Right Now for Now: Casey Dinkin Lets Go of Fear to Pursue her Music Making Dream

Music was always a large part of upstate New York-native Casey Dinkin’s life. Yet like many talented and passionate singer Casey Dinkin's Official Press Photosongwriters, Casey searched for a reason not to pursue music, up until now.

“I knew what I wanted to do with my life,” she explains. “I’ve always wanted to be a singer songwriter, have a band and tour around and make albums, but I never thought it would happen.”

So what changed the mind of this singer and guitarist who lyrically and musically sounds like a distant cousin of Norah Jones? In my interview with Casey Dinkin for Music Historian’s full-length feature for July, I learned that self-reflection, relocating to New York City, and raising money through Kickstarter.com to put her songs on a record helped her take the necessary steps towards making her dream of being a recording artist a reality. The result for all of Casey’s efforts is the release her debut record later this month, Right Now for Now.

“I love this independent music”

Music surrounded Casey all her life. She says that both her parents loved folk songs from the sixties. Her mother played music from Joan Baez’s songbook as well Judy Collins, and her father favored Motown and soul. Meanwhile, Casey’s musical tastes included The Beatles and The Grateful Dead.

Casey and her mother would sing tunes from musicals together. At fourteen years old, Casey picked up guitar, and she participated in musical theater and school choirs. During this time, her admiration for the independent singer songwriter blossomed.

“I remember in High School,” says Casey, “I watched people get up on a stage with a guitar and sing. They would sing a song they wrote at the coffee house. I thought that was so cool, and I wished that I could be that amazing.”

College opened up new performance opportunities for Casey and led to more experiences, some successful and some challenging. She explains:

“In college, I started singing with jazz bands. After college, I sang with a rock and roll cover band, which built a following and played many gigs. At this point, I became more confident with performing. I started to think “I really love this independent music.”

“Then I started collaborating on songs with one of the members in the band, and that was the first time I had really shared my songs with someone. When we performed them in public, people responded positively; they thought my songs were enjoyable.

“Unfortunately though, that band broke up, and I was on my own for a while. I found more opportunities as I looked for other bands. At this time, I also worked for an anti-hunger non-profit.”

Casey enumerates that at this moment, having a job and handling her own performance promotion and booking made her think twice about pursuing music. So she put music aside to focus on her non-profit work which eventually led her to Washington, DC.

Putting Music on the Backburner: Casey’s Self Reflection

“I got a job in DC working at a national anti-hunger research and action center. While I was there, I realized that I wanted to do something entrepreneurial where I could set my own path. Since I’m an artistic person by nature, I wanted to be involved in the arts.

“I found myself having conversations with people trying to figure out what I wanted to do. Then one day I was talking to my friend Beth who told me that she made a cork board to help her figure out what she wanted to do. She thought of every possible career and put it up on this board, anything she could think of, and then she told me that the goal she really wanted to pursue, which was to write a book, she didn’t have the guts to put up there. I then realized I had the same thing.”

Although Casey tried to put music aside, she never stopped writing songs. She claims to have written about 100 songs by the time she left DC.

Casey Dinkin singing at the Leave A Lasting Mark Concert Series Van Morrison Tribute Show, on 2/9/2012 at The Bitter End in NYC. Photo by Manish Gosalia, courtesy of www.caseydinkin.com “I started to realize that putting music on the backburner was just a response to fear. I was also learning to be a yoga teacher at the same time, and some of the studies included letting go of fear and being your authentic self,” reflects Casey. “I feared that I was not going to make it, or it [music] was not important enough. Instead of letting go of this fear and being a songwriter, I worried about my ego.”

Recognizing this worry was Casey’s first stepping stone in overcoming her fear. Her next stepping stone validated why pursuing the dream of singing and songwriting mattered. Casey enumerates:

“In the middle of this self-reflection, I realized I had always written songs. I never stopped. Every day that I walked to my job, I wrote songs in my head. Then, one night before I went to sleep, as my head hit the pillow, I realized “If I died tonight, in my sleep, then my songs would die with me because I had not done anything with them.”

In this moment, Casey realized her songs counted as a “real body of work” and from there she decided to change her life. This included leaving the nation’s capital and moving to a city she always wanted to live in, New York City.

