My Private Garden aka 2020
Goodness gracious, my dear fans and frenemies, it has been awhile.
As most of you know, my fellow artists and human beings, this past year has been, uh, how shall we say, a flipping doozy? I played my last full-rate, safe gig on 14 March 2020 and since then have been figuring out how to navigate the world as I know it in a completely different light.
In the last almost-year, I've had about 2 panic attacks per month, taught myself a little bass and ukulele, written about 50 new original songs, day drank a few times too many, tracked half of an album, connected and re-connected with a ton of amazing artists for collaborations, burned a few bridges, grown some hot peppers, and written a book. If there was a graphic for my artistic and emotional journey, it would look like a child's interpretation of a mountain range.
But here's a cool thing that's come out of this whole mess. It's going to sound silly, but it's huge for me. I discovered that I want to live. I really, really want to live. For many years, I didn't care either way. Some odd combination of being afraid of dying of Covid, along with settling into more free time with my best friend and life partner John worked like a swift and loving slap across the face.
So with that little pesky conclusion out of the way, I found myself more and more able to sit down and work on my book, my songs, my chops. I made time for the relationships that make me feel supported and refreshed and cut out the ones that left me rubbing my head, wondering why I hurt so much when I put the phone down.
I'll be 30 this year. I feel like a kid with some of these accomplishments, but they're huge for me. I've been trying to remind myself that Friendship 101 or How to Manage Anxiety for Dummies isn't really offered in school, so I'm giving myself a pass.
Another thing I've been doing, that I haven't had the chance to do much in the past few years, is reading more books. Fiction, Non-Fiction, Instruction Manuals, you name it. I'm currently halfway through "On Writing" by Stephen King. He advocates 4-6 hours of writing or reading a day if you want to be a professional writer. I figured I'd give that a try, given that I'm working on a book and writing at least a song per week. That being said, you might see more of me here.
You can expect to start seeing the body of work I've been cranking out this year soon. I've been keeping quiet about most of it, protecting it, growing my little seedlings into a garden in private for fear that some of my darlings won't survive. But I figure, who cares? At least I'm trying. That's all we can do sometimes.
Hopefully you can feast your eyes and ears on my biggest endeavors, my book and my album, on my 30th birthday. Mark your calendars for 9/22/21 if you need a whole lot of Cassandra in your life. (Ego, much?)
Right now, I feel like a spider skating down some rapids, each leg on a separate lily pad. Am I writing prose today? Poetry? Am I teaching? Streaming? Cleaning out my hard drive? Working on my website? Wallowing in self doubt? Spin the wheel, and we'll find out.
This past year, I've discovered a lot of hidden hopes, dreams, and aspirations that I thought had atrophied. I'm sitting with this treasure trove, hands dirty, and I feel overwhelmed, but I know I have work to do with them. That might mean some major changes. It might mean some minor, subtle tweaks. Whatever it means, I'm here for it. After all, this is my garden.
So, I hope you do a little digging of your own. Make time to read an extra book. Turn off stupid social media for a day. It isn't doing you any good. Don't pick up that phone call from your toxic friend. Drink water. Stretch more. Listen to a good album. You know what I mean.
Until tomorrow, stay safe, stay well, and stay kind.
My friend and choreographer Katie Mattar creating movement in response to one of my life's most tragic events.
Usually, I post cute quips about what I'm up to or what I'm working on, but tonight's post will be quite different.
I recently got into (and did not finish, as my beautifully articulate colleague and friend Adam Schumaker took over) an argument on Facebook about the programming of women's music at high-level (aka donor level) events. (This conversation was eventually expanded to include POC and other minority groups, and also included conversation on identity and culture.)
As someone who considers herself fully aware of her trauma history and also artistic value at the same time, I stepped back from this conversation and felt the need to start to design a course about presenting trauma through art, community conversation, and psychological rape via academia and other masculine systems.
