. We’re on different coasts but email makes it possible for us to stay in close touch.
     I’m definitely glad I’ve lived to enjoy the benefits of technology. I love my smart phone which I had resisted getting until about a year and a half ago. I wonder how we managed back in the olden days without this stuff. If I’d had a cellphone when I was in high school, my entire life might have been different. Or maybe not. It’s been a darned good one, in any event.
     And without a computer I seriously doubt I would have begun to write. Three books in less than two years has been a wonderful surprise at this stage in my life, and writing this blog is immensely enjoyable. I’ve always liked to write. I think I’m beginning to learn how to do it. It’s fun, but it’s also challenging. Thankfully, no arthritis. At least, not yet. You never know when one of those benefits of aging is apt to jump up and bite you.
     Back to that “celebrating your birthday” thing. A couple of years ago I was given a royal treat by one of my wonderful children, a town car and driver into New York City, a meal at a great restaurant in Little Italy and two tickets to “Wicked.” I figured that was the capper on my birthday celebrations and I had a great time. But let’s face it. Have you ever heard anyone say, “Oh, I’m so excited to be fifty!” Or “I can’t wait to be sixty-five so I can start drawing social security!”
     I think it was Bette Davis who said, “Old age ain’t for sissies.” Boy, was she ever right. I know I am very fortunate to have enjoyed good health way past that sixty-five mark and I appreciate that I still have my mental faculties (I think), and am able to take care of myself fairly well. Some things I can’t do physically are things I have never been able to do physically because I am neither tall nor strong, but I never was. I can still drive. My vision is decent and my reflexes are still good.
     But I notice that more and more television commercials (when I watch commercial TV ─ I mainly watch old movies on TCM) are for medications for primarily people for whom “the aging process” has created various problems. Another trend is for “retirement communities” and “assisted living facilities.” When I was young (back in the early days of television) we never saw this kind of commercial. I have to say it makes me wonder if the aging population of this country has become a source for big business? Just saying.
     I continue to work with teenagers as a high school musical theater director. It keeps me on my toes and helps keep those mental faculties pretty sharp. The kids must know I’m nearly as old as God but they are sweet to me anyway. I like to see them succeed. I do everything I can to help them succeed. Maybe that’s why I’m still kicking, because I think I have something to offer them. I see them on the threshold of life and would never, ever discourage them from looking forward with oceans of hope. I remember that feeling.
     Back to Facebook (us elderly folks’ minds tend to wander), this year I made my birthday information private. The people who I’m close to may continue to acknowledge my birthday, but it’s okay if they don’t. Someone somewhere wrote something (sorry, I’m old so sometimes I forget specifics, though I vividly remember my sixteenth birthday … a quiet family celebration, that’s the way we did it back then) … anyway, something like “pick an age you like and stick with it.” Maybe George Carlin? He had great thoughts on this aging thing.
     I’ve decided forty-two was a good year. That’s just between us; birthday wishes not necessary. Excuse me, I need to check and see how many Twitter followers I have today.