“At the same time, the funding for the project I was working on in DC was ending. I called someone I knew at an anti-hunger organization in New York City. He happened to have a position that just opened. So, I made the decision to move to New York.”

The Move to New York City

In one of her songs on her record, “The Light of NYC,” Casey described Washington DC as “the city of all smarm and no charm.” Firstly, I wondered what this lyric meant. Secondly, I wondered whether Casey felt like the only individual she knew in DC that was torn between choosing either a life in public policy or the arts. Casey explains:

“I made up a phrase one day “a city of all smarm and no charm.” One of my former colleagues described this lobbyist we worked with as someone who was “so smarmy, it made her skin crawl.” Smarmy refers to a charming but manipulative person that cannot be trusted.

“One day, I was walking outside and said to myself, “This is the city of all smarm and no charm.”

Casey adds, “Of course, there are a lot of very charming things about DC, and not everybody is smarmy.”

She continues, “I thought DC was where I could be, but when I got to DC, it was clear that I wanted to be in New York City. I think if you want to live in DC in the long-term, you must want that long-term career in policy and government. I thought I actually wanted that, but when I arrived there, I realized I truly wanted music.

“Although I could do music in DC, New York is where I have more access to great people to work with in music. I feel like there are so many people here that pursue creative things. In DC, I sometimes felt like the weirdest person. But here [in New York] I feel it’s normal to be [both] a musician and something else. I’m never the weirdest person in the room. It’s so refreshing.”

One of the most important contacts Casey made when she came to New York City is her producer Dan Siegler.

“When I looked for a producer, I wanted somebody that did not see my music as just another project. I wanted somebody who genuinely likes my music; plays keyboard well; and thought about the lyrics I write. I wanted someone that would think holistically about my songs, understand what I was trying to say and guide that.

“Then I met Dan Siegler who is a gifted keyboard player. He understands my songs in ways I couldn’t even understand them. Of Course, at this point, he has probably listened to my songs 50,000 times.”

Casey talks about her first experience producing a record.

“The process involved the following,” begins Casey, “I would go and play 30 songs for Dan, and he would go through them and say “this song yes, this song no, this song maybe but it might need another verse or a bridge.” Then we would talk about how the song should sound, musically, and start putting together the instrumentation.

“It was a very interesting learning process to see how that happens and see how a song is built piece by piece.”

In order to support this essential step of putting her songs on an album, Casey decided she would raise the necessary funds.

Funding Her Dreams of Making a Record

“Two days after I decided I was going to make an album,” explains Casey, “I received an email from someone I knew asking me to Photo by DJ Glisson, courtesy of www.caseydinkin.comcontribute money for their band’s upcoming tour on Kickstarter.com. That’s when I researched Kickstarter and thought “this was how I was going to make my album.””

“I raised about $11,000 in 30 days,” continues Casey. “People came through in incredible ways.”

According to Casey, she and Dan have dedicated a tremendous amount of time figuring out each component of every song – for example, what type of bass line, or if the song needed a violin part – and the delivery, making sure every note has the right intonation and falls on the right beat.

Though she did spend time reworking lyrics for certain songs on the album, Casey feels that the lyrics in her songs, as a whole, seem to come out naturally and effortlessly. Casey claims she feels blessed to gain inspiration and constantly write.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about appreciating that gift. I think right now, I’m very fortunate that life seems to give me these thoughts that turn themselves into songs. Very rarely do I sit down and say “I’m going to write a song.” Usually, an idea pops into my head while I walk down the street, especially if I am experiencing distress, and I don’t know what to do. So I think “I’m going to write a song about it,” and that helps me through the process.”

The best example of a song that represents this is her title track “Right Now for Now.” This song, throughout Casey’s experiences as an artist, takes on multiple meanings.

“That’s the song I wrote while my first band after college was breaking up. I wrote that song when I needed to tell myself that everything would be okay,” reflects Casey.

“When I wrote that song, I was not into Yoga,” she adds. “Then when I studied Yoga and listened to leaders that talked about being in the present moment and recognizing each moment as precious and event as temporary, I [now] think that song also talks about living in the moment, understanding that troubles will pass, as well as letting go and forgiving yourself. That’s every point in my life.”

The Album Release Party at Rockwood Music Hall

Casey Dinkin, photo taken on 12/14/2012 While Casey searches for inner peace through her music and works to achieve her dream of doing music professionally a celebration follows – the album release party for Right Now for Now at Rockwood Music Hall on Sunday, July 28th.