As I've been putting together my ideas, I've also been putting together my resources, some of which were books I've read in the past few years. From these books I've created short essays about my experiences as a composer, entertainer, and woman existing in the current political and cultural climate. (I'm an expert in that last one, for sure.) After re-reading several of my essays, I think my recent feeling of hopelessness and frustration boiled down to two.
I will link the two essays below. The first was written in 2017, the latter in 2018.
I don't want to say much more, but would appreciate a healthy and respectful dialogue about the topics I've addressed. I would also 100% recommend W. Cheng's book!
Thank you, as always, for reading, and may we all keep getting smarter and more empathetic to our fellow humans.
The Next Thing (So Far)
This might end up being more of a travel entry than an art entry, but hey, they all blend together in the long run, right?
Well. It's been a helluva few months. This post will expand a little on my latest, and, erm, my first, professional newsletter. (Email me to subscribe!)
As you may or may have read (hello, new friends!) I spent all of February on the Norwegian Getaway traveling to the Bahamas and playing songs for Howl at the Moon with my super cute boyfriend John.
Then, I went to Djerassi, which...if you read below, really f@#$ed me up in the best way possible. I'm 4'10" and I'll probably never get any bigger vertically, but, like the Grinch, my heart (and my brain) grew three sizes while I was there. Check out some of the posts below to see how!
Then, I crossed the Atlantic and went to Ireland, London, Amsterdam (I also gigged there, nbd), Berlin, and Prague. The photo of above is of me having an actual Guinness in Cork, Ireland. It totally tastes better there.
That trip really had me thinking. I think Berlin weighed the most heavily on me. We went to see the remains of the Wall and also visited the Holocaust Memorial--the largest of its kind. There were much happier and beautiful things about Berlin, too, like the food and the culture, but this is what stuck with me. We have a lot to learn about power and control, separation, and respect for the humanity in every situation.
Here's a part of the wall that was built over the graves of the locals. A single white cross remains to honor the dead who no longer have marked graves.
Prague was amazing--ancient, beautiful, and so small compared to anywhere else. It had such a local feel, but I felt accepted by everyone, despite the fact that I didn't speak Czech or any language but English.
This bad boy, The Prague Castle, gets a full-page sized photo.
Amsterdam was probably my favorite place of all. As a musician, I felt appreciated in a way I'd never quite experienced. The main club where I performed gave John and me food and drink tabs, put us up, and the staff was amazing. I also performed at a Burlesque bar where the owner carried me from the door to the stage, shouting, "The pianist is here!"
Needless to say, it was hard for me to get on the plane home.
So now I'm back in Chicago, and back to my usual craziness with gigs and balancing that full time job with this full time job of talking about and creating art.
While I was gone, I had some premieres:
5/22: blues for katherine, London, by Katherine Clarke
5/23: inside | outside, Chicago, by Plucky Plunkers
And, as far as the future is concerned, both of my concert series are about to be back up and running (do consider applying). See below!
In the mean time, I'm trying to stay inspired and proactive. These tasks are a bit difficult during the busy work season (I'm writing this at 1am...after an "early" gig) but I always appreciate your reading and feedback.
I'm always open for business. Send me projects.
Lots of love and gratitude,
Calls for Composers/Musicians/Collaborators
The next installation of Musicians Who Brunch will be coming up soon. This is my curated series for local Chicago songwriters and composers who wish to share their music with an open minded audience. Please check the application link and email email@example.com for more details!
Also, I am thrilled to share that Songs of Survival at the Awakenings Foundation will be back on October 18th, 2018! This is my curated series for and by survivors of sexual violence. Please click the hyperlink above for an application form.
You can always buy hard copies of my scores at Performers Music in downtown Chicago!
New Tools and Practices
Good evening from lovely Woodside, California.
I had a bit of stuck-ness this week as I forged ahead on my first ever serious orchestra piece, and it's not just an orchestra piece. It's a viola concerto, and I'm writing it for my best friend for his birthday. So I had better not screw this up, right?
The endeavor is scary and the material is new. (But as Merce Cunningham says, "The only way to do it is to do it." And that's right! Like a total newbie, I've had to go back to some orchestration guides and do a lot of listening/score study but it's started to flow more and more easily.)