“I really look forward to celebrating everything I have been working for over the past two years and longer. This is the absolute pinnacle; the longest-term, truest thing I have ever accomplished.

“It will be the first time releasing an album, playing at Rockwood Music Hall, and performing my album songs live with a full band,” Casey joyfully claims.

The icing on the cake for Casey’s album release party might be the reunion with people that have supported the new artist through her journey.

“I have people coming from all over the country which is super exciting. My upstate NY friends and family are coming, and people from North Carolina and DC.

“They followed my progress and my many updates along the way. They were a part of my Kickstarter campaign…, and this is the finish line.”

Every Present Moment Counts

As we conclude our conversation, Casey mentions that releasing an album has taken longer than she initially expected. This makes me think that whenever a musician has available time between live performances, recording a song, producing or promoting their record; they dedicated it to writing a new song, rehearsing, or completing a second job. Casey reminds me that every present moment counts.

In addition, even during her years in DC and Albany, not pursuing music, every moment Casey experienced included a lesson that prepared her for now. Learning yoga helped Casey see that her previous habit of putting music on the backburner was a response to fear. Moving to Washington DC slowly fueled Casey’s desire to move to New York City. Finally, Casey’s experience with non-profits taught her how to run a successful fundraising campaign – one that would help support her dreams of releasing an album of her beautifully constructed, charming and earnest songs to the public.

Right Now for Now will help listeners who are native or have become well-integrated into the New York City landscape, view this Casey Dinkin, photo taken on 12/29/2012city from a refreshing outsider’s lens. Having also been to Rockwood Music Hall several times, I can attest that Casey’s album release party on July 28th will be the perfect setting to enhance this listening experience.

In the time that Casey prepares for this big event, she is also looking to the future.

“The next thing that follows is expanding my fan base. It would be great to hit the road. I would also love to start recording another album after this one is released,” explains Casey.

The most important long-term goal for this smart, talented and ambitious artist is to become better at everything, from songwriting, to learning more instruments, and honing in on her arrangement skills.

“I’m trying not to get too descriptive about the future because I think there is no longer a cookie-cutter model of how the road to success in the music industry should look,” she adds.

And of course, Casey is right. So let’s enjoy right now, for now.

The life lessons behind cross-dressing: a Review of Yentl Today

This Fall, the New York City-based troupe, The Beautiful Soup Theater Collective is reproducing the play by Leah Napolin and Isaac Bashevis Singer, Yentl.

In the story written by Singer, Yentl the Yeshiva Boy, a young Jewish woman living in Poland at the end of the 19th century, desires nothing more than to study from the sacred text, the Talmud. This means defying the rule that women are prohibited from reading scripture; and the only way she can pursue her dreams is by impersonating a man. Playwright Leah Napolin would later adapt this story into a play, which would then be adapted into a film in 1983, starring the actress that immortalized the character of Yentl, Barbara Streisand.

The BSTC production of the play under the direction of playwright, Steven Carl McCasland, doesn’t have the same pizzazz as the Streisand film, with the various musical numbers sung by the main character. Instead, the music in this 2012 remake is pushed in the background to conveying a restricting, uniform and orthodox atmosphere of a Polish town at the turn-of-the-century. Men and women sing songs in four-part harmonies that sound liturgical. All songs are composed in minor keys; with maybe just a few staccato rhythms that would make only the most attentive listeners do a double take but nothing more.

So if the music doesn’t do it, what makes this production of Yentl so desirable? Simply put the themes of cross-dressing and bi-sexual tendencies that are still a taboo in our society today, and most importantly, the lessons we learn from watching the main character explore these taboos.

Today, so many young people like Yentl are on a search for their own identity and eager to reach their desired destiny. Sometimes that requires temporarily stepping away from a life they know or are expected to live and understanding the realities of the life they want.

“God, what did you bear women for?”   Yentl (Mallory Berlin)

Yentl grew up as the only girl in her village whose father taught her the Talmud. During this time, a woman was prohibited from reading scripture. As Yentl matures, her parents realize she is not ready to be a wife. Further, Yentl has already set her sights for her own future on continuing her studies. Yentl’s wishes put her at a constant disagreement with her parents, even her father.