Lucky for me, I'm at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program, so I am surrounded by brilliant creatives who are kind enough to hear me out. I ran my stuck-ness problem by a few of the writers, who were already discussing their own tactics to get un-stuck and keep workflow painless. I chimed in regarding my need to write pencil-to-paper so that I could spacially and gesturally navigate my pieces and easily see the big picture. That's when one resident, E. Dolores Johnson, told me about a tool that many writers use to organize their thoughts and ideas, especially in large form: storyboarding!
She let me visit her studio and study her own storyboard. She uses different colored index cards to indicate different characters (in her case, voices of real people: herself, her mother, and her daughter, along with different colored cards for explanation and speculation) and pace their stories and thoughts throughout her novel. She explained that the colors clearly show pacing and balance between the different people and illuminate places where more of a certain voice is needed.
I thought: that's what I need to help me organize my concerto! It's like a bird's eye view!
So I made my first composition "storyboard" and here is how it's coming so far:
So far the piece has expanded to be closer to 8 minutes (of a projected 10 minutes) but so far I think that this will be a great tool to use in the future! This is just one of the beautiful things about coexisting with artists of other mediums.
It's pretty cool to look at, but not as beautiful as the sunset was the night before.
There's no filter on this baby ^
Wow. Okay. I guess that makes sense. For every paper I've written in school, I've read books, watched videos, and done listening and analysis before even starting an outline. Why should composing be different?
Maybe I just needed to hear it from a writer.
After this stunning revelation, I forgave myself for what time I thought I had "wasted" during this amazing residency, and wrote a new list of what a good creative process should be (as I said, for me, at this time. Everyone is different).
For those who don't care to read my sloppy handwriting, here's the new list that I came up with:
6. stepping away
7. repeat steps 1 and 3
I realized after I composed this list that I hardly honor any of these steps. Especially not the dreaming or the celebrating parts (INTJ problems, surely). Stepping away is also a huge struggle for me. At most, I sleep on my work for "a night"--and I've realized that's not enough time to revisit it with a clear head.
I guess that's why some composers say they keep 2-4 pieces going at the same time, all in different stages (planning, writing, resting, finalizing/engraving/partmaking). And on top of all of that there's social media and promotion and doing stuff like this silly blog that we have to keep up with. Oof.
But anyway. Here's a picture of my face after a productive writing session at my studio a few days ago. I've been feeling a little ugly lately (probably comes as a side effect of feeling "unproductive" as I previously defined it, as beauty is linked to efficiency in my eyes), so I'm not sharing this in a narcissistic way, but maybe more as a symbol of making some changes and looking at life and sound work as positive and exciting things. Less judgment more art. Ya know?
How does your creative process look? How do you allocate your research/time/leisure? How do you treat yourself and celebrate after the completion of a piece?
No filter on this photo either ;) though I'm embarrassed that I'm wearing the same shirt as my last selfie...?
WE'RE IN THE WOODS, OKAY? NO JUDGMENT.
Love you all.
Well...I did it! I finished my first piece in a few months, probably because I had a great violist, Katherine Clarke, and a few dollars behind it.
The funk is real, and I've been feeling very funky lately. Not in that cool Robert-Glasper-Producing-Kendrick-Lamar way but with that wild voice of Resistance in my head. I have major Impostor Syndrome today and I want to discuss it and hear what you think.
In my most recent blog post, I mentioned that the people I'm surrounded by are amazing artists. They really are. They have been inspiring me to write and work harder than ever, especially given the gift of time. I'm working alongside a previous MacDowell Fellow, regularly commissioned artist, an amazingly provocative writer (with a new commission), award winning writer/actress, ex-Harvard Business School attendee turned nonfiction writer, amongst others.
My best friend just won two orchestral spots (which he deserves-it's been a long time coming). My partner is having his songs looked at by a legit-as-hell record producer.
So what am I doing? How can I fit into all this? Am I a worthy participant in this residency? Can I call myself a career Artist yet?
And yes, I was one of 7% of 968 applicants to this program, and after 6 years of applying I finally got in. But I was just waitlisted at another residency...which feels good...but not that good. It's better than a rejection, but it's certainly not an acceptance.
I feel so vulnerable; I'm in a position where I am absolutely the weakest link, which is a wonderful learning experience--and god, I'm growing artistically at a rapid rate... but Resistance is shouting at me, and more aggressively than ever.
I want to make art. Full time. For money. As a career. I am simply in the hustle and grind stage (what I am now calling "The Waitlist Stage")? I remember how this felt in my entertainment career, and I got where I wanted to be. I still see even further potential for my trajectory there. But to start over as an artist is a full time job. I'm ready to do it, but I'll need all the support I can get.
My next project is a viola concerto. After that, I want to continue my doodle exercises (see photo sample below) and work on a new multimedia project about sexual harassment in the workplace.
I'm sending lots of love to my readers; I know you are few but you are consistently kind and supportive toward me.
What do you do to pull yourself out of a rut? How do you combat resistance?
Til next time,
Cassandra's First Residency
Greetings from the Djerassi Residency Program in Woodside, CA!
I've been here for nearly a week and I'm already feeling how powerful this place is and how it will inform my work. I've connected with 11 other brilliant and kind creatives who will, no doubt, teach me a lot while I'm here.
So far, I have spent most of my days combining a mix of hiking, writing art music, writing songs, journaling, doodling, and asking a lot of questions. The landscape is breathtaking, and there's a bit of a mandate here: you can create as much or as little as you'd like. There's no shame in resting for a month, but if you want to challenge how prolific you can be, we'll support you in that as well.
What a strange change from academia! And from my pop career...and truthfully, from my own expectations. I'll give a full report at the end of this month, but so far, I've found that I am more productive given a totally free schedule while I live in proximity to other artists.
So here's a question: what would you do in a space/time environment like this? How would you spend it?
More to follow...so much more. Everyday is a new adventure.
I'm -sort of- training for a half marathon right now. Hopefully these mountains make it a hell of a lot easier!
Return From Europe
.Hello all! It's been quite awhile since I've posted anything but I am thrilled to report that not much is new, except that I've seen a few more dead bodies than I usually would.
I've always been fascinated by the dead. There's something sacred about the burial process--the remembrance process--the ritual of it all, and the feelings attached to it.
Well, that escalated quickly.
Let's backpedal. I spent the month of May on a cruise ship (as I did last year) and hit most of the same ports that I enjoyed last time: Barcelona, Naples, Civitavecchia, Florence (still haven't seen the leaning tower of Pisa though...), and Cannes. This year's itinerary substituted Marseilles, France, for Palma (island of Mallorca), Spain (which was an incredible upgrade).
All of that jumbled information to say, I had a lot less of an emotional/existential adventure and a lot more time to think, reflect, journal and heal. It was more of a spiritual adventure, if you will.
After countless hours alone, my trauma history was finally able to have a free playdate with itself and many of my other memories, uninhibited by impending tasks and a brutal schedule. I spent a good deal of time sifting through my narrative, and examining the narrative of my mother and grandmother as well. I am infatuated with the idea of inherited and amalgamated trauma, and my only new adventures involved paying homages to centuries of skeletons, gathered freely or forcibly (by Italians who were fascinated with the history...not by me, you sickos). This sparked a lot of questions in my mind about how our lives truly affect history--and of course, thereby, art.
The highlights of my trip can be seen in the following photos:
1. A catacomb of dead, rich people, buried in 3rd century C.E. who paid a LOT to have semblances painted around them, like it matters to us nowadays:
2. Here's a picture of me cracking up at the caverns where bodies were drained of fluids so that they could decompose more quickly...and so that the artist could immortalize them more quickly as well, of course.
3. Here's a couple of photos of a crazy monk's work: he collected 3700 monks' bodies and arranged them in artistic ways as an "homage" (or was he just as fascinated by death as I am?)!