In the play’s opening scene, Yentl, played by Mallory Berlin, is quarreling with her father, played by Orlando Iriarte. Mallory successfully displays Yentl’s desires by bluntly dismissing the idea of living as a housewife. Meanwhile, Orlando exhibits a blatant impatience as a father that tries to deal with his stubborn daughter.

Strangely though, there is a compassion and bond between father and daughter that audiences will immediately feel. Although Orlando’s character recognizes that though he is slightly responsible for Yentl’s negative attitudes towards marriage and the feminine way of life; he also treasures the relationship he has with his daughter, which might have been facilitated by Yentl’s interest in the Talmud.

 When Yentl loses her father in the second scene of the first act, audience members can further understand why she is more adamant and more anxious to live a different way of life. In this moment of the play, Yentl is mourning her father’s death with his colleagues at a synagogue, and she joins the men in saying Kaddish, a prayer. However; they do not welcome her because women are forbidden from reciting this prayer and thus, leave her to herself. Then Mallory helps unleash Yentl’s voice in a time of confusion and sorrow. She says at the top of her lungs:

“God, what did you bear women for? To have children, to light candles? Then why give them souls?”

Our protagonist’s father, the only man that ever accepted Yentl for who she really was has passed; and now she worries that her only means for survival is to marry and abandon her dreams. It’s clear to her that In order to continue on to a life of study, she must travel into another town, change her identity and attend the Yeshiva, a Jewish school. So, she disguises herself as a man by the name of Anshel.

 

As a man, Yentl enjoys the freedom to study

In the second scene of the second act, Anshel comes off as a shy, stubborn and defensive young man. Yentl makes sure that Anshel keeps his head down in the Talmud in the company of male classmates, insisting he needs to study though he is ahead of all the students. Yentl does not want anybody to wonder why Anshel refuses to undress in front of other men; why he cannot grow a full beard; or why he covets at the naked body his 24-year-old classmate, Avidgor who is played by Peter Oliver.

Viewers watch as Yentl learns to behave like a man. Throughout the play, Yentl becomes close with Avigdor as a study partner and a friend under the disguise of Anshel. Avigdor reveals personal information to Anshel, including that he is already divorced and still in love with his ex-wife, Hadass, who is played by Kim Sweet. Avigdor even asks Anshel to talk with Hadass. Avigdor trusts that Anshel will find out whether Hadass still has any feelings left for Avigdor. Middle: Anshel, Yentl's diguise (Mallory Berlin)

For the first time in her life, Yentl feels like an intellectual equal among men that are not her father. As Anshel, she enjoys the freedom she so desired; but little does she know that even men in these Jewish towns are expected to fulfill specific roles as well. Our cross-dressing heroine slowly discovers this as she becomes better acquainted with Hadass in order to learn how she feels about Avigdor.

While Yentl plays the information medium, Avigdor develops an uncanny attraction for Anshel, who as far as he’s concerned is just another Yeshiva boy. This is evident when Avigdor expresses to Anshel, “Why can’t women be more like you?”

One might see Oliver’s character, as what we would call today, bi-curious. However, Avigdor is not one to consider a romance with another man. Avigdor admits to Anshel that he still needs a woman in his life, and announces that he is ready to marry another woman in town, Pesha.

The bi-curious and the heartbroken: Yentl lies with a woman

Like a good friend, Avigdor suggests that Anshel marry Hadass, but little does Avigdor realize that inside Anshel there is a woman slowly falling in love with him.

Left to right: Avigdor (Peter Oliver), Anshel (Mallory Berlin) At Avigdor’s engagement party, Anshel gets drunk, flirts and kisses the groom, falls on the floor and almost blurts out Yentl’s true identity. As a result, Avigdor leaves the Yeshiva. Yentl who feels disappointed and betrayed, asks for Hadass’ hand in marriage in order to get Avigdor’s attention, and eventually, it works.

By the middle of the play, viewers have so far believed that the gender-bending and bi-sexual themes within this play have been innocent. The second half however shows the dangers that our heroine faces in carrying the disguise of Anshel. Not only does she risk revealing her true identity; but the further Yentl is dragged into this love triangle, the easier it will be for her to commit one of the ultimate sins – “laying with one and wishing for another.”

In the scene that follows, Hadass and Anshel sit across from one another talking about the engagement, the hero turns to the audience, in a narrative, comments to the audience on how great it feels to have the freedom and power of a man.

Audiences now see a vengeful and selfish side of Anshel. Berlin successfully exhibits Yentl’s full transformation into her male disguise as she shamelessly exercises knowledge and power over a previously heart-broken woman who believes she is receiving a second chance in marriage. Anshel and Hadass lie in their wedding bed, and Hadass has no clue that it is Yentl’s fingers penetrating her; she believes she is making love to a man. Further she expresses her true emotions to Anshel when she says, “I feel like we are two bodies with one soul.” Then Anshel reveals that he feels the same way…about Avigdor.

The realities of living like a man Left to Right: Anshel (Berlin), Hadass (Kim Sweet)

As the marriage between these two develops, Hadass slowly becomes unhappy while Yentl grows tired of constantly upholding her disguise. Playing the role of the male did have its perks, like freedom to study scripture and choose any spouse. However, Yentl discovers that the pressures of being a proper spouse and having children can be just as taxing for a man, as it is for a woman.

Viewers now watch Yentl come to the end of her days as Anshel in a scene where Berlin’s and Sweet’s characters are trying to communicate their feelings to one another. Here, Yentl insists that Hadass can learn the Talmud like any man and find personal happiness in this. As Anshel opens the book and starts reciting the first lesson to Hadass, she directly expresses a lack of interest.

Yentl fulfilled her dreams of studying the Talmud among men as an equal, and now she learns that not all women have the same desire. Some, like Hadass prefer to live the life that is expected of them and find contentment in tradition. Afterwards, Yentl leaves Hadass, and makes arrangements to meet with Avigdor so she can reveal to him her true identity.

While Avigdor is upset to learn that his best friend from the Yeshiva is in fact no man at all, his emotional attachment to Anshel has not disappeared. Avigdor even proposes the idea of marriage to Yentl in hopes that she will accept. After all, Avigdor needs a woman. Yentl however refuses.

Our protagonist recognizes the bond she had with Avigdor once was false. Avigdor is really in love with Anshel, but Yentl has finally become tired of playing the man in order to feel accepted and appreciated for her intellect. She wants to be herself again.

Identifying with Yentl: Neither a Blessing nor a Curse

At the end of the play, Yentl has completed a full circle and has come back transformed. She traded back her pants for her skirt. The only thing she has not given back is her love for the Talmud.

One can say that through her gender-bending journey, Yentl learned more personal lessons than any man at the Yeshiva. She committed the ultimate sin; partook in taboos; and came out transformed. Yentl realizes that being a woman is not a curse and being a man is not a blessing, and living one life is not necessarily better than living another.

Yentl’s lessons might resonate with individuals in today’s society that might believe people belonging to a specific gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or religion have an easier time achieving certain goals and living a fulfilling life. The Beautiful Soup Theater Collective’s production of Yentl proves to us that such thoughts are based more on beliefs than actual facts.

Yentl became a man and entered a Yeshiva based on the belief that she would have complete power and freedom over her destiny. Once she experienced the life of a Jewish man, our heroine realized that Anshel would experience just as many restrictions as a woman. The takeaway from Yentl’s experience is learning the sacred text and reciting from it freely and having a male counterpart, like Avigdor accept her as an equal.

The BSTC is currently showing Yentl at the Gene Frankel Theater from now until October 21st. Visit the official Yentl Facebook Page for this show to learn more.

Kamara Thomas and The Ghost Gamblers: Where Country Music and the Cosmos Meet

[left to right] Kamara, Amal Bouhabib, Jeff Malinowski

 When I first watched Kamara Thomas perform with The Ghost Gamblers on May 2nd at The Living Room in the Lower East Side, I was drawn by her style. She sported a cotton poncho top that was a combo of both a solid color and floral print fabric and a pair of pants with various religious symbols. Then there is her music, with song titles like “Stranded in San Antone” that include these lyrics:

You promised me the rivers of Damascus/ And your love was all that I was askin’ for/ instead you left me Stranded in San Antone…

As I researched the band, I learned they describe their music as cosmic country. The name of this genre and the catchiness of this acoustic folk and rock ‘n’ roll sound, intrigued me so much, I knew I had to invite Kamara to be the full-length music feature for May right here on Music Historian’s Hear; Don’t Listen.