4. Here are some photos of the cave which houses the bones of thousands of plague victims (mid 1700s--the plague took half of the population out, and a flood followed. People weren't able to track their loved ones, so they threw all of the leftover bones in a cave after the bodies fully decomposed) with no proper burial. People started a cult surrounding these "lost souls" in the 1960s and the pope shut the burial ground down until a few years ago.
Crazy, right? It puts mortality in perspective. So as I examined three generations of women who endured pain (I can only do three objectively, as I never knew my great grandmother), I wondered how it all adds up--does it matter?
I read a book by Amy Stacey Curtis called "Women, Trauma and Visual Expression" which finally codified gestures in my own work. It was as if truth goggles were tied around my head, and as I looked at my catalogue, I understood myself better.
I visited the Vatican as well, and even in a religious context, death leaves a lot of questions to be asked, but damn, in its absence, beauty seems to conquer. The aesthetic of the time seems to pervade. Whatever is culturally relevant is immortalized. What does that mean for our generation?
Though the trip itself was mostly lonely and frustrating artistically, I think I made a breakthrough on an emotional level in understanding my musical and artistic inclinations...and that can only mean that I am even better prepared to make more communicative art. Whether it's here, or in Europe, it's always good to self-explore and ask hard questions...even if that means visiting a ton of cemeteries.
Until next time...art on, my friends.
The Importance of Peer Patronage
Good evening (morning) everyone!
I want to thank everyone who came out to the soft premiere of The Dried Tobacco Project at Mary's Attic, the second installment of Songs of Survival at the Awakenings Foundation and Gallery (see photo above), and the Student Composers Concert tonight at Roosevelt University.
I am spread as thin as cheese on a cracker, but there has been an issue at the forefront of my brain lately that I am itching to discuss. I intend to be disrespectfully honest in this post.
What is wrong with you people--yes, you people--who are "too broke" to attend events?
We no longer live in a world where rich old white dudes want to give young, aspiring artists tens-of-thousands-of-dollars to sit around and think/write. So of course, we hear about blah blah blah entrepreneurship, blah blah. That's all fine and well. Lots of us are entrepreneurial and creative and hard working! I look around at my peers all the time and I am blown away by the work ethic and talent that I see. That is not an issue, especially in a competitive city like Chicago.
The issue is that we will kill the arts if we don't support one another. I believe, firmly, without a doubt, that a majority of the money we will all make in our lives will come from peer admiration (and a smattering of rare grants). If we aren't going out, networking, attending concerts/performances/exhibition openings, who will? Young artists are essentially the face of interest in the arts. So if there's a meaningful, kickass concert with really REALLY good music and 10 people in the audience, what non-musician will see its validity?
Are you following me?
You can work your face off at home, but if you aren't dropping $5-20 on a ticket for your friend or colleague's performance (provided, of course, that you don't have a prior engagement), why should you expect them to show face at yours? If this is a system that truly perpetuates itself (which, I believe, it does...), then how shall we expect this generation of artists to
1) continue to connect and be moved/inspired by one another
2) build careers in a world where art music/dance/film/poetry/art is highly misunderstood and under-studied by people?
Let me pose a solution for some of you who may actually be Broke AF.
Talk to your contact for an event, or call the venue if you don't have a specific contact for a show (though, if we're talking about peer patronage, as I'm calling it, then I'm sure you do have a specific contact) and ask about discounted tickets, volunteer opportunities, or mutual exchanges (like bringing people to the next night). It works. Every. Time. I have never been to a show where these weren't options. I have never attended an art event where volunteers weren't needed, and who would be a better volunteer than a friend of the artist at hand? This person would be a champion of the artist and probably an artist themselves.
All I'm saying is this--arts patronage is changing. And sometimes we have to work for free--but if we don't need to, we shouldn't. Sometimes, we can't pay for a ticket, but we should still appear (with a friend or two to build an audience) to show our friends and colleagues that we are as invested in their art as we hope they are in ours. Sometimes, we have to take off work (as I have) or de-prioritize social events, but if you're hoping to build a career in this city, I want you making it to every concert and event that you can. If you're a foodie you frequent good restaurants. If you're a runner, you check out every trail that you can hit the pavement on. If you're an artist, you attend art events. No excuses. No questions asked.