A New Genre: Cosmic Country 

Aside from any country I hear on the radio, The Ghost Gamblers is the first band I heard of that plays cosmic country. Inside The Living Room, where shadows and flickering votive candles set a meditative atmosphere, Kamara explains the genre as she shares her personal history with music.

“In general, I think of myself as a priestess of country music. I was raised with country and classical music at a very early age.

“Before I was 7 years old, my mom was a big hippie and I had always listened to rock ‘n’ roll in my house. Then, when my mom “got God,” as they call it, she became a Seventh-Day Adventist – a religion that is on the side of fundamentalist Christianity. Afterward, I was cut off from rock ‘n’ roll, and also, as far as I could tell, fun. The only music my mother would let us listen to was country and classical.

“But I often wondered why country got to stay and why rock ‘n’ roll had to leave. Country talks about crazy stuff going on in the world just as much as rock ‘n’ roll. My mom just always told me, “Country was about life,” so it was okay.

“As I continued to live in this fundamentalist atmosphere, I adopted a philosophical point of view. I was always thinking about God and tried to integrate everything I was learning with my callings as an artist and singer. I also tried to integrate what I was learning with my own internal disagreements about the fundamentalist point of view. So naturally, my stuff is of a very spiritual nature and I always ask myself spiritual questions.”

Kamara and Jeff

Further in my conversation with Kamara, I learned her spiritual ponderings eventually transformed into journeys, which she shares through music. She says, “As my journey unfolds, the lessons I learn in my life end up becoming songs. One of the songs, “My Pretty Angel” is probably the most spiritual song you’ll hear.

“This song took my three years to write, because it accompanied me on my spiritual journey. When I get the inkling of a spiritual lesson I’m learning, I will write a song, but won’t finish it until the lesson has been fully learned or realized.”

I then wondered whether Kamara applied this process to all of her songs. She then explained to me how her creative cycles differ for each of her songs, and how they correspond with her spiritual journey.

“I write songs in cycles. Some are tiny ones, others are large. Some songs will take me an hour to write, and some will take me seven years. My spiritual lessons are cycles, and they are built into my song writing process. I found, the more I dealt with my spirituality, the more cosmic it became. So, that’s why it’s [my music] is cosmic country.”

Although I found my answer to “what is cosmic country,” I felt I was only seeing the tip of the iceberg on Kamara’s adventure with music. Then, she shared with me another important life lesson – accepting the path of music.

The Need for Solitude: Listening to the Still, Small Voice

She says, “There was a moment in my life I realized I was a musician, and it was weird because all my life, I was involved with music but had no idea I was being called to be a songwriter or a singer.

“As a child, I was heavily involved with church and I was a part of everything that had to do with music. I learned to play drums in the concert band, and I gained all of my singing experience from being in the choir, but I took it for granted. I didn’t realize I was actually a musician.”

When it came time for Kamara to go to college, she knew she wanted to perform, so she decided to pursue acting. However, she couldn’t put music aside. She explains:

“In my freshman year of college, I almost flunked out because I was involved in all these musical ensembles that would start as soon as classes ended, and continued until 11 at night, so I never studied for classes. I was also too involved in communities to listen to or even hear my still, small voice – one that wanted to say “Oh, I’ve been making music all my life” or “Oh, I’ve been a musician this whole time.” I didn’t hear it until I was alone long enough that it finally hit me.”

Kamara claims that solitude helped her discover her need to start songwriting. She found this solitude when she moved to Los Angeles after college to become an actress.

“I moved to L.A. to be an actress, and I didn’t act at all. I happened to stay in a part of the city that had everything I needed to do within a one-mile radius, so I walked everywhere, and fell into the solitude I needed to start writing songs. During this time I started to hear my still, small voice. Then it occurred to me I wanted to be a musician.

“That’s when I decided to move to New York, because I would never be able to cut my teeth into L.A. without a car. And, I could build experience in songwriting and performing.”

 For Kamara, this decision marked the end of one life chapter and the start of another – her life as a musician. Like the cycles of all things that exist in nature and in life, nothing is ever wasted, and that is what I learned from Kamara. She translates some of elements of her past experiences and spiritual lessons into songs. For example, Kamara’s experience with the west, inspired The Ghost Gambler’s hit, “Stranded in San Antone.”

A Place of Spirit that Inspired a Song

“This song is part of a larger story cycle called Tularosa, explains Kamara. “Tularosa is an area in New Mexico, a place that really caught my attention. I first learned about it when I studied theater in college, and I started to see this place as a focal point for several American dreams. 

“When I traveled to the west, I felt a lot of spirit in that land. If you become still enough, you can almost listen to it. Learning about all that happened in Tularosa lead me to write several songs about this place. “Stranded in San Antone” is one of them.

“So, I was writing this song, but I soon found myself stuck. I had a block, and decided to do a spiritual exercise to find the focus of this song. I took out some tarot cards and did a reading. This helped me find the focus of the story I would tell in this song – one of a woman who did whatever she could to make something of her life and then paid the price of her decisions in order to battle through the rugged terrain.”

Nobody can turn away from the tune that pulls the listener into this story. Kamara’s voice tells the story through the eyes of this character, but it is her voice that expresses that element of rock and folk that excites listeners from the very moment the song starts.

The inspiration behind “Stranded in San Antone,” is very intriguing. How often have you been able to listen to the New York City’s landscape when it’s still? I certainly haven’t, because our city never stays still, and we certainly don’t stand still enough to listen. “Stranded in San Antone” is one of the Ghost Gambler’s songs that will take you to the final frontier of someone’s dream and personal journey.

As my talk with Kamara drew to a close, I learned that aside from being a musician, she is first and foremost, a full-time mother. Playing both roles requires a balance of determination and patience.

The Path and Miracle to Creation

“It’s amazing to play music with a little child in the house,” says Kamara. “I often tell people “I’ve never gotten more done with my music before my daughter was born.” This is because time takes on this new meaning – everything you do is in this allotted time.

“I have to plan what I’d like to do and actually see it though. When I have free time, to not do what I really want is like sacrilege. I think to myself, ‘let me use this time to help make something happen.’

“In this way, she’s contracted me and my husband’s life, but expanded it at the same time. We’re able to do so much more. And it’s great that she’s inside inspiration all the time. She loves music.”

Kamara also says the journey of motherhood teaches her the true value of creation.

“Doing this creative act – passing a human being out of my body and into the world – helped me understand the path and the miracle of creation more deeply. Now, I know how hard it can be to bring something into the world.

“I was in labor for 32 hours. Nothing went wrong, it was very normal, natural and painful; it just took a long time. It helped me realize that in the creative process, you sometimes have to push your creation out; sometimes, you have to trust that it’s going to come out in its own time; and sometimes it is painful.

“What my daughter brought to the picture is far more than what she took away. Now, and I have more patience with myself, and I am more determined.”

Future with The Ghost Gamblers: “It’s Our Time”

 Earlier, Kamara talked about how her spiritual lessons and songwriting process accompany one another in creative cycles. Aside from realizing these cycles, Kamara is now at a point where she can listen to her own inner voice, and reflect on her experiences, and understand how she’s gotten to this point in life. All of these reflections help her to pursue what life has called her to do – music.

Right now, Kamara is finishing her residency with The Ghost Gamblers at The Living Room. They are also getting ready to release an album in September, and she’s currently putting together a free teaser, which she hopes to have ready in the next few weeks. As for the near future, Kamara hopes to get back into the studio and record the next record.

When she is not in the studio, she is raising a child with her husband, who is also the pedal steel player in The Ghost Gamblers. Kamara’s journey through motherhood is a large cycle that has just begun. Like the movement of celestial bodies in the cosmos; family, career and everything else that makes up life, all revolve simultaneously with one another. Some of these life cycles are small, some are large. Kamara’s cycle with The Ghost Gamblers is well underway. She says “We’re just getting up and running – it’s our time.”

The Shepherd of the Messiah Sing-In

Handel’s Messiah Sing-In is an event where audience members, for one night, become Avery Fisher Hall’s largest concert choir of the year. This transformation begins when the conductor faces the audience in the orchestra section- the section in front of the stage- and leads them in singing The Messiah by Georg Frideric Handel.

What if you are not a singer? Do you experience the same sensation as the other 1,000 members who brought a copy of The Messiah? You will have an amazing experience but it will be very different from the singers’.