I am working on building several major art projects in this city. These are projects that will open the door for some of you. If you attend my events, I will attend yours, even if it means moving my schedule around. I swear by this stuff, and I hope all of you do too.
Long live art! Chicago is overdue for an artistic facelift.
This Mad Week
I want to thank you all for your attendance at Brunch Project Production's Premiere of The Dried Tobacco Project on Monday. Ian and I worked very hard on this for a long time and the turnout was better than we could have thought. We look forward to the future of BPP and my future gallery...revitalizing and revolutionizing the arts scene in Chicago is a huge undertaking, but it's long overdue, isn't it?
The people that we work with are amazing. All of the composers, performers, and audience members are essential to our growth. I had an interesting conversation with Jordan Jenkins earlier, when I said, "I feel bad for continuously charging people for concerts, even though I know it'll circulate back." His sarcastic response was perfect: "Oh! Of course! How dare you charge people to see a musical concert? We all know that music is just a HOBBY and why should composers and performers get PAID for it!?"
I know, with peers like this, that we can continue to build up independent artists' careers in the city of Chicago. After all, our economy is built off of the re-circulation of money from proprietor to proprietor. Why not do this in the arts? Once we can branch out and create a system of patronage between ourselves and our friends, we can build a network to build our future as artists.
That being said, please come out to my premiere tomorrow night at The Awakenings Foundation. The student tickets are $12 but it will be an important and moving night. In fact, the whole series is important and moving.
Musicians Who Brunch, first installation
Also, November 20th heralds a new Musicians Who Brunch concert at the Red Lion Pub in Lincoln Park! Tickets are only $5 for that, and you can catch the brightest and best (...I only book the brightest and best) new composers and performers in the Chicago game.
Thank you, as always, for your continued support. I am so appreciative for all of my brilliant colleagues and friends.
Updates For My Millions of Fans
Hello everyone! For those of you who take interest in my work, here are a few updates as we approach 2016.
My multi-movement work for piano and baritone, The Dried Tobacco Project, received the very first Student Seed Grant from Roosevelt University, and will most likely be additionally backed by individual donors. The Project focuses on the plight of oppressed LGBT youths and demands to end the tragedy of suicide in this demographic. The music features the poetry of Will Brooks (which can be purchased on Amazon!) and the vocal talent of Ian McGuffin. Please read more about The Dried Tobacco Project and its plans for a 2016 tour around the midwest here!
I am honored and excited to be premiering a new piece by my friend and colleague Adam Schumaker on January 15th of 2016. It features a Casio SK-1 alongside the piano, and is funded by the Kalamazoo Arts Development Initiative. We workshopped the piece today, participated in a very thorough interview and got some great preliminary recordings of a few movements. Learn about Adam and his concert here. (Seriously, go learn about him.)
Finally, I have been working diligently to put together a concert series which will showcase survivors of sexual abuse or assault. The first concert will take place on April 22nd, 2016, and has just recently received funding from a private donor. Our home base for this powerful and community-oriented series is the beautiful and inspiring Awakenings Gallery in Ravenswood! We hope that we can have two of these concerts a year, and are always taking applications! All ideas/proposals can be emailed to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In other news, I survived my first semester of grad school with only 2-3 major crying sessions a week, acquired a pet gecko and am anxiously awaiting the release of my latest film scoring project, Not a Superhero!
I hope you get a few days off over the holidays, and (shameless plug) if you're looking for a new, fun way to spend New Years, join me at the Tack Room at Thalia Hall for a night of piano bar singalong fun starting at 9:30 pm for that momentous occasion!
Have a warm, safe, musical, and restful winter! Sending love!
Here's the studio where Adam and I recorded selections from his new piece, Six Inspirations for Little Synth!
And here's my little baby warrior goddess leopard gecko, Athena. I have no shame.