The night I attended, this past December 21st at Avery Fisher Hall, I had a throat cold and my score money went to tickets. Therefore, I became an observer from inside the performance rather than a participating singer. Being an observer however, enabled me to see just how important the conductor’s leadership and presence is for the deliverance of a great concert.

Gary Thor Wedow is very well known for conducting large choirs at Carnegie Hall and was selected to lead the first choral performance. He divided the orchestra section of the audience in two sections he called “New York” and “New Jersey,” for the heterophonic piece, “And The Glory of the Lord.”

While Wedow may have given these sections corny names, he did set a positive mood for the singers. Contrary to Wedown, the next conductor, Vincent Rufino, displayed more interest in his appearance than in Handel’s music.

During the run of “He Shall Be Purified,” Rufino’s enthusiasm was relevant in his bounce of the heels and raised posture of his shoulders. Prior to beginning the song, Rufino received frantic shrieking and cheers of praise from adults who were alumni of his high school choir. The only thing missing from his reception was flying panties.

One of the only conductors who exhibited a more professional and interpersonal presence was Gail Archer, the choir conductor from Barnard College and Columbia University. She stepped to the podium to tell the audience a little about Handel’s history as a composer in the royal courts in England and Italy. Following her brief history lesson, she proceeded to conduct the song, “And We Like Sheep Have Gone Astray.”

Like a conductor with years of experience in leading large ensembles, Archer expressed the massiveness of the performance by swaying her hands and forearms gracefully: counting the meter with her right hand while signaling dynamics, rests and accents with her left. With the rest of her body planted to the stand and a great balance in her torso, Archer’s motion was like that of a classical Hindu dancer: it told a story about this piece of music.

I felt the audience delivered the most spirited performance during Archer’s performance. I feel she, like a shepherd, led all the sheep home. If Archer should be in next year’s, 44th annual Sing- In, I would definitely consider attending.

Edgar Allen Poe’s Holiday Song

When I first heard about giving a Christmas recital with the Huntington Women’s Choir, these ideas for songs crossed my mind: “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,” “Jingle Bells,” and “The Little Drummer Boy.” Thankfully, the Women’s choir would not sing any of these selections. Instead, we were handed a copy of “Hear the Sledges with the Bells.”

This unaccompanied song for first and second soprano and alto is written by Hugh S. Roberton. And to everyone’s surprise, the song is adapted from a poem by Edgar Allen Poe titled, “The Bells.”

During the Huntington Women’s Choir holiday recital, the instructor, Judy, confidently claimed, “it was perhaps the only happy moment in Poe’s life.”

Naturally, listeners concurred with this thought as the singers recited, Hear the Sledges with the bells, silver bells… What a world of merriment their melody foretells… how they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle, tinkle in the icy air of night… While the stars that over sprinkle, all the heavens seem to twinkle with a crystalline delight.[1] However, scholars and researchers argue the poem’s jubilent appearance.

Kenneth Silverman in his book, Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance, claims the ringing of the bells are symbolic of the changing seasons: the transition from spring into winter. Silverman claims Poe may have used the ringing of the bells as a metaphor for life itself.[2]

The Edgar Allen Poe Society of Baltimore offers an opposing view to Silverman’s interpretation. According to their historical records, Poe had no inspiration for this poem. He was staying at his cottage in Fordham, New York, and while with Marie Louise Shew- his wife’s nurse- in the same room; he listened to her comment on the bells ringing from afar.[3]

Whether or not Roberton interpreted “The Bells” as a dreary and grim rhyme, he certainly didn’t express it in his musical composition. Aside from the many interpretations and analysis created around this poem, Roberton wrote his song with a vivacious tempo and in the meter of 2/4, a meter used repeatedly for tunes within musicals. The key signature of D flat major, a key recognized by the tradition of romantic music as whimsical and dreamy, is another component that pulls the initial tone of the poem into a different direction.

“Hear the Sledges with the Bells” is a delightful song that invokes holiday cheer and joy without taking part in the fabricated repertoire fed to consumers Christmas after Christmas.


[1] Sir, Hugh Stevenson Roberton. “Hear The Sledges with the Bells.” (Bryn Mawr, PA: Theodore Presser Company, 1919).

[2, 3] Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. “The Bells,” (December 4, 2010), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Bells (accessed December 12, 2010)